Monthly Archives: June 2022

McLuhan and Winters 2

In 1948 McLuhan was in correspondence with The Hudson Review, about reviews he wrote for the new journal that appeared in its second (summer 1948)1 and fourth (winter 1949)2 issues.

Perhaps alerted in this correspondence to the scathing criticism made of him in Yvor Winters’ forthcoming essay in Hudson Review on Gerard Manley Hopkins3, McLuhan quickly drafted a counter-critique of Winters and submitted it to The Sewanee Review.

The story of this counter-critique, which was never published, may be seen in correspondence between McLuhan and the editor of The Sewanee Review, John E. Palmer.

Following the resignation of Allen Tate in 1946 from his 2-year editorship of Sewanee, Palmer had been appointed as his replacement. He held the position until 1952. The correspondence between Palmer and McLuhan concerning Winters took place in the fall of 1948, but already in 1946 in one of McLuhan’s first letters to Palmer he set out the central issue which was at stake in his criticism of Winters:

McLuhan to John Palmer, November 4, 1946
With him [Vico] the problem of intellectual growth had been imposed by the struggle to free himself from DescartesTo-day, the problem is the same. To get free of technological modes which have invaded every aspect of education, of thought and feeling.4 The Lewis piece on De Tocqueville5 illustrates the failure of a great man to face and solve that problem. Lewis has finally submitted to lick the robot’s behind.6 

Jumping ahead to the fall of 1948, the continuing McLuhan-Palmer exchange clarifies what happened to the never published Winters essay.

McLuhan to Palmer, September 21, 1948
The present [enclosed] item [on Winters] you might think better, strategically speaking, if the last five pages (in which an example of Winters at work on metaphor is presented)7 were put before the general discussion of the cause of his troubles. (…) I have no idea what you think of Winters.  He is a god for the Hudson. They are to have his things from time to time.8 But if anybody can produce more howlers per page, then S.J. Perelman had better move over.9

Palmer to McLuhan, 22 September 1948
Your Winters paper has just arrived (…) but in view of your letter I thought I had best give you an advance tip about the contents of our Winter issue: we are carrying, no less, an essay by Winters on Robert Frost.10 It has been in our backlog, awaiting publication, for well over a year, and I’ve only now been able to schedule it. Now, I carry no general brief for Winters, and the fact that I am carrying this essay will certainly not prejudice me in my reading of yours.  I am somewhat acquainted with his strange combination of the critically erratic, cantankerous, and naive.11 And the essay I am running is not altogether free from these qualities.  But it happened that in this instance I agreed for the most part with what Winters had to say, and so I couldn’t see turning him down simply because it was the work of Winters.  I’ll be interested to hear your reaction to it.

Palmer to McLuhan, 19 October 1948
How do you feel about public exchanges on such matters as you deal with in your Winters paper? I certainly don’t go in for bickering for its own sake; but I do think that where two such gentlemen as yourself and Mr. Winters can be directly confronted on such crucial terms as you have introduced, the spectacle might well prove instructive for us all. Now, I’ve written Winters to learn his attitude;  but even though he should be willing to engage, I’ll not proceed with the arrangements unless I have your consent also.

McLuhan to Palmer, October 20, 1948
Did you find Harold Rosenberg’s ‘Herd of Independent Minds’12 interesting? (…) It’s an approach not unlike mine to the Winters type of critic. Prisoners of the concept. (…) But if a writer thinks his job is self-expression, that means he sets himself the job of inventing an order for his experience.13 He must then have ruling ideas, and these will inevitably be the ones most common in his own time. But a Flaubert needed no ideas at all. Nor a Joyce. The world was enough for them.
I’ve no objection to your proposal about getting Winters to reply. Perhaps some of the semi-personal notes should be removed from my essay.
As you see, Winters is, from my point of view, only a representative of an almost universal situation.14

