Consciousness in Perspective
In the post William Blake: The Cistern and the Fountain (and in a few other places in The Chrysalis), I attempted to describe through reference to its own abundant symbols, the architecture, form, geometry, or structure of the modern mind, or what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” which he identifies with perspectivising consciousness, Perspectivisation is the modern mind’s dominant mode of perception. So, when you are enjoined to “keep things in perspective!”, and this is considered the norm or “common sense”, a great deal more is implied in that commandment than meets the eye, so to speak.
In this post, I want to delve a little further into the largely invisible architecture and geometry of the modern mind, how it has articulated itself over the last 500 years or so since the Renaissance, and why it has now become, in Gebser’s terms, “deficient” or functionally impaired. Also, why Gebser feels that this impairment, deformation, or fragmentation of the mental-rational structure may presage a new and healthier transformation, “mutation”, or restructuration of consciousness and perception.
Each of you has appropriated this structure in the course of your upbringing, through parents, education, society and so on, and usually with some trauma or difficulty. Appropriating the mental-rational structure, (which I have sometimes referred to as “the foreign installation” following Castaneda’s usage) is your often painful initiation rite into adulthood in modern society, and it definitely ruins some people.
Crane Brinton (I believe) once described modernity as “the invention of a system for creating systems”, and that is about as accurate a definition of “modernity” and of the mental-rational consciousness that I’ve come across, that “system” being perspectivising perception itself, which has its origins in the Renaissance, and the first signs of its incipient breakdown around the time of the First World War. This “system” or architecture of the mind is what the English poet and artist William Blake denounced in his time as “Single Vision & Newton’s Sleep”, and also as “the mind-forg’d manacles”.
Your initiation into this “system” or structure — the reshaping of your consciousness and perception — you will know from your own earlier experience or in that of your children. Children delight in painting and drawing, and in their productions you do not see the self-conscious attempt to “keep things in perspective” at all. Mom is as big as the house or the dog Spot may be bigger than Dad. Mom may be always in close proximity to house, too, because “home” is not the space of house, but of Mom and house together, where Mom and house together signify warmth and safety.
In the innocence of their consciousness, children do not paint or draw “things” or objects, but values and valencies and qualities (or what Jung might call “feeling-tones”). And here space is not the revealed objective or three-dimensional space of mathematical and geometrical dynamics and relationships but that dream-like space of psycho-dynamics. Things are “close” or “distant” only in psychic terms and only as values or feeling-tones. And we may call this type of consciousness (which we also see more formally in pre-Renaissance art) “un-perspectival” or “pre-perspectival”. The magic spell of quantification and perspectivism — of mathematics and geometry — has not yet been cast over the mind.
In other words, perspectivising perception, which arranges the things and objects of space into a web of abstract mathematical relationships, vectors, and ratios, does not come naturally to the mind but must be induced. For the young consciousness who stands before the doorway of initiation into modern society and the mental-rational structure of consciousness stands a stern and demanding Plato who shouts “Let none ignorant of geometry enter here!” which, it is said, was directed against the poets — that is to say, against the mythical consciousness. This is Blake’s “Poetic Genius in Man”.
So, it is not at all true that children are born “tabula rasa” or as blank slates waiting to be impressed and imprinted by society. This was the assumption of the educator Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his proposals for modern public education,
If you want to influence him [the child] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him ; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.
The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.
The consciousness of children is not a blank slate or a chaos of incoherent impressions. That would be indistinguishable from insanity. It may be “irrational” (meaning “unperspectival”) from the point of view of the mental-rational consciousness structure, but it has an intelligible coherence and structure in its own right, which is revealed in the works of children in art, play, and speech to be closer to the mythical and magical. What the sociologist Max Weber famously called “the disenchantment of the world” as part of the malaise of modernity is the result of breaking the affinities children naturally perceive between themselves and the world, between subject and object, and with “the Poetic Genius”. The affinities are turned, rather, into definitions, and “values” into abstractions, ratios, quantities, magnitudes, and so on. Breaking the affinities between things begins with the child’s induction into perspectivism. Freud’s original “oceanic feeling” of the infant consciousness is induced to narrow and focus, rather, and to become merely “a point of view” and a “line of thought” — terms derived, in fact, from perspective art which encourages an “objective attitude”. The disenchantment of the world begins, then, with the breaking of the affinities, and that means, subject and object spaces, and consequently the division of reality also into quality and quantity, the separate space of “Ego” and the objective space of “It”. This “point of view” consciousness structure is the pyramid or the narrowing “cone of perception” that is so familiar in the symbols of modernity (as introduced in evidence in The Cistern and the Fountain).
