Metanoia and Metamorphosis
I awoke this snowy morning to this lengthy, but interesting round-table discussion sponsored by The Observer (UK) and reposted on The Guardian website: “Is capitalism broken… and what is the world going to do to fix it?” (The diversity of voices represented in this discussion, and in the pages of The Guardian generally, is one of the reasons I keep returning to The Guardian, and consider this paper the best in the world).
The enactment of a “round-table discussion” testifies to how stories and myth can articulate desire and the imagination of the possible, for it is derived from an imagination of equality (and nobility) probably first represented in the Arthurian legend of the Knights of the Round-Table, first mentioned in literature around 1155 A.D., where none occupy the seat of power or privilege (as is sometimes said of square tables). It’s no trivial issue, perhaps, when one recalls that the Vietnam War dragged on for months with many additional casualties and further destruction because the peace negotiators in 1973 could not agree on the proper shape of the negotiating table. Such are the power politics of table-shape.
“A similar debate concerned the table to be used at the conference. The North favored a circular table, in which all parties, including NLF representatives, would appear to be ‘equal’ in importance. The South Vietnamese argued that only a rectangular table was acceptable, for only a rectangle could show two distinct sides to the conflict. Eventually a compromise was reached, in which representatives of the northern and southern governments would sit at a circular table, with members representing all other parties sitting on individual square tables around them.” (Wikipedia, Paris Peace Accords).
The romance of the Arthurian legend and the Round-Table quite likely influenced the Magna Carta, (1215) which is the foundation of the common law in all English-speaking countries. As such, it lends meaning to William Blake’s proverb that “what is now prov’d was only first imagined” and to the creative primacy of what he calls “the Poetic Genius” in Man.
A round-table discussion continues to enact the ideals of the Arthurian legend and its realisation in the Magna Carta and the common law. At the same time, it was one of the horrors of the neo-conservative Bush administration and its fellow-travellers in the so-called “international community” or “Coalition of the Willing” to observe how easy it was to dismiss or uproot the foundational principles of the common law enshrined in the Magna Carta, demonstrating the truly lawless, reactionary, and nihilistic character of this brand of “conservatism” of the self-described “New Right”.
In other words, the great “defenders” were actually the destroyers, and managed to deceive multitudes (perhaps also themselves) about this. Nor is it at all clear that this destructive, reactionary, and nihilistic tendency of the “new conservatism” has been repudiated or discredited, which is a worrisome thing. (For an indepth examination of this, see international law scholar Philippe Sands, Lawless World).
What interests me about the image of the round-table is its resemblance to what Jean Gebser anticipated as the new symbol of the integral era — the sphere — and how that might relate to the slang use of the word “square” to describe someone considered “not with it” or a stuck-in-the-mud. In Gebser’s “perspectivist” terms (also Marshall McLuhan’s) then we are presently in transition from something resembling this
to something resembling this, which he calls “the aperspectival” or global.
We can call this transition the “metanoia” or “new mind”, after the Greek. Even the imagination of someone who can conceive of something like this “sphere of eyes” has transcended the older, narrowly perspectiving “pyramid of vision”. The outcome of such a metanoia would be a metamorphosis, or transformation, of all form and the phenomena. This metamorphosis follows in step with the metanoia as if in a conversation or a dance.
This is the thing I would have wanted to add to The Observer’s round-table discussion, had I been there. It is not a question of “fixing” a broken capitalism but of overcoming it through an essential transformation or restructuration — a metamorphosis. A re-imagining of the world and of its relationships is the metanoia that will bring about the necessary metamorphosis — the only “fix” possible now. This is not a question of reconstructing, reforming, or inventing an ideology. For Gebser, ideologies are the decayed remnants of a “perspectivising” mental-rational structure of consciousness now in crisis and functioning in deficient mode. What Blake calls “the Poetic Genius”, and the “imagination” as the generative and regenerative function in human beings, is more fundamental and inclusive than the mental-rational structure of consciousness. This was, itself, originally a product of the imagination and of an essential metanoia also — the dream of Reason that became the “European Enlightenment”, but is now decaying into the post-Enlightenment (post-modern) shadow and nightmare of “deficient rationality”: from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Reductionism (or fundamentalism) and the obsession with quantifying and the quantification of everything (including the commodification and marketising of all life relations) is the hallmark of this deficient rationality — or, as someone once complained, of a mentality that “knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing”.
“Metamorphosis” is what Gebser calls the quest for “a transformed continuity”. That phrase involves a paradox about time. It is neither revolutionary change, nor is it “business as usual”. It is a metamorphosis. The change we seek is already latent in the affairs of the world, and governs the relationships between beings. The task, as Gebser sees it, is to make what is already present, but latent, “transparent” and therefore manifest. William Blake’s “Heaven in a Wild Flower” and “eternity in the hour” has the very same meaning. What Blake calls “Heaven” and “eternity” is what Gebser calls the atemporal “ever-present origin” or “the originary”. In other terms, this relationship between the formless atemporal “ever-present” and the temporal, form-bound is the same as described in terms of the sacred and the profane.
