Kenner on McLuhan, the universal sage

In the frontmatter of his early books, Hugh Kenner briefly noted his time with McLuhan in the late 1940s:

The poetry of Ezra Pound, 1951
To Marshall McLuhan
‘A catalogue, his jewels of conversation’1

Dublin’s Joyce, 1955
Dr. H. M. McLuhan of the University of Toronto has permitted me free use of his unpublished History of the Trivium, on which my thirteenth chapter depends heavily, and afforded the continual stimulus of letters and conversation.

The Invisible Poet, 1959
Ten years ago Marshall McLuhan and I planned an “Eliot book” and spent some weeks reading through the poems and essays, conversing and annotating as we went. Though this book is very different from the one we projected and abandoned, it owes more than I can unravel to those weeks of association.

The Art of Poetry, 1959
Several friends and colleagues have been indirect contributors to this book, notably Professor H. M. McLuhan, who extricated from Aristotle the conception of the “plot” of a lyric poem, and first suggested to me the method of exposition by questioning.

Then, after McLuhan’s death at the end of 1980, Kenner remembered him more expansively in a series of written pieces and broadcasts:

Marshall McLuhan R.I.P. (January 23, 1981)
The media sage of the sixties was created, he surely knew, by the media. The Marshall McLuhan I began to know in the mid-forties was a tall, trim pipe-smoker (“Cigarette smokers are not interested in tobacco”) whose passion was aiding people such as me to knit up what he considered unexamined lives.
Our trouble — yours and mine — was insufficient attention to what we were doing. We smoked, but weren’t interested in tobacco. We flipped through magazines, but didn’t adequately ponder half their content, which was ads. We drove cars — he didn’t — but failed to reflect that our cars were driving us. Twenty years later his famous slogan, “The Medium is the Message,” simply generalized that order of preoccupation. What you’re taking for granted, it says, is always more important than whatever you have your mind fixed on. On that principle, Marshall would undertake benign regulation of any life that came near.
Precisely because my mind was fixed on teaching, I had but to reflect that it was not what I was doing. Like it or not, I was embarked on a survival game, for which to begin with I needed a Ph. D. Most of my Toronto instructors had been content with the Oxford M. A. For my part I had a Toronto M. A. Did that not suffice? I had been told it did. No, said  Marshall, your mentors inhabit a backwater. The fields of force no longer emanate from Oxford. A Ph.D., and it had better be from Yale, where his friend Cleanth Brooks had just been installed as doyen of the New Criticism.
Twenty-four hours later we were headed south from Toronto in my car. In New York we paused to ascertain what anyone less rash would have checked before starting out, whether in that particular June week Cleanth Brooks was even to be found at Yale. He was not. We had five days to put in. Just time for a side trip to Washington, D.C., where (a passer-through had indicated) the allegedly mad Ezra Pound was accessible to visitors. (Half of my subsequent life was derived from that visit.) Then to New Haven where the bemused but unfailingly courteous Cleanth Brooks undertook to see what could be done about getting Marshall’s new protégé admitted now. Three months later I was in New Haven again, a doctoral candidate.
Having since been a director of graduate admissions, I am in a better position than most to be awestruck at the prodigies Cleanth must have accomplished: one more gauge of Marshall’s imperious persuasiveness.
And all those dozens of hours on the road — before freeways, remember, we puttered New York-Washington and return on U.S. 1, poking block by block through every obstacle, even Baltimore — he saw tirelessly to my education, which my profs had (of course) neglected shamefully. They had not even told me, for example, about T. S. Eliot, his sanity, his centrality.
Eliot was Marshall’s talisman in those years. We started to collaborate on an Eliot book and read through the canon together, Marshall pontificating, I annotating. As to why that book never got written: its plan got lost, because as you can see (back to the principle) if you are thinking Eliot is important, why, he can’t be.
That was a problem with the McLuhan system: its emphases were by definition self-destructive. Eliot, he came to think, was fencing insights stolen from Mallarmé. If you objected that Eliot barely mentioned Mallarmé, that merely proved what an old slyboots he was.
Later he had decided that Mallarmé in turn was retailing Buddhism, and later still everybody you can think of was feeding the world hidden Buddhism at the prompting of a fraternity of Freemasons. That was dangerous knowledge, and he even came to think the Freemasons had a contract out on him. By that time we were out of touch.
A few years later he discovered media, and became famous, rightly. I don’t know of anyone else who has sucked himself down into a conspiracy theory and come triumphantly out of it. Conspiracy theories are normally terminal. But Marshall was unique.
What always saved him was his ability to get interested in something else. Nothing was too 
trivial. “Let us check on this,” he would say, and steer the two of us into a movie house, where we stayed for twenty minutes. “Enough.” Out in the light he extemporized an hour of analysis.
I think he did get a television, finally. I know he read books and books and books. (Marshall McLuhan reads books ran a bumper sticker in the sixties.) He read them especially on Sunday afternoons: long demanding books like Lancelot Andrewes’ Sermons. He would nap at two, wake up at three, and start reading, pausing to pencil numerous tiny notes on the flyleaves.
A last glimpse: Marshall’s unappeasable mother, in the back seat of the car, is sampling the Pisan Cantos. She is baffled, and means her bafflement to be a reproach. “What you have to understand, Mother,” he improvises, “is that in the poetry you are used to things happen one after another. Whereas in that poetry everything happens at once.” It served to quell her. As it stands it’s not a good formula, but you can think how to go on from it, if you don’t get flypapered. I’ve been going on from extemporizations of Marshall’s for thirty years. (Mazes, 295-297)

