6-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​C​C​N​.​6​-​2​.11 | Laud­er PDF

Abstract | The late writ­ings and visu­al art of Bertram Brook­er (1888-1955) rep­re­sent an over­looked bridge between the space-time dis­course of British mod­ernist Wyn­d­ham Lewis and the Toron­to School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. The Cana­di­an artist-advertiser’s mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary pro­duc­tion of the 1930s through the mid-1950s revis­its his ear­li­er thema­ti­za­tion of Bergson­ian con­cepts of dura­tion and “flux” in abstract can­vas­es and arti­cles for Mar­ket­ing mag­a­zine of the 1920s. Yet his illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum and the unpub­lished man­u­script The Brave Voic­es (ca. 1953-55) reveal a fresh aware­ness of the lim­its of the Bergson­ian par­a­digm as well as a deep­en­ing recog­ni­tion of its impli­ca­tions as a cri­tique of moder­ni­ty fol­low­ing the stock mar­ket crash of 1929.
Résumé | Les écrits et les oeu­vres en art visuel tardifs de Bertram Brook­er (1888-1955) représen­tent un pont inédit entre le dis­cours du mod­erniste anglais Wyn­d­ham Lewis sur l'espace-temps et la Toron­to School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. La pro­duc­tion mul­ti­dis­ci­plinaire de cet artiste et pub­lic­i­taire qui s'étend des années 1930 jusqu'au milieu des années 1950 revis­ite en effet son intérêt plus ancien pour les con­cepts bergsoniens de durée et de flux, tel qu'il avait exprimé en des tableaux abstraits et des arti­cles durant les années 1920 pour le mag­a­zine Mar­ket­ing. Ses illus­tra­tions pour The Cana­di­an Forum et son man­u­scrit non-pub­lié inti­t­ulé The Brave Voice (ca. 1953-55) révè­lent une con­science nou­velle des lim­ites du par­a­digme bergsonien ain­si qu'une recon­nais­sance très vive de son poten­tiel cri­tique face à la moder­nité aux lende­mains du crash bour­si­er de 1929.



The art and adver­tis­ing of Bertram Brook­er (1888-1955) stands at the head of a dis­tinc­tive­ly Cana­di­an dis­course on the “pol­i­tics of time” and mate­r­i­al cul­ture (see Antliff). Even pri­or to pur­chas­ing the Toron­to-based Mar­ket­ing mag­a­zine in Novem­ber 1924, Brook­er had ini­ti­at­ed a crit­i­cal dia­logue with dom­i­nant adver­tis­ing cul­ture in the pages of the lead­ing Amer­i­can trade paper, Print­ers’ Ink, that built upon the argu­ments of Hen­ri Berg­son. Draw­ing on the French philosopher’s pop­u­lar texts “Laugh­ter” and Cre­ative Evo­lu­tion, Brook­er pit­ted the “flux” of Bergson’s non-ratio­nal con­cep­tion of tem­po­ral­i­ty as durée against the sta­t­ic, spa­tial bias of Amer­i­can “rea­son-why” copy and its behav­iourist con­struc­tion of con­sumer sub­jec­tiv­i­ty (see Sur­rey, “Mak­ing Orders”; Sur­rey, “Are Sta­tis­tics”; Spane, “Make Adver­tis­ing”; John­ston; Luff; Laud­er, “It’s Alive!”). In ret­ro­spect, this dual­is­tic frame­work can be rec­og­nized as hav­ing set the stage for Cana­di­an polit­i­cal econ­o­mist Harold Innis’s sub­se­quent “plea for time” in the face of what he viewed as a neo-impe­ri­al­is­tic Amer­i­can cul­ture indus­try in the 1950s. Brooker’s inno­v­a­tive adver­tis­ing writ­ings and cubo-futur­ist visu­al art and graph­ic designs of the 1920s cel­e­brat­ed qual­i­ta­tive “becom­ing” in a fash­ion recall­ing the ear­li­er Bergson­ian mod­ernisms of Euro­pean Futur­ist, Vor­ti­cist, and Rhyth­mist move­ments, but adapt­ed to the strug­gle for Cana­di­an cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic sov­er­eign­ty (c.f. Brook­er, “How Amer­i­can”; see also Dyer, “Why We Buy”; Love, “C.N.R.”).

This arti­cle exam­ines a relat­ed but as of yet large­ly over­looked dimen­sion of the Toron­to artist-advertiser’s writ­ings and visu­al art: name­ly their har­ness­ing of Bergson­ian con­struc­tions of tem­po­ral­i­ty to cri­tique the insti­tu­tions and instru­ments of moder­ni­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly the media of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Clear­ing a path for the analy­ses of space sub­se­quent­ly artic­u­lat­ed by Toron­to School the­o­rists includ­ing Innis and Mar­shall McLuhan, Brooker’s post-1929 graph­ic designs, visu­al art, and writ­ings revis­it his ear­li­er val­oriza­tion of flux to explore the lim­its of media and mod­ern­iza­tion. Some of the strate­gies devel­oped by the artist-adver­tis­er to mount this crit­i­cal project res­onate with the ear­li­er exper­i­ments of the Cana­di­an-born British artist-author Wyn­d­ham Lewis. How­ev­er, in stark con­trast to the ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal tra­jec­to­ry Lewis pur­sued dur­ing the same peri­od, the 1930s saw Brook­er increas­ing­ly seize upon the social­ist poten­tial of Bergson­ian tem­po­ral­i­ty as a med­i­ta­tion on the plight of those left behind by tech­no­log­i­cal progress amidst the depri­va­tions of the Great Depres­sion. Sub­se­quent­ly, in the 1940s and 1950s, Brooker’s writ­ings revis­it­ed Bergson’s the­o­ries, but in a spec­u­la­tive vein that reveals a deep­en­ing aware­ness of the dan­gers implied by unchecked spa­tial ambitions.

This arti­cle per­forms the first close read­ing of spe­cif­ic arti­facts of mate­r­i­al cul­ture pro­duced by Brook­er dur­ing the 1930s, notably illus­tra­tions pub­lished in the social­ist mag­a­zine The Cana­di­an Forum, as well as the late unpub­lished man­u­script, The Brave Voic­es (ca. 1953-55)—a mag­is­te­r­i­al sum­ma of his Bergson­ian insights on media and moder­ni­ty. This assess­ment of Brooker’s med­i­ta­tions on the shift­ing pol­i­tics of time and mate­r­i­al cul­ture span­ning the Depres­sion years through the post­war peri­od will also pro­vide an oppor­tu­ni­ty to test Gre­go­ry Betts’s recent char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Brook­er as a “Cana­di­an Vor­ti­cist” (see Avant-garde 215-16).



Brook­er was a British-born mul­ti­me­dia mod­ernist whose diverse achieve­ments nego­ti­at­ed avant-garde devel­op­ments in Europe and the grow­ing influ­ence of the Amer­i­can cul­ture indus­try from a dis­tinct­ly Cana­di­an posi­tion of mar­gin­al­i­ty. After emi­grat­ing with his fam­i­ly to Portage la Prairie, Man­i­to­ba in 1905, the future artist-adver­tis­er worked as a time­keep­er for the Grand Trunk Pacif­ic Rail­way pri­or to open­ing a cin­e­ma with his broth­er in near­by Neep­awa. This expe­ri­ence as a movie house oper­a­tor like­ly act­ed as a cat­a­lyst for the sce­nar­ios he penned in 1912-13 that were adapt­ed into a series of silent films by the Brook­lyn-based Vita­graph Com­pa­ny of Amer­i­ca, star­ring Mau­rice Costel­lo as the epony­mous sleuth Lam­bert Chase (see Laud­er, “It’s Alive!”  96, 104n93). Brooker’s ear­ly par­tic­i­pa­tion in film cul­ture like­ly con­tributed to his lat­er explo­ration of time-based forms in his texts and visu­al art. In par­al­lel with this activ­i­ty as a screen­writer, Brook­er under­took work as a jour­nal­ist and com­mer­cial artist for a vari­ety of prairie papers, even­tu­al­ly becom­ing Pro­mo­tion Man­ag­er for the Win­nipeg Free Press. He also wrote a reg­u­lar humour and traf­fic col­umn for the lat­ter pub­li­ca­tion, “Gaso­grams by Honk,” whose free-rang­ing mus­ings on art and cur­rent events antic­i­pat­ed the stud­ied scat­ter­shot qual­i­ty of McLuhan’s analyses.

