Through The Vanishing Point – Space in Poetry and Painting

by Herbert Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker


Since the advent of electric circuitry in the early nineteenth century, the need for sensory awareness has become more acute. Perhaps the mere speed-up of human events and the resulting increase in interfaces among all men and institutions insure a multitude of innovations that upset all existing arrangements whetever.

By the same token, men have moved along with difficulty toward the arts in the hope of increased sensory awareness. The artist has the power to discern the current environment created by the latest technology. Ordinary human instinct causes people to flinch back in fear from these new environments and to rely on the rear-view mirror as a kind of repeat or ricorso of the preceding environment,  thus insuring total disorientation at all times. It is not that there is anything wrong with the old environment, but it simply will not serve as navigational guide to the new one.

Paradoxically, war as an educational institution serves to bring people into contact with the new technological environments that the artist had seen much earlier. Complementarily, education can be seen as a kind of war conducted by the Establishment to keep the sensory life in line with existing commitments. It also serves to keep the sensory life out of touch with innovation. ” History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

If war can become a form of education, art ceases to be a form of self-expression in the electric age. Indeed, it becomes a necessary kind of research and probing. Ashley Montagu has pointed out that the more civilization, the more violence. What he fails to note is the reason for this.

Civilization is founded upon the isolation and domination of society by the visual sense. The visual sense created a kind of human identity of the self requires persistent violence, both to one’s self and to others. As Joyce put it, “Love thy label as thyself.” Labels as classification are extreme forms of visual culture. As the visual bias declines, the other senses come into play once more, The arts have been expounding this fact for more than a century.


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Filed under McLuhans Idea of a New Science

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