In other words, the formation of the mental-rational consciousness is simultaneously a de-formation in another direction. To say that the “oceanic feeling” is suppressed is to say that the mental-rational consciousness structure (the ego consciousness with it’s “point of view”) ceases to be identified with life, and this rupture is called “disenchantment of the world”. And it is a piece of cruelty, which is why Blake raged against “Single Vision & Newton’s Sleep”.
Now, let’s consider Blake for a moment, as he is a most interesting character in the context of his times — the “Age of Reason” and the European Enlightenment. How did an artist who saw the new perspectivising consciousness as also disenchantment of the world and life, and as the self-enclosure of the mind upon itself and into abstraction as “single vision” might have, with his “fourfold vision” by contrast, produced something different. And that is the case if one examines closely some of his works of art.
Blake’s consciousness and depiction of space is quite different from the perspective space of his contemporaries, and there are clues in his poems and his other illustrations into how that space is to be interpreted. It is not the objective “rational” space of the perspectivising, mental-rational consciousness. It is the space of psycho-dynamics and a space of proportions rather than ratios. It is space not perceived in terms of a pyramid or cone of vision, but as a kind of mandala, for example, from one of his “Proverbs of Hell”
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.
The figure the human form cuts in space is the form of a mandala, and Blake has charged that the mental-rational consciousness gives precedence to the head alone. The gist of his “fourfold vision” is represented in this Proverb of Hell as much as the template for his artwork is represented in his illustration of integral man (and one can compare Blake’s illustration of “Albion” with da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”)
One deals with proportion, and the other with ratio. And there is something rather coldly abstract and geometrical about da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man compared to a very similar depiction of Albion restored entitled “Glad Day”,
As well, Blake’s satirical depiction of Newton — that is, as representative of the “single vision” of perspectivising consciousness and the mental-rational — has a Newton submerged at the bottom of an ocean of space calculating with a protractor (Blake’s image of perspective mind) just as he has depicted his demonic and demented god “Urizen” (“Ancient of Days”) with the protractor, as below,
The protractor seems to be Blake’s way of symbolising the structure of the mental-rational consciousness in terms of the “pyramid of vision” or “cone of vision” which he calls “Single Vision”, and also as being a kind of blindness or unconsciousness, as being akin to just one slice of the pie rather than the whole pie.
More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul, less than All cannot satisfy Man
Perspective space is not absent in Blake’s paintings, but it is quite subdued because the space of Blake’s paintings is predominantly “mood space” or psychological space, not an empty abstract objective space of geometrical ratios through which figures merely move. It is still the “enchanted” space of life that Weber saw as becoming disenchanted through excessive rationalisation and intellectualisation.
Blake’s illustration of man as fourfold mandala form recalls Jung’s characterisation of the four psychological functions (image borrowed from storylineblog.com)
And this cruciform structure, like Blake’s fourfold vision, is substantially different from the pyramid that has come to symbolise the shape of the modern mind and intellect. The all-seeing eye that surmounts the perspectivist pyramid is now relocated to the centre of the cross or mandala form as the basic image of the integral consciousness. It is not a pyramid but a tree, and unlike the all-seeing eye of the pyramid trapped in single vision, the eye (consciousness) of the mandala is fourfold, and this befits a consciousness that is now moving from a three-dimensional reality to a four-dimensional reality.
The switch from space to time is the basic “trigger” for the new mutation in consciousness. Perspectivising mind was adequate for the intellectual mastery of space when the problem of the third dimension of space triggered an mutation from the mythological to the mental-rational. It is not adequate to deal with time as if time were like space. The riddle of time will likewise trigger a mutation of the mental-rational. This mutation is what Gebser calls “the aperspectival” consciousness structure and which is, as the mandala and cruciform symbols suggest, much more fluid and flexible than the “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness.
That’s the real significance of the “Age of Aquarius” and its association with water.