In 1921, Brook­er moved to Toron­to to work as a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to the adver­tis­ing trade paper Mar­ket­ing and Busi­ness Man­age­ment, which he lat­er pur­chased. In 1923, Mar­ket­ing pub­lished Brooker’s first mono­graph, Sub­con­scious Sell­ing. This recent­ly redis­cov­ered title applied tech­niques of “auto­sug­ges­tion” devel­oped by the French phar­ma­cist Émile Coué—progenitor of the pop­u­lar mantra “Day by day, in every way, I’m get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter” (Brooks 28)—to prac­ti­cal prob­lems in sales­man­ship (see Laud­er, “Bertram Brooker’s Prac­tice-based Adver­tis­ing The­o­ry”). The text is sig­nif­i­cant, in part, for its adap­ta­tion of Bergson­ian con­cepts and vocab­u­lary to its pre­sen­ta­tion of Couéist psy­chol­o­gy for a non-spe­cial­ist audi­ence. This Bergson­ian inflec­tion set the stage for Brooker’s full-fledged writ­ings on Berg­son for Mar­ket­ing and oth­er jour­nals lat­er in the decade. As edi­tor and pub­lish­er of Mar­ket­ing from 1924 until the close of 1927, Brook­er explored a Bergson­ian “meta­physics of media” (Crock­er), exper­i­ment­ing with synes­thet­ic alter­na­tives to estab­lished print con­ven­tions that also respond­ed to the radio craze that swept Cana­di­an con­sumers begin­ning in 1922 (see Weir). Brooker’s mul­ti­modal media inves­ti­ga­tions in the pages of Mar­ket­ing iden­ti­fy him as a key pre­cur­sor of the audi­to­ry par­a­digm enshrined in Toron­to School com­mu­ni­ca­tions the­o­ry. In 1927, Brook­er was the sub­ject of Canada’s first solo exhi­bi­tion of abstract art—likewise inspired by audi­to­ry con­cerns (see Williams)—sponsored by Group of Sev­en mem­bers Arthur Lis­mer and Lawren Har­ris at the Arts and Let­ters Club in Toron­to (see Reid).

Brooker’s pro­lif­ic writ­ings for Mar­ket­ing and the Amer­i­can busi­ness jour­nal Print­ers’ Ink were revised and com­piled in two influ­en­tial vol­umes issued by McGraw-Hill: Lay­out Tech­nique in Adver­tis­ing (1929) and Copy Tech­nique in Adver­tis­ing (1930) (see Cavell; Will­mott). Fol­low­ing a peri­od of free­lance work, Brook­er returned to the adver­tis­ing world in 1930, accept­ing a posi­tion with the pres­ti­gious firm of J.J. Gib­bons as head of the first media and research depart­ment in Cana­da (John­ston 210). Brook­er then moved to MacLaren Adver­tis­ing in 1934, where he retired as vice-pres­i­dent in the year of his death.

The resound­ing­ly neg­a­tive response to Brooker’s pio­neer­ing 1927 exhi­bi­tion like­ly encour­aged his turn away from abstrac­tion and gen­er­al­ly low­er pub­lic pro­file of lat­er years. Nonethe­less he con­tin­ued to exhib­it and pub­lish through­out the 1930s and 1940s, being award­ed with the first Gov­er­nor General’s Award for Fic­tion in 1937 (then named the Lord Tweedsmuir Award) for his nov­el Think of the Earth. Despite per­cep­tions of dimin­ished rad­i­cal­ism, unex­hib­it­ed can­vas­es and unpub­lished man­u­scripts from Brooker’s archives and estate attest to a relent­less spir­it of exper­i­men­ta­tion and inquiry. Yet, though a respect­ed mem­ber of Toronto’s adver­tis­ing, art, and lit­er­ary com­mu­ni­ties, since his death in 1955 the over­all tra­jec­to­ry of Brooker’s mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary achieve­ments and broad­er con­tri­bu­tions to Cana­di­an cul­ture remained elu­sive until recent, revi­sion­ist studies.


Ser­vice Prod­ucts” and the Ambiva­lent Pol­i­tics of Time-Saving

Elec­tric pow­er, equal­ly avail­able in the farm­house and the Exec­u­tive Suite, per­mits any place to be a cen­tre, and does not require large aggre­ga­tions. This reverse pat­tern appeared quite ear­ly in elec­tri­cal ‘labour-sav­ing’ devices, whether toast­er or wash­ing machine or vac­u­um clean­er. Instead of sav­ing work, these devices per­mit every­body to do his own work. What the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry had del­e­gat­ed to ser­vants and house­maids we now do for our­selves. This prin­ci­ple applies in toto in the elec­tric age.(36).

In the above pas­sage from Under­stand­ing Media, Mar­shall McLuhan draws atten­tion to the ambiva­lent lega­cy of tech­nolo­gies mar­ket­ed as labour-sav­ing devices; for exam­ple, an unin­tend­ed con­se­quence of prod­ucts such as the vac­u­um clean­er is the trans­for­ma­tion of leisure-seek­ing con­sumers into har­ried self-ser­vice providers. Despite embrac­ing James Joyce’s par­tic­i­pa­to­ry dic­tum, “my con­sumers, are they not also my pro­duc­ers?” (The Guten­berg Galaxy 205), as a mod­el for his own the­o­riza­tion of read­er recep­tion as a process of cre­ative “mak­ing,” McLuhan was marked­ly less opti­mistic in his com­ments on “ser­vice products”—technologies intend­ed to replace human labour that, as Jonathan Ger­shuny observes, para­dox­i­cal­ly con­tributed to a “self-ser­vice econ­o­my” (81; see also Web­ster 51). This con­tra­dic­tion instan­ti­ates an abid­ing para­dox in Toron­to School com­mu­ni­ca­tion the­o­ry, which simul­ta­ne­ous­ly val­orizes time as a dia­log­i­cal counter to the alleged spa­tial bias of the Amer­i­can cul­ture indus­tries (see Comor; Zhao), but crit­i­cizes the effects of time-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies and time-bind­ing media such as radio for con­tribut­ing to every­thing from the Great Depres­sion and World War II to the post-war rise of an oppres­sive ser­vice econ­o­my. In some ways, these ten­sions antic­i­pate recent cri­tiques of the cre­ative econ­o­my (see Boltan­s­ki and Ève Chi­a­pe­lo), there­by com­pli­cat­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions of McLuhan in par­tic­u­lar as a naïve pros­e­ly­tiz­er of an exploitive cog­ni­tive capitalism.

Brooker’s mar­ket­ing texts and graph­ic designs artic­u­late a sim­i­lar­ly ambiva­lent dis­course on time-based media and time-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, as both poten­tial instru­ments of social redemp­tion and “destroy­ers” of estab­lished social pat­terns. This antic­i­pa­to­ry qual­i­ty of Brooker’s oeu­vre is part­ly explained by a shared encounter with Berg­son (see Cavell; Marches­sault, Mar­shall McLuhan; Dar­roch and Marches­sault). Clear­ing a path for McLuhan’s com­men­tary on time-savers more than 30 years lat­er, Brooker’s analy­sis of an adver­tise­ment for Hoover vac­u­um clean­ers (Fig. 1) in his 1929 McGraw-Hill text­book, Lay­out Tech­nique in Adver­tis­ing, sin­gles out the icon­ic labour-saver as bring­ing into rep­re­sen­ta­tion a Bergson­ian “world made up of ‘events,’ rather than of objects” (174). Dis­cussing the com­po­si­tion of the Hoover ad, in which a vac­u­um is encir­cled by its cord with numer­ic bul­lets dis­trib­uted to sug­gest a clock face, Book­er com­ments: “[S]ome­thing has hap­pened to this cir­cle. It is bro­ken, and leads into a series of curves which are extreme­ly active. They are going some­where and doing some­thing. In oth­er words, these curves are ‘events’ rather than ‘forms’” (176). This analy­sis fol­lows on the heels of an unlike­ly com­men­tary on Albert Ein­stein and Oswald Spen­gler as the her­alds of a new con­cep­tion of the “world-as-his­to­ry” (174). Such seem­ing­ly tan­gen­tial excur­sions into phi­los­o­phy and physics are com­mon­place in Brooker’s writ­ings, whose aston­ish­ing trans­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty antic­i­pates the media exper­i­ments of McLuhan and Edward Carpenter’s Explo­rations group of the 1950s (see Dar­roch and Marchessault).

Timesavers - Figure_1_Web

Fig­ure 1. The Hoover Com­pa­ny, “Pos­i­tive Agi­ta­tion,” in Lay­out Tech­nique, 1929.

The opti­mistic rhetoric of Brooker’s Bergson­ian read­ing of the Hoover ad par­al­lels his com­ments in a March, 1929 piece for Mar­ket­ing, “Visu­al­ize Events—Not Things in Adver­tis­ing Copy.” Sim­i­lar­ly draw­ing on the physics of Ein­stein and employ­ing a Bergson­ian vocab­u­lary of “flux,” “stream” and “vor­tex,” Brook­er defines the suc­cess­ful adver­tise­ment as the pro­jec­tion of “the uni­verse as a flux of ener­gy” (161). Unsur­pris­ing­ly, Brooker’s own graph­ic designs and abstract paint­ings (the first to be shown in a solo exhi­bi­tion in Cana­da) employ a geo­met­ric vocab­u­lary that, in the words of Joyce Zemans, com­mu­ni­cates qual­i­ties of “rhyth­mic bio­mor­phic ener­gy and flow” redo­lent of Bergson’s durée (30). A rep­re­sen­ta­tive series of ads designed by Brook­er for the nation­al dai­ly The Globe ran in the fall of 1928. Echo­ing his gloss on the Hoover ad in Lay­out Tech­nique, Brook­er employs styl­ized clock faces in tan­dem with geo­met­ric motifs to rep­re­sent the prod­uct as “a hap­pen­ing” (Spane, “Visu­al­ize Events” 162).

