Thursday, July 23, 2015

Marshall McLuhan | Nihilism Exposed, Review of Wyndham Lewis by Hugh Kenner

What Youth

21 July 2015

Nihilism, the Cartesian split, Nietzsche, “dissociation of sensibility”, Neoplatonism, the Romantics and the symbolists, the Catholic doctrine of the body-soul composite, the doctrine of preexistence, Paganism, mechanistic materialism, Berkleyan idealism, Thomas Hobbs and Karl Marx, Descartes and John Dewey, Pythagorean and neo-Platonic doctrine, existentialism, Bergson philosophy, Cartesian and Plotinian angelism, humanism, positivism, Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, spiritual metamorphosis and gnosticism.

Brush up on these terms and philosophers mentioned by McLuhan in this short essay to get a better understanding of his review.

Hugh Kenner


In 1948, twenty-five-year-old Hugh Kenner (1923-2003) took a long drive with Marshall McLuhan from Toronto, where McLuhan had taught Kenner as an undergraduate, to Yale, where Kenner was writing his dissertation on James Joyce. Along the way they stopped at St Elizabeth’s Hospital, in Washington, to meet the mad, treasonous poet Ezra Pound. Pound’s was “the most active mind I have ever experienced,” Kenner later said; “I suddenly knew that I was in the presence of the center of modernism.” Pound told Kenner that he had an “ob-li-ga-tion” to travel and visit the great people of his time, and he did so, becoming a friend and interlocutor of not only Pound, but Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and even cartoonist Chuck Jones and inventor Buckminster Fuller.

McLuhan’s influence on his style was tremendous, but Kenner would always return from sweeping histories to tiny details, individual writers and books and phrases, and above all people. In his last book, The Elsewhere Community (1998), he observes that the Internet, while it could not replace the direct presence of a teacher, “offers something one-on-one presence does not: access to any mentor who has a computer, anywhere in the world. Media always offers gains, though offset by losses.”

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