Jean Gebser’s Grammatical Mirror
It’s quite unfortunate that Jean Gebser and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy did not, apparently, know of each other’s work, although there is a brief footnote reference in Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin to one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s historical works entitled The Age of the Church. Yet, they both died in the same year, 1973, without knowing much about each other’s works.
Gebser also wrote a short book entitled Der Grammatische Spiegel (“The Grammatical Mirror”) which hasn’t been translated into English as yet. In it, Gebser was struggling to articulate the very insights into grammar and grammatical structure that Rosenstock-Huessy made explicit in his own social philosophy, particularly in Speech and Reality, in I Am an Impure Thinker, and in The Origin of Speech. It is my opinion that one can’t quite fully understand what either Jean Gebser or Rosenstock-Huessy were about without correlating their separate insights into the nature of speech and consciousness.
The basic idea of Gebser’s “grammatische Spiegel” is that changes in consciousness structure are immediately reflected in changes in grammatical structure. That gives something of a clue to how Gebser thinks of “consciousness structures” themselves — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational, the integral. Such “structures” are grammatical structures. It is grammar that gives form to the awareness in such a way that we can even speak of a “structure” as such. This, also Nietzsche believed. As a trained philologist, he thought that much of what he called “modern ideas” and modern philosophy was just so much confusion about, and abuse of, grammar. Gebser, having been also a poet, pretty much confined himself in Der Grammatische Spiegel to discussing the changes in the form and structure Late Modern poetry as demonstrating an incipient mutation of the prevailing consciousness structure — the mental-rational.
But, it was Rosenstock-Huessy who made a new rigorous method out of interpreting the historic structural changes in grammar, and from that articulated a new logic, a quadrilateral or fourfold logic expressed as his “cross of reality” (as previously discussed), and in The Origin of Speech, especially, he notes the different styles of speech associated with different historical periods — epical, lyrical, dramatical, and analytical or, equivalently, narrative, optative, imperative, and indicative forms, which he referred to as “moods”. But, in effect, “moods” refers to consciousness structure or modes of perception.
Have you ever pondered why the number “3” keeps recurring in modern thinking? Three is the cosmic number of the mental-rational consciousness structure. Things come in triads: a) The Good, the True, and the Beautiful, or b) the three dimensions of space conceived in terms of length, width and depth, or c) “liberty, equality, fraternity”, the slogan of the French Revolution, or d) the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or e) the terms of dialectical reason itself — thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, or even f) the comparatives, such as “long, longer, longest”. This “triadic” or triangular logic is reflected in that famous symbol of the European Enlightenment (the Illuminati symbol usually associated with Freemasonry) the history of which I’ve traced at some length in earlier posts in The Chrysalis. Gebser calls this triadic structure of consciousness the “mental-rational” or, equivalently, the “perspectival” because it is largely oriented towards space, and space conceived in three dimensions from a particular “point of view”. Once again, for the sake of illustration, we can see the connection between Leonardo da Vinci’s illustration of perspectivism being recapitulated again in that symbol of the mental-rational and of Enlightenment Reason on the American dollar bill, and these are mediated by Rene Descartes’ own illustration of rationalism or ratiocination as a geometry of thinking. It is a visible illustration of the modern structure of consciousness — the mental-rational.
This is the same structure of consciousness that Blake critiques as “single vision”, by which he means really “point-of-view, line-of-thought” structure, and which he associates with his Zoa named “Urizen”, who is the false god he also calls “Satan” or “Nobodaddy” or “the Selfhood”, and who he depicted as his “Ancient of Days” and Architect of the Ulro in a famous painting that some actually confuse with an homage to God, which it’s not. As you can see, its the same structure, and Blake has his “Newton” posed in the same structure also. As Architect of the Ulro (which is Blake’s term for Maya or Samsara) Urizen is, in effect, the demon that Buddhists call “Mara”, Lord of Illusions, who the Buddha must defeat and subdue on his way to enlightenment.