Brooker’s explo­ration of Futur­ist prin­ci­ples of dynamism, ener­gy, and flux in his writ­ings, graph­ic designs, and visu­al art of the 1920s was abrupt­ly cut short by the stock mar­ket crash of Octo­ber, 1929. A meet­ing in the sum­mer of that year with the Win­nipeg artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGer­ald (1890-1956) is usu­al­ly cit­ed as the impe­tus for the sub­se­quent sea change in Brooker’s art prac­tice, which saw him switch to a real­ist style rem­i­nis­cent of the Pre­ci­sion­ism of the Amer­i­can Charles Sheel­er. How­ev­er, it is like­ly that the pres­sures affect­ing Brooker’s pro­duc­tion were as much eco­nom­ic as aes­thet­ic, the artist-adver­tis­er hav­ing returned to full-time employ­ment in 1930 after work­ing for sev­er­al years as a freelancer.

Figure 2

Fig­ure 2. Bertram Brook­er, “Vac­u­um Clean­er,” in The Cana­di­an Forum, July 1936.

Figure 3

Fig­ure 3. Bertram Brook­er, “Lawn Mow­er,” in The Cana­di­an Forum, Novem­ber 1936.

Den­nis Reid notes that as the 1930s pro­gressed, Brook­er revis­it­ed abstrac­tion, but in a more restrained, Cubist style. How­ev­er, two draw­ings pub­lished in The Cana­di­an Forum in July and Novem­ber 1936 stand out from Brooker’s rel­a­tive­ly placid pro­duc­tion of that tur­bu­lent decade: Vac­u­um Clean­er (1936) and Lawn Mow­er (1936) (Figs. 2 & 3)—though for­mal­ly sim­i­lar to the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous can­vas­es Blue Nude (1937) and Entomb­ment (1937)—are dis­tin­guished by their fusion of con­sumer prod­ucts and geo­met­ric abstrac­tion, a strat­e­gy recall­ing Brooker’s adver­tise­ments for The Globe near­ly a decade ear­li­er. Yet these are not adver­tise­ments; in their use of uncon­ven­tion­al per­spec­tive, they match Charles Hill’s descrip­tion of domes­tic still-life works by Brook­er from the same years, such as Ski Poles (1936): “The arbi­trary per­spec­tive projects the objects for­ward,” states Hill, “cre­at­ing a ver­ti­cal as well as hor­i­zon­tal pro­gres­sion” (94). How­ev­er, unlike Ski Poles, Vac­u­um Clean­er and Lawn Mow­er do not depict the “typ­i­cal­ly Cana­di­an sub­ject mat­ter” of win­ter sport (94). The draw­ings’ inclu­sion in the pages of the The Cana­di­an Forum—which Hill char­ac­ter­izes as the “mouth­piece for the League for Social Recon­struc­tion and the C.C.F. (Com­mon­wealth Coop­er­a­tive Fed­er­a­tion, fore­run­ner of the New Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty)” and a forum for the dis­cus­sion of Marx­ist topics—is, on a first read­ing, all the more puz­zling. What are these draw­ings, seem­ing­ly glo­ri­fy­ing the prod­ucts of the very cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem habit­u­al­ly crit­i­cized by Forum con­trib­u­tors, doing rub­bing shoul­ders with arti­cles on Sovi­et Rus­sia and the Span­ish Civ­il War?

Despite the “sur­prise” with which Hill greets Brooker’s social­ly com­mit­ted stance of the 1930s—seeing it as an aber­ra­tion in a career oth­er­wise devot­ed to “indi­vid­ual aes­thet­ic expres­sion” (15, 16)—Anna Hudson’s dis­ser­ta­tion places Brook­er square­ly with­in a “social­ly-con­scious mod­ern move­ment of paint­ing in Cana­da” (“Art and Social Progress” 33). Yet, while firm­ly locat­ing Brook­er with­in a milieu that includ­ed such known social­ists as Paraske­va Clark, Hud­son has more recent­ly admit­ted that, “[m]y attempts to read social con­scious­ness into Cana­di­an paint­ing of the 1930s and 1940s end­ed in frus­tra­tion: what, after all, is polit­i­cal or pro­pa­gan­dis­tic about works like Bertram Brooker’s Still Life with Bag No. 3 […]?” (“Time and Image” 56). Where Hudson’s recent schol­ar­ship pro­pos­es to wrest a pro­gres­sive agen­da from Brooker’s work by sit­u­at­ing his explo­ration of time and space with­in a dis­course on “sci­en­tif­ic human­ism” (ibid. 58), I argue that the artist’s social con­scious­ness emerges, rather, from his Bergson­ian cri­tique of sci­en­tif­ic progress and modernization.

If this anti-tri­umphal­ist stance is more opaque in visu­al works such as Brooker’s illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum, Gre­go­ry Betts has lucid­ly demon­strat­ed that the artist’s coeval works of short fic­tion draw atten­tion to the social con­se­quences of rapid mod­ern­iza­tion: “his char­ac­ters,” writes Betts, “are dis­tinct­ly ill-suit­ed to han­dle the unique pres­sures of moder­ni­ty” (“Intro­duc­tion” xxx). “Mrs. Hungerford’s Milk,” pub­lished in a 1934 issue of The Cana­di­an Forum between arti­cles on Marx­ism and the state of the labour move­ment, nar­rates the plight of farmer Joe Snell, who refus­es to bow to the pres­sures of “keep­ing up to date” by upgrad­ing his farm equip­ment (138). This poignant alle­go­ry of tech­no­log­i­cal depen­den­cy may have been an oblique response to an ear­li­er Forum arti­cle by the Win­nipeg Jour­nal­ist Leonard Hunger­ford. In “The Con­sumer Lis­tens In,” Hunger­ford report­ed on a meet­ing of par­lia­ment ear­ly in the pre­mier­ship of R.B. Bennett:

I was the con­sumer and I was lis­ten­ing in. For three hours I lis­tened and watched. I became con­vinced that I’d pay more for good fruit and for first-class but­ter, sus­pi­cious that I’d pay more for good clothes and good shoes, and was made to enter­tain the sur­mise that per­haps I’d have more mon­ey with which to pay more. And as for the farmer…. I decid­ed to hur­ry home to ask Alice in Won­der­land about the farmer. (93)

Hungerford’s adop­tion of the consumer’s per­spec­tive as a polit­i­cal lens undoubt­ed­ly would have been have res­o­nant for Brook­er, whose writ­ings on adver­tis­ing top­ics were among the first in North Amer­i­ca to artic­u­late themes that would lat­er cohere in the “Consumer’s Move­ment” of the 1930s (see Bar­tels 52, 59). Brooker’s adver­tis­ing texts of the 1920s exhort­ed the copy­writer to adopt a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry tone that would recast the manip­u­la­tive valence of the con­ven­tion­al sales pitch as par­tic­i­pa­to­ry inter­ac­tion. How­ev­er, as Betts’s gloss on Brooker’s short fic­tion sug­gests, by the fol­low­ing decade the theme of con­sump­tion had assumed a more polit­i­cal­ly ambiva­lent cast in the artist’s writ­ings. The new truck that Joe Snell’s broth­er urges him to pur­chase in “Mrs. Hungerford’s Milk” is as much a sym­bol of the protagonist’s fail­ure to adapt to the pres­sures of moder­ni­ty as a poten­tial agent of “tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion” (Betts, “Intro­duc­tion” xxix). A sim­i­lar­ly con­flict­ed pic­ture of the lega­cies of mod­ern­iza­tion and of the Bergson­ian pol­i­tics of “cre­ativ­i­ty” pro­mul­gat­ed by his adver­tis­ing texts of the 1920s emerges from Brooker’s poem “The Destroy­er,” penned on the eve of the Depres­sion, an excerpt of which is repro­duced below:

       what have I to do with creating
I am come back only to destroy
(qtd. in Betts, Avant-garde 120).

When viewed with­in the trans­formed per­spec­tive on the com­mod­i­ty that emerges from Betts’s read­ing of Brooker’s Depres­sion-era short fic­tion, the artist’s illus­tra­tions of con­sumer goods for The Cana­di­an Forum assume rad­i­cal­ly new mean­ings as crit­i­cal appro­pri­a­tions of mate­r­i­al cul­ture that com­ment on the unin­tend­ed social effects of tech­no­log­i­cal progress. I argue that this strat­e­gy sug­gests analo­gies with the tac­tics devel­oped ear­li­er by British Vor­ti­cist artists.

