Marshall McLuhan still influences with “The medium is the massage”

On a recent trip to Melbourne I visited the State Library of Victoria to have a look at some of the exhibitions, including one called, Mirror of the World: Books & Ideas. As part of this exhibit they had a display of, what the State Librarian determined to be, 15 Books of Influence’ . Books that have changed the course of history or that have changed the way we see ourselves and our culture. Of course, this is a hugely controversial topic and can be debated for hours (so please send me your comments). For me, the most interesting thing about the exhibit was the book chosen to be displayed on the wall above all the other monumental works, one I have heard of, but never read: The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (graphical designer). No “Massage” is not a typo, anymore, at least. McLuhan was famous for coining the phrase, “the medium is the message”, however, according to a story told by McLuhan’s son, when it came to publishing the book, the proofs came back with the printing error “massage” on the cover and McLuhan, feeling that this was entirely symbolic of his philosophy that the medium led and drove the message, left the title as it appeared.

The Medium is the Massage - Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

The Medium is the Massage - Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore

McLuhan popularised other phrases like Global Village and said “If it works, it’s obsolete” – at the speed of current technological development, it seems a modern phrase, although said more than thirty years ago: McLuhan died in 1980. Though published in 1967, the commentary in McLuhan’s book about the role the medium plays in formatting the message is fundamental for all players in the new media landscape.

The complete list of books that have influenced the world is:

1) Astronomia Instaurata (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium) – by Nicolaus Copernicus

2) Traitté de la Peinture – by Leonardo Da Vinci

3) Dialogo … Sopra i Due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo – by Galileo Galilei

4) Der Achte Teil der Bücher des Ehrnwirdigen Herrn D. Martini Lutheri – by Martin Luther

5) Opticks or A treatise of the refractions, inflections, and colours of light – by Sir Isaac Newton (Yes, Opticks not Principia – considered just as, if not more, important as the discoveries of gravity and calculus)

6) New experiments and observations on electricity – by Benjamin Franklin (in display but not on Library website)

7) On the origin of species – by Charles Darwin

8) Traité de Radioactivité – by Marie Curie

9) Das Kapital: Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie – by Karl Marx

10) ‘Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitatstheorie’ in Annalen der Physik, vol. 49 Albert Einstein

11) Gesammelte Schriften (Collected Writings)– by Sigmund Freud

12) Le Deuxieme Sexe – by Simone de Beauvior (on display when I was there but replaced by Mary Wollstonecraft on the Library website.)

13) Quotations from Chaiman Mao (The Little Red Book)

14) Why We Can’t Wait – by Martin Luther King, Jr

15) I am prepared to die – by Nelson Mandela

16) The female eunuch – by Germaine Greer

17)  The medium is the massage – by Marshall McLuhan (in display but not on Library website)

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.
—George Orwell


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2 Responses

  1. Sean, Yes I know. Seventeen? It was TEN in the exhibit and 15 on the Exhibit’s Website. When you add all the books in the physical and virtual exhibits together you have Eighteen, but I dropped Mary Wollstonecraft (don’t asked me why). All the books tend to be from the Renaissance on – which is a way of getting rid of (most of) those religious tracts.

    I have to strongly agree with your call on John Maynard Keynes whose General Theory will be getting a right revisiting about now throughout all schools and universities… Cheers, Chris

  2. Seventeen books is a funny number. A few thoughts:

    I would have definitely included Principia. Putting in Opticks instead looks like they’re trying to be clever
    How about Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan?
    Where is Adam Smith or John Maynard Keynes?
    Maybe the Kinsey Report should be there too
    The most obvious omissions are religious texts: Bible, Koran, etc

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