The kinetic sense

McLuhan often ran together “the kinetic sense” or “movement” with the sense of touch, although these (“the kinetic sense” or “movement”) are usually, of course, not thought of as ‘senses’ at all. For example, here he is in one of his presentations at Fordham in September 1967:

The visual sense is the only sense we have that gives detachment: movement, touch, hearing cetera, are very involved senses.1 

Touch was not to be taken literally, of course, but as the tactile ‘in-between’ of the other senses, particularly seeing and hearing, the eye and the ear.2 In this context, “the kinetic sense” seems to have been intended as the ‘action of tactility’, the dynamism or metaphoricity of tactility in the multiple ways the gapped ‘in-between’ of the eye and ear may be crossed.

McLuhan indicated this intention in another presentation at Fordham as follows:

the interval is very tactile — the space between sounds is not audible naturally, it’s tactile — you have to close that [space] kinetically3 

Later in this seminar he spoke of the flash between the eye and ear”.4

The time of this tactile crossing/closing/flashing between eye and ear is first of all synchronic and vertical, not diachronic and horizontal. Consciously situating oneself (one’s self) in the complex of these times5 is the required parameter, or medium,6 of thinking with McLuhan. Once ‘there’, the following step is to consider the range of ways the crossing/closing/flashing may be effected — and is always already being effected via ‘the kinetic sense’. On that basis, it may then be de-cided7 which of these eye-tactility-ear parameters must be in place to begin the investigation of media and so to initiate its ‘new science’.

Hence the repeated citation by McLuhan of the admonition in Joyce’s Stephen Hero

The apprehensive faculty must be scrutinized in action.8



  2. For McLuhan, the eye and the ear are no more to be taken literally than is the tactile. One of the central differences between the Gutenberg and Marconi galaxies is that the former demands some literal basis, while the latter is fundamentally relativistic. How beauty, goodness and truth are compatible with relativity is the great question.
  3. ‘Earopen End’ seminar, November 1967:
  5. See McLuhan’s Times.
  6. See Media Definition for media as “parameters”.
  7. See the etymology of ‘decide’ and particularly of its cognate family of terms.
  8. See The spectacle of redemption for discussion.