The bold typog­ra­phy and sen­sa­tion­al lan­guage of the Vor­ti­cist lit­tle mag­a­zine Blast (1914-15) seized upon the poten­tial of adver­tis­ing to func­tion as what Andrew Wer­nick (qtd. in Reynolds) terms “rhetor­i­cal form” (240). Build­ing on the ear­li­er pro­mo­tion­al strate­gies of Ital­ian Futur­ists such as F.T. Marinet­ti, but appro­pri­at­ing the prod­ucts of British mass cul­ture, Blast staged a “visu­al text” tar­get­ing the pre­ten­sions of the Roy­al Acad­e­my as well as the social dis­en­gage­ment of for­eign avant-gardes (Tuma 403; see also Reynolds 244). Rather than cri­tiquing the insti­tu­tion of adver­tis­ing per se, the Vor­ti­cists posi­tioned the artist as “a crea­ture of the media” (Klein 137).

Figure 4

Fig­ure 4. Bertram Brook­er, The Romance of Trade Marks, ca. 1912-1915. Ink on paper, 21.5 x 27.8 cm. Cour­tesy The Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery.

Figure 5

Fig­ure 5. Bertram Brook­er, Reznor, ca. 1912-1915. Ink on paper, 21.5 x 27.7 cm. Cour­tesy The Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery.

While Wyn­d­ham Lewis, the ring­mas­ter of this media cir­cus, would devel­op into a noto­ri­ous crit­ic of adver­tis­ing and oth­er ide­o­log­i­cal instru­ments of lib­er­al democ­ra­cy in the wake of the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by World War I (see Rosen­quist 61), Tuma under­lines that, “Blast marks a moment—important to recov­er now that the sit­u­a­tion has changed so—when it did not occur to avant-gardists to pit their work against pop­u­lar cul­ture” (403). An allied vision of a utopi­an merg­er of art and adver­tis­ing emerges from ear­ly draw­ings by Brook­er dat­ing from the same peri­od as Blast. Exe­cut­ed dur­ing his years in Neep­awa, Man­i­to­ba (Zemans 18), ink draw­ings such as The Romance of Trade­marks (ca. 1912-15) and Reznor (ca. 1912-15) (Figs. 4 & 5) har­ness the artist’s grow­ing com­mand of graph­ic design—acquired through his work as an illus­tra­tor for news­pa­pers in Neep­awa, Regi­na and Winnipeg—to col­lage com­mer­cial trade­marks into intri­cate avant-garde com­po­si­tions. While Betts dubs the relat­ed draw­ing, Deca­dent (ca. 1912-15), a “visu­al poem” (Avant-garde 132), Brooker’s explo­rations of adver­tis­ing as an aes­thet­ic medi­um are clear­ly linked to a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous body of draw­ings and water­colours like­wise housed today in the archives of the Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery in Oshawa, Ontario, includ­ing The Cult of Ugli­ness, which Zemans reads as respond­ing to press cov­er­age of the Chica­go instal­la­tion of the 1913 Armory Show (18).

Sev­er­al writ­ers, pre­em­i­nent­ly Betts, have sug­gest­ed a Vor­ti­cist influ­ence on Brooker’s mul­ti-media pro­duc­tion. Brooker’s direct ref­er­ences to Lewis con­firm the Cana­di­an artist’s famil­iar­i­ty with the movement’s chief spokesper­son by the time that the latter’s anti-adver­tis­ing polemic Time and West­ern Man appeared in 1927 (“Blake”; “Prophets Want­ed”). An ear­li­er point of con­tact is not out of the ques­tion; Blast had Cana­di­an dis­tri­b­u­tion through Bell & Cock­burn, the Toron­to agent of pub­lish­er John Lane (see Laud­er, “It’s Alive!” 102n35). Whether or not The Romance of Trade­marks and Reznor reveal a direct Vor­ti­cist influ­ence, they deploy strate­gies rem­i­nis­cent of avant-garde lit­tle mag­a­zines to engage in a pro­to-Pop dis­course on the rap­proche­ment of high and low cul­tur­al forms par­al­lel­ing Vor­ti­cist artists’ coeval val­oriza­tion of mate­r­i­al cul­ture as “the real nation­al art” (Tuma 405). Brooker’s Blast-like man­i­festo, “The Decay of Art” (ca. 1912-15), gives lit­er­ary expres­sion to the inte­gra­tion of mate­r­i­al cul­ture and avant-gardism visu­al­ized in these draw­ings in a fash­ion recall­ing Vorticism’s strate­gic inhab­i­ta­tion of pop­u­lar culture:

Com­mer­cial­ism is devel­op­ing the minds of thou­sands who were once serfs, and  cre­at­ing a new race, such as Mr. H.G. Wells antic­i­pates will be the strength and stay of the New Repub­lic. Com­mer­cial­ism is link­ing art with life, and giv­ing every man an occu­pa­tion worth liv­ing for. (n. pag.)

Brooker’s Vor­ti­cist-like embrace of com­mer­cial cul­ture in this ear­ly text looks for­ward to McLuhan’s cri­tique of the high-cul­tur­al pre­ten­tions of the 1951 Massey Report in Coun­terblast: his homage to Lewis’s irrev­er­ent fusion of pop­u­lar and avant-garde forms in Blast (see also Stanners).

The opti­mistic embrace of adver­tis­ing that char­ac­ter­izes Brooker’s Neep­awa draw­ings has evap­o­rat­ed from his illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum of two decades lat­er. Encoun­tered with­in the con­text of the journal’s solemn tone of social crit­i­cism, the draw­ings’ resid­ual qual­i­ties of Bergson­ian dynamism now read as sar­casm. In a dialec­ti­cal move recall­ing Lewis’s har­ness­ing of Bergson’s dual­ism to stage oppo­si­tion­al dra­mas that Paul Edwards inter­prets as alle­gories of “dynamism […] blocked by the sheer recal­ci­trance of mat­ter” (43), Brooker’s Cana­di­an Forum illus­tra­tions express a social­ly moti­vat­ed com­ic turn. As ear­ly as Feb­ru­ary 1924, Brook­er had explored Bergson’s the­o­riza­tion of the com­ic as the mech­a­nis­tic com­ple­ment to the élan vital in “Laugh­ter” as a pos­si­ble resource to adver­tis­ers (see Sur­rey, “Mak­ing Orders”). Yet the bit­ing social cri­tique of adver­tis­ing and the lim­its of tech­no­log­i­cal progress and its claims of time-sav­ing to which Brook­er yokes Bergson­ian com­e­dy in his Cana­di­an Forum illus­tra­tions is com­plete­ly for­eign to the cel­e­bra­tion of vital­ist tem­po­ral­i­ty that dom­i­nat­ed his com­mer­cial designs and mar­ket­ing texts of the 1920s. If Brooker’s appeals to Berg­son dur­ing the boom years of the 1920s are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the “qual­i­ta­tive time” iden­ti­fied by Har­ry Harootun­ian as a wide­spread inter­war reac­tion to the indus­tri­al sched­ules of moder­ni­ty (479-80), his Cana­di­an Forum illus­tra­tions explore the crit­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties of the French philosopher’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of the com­ic as embody­ing the mate­r­i­al lim­its of cre­ative evolution.

The implo­sion of vital­ist tem­po­ral­i­ty visu­al­ized by the Bergson­ian com­e­dy of Brooker’s Cana­di­an Forum inter­ven­tions resem­bles the win­now­ing hori­zon of expec­ta­tion that con­fronts char­ac­ters like Joe Snell in his short fic­tion of the same peri­od. Much as the new truck that Snell refus­es to pur­chase simul­ta­ne­ous­ly sym­bol­izes the adver­tis­ing industry’s hol­low rhetoric of organ­ic tem­po­ral­i­ty and the rewards of mod­ern­iza­tion denied those unable to afford the price, Brooker’s Vac­u­um Clean­er and Lawn Mow­er embody both the lim­its of progress and advertising’s false aura of vitality.

Brooker’s ques­tion­ing of the mod­ernist ide­ol­o­gy of progress is even more overt in his 1939 paint­ing The Recluse (Fig. 6), in which the defi­ant gaze of a vagabond con­fronts the view­er. The drab cloth­ing of the gaunt fig­ure con­trasts sharply with the iconog­ra­phy of progress and elec­tric palette of the back­ground: a reced­ing line of tele­phone poles, whose cru­ci­form out­lines con­jure the sal­va­tion­al dra­ma of Gol­go­tha, that seems to rep­re­sent all the ben­e­fits of moder­ni­ty that have been denied the social out­cast. It is sig­nif­i­cant that Brook­er has cho­sen tele­phone wires—symbols of the same nexus of empire and com­mu­ni­ca­tions of which his own work in adver­tis­ing was an increas­ing­ly inte­gral com­po­nent in Canada—to visu­al­ize the lim­its of moder­ni­ty, there­by impli­cat­ing this late paint­ing with­in the same dis­course on adver­tis­ing, moder­ni­ty, and time as the artist’s less­er-known, but no less poignant, illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum.

Figure 6

Fig­ure 6. Bertram Brook­er, The Recluse, 1939. Oil on can­vas, 61 x 45.7 cm. The Mon­tre­al Muse­um of Fine Arts, Gift of Wal­ter Klinkhoff, 1978.3. Pho­to cour­tesy MMFA.

