Archive | September 2010

Binding and Loosening

Does consciousness have a structure?

Consciousness itself has no structure or form. It is polymorphous. To say it is polymorphous is essentially to say it is formless, because only something that is essentially formless (hence undefinable in any determinate and fixed way) can be polymorphous. This is the essential import of Rumi’s poem I once cited in The Dark Age Blog,

“I am the morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am the wind in the top of the grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on….
Both candle and the moth
crazy around it…
I am all orders of being,
the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence,
the lift and the falling away.
What is and what isn’t…”

This “I” here is not Rumi’s “I” of the human person. It is the consciousness itself speaking, which is nonetheless also Rumi’s consciousness and Rumi’s “I”. They are indivisible. This “I” is what Carl Jung would call “The Self” as opposed to the Ego. The ego nature, which is Rumi’s person, is itself only one form that the consciousness can and does take, and which we call the human mold or the human archetype. Thus where Rumi writes of this “I” of consciousness being “what is and what isn’t…” it is because consciousness is essentially formlessness, but in being formlessness can express and experience itself as any and all forms (the polymorphic). The phrase “what is and what isn’t…” pertains to the formal and the informal respectively, or the actual and the potential, respectively. This is the basis for “shape-shifting” in shamanism or the polymorphous nature of the gods in mythology.

There are many, many passages in Rumi about this essential structureless but simultaneously polymorphous nature of consciousness. The structurelessness state of consciousness is called “non-existence”, as in the following poem:

Become More by Dying
O my noble friends, slaughter this cow,
if you wish to raise up the spirit of insight.
I died to being mineral and was transformed.
I died to vegetable growth
and attained to the state of the animals.
I died from animality and became Adam:
why then should I fear?
When have I become less by dying?
Next I shall die to being a human being,
so that I may soar and lift my head among
the angels.
Yet I must escape even from that angelic
state:
everything is perishing except His Face.
Once again I shall be sacrificed, dying to the
angelic;
I shall become that which could never be
imagined —
I shall become nonexistent.
Nonexistence sings its clear melody,
Truly, unto Him shall we return.

It might seem that “nonexistent” is the most undesirable state possible, unless you understand what Rumi is saying here. To become non-existent is to become formless, and therefore realise consciousness as being infinite and eternal (formless and timeless or beyond time and space). Being “nonexistent” therefore means that this consciousness can manifest as any form it chooses to become. Again, in this poem, the “I” is not the egoic “I” of Rumi, but the pure voice of consciousness or awareness itself. In our human terms, to become formlessly aware or as “pure awareness” is to shed the human form, or what is hinted at also in the term “anthropocentric attitude” (which is a variant of narcissism). This process is called “binding and loosening”, and pertains to the formal and informal. As such, what is called “The Great Nothingness” or the Void, the Nihil, etc doesn’t really exist except as the fullness of potentiality, and which Rumi here calls the non-existent or non-being.

The power of binding and loosening, which is the modus of this “I” of consciousness, is represented by Rumi in another poem called “Nobody” which is worth citing,

‘NOBODY’
says it correctly.
What is Paradise
but nothingness ?

The religion and doctrine of Lovers is
void,
emptiness,
non-existence.

Or again from Rumi, where “birth” is the binding to form, and death is the loosening away from the form.

Your non-existence before you were born
is the sky in the east.

Your death is the western horizon,
with you here between.

The way leads neither east nor west,
but in.

Remarkable stuff, really.

When I was an undergraduate student at university, I was frustrated with sociological studies and really didn’t know why. Later I understood that my frustration with sociology was largely due to the omission of consciousness from the study of society. Society was conceived as a kind of great public machine, while consciousness was treated as a private matter and as tabula rasa or terra nullius. This is impossible because society is the formal structure in spacetime of a common structure (really, a structuration) of consciousness. Any society or civilisation is the formal, symbolic expression of a consciousness structure and in that sense, always comes into being as an experiment in formalising (or conventionalising or ritualising) consciousness itself. Historical eras, which are societies and civilisations, are articulations of a consciousness structure over time, which we call “the formal”. It is the act of binding consciousness to form that results in “institutions” and “conventions”, rites and customs. The decline of historical eras and civilisational types into “informality” (so to speak) is the loosening away. This almost playful, creative, experimental binding to form and loosening away from form is what we call genesis and nihilism, or the rise and fall of eras.