Palmer to McLuhan, 27 October 1948
I heard from Winters this morning, and he begs off:  “I have never been greatly interested in Kant, and I am too busy right now to study him for the purpose of arguing with McLuhan. My literary theories are largely Aristotelian and Thomistic, but did not derive from Aristotle and Thomas so much as they simply agree with them.  They derived from a careful examination of a good many hundreds of poems.”  Characteristic, is it not? Then he went on to tell how overburdened he was in his teaching, etc. And now, at the risk of appearing editorially spineless, I’m inclined to give up the project, because it would seem to me too lopsided as a one-way affair. For this decision I shall hope that to so old an editorial friend as yourself no elaborate apologies are necessary.

McLuhan to Palmer, November 4, 1948
Naturally I’m not happy to see Winters the swashbuckler suddenly putting on the wily act and so escaping unscathed. The device of running up just any old colors to the masthead has not, I hope, taken you in.  His confessed ignorance of Kant is as nothing compared to his actual ignorance of Aristotle and Aquinas. In this respect he is precisely like the Chicago “Aristotelians” who [also] adopted the colors of the Stagirite (…) The Kantianism of Winters, like that of Richards, Empson, Ransom, affects his work the more deeply for being unconscious. The only way not to be a Kantian critic is to know Kant, since his language and attitudes are universal.15
But I don’t give a hoot about Winters as such. I merely hung my paper on him for dramatic reasons, thinking how desperately we need a bit of Menckensian dash in our dreary literary reflections these days. (…) Would you be interested in the paper expanded apropos of metaphor and with Winters omitted from central focus?

Palmer to McLuhan, November 15, 1948
I’m sorry to say that I still don’t take too strongly to the suggestion.  Not that I don’t see in it all sorts of likely possibilities; but I’ll have to tell you frankly that I’m leery of committing myself in advance to any piece designed to exhibit a Menckensian dash.  Such I think are quite all right now and then, as a break in the routine. But permit me the liberty to urge you, for your sake as well as for our own, not to continue to work indefinitely in this rare a vein.16



