Come The Revolution…. (Addendum)
I think, for the benefit of those who have come late to The Chrysalis I might take this opportunity to explain why I hold that we are presently in a “pre-revolutionary situation”, as I’ve stated in some postings past. I agree largely with Robert David Steele’s analysis and characterisation of the global situation, and agree also that the only thing really lacking at this time is the “precipitant”, or tipping-point, or “omega point”, or what Steele calls “the Tunisian fruit-seller” moment, in reference to the young man whose self-immolation precipitated the uprising called “the Arab Spring”.
So, this post is a further elaboration on a comment I gave in reply to alex jay in the previous post, and it should be considered in reference to that comment on the evident precursors — or the presence of ” the anomalous” — that bespeak a growing dissonance between our consciousness (our self-understanding) and our cosmos (or reality) that must become rectified.
To put that another way: the anomalous is the ominous.
As some of you may already know, my confidence in stating that we are in a pre-revolutionary situation comes from a comparison of the social and political situation of the Late Middle Ages with what is today being called “Late Modernity” or even “Post-Modernity”. As then, so today, the dissonance between thought and reality, and between the prevailing social institutions of Christendom and actual human experience, became unsustainable. These severe social contradictions and contractions took the form of intellectual incoherence and decadence, epidemics of hypocrisy, corruption, and loss of integrity attended by various manias and outbursts of anxiety, paranoia, and delirium (Inquisition against heretics, witch-hunt, mass surveillance, conspiracy theory, entrenched orthodoxy, etc) and various violent efforts, both reactionary and revolutionary, to re-impose or restore a uniformity of outlook. Reformation and Counter-Reformation were the form of the future and the past at war: “Christendom” versus “Europe” was the form of this conflict.
A new consciousness was being born, painfully and often violently. Shakespeare wrote of “times out of joint”. The great English priest-poet John Donne wrote of his anguish and his own torn-to-pieces-hood at being caught between two loyalties, one to faith and one to reason (particularly in his “An Anatomy of the World“). As someone once observed: to live in ages of transition is about as comfortable as sitting on the edge of a razor. And “melancholia” or “the black bile” was epidemic. Today we call that “depression”, “bipolar disorder,” or Angst.
Renaissance and Reformation were the form of the irruption of this new consciousness. While the vital period and high point of the Middle Ages was concerned with the relationship of time to eternity, the new consciousness was concerned with space and extension. For the mytho-religious consciousness, prayer was the chief link between time and eternity, or soul and God. The mytho-religious consciousness is not the least interested in space. It really has no consciousness of space, even. It is “unperspectival”, as Jean Gebser calls it.
The new disruptive factor was the disclosure of the “third dimension” — space in its triune aspects as length, breadth, and depth. If the medieval mind only had an ear for the relationship between time and eternity (timelessness) mediated by prayer, the new consciousness — the “rational” — only had an eye for the relationship between infinity and the point-of-view, mediated by what was called “geometrical thinking” — Cartesian coordinate thinking.
This “geometrical thinking” or “coordinate thinking” is perspectivism, and its symbol is the pyramid. It is the shape of the modern consciousness. (And in this respect, you may note, with interest, the cover of the Penguin Edition of John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards, which seems completely serendipitous).
The revelation of the third dimension of space was the work of the Renaissance artists, beginning with the early attempts of Giotto (1266 – 1337), through Filippo Brunellschi (1377 – 1446) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) and finally in Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), who perfected the mathematical principles for the representation of perspective space — the proper geometrical relationship between “the point of view” and infinity (the vanishing point) in his famous painting The Last Supper.
In effect, however, this depiction of the pyramid of space, vanishing into infinity in Christ’s head, is the inverted mirror image of the perspectivising eye itself. It is, ironically, the eye that is contemplating itself in the vanishing point, as one of da Vinci’s perspective sketches reveals,
This is the double-movement or a dialectic of infinity and the point-of-view, and this is what Descartes’ illustrates as his “geometric thinking”
In effect, the space of Copernicus, of Galileo, of Descartes, of Newton is the perspectively constructed space of the Renaissance artists. This “pyramid” is the shape of the modern consciousness. And the discovery of deep space is what created “the Age of Discovery”, and it blew apart the old order of the Middle Ages which was based, not on the relationship of the eye or “point of view” to infinity, but on the relationship of the ear (and time) to eternity, mediated through prayer. In effect, “rational” consciousness, via perspectivism, was a translation of that relationship between time and eternity into visual and spatial terms.
Meanwhile, “time” and eternity was dropped by the new discourse for the simple reason that the mental-rational consciousness of geometric thinking cannot adequately handle the phenomena of time. Descartes himself admitted as much. He thought of it as a daily miracle performed by God. And later, William Blake was to caricature Isaac Newton as sitting at the bottom of an ocean, oblivious, inscribing with a protractor the same pyramid like structure of “geometric-thinking” of the perspective eye. That ocean is the ocean of time.
The precipitant of the Scientific Revolution and Age of Discovery was the disclosure of the third dimension of space, and for centuries three dimensions of space were deemed sufficient to account for reality and the mind’s relationship to reality.
The addition of the fourth dimension — time — since Einstein has radically upset that premise. Man’s consciousness, once again, is no longer in presumed harmonious continuity with the cosmos as the new picture presents. It is in a state of dissonance once again, even as time is being felt as an increasingly intense pressure on our daily lives and awareness, and the relationship of time to eternity is becoming just as much a critical question for us as earlier was the question of the proper relationship of the point-of-view (the “cogito“) to infinity which characterises the ratio of rationality — geometric thinking.
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time” (William Blake). Time was, til now, the undiscovered dimension we now have to grapple with, and with a reality of not three, but four dimensions.
Really, though, what we are grappling with are not the powers of space and time, but with ourselves and our self-understanding as it is reflected in spacetime. This is what Nietzsche meant when he stated “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” — in reflected form, as the cosmos itself.