Return of the Native

The great Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928, and I really love his writings) published a book around 1878 entitled The Return of the Native. Nietzsche was writing at the same time about the re-emergence of the Dionysian consciousness, while Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)  published his novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886, which had come to him as a dream. The Late Victorian period was a strange, strange time, in that respect. The stifling emphasis on propriety and decorum and even priggishness (which we refer to as “Victorianism”) was really an overcompensation for this fearful irruption of the orgiastic pagan or “return of the native”. Hardy, Nietzsche, Stevenson were only the consciousness or heralds of this incipient return of the pagan or Dionysian, along with its destructive power exercised against all the formalities, orders, institutions which had kept it suppressed and repressed (including the Church).

To the Dionysian (we might call it that) belongs all those other modes of consciousness and energies that Gebser identified in his taxonomy of civilisations as structures of consciousness, most specifically the “archaic”, the “magical”, and the “mythical”. The mental-rational really did not know how to handle these re-emergent potencies, and it failed even to take note of these changes for a long time until it was too late, when they exploded violently in the World War.

But the next development in the consciousness of the Dionysian after the artists was Freud and Jung and the so-called “discovery” of the unconscious or “collective unconscious”. It was less a discovery than due to the fact that the “return of the native” and the pagan had become impossible to ignore, any longer, for it was manifesting in the famous “neuroses”, “anxieties”, “hysterias” and other mental distresses and disturbances that couldn’t be ignored any longer — the ego-nature in distress. These were further symptoms of the Dionysian irruption. What Freud and Jung “discovered”, really, was the same re-emergence of the more “primitive” (primordial) elements of the human psyche, which had earlier been explored and “brought to light” by Nietzsche and these other artists. Had these developments been recognised earlier for what they were we might have avoided the nihilism that followed in the very destructive and frenzied period from 1914..1945.

Along with the re-emergence of the native or primordial or “tribal” or “pagan” has come a corresponding decline in the “Christian” character of the West. Church attendance is declining. Environmentalism, “neo-paganism” and “Green Parties” are emerging to serve as the conscience and voice of Nature in human affairs. Many sense that the old  is being swept away and that a “New Age” is emerging, even if it remains  quite indistinct.

Jean Gebser was one who did recognise these emergent realities, and who was able (successfully in my view) to interpret them correctly, as did to a certain extent, Rosenstock-Huessy. In the Global Era emerging, all “times” were all converging on the present in the form of the return of the consciousness structures — the archaic, the magical, the mythical along with the currently dominant mental-rational. And this is truly what is being referred to as “clash of civilisations” or “culture wars” — of different traditions and historical eras all converging. Although we share one space now — the globe, the Earth — yet we all live within different time-frames. There is not yet a “universal history” that would account and coordinate these differences. That was the work Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy had set their minds to resolving and which is called “integralism”. Rosenstock-Huessy referred to his approach as “the synchronisation of antagonistic contraries” or synchronisation of the times and coordination of the spaces. When St. Augustine says that “time is of the soul”, what lies behind that statement is the recognition that there are different “species” of consciousness, each with their own time-frame or history. In our terms, we might refer to that as “primitive”, “pre-modern”, “modern”, and “post-modern” or even “transmodern”, as some are now calling the “new age” aborning. “Transmodern” is more or less a synonym for holistic or integral.

What is called “the unconscious” isn’t really something completely subjective or internal. It is our environment. It is the element in which we live, move, and have our being. It is an enveloping field. This is why some mystics compare the ego consciousness to a cork bobbing upon a vast ocean, or even as a fish in this ocean. The “unconscious” is our actual milieu, and not some “thing” that lies below or behind the ego-consciousness, which is highly selective and censorious in its perceptions. What Freud referred to as “transference” or “projection” is this environment of the unconscious, which for the most part remains invisible to us. We aren’t really fully aware that our environment has been radically altered by the irruption of the Dionysian. Our conscious perceptions have not caught up with our actual reality as we experience it. And that’s the real problem of the subject-object divide. The “objects” are our projections, but we still don’t recognise ourselves in them. That’s the meaning of the Hindu formula “thou art that” or Nietzsche’s remark that “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves”, or what Seth means equally when he insists that “you create the reality you know”, which is equally that which is referred to as “Maya”. We live, move, and have our being within this buoyant and dynamic energetic medium called “the unconscious”.

So, the “irruption” is really a revelation or disclosure (ie, “apocalypse”). We are only slowly (all-too-slowly perhaps) becoming more and more conscious of this environment we call “the unconscious”. It is our complete milieu of which we speak and within which we conduct ourselves with greater or lesser awareness.

The “return of the native” can be very destructive (eg, the “nationalist” or “tribal” consciousness of fascism), but at the same time it is the basis for the re-integration of consciousness, too. And as Seth says, that is the proper function of an “enlightened ego consciousness”, and that search for an intelligible and harmonious pattern (the Logos, as it were) is the meaning of Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy.


2 responses to “Return of the Native”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    I do not know why we are afraid to say we live,move and have our being in this buoyant and dynamic energetic field called God. Is it the fear of obligation? I do not think we are living in a blind,deaf and dumb universe. The vibrant, living and creative god is present, the ever-present origin.

  2. LittleBigMan says :

    “What is called “the unconscious” isn’t really something completely subjective or internal. It is our environment.”

    Thought provoking and illuminating.

    “The “objects” are our projections, but we still don’t recognise ourselves in them. That’s the meaning of the Hindu formula “thou art that…….””

    I think this the first that the Hindu formula “thou art that” became comprehensible to me. Thank you.

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