Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland

Pointless fact about Marshall McLuhan: he has always been oddly tangled up in my mind with Malcolm McLaren, he of the Sex Pistols and Buffalo Gals. The lingering after-effects of a youthful misunderstanding. Malcolm McLaren, in turn, gets mixed up with Malcolm McDowell.

I’m a fan of Douglas Coupland’s novels — they’re not all masterpieces, but they’re always worth reading — and his fascination with media, pop culture and technology made him seem an intriguing person to be writing a biography of McLuhan, based on my vague idea of McLuhan’s work.

And I think it’s true that there’s a real meeting of minds there, and this book is quite readable, but I was left wondering if biography was the best form it could have taken. It might have been more interesting to read a book in which Coupland responded directly to the work; i.e. by taking a couple of essays and surrounding them with commentary, annotation and footnotes. A bit of playful fisking.

Still, the book served well enough as a short, light, introduction to McLuhan’s life. It made me think I ought to pick up one of McLuhan’s own books, so it clearly worked on that level.

2 replies on “Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! by Douglas Coupland”

For those of us too dim to have heard of McLuhan and too lazy to google – what did he write?

He was a cultural theorist, one of the first academics to talk seriously about popular culture and the influence of technology and media on society. His most famous quote is that ‘the medium is the message’. That and the idea that faster communication was creating a ‘global village’.

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