A consciousness structure, then, is its formal expression in institution and convention, which is the act of binding to form. The formal expression of a consciousness structure is the formal process of institution.

So, it is licit to speak of a “consciousness structure” even though consciousness really has no extensible structure or form itself. In this sense (when speaking of social institutions) we can speak of the formal and informal aspects of society as the binding and loosening of consciousness to and away from form (or the “phenomena”).

At present, there is quite a bit of “loosening away”, which is the process “formally” known today as “deconstruction”.

And while we are on the subject of form and the phenomenal, I’ll leave the last word in this post to Rumi,

“It’s not always a blind man
who falls in a pit. Sometimes it’s one who can see,

A holy one does sometimes fall,
but by that tribulation, he or she ascends,
escapes many illusions, escapes
conventional religion, escapes
being so bound to phenomena.

Think of how PHENOMENA come trooping
out of the desert of non-existence
into this materiality….

This place of phenomena is a wide exchange
of highways, with everything going all sorts
of different ways.
We seem to be sitting still,
but we’re actually moving, and the fantasies
of phenomena are sliding through us
like ideas through curtains.
They go to the well
of deep love inside each of us.
They fill their jars there, and they leave.

There is a source they come from,
and a fountain inside here.
Be generous.
Be grateful. Confess when you’re not.

We can’t know
what the divine intelligence
has in mind!

Who am I,
standing in the midst of this
thought-traffic?”

From Prometheus to Epimetheus: The Rise and Fall of the Modern Age

Those of you who have migrated to The Chrysalis from the old Dark Age Blog will recognise the theme of this post. It seems necessary to revisit that theme briefly once again before moving on.

In The Dark Age Blog, we noted how eras are book-ended by certain mythic characters and names in the form of, first, the hero, but then later as anti-hero. There is a reversal of fortunes in which the older symbol or honoured name is emptied of meaning and value, (the process resembling Nietzsche’s succinct description of nihilism: “all higher values devalue themselves”). In tracing the course of the High Middle Ages, for example, we noted the hero in the form of Parsifal (early 13th century), the fool who becomes a knight, as the heroic figure standing at the beginning of that Era, and then the exhaustion of that type in the anti-hero Don Quixote (early 17th century), the knight who becomes a fool once more — the aristocratic type as buffoon. Cervantes mocking of Don Quixote and the chivalric “Quest” as a mere matter of tilting at windmills parallels the rise of a new historical type — the Bourgeois as the modern, practical, matter-of-fact man. The names Parsifal and Don Quixote really serve to book end the rise and fall of the High Middle Ages.

And so it is also with the Modern Era. At the beginning of the Age stands the figure of Prometheus, whose name means “forethought” or foresight. Prometheus is the proud, cunning, and rebellious Titan who stole the divine fire (self-consciousness) from the gods and gave it to humans, and who was then punished for the crime by Zeus, who had him chained to a rock where his liver was eaten out daily by an eagle. Early Renaissance humanism is fully in the spirit of Prometheus, and “Promethean Man” has often been used as a term of description for the exemplary type of modern human being — the “knowing” and self-conscious Man of Reason (Cartesian cogito).

Prometheus Bound

Often overlooked, though, is the brother of Prometheus. He is called Epimetheus, and his name means “afterthought” or hindsight. By describing these two as “brothers”, the myth tells us that they are two aspects of one and the same process in terms of “fore” and “aft”. While Promethean consciousness is progressive or “foreward-looking”, Epimethean consciousness (which represents reversal) is retrospective consciousness and even regret. We have already moved into the stage represented by Epimethean consciousness, for this is the real meaning of “the post-modern condition”. The man or woman of the post-modern type is Epimethean Man. And as with the end of the High Middle Ages, Epimethean Man represents the anti-hero who negates and empties the heroic-type of Promethean Man of significance and value even though they are brothers. Epimethean Man, though, is a dead end — a transitional figure just as Don Quixote was a transitional figure, being both post- and yet pre- something else.

