Does McLuhan destroy Leavis?

TitleDoes McLuhan destroy Leavis?
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsWilkinson, H
Conference NameLeavis and the Confrontation with Modernity
Date Published05/2017
Conference LocationCentre for Modern Studies at the University of York

I argue that, despite appearances, McLuhan’s work is in continuity with Leavis’s insights. I use the McLuhan’s Doctoral Dissertation from 1943, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time, to illuminate McLuhan’s later work in Understanding Media. I argue that McLuhan already uses the three dimensions of the Trivium, Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, as operators with which to understand the 2000 year evolution of humane learning up to the time of Thomas Nashe. And McLuhan’s later work, extrapolating from such conceptions as the dynamic analysis of the movement of civilisation by Leavis, when he is considering the 17th Century in Education and the University, is arguably an application of these operators in the context of the transformations of media by and with technology in modern civilisation.

I illustrate this by way of using Wittgenstein’s two phases as illustration. McLuhan’s ‘dialectic’ (which is pre-Hegelian) is objectivist, and is now seen to correspond to the objectivising machine technology of the 19th Century, is mirrored in logical atomism, positivism, and the radical objectivism of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It is ‘dissociation of sensibility’ based. But the earliest world view was based on a conception of cosmic grammar, linguistic structuration of the world and of human process, and this is now, in the later 20th Century, revived in the inclusivity of media in the post-electrical epoch. The developed enactivist linguistic conceptions of the later Wittgenstein and of Leavis (and, I argue, Derrida) correspond to this phase. Finally, I ask whether the sense of enactivist historicity, which has come into view in all of this - illustrated in two advert clips - is something we could make our own as source of meaning in our epoch, straddling past and the pure culture of the present of the electric age.
[the links are to the pdf, and to the mp3 recording of the talk]

Author Biography

Heward Wilkinson D Psych, MSc Psych, MA, BA, lives in Scarborough, and is an Integrative Psychotherapist, and a literary scholar and philosopher. He was Senior Editor of International Journal of Psychotherapy, the journal of the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP), from 1994-2004. He was taught by Dr Leavis at Cambridge in 1965-66. He pursues in depth studies, teaching, and presentations in relation to literature, philosophy, and psychotherapy, with a special interest in the revival of FR Leavis studies, and the Shakespeare authorship question, and has speaks regularly at literary conferences on these themes, in both the UK and the Americas. He has had papers and reviews published in Brief Chronicles. He is Editor of the Leavis Society Newsletter, and a committee member of the Leavis Society, as well as of the De Vere Society. He is author of The Muse as Therapist: A New Poetic Paradigm for Psychotherapy (Karnac/UKCP 2009), which is a Leavisian book, and also contains a chapter on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, drawn from in his Brief Chronicles paper on Cordelia and Edgar in King Lear. His current focus is the historicity of consciousness. 

Author Address