Percepts of existence

if the external world is attuned to the mind of man, then the whole of Nature is a language and the poet is a pontifex or bridger between the two worlds. He conducts the symphony of mind and nature. (…) The poet here is exercising his priestly powers of purifying the wells of existence, exerting his primary imagination which is the agent of all perception, not the secondary imagination which brings art into existence as an echo of the functions of perception.1 (Coleridge As Artist, 1957)

I am myself quite aware that there is a great contrast between perceptual and conceptual confrontation; and I think that the “death of Christianity” or the “death of God” occurs the moment they [Christianity/God] become concept. As long as they remain percept, directly involving the perceiver, they are alive. (Electric Consciousness and The Church, 1970)

The idealists share with the experienced and practical men of their time the infirmity of substituting concepts for percepts. Both concentrate on a clash between past experience and future goals that black out the usual but hidden processes of the present. Both ignore the fact that dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old.2 (Take Today, 1972. 22)

Percepts of existence always lie behind concepts of nature. (The Argument: Causality in the Electric World, 1973)3

Effects Are Perceived Whereas Causes Are Conceived (The Argument: Causality in the Electric World, 1973)4  

The effects come first, and the fact of the effects coming first indicates that the study of environmental action, or the action of the [Mael]strom, must begin with the effects rather than with a theoretic pursuit of causes. The effects are percepts, and the causes tend to be concepts. (Art as Survival in the Electric Age, 1973)

“Percepts of existence” is a subjective genitive5 (where percepts belong first of all to existence), not an objective genitive (where existence would belong to percepts as their achieved/assembled/certified/manipulated/conceptualized object).

Hence, since existence is our ground, and since existence is originally fractured as6 primordial percepts, we belong first of all to percepts, not them to us.

The qualification “first of all” is required because the mystery (“the main question“) lies in the fact that the subjective genitive in “percepts of existence” comes to be an objective genitive. The subjectivity of existence (gen. subj.) comes to be taken over by an objectivity.  And this objectivity seems to belong to us, not to it — since it, existence, comes to be the object of our conceptualization.

But what if even, or especially, this hand-over belonged (and indeed belongs) first of all to it? To an “incomprehensible” kenosis?


  1. “Primary” here must be taken in terms of rank (ie, of fundamentality), but also in terms of time. For a sound comes first or is “primary” and its “echo” is “secondary”.  So in experience, perception is always first (although this is usually blacked out and unknown) and what we make on this basis, from conceptions to bed-frames to artworks, always second.
  2. “Dialogue” is both one percept on the spectrum of percepts and the prerequisite for consciousness of the katabasis that perpetually recurs to that spectrum. What comes first and what comes second here is knotted: “dialogue” must be known in order to come to know “dialogue”. This knot in time constitutes a labyrinth which must be threaded as the initial step into the terra incognita McLuhan attempted to introduce and explore.
  3. This passage in ‘The Argument: Causality in the Electric World’ continues: ‘Their hidden hang-up was the visual bias of all “objectivity,” whether “materialist” or “idealist.” They also ignored the acoustic “message of the birds” — the output of any process, biological or psychic, always differs qualitatively from the input. There are no “through-puts” or connections between processes but only gaps or interfaces for “keeping in touch” with “where the action is.” When the “play” between the wheel and the axle ends, so does the wheel. While the “subjectivist” puts on the world as his own clothes, the “objectivist” supposes that he can stand naked “out of this world.” The ideal of the rationalist philosophers still persists: to achieve an inclusive “science of the sciences.” But such a “science” would be a monster of preconceived figures minus un-perceived grounds. No “objective” dialectics of Nature or of science as visually ex-plainable can stand up to a resonant interface with the existential. For “testing the truth” is not merely matching by congruence or classification; it is making sense out of the totality of experience — a process of pattern re-cognition that requires not only concepts but active perception by all the senses. Today, as “hardware” is transmuted into pure information by the process of “etherealization,” the “inner” and the “outer” merge — thinking becomes doing.’
  4. This further passage in ‘The Argument: Causality in the Electric World’ continues: ‘Unable to explore actual processes perceptually from every side, the conceptual man apprehends only visual goals. For example, the conventional ideas of “evolution” and “technology” are illusions engendered by the visual bias of literate cultures. Such cultures translated the “chain of being” metaphor from the astral to the biological plane. For the use of the missing link” idea we are indebted to a missing inventor. So far nobody has appeared as originator of this phrase. The gap created by the “missing link” has sparked more exploration and discovery than the established links in “connected” science. Conceptual choices, like “natural selection,” can come only after the fact. The “origins” of all species vanish in rear-view perspectives, while the music goes round and round.’
  5.  A subjective genitive like ‘the ball of the boy’. An objective genitive, in contrast, may be seen in ‘the boy’s ball’.
  6. ‘As’ not ‘into’, since ‘into’ might be taken to imply a chronological sequence of, first, existence, and then, sometime later, its fracture into percepts. Instead, existence is primordially fractured and these fractions may be called percepts.