Epimetheus and Pandora, as Adam and Eve

This binding and loosening, or genesis and nihilism, is like the breath — inspiration and expiration — and is completely necessary. So, even nihilism serves a purpose. In the case of the Modern Era now passing away, its values were simply not congruent with the emergence of a planetary consciousness. I know that many people believe that “globalisation” is simply the expansion of the Modern Era to encompass the globe, but this is not so. This is false consciousness. It is more the case that the planetary era, this new era, is penetrating the old era — the Modern Era — and is dissolving it from within. This process is generating great anxiety and Angst in those formed by the era, and leads to reactionary politics and distorted expressions of “survivalism”.

This process, which we have described as “dehiscence”, has both negative and positive features. It is found in the art of Pablo Picasso, (which might be described as “integralism” better than as cubism). It is also found in the emergence of “World Music” which is the playful experimental search for a common, mutually intelligible and global idiom of artistic expression — a new or transformed modus. Here, I’m thinking of the wonderful Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Qawwali is Sufi devotional music. But in the voice and presentation of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan this is devotional music the likes of which you’ve likely never heard. It does rock the kasbbah (especially his last live recording before he died, the appropriately titled Swan Song) and it is powerfully delivered.

These examples demonstrate the principle common to all new historical epochs. It is the artist (not the priest, the scientist, or the politician) that leads into the new era because it is primarily the artist that gives expression to the new emergent principle of self-realisation — the mutation in the consciousness structure. This is, for example, completely true of the Renaissance period in European history, grounded in the emergence of perspective space and the new consciousness of space. This space-bias represented in perspective perception has been the orientation of the Modern mind until… well… Now. Very great art is less about self-expression than it is about self-realisation, or more specifically, the emergent expression of a new faculty of consciousness or power of perception. The artist, here, is simply agent, and the real measure of the great artist is not “invention”, per se, but his or her mastery of the materials through which the new mutation in consciousness enters into our physical reality.

In early modern terms, this process of the new consciousness realisation climaxed in the figure of Leonardo da Vinci, who is often considered the quintessential “Renaissance Man”. Da Vinci, however, was preceded by a few generations before him, generations of artists that struggled to give expression to the new emerging consciousness structure we now call “the mental-rational” or perspectivist consciousness of primarily space-perception. What Newton said of himself, (that if he saw further, it was because he “stood on the shoulders of giants” before him), could be said of da Vinci as well. The new consciousness structure that was only vaguely experienced and struggled with by earlier Renaissance artists, becomes in da Vinci self-awareness and self-realised consciousness structure. Hello World!

Likewise, Picasso had his precursors who also struggled with the frustrating limitations of perspectivism, as you will learn in history of Late Modern art. This agonising frustration with the limitations of the media and a constricting conventional perspectivism also indicates the emergence of a new consciousness mutation (as described, for example, by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin). And, as Gebser (who personally knew Picasso) pointed out, Picasso’s art is not essentially about space but about time, which is why it strikes the modern spatially-oriented, perspectivising perception as being somewhat confusing and dissonant. The plastic arts, however, are not likely to be the preferred medium for the self-realisation of the new consciousness structure. The new “integral” structure, which is largely time-oriented, is more likely to become articulated through, and find its voice in, music and film, where the sense of time and timing, rhythm and harmony, is more pronounced. And, like everything else, there will be heroic, artistic struggles that will result in better (faithful) and worse (distorted) or abortive efforts. This is the new consciousness structure itself attempting to come to self-realisation and awareness, and seeking its own route to expression, manifestation, and self-realisation within the physical system of spacetime.  In a sense, it is a Titan or god as the Greeks experienced this, for the consciousness structure is not personal nor a personal possession. It employs the person for its own self-realisation and self-manifestation.

(But more on that later).

