MARSHALL McLUHAN: Escape into Understanding by W. Terrence Gordon

MARSHALL McLUHAN: Escape into Understanding

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A thoughtful study of the life and ideas of the celebrated media philosopher. Time--unkind to so many visionaries--is proving Marshall McLuhan only more and more prescient. His theories, popularly summed up in his famous phrase ""The medium is the message,"" seem to describe our computerized age with eerie precision. He was able to recognize, for example, that the computer would rapidly become an extension of the central nervous system, allowing individuals to extend the range of their sense perceptions. While computer-friendly, his opinion of television, often misunderstood and rarely enunciated in its full disdain, verged on the alarmist: ""If you want to save one shred of Hebrao-Greco-Roman-Medieval-Renaissance-Enlightenment-Modern-Western civilisation, you'd better get an ax and smash all the sets."" Given where his ideas would take him, it is superficially incongruous that McLuhan began his professional career as an English professor. But language has fueled much late-20th-century philosophy, and as Canadian academic Gordon (McLuhan for Beginners, not reviewed, etc.) meticulously demonstrates, much of McLuhan's work was substantively informed by a concern with grammar (in the classical sense of the study of relationships within language). At a time when many intellectuals chose either communism or Catholicism--usually for reasons more similar than opposite--McLuhan chose the Church, and Gordon again carefully illuminates the connections to McLuhan's work. His ideas were dense, complex often to the point of convolution, and thoroughly interwoven. Gordon is not only a user-friendly explicator, he also is a dogged intellectual detective, tracking McLuhan's ideas down to their earliest beginnings. In more conventional biographical terms, this account suffers from the happily married, academically regimented dullness of its subject's life, conjoined with Gordon's relative lack of interest in all non-idea-related details. But as an intellectual history, it's first-rate.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1997
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Basic