  1. ‘Tradition and the Academic Talent’, a review by McLuhan of Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery: Renaissance Poetic and Twentieth-Century Critics by Rosemond Tuve, Hudson Review 1:2.
  2. ‘Encyclopaedic Unities’, a review by McLuhan of two books, one by his friend and mentor, Sigfried Giedion (Mechanization Takes Command), and the other by Giedion’s longtime close friend, the late László Moholy-Nagy (Vision in Motion), Hudson Review 1:4.
  3. See McLuhan and Winters 1. Winters’ essay on Hopkins appeared in consecutive Winter and Spring 1949 issues (1.4 and 2.1) of The Hudson Review.
  4. In a note to Palmer from December 9, 1949: “to get out of the wire cage (…) Vico provides both the techniques of observation and exegesis as well as the only method of escape.”
  5. De Tocqueville and Democracy’, The Sewanee Review 54:4, 1946, had just appeared.
  6. It may be that Palmer found it unseemly for McLuhan to castigate Lewis to him in this fashion. For the article by Lewis appeared in Sewanee itself and only months into Palmer’s editorship of the journal. Furthermore, it had been McLuhan who first broached the idea (to Allen Tate) of publishing Lewis in Sewanee. In any case, relations between Palmer and McLuhan did not work out well. When McLuhan submitted ‘Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press’ to him in 1951, it had to wait for a new editor, Monroe Spears, before appearing at last in 1954 (in Sewanee 62:1). And Palmer turned down ‘Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process’ as well in 1951, leading McLuhan to publish it later that year in Renascence (4:1).
  7. McLuhan’s bracketed insertion.
  8. This aside seems to reflect  correspondence between McLuhan and Hudson Review as muted above.
  9. McLuhan began this note: “What a pity that the Hudson is selling out so stodgily.”
  10. Yvor Winters, ‘Robert Frost’, Sewanee Review, 56:4, 1948.
  11. Palmer was, of course, referring here to Cleanth Brooks’ discussion of Winters in ‘Cantankerous and Other Critics’ (The Kenyon Review, Spring 1944). In fact, Brooks was an old friend of Palmer — the two of them had worked closely together on the Southern Review at LSU.
  12. Rosenberg’s ‘Herd of Independent Minds: Has the Avant-Garde Its Own Mass Culture?’ appeared in Commentary for September, 1948.
  13. McLuhan considered the idea of “inventing an order for (…) experience” to be crazed. And yet it was “universal”! Among other questions that needed to be addressed to it, how could “an order for (…) experience” be ‘invented’ without the inventing subject already having instituted some such “order”? In this light, modernity was a gigantic case of a question, or questions, gone begging. A decade in the future, McLuhan would begin the put his critique in terms of the deficiencies of ‘light on’ from us as contrasted with ‘light through’ toward us. As McLuhan immediately noted here to Palmer, the supposed inventor of an “order for (…) experience (…) must then have ruling ideas, and these will inevitably be the ones most common in his own time.” The inventor thinks he is freely initiating ‘light on’, but in fact is unconsciously only reflecting ‘light through’!
  14. In a later note to Palmer from December 9, 1949 McLuhan referred to this “universal situation” asa mechanistic juggling with identical counters.”
  15. In a note from April 27, 1953 to Monroe Spears, Palmer’s successor as editor of Sewanee, McLuhan wrote that the “the model basis is indispensable” — an early version of “the medium is the message”. McLuhan agreed with mentors like Rupert Lodge in Winnipeg and Harold Innis in Toronto that it is not possible for human beings to think and experience aside from some or other model. What might be termed ‘model-dependence’ is “universal”. But he disagreed with Innis that this necessarily led to solipsism. Instead, “the key” to human freedom was to dis-cover the structure of models so that they might be subject to open collective research — and thereby to retrieve sustaining relation with the world.
  16. A later exchange between Palmer and McLuhan had this criticism from Palmer: “You’ve again brought together too much in too little space, with resulting moments of confusion and oversimplification.” (November 27, 1950) McLuhan’s reply: “Trouble is I make so many discoveries and have so few outlets, that when I write ‘em up I can’t help cramming much into one essay.  If I could publish an essay once a week (not once in 3 months or 3 years) I could spread the stuff thinner and achieve some degree of transparency.” (January 15, 1951)

McLuhan and Winters 1

The critic, Yvor Winters [1900-1968] published a long essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins in the first two issues of the Hudson Review in 1949.1 In the second section of his essay, Winters mocked McLuhan’s 1944 essay on Hopkins’ Windhover:

M.H. McLuhan, in an essay in which interpretation is often carried so far from the actual text as to approach pure fantasy…

This prompted McLuhan to draft a letter to the Editor of The Hudson Review, which he left in an issue of the review now to be found among his books at Fisher Library in Toronto:2 

Sir, It has long been the practice of Mr. Winters to paddle his critical canoe into white waters and there to complain that, by his powers, this was no mill pond. So long, however, as he stays with the literature of simple statement and naive sentiment, his method will bear him up even when it can’t possibly carry him forward.3
Instead, therefore, of rescuing him from the dramatic and turbulent mill-race of Hopkins (he had the same harrowing experience with Joyce and Eliot), it will be more useful to explain why Mr. Winters should above all avoid poets who have a radically analogical outlook
Analogies are not concepts, nor are they reducible to concepts. They are proportions between congeries of various forms, facts, concepts. Such proportions are for contemplation. They are inexhaustible and irreducible. When Wordsworth presents Lucy in the ratio of “a violet by a mossy stone”, he renders his world. Every conflict, pathos, paradox of his entire vision is there. A violet needs the stone, it needs the moss, and the converse is both true and untrue at different levels.
In short, even this simple statement is not the poetry of concepts or of statements.  Poetry is never merely or primarily an affair of essences and concepts. It is in the order of existence and experience. Yet Mr. Winters asserts that poetry is statement about experience. And poetic order must be, he holds, logical coherence of concepts or judgements about experience. This notion of poetry is not as uncommon today as Mr. Winters claims. If anything it is the conventional nineteenth century view inherited from Cartesian and Kantian notions of language as merely conceptual signs. And it is a view which compels the critic to view with distaste all the complex art of our or any other time. Let us recall Rhymer4 and les règles5.
Even Pope is not as much the poet of simple statement as was once supposed. Wherever there is serious poetry, analogy will be present. Wherever there is analogy, Mr. Winters will prove helpless as a critic. And yet it was the discovery of that very eighteenth century, to which Mr. Winters so often appeals for his criteria, that all four terms of an analogy could be managed in a single couplet. That is, a couplet could contain a compressed drama containing both plot and subplot, comprising within itself metaphors as well. Yet every metaphor is itself an analogy in four terms, only two of which need be expressed.

