"Sailing after Knowledge: From the Modernist Periplus to the Mosaic of the Electronic Age[1]

 by Panayiotes T. Tryphonopoulos, Queen’s University, Canada


Marshall McLuhan’s media and educational theories have been inspired by, and are clearly grounded in, modernist ideas and aesthetics.  McLuhan is on the record regarding his debts to the Anglo-American modernists, especially James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis.  I contend here that it was Pound among all the modernists who had the greatest impact on McLuhan’s aesthetics and the development of his ideas about media theory and education.  Indeed, Pound’s modernist experiments influenced significantly the way McLuhan thought about media communications and education.[2]

To discover Pound’s most important contribution to McLuhan’s emergent media and pedagogical theory, we must first look at the implications and politics of ideogrammic poeisis.  Doing so offers us the opportunity to “probe” the long held doctrine of the modernist method whereby modernist poetry (but also art in general) is open-ended aesthetically and, consequently, semantically, motivating readers to create meaning and make their own conclusions irrespective of the writer’s original intention.[3]  What is often read as a postmodern idea of audience/reader participation and the role contemporary technologies of communication play in feeding an ever-increasing appetite for involvement is one McLuhan likely derived from his study of Pound.[4]  Like Pound’s poetical compositions but also his prose explications, which present and theorize respectively ideogrammically and paratactically arranged images, quotations and fragments, the writer/poet presents but does not comment.  Likewise, McLuhan’s mosaic and the probes out of which its fabric is made similarly seem to abdicate authorial authority, placing the responsibility for arriving at a meaning on the reader or student.[5]

Pound’s rejection of alphabetical, visual linearity that focuses on content and message in favour of ideogrammic, paratactical, polyphonic, and multi-dimensional simultaneity that focuses on form corresponds to his refusal to embrace the Newtonian “Aquinas-map” in order to embrace the “periplus.”[6]  In Pound’s poetry and prose, the emphasis is not on predigested ideas but rather on exploration, discovery and invention through the periplus, the empirical sailing or questing after knowledge.  As one critic puts it, the periplus works by opening up “the perceptual field to the indeterminacies of fragment and chaos, recreating, in the process, a multi-sensory field within which reader and author, similarly oriented, encounter the same stimuli toward the desired end.”[7]

Both Pound McLuhan view education as an approach to learning that is shaped by the sort of training that enhances explorations in perception.  In Guide to Kulchur, which McLuhan viewed, quite shrewdly, as a companion text to The Cantos, Pound views his ideogrammic presentation of allusions and textual fragments not in terms of content but rather in terms of form or “process” that allows for interpretive responsibility to be shared by author and reader.[8]  Instead of wishing to unpack and make sense of every piece of information, Pound’s texts are tools of perception or probes designed to train readers to become vigorous and active agents in the process of learning and discovery.  In such works as Report on Project for the Understanding of New Media (1960), McLuhan, similarly, uses the phrase “pattern recognition” to name the same process.  McLuhan, believes, for instance, that education in the electrical age must guide students to becomeindividually but also cooperativelyprocessors of data and information that are often readily available both inside and especially outside the classroom walls, leading them to new insights and new connections.  Both Pound’s and McLuhan’s process is designed “to make it new”that is, to take already used or readily available notions, dicta, facts, texts, fragments, opinions and voices that are no longer productive and transform them into a renewed discourse that signals the process of understanding.  Pound, thus, invites his reader to

Run your eye along the margin of history and you will observe great waves, sweeping movements and triumphs which fall when their ideology petrifies.. . . Ideas petrify.. . . Knowledge is or may be necessary to understanding, it but it weighs as nothing against understanding, and there is not the least use or need of retaining it in the form of dead catalogues once you understand the process.. . . Yet, once the process is understood[,] it is quite likely that the knowledge will stay by a man, weightless, held without effort. (GK 52-53)

Responding to this and similar passages in Guide to Kulchur and Pound’s poetry, Elena Lamberti reads Pound’s comment as “an implicit condemnation of a mere accumulation of learning, typical of too specialized educational systems”; she goes on to note that this is a statement that “works well also as an introduction to Marshall McLuhan’s poetics, whose mosaic is structured upon complex fragmentshis probesconceived as cognitive weapons used in a sort of counteroffensive against conventional, accepted ideas.”[9]

