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.


7 responses to “Modern Man’s Disintegration”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    “The disintegration of an era, and the disintegration of the human social type that was produced and reproduced by that era, cannot be separated.”

    Indeed. This is the essence of Seth’s “You create your own reality.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      “The disintegration of an era, and the disintegration of the human social type that was produced and reproduced by that era, cannot be separated.”

      Keeping this in mind is important when reading, for example, Erich Kahler’s very engaging and insightful book The Tower and the Abyss (which could be considered an essential companion to Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin). Kahler writes about the present “breakdown of the human form”, which is Gebser’s “dis-integration” and Rosenstock’s “Modern Man’s Disintegration”, too. What Kahler means is the breakdown of the social type that had been produced and reproduced by the Modern Era, so Kahler (as well as Gebser) was speaking of what is now called “the post-modern condition” long before there was even a word for it. So, in effect, the “crisis of our age” (as Sorokin and others have called it) is a crisis of consciousness — that is, a crisis of the human form — itself.

      Crisis has a double aspect, just as the meaning of “apocalypse” has a double-aspect. This was Gebser’s approach in EPO. As apocalypse is both destruction and revelation (the dance of Shiva), so crisis is a disintegration and a re-integration simultaneously.

      Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” is equally a “critical” or “crucial” model of our situation which maps both this disintegration and a re-integration. Consciousness is always at the crossroads — the critical or crucial juncture — between the times and spaces of existence, and must strike a balance between them — between the branches of space and time, or between Kaos and Kosmos. This is also the situation of Nietzsche’s “tight-rope walker over the abyss” in Zarathustra.

      When consciousness knows itself as the vital centre of this cross of reality that thrusts backwards, forwards,inwards, outwards into times and spaces, then it knows itself as the image of the World Tree — the tree of life, as it were. But when it does not know this, then backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards thrust in all directions and seemingly without pattern or reason. Then you have the situation described by Yeats in his poem The Second Coming, which is consciousness become a chaos. People and society literally “fall to pieces” as we say. The “pieces” however are the branches of the cross of reality, and how those “pieces” or branches connect to the vital centre which has been lost to conscious awareness. This is the fourfold vision of Blake, and so constitutes the integrating consciousness. This model is very similar to the pattern of Rumi’s poetry, too.

      For this reason, Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” (which is a mandala) provides the fundamental pattern required to satisfy Seth’s concerns about re-forming our experience into new cultural patterns if we hope to avoid the chaos, and the threat of extinction, he foresees. For if the fuller meaning of Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” were unwrapped, it comes very close to proving Seth’s constant reminder that “you create the reality you know”.

      For one must bear in mind that Rosenstock’s model is a radiant one, in that it is our consciousness that is thrusting in these four directions — backwards, forwards, outwards, inwards — from this vital or crucial centre, the centre of the perpetual “crossroads”. From this vital centre, it is in effect forming the past, the future as origin and destiny, or the inner and outer as “soul” and “nature” (or culture and nature). The ultimate end of all this activity is to make all present and presence — to make everything manifest that is currently merely latent or hidden, but which is called “darkness”.

      Thus Blake’s saying “More! More! is the cry of the mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        “But when it [consciousness] does not know this, then backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards thrust in all directions and seemingly without pattern or reason. Then you have the situation described by Yeats in his poem The Second Coming, which is consciousness become a chaos.”

        That there is a possibility of consciousness losing direction and, at some point, can become chaotic, is in a way reminiscent of your essay on “Can the light of consciousness go out?”

        I have yet to come to terms with and get my head around the idea of consciousness being in chaos.

        I concur completely with the idea that a consciousness in crisis gives rise to a reality that is rife with crises. But I am at a loss as to how is it possible for consciousness itself – with its access to the infinite wisdom and reality – to get into situations of chaos? If consciousness is the master of its projections in all these different realms of reality, then what generates the chaos within consciousness?

        Very insightful and thought provoking comments. Thank you.

        • Scott Preston says :

          In Buddhist circles, there is a very popular story of Bodhidharma’s coming to China, and the “second patriarch”, who was a tormented soul, approached Bodhidharma in hope of relief from his mental restlessness and torment.

          “My mind is not rested. Please pacify it for me”, asked the second patriarch.
          “Bring me your mind and I will pacify it”, responded Bodhidharma.
          “But I can’t find my mind when I look for it”, answered the second patriarch.
          “There”, said Bodhidharma. “I have pacified it for you.”

          What Seth calls “the ego consciousness” is what we call “mind”. Mind is not a thing — not like Descartes’ “res cogitans” — “the thinking thing”. It is the process or activity of cogitating, and mind can indeed be chaotic. “Losing one’s mind” can be a bit ambiguous, in that sense. Basically, when Kahler speaks of the “breakdown of the human form” in his book The Tower and the Abyss, this has much the same meaning as when people speak of “losing their minds”.