Newton is depicted as residing at the bottom of a sea by Blake. This is the Sea of Forgetfulness which today is called “the unconscious”. The “unconscious” is everything that lies outside the boundaries or the spectrum of the pyramid or cone of perception, which might be compared to a beam of focussed light that illuminates only a narrow part of reality… in this case, the darkness of space.
This is what Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness structure”, and is called by Rosenstock-Huessy “the Greek Mind”. But the Greek Mind is rooted in a false logic based on a false grammar, or at least a very incomplete logic. This was Rosenstock-Huessy’s insight into the problem of “the Greek Mind” and the source of thinking in terms of triads. He faulted the Alexandrian Greeks for the error and defect in logic that was to persist for centuries, and basically it is what everyone learns in school, that there are only three persons of grammar in singular and plural aspects. Rosenstock argued that there are actually four persons of grammar — I, You, He/She, and We — and that the Greeks were wrong to believe that “We” was only the plural of “I”.
This is actually quite crucial, because it is the same error Ken Wilber commits in his AQAL model of the integral consciousness.
And Rosenstock-Huessy is quite correct. “We” isn’t plural “I” at all, a fact that is affirmed by studies in social psychology. In a “we” group (or crowd or collective), the ego-nature or “I” is quite subdued. An example is also the family unit or a marriage unit a congregation or even an army.
Rosenstock-Huessy faulted a false grammar of three persons for teaching a false logic of reality — a triadic logic when, in fact, reality is fourfold and the human form is also fourfold in those terms. Thus, the cosmic number is actually “four” rather than “three”.
It’s “the day the universe changed”, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve recommended that you read Arthur Miller’s book Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli, which is the struggle of the mind to reach for the new cosmic number — “four”. It’s not as easy as it sounds given that contemporary “common sense” is triadic. That struggle waged by Jung and Pauli is our own cosmic struggle, (which is why I’ve called this blog The Chrysalis, a preparatory or transitional state).
Gebser attempted to interpret the changes in society over the last century or more as indicating a restructuring of consciousness — a “mutation”. He missed a few things of relevance in that, but in the main he has been correct. It is not so accidental that, at the same time generally Einstein was puzzling out the “fourth dimension” as time, Gustav Le Bon was puzzling out the behaviour of “we” groups in his innovative study called The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (and he meant that in the singular “mind”, or what the Buddhist sociologist David Loy now calls “the Wego“).
Rosenstock-Huessy’s new quadrilateral logic and his “cross of reality” also bears a striking resemblance to the Buddhist one, in fact, as well as to the traditional “Medicine Wheel” or “Sacred Hoop” of the North American indigenous peoples. And here, once again, they are for comparison
Jung also calls this mandala like structure an image of “the Self” — the integral consciousness by another name, which is the integration of the four consciousness functions. The “Self” is a mandala like structure, rather than a pyramid or triangle, and I’ve once again added Blake’s image of “the fourfold vision” to round this out.
So, essentially what Jung calls “the Self” is what Blake calls “Albion” or “Adam”, and is also what Meister Eckhart, the German mystic, called “the Aristocrat”. And the four Zoas in their disintegrate state, are also the four Nafs or animal spirits of Rumi’s poetry. And it’s worth taking note of that: Rumi has “four nafs“, not the traditional “three” nafs.
Platonic philosophy had three virutes: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Obviously, they are not three separate things, but three aspects of something else. That “something else” is the “Holy Grail” that went missing. Yet, we have tended to treat them as three separate departments of life — ethics, logics, and aesthetics, or religion, philosophy, and art, which are, today, in disarray. They have become disintegrate, in other words. But evidently, something is missing from this triad. There’s a lacuna. They are evidently three Muses of the mythical consciousness that have been massaged into “concepts”, whereas before they were “names”.
There is some disagreement on the number of the Muses (the word is related to the word for “to think”), whether there were three or nine. This confusion might be significant in itself, which is a topic to be taken up later, especially the likely identity of the Muses also with the three Moirai or “Fates”, and what that might reveal about “thinking” itself.