This is worthwhile. I came across this earlier this evening. It’s a half-hour talk given by one Alan Macfarlane on YouTube, and it’s entitled “A World Without A World View”. It’s actually quite a fine description of what we’re calling “chaotic transition” here, although Macfarlane seems to think of it less as transitional and more like “the new normal”. It is, nonetheless, a very good description of the fragmentation and disintegrative tendency of Late Modern consciousness, and once you listen to it, you will, I suspect, have a much better appreciation of what the phrase “chaotic transition” and what Gebser’s meaning of the “disintegration of a consciousness structure” really signifies.
There’s a certain irony in Macfarlane’s talk, though. For although he speaks of the dissolution into “mist” of all paradigms, he unwittingly acknowledges one that he probably doesn’t think of as a paradigm at all — imagination.
To appreciate Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy as presented in his magnum opus The Ever-Present Origin, it is necessary to understand its roots in the Hermetic Philosophy, and that, in those terms, this great work is, itself, a pointer to the “return of the repressed”.
The Hermetic Principle of “as above, so below” applies particularly to Gebser’s approach, in terms of the reciprocal relationship of cosmos and consciousness as he describes it. In fact, it’s near identity in Gebser. That is to say, any perceived change in the structure or logic of the cosmos correlates with some change in the structure or logos of consciousness. There is a relationship of reciprocity as if there were a dialogue transpiring between cosmos and consciousness. For Gebser, the current radical changes in cosmic structure, as much as we can speak of a “structure”, an order, or logos, have come about only because something has changed in the perceptual possibilities of consciousness. That which was formerly hid or unmanifest in our worldview or perception only becomes unhid or manifest because of some new perceptual possibility — an index into some change in the consciousness structure, or what Gebser calls “a mutation” in the structure.
All that is very lovely, of course, and the cosmos now looks like a very magical and mythical place. That is to say, it begins to resemble the descriptions of the Hermeticists or alchemists. But that comes with some implications and consequences.
I awoke this morning with Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell on my mind, put the coffee on, and settled down to revisiting this very peculiar work. To most people, I suspect, it looks like the writings of a lunatic. That’s understandable, I suppose. Unless you know alchemy and the Hermetic Code it could very well be mistaken for insanity.
Blake, though, is very lucid, and is here speaking to psychic or spiritual realities that are just as valid, objective, and lawful as anything we call “ordinary reality”. You could say that the spiritual reality described by Blake is “symbolic” or “metaphoric”, but only in the same sense that our everyday reality is also symbolic and metaphoric, which indeed it is. But that means, in those terms, that the metaphorical or symbolic forms (or archetypes as Jung calls them) are also real, living entities. And whether we know it or not, we ourselves are also such living archetypes for symbolic forms or metaphorical beings — or, to put that another way, magical and mythical. In those terms, then, the strange entities of alchemy and of Blake’s vision have the same ontological status as we have. We, too, are symbols that have life.