All things live, all things are in motion, all things correspond; the magnetic rays emanating from myself or others traverse without obstacle the infinite chain of created things: a transparent network covers the world, whose loose threads communicate more and more closely with the planets and the stars. Now a captive upon the earth, I hold converse with the starry choir, which is feelingly a part of my joys and sorrows.
-- Gerard de Nerval quoted in The Symbolist Movement in Literature, Arthur Symons
It all boils down to a tale of Ear and Eye, a tale of Time and Space, of Saturn and Jupiter, of Shem and Shaun. The tale is one of warring brothers, yet even this relationship and these roles are not fixed. The rival brothers -- Cain and Abel -- can also be depicted as lovers -- Eve and Adam, Binah and Chokhmah. They can also represent the Oedipal struggle between Father and Son -- Chronos and Zeus.
As Joyce realized in the Wake, though, much more is at play than just the myth of Oedipus, than just the Freudian reduction, however powerful this is. The struggle of Ear against Eye, Eye against Ear and their occasional harmony, subsumes and transcends all myths and all relations.
McLuhan puts this bluntly in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962):
...there can be no greater contradiction or clash in human cultures than that between those representing the eye and the ear...
And this is echoed in Understanding Media (1964):
The ultimate conflict between sight and sound, between written and oral kinds of perception and organization of existence is upon us.
But, prior to McLuhan, it is most candidly proclaimed in the Wake:
TELEVISION KILLS TELEPHONY IN BROTHERS BROIL
This is the story of perception: how the individual senses inform what we perceive; how the senses interplay and combine to create our multi-sensory experience of the world; how we extend our senses through various media and other technologies; and how the equilibrium between our senses becomes disturbed, upset, leading to the augmentation of one sense and the suppression of the others.
It is a story of many millennia, and it is a story McLuhan traces through all of his books. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan introduces the metaphor of the kaleidoscope to represent the whole spectrum of the human sensory apparatus. As the kaleidoscope is twisted and turned, as the balanced "ratio" between our senses is altered through the introduction of a new media technology, our entire experience of reality is modified. The very environment in which we live is transformed.
It would seem that the extension of one or another of our senses by mechanical means, such as the phonetic script, can act as a sort of twist for the kaleidoscope of the entire sensorium. A new combination or ratio of the existing components occurs, and a new mosaic of possible forms presents itself.
The kaleidoscope, though, is not turned at a steady rate. For centuries it may not appear to move that much at all. And when there is little movement, there is little awareness of its inner workings. Quite recently in our history, however, the shifting has vastly accelerated. The process, in this way, has become observable. Patterns and rhythms can now be discerned. The senses are churning.
--That such switch of sense ratios should occur with every instance of external technology is easy to see today. Why has it been unnoticed before? Perhaps because the shifts have in the past occurred somewhat gradually. Now we experience such a series of new technologies even in our own world and, besides, have means of observing so many other cultures that only great inattention could now conceal the role of new media of information in altering the posture and relations of our senses.
The kaleidoscope has appeared in this blog before. It is one of the most revealing ways that Finnegans Wake describes itself. In the Wake it is called the "collideorscape" and like everything else in this chamber of mirrors it contains multiple meanings, manifold perspectives. Here is the passage:
9. Now, to be on anew and basking again in the panaroma of
all flores of speech, if a human being duly fatigued by his dayety
in the sooty, having plenxty off time on his gouty hands and va-
cants of space at his sleepish feet and as hapless behind the dreams
of accuracy as any camelot prince of dinmurk, were at this auc-
tual futule preteriting unstant, in the states of suspensive exani-
mation, accorded, throughout the eye of a noodle, with an ear-
sighted view of old hopeinhaven ... what roserude and oragious grows gelb and greem, blue out the ind of it! Violet's dyed! then what would that fargazer seem to seemself to seem seeming of, dimm it all?
Answer: A collideorscape!
With this visual metaphor, this changing mandalic representation of the sensory ratio, we can "observe" all of human history in the mind's eye.
The Moth-Eaten Straight-Jacket
In the beginning, then, was the Ear. Even this statement, though, is too limited, too inaccurate. The Ear, oral and aural social structures, overshadowed prehistory -- the long dreaming of the paleolithic -- and extended its rule into the matriarchal neolithic cultures and even to the earliest agricultural patriarchies of Egypt and the Near East.
But even this was not really the beginning. McLuhan's understanding is essentially religious, not anthropological. The Ear was perhaps the commanding sense of the Garden but, although he does not to my knowledge write about this, he may have envisioned an earlier stage of haptic synesthesia.
This would be an ideal period of proportioned interpenetration of all the senses. Touch, or "tactility," which McLuhan viewed as being merely the interplay or mediator between the four other senses, would have had full sway. Every element of the kaleidoscope, every colour, shape and sound, would have shone in harmony at once.
Perhaps, for McLuhan, this could be thought of as occurring in the Garden before the Fall. But maybe, as in the poetry of William Blake -- a huge influence on McLuhan as we'll see later, -- there was a stage of human existence, a timeless time when the human sensorium was in perfect psychedelic equilibrium, that was prior to even Eden.
This was the City before the Garden, the City of the Imagination that will appear in the sky at the final revelation and the cycle's end. This is the New Jerusalem, the true Eden which is beyond the blissful duality of Beulah, the Garden. Blake found this in Revelation:
10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God...
19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;
20 The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.
21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
I don't really know if McLuhan had this city in mind, but it is clear that he is no mere primitivist. The cultures of the Ear may have their deep appeal, but they too are imbalanced and oppressive. He writes of this most lucidly in his 1954 manifesto, Counterblast.
Until WRITING was invented, we lived in acoustic space, where the Eskimo now lives: boundless, directionless, horizonless, the dark of the mind, the world of emotion, primordial intuition, terror. Speech is a social chart of this dark bog.
But acoustic space, the "dark bog," is also "cosmic," is also "sacred," is celebrated and promoted by modern primitivists from Rousseau to Mircea Eliade to Terence McKenna. And certainly many elements of these ear cultures are far more appealing than those emphasized by the cultures which follow, but a definite perceptual tyranny exists here as well.
But non-literate cultures experience such an overwhelming tyranny of the ear over the eye that any balanced interplay among the senses is unknown at the auditory extreme, just as balanced interplay of the senses became extremely difficult after print stepped up the visual component in Western experience to extreme intensity.
With the onset of print, with the onset of Gutenberg from about 1440 and onward, the tyranny of the Eye fully dethroned the tyranny of the Ear, but between the two was a long and fascinating transition. The scribal or manuscript cultures from the development of the phonetic alphabet to the beginning of print during the Renaissance represented, for McLuhan, a unique blending of Ear and Eye. Once more, and during the High Middle Age of Europe in particular, a "communion of the senses" became possible and was reflected in society.
Such a balance was not to last. Gutenberg's great invention was again to set the kaleidoscope of the human sensorium to spin. Europe soon became flooded with printed books. Everything changed.
The development of perspective in painting, the rise of the individual, the emergence and standardization of national languages, nationalism and national wars in general, the Bible-based Protestant Reformation, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and the age of mass production and the mass man, all of these and more were direct outgrowths of print. A mutation has occurred. The ratio of the senses has been skewed. The Eye became master.
McLuhan "blasted" print in Counterblast:
BLAST... the printed b(oo)k moth-eaten STRAIGHT-JACKET of the Western mind...
The age of print is the age of linearity, of standardization, of uniformity, of mechanical processes, of centralization, of single-point perspective, of rigid categorization, of analysis, of interchangeable parts and interchangeable people. In the newly imposed national languages of Europe grammar became rigid, spelling became fixed. The visual spell had been cast.
But print-based industrialism only had the effect of increasing the rate of kaleidoscopic spin. With the new electric media -- the telegraph, the radio, the television, film, the internet -- we reach McLuhan's own time. We reach a space that has become acoustic once again. The Ear returns, the primitive reawakens.
Movies and TV complete the cycle of mechanization of the human sensorium. With the omnipresent ear and the moving eye, we have abolished writing, the specialized acoustic-visual metaphor which established the dynamics of Western civilization.
One great spell is fading, its control over us has become evident -- and thus impotent -- to nearly all, but it is becoming instantly replaced by a spell of even greater magic. An examination of McLuhan's work makes it clear that for him understanding is the key to survive the electronic media assault.
The return of the dark tyranny of the Ear -- Saturn in fury released from the Underworld -- can only be prevented through the conscious rebalancing of the senses to an unprecedented era of tactility and synesthesia.
