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Can Marshall McLuhan Be Rehabilitated? (BOOK REVIEW)

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 8 pages)     Permalink

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(Article changed on March 31, 2014 at 06:48)

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 29, 2014: As everybody knows, conservative Republicans have had a field day with their anti-1960s rhetoric. In their demonizing rhetoric, the 1960s are a shorthand term for referring to the 1960s and 1970s. But the conservatives have thrown out the baby with the bath water, so to speak.


When non-conservatives today think of the 1960s, we tend to think of JFK, MLK, RFK -- all three of whom were assassinated in the 1960s -- and LBJ and the Vietnam War and the police riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. No doubt these people and events were important parts of the 1960s that conservatives like to demonize.

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But the Roman Catholic Church also contributed to the ferment of the 1960s with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). As is well known, an enormous backlash to Vatican II set in with the pontificate of Pope John-Paul II and continued under Pope Benedict XVI. But many people today see Pope Francis as embodying the spirit of Vatican II.


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In addition, three Roman Catholics thinkers contributed in different ways to the intellectual ferment of the 1960s: Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), Walter J. Ong, S.J (1912-2003), and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955), whose posthumously published books had an enormous impact in the 1960s.


It strikes me that liberals and progressives today are going to have to mount a counter-offensive against the conservative demonizing of the 1960s. The counter-offensive should avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water. The counter-offensive should include critical understandings of the strengths of the 1960s, especially of the strengths of the contributions made by JFK, MLK, RFK, and LBJ in advancing black civil rights.


In addition, the counter-offensive should include critical understandings of the contributions of McLuhan, Ong, and Teilhard to the intellectual ferment of the 1960s. (Teilhard is the proper shortened form of his full surname, not an expression of familiarity.)


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In my recently published e-book title WALTER J. ONG: ON HOW AND WHY THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY ARE, the Kindle edition of which is now available at Amazon.com, I have undertaken a step in the counter-offensive by briefly highlighting some of Ong's contributions to the intellectual ferment of the 1960s. However, I have discussed Ong's thought more fully in my book WALTER ONG'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO CULTURAL STUDIES: THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE WORD AND I-THOU COMMUNICATION (2000).


In the present essay I propose to discuss how to proceed to work out a critical understanding of McLuhan's thought -- and how not to do this.

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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; Ph.D.in 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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