Pound’s observations in Guide to Kulchur and elsewhere point to McLuhan’s “mosaic,” a process leading to the discovery and the locating of patterns though which the artist/reader can quest after the knowledge of “live thought.” (GK 56)  Tony Tremblay, borrowing from Pound ABC of Reading and McLuhan’s Understanding Media, describes this journey to knowledge as “coasting’ by periplum”,[10] adding that, in doing so, Pound was “configuring theoretically what McLuhan would practice methodologically: the belief that content can only be manifest as exempla by its formal 'outering'[11] or 'extension of consciousness,'[12] by a methodology concomitant with its intent.”[13]

McLuhan views the “mosaic” as a process, an arrangement of probes that charts the reader’s periplus toward knowledge.  Indeed, McLuhan’s most famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” is another way of describing his “mosaic.”  For instance, in his discussion of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” his paradigmatic imagist poem (“The apparition of these faces in a crowd/petals on a wet, black bough.”), McLuhan offers an analysis that explicitly deconstructs the poem’s two lines in terms of the dichotomy of content/form, concluding that its meaning is “embodied in my phrase ‘the medium is the message’ in the way I present the effect of the medium on the sensibilities in a way that bypasses causes, at least those causes most people locate in the content.”[14]

McLuhan has been clear in his attention to Pound regarding a number of lessons he derives from Pound’s emphasis on form over content.  For one, he directs his reader time and again to pay less attention to the content and more attention to form, structure and medium. Furthermore, he argues that the form itself changes the content so that the same message presented in a different form offers content/a message that is different.  Yet again, the form or medium impacts the user/reader by altering her/his very perceptual reality and habits.  This third point is, perhaps, the most important one McLuhan makes since it’s clear from this theory that the medium is not neutral but influences the reader/user.  The medium, in other words, changes or shapes both the content and the “consumer” and does so without the user/reader/viewer becoming aware of this function.  The medium acts and impacts the user quite independently of its content. As he famously seems to have said, “We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.”[15]

Pound—and the modernists more generally—have much to do with McLuhan’s message and theories about not only the aesthetics but also the effects of media.  McLuhan is on the record on the matter of his debt to the modernists, including Pound. As early as 1934, when he was beginning his studies at Cambridge, McLuhan himself had become aware of Pound and high modernism.  However, by the time McLuhan had arrived at Cambridge and England (1934), Pound was already long gone, having left London in 1920[16] and, following a five-year stay in Paris, settled in the seaside resort town of Rapallo, in North-West Italy.[17]  McLuhan’s “serious interest” in Pound’s work never ceased, and he continued to read both his poetry and prose, including The Cantos as this epic poem appeared in long installments (1915-1969).[18]  By the time McLuhan started teaching at the University of Toronto (1948), Pound was already an inmate at St Elizabeths.  And so it came to pass that on Monday, May 31, 1948, in a brief letter, McLuhan wrote to the poet to introduce himself and Hugh Kenner, who had just completed an MA at the University of Toronto under his supervision and was on his way to Yale University to begin his doctoral studies.  McLuhan wrote to announce to Pound that both he and Kenner were planning to visit him on “Thursday or Friday of this week”that is on June 3 or 4, 1948:

Dear Mr. Pound

My friend Mr. Kenner and I are [very] much looking forward to a visit and some talk with you about contemporary letters, and your work, in which we have long taken a serious interest. We live in Toronto and are visiting here in New York with John Farrell. We have written Dr. Overholser to say that we will be in Washington Thursday or Friday of this week.

Cordially yours

H.M. McLuhan[19]

At this time (May 1948), Pound was two and a half years into his twelve and a half years of enforced confinement at the St Elizabeths Hospital for the Criminally Insane outside Washington D.C.[20]  McLuhan and Kenner visited Pound at St. Elizabeths on Friday, June 4, 1948.[21]  Their meeting lasted for only two hours.  However, that was enough to mark both the beginning of Kenner’s lifelong interest in, and his “invention” of, Pound (and arguably Anglo-American modernist) studies as well as the exact moment when modernist aesthetics and culture encounter and intersect with communication media.[22]  At the same time, this point of convergence led to an often animated correspondence between McLuhan and Pound on an assortment of topics, including modernist literature and contemporary education.