The “metamorphosis” that Gebser anticipates as being a “transformed continuity” through an essential restructuration of consciousness is an “irruption” of the “sacred” into the profane or secular order. For all practical purposes, then, Gebser’s “irruption” has the same significance as the Greek word “apocalypse” — an unveiling, a disclosure, an uncovering of what is already presence — here-and-now. This coincidence of the sacred with the secular or profane that makes for the possibility of a “transformed continuity” is the essential issue of what I’ve called “Khayyam’s Caution” after the Persian poet Omar Khayyam — “only a hair separates the false from the true”. This kind of awareness is non-dual, and non-duality is fundamentally the most prominent feature of the new “integral consciousness”.
If it were indeed true that Being was divided against itself in such radical dualistic and mutually antagonistic terms of what we call “good and evil”, or “true and false”, or “sacred and profane”, or “subject and object”, or “us and them”, or “past and future”, then the integrity and peace of the world would be completely impossible. Things would truly fly apart if it were so. Human beings have no peace within and none without because they cling to a delusion of such absolute dualisms which generate the very conditions that seem to mirror back, narcissistically, the “facts” of dualism and of Being at war with itself. The wisdom tradition fully denies that there is any truth in that whatsoever. It merely resembles and mirrors back the schizoid condition of the human mind. Metamorphosis or a “transformed continuity” is only possible at all because all form contains within itself the formless potency of infinite variability as it’s here-and-now. This “formlessness” is what some experience as timeless “eternity” or spaceless “infinity”, or “kingdom of heaven”. When Buddhism asserts that, ultimately, “nothing has self-nature”, it means this ultimate formlessness. And so does Rumi,
“Being is not what it seems,
The world’s existence is not in the world”
I mentioned earlier that Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values” has the same meaning as Gebser’s “transformed continuity”. This transvaluation is also both metanoia and metamorphosis, also. Metamorphosis and metanoia are inseparable aspects of one and the same movement which deny any final or real division between subject and object. “All that is old is made new again” is the essential meaning of transvaluation. It is also the underlying significance of the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (from his “Four Quartets“)
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Perhaps nothing better sums up the full meaning of Jean Gebser’s “Ever-Present Origin” and the integral consciousness than these few lines from Eliot’s poem. The essential restructuration (Gebser) or revaluation (Nietzsche) is also essentially a new understanding and interpretation of time and the meaning of time, and of the relationship of the atemporal to the temporal.
No one at The Observer asked me, but if they had I would have responded that I’m neither interested in “fixing” capitalism or even of reforming capitalism. Nothing but a metamorphosis or transformation of our relationships of production and consumption will satisfy the requirements of the new planetary era. As an “ism”, capitalism as both ideology and as mode of production was a product of the mental-rational structure of consciousness, and its most creative days are behind it, for it has now become a destructive force. It is the fate of all “isms” (or ideologies) to be inextricably tied to the fate of that structure of consciousness which they manifest. If capitalism today is in crisis, it is because the mode of consciousness that gave to capitalism its meaning, direction, and purpose is in crisis. All “-isms” today are in the throes of fragmentation and dissolution — they are becoming equally incoherent. Their fate is also tied to the structure of consciousness that gave birth to them, and whose horizon in-formed them with meaning, value, and significance. They are all today grasping at straws and whipping dead horses.
My suspicion is that all capital is now going to come to be appreciated as social, not private. Capital has no meaning as a merely private possession anyway. It is embedded in society and it is society that lends to it form and function. Knowing that, capitalists have attempted to manage and control the social perception of capital, and “public relations” and industry-policed (and industry-protective) “advertising councils” have become a multi-billion dollar-a-year industry for that purpose. Unfortunately, the fairy-tale “rags-to-riches” stories, or “the American Dream” have been rudely punctured and deflated by recent events. The self-destructive nature of Late Modern capitalism is that it is itself promoting the perversion and destruction of the mode of consciousness that gave it existence and meaning — the mental-rational structure.
The social problem represented by a free-ranging or privateering Capital will not be resolved within the horizon of increasingly dysfunctional mental-rational, but within the horizon of a new structure of consciousness that appears as a “revaluation of values”. This will likely even come about like the proverbial “bolt-from-the-blue” and from a completely surprising and unexpected direction. Such great transformations usually do for the simple reason that all the expected avenues and gateways blocking change are typically heavily defended and guarded.
Hence the proverb: “and a little child shall lead them”.