Respondeo, etsi mutabor

Respondeo etsi mutabor” — “I answer, although I will be changed” — is Rosenstock-Huessy’s formula for his envisioned “metanoia” or “new mind”. The formula is intended to supplant the famous Cartesian formula cogito, ergo sum which over emphasised the intellect or thinking function of consciousness. Rosenstock wanted to shift the emphasis from logic to grammar, and from thinking to speaking and listening, and from dialectics to dialogics. The respondeo is intended to emphasise human responsibility, and so is a fitting formula for the principle of stewardship.

It’s our responses that define us and which become our fate. Descartes’ own formula seems to make thinking central to the problem of existence, but it was a response to the problem of existence, just as it was for the classical Greeks. In both cases, reason emerged as a response to the “labrynthine” situation — the maze of confusion and perplexity — that characterised both late Greek civilisation and the twilight of Christendom and the High Middle Ages, or what Jean Gebser referred to as a consciousness structure entering into its “deficient” phase or mode.

Our possible responses in the face of crisis are not infinite. Rosenstock-Huessy demonstrated that they can only occur in the four directions of the cross of reality — as prejective, trajective, subjective, or objective; or, towards the future, towards the past, towards the inner, and towards the outer, respectively — forwards, backwards, inwards, outwards, or the four aspects of time and space which form the cross of reality.

Mutabor” emphasises the desirable mutable (flexible, liquid, or plastic) character of our consciousness in the face of our “crucial” situation, and it reflects that theme of the “new mutation” of which Gebser and others have written — the emergence of the integral or holistic consciousness as a response to the growing deficiency of the mental-rational or perspectivising structure in the context of the Planetary Era. A little reflection will show that Gebser’s consciousness structures — the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — have been simply various forms of response of human consciousness to the question and pressure of existence in physical reality.

Both Gebser and Rosenstock give precedence to grammar over logic, and see logic as being embedded in grammar, and that means their method is dialogical more than dialectical. Dialectics is subsumed and contained within the dialogical. In those terms, Rosenstock’s remark that “God is the power that makes men speak” and Jean Gebser’s “ever-present origin” are identical in meaning as signifying “the source”. And in Rosenstock’s terms, that source coincides with the “vital centre” of the cross of reality.

The function of response — of speaking and listening — is the preserving or restoring the equilibrium of the fourfold, represented as the cross of reality. Religion, art, science, politics have been the four types of response to the four fronts of time and space, or epics or narrative form, lyrics or optative form, analytics or indicative form, and dramatics or imperative form, respectively. These are what we have been referring to as “The Guardians of the Four Directions”. And as my Sioux friends say “the Sacred Hoop is in language”, and the man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice” — from the centre of the Sacred Hoop — is the one who can integrate all four aspects of time and space, and who establishes peace amongst the four directions — North, South, East, and West.

In other words, equanimity brings equilibrium, and justice is the balance. The Sacred Hoop, like the cross of reality, is an image of the human form as much as of the cosmos.

Sacred Hoop

Sacred Hoop

Distributive justice and restorative justice therefore have very much to do with the fourfold and with the cross of reality. An integration is an equilibrium of the powers, and this is the theme of the holistic or integral of the new mutation, whether it is called “holonic” or “the sensorium” (Marshall McLuhan) or “the integrum” (Jean Gebser) or the “convivium”. Conviviality is the synchronisation of the two faces of time, as past and future, as well as the coordination of the two faces of space, as inner and outer — or trajective, prejective, subjective, and objective aspects of the fullness of Kosmos.

These four aspects of Kosmos, or Guardians of the Four Directions, were previously represented by the Four Evangelists and in the four Gospels as Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, especially in their zoomorphic forms such as one finds in the Book of Kells or in the relief called Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

Agnus Dei: Christian Mandala of the Fourfold Self

Hitherto, this fourfoldness has only been intuited, but without full comprehension of its meaning. Today, it must become fully conscious. It’s a matter of survival.

It’s the stress, tension, and pressure of the contemporary crisis of modernity and of the mental-rational structure of consciousness that is stimulating the new mutation. As Gebser notes, however, this stress and tension involves a “double-movement” — the disintegrative of decadent tendency (fragmentation, fracture, and atomisation) running parallel to an integrative or holistic dynamic.

But it’s probably more accurate to say that we are approaching a crossroads, or a fork in the road, and our response to this will be decisive for the future. Past and future are in collision, just as the subjective and objective are in collision (or culture and nature), for the disintegrative tendency could very well result in totalitarianism rather than a true integration, and it seems at present that this is will be the endgame of the modern era.

Please bear in mind what I have called “Khayyam’s Caution” here: that “only a hair separates the false from the true”. The precedent for this in our time is the fate of the German Weimar Republic, where the response to the disintegrative was violent imposition of totalitarian conformity and uniformity rather than a true integration, and the same can be said of the former USSR. We must not confuse assimilation with integration. We must not assume that the whole and the totality are the same thing. This is the present danger and peril that is the theme of Timothy Snyder’s recent article in The Guardian and which has also become of great concern to many others. “Economism” is the new totalitarianism, in fact.

