Part 3: August 6, 2017
Unless otherwise mentioned, page numbers are from Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987) 
Additions to List of External Information
Additions to Bio Outline
- September, 1936: Began his position at the University of Wisconsin
- 1937: Converted to Roman Catholicism, began teaching at Saint Louis University
- August 4, 1939: married
- 1943: PhD thesis on Nashe and Trivium accepted by Cambridge
- 1944: Applied for position and began teaching at Assumption College, Windsor, Ontario
- 1946: Began teaching at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto
Career After Cambridge and Conversion to Roman Catholicism
In a letter to his mother (June 28, 1936), mostly about his visit to Belfast, Marshall McLuhan mentions how he refused an invitation from Mrs. Neville Chamberlain to “tea at 11 Downing Street (p. 86) .” Maybe this was normal for Cambridge graduates.
In the same letter, there is an expression of his anti-puritanical cultural attitudes and disdain for Protestant Canadian attitudes–as he leaned towards Catholic sensibilities and conversion to Catholicism.
How Red [his brother] works–God what a country, what a religion. . . .
Had a letter from Tom and one from Dad. Tom will get along because he . . . doesnt make stodgy people uncomfortable. I am going to tear the hide right off Canada some day and rub salt into it (p. 86).
Does this help to explain some of his motivations for the directions he took later? I think it helps explain his affinity for the Liberal Party, which in the past was more of a big tent party that attracted various Catholic immigrant groups and social conservatives.
An editor’s note states that McLuhan headed back to Canada from England and visited his mother (August/September, 1936) in Toronto where she was head of the drama department at the Von Kunitz (sic) Academy. Then McLuhan stayed in Winnipeg for a few days before he started his position at the University of Wisconsin (p. 86).
See note 4 at the end of this article: http://mcluhansnewsciences.com/mcluhan/2016/04/elsie-mcluhan-on-the-mastery-of-life/
4. The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, September 9, 1933 (Page 4):
“Elsie McLuhan Leaving To Take Toronto Post — Elsie McLuhan, well-known local reader and impersonator, has accepted a position as director of Dramatic Art in the Von Kunits academy of Music and Art, Toronto. This academy is being opened by the widow of Dr. Von Kunits , former director of the Toronto symphony orchestra, as a memorial to his memory. Elsie McLuhan (…) will be leaving Winnipeg on Wednesday” (September 13, 1933)  
While in Wisconsin, McLuhan converted to Roman Catholicism. He contacted a friend of his mother, Father Phelan of St Michael’s College, Toronto. While living in Madison, he took instruction from Father Kutchera. McLuhan took his first communion in 1937, and in April, he applied for a position at Saint Louis University, a Jesuit institution (p. 93, editor’s introduction to the 1936-1946 letters).
Even though Father Phelan was a friend of his mother, it is clear from an earlier letter to her (September 5, 1935), that his mother had objected to his interest in Roman Catholicism:
Your alarm about my “religion-hunting” traits which you assume to be inherited from the most questionable part of my ancestry, is largely unfounded . . . Now the Catholic religion as you may be able to check in your own experience of it is alone in blessing and employing all those merely human faculties which produce games and philosophy, and poetry and music and mirth and fellowship with a very fleshy basis . . . (p. 72)
Classical Trivium, Thomas Nashe, Huntington Library
The Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe was the subject of McLuhan’s PhD thesis (p. 94), which was accepted by Cambridge in 1943 (editor’s notes p. 95, footnote p. 103). According to Wikipedia, Thomas Nashe (1567- c. 1601) wrote pamphlets, novels, plays, poetry, satire and pornography .
The title of McLuhan’s thesis was “The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time,” and it focused on the 16th century controversy between those who were for or against the “patristic method–based on grammar, dialectics, and rhetoric” (the trivium). It also contained a history of the trivium, “the medieval university course of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (footnote, p. 103).”
McLuhan’s thesis later became a book: The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time (https://www.biblio.com). McLuhan mentions his efforts to finish this book in a July 3, 1964 letter (p. 304).
