Faculty of Interrelation in Toronto

The Giedion World, a 2019 large format book edited by Almut Grunewald, is subtitled ‘Sigfried Giedion and Carola Giedion-Welcker in Dialogue’. It consists of translated correspondence between Sigfried Giedion (SG) and his wife, Carola Welcker (CGW), in selected periods of their 50-year courtship and marriage, with detailed annotation and hundreds of supporting photographs. 

One of the letters, from SG to CGW in November 1955,1 written from Harvard where SG was teaching that fall, describes an earlier note from McLuhan to Giedion as follows:2

The letter from Toronto you forwarded to me was from McLuhan. He asks whether I wouldn’t accept a one-year term as “resident director for a Faculty of Interrelation3 in Toronto with a handsome payment (…)4 and also Mrs Giedion”5 to run the “pilot teacher” thing!6

McLuhan did not have the power to offer such positions himself, of course. But presumably he had run the idea by his friend Claude Bissell, the President of UT, and received permission to send up this trial balloon. Perhaps he had brought Gideon and Bissell together earlier that spring of 1955 when Gideon came to Toronto from Harvard to give a paper in the ‘Communication and Culture’ seminar.7

Giedion did not take up the Toronto offer, but used the occasion of his letter to his wife to rue the fact that it had not come a decade before:

It’s always the same with these 10 years! How happy I would have been ten years ago if my idea had met with so much as a single outlet! The manuscripts have since yellowed. No door, no hearing, not even a single publication anywhere! 

McLuhan had earlier pursued Giedion’s idea of a Faculty of Interrelation with proposals to the University of Chicago,8 to Harold Innis at UT,9 and to the Ford Foundation (which eventuated in the Communication and Culture seminar). From a December 7, 1955 letter from McLuhan to Giedion10 — a month or so after SG’s note to his wife discussed above — it seems that a further proposal to the Ford and Rockefeller foundations may have been made by McLuhan and Carpenter for a UT “Contemporary Institute” (as they seem to have rebaptized a ‘Faculty of Interrelation’ for the foundations) which, they hoped, might have Giedion as at least its titular head:

Carpenter and I are now drafting outlines for Contemporary Institute to submit to Ford and Rockefeller.  It will be necessary in the Ford case to stress the value of such an institute in clarifying educational aims and procedures. We shall be able to add great force to our presentation in having your consent to act as our advisory head.  Would you prefer any particular title?  Director of Studies?  President?  We are eager to devise ways of working with all branches of Radio, TV and Film Board in working out the grammars of the new visual languages of the new media.  Here you have already done so much for us in discovering the language of vision.11

McLuhan’s later (1963) Centre for Culture and Technology was doubtless conceived primarily as a way to keep McLuhan in Toronto in the face of offers from US institutions. But part of its appeal to McLuhan would have derived, as indicated by its name, from his long-standing interest, since 1943, in Giedion’s ‘Faculty of Interrelations’ between the worlds of ‘Culture and Technology’.12 

  1. The Giedion World, 350.
  2. The letter is otherwise unknown. It is not in the Giedion-McLuhan correspondence preserved with the Giedion papers in Zurich.
  3. See Sigfried Giedion — A Faculty of Interrelations.Interrelation’ seems to have been used, by both Giedion and McLuhan, sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. Indeed the term implicates both plurality (as a relation) and singularity (as a recurrent structure).
  4. Giedion interjection here: “$10,000 dollars I assume”. This would be around $115,000 today.
  5. Giedion interjection: “minimum $5000 dollars, I imagine”. This would be around $57,500 today.
  6. A “pilot teacher” program may have been an initiative at the University of Toronto OCE (Ontario College of Education, predecessor of the current OISE) linking teacher training with the arts in some way. CGW would have been well qualified to lead such an initiative since she had been publishing studies in the fine arts and literature since the 1920s. Her 1952 book, Paul Klee, was reviewed by McLuhan in 1953: ‘Giedion-Welcker’s Klee’, Shenandoah 3(1), 77-82.
  7. ‘Space Conception in Prehistoric Art’, seminar presentation from February 23, 1955, which appeared in Explorations 6 in 1956.
  8. See Proposal to Robert Hutchins 1947.
  9. Innis was Dean of Graduate Studies and the Head of the Political Economy Department at the University of Toronto. McLuhan to Innis, March 14, 1951: I think there are lines appearing in (your) Empire and Communications (…) which suggest the possibility of organizing an entire school of studies. (…) It seems obvious to me that Bloor Street (where Innis’ Political Economy Department was located) is the one point in this University where one might establish a focus of the arts and sciences. And the organizing concept would naturally be ‘Communication Theory and Practice’. A simultaneous focus of current and historic forms. Relevance to be given to selection of areas of study by dominant artistic and scientific modes of the particular period.”
  10. In the Giedion papers in Zurich.
  11. Giedion answered McLuhan’s notes  on January 11, 1956: “Many thanks for your letters. (…) As you know, I am since years on the tracks for a faculty of interrelations establishing or trying to establish a common vocabulary, a clarification & comparison of method used in different disciplines. I have full confidence in you and in Carpenter and I will be delighted to be with the party. Yet I have to let you know, that I have in Spring 1957 the Mellon lectures at the National Galleries (…). So that I should know approximately what you expect from me! You know that I did not accept the very tempting offer of the University of Minnesota last year. I found the people very interesting & the sum at their disposal very high (120,000 dollars) but I did not know personally the work of the participants. (…) All good luck to your plans.” Giedion’s message: ‘If you don’t want to have the same experience as the University of Minnesota, let me know in detail what would be expected of me at a time when my main priority must be the Mellon lectures!
  12. The worlds of Culture and Technology — what McLuhan in his 1951 letter to Innis (cited in note 9 above) called “the arts and sciences” and “dominant artistic and scientific modes”.