Swiss art historian's influence on Marshall McLuhan to be discussed today

Marshall McLuhan might be considered by many as one of the prominent modern Canadian intellectuals, but he was actually heavily influenced by a lesser-known Swiss art historian and architectural critic, according to a visual arts professor who will lecture on the subject today.

Sigfried Giedion was a prominent mid-century humanist committed to crossing the boundaries between science, technology and art as a means to engage with history as a living process of “manifold relations,” according to Michael Darroch.

“McLuhan really highly respected Geideon’s understanding of the interconnectedness of things,” said Dr. Darroch, who will also appear on CJAM 99.1 FM to discuss his work tomorrow.

“Giedion wanted us to think about all the objects that have now become part of our everyday lives that we’re taking for granted. He wanted us to rethink art history not so much from the perspective of the great artists or the great builders, the great architects but rather from the humble everyday objects that we have around us.”

Darroch said Giedion’s 1948 classic Mechanization Takes Command centered on a methodological approach to the “anonymous history” of everyday objects and cultural phenomena that reveal the essential spirit of their period.

“This book really influenced McLuhan very strongly at that time,” Darroch said. “This kind of organic interconnectedness of social and cultural changes, McLuhan wanted to take that forward into the study of media.”

It was this work that would influence the landmark interdisciplinary Culture and Communications seminar that McLuhan would help launch at the University of Toronto in the early 1950s, after having taught for two years in the mid-1940s here at Assumption College.

Darroch will deliver a lecture called “Anonymous History and Acoustic Space: Giedion and the Shape of Canadian Media Studies,” which will explore Giedion’s influence on McLuhan and how a particular methodology grew out of that seminar.  The lecture will be held in the Freed-Orman Centre of Assumption University at 4 p.m. today. A reception will follow.

He’ll also discuss his work tomorrow on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday on CJAM 99.1 FM at 4:30 p.m. Watch a video excerpt of that interview: