Our Task is Different
We shouldn’t focus too much on the decaying manifestations of the Modern Age in post-modernity which, in the American context, are represented in both Trump and Clinton, (or “the demagogue” and “the technocrat” as someone succinctly put it). The same thing is happening everywhere at our “end of history”, “new normal”, “post-truth society” or whatever you wish to call this strange universe we’ve entered into in which, quite literally, “mind is at the end of its tether” and the era of Universal Reason is disintegrating into incoherence and the fractiousness of infinite points-of-view all claiming universal validity.
Our task in this period of chaotic transition we call “post-modernity” is different, which is to work out a new foundation for truth, and for the common understanding of truth, which is presently in crisis. This task, the Great Work, is pretty challenging and demanding largely because we cannot trust, or rely upon, much in the way of precedent or in an allegiance to decayed models that are no longer effective (the problem of “zombie logic”). Our own task must be a double one of retrieval and transformation.
We acknowledge that the Modern Age is over, and that the ideals of an Age of Universal Reason have decayed into incoherence and “truthiness”. What otherwise is a “post-truth society” or “new normal” than that? The mental-rational consciousness, elaborated over the last 500 years, has undermined and devoured its own foundations and is leaving us with both a disaster but also an opportunity. Reformation has decayed into fundamentalism, while Renaissance has decayed into reductionism, both of which have become species of nihilism. And we should try to grab this “cubic centimeter of chance” (as Castaneda’s don Juan put it nicely) in the chaotic transition to articulate a new foundation, a new basis, for truth and shared truth.
We should salvage what we can from the wreckage of the Modern Age. It’s devotion to truth was admirable, even where its methods, which were only perspectivist, left much to be desired. It’s not that perspectivism or perspectivisation is false. It was just incomplete — a matter of Blake’s “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”. It aspired to something grand — Universality — but which it could not finally achieve because of its too narrow focus. So when Jean Gebser writes of our need for a truly “universal way of looking at things”, he is still paying homage to that grand vision, even when he understood very well why it was doomed to fail in the end because it had built its foundations of truth upon the mere shifting sands of the “point-of-view”.
There’s no question but that the heady optimism and enthusiasm that greeted Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Universal Reason has waned and decayed into cynicism and cynical reason, which, as Nietzsche well knew, was a symptom of decadence and the chief driver of the “devaluation of values” through which all higher values are debased. Gebser’s strategy is to retrieve from cynical reason that which is valuable, and to transform it through a “revaluation of values”.
This is the task of “revaluation” is what Nietzsche did not finish. It is, though, the task that Gebser took up from his study of Nietzsche.
This work of retrieval and transformation is the Hermetic “Great Work”. The transformation of lead into gold is a parable about revaluation of values, and is the work of the “integral consciousness”. It is just as much the meaning of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” as “metanoia” (or “new mind”). The very act of retrieval and transformation, or “revaluation of values”, is the meaning of the “plus mutation” of a consciousness structure.
In that sense, Universal Reason into Integral Consciousness (or the arational-aperspectival) is not a question of undoing Reason, but of adding to the ideal of Universal Reason a new dimension (or amension, as it were) that acts as a kind of leavening, fulfilling and transforming Reason itself. Like Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, this additional “dimension” is the admission of the quality of Time. This admission of time into the mental-rational leads to what Rosenstock-Huessy calls “universal history” which is, actually, in many respects the equivalent of Gebser’s notion of “time-freedom”.
“It’s the Universal, Jim. But not as we know it!” Indeed it is not as we know it. Gebser’s “universal way of looking at things” and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “universal history” are pretty much the same. “Transnational Revolution” and “universal history” are pretty much synonymous in Rosenstock-Huessy’s view (not to be construed as the obsolescence of nations either). In both Gebser’s and Rosenstock-Huessy’s works “universal” is only truly realised by the addition of Time to thinking, and this addition corresponds with a consciousness mutation or metanoia in which the Universal is revalued to mean the Integral. This “transnational revolution” should not be confused with “capitalist globalisation” and least of all with what is only reactionary nationalism or nativism. It’s one of the reasons why some people are at pains to distinguish between “globalism” and “globalisation”, or, put differently, between global integration and global imperialism.
The addition of time disrupts the perspectivist consciousness, which is space-oriented by virtue of the fact that its “ratio” is a ratio of spaces — the three dimensions. Gebser is fond of quoting St. Augustine’s remark that “time is of the soul”, and it is indeed one of the reasons that along with the “discovery” of the fourth “dimension”, the “soul” is making a comeback in contemporary literature as well and which is really the issue of “the return of the repressed”.
“It’s the Soul, Jim! But not as we know it!” Bones’ befuddlement, perplexity and cynicism is precisely right for the type. “It’s Society, Jim! But not as we know it!” Or, how about, “It’s Consciousness, Jim! But not as we know it!”
(I could have a lot of fun with Bones’ befuddlement. At least Bones has an inkling of something, while Kirk would probably blast it and Spock would calculate the odds).
It is, in a sense, quite true that, as Ecclesiastes put it, “there is nothing new under the sun”. The Book of Ecclesiastes has been called an “enigma” in the same sense that Heraclitus was described as “the Dark” or “the Obscure”. Ecclesiastes (which means “the Preacher”) is the Jewish Heraclitus or Lao Tse, for that matter. History has been a series of retrievals and transformations, a series of devaluations and revaluations that correspond to mutations in consciousness structure; or, if you want to use a contemporary idiom, the entropic and the neg-entropic otherwise called “death-pole” and “life-pole”, or thanatic and erotic, or whatever. There are eternal verities as those things that belong to the “ever-present origin”, only they undergo continuous metamorphoses, they die and are resurrected in new forms. That’s essentially the meaning of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. This is connected with the “eternal recurrence of same”, only this is badly misunderstood.
Retrieval and transformation. That’s the ticket to surviving chaotic transition. We have no wish to attack modernity nor to defend it, which is about the only thing people presently seem to know how to do. Our task is to transform it.