That print increasingly hypnotized the Western world is nowadays the theme of all historians of art and science alike, because we no longer live under the spell of the isolated visual sense. We have not yet begun to ask under what new spell we exist. In place of spell it may be more acceptable to say "assumptions" or "parameters" or "frame of reference." No matter what the metaphor, is it not absurd for men to live involuntarily altered in their inmost lives by some mere technological extension of our inner senses? The shift in our sense ratios brought about by exteriorizations of our senses is not a situation before which we need be helpless. Computers can now be programmed for every possible variety of sense ratio. We can then read off exactly what would be the resulting cultural assumptions in the arts and sciences, of such a new specific ratio as was produced by TV, for example. (Gutenberg Galaxy)
McLuhan hints strongly in the above quote that the very ratios of our senses are being programmed to the most minute level, and without our conscious knowledge. Our senses, one by one, are being exteriorized by media technologies at which point they can be tweaked and fine-tuned by those elites who may benefit from the mass manipulation of human perception.
As our senses reveal, and in a very real manner create, our world this power is the ability to manufacture and to deconstruct reality itself. It is the power to willfully turn the kaleidoscope of the human sensorium at will. But who is doing the turning?
The Magi of Bohemia
At the end of my second piece on McLuhan, I wrote of his preoccupation with "the freemasonry of the arts." It is here we must look. While the tweaking of the sense ratios has in the electronic era become a fully computerized exact science, this has not been the case in past media eras. Previously the correspondences of metaphors and symbols alone aptly did the job. Magic was the name for this operation and magic it continues to be.
Both Eric McLuhan in The Medium and the Light and Donald Theall in his 1988 essay "McLuhan and the Cultic Inventors" agree that McLuhan takes the term "the freemasonry of the arts" from the artist and author Wyndham Lewis, and especially from Lewis' 1930 novel, The Apes of God.
"Very nice isn't it Dick?" he said, holding the thing up, the carving, to Dick, with the air of understanding the craftsmanship -- his professional reserve had the thrill of all things deep. The freemasonry of the arts has its cabbalisms -- Richard used a certain gesture.
The Apes of God is a brilliant and bewildering book, and, as an essential work of Modernism, it rates right up there with Joyce's Ulysses and Eliot's Waste Land.
In his novel Lewis describes a different, but very much related, waste land. This is the "bourgeois bohemia" of Bloomsbury in London during the 1920s. An earlier work, Tarr (1918), explored the very similar bourgeois bohemia of Paris in the same era. His general critique is presented succinctly in Tarr:
You represent, my good Hobson, the dregs of Anglo-Saxon civilization: there is absolutely nothing softer upon the earth. Your flabby potion is a mixture of the lees of Liberalism, the poor froth blown off the decadent Nineties, the wardrobe-leavings of a vulgar bohemianism with its headquarters in the suburb of Carlyle and Whistler. You are concentrated, highly-organized barley-water: there is nothing in the universe to be said for you: any efficient state would confiscate your property, burn your wardrobe -- that old hat and the rest -- as infectious and prohibit you from propagating.
Beyond mere cynicism or satire, though, is Lewis' suggestion that there is a guided structure to the avant-garde arts. The Apes of God is the "story" of Horace Zagreus, a "bronzed albino" magician/artist/con man who with charisma and seduction utilizes young male, aspiring yet largely talentless artists to do his bidding. This involves the obscure manipulation and direction of the "Apes of God" -- the faux-artist denizens of the Bloomsbury bohemia -- and through them the general development of the arts.
Whether or not Lewis actually believed that this was occurring -- and there is good reason to think that he did -- it is pretty obvious that McLuhan was convinced of this. As Theall writes:
McLuhan's correspondence and his interpretation of Eric Voeglin demonstrate that he interpreted Lewis' "freemasonry of the arts" quite literally as being a direct allegorical symbol suggesting there were important social groups directly guided by magi, such as the contemporary magus, Aleister Crowley.
Theall suggests that Horace Zagreus is partly modeled on Aleister Crowley, and this is likely true. In The Apes of God many characters have obvious, though not exact, resemblances to actual figures that Lewis knew. The scribbler "Split Man," Julius Ratner, for instance, has undeniable similarities to Joyce. Lewis samples Ratner's writing as a parody of Joyce's style:
Let's be pals Alec, he had wanted to say, taking him by the arm and leading him to the embrasure of the window, from which could be seen the boa-constrictor of the black river. Let's be real pals. A factory. Two freemasons. A cloud threatened the tail of the serpent. A little child picked a forget-me-not. She lifted a chalice. It was there. Epiphany. There were three distinct vibrations.
A clearer match to Zagreus, though, and a person who was much closer to Lewis than Crowley, is Ezra Pound. Pound, like Zagreus, was a charming bigger-than-life eccentric in bohemian circles whose tireless literary and editorial efforts made him an extremely connected and influential figure. Like Zagreus, Pound also sought out and mentored younger literary apprentices. One such "disciple" was Ernest Hemingway, who writes of Pound's significant influence on him as a writer in Hemingway's own memoir of his bohemian days in Paris, A Moveable Feast.
"To tell you the truth, Hem," Ezra said, "I've never read the Rooshians."
It was a straight answer and Ezra had never given me any other kind verbally, but I felt very bad because here was the man I liked and trusted the most as a critic then, the man who believed in the mot juste - the one and only correct word to use - the man who had taught me to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations; and I wanted his opinion on a man who almost never used the mot juste and yet had made his people come alive at times, as almost no one else did.
"Keep to the French," Ezra said. "You've plenty to learn there."
"I know it," I said. "I've plenty to learn everywhere."
It is extremely doubtful that Hemingway had even a bit of the fawning dependence on Pound that Zagreus inspired and expected of his young acolytes in The Apes of God, but it could be that this, although exaggerated in his novel, was how this relationship between writers appeared to Lewis.
A deeper connection of Ezra Pound to Horace Zagreus, however, gets to the very heart of the weirdness and goes some of the way to explain why "the freemasonry of the arts" is in fact a form of Freemasonry.
In Pound's 1922 calendar of the new era, published anonymously in The Little Review literary magazine, "Horus" and "Zagreus" are featured prominently. In the calendar, the year was said to have turned upon Horus, and Zagreus -- the form of the god Dionysus worshiped in the Eleusinian Mysteries -- is also the name of the Feast at the end of the calendar year, October 30th, which is also Pound's birthday. Zagreus is Pound and Pound is Zagreus.
Lewis may have known of the importance Pound placed in these gods -- as Crowley did also -- and there is a good chance that he was also aware of the utmost reverence and aspiration Pound had for a renewed Eleusis. And the link between Lewis' own work and Eleusis may be stronger still.
Asses, Apes and Dunces
Donald Theall suggests that The Apes of God is partially structured according to Alexander Pope's mock-epic, The Dunciad, and that both may be modeled after the Mysteries:
Lewis, who frequently echoes Pope in the Apes, structures the novel on a principle similar to Pope's Dunciad -- an initiation ritual into a mystery religion.
This suggestion is worth exploring if only because The Dunciad is also an incredibly significant work for McLuhan, one that signals an emerging awareness in the 1700s of the full disastrous implications of the domination of the printed word over the psyche.
A 1985 work of criticism by Douglas Brooks-Davies, Pope's Dunciad and the Queen of the Night, also presents the case that The Dunciad "was always a poem about the mysteries of the mother goddess...."
In particular, Brooks-Davies notes the frontispiece, shown in a previous last post, of The Dunciad from its 1729 edition of an ass carrying a load of books, the treasure of dunces. This is merely the first clue of many.
Since the ass carrying the mysteries was familiar in Isis worship; since the Isis cult was regarded as the Egyptian original of the Eleusinian mysteries; and since the mysteries were celebrated at night, it is reasonable to assume that the "mysteries" revealed to Theobald are those of Isis-Ceres.
The connection of the ass with Lewis' "apes" will also emerge through exploration of the poem, but Brooks-Davies identifies several layers of literary exegesis and resonance that require some digging into.
The first such text comes from Pope's friend and editor William Warburton who in 1741, just a few years before Pope published the fourth and final book of The Dunciad in 1743, published The Divine Legation of Moses. This book argues that the sixth book of Virgil's Aeneid, itself an undisputed source for The Dunciad, was a direct allegory of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
In The Aeneid, Aeneas is escorted into underworld by the Cumaean Sibyl, and we should remember that this underworld journey later served as the model for Dante's own descent into the Inferno where he was led by none other than Virgil! Aeneas is shown his future descendants including, most importantly, the Roman Emperor Augustus.
It was also the Cumaean Sibyl, in Virgil's famous Eclogue IV, who prophesied the coming of a World Saviour -- likely Augustus -- and the return of the Saturnian Golden Age. The impact of this Eclogue, and the prophecy it contained, cannot be exaggerated for later Medieval and Renaissance Christians.
The poem came to be regarded as a prophecy of the coming of the Lord, and such was it venerated that the pagan prophetess who uttered it -- the Cumaean Sibyl -- became honoured as a pre-Christian saint. She is even to be found featured in Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
 Now is come the last age of Cumaean song; the great line of the centuries begins anew. Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns; now a new generation descends from heaven on high. Only do you, pure Lucina, smile on the birth of the child, under whom the iron brood shall at last cease and a golden race spring up throughout the world! Your own Apollo now is king!
