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.

The Last Supper with Vanishing Point

The Last Supper with Vanishing Point

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,

da Vinci: The Pyramid of Vision

da Vinci: The Pyramid of Vision

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”

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

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.

Blake's "Newton"

Blake’s “Newton”

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.




3 responses to “Come The Revolution…. (Addendum)”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    What a brilliant and beautifully written essay. I thoroughly enjoyed your insightful symphony on this page. Thank you, Sir.

    From John Donne’s poem, “An Anatomy of the World,” I especially enjoyed the following excerpt which captures the theme of a lot of what has been discussed here on The Chrysalis:

    “And learn’st thus much by our anatomy,
    the heart being perish’d, no part can be free” – John Donne

    As I read snapshots of the biographies of each of the luminaries for whom you have a link to a Wiki page, I couldn’t help but notice that all of them came from well-to-do and wealthy families. It seems to me that those men used their wealth to learn various skills and accumulate knowledge at the highest level. This is in contrast to what the wealthy are up to in our times, which is to dedicate their time on this planet to learn the most deceitful ways of accumulating more wealth – as T. Boone Pickens has demonstrated here by selling aquifer water!!!!! – For Goodness’ sake, does it make it alright, if it’s legal to do it?

    At the same time, during the time of those men of the Renaissance or the late Middle Ages, it seems that schools (e.g. Arte della Seta where Filippo Brunelleschi studied) actually taught their pupils extraordinary skills with which the graduates were able to create extraordinary art and work that even centuries later we rejoice in their upkeep and millions travel thousands of miles to go see them in person. What art and work are our contemporary men of the same caliber creating that anyone would still be eager to travel to see 500+ years from now, I wonder?

    If we complement the ear with empathy in order to listen to the many voices of the universe (for the ear cannot receive the full range of calls that are out there), and realize that the eye is only a window and learn not to see with it but see through it (as Blake taught), then I am confident the kind of revolution you are talking about here will be sooner within our reach.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “And learn’st thus much by our anatomy,
      the heart being perish’d, no part can be free” – John Donne

      You may note that Donne’s “heart being perish’d” has the same meaning as Gebser’s “loss of the vital centre”, and so I refer you back again to the comment I made in the previous post (“Come the Revolution…”) regarding the destruction of the middle class and of the buffering role the middle class performed between the extremes of “private” and “public” or individualism and collectivism in liberal democracy.

      So Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis was blind bunk, really. He saw the triumph of liberal democracy, but didn’t see that the disintegration of the middle class negated his own thesis, because “middle class” and “liberal democracy” are virtually synonymous.

      The structure of liberal democracy reflects that “pyramid” of consciousness we have discussed repeatedly with its three-term logic. In social terms, this three-term logic or structure is reflected in “classification” in terms of “upper class” (ruling elite), middle class, and lower class, in which the extremes of “isolation” and “aggregation” are represented by “upper class” and “lower class” (or in terms of Capital and Labour, or Producer and Consumer, or Private and Public, Individual and Mass, etc, etc). The Middle Class, however, was in the actual driver’s seat in this arrangement, for the reasons given earlier. The elite and the revolutionary left (respectively, “acquisitive individualism” and “the commons” or private and public) both had to woo the middle class.

      In large measure, the 2007 market meltdown was the destruction of the middle class by a rapacious capitalism, and therefore of its buffering role, as mentioned. As goes the middle class, so goes liberal democracy.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Excellent point. I was thinking of the excerpt from John Donne’s poem as more of the “tyranny of the senses (i.e. ego consciousness) over intuition and insight,” but I now do see the connection between the poem and Gebser’s contemplation of the disintegrating center.

        The similarity of meanings between the works of Gebser and Donne reminded me of the letter that Pascal excitedly wrote to Fermat regarding their agreement about the solution to “the problem of points.” He wrote “…..the truth is the same in Paris as it is in Rome.” 🙂 I think Fermat was living in Italy at the time. Because I am quoting from memory, I may be incorrect about “Rome” as being where Fermat lived at the time.

        Or “…..the truth is the same in Bern as in London” a la Gebser and Donne. 🙂

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