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign
And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.

“As hungry judges are to justice, so are the victims of justice to the appetites of their fellow men.” Within this ratio is included the same tragic vision as that of Lear on the heath and of Swift’s Modest Proposal [1729]. It is a vision of treachery and cannibalism occurring independently at various social levels and it cannot be reduced to a logical order of concepts and retain the dramatic conflict. It is true that judges are hungry, but not for justice. And it is true that wretches are fed into the social machine to feed other wretches. Meat must be hung before it is eaten.6 But from these observations neither Shakespeare, Pope nor Swift concluded anything logically. (The merely conceptual mind would say that, if only the judge could have a sandwich brought in, then justice would supplant injustice.) They set their observations in a ratio, proportion or analogy which is for contemplation and not to be reduced to a univocal order of conceptual awareness or causal connection.
It is not only Mr. Winters, therefore, who finds himself in difficulties in the presence of analogical awareness. It is still the typical intellectual difficulty of our world as can be seen, for example, in the current efforts to reduce Eliot’s notes on the analogy of culture to a univocal conceptual scheme.

The summer 1949 issue (2:2) of The Hudson Review featured two reviews of ‘Mr. Eliot’s New Book‘, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, by Herbert Read and by Hugh Kenner. It may be that the last sentence of McLuhan’s draft refers to these reviews, or at least to Read’s, and thereby gives an indication of the “current” date of the draft’s composition.



  1. The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (I)‘, The Hudson Review, 1:4 (Winter, 1949) and ‘The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (II)‘, The Hudson Review, 2:1 (Spring, 1949). McLuhan’s review of Sigfried Gideon’s Mechanization Takes Command and László Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion appeared in the first of these.
  2. The letter does not seem to have been published in Hudson Review and may never have been sent to it. The draft is in longhand.
  3. McLuhan attempted another start to this letter but abandoned it. It read: “Mr. Winters seems to regard my comments on the Windhover as a more formidable concoction than the poem itself. What is it that compels Mr. Winters to find reasons (any reasons will do) for assigning only minor value and interest to all the major literary talents of our time? I have no wish to bring Mr. Winters to accept my views on Hopkins or on anybody else. But the very serious difficulties which he invariably encounters in the presence of any but the poetry of naive statement and sentiment…”.
  4. Thomas Rhymer (1641-1713) was called by Macaulay “the worst critic that ever lived”. And since Macaulay was an early ‘hero’ of McLuhan, he may have known of Macaulay’s critique of Rhymer since the early 1930s. But however that may have been, McLuhan certainly knew of Cleanth Brooks’ comparison of Winters with Rhymer in his 1944 ‘Cantankerous and Other Critics’ (Kenyon Review, Spring 1944). Brooks and McLuhan were close in the 1940s, and McLuhan  published his own Hopkins essay (the one mocked by Winters) in the Kenyon Review that same year.
  5. Contemporary with Rhymer, these were ‘rules’ set down in the seventeenth century in France for literature and especially for the theatre.
  6. This section of McLuhan’s 1949 draft was used in his 1951 ‘Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’: “Pope especially deserves study from this point of view since he first developed the couplet to do the complex work of the double-plot of the Elizabethans. He discovered how to make a couplet achieve a symbolic vision. That is, to effect an instant of inclusive consciousness by the juxtaposition without copula of diverse and even paradoxical situations or states of mind: ‘The hungry judges soon the sentence sign/And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.’ The judges are hungry but not for justice; yet there is no suggestion that they would be better judges if they had dined. The stark confrontation of this human condition is enforced by the second line or ‘sub-plot’ which is parallel but inferior. The suggestion that meat must hang before it is edible, and that jurymen are merely promoting the proper business of society in seeing that it gets hung is analogous to the vision of society in Swift’s Modest Proposal and to Lear’s vision on the heath. The couplet in Pope’s hands escaped from the conditions imposed by univocal discourse which had developed in the Cartesian milieu.”