McLuhan Redux (Marshall McLuhan was my first mentor. I met him in 1946, saw him for the last time in 1972, and in 1984 was grateful to Harper’s for an invitation to resurrect his memory. This appeared in November 1984.)
“Computer literacy,” we keep repeating, meaning doubtless something or other. We surely forget to mean the most obvious thing about time spent at a computer terminal, that it is used in two supremely literate activities, typing and reading. Marshall McLuhan noticed long ago that the “content” of a medium is always a previous medium. I’ve also remarked that we don’t see a medium itself, save as packaging for its content. That helps ease new media into acceptability. Genteel folk once learned to tolerate movies by thinking of them as packaged plays or packaged books. Likewise, we sidle up to the computer, saying over and over that it’s nothing but an electrified filing system . “Word processing” is another incantation. Souls are safe in proximity to words.
Yet something is altering. Here is Byte, a fat and glossy computer journal put out by no bunch of hackers but by staid McGraw-Hill. The July 1984 issue contains a long software review, tied to intricate fact in a way manifestly more responsible than anything likely to turn up in the New York Review of Books. Reviewers for Byte are not at liberty to be cranky or erratically informed. This piece undertakes an overview of the difficult language LISP before comparing two “implementations,” as they are called, in detail. For a rough analogy, imagine a point-for-point evaluation of two Sanskrit grammars, such as the American Journal of Philology might entrust to a senior professor. Imagine it, further, prefaced by a guide to Sanskrit for novices, the whole kept clear and readable throughout, and you get an idea of the Byte piece. So who wrote this paradigm? A computer-engineering major at Case Western Reserve, in collaboration with “a recent graduate of Sycamore High School” who designs relational database systems for a living.
In blunt archaic language: Byte‘s authorities turn out to be an undergraduate and a system dropout who has traded his place in the educational queue for something more challenging. Computerist, dropout: a not unfamiliar linking. No reader of newsmagazines will fail to remember how Bill Gates (Harvard dropout) founded Microsoft, how Steven Jobs (Reed dropout) and Stephen Wozniak (Berkeley dropout) founded Apple. No, the filing-system model lacks explanatory power. Passion for filing systems, even electrified ones, does not bring about such a transformation of hierarchies . Yes, something has altered. Marshall McLuhan again: “The drop-out situation in our schools at present has only begun to develop. The young student today grows up in an electrically configured world . . . not of wheels but of circuits, not of fragments but of integral patterns. . . . At school, however, he encounters a situation organized by means of classified information. The subjects are unrelated. They are visually conceived in terms of a blueprint. The student can find no possible means of involvement for himself, nor can he discover how the educational scene relates to the “mythical” world of electronically processed data and experience that he takes for granted.”
In 1964 that seemed one of McLuhan’s wilder remarks. No longer. Today we find it pertinent that even when computers were far from ubiquitous he was observing the medium instead of its content, “files.” He was foreseeing, moreover, a dramatic effect of the medium. And instances of his prescience multiply. Once brushed off by The New Yorker as a “pop philosopher,” the author of Understanding Media is starting to look like a prophet.
That is all the more remarkable since “the oracle of the electric age” (a phrase coined by Life) wouldn’t drive a car, never turned on a radio, barely glanced at television, and checked out movies by popping in on them for twenty minutes . Apart from the Olivier Henry V, at which he’d been trapped on a social occasion, I don’t know of a movie he saw from beginning to end. “Marshall McLuhan Reads Books,” said a bumper sticker, graffito of the scandalous truth. He did indeed read books, and, other than talk and scribble, he did little else.
disdain for inconvenient fact could erode your confidence . “The horse that’s headed for a can of Gro-Pup” — climax of one of his merry perorations — lost force if you knew that Gro-Pup was not processed meat and did not come in cans. Useless to tell him. He had picked up the name from an ad, and if Gro-Pup wasn’t canned horse, as his metaphor required, its purveyors simply didn’t know their business. His world was full of people who didn’t know their business, such as nearly all of his fellow English professors. But though he was often wrong himself, as when he discerned “the abrupt decline of baseball,” he never had the patience to sit through a ball game.
In those days he countered 
nigglingly sheer assertion. It was after my time that he discovered a generic answer. People who raised objections were detailists, specialists, locked into local patterns: instances of what had happened to the Western psyche after Gutenberg gave his coup de grace to the old oral culture by persuading everybody that one thing must follow another the way each printed word follows, on its line, the word that precedes it. Nigglers were confined to “the neutral visual world of lineal organization,” and the specialist was one who “never makes small mistakes while moving toward the grand fallacy.”
I have sometimes wondered if Marshall didn’t evolve his whole theory of media as a way to explain why there seemed to be people who tried to interrupt his monologues . What cataclysm of history had
 spawned  them? Why, literacy, with its first-things-first-let’s-keep-it-all-straight syndrome. Were they not the very people who kept wincing at somebody’s grammar? The word “grammar” itself derives from the Greek word for a written remark. That would have been enough to get him started. Much as Saul found a kingdom while out hunting for his father’s asses, Marshall McLuhan found his skeleton key to the social psyche. Thereafter, he kept it hanging on a hook labeled “Media” and never bothered to explain what Media were.