The shift in Brooker’s per­spec­tive on com­merce and tech­nol­o­gy, from the opti­mism of his ear­ly Neep­awa draw­ings to the rel­a­tive pes­simism of Vac­u­um Clean­er, Lawn Mow­er, and The Recluse, to some extent par­al­lels the fluc­tu­at­ing tra­jec­to­ry of Lewis’s rela­tion­ship to adver­tis­ing dur­ing the same peri­od. Although Betts down­plays the dis­par­i­ty, Rosen­quist notes the con­tra­dic­to­ry char­ac­ter of the pre- and post-war Vor­ti­cist, observ­ing that, “the two Lewis­es are dif­fi­cult to rec­on­cile” (34). If the ear­ly Lewis of Blast held out hope that the inspired lead­er­ship of the avant-garde artist could stim­u­late social trans­for­ma­tion through a strate­gic rede­ploy­ment of adver­tis­ing and oth­er pop­u­lar forms, by 1919 the artist-author had begun to reverse this posi­tion (see Fos­hay). In The Caliph’s Design Lewis chas­tised the post-war out­put of fel­low mod­ernists, includ­ing Picas­so, for degen­er­at­ing into a mere “reflec­tion of fash­ion” (Rosen­quist 43). This theme was sub­se­quent­ly tak­en up at greater length in Time and West­ern Man, in which the tar­get of the British artist-author’s cri­tique of mass cul­ture shift­ed from fash­ion to advertising.

Brooker’s writ­ings of the 1930s doc­u­ment the Canadian’s recep­tion of Lewis’s con­tri­bu­tions to the post-war debate on high and low cul­ture as a con­flict of “time ver­sus space,” in which adver­tis­ing and fash­ion are iden­ti­fied as symp­toms of a Bergson­ian “time cult” threat­en­ing the clas­si­cal foun­da­tions of West­ern cul­ture (Rosen­quist 54). The plot of Brooker’s 1936 pot­boil­er, The Tan­gled Mir­a­cle, repris­es this Lewisian atti­tude of media skep­ti­cism. As Betts has not­ed, Brooker’s for­ay into detec­tive fic­tion explores news­pa­pers’ manip­u­la­tion of a gullible pub­lic (“‘The Destroy­er’” 138, 159–62). The work of Brook­er and Lewis thus traces a com­mon path from what Rosen­quist has dubbed a pre-war “high mod­ernism involved in mar­ket­ing itself” (7) to a more crit­i­cal stance with respect to the effects of mass media on behav­iours and perception.

Despite these affini­ties, Brooker’s writ­ings and visu­al art of the 1930s reflect an ongo­ing com­mit­ment to the very Bergson­ian the­o­ry so vehe­ment­ly repu­di­at­ed by the lat­er Lewis. Yet Brooker’s deploy­ment of Bergson­ian tropes of tem­po­ral­i­ty dur­ing the 1930s was tem­pered by a new­found atten­tion to the deep­er crit­i­cal dimen­sions of the French philosopher’s par­a­digm that was like­ly sharp­ened by the Canadian’s read­ing of Lewis. Some­what para­dox­i­cal­ly, the artist’s expo­sure to the hard­ships of the Depres­sion years encour­aged a com­mit­ment to social jus­tice, reflect­ed in his con­tri­bu­tions to The Cana­di­an Forum, that was anti­thet­i­cal to Lewis’s grow­ing elit­ism and flir­ta­tion with fas­cist pol­i­tics dur­ing the same period.

The cryp­to-social­ism of Brooker’s art and writ­ings of the 1930s was obscured by the delayed recep­tion of his ear­li­er cel­e­bra­tion of flux by his chief crit­ics, social­ist politi­cian Frank Under­hill and painter Paraske­va Clark. “[T]here is not much sign,” wrote Under­hill in a scathing review of Brooker’s 1936 Year­book of the Arts in Cana­da, “that Cana­di­an artists have been moved by the phe­nom­e­non of a civ­i­liza­tion dis­solv­ing before their eyes” (27). Clark and Underhill’s high-pro­file debate with Brooker’s asso­ciate and apol­o­gist, sculp­tor Eliz­a­beth Wyn Wood, in the pages of The Cana­di­an Forum and New Fron­tier in 1936-37, looked back to the ide­ol­o­gy of progress pro­mot­ed by Brooker’s work of the 1920s. If the pre-Crash glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of finan­cial boom crit­i­cized by Under­hill is epit­o­mized by a 1929 ad for The Globe designed by Brook­er that cel­e­brates the news­pa­per medi­um as a clear “divid­ing line between above-the-aver­age and below-the-aver­age fam­i­lies” (19), sub­se­quent works such as Lawn Mow­er, The Recluse and Vac­u­um Clean­er reveal a new­found social con­science to which both Clark and Under­hill were oblivious.


Brooker’s Spa­tial Critique

In coun­ter­point to the social­ist turn com­mu­ni­cat­ed by Brooker’s illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum and The Recluse, the artist-advertiser’s writ­ings of the 1930s mount a Bergson­ian cri­tique of the spa­tial “bias” of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy sim­i­lar­ly direct­ed at modernity’s ide­ol­o­gy of progress. Bergson’s most com­pre­hen­sive state­ment of this argu­ment is found in Cre­ative Evo­lu­tion, in which he posits that West­ern phi­los­o­phy and sci­ence alike sub­sti­tute a “spa­tial­ized time” for the “rad­i­cal becom­ing” of durée (363, 273). How­ev­er, a cri­tique of sci­en­tif­ic sys­tems of mea­sure and the “homo­ge­neous space” imposed by the West­ern meta­phys­i­cal tra­di­tion on the qual­i­ta­tive mul­ti­plic­i­ty of non-ratio­nal dura­tion is already cen­tral to the the­sis of Time and Free Will (157, 335), Bergson’s doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion. For Berg­son, clock time and the sta­t­ic “forms” of Pla­ton­ism alike reduce the embod­ied expe­ri­ence of time as durée to rigid schematizations.

Brooker’s per­son­al library—preserved today with his papers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Manitoba—document his close read­ing of Berg­son (see Luff). The philosopher’s con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of “flux” and cre­ative evo­lu­tion as coun­ters to the ratio­nal­ist tra­di­tion fuelled the Cana­di­an artist’s exper­i­men­ta­tion with synes­thet­ic and time-based tech­niques in his adver­tis­ing and visu­al art of the 1920s. “Adver­tis­ing is alive!” Brook­er assert­ed in a 1926 Mar­ket­ing arti­cle, “And being alive its devel­op­ment is in accord with those prin­ci­ples of ‘cre­ative evo­lu­tion’ which Berg­son has pos­tu­lat­ed of all liv­ing things. It is in flux, it is in a con­stant state of becom­ing” (“Are Sta­tis­tics” 115). Yet while Brooker’s Bergson­ian com­mit­ments pri­or to the Stock Mar­ket Crash of 1929 stemmed from a cri­tique of the quan­ti­ta­tive and “visu­al” char­ac­ter of Amer­i­can adver­tis­ing, the Depres­sion years stim­u­lat­ed a more sweep­ing reassess­ment of the spa­tial­iz­ing effects of com­mu­ni­ca­tions media and sci­en­tif­ic method that cleared a path for the sub­se­quent writ­ings of his com­pa­tri­ot Harold Innis on the “monop­o­lies of space” gen­er­at­ed by print media and the emer­gent “infor­ma­tion indus­tries” (The Bias 128, 83).[1]

Brook­er first artic­u­lates these themes in the 1931 jour­nal arti­cle, “Idol­aters of Brevi­ty.” That text attends, in pro­to-Innisian fash­ion, to the “phys­i­cal urgency of space and time” as forces shap­ing what it pre­scient­ly describes as a media “envi­ron­ment” (264). Brook­er argues that, “with the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the dai­ly press the idol­a­try of brevi­ty began in earnest” (265). Set­ting the stage for Innis’s argu­ments in “The Strat­e­gy of Cul­ture” and oth­er essays on news­pa­pers of the 1940s (see Bux­ton), Brook­er posits a direct rela­tion­ship between the rise of mod­ern jour­nal­ism and a grow­ing demand for cul­tur­al forms char­ac­ter­ized by their com­pressed scale—including short sto­ries, arti­cles, and one-act plays. He con­cludes that, “[l]iterature in Amer­i­ca, seems doomed to be brief” (266). Brooker’s the­sis in this arti­cle echoes ele­ments of Wyn­d­ham Lewis’s cri­tique of pop­u­lar cul­ture in Time and West­ern Man. In an ear­ly chap­ter of that text, Lewis writes:

Adver­tise­ment also implies in a very def­i­nite sense a cer­tain atti­tude to Time. And the atti­tude prop­er to it is close­ly relat­ed to the par­tic­u­lar time-phi­los­o­phy […] that is at once ‘time­less’ in the­o­ry, and very much con­cerned with Time in prac­tice. Both that con­scious phi­los­o­phy, and the instinc­tive atti­tude of the adver­tis­ing mind towards Time, could be described as a Time-for-Time’s-sake belief. For both, Time is the per­ma­nent fact. Time for the bergson­ian or rel­a­tivist is fun­da­men­tal­ly sen­sa­tion; that is what Bergson’s durée always con­ceals beneath its pre­ten­tions to meta­physic. It is the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the life-of-the-moment. (11)