The significance of this can’t be overlooked, either, for it is the artist who is becoming the new “entrepreneur” and who displaces the bourgeois-type of market-oriented entrepreneur or “go-between” (as the word means). The mastery of technology (media) will be the work of the artist and not of the “practical” man of money and markets. As ever, the new consciousness structure will rely primarily on the artist for its realisation. So, we will have to examine this theme of artist as entrepreneur, or the “go-between” who serves as the midwife of the new consciousness structure and the new era that attends its self-manifestation and self-revelation (and which will be experienced as apocalyptic in the sense of “unveiling”).

The Times: Free Speech, Captive Audience.

Observing the seemingly chaotic piontilist and stoccado-like character of contemporary events, one can become very discouraged and gloomy about the prospects for the future of life. Time present has less the character of a flux, of an ebb and a flow, than of the rapid machine-gun fire of news bullets (bulletins) and of talking-points thrust at you like a knife blade. We are daily being mentally mugged by infomercials, advertising, disinformation, buzz, spin, outright falsehoods, and other sundry competing propagandas seeking to capture our “hearts and minds” within a kind of Iron Maiden of “information”.  The irony of the times is that we have “free speech” but captive audiences. Nobody seems to notice this self-devouring contradiction at the heart of Late Modern democracies, which is why they are collapsing and disintegrating.

What is called “information overload” is precisely this constant rapid-fire character of mass mediated info-bullets fired at us continuously. Right here, in fact, you see the truth of post-modernism’s “end of the grand narrative” in the seeming incoherent cacophony of advertising spots, infomercials, and news items. This is the Age of Analysis run amok and now running to ground. The penetration of the so-called “Free Market” in the name of “free speech” into every cozy non-commercialised private refuge has transformed the entirety of society, 24/7, into a constant battleground in a kind of war of all against all designed to capture hearts and minds (and wallets).

The near ubiquitous nature of contemporary propaganda and surveillance is less some sinister plot or conspiracy against the public to engineer a permanent captive audience than it is the fulfillment of a deficient logic inherent in the structure of modern rationality — feedback and control, prediction and control — extended now to the engineering of nature both human and non-human. We already live in a Technocracy, in fact — the World Machine called Global Economy. And for the sake of this World Machine nothing spontaneous must be allowed to exist or develop in its own terms; nothing must be left to chance in either Nature or Society (we must now even fear and manage asteroids). Everything must be “harmonised”, standardised, rationalised, assimilated, co-ordinated and synchronised with the requirements of this Brave New World, including politics and the Great Beyond.

This is the very meaning of the passage I quoted earlier from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in The Christian Future, which even some his students also seem not to comprehend sufficiently. It’s worth quoting again:

“A powerful hand has lifted up the particles of the human race and now puts them down again under a new horizon of existence. We see this horizon as dimly as the eastern sky one hour before sunrise; yet it determines already the lives and livelihood of all of us despite our nation or denomination. Granted that twelve generations or so lived happily within “Church” and “State” (the very word “State” is not older than 1500) and got their orientation from these two sources of light; this no longer is true.
We are unemployed, impoverished, inflated, killed, moved around, in nations great and small, in Churches free and orthodox, because of a new ‘within’. Against this new ‘within’, the millions find little protection, either within their nation or within their Church. Global economic cooperation is the new ‘within.’ Neither the New Deal nor the GOP nor Hitler nor Stalin can guarantee prosperity because the globe is not governed by any one statesman. The Great Society, this speechless giant of the future, does not speak English (neither does it speak Russian). And it is this Great Society which claims all of us who have to make a living, as her material, her victims, her assets or liabilities in terms of capital and labor.
The two world wars were the form of world revolution in which this new future reached into everybody’s life; the nationalist and communist ideologies with their dreams of revolution were checkmated and are mere foam around the real transformation. The real transformation was made by the wars and it make the Great Society final. She is the heiress of State and Church.” (pp. 4 – 5).

