In these circumstances, with so many ways to go wrong, I am tempted to suggest that McLuhan now be ignored — to argue that his greatest long-term value has been his ability to provoke people who are, if not simply smarter than he was, then more patient, methodical, and scholarly. McLuhan’s attempts to account for the general landscape of media are fragmentary and inconsistent; those of his friend Neil Postman, who in following McLuhan’s example virtually created the field of “media ecology,” are far superior in evidential detail and conceptual clarity. McLuhan’s interest in literary modernism, and especially in Joyce and Pound, yielded a few memorable apothegms; but his student and friend Hugh Kenner, inspired and directed by him, produced major, field-transforming work on both writers. McLuhan’s thoughts about oral and literate cultures, dependent largely on his reading of a few scholars of ancient oral poetry, lack historical grounding and intellectual rigor; but another of his students, Walter Ong, would make a great scholarly career specifying the lineaments of that historical transformation. The work of each of those scholars is far superior to anything that McLuhan ever wrote.
The point isn’t what he wrote, but the impact he had on the world.
Which is, of course, exactly the meaning of ‘the medium is the message’.
You can’t judge McLuhan through the lens of literary theory or the history of science: he was a hand grenade at a garden party, and no one that tried to bend their minds around his twisted and self-referential pronouncements would every be the same. He wasn’t a TV science show: he was an oracle in a cave casting runes and reading the entrails of animals.
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