Plenary consciousness 2

Plotinus was surely justifiable in his exegesis in the fifth Ennead when he held as platonic doctrine that the One and the Good are identical, and that this is beyond being and beyond knowledge; Proclus taught the same. But whenever a Christian tried to adopt the same pattern of unity among things, [he or she] could not but regard the unique source of all, God, as Creator, that is, as
Being in the plenary sense of the name, the source of being to beings… (Bernard J. Muller-Thym)1 

Perhaps at first following his close friend and mentor, Bernie Muller-Thym, McLuhan deployed the term ‘plenary’ over and over again throughout his career. He seems to have meant by it, not ‘full’ or ‘fullness’ in some exclusive ontic sense,2 but the ‘fullness’ of the natural and spiritual together, in an inclusive ontological sense. As McLuhan said of the symbolists (cited in full below), they effected “the plenary elucidation of [the] verbal landscape, [the] psychological with [the] metaphysical“. Or as he characterized Joyce: “Punning on ‘Dublin’, he constantly invites us to regard his drama as the story of “doublends joined“. Irremediably analogical, Joyce’s work moves as naturally on the metaphysical as on the naturalistic plane.”3

Here are examples of his use of the term in chronological order from the early 1940s to the late 1970s:

American critics once alerted to the new movements in English criticism would probably bog down in the rhetorical exegesis of Richards and Empson rather than adapt it, as F.R. Leavis did, as a means in a critical journey to the full act of plenary critical judgment.4 

the arduous stage of the journey (…) remains to be accomplished before winning an overall view, which is 
plenary critical judgment.5

As I have often said to [Cleanth] Brooks, the Southern tradition has intense value to-day.  But the agrarian program was a mistaken strategy because rooted in a failure to see the Southern tradition in its intellectual relevance.  The stand should not have been taken on Dixie
land.  But on plenary philology.  That is letters understood as the complete education in thought and feeling which fosters an integral humanitas.  That is Viconian ground.  The only fertile soil in the modern world.6

There has been no lack of critics who have proclaimed the uplifting qualities of the movies without having noticed anything whatever of what was going on in them. Mr. Tyler [in Magic and Myth of the Movies, 1947] is right, therefore, to concentrate attention on the complexity and eminent snideness of movie art as preliminary to opening up a plenary critique.7

English [studies] took over the former functions of Greek and Latin after these had been narrowed to philology. (…) So that the formal teaching of English began and has continued along the lines which first destroyed classical education. The present volumes [under review, Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion and Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command] suggest a variety of means whereby English might in large measure resume the plenary functions of the older classical education.8

