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.