Media included not only magazines and television but also roads, wheels, railways, electricity, numbers, clocks, money — they all did things we had once tried to do with our senses and our bodies; that was why he called them “extensions of man.” Adjusting to any new medium, since it strained what had been a bodily and sensual relationship (his word was “ratio”), meant anguish and anxiety. So “the mediaeval world grew up without uniform roads or cities or bureaucracies, and it fought the wheel, as later city forms fought the railways; and as we, today, fight the automobile.”
Media came in two flavors, “hot” and “cool.” The hot ones saturate you with information; paradoxically, you are then passive, uninvolved, as when you half-listen to the radio. The cool ones draw back and leave you filling in. TV, with its inferior picture detail, is cool; hence, its viewer’s rapt involvement.
Though his pronouncements on the electronic age and its global village made him briefly famous, what he really knew was literacy, and what he developed most fully was his insight into its consequences. What literacy achieves is the “hot” storage and retrieval of words only, as though their choice and sequence constituted the whole of human communication. But in the heat of conversation, relatively little is communicated by words. Silences, intonations, advances and withdrawals, smiles, and the whole repertory of body language — these in their elaborate dance enact most of what is happening.
Screen them out, leave only the silent words on a page, and your first requirement is more words. The dialogue Henry James’s people exchange is wordier by a factor of at least three than any speech human ears have ever heard. James was making up for the absence from printed pages of what normal grammar and diction do little to convey,  the  ballet of interaction. (He brought written prose to its extreme of articulation just before radio took over.)
The next thing you need is a fairly strict one-two-three order, because written words exist only in space, and can presuppose only the words that came before them. Things on a line of print cannot overlap. This is the “linearity”, on which McLuhan harped. Talkers allude to what they’ve not said, or have said on another occasion, or will say later, or needn’t say save by gesture or dawdle or pause; but once discourse is controlled by writing, as even the spoken discourse of literates tends to be, its syntax (think of James again) grows fairly elaborate, out of need for strict systems of subordination among items that can be produced only one after another. Examine the sentence you’ve just read.
Finally, literates come to believe that controlled linearity is order, all else disorder: that the cosmos itself is structured like a Jamesian utterance, with primary, secondary, tertiary clauses. If any sentence of Understanding Media might have turned up without irrelevance anywhere in any chapter, that was because McLuhan thought that prose should work like the mind, not the other way round. Whatever he was thinking of grew in iconic power the more rapidly he could relate it to a dozen other things, if possible in the same breath. So he got called “the professor of communications who can’t communicate/’ an academic Harpo unable to stick to a point. His point was that there is never a “point.” Points are Euclidean junctures in such sentences as come to life only in diagrams.
There are aspects of his plight Beckett might have invented . What language may say in a literate society McLuhan deemed of little importance compared with what literacy had done to the literate. I once heard him deny that anything Plato wrote could match in importance the fact that in a given classroom all copies of The Republic have the same word at the same place on the same numbered page. Hence “The Medium Is the Message”, his most quoted and most suicidal oversimplification. For it was precisely what he said that he wanted understood; moreover, what he said in writing. Using writing to expound the effects of writing was like explaining water to a school of fish. Fish   understand nothing of water, but they judge you by the way you move your flippers. He got snubbed by print-swimmers who deemed measured prose a measure of character.