The impact of Lewis’s argu­ments on the pre-McLuhan body of Cana­di­an media the­o­ry (see Paul Tiessen) is leg­i­ble in Innis’s para­phras­ing in The Bias of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the British artist-author’s asser­tion lat­er in this same sec­tion of Time and West­ern Man: “The world in which Adver­tise­ment dwells is a one-day world” (Lewis 12; see also Innis, The Bias 79). Brook­er makes a sim­i­lar for­mu­la­tion in “Idol­a­tors of Brevi­ty”: “We, con­cerned more with the moment than any past peo­ple, delib­er­ate­ly ignore the past and pride our­selves on our ‘pure reac­tions’ to the imme­di­ate present. And since we live so fast, our reac­tions and their record­ing must be brief” (268, empha­sis orig­i­nal). Lewis’s spec­u­la­tions on the effects of media on per­cep­tions of space and time were clear­ly influ­en­tial on the Cana­di­an artist-advertiser’s space-time dis­course. Yet Brook­er was quick to dis­miss Lewis’s rejec­tion of the organ­ic phi­los­o­phy of Berg­son and White­head, char­ac­ter­iz­ing Lewis as “clois­tered and unad­ven­tur­ous” in an essay pub­lished in the British jour­nal The Adel­phi, edit­ed by for­mer Bergson­ist and Rhyth­mist John Mid­dle­ton Mur­ry (“Prophets Want­ed” 193; see also Antliff).

Giv­en his promi­nence with­in the adver­tis­ing pro­fes­sion, it is some­what sur­pris­ing to hear Brook­er echo­ing the for­mer Vorticist’s cri­tique of pub­lic­i­ty in “Prophets Want­ed.” Sound­ing very much like the Lewis of Time and West­ern Man, Brook­er bemoans the “behav­ior­is­tic ratio­nal­iza­tion of expe­ri­ence” in “an age accus­tomed to adver­tis­ing” (184, 185). Despite these affini­ties, Brook­er ulti­mate­ly rejects Lewis’s stance for its oppo­si­tion to “the ‘organ­ic’ phi­los­o­phy of cre­ative new­ness,” which he asso­ciates with the writ­ings of Mur­ry and White­head (192).

Brooker’s the­sis in this text antic­i­pates Innis’s sub­se­quent argu­ment in “The Strat­e­gy of Culture”—his har­ried response to the 1951 Massey Report on Cana­di­an cul­tur­al policy—that, “[o]ur poets and painters are reduced to the sta­tus of sand­wich men” by the influ­ence of Amer­i­can adver­tis­ing (Chang­ing Con­cepts 11). Like Brook­er, Lewis direct­ly influ­enced Innis’s dis­course on the space-time effects of media. Yet as Andrew Wer­nick has not­ed, Innis’s for­mu­la­tion actu­al­ly reversed the terms of the Vorticist’s argu­ment (see Wer­nick 275). While this trans­for­ma­tion may have been a con­se­quence of Innis’s noto­ri­ous habit of com­pos­ing his lat­er texts through a jux­ta­po­si­tion of loose­ly re-writ­ten quo­ta­tions (see Marc­hand 114-15; Marches­sault, Mar­shall McLuhan, 95; Wat­son 352–53), it is more like­ly evi­dence of a delib­er­ate prac­tice of read­ing Lewis against the grain that hear­kens to Brooker’s ear­li­er non-con­form­ing dia­logue with the for­mer Vor­ti­cist. Though echo­ing aspects of Lewis’s cri­tique of adver­tis­ing and mass media, Brook­er does so in sup­port of a Bergson­ian cos­mol­o­gy of flux, where­as Lewis repu­di­ates the anti-ratio­nal­ist valence of the French philoso­pher. Innis’s lat­er writ­ings on media embody an allied strat­e­gy of appro­pri­at­ing the British artist-author’s obser­va­tions on the for­ma­tive impact of adver­tis­ing on per­cep­tions of space and time to advance a pro­gram for reviv­ing “oral” and tem­po­ral forms to resist the spa­tial bias that he attrib­uted to the specter of Amer­i­can cul­tur­al imperialism.

In ret­ro­spect, we can see Brooker’s writ­ings and visu­al inter­ven­tions of the 1930s—particularly those pub­lished in The Cana­di­an Forum, which vied for space with arti­cles on polit­i­cal econ­o­my by Innis and works of short fic­tion by his wife, Mary Quayle Innis—as antic­i­pat­ing, and pos­si­bly act­ing as an indi­rect influ­ence on, the Toron­to School theorist’s sub­se­quent stud­ies of news­pa­pers and the sen­so­ry effects of media in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1920s, Brook­er had act­ed as a mem­ber of The Cana­di­an Forum’s edi­to­r­i­al com­mit­tee, which also includ­ed Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to pro­fes­sor Bark­er Fairley—an acquain­tance of Wyn­d­ham Lewis—as well as two of Innis’s col­leagues in the Depart­ment of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my (see Cana­di­an Forum; Mastin 28). Dur­ing the sub­se­quent peri­od when both Brook­er and Innis were active con­trib­u­tors to the mag­a­zine, CBC radio pio­neer Gra­ham Spry served as edi­tor; Irene Biss, a col­league and con­fi­dant of Innis’s at this time and anoth­er Forum con­trib­u­tor, would lat­er mar­ry Spry (see Wat­son 191-98).[2] Yet the argu­ments of Brooker’s unpub­lished man­u­script The Brave Voic­es (ca. 1953-1955) attest to his sta­tus as a true con­tem­po­rary of both lat­er Innis and his self-pro­claimed heir, McLuhan. Brooker’s sprawl­ing notes for this unfin­ished text explore sound- and time-based alter­na­tives to the dom­i­nant tech­no-sci­en­tif­ic par­a­digm of Cold War soci­ety in a fash­ion con­sis­tent with the “sound-based par­a­digm” that Judith Stamps observes in the work of the Toron­to School the­o­rists (Unthink­ing Moder­ni­ty 11).


The Brave Voices

Con­ceived as a his­to­ry of “nine words that shaped the world” (its orig­i­nal work­ing title), The Brave Voic­es renewed and inten­si­fied the Bergson­ian themes that had fuelled Brooker’s adver­tis­ing writ­ings of the 1920s. How­ev­er, this engage­ment with the con­ti­nen­tal thinker’s phi­los­o­phy of flux was tem­pered in the lat­er text by a crit­i­cal aware­ness of the lim­i­ta­tions of progress forged by the bit­ter lessons of the Depres­sion and World War II. Brooker’s Berg­son-inspired cri­tique of mea­sure as a deter­mi­nant of knowl­edge in a mil­i­tary-indus­tri­al com­plex res­onates strong­ly with Innis and McLuhan’s con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous riposte to what Stamps terms the “iden­ti­ty-think­ing” of West­ern meta­physics and com­mod­i­ty cap­i­tal­ism (Unthink­ing Moder­ni­ty 13): the con­ven­tion of treat­ing objects in the world as one-to-one rep­re­sen­ta­tions of abstract cat­e­gories. A pas­sage from a lengthy draft sec­tion of The Brave Voic­es titled “Berg­son” gives Brooker’s per­haps most explic­it for­mu­la­tion of this thematic:

If our race dis­cov­ered and embraced the belief that while we have sought Truth else­where, the pur­suit of Truth—scientific knowledge—has led us astray from the real­i­ty of ener­gy and spir­it, which we can­not measure—if we for­sook the mis­tak­en search for some sort of ‘stuff’ of which the world might be made, real­iz­ing that there is no ‘stuff,’ no solid­i­ty, no atoms or quanta—these being only mea­sure­ments, not any­thing that is, but of some­thing that passed—if we could dis­card all these mea­sure­ments and lim­its and gaps and defi­cien­cies and embrace the amaz­ing fact that life is actu­al­ly LOVE—we should take a new step in evo­lu­tion. (n. pag.)

