Modern Man’s Disintegration
The disintegration of an era, and the disintegration of the human social type that was produced and reproduced by that era, cannot be separated. What this means for what we now call “Late Modernity” or “post-modernity” is that the mode of consciousness and perception that has characterised the human type called “modern man”, as well as those social institutions that have supported the reproduction of this type, are also fracturing and disintegrating and becoming dysfunctional — the “deficient mode” of that form of consciousness Jean Gebser calls the “perspectival” or “mental-rational structure”. And that is to say the type called “Rational Man”.
Now, we have traced the beginnings of this disintegration of the Modern Era and the ideal of “rational man” to around the time of the First World War, as the watershed event that marks the beginning of what is now called “post-modernity”. Prior to the war, of course, we had the warnings of Nietzsche (and of Robert Louis Stevenson in his novella about the strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) that the modern personality was in trouble and was entering into its crisis of identity. Stevenson mapped the soul of modern man as a self divided against itself through self-contradiction, while Nietzsche extended that same insight further into a prediction of “two centuries of nihilism”, something which seemed to W.B. Yeats in 1920 as having become all-too true when he penned his ominous poem “The Second Coming”.
Modern man’s (and the Modern Era’s) disintegration have become a prominent theme of social observers over the last century. We have already mentioned a few of them: R.D. Laing in The Divided Self, Erich Kahler writing in The Tower and the Abyss about “the breakdown of the human form”, Jean Gebser’s acute insights and diagnosis of the contemporary situation as presented in The Ever-Present Origin, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s observations in his various works as well as his proposals on how to “outrun” the crisis of our age. There are now, in fact, no end of books on the crisis of our age, the disintegration of the Modern Era, and the fragmentation of the modern “self” — depersonalisation, self-estrangement, alienation, and the “loss of identity”.
It’s not my intention here to revisit once more the concerns of these authors at any length, since we have reviewed those concerns and observations at various times in The Chrysalis or in the former Dark Age Blog, coming to the conclusion that our era, and the human type it produced, has indeed reached an historical impasse, even if this impasse was misconstrued optimistically by Mr. Fukuyama’s “end of history”. To my mind, the chief symptom of the fact that the modern structure of consciousness — the mental-rational — has entered into “deficient” mode (as Gebser puts it) and dis-integration is revealed in the inability of that consciousness structure to master the circumstances and resolve the intractable problems, that it itself has created — whether this is the present on-going nuclear crisis at Fukushima in Japan, environmental degradation or the dangers of climate change, not to mention a large number of other intractable problems and dilemmas.
My purpose with this post, rather, is just to alert you to another of Rosenstock-Huessy’s essays that is available online which also addresses the issue of atomisation, fragmentation, and modern man’s disintegration. The essay is also included in the book I Am an Impure Thinker, and is a companion piece to his oft-recommended essay “Farewell to Descartes,” which opens the book. This other essay to which I wish to draw your attention, (which I had long forgotten about myself) is entitled “Modern Man’s Disintegration and the Egyptian Ka” and is accessible further into the book. It’s chief value lies, I think, in how neatly it dovetails into the works of the other authors mentioned.