After inhaling five or six Discworld novels, which are great fun but sort of the literary equivalent of a big tub of flavored popcorn, I needed a change of pace. On my literature shelves I found a paperback (picked up at a library used book sale, no doubt) of essays by George Orwell. Orwell is consistently insightful and articulate. Not all of the topics in the collection were of interest to me — I skipped the essay on the English national character — but his reflections on the Spanish Civil War, on Gandhi, and on his years as a boy at a boarding school are fascinating.
After finishing the essays, I browsed around on the shelves and opened up my yellowing copy of Understanding Media, by Marshall MacLuhan. Fifty years on, MacLuhan’s basic incoherence is laid bare. He had a few good ideas, granted — but today it’s easy to see his eyes spinning around like mad little pinwheels. Ideas cannon off the walls with no more than an occasional nod in the direction of reality. The book is unreadable.
Tonight a friend on Facebook mentioned an article in the NY Times about the re-emergence (in a heavily modified and less extravagant form) of the Whorf hypothesis. The article makes a pretty good case, or so it would appear. But then, Whorf made what looked like a pretty good case too, except that it turned out the gears were stripped on his research data and his deductions were leaking motor oil all over the driveway. Like MacLuhan, Whorf was Read the rest of this entry »