Eliot has always insisted on the technical innovations of Laforgue and Rimbaud as basic for his own development. What these poets effected after Baudelaire was the plenary elucidation of verbal landscape, psychological with Laforgue, metaphysical in Rimbaud. They discovered landscape as the formula of a particular emotion of the mind, greatly extending and sharpening the earlier Romantic use of landscape. [James] Thomson [1700-1748], [William] Collins [1721-1759], and even Wordsworth immersed themselves in actual landscapes in pursuit of emotion. Laforgue and Rimbaud invented erudite urban landscapes to control and release precise and complex emotions. [In this way] the Romantics began with the vague search for new art emotions amidst natural conditions and ended with the discovery and precise control of these emotions in art conditions. (…) But the new emotions and the new techniques or formulas for these emotions are inseparable. That is why Eliot always mentions technique and sensibility together, while his commentators discuss only his sensibility.9

The impressionists began with sensation, discovered ‘abstraction’, and achieved, finally, a metaphysical art. The picturesque begins with work like Thomson’s Seasons, in the search for significant art-emotion amid natural scenes and it achieved plenary realization in Rimbaud’s metaphysical landscapesLes Illuminations. The early Romantics sought aesthetic emotion in natural scenes; the later Romantics confidently evoked art-emotion from art-situations.10

On the labyrinth of the ear, organ of the Incarnation, Joyce built those metaphysical analogies which enabled him to restore the orchestra of the seven liberal arts to its plenary functions. He is never less than the artist of the word. (…) Joyce was at home in all labyrinths because of his original conquest of the stages of apprehension, of the mind in act.11

Such a thought-world [set out in the biblical Book of Revelation]12 is entirely congenial to the twentieth century as its art and criticism testify. (…) Return to the plenary scope of patristic exegesis (…) can perhaps be taken as a mark of the profound coherence13 of modern culture when viewed at its best levels.14

[Following Innis] every medium of communication has its peculiar bias or limitation. Each one distorts the plenary functions of human oral expression. Writing extends the spatial range of speech but creates mental passivity. Writing fixes traditions but evokes large armies, roads and empires. Seen, however, as a special art form the alphabet refashioned all human experience. The translation of auditory into visual terms set up an inner life in man which separated him from the external world and, in part, from his own senses, as we know from the study of pre-literate societies. The psychic withdrawal caused by the complex process of literacy presents the individual with a train of maladjustments unknown to pre-literate societies. But the fixation of the processes of thought in writing permits that analysis of thought which brings into existence the structures of science and philosophy. Alphabetic writing is itself a radical re-ordering of experience, as we know by contrast with the pictorial or ideogrammic writing of China, which releases a totally different set of of human possibilities in contrast to the unconscious preferences of alphabetic societies. In this sense, an art form establishes basic human attitudes and becomes the very mode of [all human] experience.15

Pictographic Chinese culture (…) would seem to stand midway between the extremes of our abstract written tradition and the plenary oral tradition with its stress on speech as gesture and gesture as “phatic communion”. And it is perhaps this medial position between the non-communicating extremes of print and pictorial technology which attracts us today to the Chinese ideogram.16

TV deals with the visual image as radio with the auditory image. That is, there is immediacy or instantaneity of pick-up, projection, and reception. Joyce was entirely aware of these differences in choosing TV as the basic modality of the collective human drama of Finnegans Wake. As immediate sight plus sound, TV permits a full use of the plenary materials of the human drama, namely speech itself, a “verbivocovisual presentment”.17

[Hugh Kenner] differs from all other commentators in stressing the total relevance of Joyce’s Roman Catholicism to his art. The stress (…) implies Joyce’s radical use of reason as a spiritual faculty and not as a mere instrument. It is Joyce’s awareness of reason in this plenary sense that determines his attitude to the verbal universe. Like Pound and Eliot, Joyce assumed that verbal art in the electronic age had to assume the responsibility of precision and power equivalent to the physical sciences. His work simply shoulders the burden both of the alchemy of the word and of the alchemy of history in an act of inclusive consciousness.18