Totalitarianism is a defective response to the disintegrate. Totalitarian regimes don’t last very long, but they are incredibly destructive and nihilistic while they do last until, ultimately, that nihilism suicidally consumes them also. If you understand the cross of reality and the fourfold, you will see why it’s an inevitability.

In totalitarianism, one faction of the cross of reality attempts to dominate, extinguish or destroy the others. This is the recognisable theme, also, of William Blake’s mythology of the Four Zoas. The incredible violence and destructiveness of totalitarian regimes or ideology (whether conceived as “final solutions” or “end of history” neo-imperialism) is always the attempt of one aspect of the fourfold to annihilate or dominate the others. It destroys the ecological equilibrium of the fourfold relation, imposing a uniformity on it. Diversity is loathed as disunity. Everything is reduced to being either politics, economics, religion, or aesthetics or dramatics (especially tragic aesthetics). In attempting to reduce the four to one, it inevitably devours and consumes its own foundations. It’s own nihilism eventually consumes it as well.

We appear to be approaching this fork in the road rather quickly. Everything is being reduced to economics or “the commodification of everything”. This is as much totalitarian ideology as any other type — reactionary totalitarianism or revolutionary totalitarianism. It should be clear enough, I believe, that presently the autonomy of the political, of the cultural, and of the spiritual is being co-opted, compromised, and subordinated to the economic, and that this is leading towards self-destruction, reflecting Oscar Wilde’s definition of cynicism and nihilism “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The end result is disequilibrium.

But this situation of crisis also has it’s positive side. Crisis compels us to wake up. It’s sink or swim. The situation forces the emergent holistic to reach beyond simple slogans to ever greater articulation of itself. What is intuitional must become more explicit, manifest, and conscious. The cure for the disease is in the disease itself, and that’s equivalently Nietzsche’s faith. “What does not kill me makes me stronger” only becomes true by faith, which is why the strict rationalist has such a problem with it.

Another of the ironies of Nietzsche.


4 responses to “Respondeo, etsi mutabor

  1. davidm58 says :

    Trying to get a better handle on the meaning of ‘prejective and trajective’ I found this post:

    Lots of good food for thought in this post. For now I’ll focus on this – If everything’s being reduced to economics, it behooves us to also get a better handle on this subject. Here’s another Peter Pogany paper on “Fifth Structure” – emergence in economics: Observations through the thermodynamic lens of World History.”

    “Gebser’s archeology of consciousness, augmented by its graciously nonpositivistic (open destiny) eschatology through archaic-originary projection, presumes the epiphenomenon of socioeconomic transformation. Since the history of consciousness is also a history of social consciousness, which is never without economic interpretations, it is mirrored by the history of economic thought.

    The thermodynamic conceptualization of the human journey provides further warrant to Gebser’s caveat that the mutation of the prevalent mental-rational structure of consciousness into the integral-arational (“fifth”) constellation is a sine qua non for dignified survival. This crucial moment in collective psychohistory is inseparable from a change in the global socioeconomic system, which cannot occur without transcending mainstream orthodoxy in economic sciences.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. Thanks for the link. I’ll have a look at it later, but I have to run off at the moment.

      I wanted to follow up this post, also, with the functions of State, Church, University and Corporation as they have appeared in history — their conflicts and resolutions. We tend to speak in dualisms of “Church” and “State” without paying proper attention to the emancipation of the tertium — the University and its autonomy as middle term between Church and State. State, Church and University were the three principle institutions of modernity, prior to the emergence of the Corporation.

      These are, in effect, the “guardians of the four directions” in secular form — the political, the religious, the cultural. The Corporation has emerged as the economic form, but it is attempting to usurp and supplant and reduce the others. Most people are now socialised in corporations, rather than nations, churches or universities.

      Putting the corporation in its proper place in this quadrilateral is the present ethical, political, and aesthetic problem altogether. The problem is one of divided loyalties for the post-modern mind. These institutions are in conflict and contradiction with each other, and within themselves, too.

      But I’ll leave the details of that conflict and the problem of divided loyalties to another post later.

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s a very useful and interesting paper by Pogany — at least, the parts I understood, not having much of an economics background. But the appearance of the arational-aperspectival in economic theory is certainly intriguing. Think I’ll have to read that paper a couple of times over still while I’m reading his book Rethinking the World.

      I’m not sure what the status is of his last posthumous publication “21st Century, Thy Name is Havoc”, or whether its even due for publication at all. I’ld very much like to read that.

      • davidm58 says :

        You’re a faster reader than I…or maybe I’m getting more interruptions to my reading, but I’m only up to page 9 of the Pogany paper tonight. Pogany is a bit challenging to read, but worth it. This is probably my fourth or fifth time through, and I’m seeing I’ve already underlined most of it on previous reads. I’ve just read his section on time, and feel a better understanding after having read your posts, and remembering St. Augustine’s comment that “time is of the soul.”

        Yes, I’d like to read the “21st Century…” book as well!

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