Tennyson, like the Romantics before him, was limited by the science of his time to external landscapes. We had to wait for a post-Newtonian science to free us to create the interior landscapes of the Symbolists. The “aesthetic moment” of arrested cognition, a moment in and at once out of time, of simultaneity, could only exist [in our understanding today] when cinema [composed in discrete frames] was technologically possible. McLuhan (…) thus sees the artistic process itself as a deliberate movement backward from a moment of insight (…) [ascribable] to music, to painting, to (…) science and technology (…) The original aesthetic moment [as retraced and delimited in this way] will then become [experientially and so conceptually] possible for us in our own prison of space and time. (The Interior Landscape, 1969)
This is a note from Eugene McNamara, the editor of The Interior Landscape, introducing its second section of McLuhan essays, ‘The Beatrician Moment’. It gestures in the direction of McLuhan’s method and intent. But it is clear that McNamara did not understand McLuhan on “simultaneity” and especially not the difference between the perennial exercise of creativity in the “original aesthetic moment” that is the spring of all human perception1 and its theoretical elaboration. The first is always at work; the second takes place only in discrete regimes of ideation: “the medium is the message”.
Further, he seems not have understood the difference between an aid in understanding the “original aesthetic moment” and a necessity for understanding it. “Post-Newtonian science” and cinema can indeed point to an understanding of the “original aesthetic moment” for our time — but they are not necessary for it. Many different understandings of that moment already exist — in Plato, Dante, Shakespeare and many others. Some of these explications far exceed our capabilities today. But we are just as cut off from them as we are from it.
Illumination of the perennial “original aesthetic moment” in all perception necessarily occasions a revisioning not only of — and away from! — “our own prison of space and time”, but of all the spaces and times that humans have ever lived or will ever live.2
- Not just artistic perception! Or, as this may also be put: all perception is artistic perception! “The most poetic thing in the world is the most ordinary human consciousness.” (‘Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters’, 1954) ↩
- The inauguration of a domain that is valid for all time does not entail definitive conclusion. Compare the physical sciences where no event, past, present or future, has or will ever unfold aside from physics and chemistry — but physics and chemistry are so fundamentally open-ended that they are liable even to the paradigm change of scientific revolution. So with the domain of media. ↩