0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I first read this book decades ago, while still in college. A very fine teacher of English for a course I was taking was captivated by the book, and her enthusiasm migrated to me when I read it. This new edition has larger print than the dinky one I read back when my eyes were better, and also has editorial commentaries - a definite advantage. Unfortunately, the McLuhan has not aged well. While I think he scored with some important points during his analyses, there are many others that he missed. McLuhan had three bad habits as a writer. First, he made jumps of logic with some of his comments, and often he made statements that made little sense, with him not offering up any solid reasons for his often quick and essentially directionless summarizing. One need only read through the glossary at the back of the book to see examples of this. Second, he was an over the top name dropper, and used ideas put forth by earlier writers to "prove" points that simply were not proved at all. As I read the book kept thinking about how so much of this was speculative nonsense on McLuhan's part. Most of those writers would have been astounded to see what McLuhan had made of their ideas and art. Third, he often (and perhaps always) misunderstood the ability of a book reader to be flexible in terms of dovetailing their intellects with the material at hand. While television can be pictured as a "cool" medium that creates a tribal sense, books can be just as cool and even cooler if the reader applies intelligence and learns from the book. One wonders, by the way, just how McLuhan would have dealt with the rise of the internet - and the new cell-phone culture.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2014
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Marshall McLuhan's book UNDERSTANDING MEDIA (1964), I would like to point out something about McLuhan that I consider to be very important for understanding the inward turn he took in writing UNDERSTANDING MEDIA.
In the late 1950s, McLuhan carefully worked his way through Bernard Lonergan's book INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1957; 5th ed. 1992). Lonergan's book is a profound philosophical study. (McLuhan had no formal training in philosophy. In philosophy, he was an autodidact.)
Because Lonergan's book INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING is wide-ranging, I should point out that Mark D. Morelli and Elizabeth A. Morelli have perceptively selected the central parts of Lonergan's treatise in their edited book THE LONERGAN READER (University of Toronto Press, 1997, pages 29-359).
Briefly, in his inward turn to consciousness, Lonergan identified and discusses what I will style here as moments of consciousness: (1) sensory input and imagination, (2) intellectual processing of sensory input and imagination, (3) rational processing (judging and adjudicating), and (4) decision-making and taking action. Lonergan claims that his account of human consciousness constitutes a generalized empirical way of proceeding to think about human thinking.
Now, Buddhist meditation and some other forms of non-imagistic meditation aim to transcend consciousness. No doubt the experience of transcending consciousness can contribute to providing us with a certain distance from consciousness. Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), liked to say that we need both proximity (closeness) and distance to understand anything.
However, as a Jesuit, Lonergan had been trained in the Jesuit tradition of imagistic meditation - deriving from the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola. As a result of his Jesuit training in imagistic meditation, Lonergan was primed to examine human consciousness. In his philosophical treatise he establishes enough distance from human consciousness that he is able to understand how it works.
Now, McLuhan famously declared that he was concerned with percepts. Percepts involve the moment of consciousness that Lonergan refers to as sensory input and imagination. In all honesty, I have to say here that paying attention to percepts sounds remarkably similar to the spirit of imagistic meditation practiced by Jesuits. (I am not claiming that McLuhan was familiar with the Jesuit tradition of imagistic meditation, because I don't know if he was.)
Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984), was a Canadian, as was Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980). At the time when McLuhan carefully worked his way through Lonergan's philosophical study in the late 1950s, McLuhan was teaching English at St. Mike's, a Roman Catholic institution in the University of Toronto. (In the mid-1930s, McLuhan had converted to Roman Catholicism.)
In the 1950s and for decades earlier, St. Mike's was one of the two leading centers in North America of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. At the time and for decades earlier, St. Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, was the other leading center of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in North America. Earlier in his professional career, McLuhan taught English at St. Louis University, as he worked on his 1943 Cambridge University doctoral dissertation.
Centuries earlier, the Jesuits had joined the Dominicans in promoting the thought of Thomas Aquinas in philosophy and theology. In his Jesuit training, Lonergan had become an expert in the thought of Thomas Aquinas in philosophy and theology.
However, because of the extraordinary status of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), many non-Catholics in North America considered Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy to be somehow "religious" - or more specifically, somehow tainted by religion. Oftentimes, non-Catholics in North America used this patently false claim to dismiss Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. This tendency to dismiss Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy was especially pronounced in the United States, where the American prestige culture had been dominated for centuries by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who tended to be anti-Catholic in spirit.
When Harvard-educated Senator John F. Kennedy was narrowly elected president of the United States in 1960, he was the first Irish-American Roman Catholic to be elected to that office. In the 1960 presidential campaign, he had to defend his personal religious affiliation because it was a stigma at that time for that office.
Because of the still strong anti-Catholic bias in the 1960s, McLuhan was not likely to present himself publicly as a Roman Catholic who was seriously interested in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy - or as a Roman Catholic who had carefully worked his way through Lonergan's monumental book INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.
Now, the subtitle of Lonergan's book advertises its central focus on human understanding.
The main title of McLuhan's book is UNDERSTANDING MEDIA.
Granted, as an English professor, McLuhan was familiar with Brooks and Warren's influential book UNDERSTANDING POETRY. (McLuhan and Brooks were friends.)
After McLuhan had carefully worked his way through Lonergan's monumental philosophical treatise, he almost certainly had been influenced by Lonergan's inward turn of consciousness, at least to a certain extent.
When we turn our attention to McLuhan's publications before 1964, we do not find anything remotely approximating his inward turn of consciousness in UNDERSTANDING MEDIA.
But McLuhan's inward turn to consciousness in UNDERSTANDING MEDIA (1964) threw many readers for a loop, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, it sold remarkably well, and it helped catapult the author to extraordinary celebrity. (However, I myself do not find all of McLuhan's analyses in UNDERSTANDING MEDIA perceptive.)
Of course Lonergan's INSIGHT: A STUDY OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING (1957) also threw many readers for a loop, to put it mildly. But Lonergan's philosophical treatise was not as widely read as McLuhan's UNDERSTANDING MEDIA was.
Now, if you want to argue that McLuhan was not influenced by carefully working his way through Lonergan's treatise, you are of course free to claim this and to advance this claim.
However, if you want to contextualize McLuhan's UNDERSTANDING MEDIA, you should not overlook Lonergan's philosophical treatise.
As I have noted, both McLuhan and Lonergan were Canadians. Certain followers of McLuhan are also Canadian, just as certain followers of Lonergan are. However, as far as I know, the influence of Lonergan's INSIGHT on McLuhan's UNDERSTANDING MEDIA has not been explored.
As far as I know, McLuhan's followers have never explored the influence of Lonergan's philosophical treatise on him - perhaps because they are not familiar with Lonergan's philosophical treatise.
Conversely, as far as I know, Lonergan's followers have never paid any attention to how his philosophical treatise may have influenced McLuhan's UNDERSTANDING MEDIA.
For this reason, I think it is appropriate to explore this here.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Classic of media theory. I personally don't care for McLuhan's writing style, but he's an infinitely interesting human being and his book is full of interesting musings on media extension and technology. Entertaining read for sure, and a great starting point to the world of media theory.