A treat for compleatist members of the cult of McLuhan, but best left to those insiders.

Oracular ramblings by the erstwhile maven of media studies.

A tetrad, in Canadian literary scholar McLuhan’s gnomic formulation, “obsolesces logical analysis and ‘efficient causality.’ ” Put a little less elusively, a tetrad is a set of four “laws that govern all human innovations,” which is to say that a bit of technological advancement—a dishwasher, say—enhances, obsolesces, retrieves, and reverses all at the same time. So, by the author’s account, war “intensifies passions, and goals,” “obsolesces leisure and luxuries,” “retrieves camaraderie, team spirit,” and “reverses into research, social science, and double-agentry.” It helps to be well-versed in McLuhan-isms to follow the flow of logic of this extension of Understanding Media (1964), which does not always seem—well, logical. Still, giving McLuhan his lead, let’s grant that a kayak “obsolesces swimming” (one would think that, more properly, it obsolesces drowning), that a mirror “obsolesces the corporate mask and corporate appearance,” whatever that might mean, and that, as he puts it in a commentary on the tetrad for camera, “the stripper is naked only from the moment she steps backstage.” Things get more baffling as the tetrads seemingly dissolve into something like prose poems, as when he writes, anent the law of obsolescence, “entails the relegating of the form/action/service to the subliminal level of awareness while its content monopolizes the attention of the user.” Very well, then. The pleasure to be taken in this text is to observe the obvious pleasure McLuhan had in assembling these little puzzles, allowing for plenty of head-shaking along the way. At times, they resemble surrealist calligrammes, at others the bizarre philosophizing of a Dr. Bronner’s soap label, and most of the time they seem a species of private joke.

A treat for compleatist members of the cult of McLuhan, but best left to those insiders.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-682190-96-8

Page Count: 270

Publisher: OR Books

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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