Giedion on simultaneity

In the middle of a consideration of space in Space, Time and Architecture, Giedion suddenly broaches the topic of time:

Cubism breaks with Renaissance perspective. It views objects relatively: that is, from several points of view, no one of which has exclusive authority. And in so dissecting objects it sees them simultaneously from all sides — from above and below, from inside and outside. It goes around and into its objects. Thus, to the three dimensions of the Renaissance which have held good as constituent facts throughout so many centuries, there is added a fourth one — time. The poet Guillaume Apollinaire was the first to recognize and express this change, around 1911. The same year saw the first cubist exhibition in the Salon des Indépendants. Considering the history of the principles from which they broke, it can well be understood that the paintings should have been thought a menace to the public peace, and have become the subject of remarks in the Chamber of Deputies.
The presentation of objects from several points of view introduces a principle which is intimately bound up with modern life — simultaneity. It is a historical coincidence1 that Einstein should have begun his famous work, Elektrodynamik bewegter Korper, in 1905 with a careful definition of simultaneity.2 (First edition, 1941, 357; fifth edition, 1966, 436.)

As seen in this passage from STA, Giedion evidently considered Apollinaire a key figure. In fact, shortly after first meeting McLuhan in St Louis. Giedion recommended Apollinaire to him in a note from August 14, 1943:

Did you ever study the Alcools [1913] of Guillaume Apollinaire?

This, along with his on-going work on Eliot and on Poe (who was first translated into French by Baudelaire), suggested to McLuhan the need for a close study of French symbolist poetry (especially Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarmé) that would occupy him for the next decade (not without a mass of other interests, of course). The result was an unpublished manuscript in the McLuhan papers in Ottawa discussing Eliot’s encounter with the symbolists that is full of citations in French from them: Prelude to Prufrock.

The central importance of this study for McLuhan’s literary essays and especially for his media work may be seen in a passage from his letter to Innis from March 14, 1951:

One major discovery of the symbolists which had the greatest importance for subsequent investigation was their notion of the learning process as a labyrinth of the senses and faculties whose retracing provided the key to all arts and sciences…

  1. ‘Historical coincidence’ has been substituted for ‘temporal coincidence’ here since ‘the temporal’ in this context is exactly not, or not only, ‘the historical’. While it is not impossible that Giedion intended the full significance of ‘the temporal’ here, that is, ‘the historical’ + simultaneity, the likelihood is that his expression here is an artifact of the translation of STA by Giedion and his aides from his German thinking to English-like writing. His late work would greatly benefit from Jackie Tyrwhitt’s emergence as his editor.
  2. English translation: ‘On the electrodynamics of moving bodies‘.