The Technological System as Dream and Psychodrama

I am reading an absolutely superb — even indispensable —  book on the meaning of technology by Robert D. Romanyshyn entitled Technology as Symptom and Dream (Routledge, 1989). Romanyshyn is uniquely sensitive to the meaning of the technological image and the implicit dreaminess of technical culture. In this respect, he dives very much deeper into the issue of technology as a dreaming than Richard Stivers’ Technology as Magic or Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, which are fine books in themselves, or, for that matter, the more sociological approaches like Jacques Ellul’s many books on the technological system.

In tone and in approach, Technology as Symptom and Dream is very reminscent of Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin in his description of perspectivising consciousness and perception from which the technological system emerged (as you may glean from this excellent review of Romanyshyn’s book at DreamFlesh). If anything, Romanyshyn explores this link between linear perspectivism and technological culture in even more convincing detail than Gebser does, which makes the book a crucial text for Gebser studies, and especially in respect of what we’ve been referring to as “the return of the repressed” or “return of the native”.

And I have to mention that books like this, and others like Stivers’ treatment of technology as magic and Bailey’s treatment of the technological system as mythical, really do demonstrate how prescient Jean Gebser was in anticipating the “irruption” of the magical and mythical structures of consciousness within the milieu of the mental-rational or perspectivist structure of consciousness (and in so doing, presenting the possibility of a new structure of consciousness — the “integral” or arational-aperspectival).

Romanyshyn also makes note of the “double-movement” of the times much like Gebser, only he frames it as a kind of struggle between “astronautical man” and “archaic man”, and in those terms as the flight towards an abstract, discarnate, disembodied existence as escape from the body, death, and the Earth, as against “archaic man” as incarnate, embodied being tied to the Earth. And, much like Nietzsche, he finds this contempt for the Earth and the body underlying the desires of “astronautical man” to be deeply troubling for the fate of the Earth itself. In those terms, “astronautical man” is akin to the mentality that attempts to escape what Gebser describes as the “law of the earth”.

Those of you familiar with Iain McGilchrist’s excellent book on the divided brain called The Master and his Emissary will probably recognise Romanyshyn’s “astronautical man” here as McGilchrist’s “Emissary” (or the ego-nature) become dissociated from the “Master” — the greater awareness that we implicitly are. Romanyshyn aptly describes the goals of astronautical man as being the flight into the vanishing point of perspective consciousness, which brings to mind Nietzsche’s remark that “Since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre towards X.”

X, the unknown, is today the mood of “uncertainty”. And this mood of uncertainty, which is the meaning of “chaotic transition” is attended by great anxiety or Angst. This mood about the meaning of Nietzsche’s X was very well exemplified in the aformentioned article in The Guardian, “Welcome to the New Age of Uncertainty“. The meaning of Nietzsche’s X is also captured in the saying “the future ain’t what it used to be”.

And Nietzsche’s “X” isn’t much different at all from Marx’s “all that is solid melts into air”.

Uncertainty is one of the chief symptoms of the breakdown of the perspectivist or mental-rational consciousness structure. And since Nature abhors a vacuum, into this void of uncertainty left by the breakdown of the mental-rational or “the Modern Project” (and “end of the Grand Narrative” in that sense) upwells and uprushes what had been either repressed or moderated by the mental-rational consciousness, but in a highly disorganised and often impulsive or “chaotic” way. Uncertainty in that sense, and “chaotic transition” as the appearance of uncertainty, represents, in effect, the mental-rational consciousness’s loss of structure. In simple terms, it’s just what we call “losing it”.

In those terms, nihilism and the consciousness’s loss of structure, integrity, or coherence are pretty much the same issue. For that reason, we have books now like Gebser’s, Romanyshyn’s, Stiver’s, and Bailey’s amongst others which have noted that the goals and activities of Late Modernity, or post-modernity, are increasingly “irrational”. In those terms, the structural logic of the mental-rational consciousness (or perspectivising perception) is breaking down and falling apart, resulting in a) age of uncertainty, b) anxiety or Angst and c) “chaotic transition” and d) a seemingly intractable predicament, summarised in a nutshell by Heidegger’s despairing remark that “only a god can save us now.”

More than most, Romanyshyn treats the crisis of Late Modernity as a spiritual crisis and a crisis of consciousness, more than simply a sociological or psychological issue. In those terms, he helps complete the total picture of the present predicament (and perhaps insight into the real meaning of Rolf Jensen’s previously discussed “Dream Society”). I’m sure I’ll have more to comment about as I progress through the book, which I’m sure will help tie together some of the stranger aspects of late modernity treated of by other authors, including Iain McGichrist and the divided brain.



8 responses to “The Technological System as Dream and Psychodrama”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    The “White Gaze”. I was just reading an article by Australian aboriginal journalist Stan Grant in today’s Guardian, which seemed quite serendipitous given today’s post

    “Trapped by the white gaze”. But it’s not what it seems — or rather, is more than what it seems. The “Gaze” is exactly what we are referring to in describing the perspectivist mode of perception. The “gaze” (it could also be the “male gaze” in relation to women, for all that) is a mode of perception, and the mode of perception is a function of the consciousness structure. In this case, the mental-rational or “perspectivising” consciousness structure. This is the meaning of “the gaze”, and Romanyshyn does a very fine job of unwrapping the whole history of that gaze.

