Light Through McLuhan

In his literary criticism of the late 1940's and early 1950's, McLuhan traces lines of influence from Aristotle, through St Thomas Aquinas, to the symbolists in France and the modernists in Britain and America.

He situates the techniques of symbolism and modernism in relation to Romantic impressionism, postulating 'the indispensability of landscape as a technique for managing the aesthetic moment in poetry'.1

The Romantic poets used 'natural' landscape to achieve this; the symbolists, however, use 'psychological landscape' or paysage intérieur - 'interior landscape'.

Arguing after T.S. Eliot, McLuhan says that 'the heritage of the romantics [Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson, Hopkins, Shelley, Landor, etc.] was developed not in England but in France, by the symbolists' (Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Laforgue, etc.); and the modernists, 'Joyce, Pound, Yeats, Lewis, Eliot', are 'the true heirs of the symbolists'.2

McLuhan credits Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) for being 'the first to see in his [last novel] Sentimental Education' (L'Éducation sentimentale, 1869) that the new technique calls for 'the abandonment of the continuity of unilateral narrative in favor of the more profound effects to be achieved by analogical juxtaposition of characters, scenes, and situations without [logical] copula'.3

McLuhan traces the development of this technique through Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stephane Mallarmé to James Joyce.

It is in studying the work of Joyce that McLuhan finds the 'extremely conscious' use of 'scores of inter-related analogies', which he attributes to the influence of the French symbolist poets and Aquinas, influences which are transmuted through Joyce to Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.4

McLuhan says that the 'sense of the analogy of Being' found in the symbolists marks 'a return to the pre-Christian doctrine of the Logos which included ratio et oratio [reason and speech] and was the element in which all men were thought to move and have their being'.5