Pope, like his friend Jonathan Swift, presented his poem as a satire of the ancient mysteries. It becomes obvious, though, that also like Swift his satirizing is not really aimed at the mysteries themselves, but at the counterfeits that had appeared -- in the form of the printed text -- in the name of the mysteries. There is then a deeply ambiguous tone to the work of Pope and Swift, and this same disorienting tone of ambiguity can be found in the books of James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis.
Discharged On Both Sides
In The Apes of God, structured like a series of initiations, the young acolyte is a gangly but effeminate fool named Dan Boleyn. At one stage Zagreus, very significantly for this study, refers to him as being a "child of the Moon".
The society you are now entering you must understand or perish: I mean your mind. I believe absolutely in your genius. You are a child of the Moon, when I first set eyes on you I knew it, you possess the virtus vegetandi. I solicit the privilege of being your gardener at this crisis, oh delicate moon-flower. Have I your permission? Please give me your answer without delay, there is no time to be lost.
This is no idle remark as Lewis would have been fully conscious of the magical efforts by Crowley, W.B. Yeats and others to produce a moonchild. McLuhan's own marginalia to his copy of Finnegans Wake may indicate that he also, at least partly, considered himself as acting in this role.
More sinisterly in The Apes of God, though, is the suggestion at one point that Dan is a sort of "Trilby". This refers to the 1894 novel of the same name by Georges du Maurier about an earlier Parisian bohemia, in which a young woman is hypnotized and mind-controlled by the infamous Svengali in order to transform her into an extremely successful opera singer. The fairly blatant suggestion here is that Dan is also a victim of mind control. The arts are manipulated and directed by sinister forces.
But, again, what are these forces? What is the freemasonry of the arts? Who are the brain police?
We learn quickly in The Apes of God that even Zagreus does not act independently. His own master or mentor is a mysterious magus called Pierpoint, who only appears in the novel through his ideas as expressed by Zagreus and other characters. In the consensus of all the critics, including McLuhan, Pierpoint is clearly Lewis himself. The ideas that are said to have originated with Pierpoint are virtually identical to those that Lewis expounds in his non-fiction works like Time and Western Man (1928).
During the long dinner party/Walpurgisnacht section of The Apes of God, Dan Boleyn meets a character who is described as a black-shirted fascist. The fascist intimately knows both Zagreus and Pierpoint -- he seems to have worked with them in the past -- and very interestingly he accuses Zagreus himself as being "an ape of God":
"All this taking you about to show you The Apes! Well of course they are Apes. What however in Jesus' name are you but an Ape and Horace Zagreus himself he is the worst Ape of the lot! Does he not take all his ideas from Pierpoint? Is he not essentially a rich dilettante? Is it not owing to his money -- not that he always pays! It is absurd!"
This becomes fascinating to consider. If Zagreus/Pound and Ratner/Joyce and even Crowley are in fact "apes of God" themselves, then did Lewis consider himself to be a kind of puppet-master, working behind the scenes, infiltrating and directing in subtle ways the denizens and would-be-creators of the "bourgeois bohemias"? Was he a kind of hidden Svengali? In other words, was Lewis actively opposed to "the freemasonry of the arts" or was he its ultimate modern prophet? A case, I think, could be made for both. In Time and Western Man, in a passage which McLuhan often quoted, Lewis wrote:
In England and America we want a new learned minority as sharp as razors, as fond of discourse as a Greek, familiar enough with the abstract to be able to handle the concrete. In short we want a new race of philosophers instead of "hurried men," speed cranks, simpletons, or robots.
And again, was the purpose of this to upset the status quo or to perpetuate it? Was/is it revolutionary or reactionary? In his 1914 Vorticist manifesto Blast, which McLuhan explicitly echoes forty years later in Counter-Blast, Lewis, in paradoxical lucidity, reveals that things are never this clear:
3) We discharge ourselves on both sides.
4) We fight first on one side, then on the other, but always for the SAME cause, which is neither side or both sides and ours.
Ezra Pound was a member of Lewis' Vorticist group, but it appears, at least from the perspective of Lewis, that their relationship was very much like that between Pierpoint and Zagreus. In Time and Western Man, Lewis calls Pound a "revolutionary simpleton," a "true child," and Lewis also devotes a long chapter in the book to criticize Joyce's own preoccupation with time.
In short, Mr. Joyce is very strictly of the school of Bergson-Einstein, Stein-Proust. He is of the great time-school they represent. His book is a time-book, as I have said, in that sense. He has embraced the time-doctrine very completely. And it is as the critic of that doctrine and of that school that I have approached the analysis of his writings up to date.
Joyce responds to Lewis' attack in Finnegans Wake, where he satirizes Lewis' book as "Spice and Westend Woman." Instead of trying to counter his rival's promotion of the traditional Western eye-based and space-based values with the emergent ear and time-based values of the electric environment, Joyce, very typically, presents and transcends both.
Joyce is Shem, or the grasshopper ("Gracehoper"), while Lewis is Shaun, or the ant ("Ondt"). Time and space, ear and eye, are allowed to do battle, but Joyce's "collideorscape" is synesthetic. It is the interplay of the senses which Joyce's masterpiece so lucidly depicts and resounds.
...which is in
reality only a done by chance ridiculisation of the whoo-whoo
and where's hairs theorics of Winestain. To put it all the more
plumbsily. The speechform is a mere sorrogate. Whilst the qua-
lity and tality (I shall explex what you ought to mean by this with
its proper when and where and why and how in the subsequent
sentence) are alternativomentally harrogate and arrogate, as the
gates may be.
Yet Joyce was not the only author to respond to Lewis' often scathing criticism. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway includes a passage in which Lewis shows up at a practice boxing match between Hemingway and Ezra Pound. As Pound helped to teach Hemingway the art of writing, indirectly influencing Hemingway's signature "iceberg" technique of literary understatement, Ernie taught Uncle Ez to box. Recalling this meeting of the three writers, Hemingway wrote that Lewis had the eyes of "an unsuccessful rapist."
This is precisely the phrase that a 2011 BBC "British Masters" episode quoted to describe Lewis in a TV hit piece that is truly baffling in its bitter animosity towards this great British writer and artist. Here Lewis is also called "...one of the most poisonous minds of the 20th century." It's clear that controversial Lewis had, and still has, many enemies. Here's Hemingway's full passage:
... I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man. Some people show evil as a great race horse shows breeding. They have the dignity of a hard chancre. Lewis did not show evil; he just looked nasty...
I tried to break his face down and describe it but I could only get the eyes. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.
But Lewis was also tremendously influential. McLuhan, who met Lewis in St. Louis, was later one of Lewis' only friends while Lewis was exiled in the wastes of Toronto -- which Lewis called "the bush metropolis of the Orange Lodges" -- during the war. McLuhan did not shy from admitting his profound influence from an author who was the first to write a biography of Hitler, and who soon thereafter entirely rejected the German dictator. McLuhan, though, was far more interested in Lewis' radical views of media.
We asked Marshall McLuhan what influence Wyndham Lewis had on him.
Good Heavens—that's where I got it! [Laughter] It was Lewis who put me on to all this study of the environment as an educational—as a teaching machine. To use our more recent terminology, Lewis was the person who showed me that the manmade environment was a teaching machine—a programmed teaching machine. Earlier, you see, the Symbolists had discovered that the work of art is a programmed teaching machine. It's a mechanism for shaping sensibility. Well, Lewis simply extended this private art activity into the corporate activity of the whole society in making environments that basically were artifacts or works of art and that acted as teaching machines upon the whole population.
It was precisely Lewis' tireless promotion of the Eye, of the visual and Gutenberg values of the West, that most impressed McLuhan. It seemed to him that Lewis was one of the few artists of his era who was not swept along blindly, as it were, by the re-tribalizing onslaught of the electric media.
McLuhan, contrary to how he is occasionally portrayed, was by no means an uncritical proponent of the new media. And he was no enemy of print. What McLuhan advocated was an aware and harmonious interplay of the senses and for a culture of synesthesia and tactility.
More than anything else McLuhan worried about a slide back into the primal tyranny of the Ear, the eradication of all individual differences, on a global scale. And in this his concerns were preceded and informed by Wyndham Lewis. It was Lewis who attempted to bring the kaleidoscope of the human sensorium back into equilibrium.