What is here called “Great Society” is, in fact, the Global Technocracy. Some years ago, the American sociologist Daniel Bell wrote a book entitled The End of Ideology (which, I think, must have influenced Francis Fukuyama in announcing “The End of History”). Bell (much like the French sociologist Jacques Ellul in The Political Illusion) anticipated what became the reality in the troika of neo-liberalism/neo-conservatism/neo-socialism — that consensus of political formations that demonstated the impotence of human choices against the inexorable logic of the Global Technocracy. The ideologue has been displaced by the technocrat, and for the technocrat there are no political options or alternatives. There is logically only “the one best way”. And this is not even the techocrat’s choice. It is mandated by the necessary circumstantial logic of the System itself, which is our new “within” or global environment. (In some ways, too, our true “Second Nature” as the manifest unfolding, in spatial and temporal terms, of what was formerly called “Universal Reason”).

And wondrous strange it is that we have made real and actual in history what was only once imagined in the form of Universal Reason as the Clockwork Universe with God conceived as the Grand Architect. Fukuyama’s “end of history” is the realisation of the technocracy as the globalised World Machine of Universal Reason. Only, Mr. Fukuyama didn’t actually realise or understand this himself — “The imagined world made real”.

It is in the context of the new global technocracy as realised “Universal Reason” (albeit in deficient expression) that cybernetic feedback and control take the social form of surveillance and propaganda. The function of much of this surveillance and propaganda today is to adjust and assimilate human beings (all life, in fact) to the new reality of the technocracy as “Great Society” (through the co-optation of dissent, for example). We are given the illusion of choice without the reality of it. Lip-service is paid to old values because these old values are now irrelevant in the context of the new reality. As someone once said, “the future ain’t what it used to be”. But that future is already here without a great many people knowing or understanding this. Thus confusion and frustration abound, and this agitation and irritation with the times often takes the form of a futile (and often ugly) reactionary politics.

But the problem is, that we must either transcend the machine logic of the Global Technocracy or become enslaved to it as its “captive audience” in much the same way Rosenstock-Huessy describes above. We already speak of human beings in the new technocracy as “resources” where an older language once spoke of “souls”. The problem is to make the System serve the purposes and goals of life and the earth rather than vice versa. This radical devaluation of values by which human beings were gradually revalued from “souls” to “resources” illustrates the “boiling frog” syndrome in a nutshell. History has been the cauldron. The Technocracy has no need of “souls”. It only requires resources. And it especially has no need of “resources” with potentially unmanageable purposes and meanings of their own.

This is the great struggle of the time. It is something Rosenstock-Huessy spent his life working on: how to guarantee the survival of “a truly human and humane society” in the face of this “new within” — the globe-straddling Juggernaut that had now become a common fate for all of us. It was also something that engaged the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both men were misunderstood (and still are). Also, however, both men did not go far enough in formulating the problem or formulating a response.

“This is a time that tries men’s souls”, Tom Paine once wrote. But our problem is made doubly difficult today by the dis-spiriting of the human  — by his or her “soullessness”. Few believe that they are “souls”. They are literally dis-spirited. This dis-spiriting is what we call “apathy” today. Universal Reason translated into the World Machine has no need of souls. Therefore, there are no souls. The Global Technocracy has no need of purpose or meaning. Therefore, there are no purposes and meanings. There is just the logic of the System itself — the logic of Blake’s demented god Urizen and of the old savage god Moloch.

The transformation of the World Machine and of the Global Technocracy into a true Earth Community and Planetary Civilisation (globalisation into globalism) and into a genuine Life World is our great multi-generational task. Since the mental-rational structure of consciousness, conceived as Universal Reason (and in deficient expression, now functioning merely as instrumentalising “rationalisation” and as a debased technicism) lies at the root of the problem, we must learn to master this structure with its implicit deficiencies in order to make it serve life and the earth (and not just human life either). The problem remains, as ever, human narcissism. And if we don’t address that, we will not resolve the problem at all.

Fortunately for us, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power [or grace] also”, and in Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” lies the procedure for salvaging the situation. For it is very true that, as Omar Khayyam once expressed it, “only a hair separates the false from the true”. The alchemical transformation of lead into gold isn’t as difficult as most imagine.