From Point-Of-View to Overview

In the mirror of politics, the state of society and of consciousness is reflected most clearly. To be sure, it isn’t the only mirror of the state of society — cultural life and the economic organisation of society also reflect the state of consciousness as being also reflections of assumptions about reality and of the human self-understanding. But in politics this is made rather more explicit.

And it is in contemporary politics that the breakdown and disintegration of the secular order of space and time, which we call “Modern Era” (or “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” expressed as “perspectivism”), is becoming more and more apparent. Here, the full implications of the post-modern “end of the Grand Narrative” is becoming quite evident, so much so, in fact, that it becomes even difficult to speak of a shared or “common life” at all.

The dis-integration of the secular order and its associated structure of consciousness (the perspectival or “point-of-view” consciousness) is the meaning of the “end of the Grand Narrative” (or “incredulity towards all metanarratives”). And in our contemporary atmosphere and milieu of hyper-partisan politics — in which partisan politics has become essentially “war by other means” or “war of all against all” — is reflected the deteriorating condition of the secular order.

The parallel to this “end of the Grand Narrative” as an expression of a common life and a common consciousness was, of course, the Late Middle Ages. The Biblical narrative — Scripture — then served as the Grand Narrative and the basis of a common life. This “Universal Narrative” as we might call it, named “Christendom”, disintegrated with the rise of Protestantism, schism, and sectarianism some 500 years ago and the parallel “Renaissance” of the “Greek Mind”. Those sects provided the germ-cell for our contemporary ideologies — liberalism, conservatism, socialism, anarchism. These secular ideologies all began life, however, as theological controversies, when the unity of Christendom and the Age of Faith represented in the symbol of the Word on the Cross splintered and fragmented.

The new Grand Narrative of the secular order was “Universal Reason” and a three-dimensional universe — a triad of spaces in terms of length, width, and depth. This triadic or tripartite conception of reality which we call the “perspectival” consciousness, is reflected in the dialectical logic of the mental-rational structure of consciousness — thesis, antithesis, and synthesis correspond to length, width and depth. The “ratio” of rationality is, in effect, a geometric ratio of spaces organised as “point-of-view” consciousness. For, indeed, even this term “point-of-view” is a borrowing from the discovery in the Renaissance by the artists, of how to properly represent three-dimensional space upon a two-dimensional surface. This “point-of-view” is, in effect, the famous Cartesian cogito — the rational ego-consciousness itself.

The Cartesian "cogito" illustrated by Descartes

The Cartesian “cogito” illustrated by Descartes


Perspectivism: The Dialectical Consciousness

Perspectivism: The Dialectical Consciousness as “New Order of the Ages”


da Vinci's Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

da Vinci’s Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

Cogito, ergo sum. This discovery of the centrality of the “point-of-view” or ego-consciousness to perception contributed to the rise of liberal democracy, and its fundamental premise — “the rational pursuit of self-interest” (individualism) being “natural”. The new Grand Narrative of “Universal Reason”, which we call “the Enlightenment”, was the assumption or new foundational self-understanding that “man is the rational animal” — homo sapiens, “the knowing one”. The problem with that is, that “rational”, or what we call the mental-rational structure of consciousness, was a ratio of three dimensions of space. It made no provision for “time” at all.

The omission of time from the “point of view” deemed to coincide with “Universal Reason” was ultimately to prove the Achilles’ heal of this structure of consciousness — the perspectival. It began to breakdown in the late 19th century, most especially with Nietzsche, with existentialism, and the artistic revolt against perspectivism. The irruption of “time” as a new dimension, formally with Einstein, but also with Darwin and Picasso, has discombobulated and perplexed the conventional “ratio” and its logic and what it means to be “rational”. And it is our confusion about the meaning of “time” that has our knickers in a knot. Our confusion about time and the meaning of time is tremendous, and it’s reflected in our fractious politics. The legacy human self-understanding or self-image, associated with the “point-of-view” or perspectival consciousness structure, is simply out of synch with the new image of the cosmos.

The struggle to incorporate this new consciousness of time into the “ratio” is pretty much the whole story of post-modernity and the restructuration or “mutation” of consciousness. Jean Gebser calls this “the integral consciousness” or aperspectival or arational consciousness. The “point-of-view” consciousness structure that defined the Modern Era has become “deficient” in relation to its actual life-world.

There is a kind of ironic and literal truth to the saying that “time makes hypocrites of us all”. “Duplicity is the currency of the day”, says the Pope, and a lot of that mendacity, duplicity, and hypocrisy is expressed in the self-contradiction of insisting on “integrity” while simultaneously insisting on one’s partisan and myopic “point of view” as being the whole of reality. It doesn’t take much thought to come to the realisation that “integrity” (the whole) and “point-of-view” (the partial) are quite contradictory, and is a kind of schizophrenia. Perspectivising consciousness in that sense has become only tunnel vision and myopia.

The struggle of our time is really the attempt of consciousness to escape from the narrow “point-of-view” consciousness structure of “rational self-interest” now become only “culture of narcissism”  to what Gebser calls a more “universal way of looking at things”, which we might call rather “the overview“. This is being forced upon us in the Planetary Era whether we like it or not. Certainly what we call “identity politics” is an attempt of the ego-consciousness to cling to its narrow “point-of-view” and “rational self-interest” in the face of the distress caused by the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure.

I have suggested that Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic, which does include time in a new fourfold “ratio”, does represent this “overview” and a more “universal way of looking at things”, and is a resolution of the disorderliness and confusion and distress of the postmodern mind, one in which the merely partisan can come to appreciate its place within a larger whole and more inclusive — more integral — structure of consciousness. Rosenstock-Huessy calls himself a “time-thinker” more than a “space-thinker”, so appropriate to our own age, is precisely the corrective we need presently — a new human self-understanding as multiform beings living in a multidimensional universe — fourfold beings living in a fourfold cosmos.

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

Thus also coming to fulfill William Blake’s vision for a “New Age” and even possibly a “New Jerusalem”

Now I fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep

“Single vision” is the hyper-partisan ego-consciousness now trapped in the myopia of its narrowing “point-of-view” and exaggerated self-interest, and seemingly unable to overcome or transcend itself. Self-interest has become a prison.

So, I think the best way to describe the current “chaotic transition” that is post-modernity is to describe the “mutation” as being a metamorphosis from “point-of-view” to “overview”, or from Blake’s “Single Vision” to “fourfold vision”, or from the deficient mental-rational to the integral, as Gebser describes it.

This “new consciousness” is still emergent, but is, I believe, already the manifestation or “irruption” or “presentiation” of the future within the present. New values are being born and old ones are being “revalued” or are perishing, which superficially looks like “nihilism” (and much of it is coincidentally nihilism). The danger here is the reactionary.



5 responses to “From Point-Of-View to Overview”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    All values perish but the divine values, that is exactly the meaning of everything perishes but his Face. He was there prior to the existence and will remain there after the extinction of existence. How many extinctions have we witnessed and how many are in store, a question for attentive pondering. We are moving toward the integral existence of consciousness whether we like it or not. So it is decreed. It is a world of energy with different shades of density, transparency is the coin of the time. The number of those awakened is increasing and the path of the crooked is exposed. Those who are enclosed in the coffin of this life only or as it was put by Blake, in the single vision, are doomed . The inheritors are the good, so say all divine books. Transformation requires time but alas humanity is in a hurry. Thank you Scott for a grand narration for the probable grand narrative of the future.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Last night I was asking myself what did Nietzsche mean when talking about values and its devaluation, but the divine values in the christian context that have been murdered by the secular west, the west that continue to do so on a grander scale throughout our time. The west that builds his land on the ruins of other lands, killing truth and justice across the globe. The colonial history is filled with the atrocities committed. The visitations are frightening, yet peoples are oblivious of what is coming.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The principal symptom of a widespread “devaluation of values” is cynicism. We might also say “malaise”, but cynicism if a big part of that malaise. The thing is to understand cynicism as a form of nihilism — the exhaustion of values that once were inspirational, but no longer are inspirational for having become empty and hollow.

      Nietzsche’s “revaluation of values” is an attempt to resuscitate values that have become dead, by giving them new meaning within a new post-metaphysical framework. By “postmetaphysical” is meant to revive those older values within a new framework — in Nietzsche’s case, biology. Nietzsche makes the “soul” and the body equivalent.

      This is an interesting step, because it is later reflected in Einstein’s formula for the equivalence of energy and matter, as encapsulated in his famous formula E=mc2. In Nietzsche’s case, though, he calls the vital energy “Dionysian”.

      Dionysus is the “Green Man” of myth and legend, and it seems his counterpart in the Islamic tradition is Al-Kadr, who is also known as “the Green Man”.

      So Nietzsche was searching for a pathway through and beyond cynicism or nihilism — a new source of inspiration.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I might add to my last comment, by way of clarification also, that Nietzsche apparently did not think that “matter” existed at all, so that makes his understanding of biology and the physicality of the body kind of interesting. He believed atoms weren’t material, but were energetic entities or “vortices”. That anticipates quantum mechanics in which matter has pretty much dissolved into nothing but energy.

      As far as I know, no one has made a point of that as being a strange paradox of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the soul and the body.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Thank you Scott for the explanation but I am talking about his accusation not about his vision.

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