Lewis vs Joyce and Pound

In ‘Technology, the Media, and Culture’ (1960), McLuhan gave a rather surprising account of Wyndham Lewis’ critique of Joyce and Pound.

Lewis (…) devoted much of his energy to the study and delineation of the Western drift back into the (…) auditory space of primitive and irrational man. (…) Lewis placed the responsibility for the trek from rational, visual values squarely at the door of artists and scientists and philosophers who were climbing aboard the bandwagon of popular mass media. That is to say, Lewis diagnosed the fondness of the avant-garde painters and poets for newspaper and cinematic techniques as an intellectual failure and also as the abrogation of all moral responsibility to Western values. The Lewis critique of Joyce and Pound (…) does not question their high artistic talent, but it derides their readiness to go along with the popular arts and trends of this century.[McLuhan continues this passage with a very high assessment of Lewis’ work: “In the course of his indictment of our age as willing to abandon the entire heritage of the Greco-Roman achievement, Lewis brought most of the aspects and activities of the twentieth century under scrutiny. His work offers what is perhaps a more complete guide to the arts and letters of his age than that provided by any other writer in the history of literature.”]

Since McLuhan is not improperly known for his “fondness  (…) for newspaper and cinematic techniques” and for his rejection of a “moral responsibility to Western values” as having any place in “understanding media”, it may well be wondered what is going on in this passage.

A decisive clue may be given in his 1967 lecture, ‘Towards an Inclusive Consciousness’ (Understanding Me 124-138).

 

what seems to have been at stake in this passage was another of McLuhan’s usual stances, namely against exclusive dichotomies and dualisms. Although McLuhan sometimes himself seemed to champion “acoustic space” and its correlate synchronic time as the key to understanding media, here he may be seen to argue that also the oppositions of acoustic space and visual space, and of synchronic time vs diachronic time, may not be allowed to constitute a “hardening of the categories”.

“A more complete guide to the arts” is what McLuhan himself attempted to initiate in terms of “an outer consensus of technology and experience” (Understanding Media, 108).