In the summer of 1938, McLuhan researched Thomas Nashe at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (adjacent to Pasadena) (book misspells Huntington with a ‘d’). This was obviously a very important point in his life, because at the same time, his mother, Elsie McLuhan, enrolled at Pasadena Playhouse School of Theatre, and while there, she introduced him to her fellow student, Corinne Lewis (editor’s notes p. 94, footnote p. 97). After some turmoil, they were married on August 4, 1939 (p. 95).
More information on Huntington Library
- http://www.huntington.org/uploadedFiles/Files/PDFs/pr_lorenrothschild.pdf 
- It is clearly an influential library: http://gnosis.org/library/dss/dss.htm
. . . the monopoly on access to the Dead Sea Scrolls collection came to an end in 1991 when the Huntington Library announced it would make available without restriction a complete microfilm copy of the Scrolls in its archives. 
- I believe there is a reference to the Huntington Library in the following interview concerning the banker, public relations man, and psychedelic guru, R. Gordon Wasson : “UnSpun 055 – James Campbell: New Discoveries on R. Gordon Wasson – The God of Magic Mushrooms”, which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlEOPur6Btc and
“Plato’s Cratylus presents a theory of language as the key to an inclusive consciousness of human culture . . .
Cicero and Varro . . . kept alive . . .the idea of language as an inclusive traditional consciousness . . . Their program was taken over by St. Augustine as the charter of medieval education. . . ”
According to McLuhan, Nashe came into “head-on conflict with the Puritan left-wing of the English Church . . . “.
Questions for Further Research:
What information is there about Peter Ramus and others (Puritans, industrialists) to confirm McLuhan’s statements about efforts to strip words of their traditional attributes? The index includes several references to Ramus. How far has this gone? What were the motives? Also, did I. A. Richards  and other adherents to Basic English  and New Criticism  have anything to say about these earlier projects? Are these projects related? What were the motives for these projects? According to the Wikipedia article on Basic English, H. G. Wells promoted Basic English for his Shape of Things to Come world government “utopia” and George Orwell was inspired to create his fictional totalitarian language, “Newspeak” .
In a letter (Feb. 28, 1978) to Eric Havelock  author of an article entitled “The Pre-Literacy of the Greeks,” McLuhan complains about the lack of literature on two aspects of the trivium, namely grammatica and dialectica (p. 538).
Grammatica, dialectica and rhetorica are the Latin words for grammar, logic and rhetoric, as explained in this helpful article on the trivium as it applies to musical education: http://flipcamp.org/engagingstudents/jacobus.html .
About Eric Havelock
He and Walter J. Ong  (who was himself strongly influenced by Havelock) essentially founded the field that studies transitions from orality  to literacy, and Havelock has been one of the most frequently cited theorists in that field; as an account of communication, his work profoundly affected the media theories of Harold Innis  and Marshall McLuhan  .
McLuhan corresponded often with Ong. Also, the names of Havelock and Innis appear frequently in Letters.
McLuhan’s Thoughts on World War II
In a letter to his mother (September 24, 1938), McLuhan declared that there will be no war in Europe. Also:
The real villains in the piece are not Hitler etc but the Comintern, the free masons and the international operators who have their headquarters in Prague. Hitler is being backed by Chamberlain and Roosevelt (appearances to the contrary) (p. 97).
In another letter to his mother (from Paris, August 31, 1939) as he and his wife were traveling in Europe as newlyweds, he describes how everything is being closed due to the “war scare. (There will be no war of course) (p. 116).”
When they were in Cambridge, England (September 5, 1939), he observed Cambridge is “full of children–26,000 from London in the past week—all taken and freely supported by voluntary hosts (p. 117).”
Seemingly in contradiction to his observation about the mass movement of children, McLuhan states
There are no signs of war fervor, or of fear in England. There is only grim hard-eyed determination to end Hitler. I wish that we could be as certain of a wise peace at the end of this business as we can be certain of another German failure (p. 117).
To get back home from Europe, he and his wife, because of their different citizenship (Canada was at war and the U.S. was not), had to sail on separate boats. He wrote to his mother (on board the Ascania, June 11, 1940) that there were “600 Jewish refugees on board (p. 128)”.
