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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/24/22

Nick Ripatrazone on Marshall McLuhan (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Marshall McLuhan.
Marshall McLuhan.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 24, 2022: The young American Catholic journalist Nick Ripatrazone, the author of the books Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2020) and Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021), has now published the new 2022 160-page book Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan's Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age (Minneapolis: Fortress Press).

It is a book by a Catholic enthusiast primarily for other Catholic enthusiasts about the Canadian Catholic convert and Renaissance specialist and media ecology theorist and Catholic convert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943). I understand that enthusiasm can be catching. But your guess is as good as mine as to how many Catholic enthusiasts there may be today who are ready to embrace Ripatrazone's new 2022 book about Marshall McLuhan as a Catholic visionary and prophet.

Marshall McLuhan's comparatively few publications about religion have been collected together in his posthumously published book The Medium and the Light: Reflections of Religion, edited by Eric McLuhan [the eldest son of Marshall and Corinne McLuhan] and Jacek Szklarek (Toronto and New York: Stoddart Publishing, 1999), which Ripatrazone draws on frequently.

But Ripatrazone most frequently draws on the Letters of Marshall McLuhan, selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye (Oxford University Press, 1987).

Now, I first heard of Marshal McLuhan from the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and media ecology theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, where young McLuhan taught English from 1937 to 1944 - a fact that Ripatrazone does not mention.

Now, fresh from his studies of English at Cambridge University, McLuhan taught English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1936-1937 academic year. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church in the spring of 1937 (see Ripatrazone, p. 9). McLuhan then taught English at SLU from 1937 to 1944. McLuhan served as the director of Ong's 1941 Master's thesis on sprung rhythm in the poetry of the Victorian Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Ong's 1941 Master's thesis was published, slightly revised, as "Hopkins' Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry" in the book Immortal Diamond: Studies in Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Norman Weyand, S.J., with the assistance of Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1949, pp. 93-174). It is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002, pp. 111-174).

For a cogent critique of Ong's "Hopkins' Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry," see James I. Wimsatt's book Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Sound: Sprung Rhythm, Lettering, Inscape (University of Toronto Press, 2006).

For Ong's considered view of Hopkins, see his book Hopkins, the Self, and God (University of Toronto Press, 1986), the published version of Ong's 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto. Ong also discusses Hopkins in his 1966 essay "Evolution, Myth, and Poetic Vision" that is reprinted in Ong's book In the Human Grain: Further Explorations of Contemporary Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1967, pp. 99-126). In addition, Ong discusses Hopkins in his 1990 essay "Technological Development and Writer-Subject-Reader Immediacies" that is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002, pp. 497-504).

For his part, Marshall McLuhan published only one essay about Hopkins, "The Analogical Mirrors" (1944); it is reprinted in The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan: 1943-1962, selected, compiled, and edited by Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969, pp. 63-73), which Ripatrazone mentions. In addition, McLuhan's "The Analogical Mirrors" (1944) is reprinted in Hopkins: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Geoffrey H. Hartman (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1966, pp. 80-88), along with a selection from Ong's "Hopkins' Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry" titled "Sprung Rhythm and English Tradition" (pp. 151-159).

For Ong's considered view of McLuhan in his years at SLU (1937-1944), see Ong's somewhat lengthy 1970 review of the book The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan: 1943-1962, selected, compiled, and edited by Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969) that is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Study (2002, pp. 69-77).

Now, as a young Jesuit in his lengthy Jesuit formation, Ong had done graduate studies in English and in philosophy at SLU -- years before either McLuhan or Ong expounded their related, but also competing, media ecology theories, starting in Ong's case in his mature work from the early 1950s onward. His most substantial contribution to media ecology theory in the 1950s is his massively researched book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958a).

In Philip Marchand's biography Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1989), Marchand says, "Amplifying Walter Ong's thesis [in Ong's massively researched 1958 book] McLuhan argued [in his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press)] that the invention of print effected a still more profound transformation in the psyche of Western man [sic], leading to an emphasis on the visualization of knowledge and the subsequent development of rationalism, mechanistic science and industry, capitalism, nationalism, and so on" (p. 155).

Ong's related book Ramus and Talon Inventory (Harvard University Press, 1958b) features the dedication "For / Herbert Marshall McLuhan / who started all this" - meaning Ong's interest in the work of the French Renaissance logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572).

During McLuhan's years of teaching English at SLU, he had been working on his 1943 Cambridge University doctoral dissertation, which was published posthumously unrevised, but with an editorial apparatus provided by the editor, as the book The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time, edited by W. Terrence Gordon (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2006; for specific page references to Ramism and Ramus, see the "Index" [p. 274]).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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