Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Me and Mac (the scholar, not the computer)

I was just thinking, just trying to rememberer, "how/why did I come to McLuhan, and why am I such an advocate now?" His name was floated occasionally in the classrooms of U of Winnipeg, but always quickly dismissed by the professor. He started showing up in fragments while working on my dissertation--a history of writing instruction in western Canadian universities (snore)--those traces, I realized, were pretty interesting. I gave a seminar presentation on him during my last class in graduate school; it was very well received; Don Payne suggested I had just outlined a research agenda. If only I had known what that meant! The "agenda" remained hidden (as all the best are) for about 4 or 5 years, even though Anthony Ellertson expressed great enthusiasm for McLuhan in a graduate course I taught in about 2000. I remember worrying about the lack of political edge in McLuhan's work, I worried about the gross over-generalizations, I worried about the cultural studies critique of McLuhan. But I remembered Anthony's enthusiasm for McLuhan, and I saw that enthusiasm again among other students when I taught The Laws of Media and tetradic analysis. And I saw it frequently when I assigned The Medium is the Massage, occasionally identified by students as the most interesting book they have read. As a scholar, I started to see the political potential embedded in McLuhan's work--my potential to use his work as I saw fit. And I started to see and understand the formal experiments, which, strangely enough, I think I had been trying since I started in 'zine in high school. In short, I became an advocate because I could see McLuhan working for students--generating excitement and engagement--and that excitement in turn rubbed off on me as a scholar. Charlie Lowe has said to me a couple of times, "I like the way McLuhan makes me think," and that seems to sum up why I am pushing this drug.


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