Wyndham Lewis tried to answer Bergson and the ear men in terms of the eye order. Lewis spent his whole life simply saying western man is an eye man: if he abandons the primacy of the eye in structuring his experience he is finished. Lewis spent his whole life in a magnificent rebuttal of the ear men of his time... ("Communication Media: Makers of the Modern World")
McLuhan, though, is not unambiguous in his support of Lewis either. In a footnote to "Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters," he calls Lewis "nihilistic" and sympathetic to Satan as an artist in a way that is reminiscent of his accusation, in his 1953 letter to Pound, about the subtle use of occult techniques in the work of Pound, Joyce and Eliot. For McLuhan, at least at one stage in his early career, was entirely convinced of the literal existence of "the freemasonry of the arts," yet it is not as clear if he really opposed it or not.
Enantidromia Is The New Hegelian Dialectic
As explored in a previous post, McLuhan believed that the global media externalization of the central nervous system might feasibly lead to one of two very polarized outcomes. In a mood of apocalyptic Catholicism he envisioned it as imminently manifesting the mystical body of Christ, the Incarnation universalized in all matter.
In a very related but opposed mood, however, this identical electronic media hyper-network could represent the ultimate Antichrist simulacra of the former, a far more insidious tyranny than has ever existed in history. The world kingdoms of Christ and Antichrist are virtually indistinguishable.
The slight difference between these two arises in their response to the Fall. Opposed to the Catholic position -- the true yet non-dogmatic Christian perspective -- was what McLuhan at different times called the "Luciferian," the "Manichean," the "angelic," the "Gnostic," and even the "Puritan inner light."
At the heart of this latter position is the idea that matter is fallen, that the Earth is fallen, that humanity is fallen, that the body and sex are fallen, and that the only possible redemption is for humans, or at least an elite minority of humans, to become gods.
Through the enlightened mind, through the application of science and technology, nature itself can be perfected. Transhumanism is only the most recent variation of this ancient heresy. According to this view the Incarnation did not take place, the Word did not become Flesh, nothing has yet been redeemed.
The Catholic position, according to McLuhan, is very different. The Incarnation of Christ has already redeemed all of reality, and to have faith in the Incarnation is to truly behold it. The problem is epistemological not ontological. We have willingly allowed blinders to be placed on our perception.
But, in actuality, individual perception itself is the entire process in miniature. Perception is Incarnation. The body and sensory apparatus of every believer and non-believer alike is truly the mystical vessel of Christ. The new media is inexorably leading us towards a single point of mass realization.
McLuhan's ideas about this have undoubtedly been deeply shaped by the philosophy of the Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. De Chardin's views may have reached McLuhan through McLuhan's former student and friend, Walter Ong, but explicit, though not uncritical, references to de Chardin can be found in The Gutenberg Galaxy:
People of literary and critical bias find the shrill vehemence of de Chardin
as disconcerting as his uncritical enthusiasm for the cosmic membrane that has been snapped round the globe by the electric dilation of our various senses. This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the "noosphere" or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence.
De Chardin's vision of a redeemed yet "technological brain for the world" resonates deeply with McLuhan's earlier celebrations of the transcendent potential of the electric media. Along with his hope, however, there is great dread. The "Manichean" or "Gnostic" vision of the fulfillment of history in the perfected unification of the World Spirit is strikingly similar to de Chardin's "Catholic" vision of the Cosmic Christ.
Here is de Chardin from one of the final sections of The Phenomenon of Man:
Now when sufficient elements have sufficiently agglomerated, this essentially convergent movement will attain such intensity and such quality that mankind, taken as a whole, will be obliged—as happened to the individual forces of instinct—to reflect upon itself at a single point; that is to say, in this case, to abandon its organo-planetary foothold so as to shift its centre on to the transcendent centre of its increasing concentration. This will be the end and the fulfilment of the spirit of the earth.
The end of the world: the wholesale internal introversion upon itself of the noosphere, which has simultaneously reached the uttermost limit of its complexity and its centrality.
The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind, fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforth rest with all its weight on God-Omega.
And here is an analysis of the concluding passage of Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit which McLuhan, following Eric Voeglin, deems as being quintessentially "Manichean":
Spirit is all the phases of content in which it externalises itself, and the process of leading these phases back to a full consciousness of self. It unfolds its existence and develops its processes in the pure ether of its life and is Systematic Science. In Systematic Science the distinction between subjective knowledge and objective truth is eliminated: each phase always has both aspects.
Both de Chardin and Hegel describe a process of increased spiritualization, of humanity as a whole becoming conscious and reflective of itself as Spirit. There is a slight difference in emphasis -- de Chardin stresses the need to detach from the "material matrix" while Hegel appears to affirm non-duality -- but the endpoint they foresee is quite similar.
McLuhan's own ideas on this crucial point are by no means unambiguous in themselves. Despite his protesting to the contrary, despite his complaints to Ezra Pound about the use of esoteric and magical methodologies by the Modernists, his own approach has an obvious overlap with the occult. His former student, Donald Theall, pointed this out back in 1988:
In fact, much of McLuhan's symbolic value system seems to echo aspects of occult lore. The basic theme of his major writing -- that the newer media through an electronic apocalypse are transforming man into a new totally integrated human person, occupant of a "global village" and possessor of a sense of sensory wholeness -- reflects hermetic and gnostic accounts of a redemption of man by freeing him from the world of fragmented material existence.
Theall argues that the very binary structure of McLuhan's media analysis -- hot vs. cold, message vs. medium, content vs. form, Eye vs. Ear -- perfectly mirrors the sets of contrasted pairs in traditional occult teachings. And common to both McLuhan and the occult is the key idea, paradoxical to strictly linear thinkers, that every one of these extremes when pushed to its limit may suddenly flip to become its direct opposite.
This idea first becomes formulated by Nicholas of Cusa, writing about the same time as the introduction of print, and from him it is passed on to Giordano Bruno, through the Hermetic flowering of the Renaissance, into later Rosicrucian and Freemasonic circles and is eventually expressed in Carl Jung's concept of enantiodromia. Theall explains, however, that McLuhan, as a link in the same lineage, borrowed his ideas directly from Finnegans Wake:
Nevertheless, none of these divisions are absolutes. This is essentially a world in flux and in that very process the nature of the opposites themselves is perpetually changing; just as in the alchemical aspects of Joyce's world in Finnegans Wake, opposites separate then coalesce, undergo metamorphosis and re-emerge, often at the diametrically opposite pole.
Joyce was no conventional Catholic -- if he remained a Catholic at all -- and it is clear that in his attempt to portray the simultaneity of all times and spaces at once, that he did not in any way reject views that appeared "esoteric" or "occult." Contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguity were welcomed and celebrated. His collideorscape includes the entire cosmos. Theall notes that it is this embrace of the ambiguous and the ambivalent in general that really sets McLuhan apart from Joyce:
...first, he [Joyce] could tolerate vast ambivalence within his creative works, producing a deconstructive vision closer to that of Derrida or Deleuze than that of McLuhan; second, he could cope with the genuine importance of sensuousity and sexuality, which McLuhan always found to be problematic; third, he embraced the world of the hermetic and kabbalistic without posing a conspiratorial theory of history or creating an absolute conflict between the sacramental and the occult...
Joyce's stress on the importance of sexuality may be as significant, in its apparent contrast to McLuhan, as his obvious embrace of ambivalence and ambiguity. McLuhan's seeming discomfort with a lack of categorical foundations can be seen in his somewhat paranoid opposition to the occult and his specific disagreement with "bookish" men like his colleague Northrop Frye, who McLuhan all but accused of pushing a freemasonic agenda.
Codes, Journeys and Buttons
B.W. Powe, in his 2014 book Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye: Apocalypse and Alchemy, highlights the staggering coincidence of Frye, one of the world's foremost literary critics, and McLuhan, the electronic media prophet, both teaching together at the same English Literature department in the University of Toronto for over thirty years.
While the two were definitely rivals to some extent, there is much that can unify their visions. Blake may bring them together. Frye begins his writing career with Fearful Symmetry, one of the first and clearest expositions of Blake's nearly impenetrable poetic system.
Frye's ability to lucidly grasp the inner core of Blake's prophetic genius did not arise by a mere act of scholarship alone. As Frye explains in an interview, Blake arrives for him in a revelation while he was a graduate student:
Frye: ...I was assigned a paper on Blake’s Milton, one of his most difficult and complex poems, and started working on it the night before I was to read it. It was around three in the morning when suddenly the universe just broke open, and I’ve never been, as they say, the same since.
Cayley: What was it? I know you can’t describe the experience, but what was it in Blake that provoked this experience?
Frye: Just the feeling of an enormous number of things making sense that had been scattered and unrelated before. In other words, it was a mythological frame taking hold.
This in itself ramps up the weirdness level. Frye was not not the only author or Blake scholar whose insights into the prophet-poet were gained in a flash of vision. Allen Ginsberg, writing about the origins of the sixties counterculture, explains that S. Foster Damon, author of A Blake Dictionary and also a pioneer of Blake criticism, had his own Blakean revelation while tripping on peyote and stumbling wide-eyed across the Harvard green:
One scholar who transmitted Blake's kabbalah, S. Foster Damon, can remember his sudden vision of tiny flowers carpeting Harvard Yard violet before World War One, an image that lingers over 60 years in mind since his fellow student Virgil Thomson gave him the cactus Peyote to eat. Damon concludes that rare beings like Blake are born with physiologic gift of such vision, continuous or intermittent.