When he had first come across the modernists during his first year at Cambridge in 1934, McLuhan had immediately pronounced that moment of encounter as a “revelation”: “Cambridge was a shock. Richards, Leavis, Eliot and Pound and Joyce in a few weeks opened the doors of perception on the poetic process, and its role in adjusting the reader to the contemporary world.  My study of media began and remains rooted in the work of these men.”[23]

The work of these men, “the Men of 1914,” the high modernists, was art (or techne) that not only formed bridges to the past but also brought together the present and the future as in Pound’s viewing of artists as “the antennae of the race”[24]  McLuhan paid attention and learned from the experiments in the work of the high modernists, including the experimentation with poetic form, the paratactic method of discontinuity and disconnectedness, and the rendering of simultaneity of effect, the use of collage and so on.[25]  McLuhan put to good use especially Pound’s aesthetics of the ideogram and the periplus to form his ideas about content and form along with those of the mosaic and the probe.

McLuhan’s method of composition, which he called “mosaic,” is rooted, then, in his understanding of Pound’s poetics of the ideogram.  For instance, in a letter to Pound dated June 16, 1948, McLuhan describes The Cantos as “the first and only serious use of the great technical possibilities of the cinematograph” since they allow for “perceptions of simultaneities.”[26]  Speaking of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), McLuhan explainsborrowing much from Pound’s imagism and the ideogrammic methodthat the book “develops a mosaic or field approach to its problems. Such a mosaic image of numerous data and quotations in evidence offers the only practical means of revealing the causal operations in history.”[27]

McLuhan’s “mosaic or field approach” is a methodology and a compositional technique that is evident in much of his writing from the 1950s onward.  As an example, I would like to consider here a characteristic brief and concise essay from the late 1950s. Thanks to a number of publications of the mid-1950s on communication media and education, and through his editorship of Explorations,[28] McLuhan seems to have come to the attention of the NAEB, The National Association of Educational Broadcasters, as a scholar of education and media.[29]  At the invitation of the NAEB, McLuhan made a presentation entitled “The Role of Mass Communications in Meeting today’s problems”[30] at the May 1958 NAEB conference on the topic of educational TV.  Subsequently published in the Conference Proceedings,[31] this brief presentation persuaded NAEB to invite McLuhan to research and eventually author his “Report on project in understanding new media” (1960), a document that served as a set of preliminary notes and ideas which, within four years, had been reframed into his most significant publication: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964).

It is of interest to note that during the 1950s and beyond, McLuhan wrote several similar essays often given similar titles which, whether or not they seem to be about education, do deal with education and its relationship to media; moreover, they focus on the place of, and approach to, education in relation to old versus new media or the tradition of phonetic writing and print as opposed to that of the electronic age.  This, then, is also the subject of “The Role of Mass Communications.”  What is interesting about this essay, nonetheless, is that if offers us a glimpse into McLuhan’s educational concerns and ideas during the 1950s as well as a prospective look into what would remain a central concern in his writing and advocacy for the rest of his career, from Understanding Media (1964) to “Education and the Electronic Age” (1968, 1970) to City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media (1977).

McLuhan begins “The Role of Mass Communications” by pointing to what he calls the failure of the Western educational system, warning us that we are destined to observe the spectacle of “a 500-year old educational cultural achievement go down the drain.” (14).  Juxtaposing the printed and the electronic worlds, he goes on to warn us that “A way of life based on the primacy of the printed word is dissolving in front of us.” (14)  He goes on to develop this opposition between print and electronic media in this way:

It may even prove to be the case that the entire tradition of phonetic writing, which is coextensive with our Western world and the Graeco-Roman tradition, cannot sustain the electronic impact because, since the rise of literacy at least 2,500 years ago, our world has not been subjected to information moved everywhere, instantly and simultaneously.

