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Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! Hardcover – 30 Nov 2010
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But there are some aspects you won't get from those. Coupland rendered McLuhan's past from his autistic tendencies, his extremely wired brain, and his completely intricate relationship with his mother. This book offers a new experience in knowing one of the best communication and media experts of the twentieth century. You Know Nothing of My Work! is written in journalistic style, quoting Wikipedia (come on, these days every information is available in the Internet - that's what Coupland would say), AQ test material, a copy of online book shopping cart, or GPS direction to places. And as a novelist, Coupland knows how to stitch words into beautiful prose. It's an interesting read to finish in a day or two.
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The result is a format that is far more engaging and immensely more informative than the voluminous biographies that dominate the genre today. The biography, more than anything else, clearly demonstrates what McLuhan meant when he wrote: "The medium is the message," in Understanding Media, his study of electronic media as it swallowed print. In that study, McLuhan pointed out that media would be forced to adapt to emerging media, or face annihilation. As an example, he pointed to two print products launched during the golden age of TV, a time when the p.m. newspaper was being wiped off the face of the planet by the disruptive electronic media. Life magazine and MAD magazine thrived because their formats reflected the influence of television's picture oriented format. Life's photos, and MAD's woodcut-like illustrations benefited from complementing the new media's format.
And, so it is with Coupland's biography of McLuhan, who prophesized the Internet 50 years ago, give or take.
The book's format of short chapters, similar to blocks of type on the Internet, direct writing typified by short declarative sentences, conversational style, with sections and chapters broken up by pages lifted from the www network, and quotes from McLuhan, demonstrate how books will change as a result of the Internet's dominance.
It's for better or worse, depending upon the eye of the beholder.
Coupland, like McLuhan, recognizes the fact of how the new media is changing the means of expression that preceded it. Nothing personal. Just how it is.
And so it was for McLuhan, who largely detested the electronic media, even as he described its fundamental effects on the sensory landscape in crystal clarity. McLuhan was most comfortable and preferred old school media. As in auditory, before even the written word became coin of the realm. But the curmudgeonly prophet was never foolish enough to suggest attempting to turn back the expansion of new media. Nor did McLuhan offer "answers." For those with open minds, he shed light on developments that still puzzle, scare, and dismay those who don't "get it."
My initial reaction to Coupland's format was: this is cute. But Coupland's book aptly introduces us to McLuhan the man, who comes alive in this hybrid. The eccentric and mad punster with two arteries feeding his weirdly wired brain, while the vast majority of us mortals have one becomes a real being, beyond authoring pithy rules to live by in the digital age. But other factors in shaping McLuhan's pioneering observation also are recognized, ranging from his gene pool to his environment, and other influences such as the Canadian author/philosopher who introduced McLuhan to the notions that the media are extension of our senses.
No. This is not a cute book. It is a fine, informative, and highly entertaining description of a giant's life, in a spare 209 pages. I have often wondered while slogging through ponderous biographies whether a concise biography could describe the subject as well. Coupland answers in the affirmative.
That's not to say I don't want to know more about McLuhan, or that I didn't just pull Understanding Media off the shelf while writing this review to double check a few things. I will continue to consult McLuhan's thinking as long as my mind works and I can get vertical in the a.m.
For those new to McLuhan, it's hard to imagine a better introduction. But even for those who have been touched by McLuhan's observations and thoughts, this is a wonderfully entertaining and informative read.
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy...
Coupland is sympathetic to the man but unstinting in laying bare his vanities and eccentricities along with his special gifts. His account shows McLuhan's critics missing the point and a singular acuity of pattern recognition that appeared so easily to his subject's eye. Read this short book as quickly as you can, then ponder carefully the final twelve pages--a lovely thought-provoking finale.
Allan Cox, author of "WHOA! Are They Glad You're In Their Lives?" to be published June 5, 2012
If you've never read McLuhan but would like to, this is an excellent place to start because Coupland presents an accessible overview of all of McLuhan's work. Coupland cleverly integrates meaningful media ephemera into a relatively straight forward biography. He is very aware of McLuhan's hallmark theory that the mode of delivery (in contemporary society) is more important than the content and he tries to present that in an interesting way through simple text. Strangely, I am not really sure if McLuhan himself would have hated or loved this book.
Coupland also presents easy to digest summaries of the major works of McLuhan's lifetime. A simple search turns up numerous offerings with McLuhan's name on them, but the vast majority of his media philosophy can be digested from two of his major works, the incredibly dense The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Although most of his other works can be rewarding, they don't have the same impact as these two blockbusters. I personally like The Medium is the Massage, mostly for the incredible stylistic way it is put together with content and form both contributing to the whole.
The title of the book refers to a scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. The scene has Allen stuck in a movie line with an obnoxious bore behind him loudly pontificating on McLuhan's work while Allen seethes at the complete misinterpretation of it. When he finally confronts him about it the bore falls back on his credentials as a Columbia media professor. In response, Allen produces McLuhan himself who tells the critic, "I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work. How you ever got to teach a course on anything is totally amazing."
When I finished the biography I appreciated the decision to choose this as the title. McLuhan's work is sometimes so difficult to get your head around that misinterpretation is easy, especially if you are a pretentious bore.
I'm sure when Coupland was writing this book (as I did writing this review) he had a nagging fear that if McLuhan were to step into the room and read what he was writing he would say the same thing. It's that kind of weirdness which makes McLuhan's life and works so interesting.
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