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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  11 is characteristically complex and opaque. Possibly its most striking appearance occurs in the essay ‘The Problem of Space’, also from The Bias of Communication. It’s initially worth noting that Innis quotes Lessing: ‘The oral tradition and its relation to poetry implied a concern with time and religion. ‘The artist represents coexistence in space, the poet succession in time’ (Lessing at the University of Berlin, 1810)’ (102: italics in Innis). 8 What is intriguing about this quote is that Innis is not concerned with the image/text distinction per se, but with the way the quote supports his argument regarding the relationship of poetry to time and religion. As he states later on in the essay: Verbal poetry goes back to the fundamental reality of time. The poetic form requires a regular flexible sequence as plastic as thought, reproducing a transference of force from the agent to the object which occupies time and requires the same temporal order in imagination. (106) Significantly, while the linkage between oral poetry and time is presented as a fundamental constant – an ontological correlation or homology between the ‘plasticity’ of poetic form and the temporality of thought and imagination – the spatial nature of pictorial images seems to be historically contingent. Discussing pictorial art and vase decoration in Athens an Attica between 900 and 700 B.C., Innis claims that geometrical design: was finally replaced by pictorial representation which under the influence of literature reflected the fundamental principle of progressive narration especially in black figured vases. The ear and the concern with time began to have its influence on the arts concerned with the eye and space. The painter attempted to create an

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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11
is characteristically complex and opaque. Possibly its most striking appearance occurs in the
essay ‘The Problem of Space’, also from The Bias of Communication. It’s initially worth
noting that Innis quotes Lessing: ‘The oral tradition and its relation to poetry implied a
concern with time and religion. ‘The artist represents coexistence in space, the poet
succession in time’ (Lessing at the University of Berlin, 1810)’ (102: italics in Innis).
8
What is
intriguing about this quote is that Innis is not concerned with the image/text distinction per se,
but with the way the quote supports his argument regarding the relationship of poetry to time
and religion. As he states later on in the essay:
Verbal poetry goes back to the fundamental reality of time. The poetic
form requires a regular flexible sequence as plastic as thought,
reproducing a transference of force from the agent to the object which
occupies time and requires the same temporal order in imagination.
(106)
Significantly, while the linkage between oral poetry and time is presented as a
fundamental constant – an ontological correlation or homology between the ‘plasticity’ of
poetic form and the temporality of thought and imagination – the spatial nature of pictorial
images seems to be historically contingent. Discussing pictorial art and vase decoration in
Athens an Attica between 900 and 700 B.C., Innis claims that geometrical design:
was finally replaced by pictorial representation which under the
influence of literature reflected the fundamental principle of
progressive narration especially in black figured vases. The ear and
the concern with time began to have its influence on the arts
concerned with the eye and space. The painter attempted to create an


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