This will sound familiar to readers of McLuhan’s major works as part of his distinctive theory and approach to education and to media, two topics which, in his work, can’t really be separated.  In looking at the links and differences between print and electronic media, McLuhan demonstrates his evolving interest not so much in the message of the print word or the workings of the telegraph, the teletype and the television (and eventually, of course, the computer and the WWW) but on the effect of media (whether print or electronic) “upon our habits of attention and of thought.” (15)  He insists on the validity of his insight that “the medium is the message”. (14)  He also says that this saying’s point is that a media cultivate or educate or even shape the mind: They are the producers “of unique habits of mind and highly specialized attitudes . . . to the nature of thought itself.” (14)

Print, which is “no longer the dominant technology,” has been overtaken by electronic media.  However, for 500 years, print brought about the mechanization of the scribe’s craft and did so through “the method of assembly-line production with movable types.” (15)  Print made possible the industrial age, while reading in print occasioned the advance of individualism and even nationalism.  It also introduced “the techniques of doubt and of scientific arrest of motion and process.” (15)  According to McLuhan, the impact of print should be sought in its ability to shape various related attitudes of which readers would not be aware.  “The real message of print we are now learning,” McLuhan insists, “was subliminally persuasive and far more effective than any of the momentary messages of this or that book.  Print was and is a huge operative cause within our culture.” (15)

Taking art and literature as his metaphors for his insights, McLuhan claims that the new modernist age elicited the participation of readers, making them cocreators of meaning, coauthors of the textmade “the consumer the producer.”  And with this, McLuhan concludes, introducing what he considers the divide between the educational establishment and students brought up in the electronic age:

It is this very shift in our society which seems to make the young so resentful of an educational establishment in which they are consumers only.  They live with a technology which insists that they be coproducers in the very act of learning.  They experience only a negative motivation with regard to a curriculum which for the most part looks on the new media as the source not of culture but of trash. (16)

Here we have in bold strokes the cornerstone and foundation of McLuhan’s educational approach.  Starting with this point—that is, students need to be treated as though they are “coproducers in the very act of reading”he therefore calls for active, experiential learning opportunities for them.  He also calls for an attitude to new media whereby they are viewed as serious objects of study or vehicles for learning rather than in terms of their utility or as distractions and disruptions to the path to “real” education.  Thinking of modernist painting and poetry, McLuhan has the artist pronounce that the world of new media is “from now on a do-it-yourself world.” (17)  This idea of students as active and fully engaged in their own education rather than remaining satisfied with being passive consumers becomes a common thread and a regular reference in McLuhan’s educational “periplum,” the journey that takes him from this early essay to City as Classroom (1977) where many of these radical ideas are discussed one last time.[32]

It is often assumed that McLuhan wanted learning to take place outside of the classroom in its entirety or that he was calling for the death or end of the book.  Instead, he simply marvelled at the way in which phonetic writing, print, the book had become a way of viewing and thinking about the world, rendering learning and education to be limited and even inadequate.  In Counterblast (1954), for instance, he refers to the book in one of his typical, typographical gestures, thus:

  the printed b(oo)k moth-eaten

STRAIGHT-JACKET of the Western mind

Elsewhere he discusses the classroom in similar termsas a prison.  Let it suffice to point to one of his “annotations” to this modernist, fragmentary, ekphrastic (“b(oo)K” stresses the visual (eyes) nature of print culture) radical proposition: “The printed book had encouraged artists to reduce all forms of expression as much as possible to the single descriptive and narrative plane of the printed word.  The advent of electric media released art from this strait-jacket at once, creating the world of Paul Klee, Picasso, Eisenstein, the Marx brothers, and James Joyce.”[33]

Whether addressed as “luminous detail,” imagism, cultural over layering, ideogram or ideogrammic method, subject rhythm, parataxis, epigrammatic technique, or translation, Pound’s poetics sought to present a synesthetic and polyphonic text/medium, which reflects the artist’s questthat is, Pound is the artist who “seeks out the luminous detail and presents it. . . . [without] comment.”[34]  The ideogrammic method represents perhaps the culmination of the periplum as defined in several places (including The Cantos[35]) as the method of “presenting [one probe and then another probe] until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader’s mind, onto a part that will register.” (GK 51)[36]  Pound’s modernist aesthetics of the ideogram did, indeed, register with McLuhan and issued forth in an aesthetics of his ownthat of the probe and the mosaic that become part of his argument for the nature and risks of the new environment of electronic media communication and for his educational theories of the “global village” in a new, “a do-it-yourself world.”