Added to all this is that Ginsberg also was inspired to continue his poetic explorations because of an auditory epiphany involving the voice of Blake. The master poet, seer of numerous visions, apparently also has the power to bestow visions from the beyond to those that deeply contemplate his work. Frye's Fearful Symmetry occasionally also takes on the tone of a channeled text.
And this first major study of Frye's directly extended to all of his subsequent work, including his exploration of the Bible, The Great Code (1982). This title was also taken from Blake:
Even Blake, who went much farther than anyone else in his day in identifying religion and human creativity, did not call it that [literature]: he said "The Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art," a phrase I have used for my title after pondering its implications for many years.
The Great Code, as revealed in Frye and Blake, is really the epic formula that is found in the Bible and, in part or in whole, in all the works of great literature. It is the primordial story of Creation, Fall, Exile, Redemption, Apocalypse and New Creation. This is the story of Blake's prophetic masterpieces and of Finnegans Wake. It is what Joseph Campbell, following from the "monomyth" of the Wake, famously called "the hero's journey," the universal cyclic and archetypal structure of global mythology.
And this is where things begin to become very bizarre. The Great Code, in structure, is virtually identical to the structure of the process of perception, identified by Poe and taken forward by the Symbolists and by Joyce.
Ordinary perception, the perpetual process of transformation by the mind of the riotous data taken in by the senses -- impulses, waves, bundles, vibrations -- into perfect coherence and order and then projected outwards as the world, is identical to the Great Code. Both involve the alchemical transmuting of Chaos into Cosmos, of Fall into Redemption, expressed as a continual cycle.
And as McLuhan explained, this process of perception is precisely what is extended through the media. As the ratio of the senses is altered by their extension through various media -- the Eye by print, the Ear by the electronic media -- the message of each medium is actually the medium itself. The medium is the message.
But as Frye, through Blake, demonstrates the message is also the medium, content is also form. The Great Code, Campbell's hero's journey, is the story of the process of perception, is the very structure of all media. In other words, all of the world's stories are really the story of how our own senses create, transform, condemn, redeem, destroy and recreate the world.
And yet the magic goes deeper still. Perception is Incarnation. The culmination of all history, the instant when history as nightmare is shattered, is the same as whatever mystery unfolds in every micro-second of ordinary perception.
Through our entire sensorium we live out the myths. At every moment we plunge into the underworld, arrive at the heart of the labyrinth, burst into the dragon's den, and return triumphantly to tell the tale. We are all Odysseus, Hercules, Arjuna, Demeter. The message and the medium are interchangeable. Both, in form and content, transmit the Word becoming Flesh.
Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) -- a book that McLuhan cites in The Mechanical Bride -- comes closest to laying this out explicitly. Here, Campbell compares the hero's descent into the underworld with the natural cycle of waking consciousness to the unconscious of sleep.
The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark. As in the actual experience of every living being, so in the grandiose figure of the living cosmos: in the abyss of sleep the energies are refreshed, in the work of the day they are exhausted; the life of the universe runs down and must be renewed.
This is the sleep of Adam Kadmon, the sleep of Albion, the sleep of Finn. It is the "sleep" of "reality" before it is redeemed by the senses and the mind. It becomes obvious that Joyce was profoundly aware of this multi-layered process when he wrote Finnegans Wake. Both Joseph Campbell's and Marshall McLuhan's interpretations of the Wake are absolutely correct.
It is at once an archetypal summation of the entire global mythology and a history of media and an exploration of the cycle of waking, dreaming and sleeping consciousness and a detailed mapping of the process of perception and an embodiment of the primordial flow and return of creative and procreative energies and about a thousand and eight other vital beats and flows in combined and constant interpenetration. This is the peak through the kaleidoscope.
Yet this is not, barring a sudden visitation of a prophet of eternity, our usual experience of reality. Instead, our senses are splintered. Our perception, as it were, is still fallen. At the very least it does not realize that it has already been redeemed. We continue to be entranced, under a spell.
The Interplay of the Senses
McLuhan in his first book, The Mechanical Bride, directly and repeatedly identifies the media regime that we all exist within -- and much more so now then when McLuhan wrote his book back in 1951 -- as a "trance," or as a "spell," or a mass "hypnosis." Although, in this book McLuhan uses these terms somewhat ironically, it is evident from his correspondence and other writings that he very seriously applied these terms in their precise occult sense.
We are, quite literally, bound by a magical spell, one that is intentionally cast and one that is malicious by design. In the first paragraph of the introduction to The Mechanical Bride he explains in detail how this spell operates:
Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained individual minds have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind. To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now. And to generate heat not light is the intention. To keep everybody in the helpless state engendered by prolonged mental rutting is the effect of many ads and much entertainment alike.
And later in an analysis of advertising:
And what would be found as one stripped away these layers, each marked with the pattern of sex, technology and death? Exactly nothing.
The Spell is thus a perverse combination of sex, death and technology. We are kept by advertising and other media manipulation in perpetual sexual "heat" with no available and satisfactory release. It is a "heat" that is heightened by the proximity of death, and held in isolation from the whole of our psycho-physical being by technological closure. It is heat without light -- the very definition of the medieval Hell.
It is simply the hijacking, the perpetual distraction or displacement, of our procreative energy. This is done in order to prevent it from being sublimated into a fully aware creative energy, which would thus break the Spell. We are always to be kept in the system and wholly prevented to create our own. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan adds a crucial detail on how technology is to be employed for the sake of mass hypnosis:
But it is necessary to understand the power and thrust of
technologies to isolate the senses and thus to hypnotize society. The formula for hypnosis is "one sense at a time." And new technology possesses the power to hypnotize because it isolates the senses.
The technological isolation of the senses is the key to the Spell. During the centuries of print supremacy it was the Eye that was elevated and separated from the rest of the senses. Long before that the Ear reigned supreme, and the danger is that its dark tyranny will once more envelop the world. The secret of sensory isolation is through the disturbance of the entire sensorium, of the unsettling of the parity or ratio between the senses. A new technology, especially a media technology, will accomplish this:
If a technology is introduced either from within or from without a culture, and if it gives new stress or ascendancy to one or another of our senses, the ratio among all of our senses is altered...
This word "ratio" that McLuhan uses is extremely interesting. It implies that there is a balanced and imbalanced interplay between the senses. And, to dive deeper, the nature of this interplay is also sensory. It is most often called the sense of touch. McLuhan presents this idea in The Gutenberg Galaxy:
I would suggest that "touch" is not so much a separate sense as the very interplay of the senses. That is why it recedes in significance as the visual faculty is given separate and abstract intensity.
And he reiterates and expands this notion in Understanding Media:
It begins to be evident that "touch" is not skin but the interplay of the senses, and "keeping in touch" or "getting in touch" is a matter of a fruitful meeting of senses, of sight translated into sound and sound into movement, and taste and smell. The "common sense" was for many centuries held to be the peculiar human power of translating one kind of experience of one sense into all the senses, and presenting the result continuously as a unified image to the mind. In fact, this image of a unified ratio among the senses was long held to be the mark our rationality, and may in the computer age easily become so again For it is now possible to program ratios among the senses that approach the condition of consciousness.
Touch is what was called in ancient times the "sensus communis," the "common sense," and McLuhan suggests that touch is "the very life of things in the mind." As touch, or what McLuhan calls "tactility" is manipulated, the entire ratio of the senses is thrown off. But again, where did McLuhan obtain this idea of ratio? McLuhan is not at all hesitant to disclose his source. It's taken from William Blake.
Four Mighty Ones
In The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan explains that both Alexander Pope and William Blake "pointed out that truth is a ratio between the mind and things, a ratio made by the shaping imagination."
Blake in particular writes very clearly about this. Not only do our notions of truth change, but as the ratio of our senses change, the entire human apprehension of "reality" is transformed. McLuhan quotes a couple of very lucid lines from Jerusalem:
If Perceptive Organs vary, Objects of Perception seem to vary:
If Perceptive Organs close, their Objects seem to close also.
We become what we behold with our senses. If our sensory experience is distorted by the intentional isolation and technological enhancement of one sense over the others, then the whole world shifts. There being no distinction for Blake between the world and those that perceive it -- in fact, perception is primary -- then by altering the sense ratios of the perceivers the entire world is shaped anew at once.
Only by an active and aware assertion of the imagination can the sensorium be reattuned. In Blake's time reason, associated with the Eye, had become the usurper. In our own age the ratio has shifted once again, but it is evident that things are by no means settled.
