Perspectivism and the Aperspectival
It occurs to me this morning, that in order to get a better feel for what we mean when Jean Gebser speaks of “unperspectival”, “pre-perspectival”, “perspectival” and “aperspectival” as modes of perception or structures of consciousness or, equivalently, civilisational types (or even Seth’s “species of consciousness”), one of the best places to see this visibly is in the artefacts of those civilisations — in their arts.
When we use the term “primitive” or “naive” in describing styles, we really mean “lacking in perspective” don’t we? For example, google up the phrase “primitive art” and what you’ll see is a mixture of styles from the completely unperspectival (cave art) to the “naive” or “folk” style (pre-perspectival). You perceive how odd and strange or “quaint” these artefacts look to your eye because your own eye has been trained in perspectivism, and to see things “in perspective” and from a fixed point of view.
“Unperspectival” is the term Gebser uses for the magical structure of consciousness and mode of perception, while “pre-perspectival” is the term he uses for the mythical structure of consciousness and mode of perception. “Perspectival” is his term for the mental-rational structure and mode of perception. There are no “archaic” artefacts for comparison, because the archaic consciousness is the pre-historic or primordial. It generated no artefacts. There are only oblique references to it in ancient records and mythologies, as the state or condition before the splitting of the ancient Androgyne, or the separation of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. It is a state of consciousness characterised by non-differentiation and before the emergence of a “mind” that discerns between generals and particulars, or “compare and contrast”.
For Gebser, Picasso (especially) and the Cubists represented an altogether novel development in the arts, by their integration of these various styles. They are holistic in approach. Picasso incorporated all of them in his art in an effort to render the object perceptible as a whole. It’s a holon. Perhaps it is even an early attempt to represent what we now call a “hologramme”. It’s also, therefore, an attempt to visualise time or what Gebser calls “presentiation” of times insofar as all states of the object or possible “points of view” are presented “at once” — backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards.
That means, in some respects, that Picasso’s paintings are a kind of visual rendering of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, as raised in the last post on “Aperspectivity and the ‘Cross of Reality‘”.
Oddly enough, if you google up “tribal art” rather than “primitive art”, what you get is a lot of tattoos, most of which are of contemporary design. But that, too, belongs to the “return of the native”.
So, what’s important to grasp in terms of Gebser’s notion of “presentiation” (or “convergence of the times” as I’ve called that) is that these various styles are not to be taken merely as evolutionary “stages” in the “progression” of consciousness from a “primitive” state to a “developed” or “advanced” state. It is not a question of a linear or evolutionary development. The cave artist still exists today as the tattoo and graffiti artist. The mythical artist exists today as the naive or folk artist who simply ignores the rules and axioms of perspective composition in terms of ratio and proportion. Then of course you have the conventional perspectivist renderings (in the tradition of Renaissance artists) and also the abstract and cubist art, such as Picasso’s, which is an attempt to escape from the strictures of perspectivism and from the trap of the fixed “point of view”.
The child-like art of the Middle Ages is not inauthentic. We call it “naive” because of its lack of perspective, but that entirely misses the point. It wasn’t an attempt to render “objects” naturally but values. That is what a child does when the child paints and draws without perspective. Mom is as big as the house. The pet dog is as big as Dad. There is no effort to be “naturalistic”.
So, these “older” or “earlier” structures of consciousness (and rationalism is fast becoming one of those, too) still exist today in various states of articulation or eloquence. The magical and mythical have been largely subdued — or suppressed — until quite recently. In the seemingly ever-lasting “Star Wars” franchise or in The Lord of the Rings, and so on, you have a very potent convergence of the magical, the mythical, and the rational-technical. In the case of the Star Wars franchise, in fact, the mythologist Joseph Campbell was deliberately consulted for the narrative. Even a recent film like Gravity quite successfully and seamlessly incorporates elements of myth, magic, and rationality.
These films and the art-style of Picasso represent what Gebser calls “presentiation” or “concretion” — an integration or convergence. The artist is able to make the unperspectival magical, the pre-perspectival mythical, and the perspectival mental work together in a true “convivium“, as it were. And in so doing, we call this the incipience of the “aperspectival” mode of perception. It might even be called “the holy” because it is holistic.
In a sense, then, the shaman, the mythical poet, and the scientist are able to meet in the present and cooperate with one another. Different civilisations are represented now in one “Present”. And in so doing, they are generating a new type of human being, one who is comfortable with all the modes of perception and functions of consciousness. This is what we call “integral” or “aperspectival”.
This is really the fuller meaning of what we are calling “globalisation” or “the global soul”. It’s a form of consciousness that finally feels comfortable, confident, and at home in the cosmos.