Questions for further research: What were the reasons for this mass movement of children? How could it be justified to move them separately from their families? What did Carroll Quigley say about this in his books if he mentioned it? What about the policy of moving British children to Canada that I have heard about elsewhere? How were the children treated?
Aldous Huxley: I looked out for any comments that McLuhan made about Aldous Huxley: In a letter to his wife (Feb. 1, 1939), he mentions, just before being received into the Church, how he had got into a heated discussion about the writings of the “agnostic” Aldous Huxley. “I have never give him a thought since (p. 108).”
The editor’s introduction to the 1936-1946 period states that McLuhan brought a fresh approach to teaching at Saint Louis University’s English Department with “his devotion to the New Criticism,” which he had learned at Cambridge (p. 93-94).
With help from Wyndham Lewis , McLuhan applied for and was accepted for an appointment at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario. In 1946, he began teaching at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto (p. 95, editor’s introduction to 1936-1946).
In his letter of application to Father J. Stanley Murphy at Assumption College (March 9, 1944), one of the feature courses McLuhan suggested was “Practical Criticism of prose and poetry”:
I have given this sort of work here for years . . . I believe I am the only man in the USA who had a thorough grounding in the techniques of Richards , Empson , and Leavis  [see Part 2 and Part 1]  at Cambridge. . . . (p. 157)
Practical criticism . . . began in the 1920s with a series of experiments by the Cambridge critic I.A. Richards . He gave poems to students without any information about who wrote them or when they were written. In Practical Criticism of 1929 he reported on and analysed the results of his experiments. . . .
-University of Cambridge, Faculty of English: The Virtual Classroom – Introduction to Practical Criticism (accessed August 3, 2017) 
In this exercise, students are asked to analyse a short poem without any information about its authorship, date, or circumstances of composition . . .
-Oxford Reference, Overview: Practical Criticism (accessed August 3, 2017) 
As mentioned earlier in Part 2) , McLuhan did not agree with what he described as Richards’ humanism. There is an additional statement from the same January 18, 1935 letter to his mother quoted at http://mcluhansnewsciences.com/mcluhan/2016/04/elsie-mcluhan-on-the-mastery-of-life/:
Richards is a humanist who regards all experience as relative to certain conditions of life. There are no permanent, ultimate, qualities such as [the] Good, Love, Hope, etc., and yet he wishes to discover objective, ultimately, permanent standards of criticism (…) what a hope!… (Letters, 50) 
In a letter to a Globe and Mail columnist (Bascom St John) (June 15, 1964), McLuhan makes the point that:
Much of the significant work of our time, whether it be that of Freud or I. A. Richards  in criticism, or countless social and political analysts, has indicated a very wide breakdown of communication between individuals and between societies. It is just this breakdown that calls for close study of the processes of media of communication. . . . (p. 302)
In a letter to I. A. Richards (July 12, 1968), McLuhan, as his former student, thanks him for referring to him in So Much Nearer: Essays Toward a World English (1968) with respect to the principle of complementarity. Richards discusses this principle at length in “Toward a More Synoptic View” in Speculative Instruments (letter and footnote p. 355).
McLuhan mentions his analysis that the phonetic alphabet created “visual space” (355).
Also he says that:
the iconic and tactile quality of the Chinese written character keeps the Chinese entirely unacquainted with visual and continuous or connected space
He praises Richards for the concept of “feedforward” (more on this below), which
suggests to me the principle of the probe, the technique of the “suspended judgment”(p. 355)
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of reading publics, with only a small amount of overlap among them. My librarian friend is eager to experiment with various means of encouraging the development of a coherent group of readers who can share a wide diversity of contemporary interests. . . . .(p. 462)
He asks her if there were any periodicals able to achieve this in their book-review departments, and the answer was negative (p. 462). In other words, the reading public was fragmented.
The footnote (p. 462) outlines Empson’s book, Seven Types of Ambiguity and mentions that it had greatly impressed McLuhan (p. 462).
