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At The University Bookman , Joseph P. Duggan offers an interesting read of Marshall McLuhan as a ‘postmodern grammarian.’ There’s too much at issue for me to cut into it adequately at the moment, but all manner of intriguing and controversial questions are raised in a pretty short space. I will say that one kind of postmodernity I wouldn’t want anything to do with is the kind centered on ‘practical mysticism’ (Duggan calls McLuhan a “practical mystic”). Here I must say I smell the worst possibilities of a Catholicism invaded by pantheism — a formalism of ritual justified by the toffery of transcendentalism, a Jungian kind of pious panty raid on the archetypes in service of ‘whatever (i.e., everything) works’. That said, one can’t help but, well, experience a sense of appreciation for the following:

McLuhan was neither an ideologue nor a partisan, nor did he have a political project. He supported the pro-life cause against abortion, but he was not an “activist.” He was repelled by “activism,” which he described as “obsession with efficient causality”—a “Protestant sort of fixation.” Reverence for Being and the quest for understanding and making natural law a way of life in the tradition of Cicero and Aquinas were the alpha and omega of McLuhan’s politics.

Throughout his prolific career, McLuhan did his best to retrieve the lost sense and sensibility of the classical grammarians. Like Nashe, he was an aphorist, an “eccentric and original” communicator. In gestures that can be understood in light of his affinities for Nashe and Rabelais, he scandalized self-important academic colleagues by spoofing himself through appearances on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” and in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” If he gets his just deserts, his work, like that of his heroes Chesterton and St. Thomas, will be taken seriously for a very long time to come.

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