In the Garden with the Guru
Literary Review of Canada
with Marshall McLuhan
by Bob Rodgers
A six-foot-high hedge separated me from the garden next door
but not from its voices. It was my first Sunday morning in the
house I sublet on Wells Hill Avenue by Casa Loma in Toronto. I
couldn’t make out what was being said but one of the voices
sounded familiar. I moved closer and parted the hedge just enough
for a covert glimpse of my new neighbours. A middle-aged man was
lying on his back in a hammock with a book held up vertically
above his head as he read aloud. Next to him a young man sat in
a deck chair with a book on his lap. The young man said: “Vico’s
cycles.” The older man said: “Vicious Circles.”
“Viscous cyclones,“ said the young man. I was awestruck.
My God, I thought, I must be the only person in the world at this
moment listening to what looks like a tag team reading Finnegans
Wake. Later I learned I had been witness to a regular occurrence.
Eric McLuhan and his father, Marshall, were reading at each other.
I was a teaching fellow completing my graduate degree in English
at the University of Toronto. A few weeks after my eavesdropping
in the back garden, I found myself entering my new neighbour’s
house by the front door for McLuhan’s informal (not-for-credit)
Monday night seminar on communications, where I joined two dozen
others crammed into the far from capacious front room of the family
home. McLuhan’s kids, ranging from 15 on down, kept popping
up and disappearing like a colony of gophers. We didn’t
look to me much like a graduate seminar.