The New Criticism and plural times

Back in the 1920’s there used to be much concern about the “meaning of meaning.” At that time the discovery that the meaning was not [narrative or linear] statement so much as the simultaneous interaction of many things came as an exciting surprise. (Great Change-overs for You, 1966)1

Structuralism in all its forms is necessarily acoustic, ie, simultaneous and multi-levelled. The followers of Ferdinand Saussure divided [time]2 into diachrony and synchrony. Diachrony is the conventional historical form of scholarship and synchrony is structural analysis based on the fact that all acoustic structures have every part of them in any part at all. Personally, I acquired this synchrony through Joyce, Pound, Eliot and the new criticism, and in turn applied it to the new media. (McLuhan to Ray di Lorenzo, April 5, 1974, cited in Escape into Understanding, 432 n101)

  1. Great Change-overs for You’, Vogue 148:1, 60-63, 114-115, 117, July 1966 = ‘The All At Once World Of Marshall McLuhan’, British Vogue, August 1966. With  different titles, this article, in whole and in part, with and without changes, was republished repeatedly by McLuhan between 1966 and 1970.
  2. McLuhan wrote (ie, dictated) that “Saussure divided the acoustic into diachrony and synchrony”, which, of course, makes little sense when he had just equated the “acoustic” with the “simultaneous and multi-levelled”, ie, with the synchronic. He meant to say that Saussure divided time in this way.