[E.T.] Hall’s concept of “the organizing pattern” concerns the fact that “there is no such thing as ‘experience’ in the abstract, as a mode separate and distinct from culture.” Hall is saying here, in effect, what I formulate as “the medium is the message.” (…) Since speech is itself a master technology, it goes without saying that the Sapir, Whorf, Hall, Trager, Lee axis have long followed this line of study. Not being perhaps particularly familiar with the types of cultural analysis directed by the artists of this century toward human technologies as art forms, the social scientists have been unduly shy of a plenary art approach to technology. (…) The problem for the artists in our time is to say everything at once, and this is the problem in a variety of ways for every kind of person in an electronic age.19

Let us suppose for a moment that a team of present-day testers had been available in the year 1500 to find out whether the new book or reading machines and instructional materials were capable of doing the plenary traditional job of education in the future. Would not this team, even as it would today, ask whether the privately read word could measure up as a means of teaching and learning to the memorized manuscript and its formidable extension in oral exegesis and group disputation?20

As the entire globe becomes a single computer or what de Chardin calls a noosphere, the advent of satellite broadcasting makes every one of the more than two hundred and fifty cultures of the globe as immediately present to each other as are the telephone subscribers of a single town. The dialogue between cultures will become as pervasive as back-fence gossiping. But, as information movement  expands in this plenary way, the business and politics and diversions of mankind fuse into a single uninterrupted action.21

The overwhelming trend of film is toward involvement in the creative and social processes alike. Film is now able to digest any kind of theme and to handle it in the mode of an inclusive awareness. The “phantom city phaked of philim pholk” is acquiring the character of plenary consciousness.22

With the new means of plenary cultural retrieval, ancient clichés are taking their place as transcendental or archetypal forms(…) It is the process by which new clichés or new technological probes and environments have the effect of liquidating or scrapping the preceding clichés of cultures and environments created by pre­ceding technologies. The world of archaeology and musicology today is entirely concerned with classifying these rejected frag­ments of obsolete and broken cultures.23  

Just as the plenary retrieval techniques of Gutenberg print created the Puritan ideal of a recovery of a purified and primitive Christianity, so the modern anthropologist, using plenary methods of retrieval, has rejected the traditional humanistic or literary view of the gods in favor of a complete resacralizing of pagan art and ritual. The resacralizing of the ancient clichés of ancient technology by an­thropologists places the literary archetypalist in a very embarrass­ing position. The archetypalist, having come to regard the gods as a neutered or “spayed” bunch of moralized entities, now [is confronted by] the anthropologist, who insists on accepting them as real environmental forces completely beyond literary occurrence or control. The gods as cliché technologies are not susceptible to literary classification.24 

Plenary Indulgences in the Affluent Society
Parkinson stated his law about the nature of  administrations to the effect that any task, however insignificant, will automatically expand to use all the available time and resources of all the available personnel of any operation whatever.25

Shifting “Grounds” Transform “Figures”.
The complicated question of whether authority rested in the pope or in the laity or in the church in plenary council fluctuated wildly with the conditions of travel and information movement from the beginnings of the church to the present. This fact becomes apparent today when there is no more geography in the world as far as verbal intercommunication is concerned. The telegraph, telephone, radio and teletype have caused the disappearance of physical space and national and cultural boundaries, and have restored the most primal conditions of primitive Christianity. At the same time, this instantaneous character brings down an avalanche of historical, bureaucratic confusion upon the new oral church. The electric technology that abolishes central bureaucracy and organization also retrieves the entire past of the church — oral, written, bureaucratic, and historical. We begin to live a kind of Dantesque vision that merges all pasts and presents.26

Posthumous (from the 1970s)
All the extensions of man, verbal or non-verbal, hardware or software, are essentially metaphoric in structure, and that they are in the plenary sense linguistic (…) A “metaphor” means literally “carrying across” from Greek metapherein and was translated into Latin as “translatio”. In a word, metaphor is a kind of bridging process, a way of getting from one kind of experience to another.27