          In effect, what we call “mind” is the ego consciousness, and this is the foreign installation itself. So, when Buddhism speaks of “No-Mind” or “no-self” (anatman), this is what is meant.

          I’ve tried to distinguish, in the Chrysalis, between the awareness and the consciousness in the same sense as others distinguish between consciousness and mind. There is a basic difference even in the original meaning of the words “aware” or “waring”, and “con-scious”. The former signifies wakeful presence, the latter the act of knowing or a gathering together. So “No Mind” is the state of wakeful presence in which the turbulent action and restlessness of mind is suspended. In this sense, awareness is something more fundamental still than consciousness, although I realise many people tend to use them interchangeably.

          “Mind” is, in some sense, the meaning of Gebser’s “structure of consciousness”. Something that has structure is con-structed, in-structed, and can also be de-structed. This “de-structing” is also, in some sense, connected with the meaning of the word “apocalypse”, which actually means uncovering or disclosure — casting aside the veil, and this can be experienced as mind in chaos. But awareness, or wakeful presence, has no structure. It is formlessness. It just is. When Rumi speaks of “emptiness” as the soul’s true desire, this is the state of wakeful presence, or formlessness. He also calls this “non-Being” or “non-existence”, but in a very special sense, since the meaning of the word “existence” means “to stand out” or step out. (It also happens to be the meaning of the word “ecstasy” from the Greek).

          Now, the ambiguity here is in the nature of the act of “stepping out”, because one can take “stepping out” or “standing out” as stepping outside the flux of time and space into “emptiness” or “non-Being”, or stepping into the stream of time and space, and thus outside of the condition of “emptiness” or wakeful presence and into the stream of consciousness or “Being”. As asked earlier, is a doorway an exit or an entrance? Which it is, depends on the act of entering or exiting, and so, in some sense, is awareness and consciousness.

          I’m not sure if I’m making a great deal of sense here, because of the paradoxical nature of the question, just as there is no single definition of a doorway as being either an exit or an entrance. Just so, Heraclitus could insist that “the road up and the road down are the same”. Which it is depends on what direction you are going in and how much energy you need to collect and mobilise to follow it.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            This has been very helpful and illuminating. I have, in my error again, conflated awareness and consciousness. In addition to that, there’s much here that I have to try to understand. Thank you, Sir.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Seth, by the way, makes the point that the light of consciousness can dim, but that the awareness implicit in consciousness cannot be extinguished. This seems quite paradoxical itself, but is quite understandable if you can grasp Rumi’s meaning of the terms “non-Being” and “Being”, or non-existence and existence.

          While on this question, we might as well unfold it further.

          You might recall in your reading of Seth his description of the act of what we call “Creation” or “Genesis”. The creatures of the imagination of All That Is clamoured for existence, and All That Is, “in an unspeakable act of sympathy” (Seth’s words as I recall them) sought within itself for the means to give the creatures of its imagination actuality. Had it not hit upon the right means, the universe as we know it would have been a truly insane, mad, chaotic affair, as close to a Hell as we could possibly imagine. Hence, the risk was great, and the recorded joyousness of the first creation “when the morning stars sang together” (still Blake’s vision) acknowledges that “creation” was no simple or routine matter, but a wondrous triumph.

          I don’t have much in the way of knowledge about that, but it makes intuitive sense. It is the basic core of many ancient cosmological myths of origin. The Greek, for example, acknowledges a pre-primordial state in which all the beings were trapped between the Sky Father and Earth Mother locked in an eternal embrace, and separating the sky father from the earth mother needed to be accomplished before anything could “be” whatsoever. I have read a similar myth among the ancient Chinese and from Mesopotamia.

          A kind of parallel situation might also be the theme of Kurt Vonnegut’s writings, which are kind of intriguing. His fictional character “Kilgore Trout”, who returns again and again in Vonnegut’s writings, craves real existence, and Vonnegut seeks a way to give Trout the existence he craves (much like Pinocchio craves to be a real boy). Vonnegut partially succeeded in that insofar as his character Kilgore Trout became “public domain”, until Vonnegut, apparently contradicting himself, pursued copyright infringement for the use of the character, thereby countermanding his own emancipation of Kilgore Trout, allowing him to follow his own development and destiny.

          Rosenstock once wrote that “Man is God’s poem”, and that recalls Blake’s “Poetic Genius” as the True Man, too. In those conceptions we see something of a reverberation of the act of creation as described by Seth. Also by Castaneda, too, for there the “dark sea of awareness” provides its creatures with everything they need for the act of perception. All “awareness” still maintains its intimate connection, then, to, and in, the “dark sea of awareness”.

          All this seems logically consistent with Seth’s narrative of creation.

          • LittleBigMan says :

            “Man is God’s poem” – Rosenstock-Huessy

            I can say with amazement that I can see poetry in the way events have unfolded on my path in life. And the older I get, the meaning in that poetry of existence gets deeper and clearer.

            Enlightening and informative. Thank you.

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