Speakers: Marshall McLuhan, W.H. Auden, Buckminster Fuller and Jack MacGowran
Moderator: Norman Jeffares
Topic: Theatre and the Visual Arts
Location: Fourth Annual Seminar in Irish Studies held in 1971 at the University of Toronto;
Recording found in Hornbake Library of the University of Maryland, College Park.
About Marshall McLuhan:
Marshall McLuhan was born on July 21, 1911, to Methodist parents in Edmonton, Alberta. In 1916, the family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where McLuhan attended university, earning both his BA and MA degrees from the University of Manitoba. He pursued further study at Cambridge, England, earning another BA and MA there.
What has been referred to as McLuhan's “aesthetic approach” has its roots in the New Criticism developed at Cambridge in the 1930s. Under the leadership of F.R. Leavis and I.A. Richards, McLuhan developed an appreciation for the formal aspects of literature — an important precursor to his later ideas on technological forms. The New Criticism concentrated on understanding how literature achieved its effect on readers. The meanings of a poem, for instance, were derived from how the words worked together in a formal context, not from authorial intent. The New Critics considered the manipulation and use of form and structure, including language itself, of paramount importance. In other words, form had a direct correlation to the kinds of meanings — or effects — literature communicated to readers. This critical stance informed McLuhan's famous aphorism, “The medium is the message.”
McLuhan published his first major work during this period. The Mechanical Bride (1951) was an examination of the impact of advertising on society and culture. He also produced an important journal, Explorations, with Edmund Carpenter throughout the 1950s. Together with Innis and Eric Havelock, McLuhan and Carpenter have been characterized as the Toronto School of Communication. Though not a formal school, this group of researchers — held together by the centrality of communications technologies — attempted to account for cultural, social and institutional changes over time and space.
McLuhan published a number of works during this period that established him as an important and often controversial figure in the field of communications: The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), Understanding Media (1964), and The Medium is the Massage (1967). As McLuhan's notoriety grew, he received offers from other universities.
To keep him, the University of Toronto created the Centre for Culture and Technology in 1963. The need to support a large family eventually led McLuhan to take on a number of lucrative consulting and speaking engagements for large corporations, such as IBM and AT&T. McLuhan even wrote commercials, much to the dismay of his scholarly contemporaries. After the publication of Understanding Media in 1964, and continuing into the 1970s, McLuhan became a household name, making countless media appearances; he had a cameo in Woody Allen's 1977 film, Annie Hall, and received an impromptu visit from Yoko Ono and John Lennon in Toronto.
About W.H. Auden:
Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was an English poet, who later became an American citizen. He is best known for love poems such as “Funeral Blues,” poems on political and social themes such as “September 1, 1939” and “The Shield of Achilles,” poems on cultural and psychological themes such as The Age of Anxiety, and poems on religious themes such as “For the Time Being” and “Horae Canonicae.” He was born in York, grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended English independent (or public) schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29 he spent five years (1930–35) teaching in English public schools, then travelled to Iceland and China in order to write books about his journeys. In 1939 he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946. He taught from 1941 to 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York (in Oxford in 1972–73) and summered in Kirchstetten, Austria.