“Arrest in time” in Lewis

“Arrest in time”1 is a central idea in McLuhan.2 It was probably from Lewis that he got the terminology and the spur to consider it further, although the notions of the two concerning “arrest in time” were very different — fundamentally different. For Lewis, “arrest in time” was a manifestation of ‘time philosophy’, while for McLuhan it provided the ever-present possibility of escape from ‘time philosophy’. Still, the profound influence of Lewis’ thought on McLuhan was such that it could prompt even an opposite position from his own.3 

Here are “arrest in time” passages in Lewis:

 arrest his mind (Tarr, 1918, 140)

Picasso is the most useful figure on which to fix your attention. (…) His clock stopped at fifteen (…) These cases of arrested growth are very common in his race. You merely have to consider what sort of a child you have to deal with, what moves him most… (The Caliph’s Design, 1919, 56)

“no human prudence can long arrest the triumphal car of truth” (C.S. Peirce, Chance and Logic, cited in The Art of Being Ruled, 1926, 257; and in Time and Western Man, 1927, 153)

The same emotional tension, the same spurious glamour, in which no one believes, but which yet arrests belief from settling anywhere — extracting, as it were, the automatic reaction from it, without desiring, even, a more conscious, or deep-seated, response; the same straining merely to outwit and to capture a momentary attention, or to startle into credulity; the same optimistic air, suggestive of a bad conscience, or a vulgar self-congratulation ; the same baldly-shining morning face; the same glittering or discreetly hooded eye of the fanatical advertiser, exists in the region of art or social life as elsewhere — only in social life it is their own personalities that people are advertising, while in art it is their own personally manufactured goods only. (In the case of the artist, his own personality plays tlie part of the refuse of the factory.) And these more blandly-lighted worlds are as full as the Business world, I believe fuller, of those people who seem especially built for such methods, so slickly does the glove fit. Yet who will say that the vulgar medium which the scientific salesman must use to succeed, in Western Democracy, does not, thrust into the social world, destroy its significance? The philosophy of ‘action’ of trade is as barbarous as that of war. (Time and Western Man, 1927, 39)

All philosophy of history today — and Spengler is a most perfect example of that — assumes an absolute arrest somewhere or other. There is, on any analogy, advance or [evolutionary] ‘progress’ between the amoeba and Socrates. (…) But now there is nothing but [arrest]… (Paleface, 1929,122)4

It is only by a fresh effort that the Western World can save itself: it can only become ‘the West’ at all, in fact (…) by an act of further creation. (…) As it is, not only such people as Spengler (…) insist on regarding the problem historically,5 in terms of a rigid arrest. ‘The West’ is for almost all of those a finished thing, either over whose decay they gloat, or whose corpse they frantically ‘defend’. It never seems to occur to them that the exceedingly novel conditions of life today demand an entirely new conception (Paleface, 1929, 256)

Disintegrated into a thousand class-warring factions— analysed back into its composite cells, and incessantly stimulated to one huge destructive civil broil — the Occident is much too far gone ever to recover, upon its old lines, even if we desired it. We are here, therefore, taking Occidental disintegration for granted. In the back of our minds it is admissible to entertain some picture of a future integration. And for my own part, the more novel it was the better I should like it. But the disintegration is already very far advanced: the new integration even has long ago begun. Such a book as this is primarily intended to influence the integration. (Certainly it is not intended to arrest the disintegration.) In what manner does it wish to influence the integration? Principally in such a manner as to prevent the mere destructive technique of the transition from being taken too seriously, and so to avoid a great many false and puerile passions and modes of thought — or unthought — from being taken up into the body of the new synthesis. (Doom of Youth, 1932, 62-63)

arrested in its toiling dream (Childermass, 1956, 108)


  1. Coleridge as Artist, 1957: “Moments of insight in Wordsworth’s poetry are explicitly associated with an experience of an arrest in time.” Here “experience of an arrest in time” is a dual genitive, but primarily a subjective genitive. That is, experience belongs to “an arrest in time”, is its effect.
  2. See “Arrest in time” in McLuhan.
  3. Lewis seems to have broached the notion of an “arrest in time” especially in Paleface (although it would seem most fitting to Time and Western Man). This is one of the many indications that McLuhan read and was deeply influenced by Paleface, although the book is never mentioned in his work (unlike most other Lewis titles).
  4. The emphasis on arrest in this passage is by Lewis.
  5. “Insist on regarding the problem historically” = the time philosophy.