Something about the comment thread in the last post on myth and history has suggested to me that I post something further about the meaning of “enantiodromia” and the panta rhei of Heraclitus. “Enantiodromia” was a term invented by the depth psychologist Carl Jung, following Heraclitus, to describe a reversal at the extremity, or how actions turn into their ostensible opposites.
Enantiodromia is really another representation of what is called the “karmic law” of action and reaction, just as Heraclitus’ ethos anthropoi daimon (“character is fate”) is an interpretation of the karmic law. A basic summary of that law may be stated thus: any action whatsoever, originating in mind or body, is attached to the initiator of the act as if by an umbilical cord, remains attached to the initiator of the act for the duration of its action, and ultimately rebounds upon the actor as the consequential (or even as “the accidental”).
This dynamic of the law is usually interpreted in terms of “reward” or “punishment”, or pleasure or pain, for thought or conduct, and even as the regulating action of the “invisible hand” of the market. But that is just an interpretation.
It is not possible to understand the karmic law or enantiodromia — or even Heraclitus for that matter — if one thinks only in terms of dualisms or extremes of opposition. The understanding of the law requires that one understands such dynamics in terms of polarities or complementaries and not mutually exclusive opposites.
This is rather crucial to understand. It is why the tongue of the serpent is represented as “forked” (divergent or dia-bolic), while the tongue of Christ is described as a “two-edged sword” (convergent or sym-bolic). One is the tongue of self-contradiction, and therefore of dis-integration. The other is the tongue of paradox or conjunctio oppositorum — the union or marriage of ostensible opposites or the integrative. Superficially, they might even look somewhat the same. But one must be very cautious about the subtle difference. Here, as in past posts, I invoke what I call “Khayyam’s Caution” — to whit, that “only a hair separates the false from the true”, which in itself also is a repudiation of dualistic thinking and an affirmation of polarity.
That the false is only the shadow of the true is equally expressed in one of Wm Blake’s Proverbs of Hell — “Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth” also expresses Khayyam’s Caution. And Blake, likewise, is completely unintelligible to those who think only in terms of dualisms rather than polarities. “Heaven in a Wild Flower” or “Eternity in the hour” express the essential polarity of events and things, such that time and eternity, or the finite (or definite) and the infinite do not exist apart or in separation (dichotomisation) from one another, but as aspects of one another.
Thus, fundamentally, cosmos and chaos (or good and evil) are states of polarity and not mutually exclusive opposites. At some intuitive level, human beings already perceive this even if in a distorted and often perverse way.
That any action whatsoever remains attached to the one who initiated the act, and that this is the fullest meaning of the karmic law of action and reaction, is why Buddhism places such emphasis on “non-attachment” as liberation from samsara, which is the karmic realm or “the wheel of time and space”. In Blake, samsara is called “Ulro” and is ruled by Urizen (who is the mental-rational consciousness or “the Selfhood”). Ulro is the shadow realm or emanation into which human consciousness — ego consciousness — is now in thrall, and not least of all because it has fallen into the trap of dualistic thinking. Ulro is called “the vegetative mirror” by Blake and is fully the equivalent of Seth’s “camouflage universe”. “Ulro” is really a state of consciousness and not a truly an “objective” reality.
The symmetry of the karmic law is expressed by the balancing of the action and the reaction. Any act is “bounded” by its participation in polarity, for at the extremity it reverts to its contrary, and thus some order is preserved. That “limit” at which reversal occurs is the coincidence of the opposites, when action and reaction seem identical, or thesis and anti-thesis become identical, where the self-contradictory seems to be the norm. This is the “tipping point”, as some call it, (or “omega point”) where we are suddenly confronted with dilemma. This is expressed as “unintended consequence”, “ironic reversal”, “reversal of fortune”, “blowback”, “perverse outcome”, “revenge effect”, and so on. And it is this dynamic of action and its attendant reaction (or consequential) that human beings interpret in terms of metaphysical “reward” or “punishment”.
This state also signals the breakdown or disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure in self-contradiction or that state termed “duplicity”. It is also the condition called “crisis”, which means essentially the arrival at a crossroads or juncture where indecision, uncertainty, anxiety, self-doubt and self-contradiction are typical responses to the dilemma, which is arrival at the limit.
This “limit” represents, nonetheless, a guard against excess. It is meant to preserve order or “cosmos” against runaway actions by a kind of transmutation or revaluation of the act. The polarity shifts. This “limit”and subsequent reversal is what was meant by “hybris” and subsequent “Nemesis” by the ancient Greeks, indicating that they understood the karmic law quite well. Hybris is also what is called “transgression” or “sin” in the Bible, but which has become so clouded in superstition that it has become all but useless as a description of the karmic law.
That the Modern Era and the mental-rational civilisation have reached this “tipping point”, limit, or point of reversal (but is still deluded enough to think of this as “progression”) is evinced in some typical self-contradictory expressions like “creative destruction” to describe its present activities. Another I’ve made note of is to accuse one’s political opponent of “political correctness” while insisting for oneself on “ideological purity” (as if these were, in fact, opposites, whereas they are identical attitudes). It might even be stated that Jung’s conception of “enantiodromia” itself testifies to our arrival at this juncture or limit in which action and reaction have become identical as well as mutually negating. There are a thousand other similar confusions.
This juncture or limit, having been arrived at after about 500 years of progression, is also now recognised by terms such as “deconstruction” or “nihilism”. But in this deconstruction or nihilism is also the potential of a reconstruction or restructuration. The conjunction of opposites also represents the potentiality of the transformational. This is why Gebser, for example, insists that the present “destructuration” (or loss of the human form, ie, “the mental-rational consciousness”) is also an essential restructuration which he calls a “mutation” towards a new structure of consciousness — the integral, which he sees as the latent or implicit pole of the nihilistic tendencies of the era.
The Christian’s Book of Revelation — or the Apocalypse — is really about polarity. This is why I think hardly anyone understands it. We use “apocalypse”, for example, as if it meant destruction. It is about how the Christian impulse can revert into its contrary, and become self-negating and nihilistic, ie, “the anti-Christ”. Apocalypse means, however, “disclosure” or discovering or unveiling — a reversal at the extremity and at the limit. As truth is often experienced as “shattering” (depending on the depth of delusion one has lived under) so the apocalyptic can seem equally “shattering” or destructive or corrosive of established, but now deficient or inadequate, beliefs, norms, institutions, morals, etc. In that sense, “nihilism” can also be a clearing of the deck, as Nietzsche held it to be.
Shiva’s Dance of Destruction is the dance of polarity as well, destruction and creation, nihilism and genesis, death and resurrection. So is Bauman’s “Liquid Modernity” also a dance of Shiva. This is not to say that “enantiodromia” in these senses doesn’t have its dangers and perils. It will seem like an epidemic of madness, even something hellish — Nietzsche’s Dionysian frenzy. In that sense, one should soberly bear in mind what Heraclitus said of Dionysus (which perhaps Nietzsche did not know) — that Dionysus, who is Shiva and the spirit of renewal, was one of the forms or avatars of Hades, too, god of Hell.