Waring the Whole

Gebser employs the terms “a-waring” for attending or the attention, where the “a-” prefix signifies “towards”, and “waring” for what he calls “verition” or “being-in-truth”. Actually, these are English translations of the German equivalents which would correspond to bewähren and währen, respectively, and are connected with the words “wahr” (true) and “Wahrheit” (Truth).

For Gebser, then, (as for Rosenstock-Huessy) the truth of the whole is already implicit in the languages we speak. We just never pay much attention to the how and the what and the why of the languages we speak. So Rosenstock-Huessy, fittingly, calls his new science of “metanomics” and grammatical method — the “self-awareness of language”.

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Language and Consciousness Structure

There is an affinity between language structure (or what we call “grammar”) and consciousness structure. This was a key insight also of Jean Gebser, acknowledged in his short book Der grammatische Spiegel or The Grammatical Mirror. This recognition is also the basis for Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” and “cross of reality” paradigm, as introduced in his book Speech and Reality. It was also a key insight of Marshall McLuhan’s work.

Any change in language structure correlates, then, with a mutation of the consciousness structure. Thus what Gebser calls “the irruption” of a new consciousness, or what others today call “emergence”, will be reflected in a certain degree of turbulence in the language structure itself, as the newly emergent or irrupting factor or element attempts to become articulate about itself, but finds the existing medium too limiting. Thus, a new language is also born along with the new consciousness structure.

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Boundaries of the Soul

Medieval maps are quite interesting to study as images and artifacts of the two-dimensional consciousness structure that Gebser refers to as “unperspectival” or “pre-perspectival”. The Medieval World was quite constrained within bounds of the known and familiar (meaning, usually, the Christianised world), and what lay beyond — terra incognita — they populated with any number of fantastical beings and devilish monsters.

We aren’t really all that much different. We have simply pushed the frontiers of space and time further out and much deeper, both inwards and outwards, both backwards and forwards. But beyond the limits of the perceptible and the explored we too populate the unknown with fantastic beings and dreadful horrors — hostile aliens from the depths of space, or terrifying creatures from the unexplored depths of the oceans, and now even conjuring them forth from the depths of time itself — as in the Jurassic Park movies.

Lately, however, the fantastical creatures and dreadful monsters from the beyond and the unknown have begun popping up within what we deemed to be the safe, secure, and protected space of the comfortably familiar and the known. And these fantastical beings and dreadful monsters grow bigger and bigger and more threatening with every intensification of our own insecurities, fears, and anxieties, for they are the projected images of those insecurities, fears, and anxieties.

And just as our natural sciences probed deeper and deeper into the realms of space and time, so too did depth psychology probe the deeps of the soul, and discovered that the dreadful monsters and fantastical beings we had consigned to the outer darkness were, in fact, part of our own autobiography, secreted away into “the collective unconscious” where our own energies often assumed grotesque forms.

With the “return of the repressed”, the old fantastical beings and dreadful monsters once consigned to the outer darkness by reason, and kept at bay by rationality and perspectivisation, now irrupt and surge forth within our very midst — within the spacetime we once thought secure, safe, and protected as “a rational order”. And the more intense becomes our anxieties, the more outsized and overstated become the perceived threats. David Icke’s “Reptilons” is only one example of this “irruption”, but the overblown and outsize threat of “Antifa” is also something else again, or the various conspiracies associated with QAnon, or revived new versions, however disguised they may be, of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and so on.

With the breakdown of the mental-rational/perspectival consciousness, the bulwark that was erected against the invasion of consciousness by the unconsciousness has broken down also, and the demons, fantastical beings, and dreadful monsters or aliens now all irrupt within our midst — the realm of the known and the familiar. Some would describe this as “opening the gates of Hell” to pandaemonium — the “dark side”.

This would not be the first such irruption in history. During the waning years of Christendom and the Late Middle Ages, people swore they saw witches and devils flying through the air, strange beings and supernatural events were behind everything, and superstition overtook the mental faculties completely. Not everyone succumbed to what Gebser calls a “maelstrom of blind anxiety” in waves of superstition and collective mania and psychosis (including pogroms against Jews and witches, etc). There were even then reasonable people, also in the Church, who recognised all this as nonsense and superstition. They were, nonetheless, helpless against the tide of mass anxiety largely brought about by the breakdown and decadence of Medieval institutions.

Gebser identified the reasons for this irruption of madness and the impotence of Medieval institutions to contain it — the emergence of new faculties of consciousness, namely, as “the third dimension” of space. Space was practically invisible to the Medieval mind. As someone once put it, the Medievals wore space like a cloak. Gebser also makes note of the anxiety that was aroused in Petrarch upon his ascent of Mt. Ventoux and his vision of space as depth, at which sight he recoiled. He did not have the mental tools and perceptual faculties to master the vision of deep space. That only came later with the formalisations of perspective that we identify with the Renaissance — the discovery of the third dimension. (The Franciscan English monk Roger Bacon (1219-1292) was also an early pioneer in this respect, sometimes described as “The First Scientist”. Gebser only mentions him in a footnote in The Ever-Present Origin).

For that reason, Gebser puts great emphasis on the emergence of the fourth dimension — time — as signalling yet another restructuration of consciousness and the irruption of new faculties and powers of perception, but with the same anticipated turbulence and chaos as beset the Medieval mentality. And, indeed, the parallels between then and now, between the waning of the Middle Ages and the waning of the Modern Age, are very striking (not to leave unmentioned, too, the role of the Plague then).

We seem not to have learned the historical lessons from that period either, but are repeating all the old mistakes, failures, and crimes.

While the new emerging power of perception was frightening to some, it was exhilarating to others (even Petrarch experienced both exhilaration and anxiety together at the sight of space). The biographies of Renaissance artists often attest to this sense of exhilaration and expansiveness — even awe — the perspective artists experienced (some even insisting that perspectivism be added as the 8th liberal art to the existing 7 liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium).

When we speak of “the Renaissance masters”, we mean, essentially, those who had mastered the perception of the third dimension, and could represent it effectively, and thus laid the foundations for a new reality — a reality of three-dimensions. Not everyone could or did. And for that reason, too, you’ll see likewise many abortive or failed efforts to also render the integral consciousness and perception effective in our own time.

It is still, as they say, a work in progress.

There is one crucial difference between then and now, of course. The denizens of the Late Middle Ages didn’t have nuclear weapons, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, or AR-15s. Nor social media. The facts of technology were not lost on Gebser either and it’s this that gives the current transition its high suspense.

As someone once put it, living through transitional ages was about as comfortable as sitting on the edge of a razor.

But this is an opportunity also to learn a great deal about ourselves. Much of it will be a hard lesson that few are willing to accept or digest or come to terms with. That’s the type usually described as “reactionary”.

From Big Bang to Cosmic Crunch, and from the microcosmos of the fractal to the macrocosmos of spacetime our reality has become immeasurably vast compared to that which the Medieval mind or earlier had to live within.

“The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small… Stay As You Are” is purportedly a child’s versification that went viral. Marshall McLuhan used it as a caption in one of his books. The spacetime field is vast beyond comprehension, but our consciousness must push its boundaries to be worthy of it. That is the meaning of Gebser’s “aperspectival consciousness” which is, in many respects, what we otherwise would know as “cosmic consciousness”.

And that’s pretty much what H. W. Percival showed by his own illustration of “the Eternal Order of Progression”.

Percival’s Eternal Order of Progression

So, in one sense, it is quite true — it’s turtles all the way down.