[1] The current essay goes over some of the same ground and my co-authored essay on “Modernism’s ‘doors of perception’: From Ezra Pound’s Ideogrammic Method to Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic” (2019). However, while the earlier essay focuses on the relationship between Pound’s modernist aesthetics and their impact on McLuhan’s technological prophesy and sociopolitical praxis, the one at hand probes more closely the impact of Pound’s influence in the development of McLuhan’s theory of education.

[2] That McLuhan would be attracted to and influenced by Pound is not surprising; after all, many mid- to late twentieth-century writers and thinkers have imitated, censured, contested, analyzed, and praised or spurned Pound’s experiments, aesthetics, criticism, ideas and writerly example. When it comes to thinking about Pound’s influence and impact on McLuhan’s radical media theory, few critics have acknowledged itand often reluctantly.

[3] However, as George Hartley has put it in “Under the Sign of Paideuma: Scary Idograms & the New Fascisms,” it looks as though “the ideogrammic method is not at odds with narrative closure but, in fact, invites it—[and] that this was critical to Pound’s hoped-for creation of a new culture” (30). Inadequately interrogated, the often accepted opposition between Pound’s fascist political intentions and ideology on the one hand and the presumably radical method of his aesthetics on the other hand is in need of greater attention. See also Burton Hatlen, “Ezra Pound and Fascism.” According to Hatlen, Pound’s “poetry is ideologically closed but formally open” (159).

[4] The idea of engaging students in active, critical, and analytic inquiry at every level of the curriculum that connects them with the research and practices in various fields of study and beyond comes from Pound, was embraced by McLuhan, and is one of the core principles of discovery pedagogy to this date. For an example see Dilly Fung, A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education. Fung points out, for instance, that “There is growing evidence that students benefit from engaging in collaborative and dialogic enquiry, whereby each individual’s prior assumptions are challenged through interaction with others as well as with the object of study. (3)

[5] In many of his books and essays (for instance Understanding Media [1964] or The Medium is the Massage [1967]), McLuhan describes what he is doing as “explorations in communication,” probes which require a high degree of participation and involvement from readers of his work and listeners and viewers of electronic media alike.

[6] In Pound, what he calls the “Aquinas-map” of the exegete (Pound, Selected Letters 323) is contrasted with “periplus,” the English equivalent of “periplum,” which is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as being “[o]riginally and chiefly in the poetry of Ezra Pound.” Pound uses the term in The Cantos to refer to a voyage or journey.

[7] Gail McDonald, Learning to be Modern: Pound, Eliot, and the American University (145). It is interesting that McDonald’s insights and comments would apply equally well to McLuhan, though this is not a connection that Poundians often make. Presumably, the desired end is not necessarily the same for all readers. Nonetheless, there is no getting around the fact that it is the author/poet who provides the fragments which in themselves may influence the reader to come to the conclusion the author has in mind. In Pound, there is always such authorial intention; in McLuhan, we are cautioned to be cognizant of the fact that there might be “authorial intention” that we ought to resist.

[8] In Guide to Kulchur Pound notes the following: “There is no ownership in most of my statements and I cannot interrupt every sentence or paragraph to attribute authorship to each pair of words, especially as there is seldom an a priori claim even to the phrase or half the phrase.” (60). Hereafter Guide to Kulchur is included parenthetically in the text thus: (GK 60)

[9] Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic: Probing the Literary Origins of Media Studies (201).

[10] Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (44).

[11] For a definition of McLuhan’s “outering,” see Tremblay, Ezra Pound and Marshall McLuhan (176).

[12] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (252).

[13] See Tremblay, Ezra Pound and Marshall McLuhan (151). Tremblay continues:

Innovation by “periplus” therefore antedates scholarship: while the scholarly presents a kind of resplendent cartography not unlike the scientific (ABC 17), the artisticto use Pound’s example, Homer’s Odysseynavigates a reality “not as you would find it if you had a geography book and a map . . . but as a coasting sailor would find it” (ABC 43-44). And so as readers “naked to the diversity of existence” (IL 81), McLuhan writes, we are free to experience Mauberley as “The London Scene” of the twenties and The Cantos as “the human scene for a long period” (IL 80). ABC in Trembley’s text stands for Pound’s The ABC of Reading while IL stands for McLuhan’s The Interior Landscape.

