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McLuhan in Reverse

His General Theory of Media (GToM)


Robert K. Logan

McLuhan in Reverse proposes two new and startling theses about Marshall McLuhan’s body of work. The first argues that despite McLuhan’s claim that he did not work from a theory, his body of work in fact constitutes a theory that Robert K. Logan calls his General Theory of Media (GToM). The second thesis is that McLuhan’s GToM is characterized by a number of reversals, including his reversals of figure and ground, cause and effect, percepts and concepts; and the medium and its content as described in his famous one-liner "the medium is the message." 

While McLuhan’s famous Laws of Media are part of his GToM, Logan has identified nine other elements of the GToM. They are his use of probes; figure/ground analysis; the idea that the medium is the message; the subliminal nature of ground or environment revealed only by the creation of an anti-environment; the reversal of cause and effect; the importance of percept over concept and hence a focus on the human sensorium and media as extensions of man; the division of communication into the oral, written, and electric ages along with the notions of acoustic and visual space; the notion of the global village; and finally, media as environments and hence media ecology.

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I first met Marshall McLuhan in 1974 at the Coach House on the campus of St. Michael’s College, the University of Toronto. I was a professor of physics carrying out research in theoretical elementary particle physics, lecturing, supervising grad students, and from 1971 teaching in a seminar course, The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry. The objective of the seminar course was to introduce humanities students to physics without making use of mathematics (i.e. the poetry of physics) and integrating it with a study of poetry and other forms of literature that were related to physics (i.e. the physics of poetry). I started the course because I felt that too many bad decisions were being made by politicians and business people who had no basic understanding of science.

When I came up with the idea of the course I had no idea it would change my life, but it did because it became my ticket for meeting Marshall McLuhan and my subsequent collaboration with him. In 1974 after returning from spending three months studying and collaborating with Ivan Illich in Cuernavaca Mexico I organized a future studies seminar at New College known as the Club of Gnu. The name was a portmanteau of the New College mascot, the gnu and the Club of Rome, a prestigious NGO of futurists that had just commissioned the study The Limits to Growth. I recruited different professors to join the Club of Gnu from different departments in the...

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