I admit that before reading Douglas Coupland’s unique and, in my opinion, brilliant new biography Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! I really did know very little about McLuhan aside from the few well-known McLuhan-isms that seem to make up most people’s knowledge of McLuhan; his famous declaration that the medium is the message turning out to be just as prescient and unclear in its intent as Andy Warhol’s prediction that in the future we would all be famous for 15 minutes. But since we now live in the world that McLuhan so clearly predicted nearly half a century ago (as did Warhol for that matter – youtube anyone?), I found it fascinating to read about the man himself and to find him so complex and full of contradictions and, filtered as he is through multiple layers of pop culture, nothing like what I thought he was like. A quick internet search gives us easy access to the chronological facts of McLuhan’s life, a quick glance at the Wikipedia page devoted to him will give you the highlights, but this biography provides something much more, something human and modern and interesting in and of itself, even if you care nothing about Marshal McLuhan. This slim volume is structured nothing like a conventional biography, it bounces all over the place in short little dissociated blurbs of text, but the choice of this approach in Coupland’s accomplished hands is perfect and renders the book and the subject much more interesting than a straight telling of the facts would have. The way that the format of this book added to deeper understanding of the subject reminds me of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and the way that book added to my understanding of the build up to WWII in such an interesting and meaningful way.
Marshal McLuhan: You Know Nothing of my Work!