McLuhan’s times

Loose note found in McLuhan’s copy of the University of Toronto Quarterly, 19:2, January 1950:

We can only correct the bias of the present time by coming to know it is a time, not the time.1

‘Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’, 1951:

the Symbolists [took] aesthetic experience as an arrested moment, a moment in and out of time2, of intellectual emotion for which in their poems they sought the art formula by retracing the stages of apprehension which led to this moment.

‘Space, Time, and Poetry’, Explorations 4, 1955:

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 begins:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Here the “time of year” (…) is visualized swiftly in three different ways in the second line and then a fourth and fifth time in the third and fourth lines.3 

‘New Media in Arts Education’, 1956, on Rimbaud’s poem “Dimanche”:

The organization of experience here is orchestral or acoustic rather than visual. Yet the various units of experience are visualized. There is a landscape, but it includes more than one space in its space and more than one time in its time. It is a simultaneous order such as music readily offers. A merely visual landscape, however, can offer only one space at one time.

The Gutenberg Galaxy, p 14 (citing Georges Poulet):

“For the man of the Middle Ages, then, there was not one duration only. There were durations, ranked one above another, and not only in the universality of the exterior world but within himself, in his own nature, in his own human existence.”

Understanding Media, p 152:

plurality-of-times succeeds uniformity-of-time

The Medium is the Massage, p 63:

Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness4. ‘Time’ has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village…a simultaneous happening.

‘Education in the Electronic Age’, 1967:

Everything happens at once. In the new painting and the new art and the new literature, it is a happening. A happening is an all-at-once situation. There is no story line. We are all engaged in a happening; everything happening at once. That is what a happening is. It is not one thing at a time but everything at once

Through the Vanishing Point, p 55:

If the three-dimensional illusion of depth [in Western European art] has proved to be a cul-de-sac of one time and one space, the two-dimensional [in Eastern art] features many spaces in multileveled time.

Through the Vanishing Point, p 103:

The Shakespearean moment (“that time of year”)5 includes several times at once

Through the Vanishing Point, p 221:

In an electronic world where all-at-onceness is inevitable and normal, we have rediscovered an affinity for the discontinuity of Oriental art and expression6

‘Electric Consciousness and The Church’, 1970:

we live in post-history in the sense that all pasts that ever were are now present to our consciousness and that all the futures that will be are here now. In that sense we are post-history and timeless. Instant awareness of all the varieties of human expression constitutes the sort of mythic type of consciousness of ‘once-upon-a-timeness’ which means all time, out of time.

‘Theatre and the Visual Arts’, 1971:

Without static you have no continuity.

Spiral — Man as the Medium, 1976:

Chronological time yields to time as [simultanious] spaced-out moments of intensity.

Global Village, p 10:

time considered as sequential (left hemisphere) is figure and time considered as simultaneous (right hemisphere) is ground.

Global Village, p 45:

Acoustic and visual space structures may be seen as incommensurable, like history and eternity, yet, at the same time, as complementary…a foot, as it were, in both…



  1. Transcribed by Andrew McLuhan in his inscriptorium blog. Emphasis added here. The tone and date of this note point in the direction of Harold Innis.  Already in 1942 Innis had written: “The concepts of time and space must be made relative and elastic and the attention given by the social scientists to problems of space should be paralleled by attention to problems of time” (Journal of Economic History, December 1942, reprinted in Political Economy in the Modern State, 1946, p 34). And in 1948: “ The Chinese concept of time (…) as plural (…) reflects their social organization with its interest in hierarchy and relative stability” (The Press: a neglected factor in the economic history of the twentieth century, 1948, reprinted in Changing Concepts of Time, 1952, p 94), emphasis added.
  2. “A moment in and out of time”: unmarked quotation from Eliot’s Four Quartets, iii: ‘The  Dry Salvages’.
  3. See Through the Vanishing Point, p 103 below.
  4. ‘All-at-onceness’ (McLuhan’s usual spelling) implicates plural times. This is seldom or never understood and yet is foundational to his intentions. See the passage above from Through the Vanishing Point, p 221.
  5. See the citation from ‘Space, Time, and Poetry’ above.
  6. “All-at-onceness” and “discontinuity” (of, eg, times) belong together because a plural “all” requires the differentiation of its components.