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McLuhan Centenary: Joycean Patois On The Dick Cavett Show

In December of 1970, Dick Cavett hosted a conversation with Al Hirt, Gayle Sayers, Truman Capote and Marshall McLuhan on his television show. It’s difficult to imagine the crosscurrents of this discussion happening on television today. McLuhan’s probes draw each of the guests into his orbit, and he demonstrates how each participates in the theme of his new book, From Cliche to Archetype.

The cyclops, the motorcycle cop…

McLuhan describes himself as an outsider in the course of his appearance on the show. One has to wonder how he broke all the way through to the medium of popular television entertainment. Howard Gossage and Tom Wolfe had something to do with it, but it’s McLuhan’s love of exploration through dialogue that really shines through. It’s perfect for television.

Once the earth was within the surround of the satellite, Planet Polluto was in need of the attention of the ecologist…

In a letter McLuhan wrote: “I am not a ‘culture critic’ because I am not in any way interested in classifying cultural forms. I am a metaphysician, interested in the life of the forms and their surprising modalities.” The jazz musician, the professional football player, the novelist, the comedian and the metaphysician find a common ground within the probes McLuhan unleashes.

McLuhan on Cavett, December 1970
McLuhan on Cavett, 1970

This year we celebrate 100 years of Marshall McLuhan. In some ways, he remains an outsider. After all this time, we haven’t consumed, commoditized, or co-opted his thought— he’s as dangerous as ever.

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