So obsessed was his readership by “content” that detractor and disciple alike tended to think he was talking about the effect of the medium on the message it carries: TV is highly visual, for instance, hence its 
fondness for crowds and confrontations. But that barely concerned him. (He said TV was “tactile”.) What obsessed him is clearer after twenty years: the effect of the mere availability of new media on people’s sense of who and what they are.
The medium called “money” presents a ready example. True, once money had been invented it changed bread and butter into commodities keyed to prices, a message that affected shopper and speculator alike. But in making subsistence by barter nearly impossible, money could also deform the life of a man who never touched it. Even so print, yes, structures its message; but McLuhan deemed it of far more moment that life in a print-oriented culture restructures the soul of even a total illiterate. Not only does he know that other people know things he doesn’t, but he also picks up ambient assumptions about first-things-first. In not being felt at all, the latter effect reaches deeper than any felt deprivation.
Likewise, said McLuhan, all of us have been reconstituted by TV, whether we choose to watch the tube or not: “The utmost purity of mind is no defense against bacteria.” If TV has a propensity for street happenings (which get staged for its benefit); if its pundits earn their welcome into our living rooms by coming on populist, hence chummily “liberal”; if TV is so “cool” that Bill Buckley — a man whose meaning even devotees have to construct — has been on it longer than almost anyone else; if it’s Paul Harvey (strident, rightist, “hot”) who is left to fulminate in the Hot Ghetto of Radio Gulch while George Will (“cool,” puckish, bow-tied) gets welcomed as ABC’s ticket-balancing House Conservative, still it’s not because of someone’s adroitness at packaging that Ronald Reagan sits in the Oval Office but Richard Nixon in itchy exile, Jimmy Carter in limbo. Articulate opinion of Nixon and of Carter got formed in print, still our only medium of articulate opinion. And yet, it was the omnipresence of television that determined what kind of opinions the older medium — print — could form and seem credible.
This means that in the television age even non-watchers
 gravitate toward “cool” personalities. Nixon was too jowly and affirmative to pass muster, Carter too morally opinionated. (Mondale? He’s an Identi-Kit. Only TV could have made him a viable candidate.) The prevalent perception of “wake-me-when-it’s-over” Reagan is that he falls asleep: a caricature that affirms his ultimate “cool”. When you have to tell the President what’s happening, that is your ultimate participation.
Reagan’s successor might be 
Kermit the Frog. The night Kermit filled in for Johnny Carson, no one noticed.
Yes, we’re governed by caricatures, because we perceive by them. There’s no better instance than the regnant caricature of McLuhan, shared by print-folk who thought they were attending to his text and bypassing the electronic media, the wrong thing to do. For he was presupposing TV’s cool collaboration, not print’s hot “specialist,” “fragmented” reading. Like another guide to the future, Bucky Fuller, McLuhan was discarded as unintelligible. Willy-nilly, trapped in hot print in an age of cool TV, he was taken at his (printed) word, just as if in his outrageous one-liners he hadn’t intended audience participation, or hadn’t counted on his audience to fill out and correct all those comic book formulations. The apostle of “cool” came on “hot,” a blunderbuss Nixon of the Media Era, and coolness made a joke of him and discarded him. 
(Mazes, 223-229)