[14] Letter to Peter Bruckner. 5 January 1971, H. Marshall McLuhan Collection. National Archives of Canada, Ottawa, no page. Obviously, the ideogramin keeping with Pound’s aesthetic/ethical principle to “use no words that do not contribute to the presentation” (“A Few Don’ts,” Literary Essays 3)represents for him “the economical rendering of complex actualities.” For a fuller discussion of McLuhan’s understanding of “In a Station of the Metro” in terms of probes and the mosaic, see “Modernism’s ‘doors of perception’: From Ezra Pound’s Ideogrammic Method to Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic” (381-82).

[15] Though this quotation and various variations of it (for instance, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us”) are usually attributed to McLuhan, it was actually first used by Father John M. Culkin, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and friend of McLuhan, in “A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan.” (70). However, both in terms of the idea it expresses but also its aphoristic form, it does sound and mean as though written by McLuhan.

[16] Pound arrived in London in the Fall of 1908 after having spent a few months living in Venice.

[17] After having earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (1933) and a Master of Arts degree (1934) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, McLuhan attended the University of Cambridge, completing there a (second) three-year bachelor’s degree (1934-36), prior to pursuing his master’s (awarded in 1940) and doctoral studies (1943). At Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he studied under I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis and was influenced by New Criticism. From 1936 to the time he earned his doctorate, McLuhan worked as a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (1936–37); and from 1937 to 1944, he taught English at Saint Louis University, spending one of those years, 1939-40, at Cambridge. At Saint Louis University he tutored Walter J. Ong. From 1944 to 1946 he taught at Assumption College, Windsor, Ontario before moving to Toronto in 1946 and beginning a long academic career at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, where one of his students happened to be Hugh Kenner and also where the Canadian economist and communications scholar Harold Innis was his university colleague.

[18] It is interesting that McLuhan thought, correctly, that Pound’s Guide to Kulchur to be a prose companion of The Cantos: “In Guide to Kulchur I have found all the helps with the Cantos that anybody needs, including full light on your remark to me in Washington that 1-40 are a sort of detective story” (McLuhan Letters 199-200). This is also what Pound wrote to Felix Giovanelli, a friend who was Professor at the Catholic University in Washington, DC during his St Elizabeths years: Guide to Kulchur, he said to Giovanelli, is “the Cantos in prose. And harder to read” (McLuhan Letters 204).

[19] McLuhan Letters (192). This letter is in the archive of the Lilly Library, Indiana University. John Farrell was one of McLuhan’s students at Saint Louis University, whereas mentioned in a previous noteMcLuhan taught from 1937-1944. Another one of his students at there was Walter J. Ong who was to write, under McLuhan’s influence and encouragement, a doctoral dissertation on communication and technology.

[20] Pound was incarcerated at St Elizabeths (December 1945-May 1958) instead of being tried for treason for wartime crimes, including his Radio Rome broadcasts (beginning in 1940) of Fascist and anti-Semitic propaganda.

[21] The consequences of this meeting for media and cultural studies, on the one hand, and Anglo-American modernist studies on the other hand cannot be underestimated.

[22] For more on this topic see Mark Goble’s Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life, passim.

[23] My italics. See Marshall McLuhan, The Interior Landscape.

In “Modernism in a Rear-view Mirror: McLuhan’s Counterblast of 1954 and 1969,” Izabela Curyłło-Klag provides a tidy summary of what McLuhan found interesting in the high modernists and what he borrowed from the “Men of 1914” (in Lewis’s phrase):

What interested McLuhan the most was the relation of modernist art to techne and the way in which avant-garde authors adjusted their creation to reflect the conditions of modernity. Lewis, whose writing and painting foregrounds the raw energy of the capitalist market, the dynamism of the machine, the ruthlessness of industrialised warfare and the dissolution of the stable self in a mass society conditioned by advertising, naturally attracted McLuhan’s attention, but so did other modernists. Eliot and Pound, through their experiments with poetic form, involving montage, aggregation of images, paratactic techniques of disconnectedness and discontinuity, provided models for rendering the immediacy of modern communication. Joyce was greatly valued by McLuhan for his verbal creativity, as well as for achieving a simultaneity of effects through writing which engages multiple senses. (38-39) (xiii–xiv).

