マクルーハン by Douglas Coupland

DAVID CARR “Marshall McLuhan: Media Savant” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/books/review/Carr-t.html

ダグラス・クープラン*1によるマクルーハンMarshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!の書評。

“Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!” is an odd title for a weird book. Not weird bad, just weird in a way that makes you stop and think about what precisely the author, Douglas Coupland, is up to. Like the man it chronicles, Coupland’s book is full of unconventional angles, ricochets and resonances. Rather than offering a ­doorstop-size addition to the Great Man canon, it comes in at just over 200 pages that nonetheless sprawl and unfold to their own idiosyncratic rhythm.

This is the kind of book that will deliver major annoyance to academics who have made a career out of deconstructing McLuhan’s effort to define the modern media ecosystem. But to a reader interested in a little serious fun, a dip into someone we pretend to understand but don’t really know, “You Know Nothing of My Work!” is a welcome taunt. The book rewards by refusing to slip into the numbing vortex of academic discourse, taking a fizzy, pop-culture approach to explaining a deep thinker, one who ended up popularized almost in spite of himself.

Coupland explains that it was McLuhan’s ability to anticipate the homogenizing and dehumanizing effect of mass media when the phenomenon was in its infancy that made him remarkable. Both a prisoner and a product of academic life, McLuhan broke out because he recognized the toxic effects of media long before media became the air we all breathe. And he did it before there was any genuine understanding of how human beings process mediated information. As Coupland writes: “One must remember that Marshall arrived at these conclusions not by hanging around, say, NASA or I.B.M., but rather by studying arcane 16th-century Reformation pamphleteers, the writings of James Joyce, and Renaissance perspective drawings. He was a master of pattern recognition, the man who bangs a drum so large that it’s only beaten once every hundred years.”

Coupland, who has written at length on and for the Internet, does not belabor just how McLuhan predicted a world that he did not live to see — he died in 1980 — but simply frames the language and lets the reader marvel retrospectively. After doing relatively straightforward content analysis of advertising in “The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man” in 1951, McLuhan began thinking about the systems that produced all that commercial rhetoric. And then beginning with “The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man” in 1962 and following up with “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man” in 1964, McLuhan saw the dimensions of an emerging global village in which the means of communication began to define and overwhelm the conversation. When he wrote, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us,” he was describing a television and telecommunications revolution, but he was also setting out the implications of the consumer Web four decades before it blossomed. In the lexicon of McLuhan, the Web would be the ultimate “cool” medium defined by participation and a multiplicity of inputs. And he was far from romantic, even back then, about what that might mean for civil, thoughtful discourse.

In Coupland’s hands, McLuhan’s upbringing is a chatty, gossipy exercise, in which his encounters as a young academic with the thinking and writing of G. K. Chesterton, the English writer and so-called prince of paradox, are no more or less important than the fact that he spent endless hours arguing with (and trying to impress) a perpetually unsatisfied mother who taught elocution in the provinces of Canada. Born Herbert Marshall McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1911, he attended the University of Manitoba, receiving a bachelor’s degree before heading off to Cambridge, where he studied under I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis, and fell under the sway of the New Criticism. He then taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, before beginning a long series of teaching assignments at various Catholic universities, including St. Louis University and Assumption College, and ending up at St. Michael’s, a Catholic college of the University of Toronto. His growing renown eventually led to the establishment of the Center for Culture and Technology there, which would serve as his intellectual base camp.

Coupland, a Canadian who has his own struggles with noise and is something of a polymath (an accomplished designer and artist who is also a novelist, journalist and documentarian), sees himself as a kindred spirit and shares his subject’s taste for finding meaning in marginalia. The main text of the book is interrupted with found scraps from the Web, a test for autism and lists that may or may not illuminate the adjacent pages. I found some of this puzzling, but began to think that puzzling out what was in front of me was part of the conversation Coupland was trying to have with the reader, all through the prism of a biography of a man who loved puns and riddles.

See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20101204/1291472573