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The new American vortex : explorations of McLuhan : a dissertation presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Ph.D. in Media Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa/New Zealand
To encounter and digest the oeuvre of H. Marshall McLuhan on his own
terms, this study deploys a strategy not dissimilar to that of Poe’s sailor
who survived his descent into the maelstrom by studying the action of
the vortex and catching hold of a recurring form. Here, McLuhan’s
career-spanning concern with “communication” may be seen as just such
a recurrence — his concern with communication is evident at every turn
of his effort to update the Great English Vortex of 1914 and develop a
second vortex in mid-century America. Having taken hold of this central
concern, this study uses the procedure he developed to expose the
“theory of communication” of any figure in the arts and sciences, and
applies it to McLuhan himself.
In this process of folding McLuhan in on himself, five loosely
chronological chapters are used to reveal the four historical “phases” of
his career, and to show that McLuhan cannot properly be understood
1. The great tradition of Ciceronian humanism and the
Ciceronian ideal —the doctus orator — a figure in whom
eloquence and wisdom coalesce.
2. The programme of the figures frequently referred to as the
Men of 1914: James Joyce, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and
In the final analysis, McLuhan is shown as having updated and
transformed both — the Ciceronian ideal and the programme of the Men
of 1914 — to become something of a singularity in the midst of what he
saw as an Electric Renaissance: a paramodern (neither modernist nor
post-modernist) doctus orator.