  1. Of History as a Calculus Whose Term Is Science’, Modern Schoolman, 19:4 & 19:5, 1942. Muller-Thym was the best man at the McLuhans’ wedding in 1939 and the Godfather of their first two children, Eric and Mary. His influence on McLuhan’s career, in St Louis and subsequently, cannot be overstated.
  2. McLuhan used the term ‘exclusive’ in a technical sense, namely, to designate the ultimate incompatibility of the one and the many. In fundamental contrast, the ‘inclusive’ designated their ultimate compatibility or complementarity.
  3. ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’,  Thought, 27:1, 1953.
  4. ‘Poetic vs Rhetorical Exegesis: The Case for Leavis against Richards and Empson’, Sewanee Review,  52:2, 1944.
  5. Ibid.
  6. McLuhan to John E. Palmer, November 4, 1946. Palmer became the editor of the Sewanee Review following the resignation of Allen Tate.
  7. ‘Inside Blake and Hollywood’, review of Northrop Frye, Fearsome Symmetry and Parker Tyler, Magic and Myth of the Movies, Sewanee Review, 55:4, 1947.
  8. Encyclopaedic Unities’, Review of Vision in Motion (László Moholy-Nagy) and Mechanization Takes Command (Siegfried Giedion), Hudson Review 1:4, 1949.
  9. ‘T S Eliot’ (review of 11 books on TSE), Renascence 3:1, 1950.
  10. Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’, Essays in Criticism 1:3, 1951.
  11. Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process’, Renascence 4:1, 1951.
  12. McLuhan’s discussion here concerns Austin Farrer’s A Rebirth of Images, 1949.
  13. “Return” as envisioned here must itself already be situated within such “coherence” in order to start to ‘retrieve’ it. “In my end is my beginning”, as Eliot cited Mary, Queen of Scots in ‘East Coker’: “En ma Fin gît mon Commencement”.
  14. ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’, Thought 27:1, reprinted in The Interior Landscape.
  15. ‘The Later Innis’, Queen’s Quarterly, 60:3, 1953.
  16. ‘Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press, Sewanee Review, 62:1, 1954. This essay was written, and submitted to Sewanee, in 1951.
  17. ‘Radio and Television vs. The ABCED-Minded’, Explorations 51955.
  18. ‘Compliment Accepted’, Renascence 10:2, 1957.
  19. Project 69, ‘Materials Developed by Project’, 1960. McLuhan cites FW in the middle of this passage: “Amongst other things Finnegans Wake is a history of writing. We begin with writing on ‘A bone, a pebble, a ramskin . . . leave them to cook (FW: ‘terracook’) in the mutthering pot (FW: ‘muttheringpot’): and Gutenmorg with his cromagnon (FW: ‘cromagnom’) charter’…”. The same passage with the same misquotations is repeated in GG.
  20. ‘New Media and the New Education’, Canadian Communications, 1:1, 1960. Also appeared as: ‘Electronics and the Changing Role of Print’, AudioVisual Communication Review 8:5, 1960. Also appeared as: ‘New Media and the New Education’, Christianity and Culture1960. Also included in Project 69 as ‘Exhibit 1’.
  21. ‘The Electronic Age – The Age of Implosion’, 1962.
  22. ‘A Phantom City Phaked of Philim Pholk (FW 264.19–20) or Where the Hand of Man Never Set Foot’ (FW 203.15-16).
  23. Cliché to Archetype, 1970.
  24. Ibid: Cliché to Archetype, 1970.
  25. Advertising blurb for Take Today headlined ‘Management as Comedy of Errors’.
  26. Take Today, 1970
  27. Laws of Media, 1988. “Getting from one kind of experience to another” is, of course, exactly what speech is, and presumably this is what McLuhan had in mind with “in the plenary sense linguistic“. “Plenary” speech would therefore be both poles or interlocutors in conversation and that which unites them across their difference. Indeed, McLuhan continued this passage with: “This reaching out always involves a resonating interval rather than a mere connection.”