Brooker’s argu­ment in this and sim­i­lar pas­sages from The Brave Voic­es echoes Bergson’s cri­tique of sci­en­tif­ic sys­tems of mea­sure as inad­e­quate for describ­ing the “qual­i­ta­tive mul­ti­plic­i­ty” of sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence in Time and Free Will (Brooker’s anno­ta­tions to his per­son­al copy of this text—a 1950s reprint pre­served at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Manitoba—attest to his care­ful re-read­ing of Berg­son dur­ing the com­po­si­tion of The Brave Voic­es). Like Berg­son, Brook­er avoids the trap of out­right anti-pos­i­tivism, see­ing sci­ence instead as embody­ing a fun­da­men­tal­ly prac­ti­cal view of mat­ter, one pow­er­less to grasp the essen­tial flux of real­i­ty. “[K]knowledge of real­i­ty can­not be arrived at through sci­ence,” writes Brook­er in a sec­tion of The Brave Voic­es titled “Courage”: “The sci­en­tif­ic view of the world is not mere­ly a wrong view, it is prop­er­ly not a view at all—it is sim­ply an elab­o­rate col­lec­tion of dia­grams” (n. pag.). Employ­ing a Bergson­ian vocab­u­lary of “cuts,” “dia­grams,” and “moulds” to describe the rigidi­ties of quan­ti­ta­tive frame­works, The Brave Voic­es pro­pos­es a musi­cal alter­na­tive to empir­i­cal knowl­edge that recalls the dura­tional metaphor of “melody” in Time and Free Will (125). In con­trast to the quan­ti­ta­tive mul­ti­plic­i­ty fur­nished by the dia­grams of geom­e­try, Berg­son oppos­es “the con­tin­u­ous or qual­i­ta­tive mul­ti­plic­i­ty” of music (105). Brook­er deploys a sim­i­lar alter­na­tive in his res­ur­rec­tion of the clas­si­cal Greek con­cep­tion of nature as Phu­sis, which he describes as “the ever-striv­ing upward ascent of every­thing in nature” (n. pag.). Brook­er ascribes specif­i­cal­ly musi­cal qual­i­ties to Phu­sis in a sec­tion of The Brave Voic­es enti­tled “A Short Sec­tion from Chap­ter on LOVE”:

Music is man’s clos­est approach to cre­at­ing some­thing that moves and exalts our feel­ings as do the cre­ations of Nature. Words can­not express our feel­ings when we lis­ten to music. The best we can do is to say that it is sad or gay, friv­o­lous or pro­found. The untrans­lat­able flow of music, the rea­sons for its charm and its capac­i­ty to haunt our minds with melodies, these are as mys­te­ri­ous as the flow and beau­ty of life itself. […] The Greeks, as we have seen, gave the name Phu­sis to the deep spring of action which ris­es con­tin­u­al­ly through­out Nature and works from with­in upward in an ‘ever-striv­ing ascent.’ (n. pag.)

Phu­sis serves as a mate­r­i­al sup­port for the cri­tique of lan­guage that Gre­go­ry Betts has recent­ly observed in Brooker’s writ­ings (although Betts down­plays the Bergson­ian foun­da­tions of the artist-advertiser’s spec­u­la­tions in favour of a “mys­ti­cal” exe­ge­sis that The Brave Voic­es explic­it­ly dis­avows).[3] Much as Berg­son cri­tiques lan­guage in Cre­ative Evo­lu­tion for sub­sti­tut­ing “an exter­nal thing” for the liv­ing real­i­ty of dura­tion (159), Brook­er out­lines his “phi­los­o­phy of the verb” in a sec­tion of The Brave Voic­es titled “Courage,” as pro­mot­ing a reju­ve­na­tion of lan­guage: “The verb ‘doing’ is the very essence of our theme. The worn old nouns have delud­ed us too long. To regen­er­ate mankind, to re-vital­ize morals, to set a mark for con­duct, we must think in verbs, in terms of action, of day to day doing” (n. pag.). The “oral” qual­i­ties of the recon­struct­ed lan­guage envi­sioned by Brook­er in this sec­tion are embod­ied in the struc­tur­al log­ic of The Brave Voic­es as a whole, which the artist-adver­tis­er explic­it­ly conceived—as he stat­ed in a “Postscript”—as a patch­work of quo­ta­tions inter­act­ing dialogically:

When I was writ­ing fic­tion I could nev­er cre­ate a sense of real­i­ty in the char­ac­ters if I tried to invent dia­logue for them, I had to be in a mood of suspension—switching my own voice off, as it were, and sim­ply lis­ten­ing to what the char­ac­ters would say. With this book the process is the same. As I write I am lis­ten­ing to a thou­sand voic­es, ancient and mod­ern, whose words have come to me from dis­tant ages and lands through fifty years of read­ing. […] In rewrit­ing for the last time I have done my best to ignore heaps of notes—filed away, to keep my desk clear—and I sit in a sort of sus­pend­ed state, mak­ing myself a recep­ta­cle, breath­ing in what comes upper­most in my ear from the voic­es of the past. (n. pag.)

The self-con­scious dial­o­gism of The Brave Voic­es par­al­lels the “oral” turn of Innis’s lat­er writ­ings, which were penned almost simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. The Toron­to School the­o­rist not only explored the non-lin­ear prop­er­ties of sound as a con­cep­tu­al counter to the iden­ti­ty-think­ing encour­aged by con­ven­tion­al print media, but, through his method of com­pos­ing his texts as a pas­tiche of quo­ta­tions, Stamps claims that he “invent[ed] a qua­si-oral mode of writ­ing” (Unthink­ing Moder­ni­ty 90). McLuhan would lat­er observe that the com­pressed style of lat­er Innis “saves time” (“Intro­duc­tion” ix). As with Booker’s crit­i­cal riposte to the utopi­an claims of “time-sav­ing” tech­nolo­gies in his illus­tra­tions for The Cana­di­an Forum, the qua­si-the­o­log­i­cal res­o­nance of McLuhan’s rhetoric of redemp­tion should not be over­looked (see Sterne). While reject­ing the ide­ol­o­gy of progress typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with “ser­vice prod­ucts,” late-Brook­er and late-Innis alike seized on the inter­ac­tive poten­tial of the labour-sav­ing device as a basis for explor­ing dia­log­i­cal alter­na­tives to the dom­i­nant (quan­ti­ta­tive and “spa­tial”) media paradigm.

The son­ic themes Brook­er explores in The Brave Voic­es are giv­en visu­al expres­sion in the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous can­vas Dou­ble Bass (ca. 1953-54) (Fig. 7), in which volutes of string instru­ments set in motion a genet­ic spi­ral of sur­round­ing abstract ele­ments. The painting’s repeat­ing scroll motif brings into rep­re­sen­ta­tion Brooker’s Bergson­ian descrip­tion of Phu­sis as the “ever-striv­ing ascent” of melody.

Figure 7

Fig­ure 7. Bertram Brook­er, Dou­ble Bass, ca. 1953-54. Oil on can­vas, 76 x 61 cm. Cour­tesy Phillip Gevik.

Echo­ing Bergson’s argu­ments in Time and Free Will, Brook­er deploys the qual­i­ta­tive con­ti­nu­ity of melody in The Brave Voic­es to cri­tique the homo­gene­ity and lin­ear­i­ty of clock time. “Time, indeed,” writes Brook­er in a draft chap­ter titled “Man­hood,” “when con­ceived as dura­tion in the Bergson­ian sense, is eternity—not a ticked-off infin­i­ty of years ahead of us, but one huge expand­ed moment in which all that hap­pens is actu­al­ly now” (n. pag., empha­sis orig­i­nal). Brooker’s The Swing of Time (1954) (Fig. 8), a can­vas paint­ed in tan­dem with his com­po­si­tion of the The Brave Voic­es, res­onates with Bergson’s descrip­tion in Time and Free Will of the oscil­la­tions of a clock’s pen­du­lum as “each per­me­at­ing the oth­er and orga­niz­ing them­selves like the notes of a tune” (105). With its super­im­po­si­tion of diverse instru­ments employed to mea­sure the pas­sage of time (clock, hour­glass, pen­du­lum, sun­di­al), arranged in a spi­ral com­po­si­tion redo­lent of the scroll motif struc­tur­ing Dou­ble Bass (or the clock face of the ear­li­er Hoover ad), The Swing of Time brings into vis­i­bil­i­ty Bergson’s musi­cal­iza­tion of clock time in Time and Free Will.

Figure 8

Fig­ure 8. Bertram Brook­er, Swing of Time, 1954. Oil on can­vas, 76 x 61 cm. Cour­tesy the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Brooker’s appeal to organ­ic tem­po­ral­i­ty and music in The Brave Voic­es and late can­vas­es such as Dou­ble Bass and The Swing of Time sug­gests analo­gies with Innis’s con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous “plea for time” in the face of an expan­sion­ist Amer­i­can cul­ture indus­try that he believed to be found­ed on the spa­tial bias and geo­graph­ic ambi­tions inher­ent in newsprint. It is prob­a­ble that Brooker’s Bergson­ian cri­tique of con­ven­tion­al print media served as an indi­rect influ­ence on the Toron­to School the­o­rist through such chan­nels as The Cana­di­an Forum and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, where Brook­er par­tic­i­pat­ed in cul­tur­al activ­i­ties begin­ning in at least 1927, includ­ing ret­ro­spec­tives of his work at Hart House in 1931 and 1949. Giv­en the Cana­di­ans’ shared com­mit­ment to oral­i­ty and time-based forms, it is iron­ic that the osten­si­bly anti-Bergson­ian writ­ings of Wyn­d­ham Lewis served as a prin­ci­pal source for the lat­er work of both Brook­er and Innis.