Imagination is that ratio among the perceptions and faculties which exists when they are not embedded or outered in material technologies. When so outered, each sense and faculty becomes a closed system. Prior to such outering there is entire interplay among experiences. This interplay or synesthesia is a kind of tactility such as Blake sought in the bounding line of sculptural form and in engraving. (The Gutenberg Galaxy)
This outering of our being into material technology is precisely what allows for the Spell that we are enthralled within. Mass hypnosis begins with the dominance of one sense over the others and it was precisely this "single vision and Newton's sleep" that Blake sought liberation from.
In the print culture of Blake's time -- which lingers on structurally in much of our civilization -- the rational eye automatically censors, edits from apprehension, anything not linear, mechanical, bound by physical laws. As a counterstrategy, or as an "anti-environment," to this visual and mechanical rule Blake resurrected or revitalized myth -- making it new -- as a means to repossess full sensory awareness.
Blake's mythology, though, is in no measure simple. To be able to begin to grasp it, it is almost necessary to re-vision it as a total inner and outer experience, and it is no coincidence that the greatest decoders of Blake -- Yeats, Damon, Ginsberg, Frye -- are also those who have had direct, life-altering visionary experiences of the master poet. The senses are "cleansed" and the mysterious world of Blake becomes again illuminated.
When digging into Blake's system, then, it should likely not come as a surprise that it greatly resembles the "system" of another visionary, Marshall McLuhan. But to find these similarities it might be ironic or not -- as this is perhaps a major source of McLuhan's interest in Blake -- that we need to turn to the work of McLuhan's great rival, and "freemasonic" counterpart, Northrop Frye.
In Fearful Symmetry, Frye explains that the beating heart of Blake's whole mythology can be found in his unfinished epic, The Four Zoas.The four Zoas are the four major faculties of man. The word "zoa" is taken from the Greek for "beasts,"and is used in the Bible to describe the four animals of the book of Revelation -- Man/Angel, Lion, Bull, Eagle. These are also, according to tradition, the four figures that appeared in Ezekiel's chariot vision, which some take to represent one of the earliest records of a UFO encounter.
5 Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance;...
10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 1)
They are also traditionally linked with the Four Evangelists of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Joyce plays with these associations in the Wake. The composite "character" Mamalujo are the four old men, Matt Gregory, Marcus Lyons, Luke Tarpey and Johnny MacDougall. The fourfold structure mirrors that of Blake's poetic mythology. In both creative systems a quarternity, or more simply a cross, is described. As Blake influenced Joyce, both poets were teachers of McLuhan.
Before the Fall, according to Blake, the four Zoas were in perfect proportion. Each Zoa, -- Urthona, Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas -- in a complex system of correspondences, presided over a distinct quality, direction, element, body part, season, river of Eden, and so on. Each association was one of a set of four, and harmony reigned when these overlapping sets persisted in dynamic equilibrium.
Not only were the faculties of man in rapport with each other, but humanity itself was, prior to the Fall, undivided. In other words, the illusion of separation between human individuals is only a postlapsarian distortion of perception. There is, in eternity and from the perspective of eternity, only one man, who is called Adam Kadmon in the Kabbalah, Finn in Joyce, and Albion in Blake.
Four Mighty Ones are in every Man: a perfect Unity
Cannot exist but from the Universal Brotherhood of Eden,
The Universal Man, to Whom be glory evermore Amen.
What are the Natures of those Living Creatures the Heavenly Father only
Knoweth: no Individual knoweth, nor can know in all Eternity.
The use of the word "man" here also needs qualification. Each "male" Zoa is eternally coupled with its "female" counterpart, its "emanation." In this way, Blake's system is very similar to Tibetan or Vajrayana Buddhism, in which the five (one in the centre) Dhyani Buddhas are often depicted as being in yab-yum union with their respective consorts.
When, during the process of the Fall, the emanations separate from their male aspect, the latter becomes a "spectre," the rationalizing, self-centred side of each Zoa. Before the Fall, then, there is no gender and no sex. Or, from the view of eternity, all is bliss; hieros gamos.
This is key. Each Zoa is also corresponded with a sense -- Tharmas with the Tongue, Urthona with the Ear, Luvah with the Nose, and Urizen with the Eye.
South stood the Nerves of the Eye;
East in Rivers of bliss, the Nerves of the
West flow'd the Parent Sense, the Tongue;
North stood the labyrinthine Ear.
What appears to be missing from this account is the sense of Touch. Yet touch for Blake, as in McLuhan, is really the interplay between all of the senses. If the four Zoas are found at the four points of the compass, the four quadrants of the sensory kaleidoscope, touch occupies the dynamic yet paradoxically still centre. It is the flow of power that activates and animates each other sense.
In our fallen state, as explained by S. Foster Damon, only the sense of touch pervades our entire body. Our whole physical person can touch and be touched. Before the Fall, however, each sense was likewise diffused throughout the body. There were no localized or isolated sensory organs. As with the angels, each "part" of the body could also see, smell, taste and hear, and all of these senses were blended with touch into perfect synesthetic harmony.
With the Fall touch becomes the solely remaining "common sense." It is degraded, even perverted, but it still has the potential to reestablish sensory balance and liberation.
Yet Blake's understanding of touch goes far beyond even this. Blake, like Swedenborg and Milton before him, identified touch with sex. Touch is sexual, sex is tactile. This resounds with what McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media: "...the tactile participation that is sex," and what Milton transmitted through Paradise Lost:
Far otherwise, transported I behold,
Transported touch; here passion first I felt,
Communion strange, in all enjoyments else
Superior and unmoved, here only weak
Against the charm of beauty's powerful glance.
And the Fall, as is told in Genesis, is essentially sexual. After consuming the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam, in the biblical sense, "knew" his wife Eve. Sex, once non-dualistic, physically all-pervasive, synesthetic and sacred had become isolated and fragmented, stained emotionally with shame, guilt and fear.
Yet in Blake and in the wider esoteric tradition, the knowledge of sex is the equivalent to Da'at, the portal back to eternity. It is the fulcrum point, the hinge, between the Fall and eventual Redemption.
It is worthwhile to look a bit into the details of Blake's mythology of the Fall. Traces of this can be found throughout his prophetic poems, but it is most clearly spelled out in Milton, Jerusalem and especially in his unfinished epic, The Four Zoas. A couple of lines in Milton concisely tell the story:
When Luvah assum'd the World of Urizen to the South;
And Albion was slain upon his mountains & in his tent;
All fell towards the Center, in dire ruin sinking down.
Luvah, or the emotions, overthrew the throne of Urizen, or reason (your reason). That's the abridged version. The more complete story, though, is told in The Four Zoas, and the best explanation of this is provided by Frye in Fearful Symmetry.
The Fall is precipitated by the separation of the female emanations from the greater Zoa complex. All of this is related, in other words, to a distortion of the interplay of touch and sex. It is within Tharmas, the Zoa of the West, of the Tongue, of strength as power, where the emanation first becomes separated from spectre.
On a cosmological level, Blake equates this initial Fall with the Great Flood, but in terms of the psycho-physical organism of man, this is the moment when procreation becomes separated from creation. Prior to this there were no distinctions between the products of imagination and those of biology. Mental and physical birth were identical. After this, the head and the loins became sundered, nature as Procreatrix became a realm set apart from the imagination.
The next stage, already referred to in Milton, is clearer though by no means easy to grasp. Frye explains it as such:
Albion's fall began with his adoration of a separate female will in Beulah, and was completed in Generation, the world of Luvah and Vala. The female principle that broke away from Albion therefore was Vala, and Albion thereupon became Vala's lover: that is, he tried to identify himself with the one aspect of himself that Luvah represents...
As the emanation Vala (the veil, maya) becomes separated from the whole, Albion begins to identify with only one faculty of his being -- the Emotions, or Luvah -- and Reason, Urizen, becomes unseated. To regain equilibrium Urizen launches an initially well-intended counter-offensive, but he eventually becomes tyrannical himself, losing his own emanation, and becoming Satan, who is synonymous with the "Nobodaddy" archontic despot God of the Old Testament.
Urthona, the Imagination, the Ear, is the one Zoa that remains relatively unscathed by the Fall. The time-bound aspect of Urthona is called Los, and it is he who becomes the principal rival of the monstrous Urizen, and the principle agent of coming redemption. Once again, Ear battles Eye. All is fallen. The body of Albion has been ripped apart and, as Frye explains, timeless myth is reiterated in Blake's poetry:
The conception of the physical world as the body of a God-Man who has been torn to pieces meets us in the legends of many countries: we have mentioned the Icelandic Ymir and the Hebrew Adam Kadmon, and the same imagery is found in the Vedic hymns, in the myth of Osiris, and in several Greek stories, mostly connected with the Dionysian cult, where the tearing to pieces has the technical name of sparagmos.
