At the Precipice
There is, today, a great deal of very insightful, very wise literature being published. I certainly can’t keep up with it as much as I would want. But at the same time, there is this great dissonance – a chasm — between how we live our lives and what we now know… or believe we know. Despite the evident truth that “the emergence of unconscious knowledge” — previously repressed knowledge — is today a fact (and “irrupts” coincident also with the “end of the Grand Narrative”) we seem to have great difficulty turning that emergent knowledge and awareness to account in the practical affairs of life, so that what we know and how we live have become quite dissonant and inharmonious. And for many of us this contradiction between what we now know and how we conduct our lives has become acutely stressful. There is, as it were, a precipice, an abyss, between this emergent knowledge and how we actually conduct our lives, and the bridge across this subject-object dichotomy seems nowhere evident, which would actually be the bridge to the future.
This is really the predicament of Late Modernity, isn’t it? We have this emergent unconscious knowledge but no sense of how to actualise it — no sense of how “to claim knowledge as power”, as don Juan explained the frustrations of the apprentice in the world of magic. For it is an issue of magic. There is a peculiar relationship between Francis Bacon’s “scientia potens est” (or “knowledge is power”) and the sorcerer’s problem of claiming that knowledge as power — of translating knowledge into the practical matters of everyday life. And we are in that often frustrating situation today. — how to translate that emergent unconscious knowledge into praxis — as living and as lived knowledge. We seem to be on the proverbial “slow boat to China” in that respect.
We all know that something’s afoot. Even the folks around “marketing 3.0” that I have studied in past posts know that something radical is happening in human consciousness that they are at pains to try to understand and control if they can. They really do believe that they are the guides, steersmen, and agents of order in the midst of the “chaotic transition” rather than what they actual are, symptoms and abetters of the chaos. As Nietzsche-Zarathustra would put it, “they are no bridges to the overman” — that is, to the future.
The dilemma of Late Modernity is precisely a dilemma because we really don’t know how to bridge the chasm between emergent knowledge and the realities of practical life as it has been organised in society. This contradiction thus leads to a fundamental “devaluation of values” in the form of radical skepticism towards the institutions of modern life — nihilism in other words — even if that skepticism is more impulsive than conscious. A lot of post-modern deconstructionism is like a conscious and controlled demolition of modern institutions that have become repressive impediments to the emergence of new knowledge, while other kinds of deconstructionism are more impulsive and irrational, and very often incoherent and inarticulate.
I have even read some reactionary intellectuals who want to make this dissonance between knowledge and practical life a norm of contemporary society and life. That dissonance is captured even in Browning’s line “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a heaven for?”. That is to say, our ideals — even our spiritual goals and ideals — must forever be kept separate from the practical realities of life. But it’s just duplicity isn’t it? It just results in lip-service of the kind that says “do as I say, not as I do”. Behind this “realism” lies Cartesian metaphysical dualism — that spirit and matter are forever separate, and all Being is inevitably and irrevocably divided against itself in essential duplicity.
This is a very reactionary stance, but it also is very much implicated in what we call “the new normal” or “post-truth society”. Ideals must forever be consigned to the realm of wishful thinking and fantasy, while we get on with the “practical” affairs of power politics and the exploitation and pillage of the Earth, even as we espouse and worship ideals to the contrary of what we do “realistically”. This is called “realism”. I just see it as a rationalisation of their own lack of integrity. If there is an absolute divide between the spiritual and the material, or the ideal and the practical, or imagination and reality, it is because we have made it so, and not because it is “realistic”. This is the reasoning in the critique of perspective perception and the mental-rational consciousness.
So, the challenge of “claiming knowledge as power” — that is to say, to translate emergent knowledge into new cultural patterns and the practical affairs of life — is a challenge of our own implicit structure of consciousness. It requires, in that sense, a self-overcoming, a self-transcendence. The apparent chasm between spiritual knowledge and practical reality is an obstacle and a chasm we have put there ourselves. And it has become quite evident that the stress, individual, social, global, of this dualistic way of thinking has become unbearable for many, even if they are not fully conscious of the roots of this stress and often lash out at supposed “causes” that have nothing to do with it because they have no self-knowledge or historical memory.
(This is a time for mindfulness and meditation, in that respect. And I’m glad to see some local schools teaching these things to students today, because they’ll need them in order to learn to handle emergent unconscious knowledge in a constructive way).
Emergent unconscious knowledge, largely intuitive knowledge at this time, arises and finds resistances to its actualisation in the practical affairs of life, ie, in the ego-nature and in the received social arrangements and institutions. It is the “return of the repressed” in the form of the “ancient force”, as Seth calls it — in broader terms, the return of the Anima Mundi whose earlier vivisection into her “atomies” the poet John Donne lamented in “An Anatomy of the World“. Nietzsche’s “Dionysus” — the “Green Man” — is the consort and emissary of the Anima Mundi. Essentially, within all expressions of the “return of the repressed” in terms of the archaic, magical, and mythical structures of consciousness lies the Anima Mundi. Therein lies the significance of Nietzsche’s double-imperative: “Become what you are” and “Be true to the Earth” as two aspects of one process of the return of the Anima Mundi (which you may call “the life force” or “ancient force” if it pleases you to do so).
Our received social institutions will either respond to this return of the repressed as the irruption of unconscious knowledge or they will be annihilated. It will take considerable skill to guide the return of the repressed in ways that don’t resemble Stevenson’s “Mr. Hyde” or the more frenzied and manic aspects of the Dionysian, which seem somewhat over-pronounced these days.
Jean Gebser didn’t write his Ever-Present Origin as merely a scholarly exercise, but to give us some understanding of the return of the repressed and of how we might organise it constructively without losing our marbles in the process. Rosenstock-Huessy’s writings are very much also about the reorganisation of emergent knowledge, which he didn’t think would occur without a “fifth revolution” that would seal and close the Modern Era. And whether it is Jesus’s struggle with Satan, or Buddha’s struggle with Mara, or Jung’s struggle with the Shadow, or Blake’s struggle with “Leviathan”, the road to an enlightened ego consciousness isn’t without perils and risks. Dr. Jekyll lost his struggle with Hyde. Yet, paradoxically, the horror they all struggled with ended up being only their own ego-nature.
We have to struggle with Descartes’ “demon” — the panoptic eye which is the shadow side of the Enlightenment. That’s the significance of Robert Romanyshyn’s essay on “The Despotic Eye” and his lengthier book on the subject Technology as Symptom and Dream. That “eye” made famous by Orwell in 1984, is the manifestation of Descartes’ demon. And Descartes’ demon is what Iain McGilchrist identifies as “the Emissary” in his book The Master and his Emissary. Romanyshyn’s “despotic eye” or “the Gaze”, as I described it in the last post, is the eye of Descartes’ demon. It this not the same as Buddha’s “Mara”? Descartes’ demon is also Blake’s “Urizen” — the dark side of Urizenic Man.
This is the form of our “shadow”, or what Gebser calls “deficient mode of the mental-rational consciousness”.