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

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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 apart from: 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 Wyndham Lewis. 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.
Marshall McLuhan, Theory of communication