And this is precisely the point where Blake's mythology perfectly meshes with the media analysis of McLuhan. McLuhan acknowledged that Blake's response to the linear, print-based, mechanical incursion of his time must be met in counterattack with myth.
Myth is the simultaneous vision of the entire cycle. It defies the linear order by revealing that any idea of progress is ultimately illusory. McLuhan also deeply agrees with Blake that the answer to sensory discord, that the solution to reversing the Fall, must come through tactility, through touch, through sex.
McLuhan only disagrees with Blake because the times have changed. The kaleidoscope has shifted again. It is now Urizen, the Eye, who is on the rocks, and Urthona, as the aural hero Los, who is in ascension and who has the very real potential to become a Satan himself. In the built environment of our extended technological senses, the Ear is now eclipsing the Eye.
This is not how it should be, although visual visionaries like Wyndham Lewis blasted the alarm decades ago. Perceptual parity should have been restored. As in Blake's epic, Los should have realigned the sensorium. It has not yet happened although we are very close to attaining the long desired grail of synesthesia, but appearing in a fashion unpredicted by the old poets.
Synesthesia, or unified sense and imaginative life, had long seemed an unattainable dream to Western poets, painters, and artists in general. They had looked with sorrow and dismay on the fragmented and impoverished imaginative life of Western literate man in the eighteenth century and later. Such was the message of Blake and Pater, Yeats and D. H. Lawrence, and a host of other great figures. They were not prepared to have their dreams realized in everyday life by the esthetic action of radio and television. Yet these massive extensions of our central nervous systems have enveloped Western man in a daily session of synesthesia. (Understanding Media)
The global brain, whether described by Hegel or de Chardin, is already upon us, Albion is becoming re-membered, the limbs of Osiris are gathered together once more. Really? Not just yet. We exist in a time of simulacra and confusion. The pendulum is swinging faster than ever. The kaleidoscope has become a pinwheel. There are new dangers that Blake may not have foreseen.
Blake's counterstrategy for his age was to meet mechanism with organic myth. Today, deep in the electric age, organic myth is itself a simple and automatic response capable of mathematical formulation and expression, without any of the imaginative perception of Blake about it. Had he encountered the electric age, Blake would not have met its challenge with a mere repetition of electric form. For myth is the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period. Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today. We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes. (Understanding Media)
And in The Gutenberg Galaxy:
Today Blake would be violently anti-Blake, because the Blake reaction against the abstract visual is now the dominant cliché and claque of the big battalions, as they move in regimented grooves of sensibility.
The electric age, excelling in speed and ubiquity, is already mythic. Mythology, especially as projected through the electronic media, is effective for laying bare the lingering visual Spell of print, but it is almost powerless to create an effective anti-environment, an exposing mirror, to the new electric trance. Print and text, yet self-aware and mythically conscious, become the primary means by which to expose the new Spell. Print allows for distance, for detachment, and this is exactly what is now required.
Print, in its long uncontested visual reign of nearly five centuries, already contained the virus of its own overturning. As the Eye became supreme, the other senses were relegated into the unconscious, Saturn exiled to the underworld.
Turn Giddy, Rave and Die
This necessarily results in the inevitable return of the repressed. And the more violent or traumatic the nature of this repression the more violent and traumatic will be the manner of the return. And in this case, the repression was total. McLuhan realized that this process was first recognized by Swift, and even more keenly by Alexander Pope.
The concern here is to demonstrate how by stressing the visual sense component in the sense ratio, we have ourselves created that huge area of bathos and dulness which Pope celebrated in The Dunciad and Swift in The Tale of a Tub. The unconscious is a direct creation of print technology, the ever-mounting slag-heap of rejected awareness.
According to McLuhan, Pope's poem prophesied that it is print, literature itself, that will be responsible for "stupefying mankind, and mesmerically ushering the polite world back into primitivism, the Africa within, and above all, the unconscious."
He goes on to reveal the by now familiar mechanism for attaining this outcome:
...the increasing separation of the visual faculty from the interplay with the other senses leads to the rejection from consciousness of most of our experience, and the consequent hypertrophy of the unconscious. This ever-enlarging domain Pope calls the world "of Chaos and old Night."
It is at the very end of Pope's anti-epic, at the close of Part IV, where the full prophecy of the return and triumph "of Chaos and old Night" is proclaimed. The goddess Dulness, after extinguishing or driving into confusion the arts and sciences one by one, takes up the throne of her empire of darkness and disorder.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primaeval, and of Chaos old!...
Philosophy, that lean'd on Heav'n before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
In vain! they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.
Nor public Flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor'd;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.
For McLuhan, this coming darkness is really the darkness of the unconscious, the violent upsurge of all sensory experience repressed by the rigid command of the Eye. The Ear, Blake's Urthona or Los, leads the revolution here, but it is clear that instead of restoring a balance of tactility a new and even more dire tyranny is about to descend.
The irruption of the unconscious into consciousness is insufficient on its own. This process, for it to finally bring about the reconciliation of the senses, must itself become a conscious one. And McLuhan, in the last line of The Gutenberg Galaxy, sees this as being precisely the ultimate message of Finnegans Wake:
This is the Night from which Joyce invites the Finnegans to wake.
We, through the extension of our central nervous systems via the electric media, are now uniquely enabled to inhabit a mythic reality in the full light of consciousness:
Our liberation from the dilemma may, as Joyce felt, come from the new electric technology, with its profound organic character. For the electric puts the mythic or collective dimension of human experience fully into the conscious wake-a-day world. Such is the meaning of the title Finnegans Wake. While the old Finn cycles had been tribally entranced in the collective night of the unconscious, the new Finn cycle of totally interdependent man must be lived in the daylight of consciousness.
But it is also evident, by anyone even half-observing and experiencing existence in this postmodern world, that this new Finn cycle has not yet begun. We are between cycles. Night is upon us. We are trapped in the waste land, in the long three days in the underworld awaiting the resurrection. The unconscious floods the sensorium, but it is all too much to integrate. Dulness, the stunted reign of Nietzsche's "last man,"is still enthroned.
She is the anti-Isis (how appropriate!) and she is presided over by Ass-priests and sycophants, who are openly restoring her Mysteries to the whole world. This is René Guénon's pseudo-initiation and counter-initiation. And just as Ceres is the equivalent of Isis -- so that the Eleusinian Mysteries were really an extension of the Mysteries of Isis -- so Dulness is the central deity of a sort of anti-Eleusinian Mysteries. Whores brought to Eleusis. The Mysteries of usura. All is inverted.
The false goddess can be expelled and the true goddess revealed if enough wise asses can be found to recognise her. In the meantime, the wrong Augustus reigns. (Pope's Dunciad and the Queen of Night)
De Chardin's dream of the electrified world manifested as the body of the Cosmic Christ has become reversed, Satanic. Everything is mirrored, doubled, "doublin their mumper." Isis and Anti-Isis. Augustus and Anti-Augustus. Asses, both foolish and wise. And Virgil's prophetic Eclogue IV speaks of a new Troy and a new Achilles, and other sources perhaps of a new Helen exiled in a new Egypt.
There are, then, two Egypts, the Egypt of Hermetic wisdom with which religion, law, and monarchy supposedly originated; and the corrupt Egypt of idol worship, the pernicious land of Jewish captivity. (Pope's Dunciad and the Queen of Night)
This moment is captured in Blake's Four Zoas: "Whether this is Jerusalem or Babylon we know not." It is a transition of alchemical paradox, what Pope faux-satirically called a "new Saturnian age of lead." Saturn and his Titans escape from their forced exile in the underworld, but his lead has not yet transmuted into the Golden Age that the Sibyl, through Virgil, once prophesied. The Ear would now unseat the Eye. The kaleidoscope is still in spin. The mandala is as yet indistinct, unperceived.
The Thousand Names
As I have said, mandala means ‘circle.’ There are innumerable variants of the motif shown here, but they are all based on the squaring of a circle. Their basic motif is the premonition of a centre of personality, a kind of central point within the psyche, to which everything is related, by which everything is arranged, and which is itself a source of energy. The energy of the central point is manifested in the almost irresistible compulsion and urge to become what one is, just as every organism is driven to assume the form that is characteristic of its nature, no matter what the circumstances. This centre is not felt or thought of as the ego but, if one may so express it, as the self. Although the centre is represented by an innermost point, it is surrounded by a periphery containing everything that belongs to the self -- the paired opposites that make up the total personality. This totality comprises consciousness first of all, then the personal unconscious, and finally an indefinitely large segment of the collective unconscious whose archetypes are common to all mankind. ("Concerning Mandala Symbolism" -- Carl Jung)
For Jung the mandala is the archetype of individuation. From his practice of analytical psychology, Jung discovered that a mandalic form would spontaneously appear in the dreams and visions of his clients just at the point of full psychic integration. As the Mandala is an obvious symbolic synonym of Joyce's and McLuhan's kaleidoscope, it certainly deserves deeper investigation.