Further Study: I.A. Richards
The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923)  [biblio.com] [by I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogden ] presents the triadic theory of semiotics that depends upon psychological theory, and so anticipates the importance of psychology in the exercise of literary criticism. Semioticians, such as Umberto Eco , acknowledged that the methodology of the triadic theory of semiotics improved upon the methodology of the dyadic theory of semiotics . . .
Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar (1930) and IV. the Times of India Guide to Basic English(1938) developed the Basic English  program in effort to develop an international language [parallels conditions for biblical Tower of Babel story , an interlanguage  based upon a vocabulary of 850 English words. . . .
To substantiate interpretive criticism, Richards provided theories of metaphor, value, and tone, of stock response, incipient action, and pseudo-statement; and of ambiguity. This last subject, the theory of ambiguity, was developed in Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) , by William Empson , a former student of Richards . . .
. . . I. A. Richards said that the old form of studying Rhetoric  (the art of discourse)  was too concerned with the mechanics of formulating arguments  and with conflict; instead, he proposed the New Rhetoric to study of the meaning of the parts of discourse, as “a study of misunderstanding and its remedies” to determine how language works. . . .
I.A. Richards and C.K. [Ogden] created the semantic triangle to deliver improved understanding to how words come to mean. The semantic triangle has three parts, the symbol or word, the referent, and the thought or reference . . .
According to Richards, feedforward is the concept of anticipating the effect of one’s words by acting as our own critic. It is thought to work in the opposite direction of feedback, though it works essentially towards the same goal: to clarify unclear concepts. . . . Richards wrote more in depth about the idea and importance of feedforward in communication in his book Speculative Instruments and has claimed that feedforward was his most important learned concept. . . .
The Oxford English Dictionary records that I. A. Richards coined the term feedforward, in 1951, at the 8th annual Macy Conferences  on cybernetics . In the event, the term extended the intellectual and critical influence of Richards to cybernetics which makes liberal use of the term feedforward, as in Feedforward . Moreover, among Richards’ students was Marshall McLuhan, who also applied the term and the ideas of feedforward. . . . . 
A Concern about James Joyce
The study of the writings of James Joyce  is a topic that comes up repeatedly in McLuhan’s Letters. Maybe the techniques of Practical Criticism made it easier to analyze James Joyce without getting put off by unpleasant biographical information:
Adult content: www.nspb.net/index.php/nspb/article/download/150/84
(“Nora’s Filthy Words: Scatology in the Letters of James Joyce” by J. Mark Knowles, M.A – The New School Psychology Bulletin, Volume 4, No. 2, 2006) 
“Down Where the Asparagus Grows” By Dan Piepenbring, June 16, 2015, The Paris Review 
. . . Pound, then an editor for the New York magazine The Little Review, had arranged to serialize Joyce’s Ulysses; he feared its more scatological parts would result in confiscation from the government. . . .
The Little Review had already been suppressed once, in November 1917, for a piece by Wyndham Lewis  . . . 
Although the topic is disgusting, the short letter is quite funny, for example:
Section 4. has excellent things in it; but you overdo the matter. Leave the stool to Geo. Robey. . . . 
I notice the connections with these authors in McLuhan’s Letters. McLuhan corresponded with Ezra Pound and was friends with Wyndham Lewis.
Additional Information and References
Note: unless otherwise mentioned, web references are cited as accessed on or before August 6, 2017.
 The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, September 9, 1933 (Page 4): “Elsie McLuhan Leaving To Take Toronto Post
University of Cambridge, Faculty of English: The Virtual Classroom – Introduction to Practical Criticism (accessed August 3, 2017)
Oxford Reference, Overview: Practical Criticism (accessed August 3, 2017)
 Adult content: www.nspb.net/index.php/nspb/article/download/150/84
“Nora’s Filthy Words: Scatology in the Letters of James Joyce” by J. Mark Knowles, M.A – The New School Psychology Bulletin, Volume 4, No. 2, 2006
“Down Where the Asparagus Grows” By Dan Piepenbring, June 16, 2015, The Paris Review
End of Part 3
Continued: Part 4
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