This large­ly unrec­og­nized and mis­un­der­stood social­ist turn in Brooker’s pro­duc­tion of the 1930s reflects the artist-advertiser’s deep­en­ing social con­science in the after­math of the Stock Mar­ket Crash of 1929. Brook­er devel­oped these themes in fol­low­ing decades, cul­mi­nat­ing in his drafts of the late, unpub­lished man­u­script The Brave Voic­es. Brooker’s crit­i­cal explo­ration of space-time per­cep­tion as an exten­sion of media “bias” dur­ing the 1930s through mid-1950s devel­oped in par­al­lel with the lat­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions work of Innis, whose the­o­ries he like­ly influ­enced, albeit indi­rect­ly. The lat­er thought of Brook­er and Innis alike drew on the anti-Bergson­ian writ­ings of Lewis, while turn­ing the British artist-author’s argu­ments inside-out to pro­pose a ren­o­va­tion of “oral” and musi­cal forms as a qua­si-social­ist counter to Amer­i­can cul­tur­al hege­mo­ny and the “visu­al” bias of com­mer­cial print media.

Echoes of Brooker’s Berg­son-inspired, sound- and time-based alter­na­tive to dom­i­nant man­i­fes­ta­tions of mod­ernism and moder­ni­ty can be detect­ed in Innis’s influ­en­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Cana­da as a polyvo­cal com­mu­ni­ty locat­ed at the resis­tant “mar­gin” of a mono­cul­tur­al Amer­i­can empire—a motif sub­se­quent­ly trans­formed by McLuhan into his por­trait of Cana­da as a “coun­teren­vi­ron­ment” (c.f. “Defrost­ing Cana­di­an Cul­ture,” “Cana­da: The Bor­der­line Case”). For Brook­er, Innis, and McLuhan alike, Bergson­ian “multiplicity”—particularly in its son­ic and tem­po­ral guis­es (as “melody” and “duration”)—suggested strate­gies for attend­ing to the social­ly strat­i­fy­ing effects of media and mod­ern­iza­tion as an eco­log­i­cal aware­ness of the con­sti­tu­tive role of dif­fer­ence. Brooker’s social­ly con­scious adap­ta­tion of Bergson’s media ontol­ogy sug­gests one source for the non-Marx­ist, dialec­ti­cal, and mate­ri­al­ist strains that some com­men­ta­tors iden­ti­fy in Innis’s writ­ings (c.f. Stamps, “Innis in the Cana­di­an Dialec­ti­cal Tra­di­tion”). If, as Alexan­der John Wat­son has observed, Innis increas­ing­ly dis­tanced him­self from social­ist affil­i­a­tions and the­o­ry as the 1930s pro­gressed, Brooker’s media inter­ven­tions and com­men­tary of the same peri­od draw atten­tion to endur­ing social­ist threads in pre-McLuhan Cana­di­an media theory.

The cur­rent inat­ten­tion to Brooker’s lat­er out­put reflects the per­sis­tence of a late-mod­ernist obses­sion with “inno­va­tion” in Cana­di­an art his­to­ri­og­ra­phy that has overem­pha­sized the artist-advertiser’s ear­ly (at least with­in the Cana­di­an con­text) devel­op­ment of an abstract idiom (see Reid). Shift­ing focus onto Brooker’s post-1929 reflec­tions on the lim­i­ta­tions of Bergson­ian mod­ernism as a media and social par­a­digm and par­al­lel explo­ration of the deep­er impli­ca­tions of the French philosopher’s cri­tique of “spa­tial” mod­els as a con­struc­tivist the­sis thus repo­si­tions the artist-adver­tis­er as a fore­run­ner of the Toron­to School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and its explo­ration of sen­so­ry bias. Fur­ther­more, recov­er­ing Brooker’s indi­rect con­tri­bu­tions to the Toron­to School con­tributes toward the ongo­ing project of doc­u­ment­ing the broad­er cul­tur­al con­text of Cana­di­an media the­o­ry, its sources, and lega­cies (c.f. Cavell; Lam­ber­ti). Like the pianist and com­pos­er Glenn Gould, Brook­er emerges from this inter­dis­ci­pli­nary reap­praisal as a key par­tic­i­pant in a net­work of dis­cours­es and prac­tices focused on the co-shap­ing of media and sen­so­ry per­cep­tion (see Cavell; Crock­er; Théberge). With the notable excep­tion of Wyn­d­ham Lewis, this net­work is dis­tin­guished by the par­tic­u­lar audi­to­ry and tem­po­ral bias of its mem­bers. If Brook­er and Gould come into view in this revi­sion­ist his­to­ry as artists “per­form­ing” the­o­ry, Innis and McLuhan cor­rel­a­tive­ly appear as “artists” whose medi­um is the­o­ry, or the­o­rists appro­pri­at­ing the cre­ative tech­niques of the artist, as McLuhan him­self came to view Innis (see Marches­sault, “McLuhan’s Ped­a­gog­i­cal Art”; McLuhan, “Intro­duc­tion”).


[1] Betts likens Brooker’s analy­sis of the cul­tur­al effects of news­pa­pers to McLuhan’s writ­ings; how­ev­er, the work of Innis is clos­er to Brook­er in both time and the­sis (see “Intro­duc­tion” xxxi-xxxii).

[2] Brook­er is also known to have been an acquain­tance of Helen and Northrop Frye (see Frye and Kemp The Cor­re­spon­dence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp; Frye and Kemp A Ter­ri­ble and Glo­ri­ous Life with You).

[3] “The book, in its total­i­ty, will be seen to coin­cide with some of the views of Shaftes­bury, who want­ed to ban­ish the super­nat­ur­al so that we could regard the uni­verse as a liv­ing whole with rev­er­ence and affec­tion. […] Nature is enough!” (Brook­er, The Brave Voic­es n. pag.).

Works Cited

Antliff, Mark. Invent­ing Berg­son: Cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and the Parisian avant-garde. Prince­ton, NJ: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1993. Print.

Bar­tels, Robert. The Devel­op­ment of Mar­ket­ing Thought. Home­wood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 1962. Print.

Berg­son, Hen­ri. Cre­ative Evo­lu­tion, trans. Arthur Mitchell. 1907; repr., Mine­o­la, NY: Dover, 1998. Print.

___. Laugh­ter: An Essay on the Mean­ing of the Com­ic, trans. Cloudes­ley Brere­ton and Fred Roth­well. 1911; repr., Copen­hagen; Los Ange­les: Green Inte­ger, 1999. Print.

___. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Imme­di­ate Data of Con­scious­ness. 1913; repr., Mine­o­la, NY: Dover, 2001. Print.

Betts, Gre­go­ry. “‘The Destroy­er’: Mod­ernism and Mys­ti­cal Rev­o­lu­tion in Bertram Brook­er.” MA the­sis. York U, 2005. Print.

___. “Intro­duc­tion.” The Wrong World: Select­ed Sto­ries and Essays by Bertram Brook­er. Ed. Gre­go­ry Betts. Ottawa: Uni­ver­si­ty of Ottawa Press, 2009. Xi-xlix. Print.

___. Avant-garde Cana­di­an Lit­er­a­ture: The Ear­ly Man­i­fes­ta­tions. Toron­to: Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2013. Print.

Boltan­s­ki, Luc and Ève Chi­a­pe­lo. The New Spir­it of Cap­i­tal­ism, trans. Gre­go­ry Elliott. New York; Lon­don: Ver­so, 2005. Print.

Brook­er, Bertram. “The Decay of Art.” Ca. 1912-15. Box 8, file 2, Brook­er papers. Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­i­to­ba Archives & Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Win­nipeg. Print.

___. “How Amer­i­can Adver­tis­ers Change their Cana­di­an Copy.” Print­ers’ Ink 125.13 (1923): 87-98. Print.

___. “Blake.” 1927. Box 10, file 13, Brook­er papers. Uni­ver­si­ty of Man­i­to­ba Archives & Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, Win­nipeg. Print.

___. “Idol­aters of Brevi­ty.” Sewa­nee Review 39.3 (1931): 263-68. Print.

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Image Notes

Fig­ure 1. The Hoover Com­pa­ny, “Pos­i­tive Agi­ta­tion,” in Lay­out Tech­nique, 1929.

Fig­ure 2. Bertram Brook­er, “Vac­u­um Clean­er,” in The Cana­di­an Forum, July 1936.

Fig­ure 3. Bertram Brook­er, “Lawn Mow­er,” in The Cana­di­an Forum, Novem­ber 1936.

Fig­ure 4. Bertram Brook­er, The Romance of Trade Marks, ca. 1912-1915. Ink on paper, 21.5 x 27.8 cm. Cour­tesy The Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery.

Fig­ure 5. Bertram Brook­er, Reznor, ca. 1912-1915. Ink on paper, 21.5 x 27.7 cm. Cour­tesy The Robert McLaugh­lin Gallery.

Fig­ure 6. Bertram Brook­er, The Recluse, 1939. Oil on can­vas, 61 x 45.7 cm. The Mon­tre­al Muse­um of Fine Arts, Gift of Wal­ter Klinkhoff, 1978.3. Pho­to cour­tesy MMFA.

Fig­ure 7. Bertram Brook­er, Dou­ble Bass, ca. 1953-54. Oil on can­vas, 76 x 61 cm. Cour­tesy Phillip Gevik.

Fig­ure 8. Bertram Brook­er, Swing of Time, 1954. Oil on can­vas, 76 x 61 cm. Cour­tesy the Art Gallery of Windsor.

Copy­right Adam Laud­er. This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.