But there is even a clearer correspondence. Jung, like William Blake, viewed the psyche as containing four basic faculties. These four, as S. Foster Damon suggests, can be easily affixed to Blake's system; Urthona (Fancy) as Intuition, Luvah (Love) as Feeling, Urizen (Reason) as Thinking, and Tharmas (Strength) as Sensation. And these four in turn are corresponded to the senses; hearing, smelling, seeing and tasting.
What Jung found was often the most controlling aspect of the psyche -- as in the case of his patient and later colleague Wolfgang Pauli -- was Thinking or Reason. This is the direct equivalent to the dictatorship of sight over the other senses, Urizen as Archon and Demiurge.
Each of the three systems, then, are different perspectives on the same phenomenon: the human soul. Blake expresses this in mythological terms, Jung in psychological terms, and McLuhan in terms of the senses and their technological extensions. Finnegans Wake incorporates all three of these levels of interpretation and many others besides.
Joyce and McLuhan differ from Jung by being directly influenced by Blake, but Jung and Blake have a common influence in the alchemical system of quarternities of Jacob Boehme.
And as in the systems of McLuhan and Blake, Jung of course emphasizes the significance of unconscious repression, and the necessity to become conscious of and to integrate these shadow aspects of the psyche. For Jung, as for the other two, wholeness and harmony is the goal, not the supremacy of a single perfected faculty or sense over the rest.
A mandala reveals a fourfold symmetry of parts. Binary, or even contradictory, wholeness trumps a repressive "perfection" that would purge or blot out all that is deemed "imperfect."
It is the term for the centre of Jung's psychological system -- the fifth element or quintessence -- that brings him closest to Blake and McLuhan. In the middle of the mandala, on the cross of the four faculties, is Christ. And along with Christ is his brother and shadow, Antichrist.
Why -- my reader will ask -- do I discourse here upon Christ and his adversary, the Antichrist? Our discourse necessarily brings us to Christ, because he is the still living myth of our culture. He is our culture hero, who, regardless of his historical existence, embodies the myth of the divine Primordial Man, the mystic Adam. It is he who occupies the center of the Christian mandala, who is the Lord of the Tetramorph, i.e., the four symbols of the evangelists, which are like the four columns of his throne. He is in us and we in him.
As Jung suggests, Christ may be "The Lord of the Tetramorph," the centre of the mandala, but his adversary, the Antichrist, also sits upon the throne of the psyche. Christ, being perfection incarnate, cannot help but to attract his opposite. Shawn needs Shem as Shem needs Shawn. All reaches out towards wholeness and completion -- light to darkness, good to evil, man to woman. It is a basic psychological law.
Psychologically the case is clear, since the dogmatic figure of Christ is so sublime and spotless that everything else turns dark beside it. It is, in fact, so one-sidedly perfect that it demands a psychic complement to restore the balance. This inevitable opposition led very early to the doctrine of the two sons of God, of whom the elder was called Satanaël. The coming of the Antichrist is not just a prophetic prediction -— it is an inexorable psychological law...
The Incarnation of Christ, then, always implies the Incarnation of Antichrist, and final individuation always involves the reconciliation of brothers. This, however, may be a slow process.
In Aion, Jung suggests that this process is reflected in the very symbolism of the present Piscean age. Two fish face opposite directions. Christ, the Fish, is born and his teaching prevails in European history for a thousand years. After this begins the rise of materialist science, culminating in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and finally to the overtly luciferian Modern age.
The half-age of this Counter-Fish is now ending, and the time of conjunction is at hand. This timeline matches with Blake's more traditional reckoning of six thousand years from the Creation (of this cycle) to the Apocalypse. McLuhan agrees that we are fast approaching and even living through the Apocalypse. The Incarnation is at once uniquely historical and eternal:
Although the birth of Christ is an event that occurred but once in history, it has always existed in eternity. For the layman in these matters, the identity of a non-temporal, eternal event with a unique historical occurrence is something that is extremely difficult to conceive. He must, however, accustom himself to the idea that "time" is a relative concept and needs to be complemented by that of the "simultaneous" existence, in the Bardo or pleroma, of all historical processes.
All processes are simultaneous. The Incarnation occurs continually within myth -- Osiris, Adonis, Krishna, Dionysus and on and on. It is identical to the Hero's Journey or Great Code of all mythology and literature which is then, consciously or not, taken up by the patterns and rhythms of history. The very Creation of the Cosmos is the Incarnation writ large.
And the story of the descent into Chaos and Nothingness, and from here fashioning a world, is also the story of the daily cycle from waking into dreaming into deep sleep and waking again. Every morning we create the world anew.
But even more than this: the same thing is occurring at each instant of perception. From Chaos every one of us perpetually gives birth to a Cosmos. And a birth also implies a union of opposites.
Jung, in Answer to Job, thought that historical or civilizational individuation was indicated by the Roman Catholic Church's dogmatization of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1950, essentially the official recognition that the Mother of Christ is the Goddess:
The dogmatization of the Assumptio Mariae points to the hieros gamos in the pleroma, and this in turn implies... the future birth of the divine child, who, in accordance with the divine trend towards incarnation, will choose as his birthplace the empirical man. The metaphysical process is known to the psychology of the unconscious as the individuation process...
The filius solis et lunae is the symbol of the union of opposites as well as the catalyst of their union. It is the alpha and omega of the process, the mediator and intermedius. "It has a thousand names," say the alchemists, meaning that the source from which the individuation process rises and the goal towards which it aims is nameless, ineffable.
The hieros gamos is another take, a far more powerful take, on the same myth. The Brothers become Lovers. Antichrist has always been Isis. And from this divine union is spawned the filius solis et lunae, the child of the Sun and Moon, the luminous baby which is born in the New Jerusalem of Revelation: the Moon Child, me and you. This is Christ, but Christ in atonement with his own shadow, Antichrist. The two Fish unite to become a Star.
That Streams Its Rays
And so we find what is at the centre of the mandala, what light is projected out onto the middle of the kaleidoscope. A series of equations can be contemplated. Christ is Blake's "Jesus the Imagination," he who would restore the original accord of the Zoas.
Jesus=the Imagination=Touch=Tactility=Synesthesia=the Common Sense=Sex=the Hieros Gamos.
Christ on the Cross, at the very moment of his uttering, "It is accomplished," was at the climax of his Incarnation, the exact instant of the non-dual conjunction of Spirit and Matter. Here sex and death are united with the most basic technology, the Cross. All forms of the Spell were hereafter consigned to adhere to this formula. Sex plus death plus technology. All versions of the Spell are distortions of this, perversions of this.
"...The eyes of an unsuccessful rapist," a taunt perhaps misdirected at Wyndham Lewis, is a phrase that can be applied to the whole civilization. It is reflected in the visual attempt to subdue tactility, and in the inevitable violent return of the violated senses that this repression provokes.
And yet the Incarnation -- and this event should never be reduced to Christianity alone -- is always already occurring. The Singularity is past, present and future. Our perception is already synesthetic, already sexy. Each sense is in truth, as Blake sang of them as they were before the Fall, physically all-pervasive. We are each McLuhanesque "probes," Poundian "antennas," with all senses -- sight, sound, smell, taste -- blended in continuous tactile interplay.
Each perceiver, human or otherwise, is only perceiving other perceivers -- the process of perception in constant perception of itself. "The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me."
All technology -- the extensions of the body and the senses -- is art, either bearing true witness to vision (Pound's "good art") or bearing false witness ("bad art," including nearly all present technology). Perception has already been redeemed, yet we do not recognize it. In this way the "doors" are closed.
Two processes, then, are identified and explored by McLuhan and both are combined in the metaphor of the kaleidoscope. The cylindrical shaft models the process of perception -- the reverse process of poetic creation as first revealed by Poe -- which reflects and refracts patterned and coloured light on the "screen" of the world. The second process is the rose of the screen itself. When this is "turned," the sensory ratio is altered and the world is cast in new light and shadow. The kaleidoscope, both allowing perception and shaping it, is the sensing body itself.
Touch is what missing: the touch of bodies and senses -- and not closed technological extensions of these -- with other bodies and senses. The myths can be resolved. The Brothers' "contraries reamalgamerge in that indentity." The Father and Son become One. And finally, the fourteenth and final part of her once dead lover is gathered or crafted by Isis. Touch, in the deepest sense, is restored.
The senses recombine. Perception is cleansed. Dulness retreats. The freemasonry of the arts, for good or for ill, becomes obsolete. And the multitudinous child of the Moon and Sun is born as the awakened Albion. Or not. Abandon the tomb of dead white men.
"From what, and to what, could this infinite whirl be saved?"
-- The Man Who Died, D.H. Lawrence