Through the vanishing point 1 – Milton and Pope

As broached in regard to CHML, McLuhan’s thought goes “through the vanishing point” with Nietzsche’s. His work is anything but the sort of naive positivism that would pick out various objects (the wheel! the alphabet! the telephone!) or collections of objects (the information environment!) for detached academic research into “media ecology”. When he cites Pope at length at the very end of The Gutenberg Galaxy, or Milton in From Cliché to Archetype, it is clear that he was fully conscious of a deep dark that is an ineradicable aspect of human existence and that must play a central role in any consideration of it.

Any fitting reading of McLuhan must go “through the vanishing point” along with him and with the great poets he cites like Milton and Pope:

John Milton, Paradise Lost, 16681

Before thir eyes in sudden view appear
The secrets of the hoarie deep, a dark
Illimitable Ocean without bound,
Without dimension, where length, breadth, and highth,
And time and place are lost; where eldest Night
And Chaos, Ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal Anarchie, amidst the noise
Of endless warrs, and by confusion stand.

Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, 17432

In vain, in vain,—The all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow’r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primaeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain,
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ethereal plain;
As Argus’ eyes3 by Hermes’ wand opprest,
Clos’d one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.
See skulking Truth to her old Cavern fled,
While the Great Mother bids Britannia sleep,
And pours her Spirit o’er the Land and Deep.
She comes! she comes! The Gloom rolls on,
Mountains of Casuistry heap’d o’er her head!
Philosophy, that lean’d on Heav’n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.

  1. Book II, cited in From Cliché to Archetype, 44.
  2. Dunciad B, IV, cited at the closing of The Gutenberg Galaxy, 263. The first 11 lines are also cited in From Cliché to Archetype, 189-190.
  3. Argus panoptes

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