    I’ve therefore sent Mr. Grant a note, suggesting that he look into Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom of Dream for more insight into the meaning of that “gaze”. And I hope to have more to say about “the gaze” (white or otherwise) after finishing Romanyshyn’s book.

  2. Charles Leiden says :

    Scott, fascinating how we share similar interests. I agree about Romanyshyn being very insightful. I tend to go in tangents but with a purpose. A book that I discovered is Regaining Consciousness: Resuscitating the Soul
    By Frank J. Broucek. I can’t say enough about this book. Chapter two talks the origin of the scientific worldview. The author gives a summary articulate from a book by Robert Romanyshyn Technology as Symptom and Dream. He writes: In 15th century Florence, artists Brunelleschi and Alberti developed the technique of rendering linear perspective in drawing and painting…what began as a artistic device became a style of thought, a culturally adopted way of perceiving and imagining the world that became the foundation of what we might call the consciousness of science. He explores Alberti’s window, which was a “frame in which a grid-like veil, divided by thick threads into many parallel sections…the geometrization and fragmentation of the the visual scene produced by the grid-like veil became the dominant metaphor of the developing scientific vision that broke the whole into parts, isolated elements, and decontextualized what is observed. “Trapped by the white gaze” as you say.

    You write,
    More than most, Romanyshyn treats the crisis of Late Modernity as a spiritual crisis and a crisis of consciousness, more than simply a sociological or psychological issue.

    I agree wholeheartedly. Keep up the good writing.

    • Scott Preston says :

      What Romanyshyn was saying about Brunelleschi and Alberti in 1989, is what got me more or less booted out of graduate studies when I said it in 2000. But at that time, I didn’t know of Romanyshyn’s book at all. I wish I had then, but I’m still pleased to find it now. Romanyshyn does an excellent job of unwrapping the history of perspective consciousness. It’s hard to imagine he wasn’t familiar with Gebser (although I see by some google searches that their names are now linked).

      When we tell someone to “keep things in perspective” or taking a “point of view” we really don’t realise what depths of history actually inform those kinds of statements. The “gaze” — the objectifying gaze, today the gaze of the panopticon and of mass surveillance — has its roots in that discovery of perspectivism by the Renaissance artists that became the metaphor and general framework for interpreting all experience of the world.

      But the fact that we are now finding something very peculiar and odd about “the gaze” — about perspective perception and the point of view — that in itself seems to attest to the fact that it no longer has a complete hold on us. Something else is emerging into awareness that now makes that “point of view” approach seem quite odd and constricting, but which is not yet fully conscious of itself. Perhaps Broucek’s resurrected soul.

      • Charles Leiden says :

        What were you studying back then? I don’t how known Gebser has been through the years. I probably became familiar with him in the late 1980’s. I can’t remember who introduced me to his ideas. Now I remember it was ken Wilber’s book Up From Eden where talks about Gebser’s ideas.

        “he finds this contempt for the Earth and the body underlying the desires of “astronautical man” to be deeply troubling for the fate of the Earth itself.”

        That is an idea that I feel is a fundamental problem. The fear of death and consequently, a search for immortality projects. Patriarchy is part of the problem and male woundedness. Ronald Schenk writes

        Augustine interpreted Genesis differently, reading in it the story of human bondage to sexuality. Ever since the Fall, freedom of will had been lost. Spontaneous sexual desire was both proof and penalty of original sin. Government, especially in the form of the Church, was necessary as a defense against the power of bodily desire. In both doctrines, the freedom of will and the necessity of the Church as protector against spontaneous sexuality, the body was considered as alien, and consciousness was oriented away from the body and hence from the world. In regard to the turn from the world by pagans and Christians alike, Dodds recalls the influence of the pagan notion of the earth as dark, cold, and impure in comparison to the light, warmth, and purity of the heavens. In this tradition, matter is a source of evil, embodiment a form of exile, and human existence an alien, unnatural condition. The result is a turn by consciousness away from body and world in the service of an introverted quest for spiritual being. The turn from matter was paralleled by a shift in consciousness…both the early Christians and the Stoics the turn away from the physical world was in response to a need for identification with immortality. Denial of the body and of the transience of earthly life is the denial of limits that death imposes on mortal being. The movement of consciousness inward also gives humanity a sense of control in that if we are independent of the influence of the harsh, physical world, we are free from fear of pain or death. When bodily existence is acknowledged, man is rendered dependent on the environment. With the movement toward interiority, outside influences become mere mental impressions that can be controlled by the mind.”

        One could suggest that this attitude led to the metaphor of the machine being so predominant Broucek ‘s book articulates what ‘machine consciousness” is and its manifestations in the world today.

        There are just so many areas of discussion about all this.

        Your last paragraph. I agree.

  3. Mark Dotson says :

    There is a very good article by Romanyshyn at called The Despotic Eye: An Illustration of Metabletic Phenomenology and Its Implications. I wrote the following essay after reading it: I love his work.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the link. I just posted something about this “despotic eye” which I titled “The Gaze”. I think the “despotic eye” should prove to be very informative in that regard.

  4. Charles Leiden says :

    Bailey’s insight about the “camera obscura” is important also. He suggests that this simple old machine has “quietly heightened our sense of being subjects in a world of objects.” Other writers have written about how the camera has shaped our modern consciousness. Image becomes everything.

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