The Poetry of Ezra Pound, 1985 (reprint of 1951 edition)
Retrospect: 1985 (New Preface to the Bison Book Edition)

Marshall McLuhan and I had visited Pound at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington on 4 June 1948. Pound wrote the date, and his name, on the flyleaf of the copy of Personae I’d brought along. The Pisan Cantos had just been published — he inscribed it for Marshall — and its Bollingen Prize lay many months ahead. We had not come there as special fans of his. Joyce’s was the only twentieth-century work I knew at all well, and Marshall, at that time pretty much a New Critic, believed with F. R. Lea vis that the one major poet of our time was Eliot. To a degree impossible to reconstitute now, those were the Eliot Years. Even my interest in Joyce was eccentric then, a vagary Marshall was sure I’d get over. The passion, meanwhile, with which we two (and many others) studied Eliot! We penciled notes on the yellow postwar paper of a Faber Four Quartets

Mazes, a 1989 collection of Kenner essays, has the two pieces specifically on McLuhan given above, but also has tidbits about him elsewhere:

It was in 1947, under Marshall McLuhan’s informal tutelage, that I first became aware of my own century. (38)

The chain of accidents that brought Marshall McLuhan and me into [Pound’s] presence on 4 June 1948 I’ll detail some other time [see below]. The Pisan Cantos were then newly published. Later I reviewed them for the Hudson Review, another connection masterminded by Marshall. I’d read them, ecstatic, with Pound’s remembered voice in my ear. Soon, thanks to New Directions’ well-timed one-volume reprint, I could read to the surge of the same spoken cadences the rest of the poem he’d begun in 1916 or before. Its authority, after what my Toronto mentors used to call poetry, was as if great rocks were rolling. I was twenty-five, and about to become a Yale graduate student under Cleanth Brooks’s mentorship. That fall the dismal Bollingen fuss broke — a forgotten minor poet named Robert Hillyer assembling three installments of invective in the equally forgotten Saturday Review — and literati in pulpit after pulpit would do no more than affirm the purity of their own political motives. Enthralled by the master, I resolved that if no one else would make the case for Ezra Pound the poet, then I would. Having no reputation whatever, I had nothing to lose. I was naive enough not to guess that I was mortgaging my future; it is sometimes liberating not to know how the world works. So in six weeks in the summer of 1949, on a picnic table in Canada, aided by books from the University of Toronto library, I banged out on a flimsy Smith Corona the 308 typescript pages of The Poetry of Ezra Pound, which to my wonderment was instantly accepted by New Directions and by Faber & Faber. By 1951 they got it out. Though most of the reviews were put-downs, Pound before long was a stock on the academic exchange: a safe “subject.” What that means is not that I’d “discovered” him, or been magnetically persuasive concerning his virtues. What I’d done, unwittingly, at the threshold of two decades’ academic expansion — people peering under every cabbage leaf for “topics” — was show how this new man with his large and complex oeuvre might plausibly be written about. (39-40)

The late Marshall McLuhan, media guru, personified an earlier array of biases. He fastidiously did not own a typewriter. A fountain pen, yes, because he liked the nib, but he wouldn’t fill it, he dipped it. From the little pump on its glorified eyedropper, he shied as from the devil. Useless to cite the simplicity of the process. “That kind of knowledge,” he would say, “has been so dearly bought it behooves you to have as little of it as possible.” (176)

As the oldest living ex-McLuhanite (disciple in 1946, defected circa 1951), I approached Gary Gumpert’s Talking Tombstones and Other Tales of the Media Age (Oxford University Press, 1987) with special anxieties: “Mushall McGloom” a mutual friend used to say in those years. Was Gary Gumpert going to tell us what Marshall McLuhan took to saying some time after I lost faith, that the “medium is the message” ? Or — Mushall’s next reckless extension — the “massage”? (230)

Gary Gumpert, unlike Marshall McLuhan, hasn’t transcended moral judgments . About some things, he avers, we just should not be so bland. McLuhan used to think likewise, back when his first book was still called “Guide to Chaos.” Rewritten and published as The Mechanical Bride, though, it said, “Let ‘er rip.” He was coming to believe in the “global village,” perhaps because he liked the way the phrase sounded. (233-234)

The Elsewhere Community (2000), which was originally talks on CBC in 1998, has this description of Kenner’s time with McLuhan:

