Monday, August 15, 2011

McLuhan on Lord Byron

Continuing with a few reflections from the same work, McLuhan notes that Austen (and Crabbe) is at least witness to the unification, which is her strength. Jane Austen’s thoughts, McLuhan asserts, are never felt in isolation from a delicately organized mode of perception and feeling. Hence everywhere her feelings are irradiated by thought.

Lord Byron
After Austen, however, we get Lord Byron. McLuhan uses Byron to shed light on the 18th century and how an entire civilization reached a state of confusion and uncertainty, which ended in vulgarizing society and literature. In no uncertain terms McLuhan states “the complex and organized world of thought and feeling collapses in Byron.” He is, in some respects, a book-end, the last known reference "point" before the separation of thought and feeling and the disintegration of the unified sensibility (after which point we see figures like Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelly think about their emotions and emotionalize their conceptions).
     McLuhan’s meditations on Lord Byron then segway into his evaluation of how various artists deal with the psychological effects of the alienation of the sensitive and integral individual from a decaying or vicious society. His score card reads:
  • Emile Bronte (Wuthering Heights) successful in her century.
  • Byron – temporary solution.
  • Shelly – breaks himself at it on merely a political level.
  • Swinburne, Pre-Raphaelites and Arnold and Tennyson – evade it.
  • Browning – pathological and unconvincing display of super-health.

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