The Four Fronts of Life and Reality
“Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always.
May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep.”
—William Blake, Letter to Thomas Butt, 22 November 1802
It may seem obvious and self-evident that we live, both as individuals and nations, on four and not two fronts of life. Time is twofold as past and future, just as space is twofold as the famous subject and object, or inner and outer. Backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards are the radiant dimensions of our actual experience of life and physical reality.
And yet, the modern mind or paradigm has never properly represented the full truth of our reality and experience to itself as being fourfold in structure. It has settled, incredibly, for a mere dualism of Subject and Object. Is that not utterly strange? Hence William Blake’s complaint against “Single vision & Newtons sleep”.
The speech-thinker and existentialist, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, also objected to the modern dualistic representation of life and reality as being deficient. Time expands in two directions — past and future — as space expands in two directions — inwards and outwards. Noting that the neglect of our full experience of physical reality was demonstrated in the fact that there were no equivalent formal terms for the dimensions of time as for the dimensions of space (as subjective and objective), he proposed “trajective” and “prejective” as equivalent terms for past-orientation and future-orientation, respectively. We are all, to some degree or another, a multiformity or ecology of trajective, prejective, subjective, and objective types. We are fourfold beings.
Our real experience of reality is as a cruciform and quadrilateral structure. It thus requires a new and more appropriate logic to account for it. This is the new “commonsense” that displaces the old “commonsense”, which has now become deficient. We daily live on four fronts of life — inwards towards the self or soul, outwards towards Nature, backwards towards Origin, forwards toward Destiny — and are required for the sake of integrity and health to maintain a proper balance or ratio of these contradicting tendencies instead of trying to reduce or coerce others into sharing our own deficient one-dimensionality — our “point of view” or “line of thought”.
In social terms, when the times and spaces get out of joint through neglect, the fronts of life are attacked by four social diseases that threaten to dismantle society: decadence and revolution, war and anarchy are the four social diseases that threaten all societies — decadence attacks the future, revolution attacks the past, war attacks the external front while anarchy attacks the internal front.
“To the four diseases, four types of speech bring relief. Men reason, men pass laws, men tell stories, men sing. The external world is reasoned out, the future is ruled, the past is told, the unanimity of the inner circle is expressed in song. People speak together in articulated language because they fear decay, anarchy, war or revolution. The energies of social life are compressed into words. The circulation of articulated speech is the lifeblood of society. Through speech, society sustains its time and space axes. These time and space axes give direction and orientation to all members of society. Without articulated speech, man has neither direction nor orientation in time or space. Without the signposts of speech, the social beehive would disintegrate immediately.” (“In Defence of the Grammatical Method”, Speech and Reality, p. 16)
The circulation of vital, articulated speech through the four fronts being “the lifeblood of society”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s insights into the functions of grammatical speech provide a method of weighing and assessing the health and integrity of society and of historical eras through diagnosing its speech. Societies often erect formal institutions to safeguard these fronts — religion and politics, science and art. We do not have merely C.P. Snow’s reduced “Two Cultures” of science and art, but also institutions of religion and politics — or church and state — each with their own identifiable idiom and orientation, and often very much in conflict with each other like William Blake’s Four Zoas as conflicting aspects of the disintegrate and existentially sick Primal Man, Albion.
The disintegrate situation of Late Modern civilisation and of the individual, too, is interpretable as a blockage or sclerosis in the flow of the life-bestowing elements of sincere and authentic speech. It has not gone unnoticed that the health of the public discourse and dialogue has become dire, and has been usurped, essentially, by mass propaganda, perception management, advertising, and disinformation. A Tower of Babel of special pleading and self-seeking partisan interests has displaced real dialogue and communication between the different actors and departments of social life that make for a real community and common life at all. Not one of the special departments of social life today has been unaffected by the corruption of this “lifeblood of society”. The spice does not flow and the multiple crises of the day in politics, economics, religion, or the arts are the result of that. The Late Modern Era is disintegrating. “Things fall apart/the centre cannot hold” to recite W.B. Yeats’ once again.
The diseased state of Late Modernity has been called, everywhere, by the name “malaise”. In essence, that is the same meaning as the Buddhist term “dukkha”, which is usually translated as “suffering”, but which is probably better rendered by the French word “malaise” — uneasiness or dis-ease. In effect, the situation resembles in many ways the struggle amongst Blake’s Four Zoas for hegemony over and domination of the soul of the Primal Man, Albion, each claiming to be the true absolute and universal sovereign over the soul. But the whole or healthy man or woman is not represented by one life-front or style of speech only. The presumption that man can live in, or be represented by only one front is totalitarianism.
That is what marks the distinction between a Whole and a mere Totality. They are not synonymous. They may, in fact, be opposite in meaning. The word “whole” pertains to health. The word “totality” may be related to old words meaning “death” (German tot). Even to have confused these “signposts of speech” in that way is revealing in itself.
The creature “Man” is a multiform being and, as such, an ecology in his or her own right. Religious fundamentalists or rationalist reductionists all do wrong. Those who define the creature Man as either “the political animal” or “the economic animal” or “the moral animal” are deceivers whose will to power and domination over the mind and soul of man depends on winning human beings over to their lop-sided and unbalanced views and then accepting this “single vision” as their true identity. Unfortunately, they have been to some extent largely successful. But this is not freedom, however much lip-service might be paid to that. It is enslavement. It is the attempt to assimilate and make human beings controllable by making them predictable and calculable, usually under the motive of some misguided notion of “equality” now become perverted as sameness.
Who is “Albion” in Blake’s narrative? The sick man of history become whole again, who remembers himself as an integral fourfold being. But in realising himself as a fourfold being, he becomes the fifth or the quintessence — the one who knows himself as this multiformity within a unity, and in doing so effects and brings about peace between the Zoas, and thereby integrality and integrity — that is to say, healing and health.
Albion is Nietzsche’s “overman” or transhuman.