In 1956, I made a journey. (…) Its purpose was simple: to meet some half-dozen people, mostly writers, whom I’d decided I simply must visit. And that constellation of visits quickly became an Elsewhere Community of mine, so much so that it’s altered everything I’ve done and written in the four decades since. (…)  I want to tell vou about the man who advised me to make [that journey]. Through the years, he gave much other valuable advice, to many other people as well as to me. He remains, to my mind, the Elsewhere Community personified. Let me start by telling you how I chanced to meet him.
I was born a Canadian and remain a Canadian citizen, and as to what I’m now doing in the United States, where I’ve been a green-carded Permanent Resident since 1948, well, the story is intricate and I’ll keep it short. In 1946, with a University of Toronto B.A. and M.A. in English, I supposed my academic future was secure. Almost all my instructors had held no degree higher than a British Master of Arts, and so, with a Canadian M.A. of my own, I surely could feel empowered to teach. But that vear, thanks to a friend2 who thought we’d hit it off, I met the universal sage Marshall McLuhan, who convinced me otherwise.
Marshall had just arrived in Toronto and was to be a presence there for the next three decades. His sense of practical reality was then far more acute than mine. He informed me that without a Ph.D. I had no future in this postwar world. So I should obtain one; moreover, I should obtain it at Yale, where his old friend the critic Cleanth Brooks had just arrived. (Marshall did tend to take charge of anyone he was advising.) So in midsummer 1948, he and I set off in my car to visit Cleanth at Yale. And in September, I began my Ph.D. program there. Having since been a director of graduate admissions, I can guess what prodigies of persuasion Cleanth must have performed to get me admitted that late, moreover as an applicant from a foreign country. Hence the green card.
But I’ve shortened that story by omitting another one. For it was typical of Marshall that we’d driven from Toronto as far as New York before it occurred to him to see whether Cleanth Brooks was in fact in New Haven. A phone call ascertained that he wasn’t at present, but would be in three davs. So, we had time to put in. And then a chance acquaintance informed us over dinner that it was now possible to visit Ezra Pound.  He’d been imprisoned a year previously in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane, Washington D.C. Our man, to whom I’m forever indebted, even knew the procedure for setting up a visit. So, en route from New York to New Haven we’d loop through Washington.
On June 4, 1948, Marshall and I pulled in to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. We presented our credentials at the office, saw our names entered in a book labelled “Ezra Pound’s Company,” then were ushered up two stories to the Chestnut Ward. Pound had recently been promoted from the Dangerously Insane so to speak to the Slightiy Cracked; that was the news our New York informant was responding to when he’d told us Pound could now be visited. Still, the staircases we climbed were affixed to the outside of the building; inside, floor was sealed from floor. We rang; a guard opened the door; we showed credentials; the door was locked behind us.
Pound in his new status, had a room of his own, though guests weren’t allowed to enter it. Still, he and his wife, Dorothy, an Englishwoman who now used a Washington address, could receive visitors in, well, relative privacy. We all met in an alcove at the intersection of two corridors.
One low armchair for E.P., who had back problems; three more chairs for Dorothy and the two of us. I seem to remember visitors being limited to two. E.P. advised us to pull our chairs in close. He indicated a fellow patient in the corridor, with a carpet-sweeper from which the works had been removed. The man was acting out an obsession about visitors, who tracked in, from the outer world, unspeakable corruption. Pound’s old friend and disciple, the poet T.S. Eliot, had recently visited, and owing to a failure to gather the chairs in close, Eliot had spent much of the afternoon with his feet in the air, while the sweeper poked and probed after filth beneath him. That was especially funny if you knew about Eliot’s ultra-fastidiousness.
What did Ezra Pound look like? Grey moustache, short grey goatee, grey swept-back hair. His presence could fill a room, or even a makeshift space such as we occupied. (…) And yet, on the day I met him, June 4, 1948, I barely knew who he was. It was one of the two or three turning points of my life.

Philip Marchand’s The Medium and the Messenger has passages from a letter, dated March 18, 1987, that Hugh Kenner wrote to him about McLuhan as Marchand was preparing his book: 

What Marshall always really needed was a stooge. (…) I think he liked to have someone else in the room while he thought aloud. (Marchand, Random House edition, 58) 

He pushed at me T. S. Eliot, who’d been the type of unintelligibility to my Toronto profs. And he had me read Richards’ Practical Criticism, Leavis’ New Bearings in English Poetry, and (eventually) the entire file of Scrutiny. He kept mentioning Wyndham Lewis, whom I’d never heard of, notwithstanding that for two years I’d lived half a mile away from him. (…) So many windows opened! (Marchand, Random House edition, 93) 

McLuhan despised [Joyce] as merely ‘mechanical,’ a ‘contriver.’ McLuhan in those days took the Leavis line on nearly everything, though he did smuggle in Wyndham Lewis. He told a mutual friend (Pauline Bondy) that I was ‘wasting my time’ on Joyce. (Marchand, Random House edition, 94) 




  1. “A catalogue, his jewels of conversation” is from Pound’s Canto III which, as the Poetry Foundation has it, appeared in the July, 1917 issue of Poetry: Originally part of what scholars call the “Ur-Cantos,” this version of Canto III was later edited by Pound to become Canto I of his collected Cantos.
  2. This must have been Fr Gerald Phelan.