- Paperback: 142 pages
- Publisher: BPS Books (September 30, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1772360228
- ISBN-13: 978-1772360226
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,286,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia, and the Soul: An Odyssey Paperback – September 30, 2015
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About the Author
Eric McLuhan, PhD, a renowned literary and communications theorist, is also the author, most recently, of Cynic Satire, The Human Equation series (written with mime artist Wayne Constantineau), Theories of Communication, and Media and Formal Cause. Earlier, he co-authored essays and books with Marshall McLuhan including Laws of Media: The New Science and published The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake, among other books. McLuhan lives in Bloomfield, Ontario.
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At SLU, Ong took at least one English course from the young Canadian Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943), a recent convert to Catholicism (in the spring of 1937, when he was teaching English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). McLuhan taught English at SLU from 1937 to 1944, as he continued to work on his 1943 Cambridge University doctoral dissertation.
In the late 1950s, McLuhan slowly worked his way through the Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan’s 1957 philosophical masterpiece Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (5th ed., University of Toronto Press, 1992). In it Lonergan works out what he himself refers to as the generalized empirical method that he considers to be the method suitable for research in theology, philosophy, and the natural and human sciences. But to what extent, if any, was McLuhan influenced by Lonergan’s book? I have no idea.
Ong’s massively researched doctoral dissertation was published, slightly revised in two volumes by Harvard University Press in 1958. In Ong’s 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason, Ong works with an insight that he himself gives credit to the French Catholic philosopher Louis Lavelle (1883-1951) for developing originally. Then Ong’s 1958 book prompted McLuhan to write his flawed experimental book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962), in which he greatly expands the scope of the insight he borrowed from Ong’s 1958 book.
Next, McLuhan further expanded the scope of that basic insight in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill), which became his big breakthrough book. Neither Ong nor Lonergan ever had a comparable big breakthrough book.
Ong published reviews of McLuhan’s 1951 book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (Vanguard Press) and of his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press) and of his 1969 book The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan (1969).
As improbable as it may sound to people today, McLuhan was seemed to be ubiquitous in the 1960s and 1970 – in newspapers and magazines and even on television and in a cameo appearance in a Woody Allen movie. For example, the New York Times published an interview with McLuhan conducted by Wallace Turner titled “Understanding M’Luhan [sic] by Him” on November 22, 1966, page 43. Among other things, McLuhan is quoted as saying, “People make a great mistake trying to read me as if I were saying something. I poke these sentences around to probe and feel my way around in our kind of world.”
In an essay originally published in the Jesuit-sponsored journal Theological Studies, volume 28 (1967): pages 336-351, the Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) adverts explicitly but briefly to McLuhan’s statement. Lonergan’s 1967 essay has recently been reprinted in volume 13 of the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (University of Toronto Press, 2016, pages 11-30), from which I will now quote his commentary:
“To deny the correspondence view of truth is to deny that, when the meaning is true, the meant is what is so [i.e., what is the case]. . . . If there is no correspondence between meaning and meant, then in Prof. McLuhan’s phrase, it would be a great mistake to read the [Christian] dogmas as if they were saying something. If that is a great mistake, it would be another to investigate their historical origins, and a third to talk about their development” (page 16).
So is it a great mistake to read McLuhan’s sayings as if he were saying something, as he himself says in the published interview – as if there were some correspondence between the meaning of what he says and the meant? Or is he just “putting on” the interviewer and the readers – perhaps for his own satirical purposes, whatever they may have been? But what might his own satirical purposes have been for saying what he is quoted as saying in the New York Times? Was he just being some kind of merry prankster in the interview?
Now, in literary studies, there is what is known as the unreliable narrator. Arguably one the greatest uses of that technique is William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying (1930). So was McLuhan deliberately playing the role of the unreliable narrator in the statement quoted from the interview in the New York Times? But if we take that statement at face value, shouldn’t we consider all of McLuhan’s other statements as expressions of an unreliable narrator?
In any event, a tsunami of a backlash against McLuhan emerged years before he died in 1980. At times, McLuhan’s statements were characterized as “oracular” – implying that he was playing the role of an oracle. Up to a certain point, I can sympathize with the frustration and at times exasperation with him and with some of his public statements such as the statement I quoted about from the interview in the New York Times. In all honesty, I would not want to be subjected to all the hostile critiques that McLuhan was subjected to.
But I also want to discuss Lonergan’s pedestrian-sounding term “insight.” When I grasp an insight that another person has had, it is an “ah-ha” moment for me – I get it. However, when I do not grasp an insight that another person has had, I don’t get it. In the case of McLuhan, he had a number of related insights. But insights are not easy to communicate to another person. As a result, the other person who doesn’t “get it” may express hostility and say that the person who has had the insight sounds oracular – or perhaps something worse.
Now, Eric McLuhan, Ph.D., the sole author of the book The Role of Thunder in [James Joyce’s] Finnegans Wake (University of Toronto Press, 1997), is the oldest son of Marshall and Corinne McLuhan. Years after Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, the University of Toronto Press published the book Laws of Media: The New Science co-authored by Marshall and Eric McLuhan (1988).
In the preface (pages vi-xi), Eric McLuhan says, “The key to the whole business [of the book] is sensibility, as the serious poets and artists (and grammarians) have always maintained. [Giambattista] Vico in particular targeted ‘the modification of our human minds’ as the crucial area, while he cast about for a way to read and write the mental dictionary.’ Then the relation between [Francis] Bacon’s idols and Vico’s axioms surfaced – bias of perception – and the job was done. Bacon called his book the Novum Organum (or Novum Organon, as a swat at Aristotle’s followers), the New Science; Vico called his the Science Nuova, the New Science; I have subtitled ours The New Science” (pages x-xi).
For any people who may be interested in Eric McLuhan’s 2015 book The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia, and the Soul: An Odyssey, here are some relevant scholarly references that he does not happen to advert to explicitly.
Ong’s book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong’s 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale’s Divinity School.
Hans Belting’s book Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (University of Chicago Press, 1994).
William Craig Forrest’s 335-page doctoral dissertation Literary Kinesthesia (Saint Louis University, 1960). Ong served as the director of Forrest’s dissertation.
Ong refers to it in his book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Culture and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1977, page 131).
John D. Schaeffer’s book Sensus Communis: Vico, Rhetoric, and the Limits of Relativism (Duke University Press, 1990).
Ong also served as the director of Schaeffer’s doctoral dissertation on a certain aspect of Thomas More’s thought.
Schaeffer also published the article “From Natural Religion to Natural Law in Vico: Rhetoric, Poetic, and Vico’s Imaginative Universals” in Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, volume 15, number 1 (Winter 1997): pages 41-51.
More recently, Schaeffer published the two-volume work titled A Translation from Latin into English of Giambattista Vico’s Il Diritto/ Universal Law (Edwin Mellen, 2011).
A.N. Williams’ book The Divine Sense: The Intellect in Patristic Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Norman Russell’s book The Doctrine of Deification in the Greek Patristic Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2004).
A.N. Williams’ book The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (Oxford University Press, 1999).
Bernhard Blankenhorn’s book The Mystery of Union with God: Dionysian Mysticism in Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2015).
Daria Spezzano’s book The Glory of God’s Grace: Deification According to St. Thomas Aquinas (Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University [in Florida], 2015; distributed by Georgetown University Press).
As you can see, I have not listed any relevant scholarly studies about non-Christian traditions.