[24] Pound, “The Teacher’s Mission” (Literary Essays of Ezra Pound 58). The Cantos, of course, begins with such a revelation when Odysseus meets the prophet/artist in Hades: Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo in Thebes, could help instruct Odysseus about the future since he brought together the past, the present, and the future. Odysseus, after all, had descended to the Underworld wishing to find out from Tiresias about his future. Tiresias obliged him: “Odysseus / Shalt return [home] through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas, / Lose all companions.” (Cantos 4-5)

[25] Though McLuhan’s preference may have been for Eliot’s poetry among the modernists, it is Pound and Joyce who made the greater impression on him and left their mark on his thought. (31)

[26] Letters of Marshall McLuhan (193).

[27] Letters of Marshall McLuhan (45). Here is how Tremblay explains convincingly and ingeniously the mosaic’s methodology of causality (the acoustic/electronic as opposed to the visual/alphabetic realities), a sequence that is full of gaps rather than connectives and conjunctions and logical sequencing:

. . . . McLuhan argued that the shift from visual/civilized to acoustic/tribal (from the industrial to the electronic) was observable only via “a sort of aerial perspective,” which he called “despotein” from the Greek (Letters of MM 391). Such a perspective, McLuhan argued, invited an equally radical shift in critical methodology, where “the gap or interval” was privileged over the discursivity of “hendiadys,” or metamorphic/metonymic changesimply put, the teleology from A to B, what the Greeks called “efficient causality” (GV 3). Drawing on the Japanese concept of “ma,” which states simply that space is never empty, McLuhan argued that contrary to western philological consensus, there is nothing illogical or illusory about the gap, since “the gap or interval is where the action is.” Moreover, the gap or interval, as similar to the television instant replay, “is felt in some w ay to be superior to the play itself, since it has translated the event [the transition from A to B] into an art form” (Letters of MM 460). For McLuhan, the gap or interval, therefore, contained the real essence. By contrast, “the visually oriented person is always looking for connections rather than intervals.” But the connection, McLuhan insisted, “is a hang-up” (Letters of MM 404), a residual from an earlier age where the stress (the vicarious or “felt” effect) was not on participation in the abstract b u t on individuation clearly delineated. “From Parmenides onward,” McLuhan argued, “connected space and logical reasoning supplanted analogy and form al causality” (Letters of MM 520).

Letters of MM in Trembley’s text stands for Letters of Marshall McLuhan while GV stands for McLuhan’s The Global Village.

[28] Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication (1953-59), the journal founded by Marshall McLuhan and edited by Edmund Carpenter, “probed” the nascent media technologies of McLuhan’s electric age. The journal run until 1959, though McLuhan’s final contribution was in the October 1957 issue. Philip Marchand writes characteristically that “Everything McLuhan said or wrote afterward is directly traceable to something he wrote in the first eight issues of Explorations.” See Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (133).

[29] The NAEB was a branch of the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The mid-1950s essays I have in mind were published in Teacher’s College Record: “A Historical Approach to the Media” (1955) and “Educational Effects of Mass Media of Communication” (1956).

[30] These problems are the new media.

[31] Marshall McLuhan, “The Role of Mass Communications in Meeting today’s problems.” Subsequently pages are included in the text parenthetically.

[32] McLuhan’s last (co-authored) book, City as Classroom, is also his only one that focuses exclusively on education. It advocates for “inquiry-based learning.” The book poses many open-ended questions without satisfying its readers/teachers/students with precise, conventional answers. Teachers found the book and its methodology problematic and rather unsettling. Nonetheless, McLuhan says nothing new here that he had not been saying already since the 1950s: Students must become actively involved in their education; they must work in an electronic environment that allows them to open up the doors of perception (this being the necessary training of their perception) and discover patterns in their everyday life; and an integral part of their learning process must be to engage with the technologies of media communication in order to discover the world and its workings for themselves.

[33] Understanding Media 79; my italics.

[34] Selected Prose (23).

[35] “Periplum, not as land looks on a map / but as sea bord seen by men sailing.” (Canto 59)

[36] The original reads as follows: “presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader’s mind, onto a part that will register.”


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