Lost Tetrads of Marshall Mcluhan: BY MARSHALL McLUHAN AND ERIC McLuhan

“The medium is the message,” said Marshall McLuhan in 1964, in his seminal book Understanding Media. McLuhan’s work prefigured not just contemporary media theory, but contemporary media itself.

Numerous artists and intellectuals like Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, Neil Postman, Seth Godin, Barbara Kruger have drawn extensively from his work.

In 1974, McLuhan and his media scholar son Eric began revising Understanding Media, using a new interpretive method called the “tetrad.” Eric McLuhan describes it as “a group of the four laws that govern all human innovations,” concerning “what any particular technology or device will obsolesce, retrieve, enhance or amplify, and reverse into.”

The result can be poetic, reminiscent of a koan or haiku, and went straight over the heads of the McLuhans’ publishers — no more than a few have ever before been seen. It’s only now that Eric McLuhan has recovered these lost tetrads and put them together for this volume, along with his annotation and commentary.

Marshall McLuhan was an internationally renowned media theorist who is often considered the first genuinely “modern” philosopher of communications. In the 1950s, he introduced the concept of the “global village,” a vast global “technological mind” that today would be called the Internet. The wide relevance and accessibility of his work made him a public intellectual of a rare kind—taken seriously by scholars, but well-known enough by the public for movie cameos and TV appearances.

Co-writing Laws of Media in 1988 and working closely with his father, Dr. Eric McLuhan is deeply involved in exploring media ecology and communications. He is the author of more than a dozen books on media, perception, and literature. Currently, he is director of Media Studies and lectures at The Harris Institute for the Arts in Toronto.

 

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