Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

McLuhan, Eric and Marshall McLuhan. Theories of Communication

Academic journal article Communication Research Trends

McLuhan, Eric and Marshall McLuhan. Theories of Communication

Article excerpt

McLuhan, Eric and Marshall McLuhan. Theories of Communication. New York: Peter Lang, 2011. Pp. xiv, 253. ISBN 978-1-4331-1213-3 (cloth) $149.95; 978-1-4331-1212-6 (paper) $36.95.

At the very beginning of the introduction, Eric McLuhan states his (and his father's) key theory of communication: "communication entails change." He goes on, "the sine qua non of communication therefore is the matter of effect" (p. vii). And, this, of course falls under the domain of rhetoric. Anyone looking for a typical summary text of various communication theories will find this book puzzling--certainly not what the typical reader expected. But the book more than rewards a careful reading, for it introduces a much more complete understanding of communication, particularly in the face of the empirical studies and theories of communication developed through the social science methods of the past 40 years. The more ancient path to knowledge works its way through rhetoric, and various people trained in rhetoric raise questions about effects: not just the effects from efficient cause, but the more profound effects stemming from formal and final cause. In all this, the lodestar for the McLuhans lies in formal cause. Understand that, and one has a good grasp of both communication and of Marshall McLuhan's writings.

The volume consists of 16 chapters plus five appendices, most of them reprinted from the writings of the McLuhans. The original work comes from Eric McLuhan and more directly addresses the idea of the theories of communication as found in various key figures of Western learning: Aristotle, Cicero, Francis Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, and Marshall McLuhan. In each, Eric McLuhan attempts to lay bare the approach to rhetoric: the audience and the effect sought on the audience (p. 189), always with an eye on formal causality. More sweepingly, the last essay discusses "the theories of communication of Judaism and Catholicism" (p. 227). This essay also provides a kind of summary of the McLuhans' general approach:

   Five of the chapters above ... discuss the use of
   the five divisions of rhetoric as a means of structuring
   material for a particular mode of efficacy.
   The five divisions, taken together, constitute the
   logos of rhetoric, the logos prophorikos, which
   always aims at transformation of the audience.
   (p. … 
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