Dark Age and Chrysalis Stage, II
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern” — William Blake
Many people can be forgiven for thinking that “the gates of Hell” have been thrown wide open these days, as The Nation Institute’s Tom Engelhardt has written in his essay on “Empire of Chaos” — probably borrowing from Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar’s book on the subject. Pandaemonium (“all devils” or “Tower of Babel”) is the proper name for that, although we here tend to refer to it as “New Normal”, “Post-Truth Society”, “Chaotic Transition”, “the Crucible”, “Dark Age”, Peter Pogany’s Havoc, or the Kali Yuga, and so on. These are all synonyms for one another in any case.
If we want to put it in Buddhist terms, it’s as if the Three Devils or Three Evils of Buddhism — Greed, Malice (Ill-Will) and Ignorance — are having their way and rampaging around the globe, although I have cast it in the more conventional metaphor of “the Four Riders of the Apocalypse” as Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind, which I do hold have some connection with William Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate “Adam” in their fallen state.
To continue with my “recap”, which I began in the previous post, I want to address here the one issue here that strikes me as the sum of all our evils and the meaning of Dark Age, which Blake has put succinctly: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”, and which he also referred to as “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”. From this self-enclosure of the consciousness in upon itself in the “cavern” to Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind or Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism there is a singular and steady “progression” (or decadence rather), even though Bloom did not understand this at all, otherwise he would not have been so parochial and self-absorbed himself in supposing that this myopia of consciousness pertained only to “The American Mind”. The Closing of the Modern Mind would have been more to the point. Blooms’ conservative convictions and predilections were an example of the very thing he deplored — a restriction of the horizons of consciousness and its collapse into the mere “point-of-view” and “Single Vision”.
Those of you who have made yourselves familiar with the cultural philosophy of Jean Gebser will recognise that thread of “development” that runs from Blake’s statement about the “cavern” to Bloom’s closure of the mind as the course of development of “perspectivising consciousness” (or “mental-rational consciousness”) that has been in development since the Renaissance and the Reformation, and which was forged in the fires of Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions — Lutheran, English Civil War, French and American, and Russian Revolution. These were the revolutions of the perspective consciousness structure. But “post-modernity” means, in effect, that Reformation has decayed into fundamentalism while Renaissance has decayed into reductionism. Both are now symptoms of what Gebser means in speaking of the “deficient mode” of the perspectival or mental-rational consciousness. “Deficient” is just another way of saying “decadent”.
This is the problem now of the “point-of-view” consciousness — atomisation, fragmentation, and disintegration of the consciousness, character and personality structure of modern man which manifests as hypocrisy, duplicity, and cognitive dissonance (or the phenomenon of “symbolic belief”). It is difficult for anyone to escape or overcome and transcend this cultural and psychological situation without considerable insight into oneself. “In times of peace, a warrior goes to war against himself”, as Nietzsche put it. This work of self-overcoming is, in effect, what the Hermetic Philosophy calls “The Great Work”. And this must be done in order to avoid losing our marbles in the great transition or being sucked into what Gebser calls “the maelstrom of blind anxiety” that comes with the narrowing and fragmentation of the personal consciousness and the identity.
The pattern for this is Dante’s Inferno — the only way out is through. This is the representation of the dynamics of enantiodromia — reversal at the extremity. In Dante’s case, the exit from Hell lay at the very centre of it, but one had to traverse the various circles of Hell, in their progressive degrees of fiendishness, to get to the stairway to Heaven, and in some respects this centre corresponds to the contraction of consciousness to a point, quite similar to the process called “Big Bang” in cosmology. Likewise, Dante’s journey through Hell only to discover the passage to Heaven at its very centre is an appropriate metaphor for “chaotic transition”. It’s a law of energy corresponding to expansion and contraction, or exhalation and inhalation, expiration and inspiration, or movement and repose in dance. Or, for that matter, death and resurrection.
The Modern Era is collapsing in upon itself in a gruesome self-negating, self-devouring dynamic to which it is absolutely blind. Many of the people who are most anxious about this state of affairs are also the very ones inadvertently promoting or accelerating it despite their public posturing. Too much hand-wringing and not enough soul-searching, as it were. “The times are out of joint”, as Shakespeare once put it, and this is reflected through the prism of the personality and the consciousness structure in the form of the “four riders” and the predicaments of Late Modernity — an attempt to resolve the “ears of the wolf” dilemma by appealing to the consciousness structure that brought about the dilemma and the predicament in the first place. Dialectical rationality has run its course. Thesis and antithesis, diction and contradiction become one and the same — the rock and the hard place, or the ears of the wolf, life and death (or the whole and the totality). A new logic that can handle the “overview” is urgently needed to overcome the serious deficiencies and limitations of the “point-of-view”. In fact, a breakdown of a consciousness structure is synonymous with the breakdown of its logic, which, in terms of the mental-rational consciousness and its dialectical method, is the identity of the thesis and its antithesis. This is predicament. This is dilemma. But it is also the manifestation of the paradoxical, and dualistic logics cannot handle paradox. The result is self-contradiction and eventually self-negation.
This situation of confusion of values is particularly dire when thesis and antithesis are matters of life and death respectively. This is exemplified in the Great Confusion in which the Whole and the Totality are treated as synonyms when they are, in fact, contraries. The word “whole” (or holistic) has meanings connected with the integral, with health and the holy, while the word “totality” is connected with meanings of death and disintegration — German “tot” means “dead”. This confusion very much concerned Gebser, who pointed out that a totality is a massification, an aggregation, a mere sum of parts and particulars while a whole is a quality, immediate rather than mediated and benumbed by number or abstraction. A totality is an abstract image of a whole, but is not identical with it, much in the same way that fact is, ideally, an image of truth, but not identical with truth. Truth and the whole relate to each other as fact and totality relate to each other. Yet they are not synonymous.
And those of you who are conversant with Iain McGilchrist’s book on neurology, The Master and His Emissary, will see the relationship here explicitly: they pertain to two different modes of consciousness and perception associated with the hemispheric organisation of the brain, or the first and second attentions. Truth and the whole are the preserve of “the Master”, while fact and totality are the reflections or echoes of the Master’s awareness within the matrix of the “Emissary” mode of consciousness — the left-hemispheric functions of the brain associated with the ego-consciousness. Ideally these should synchronise, but they don’t. They have become dissonant and dissociated and self-alienated, resulting in a Jekyll-and-Hyde condition of self-contradiction and near schizophrenia.
Which, of course, brings us back to the theme of the “four riders” that opened this post — Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. It’s the implicit conflict of the Master and the Emissary, in McGilchrist’s terms. It is this very dissociation of the awareness from the consciousness, or the emissary mode from the master mode, that lies at the root of the crisis and which are crying out for synchronisation. Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times, or for that matter Shakespeare’s “times out of joint” very much pertain to the dissociation and mutual estrangement of the two modes of consciousness, often referred to as “Self” and “Ego”, or “Soul” and “mortal self in time”, or simply “master” and “emissary”.
It is in these terms, then, that the crisis, which is this duplicity itself, reflects Rumi’s remark that “the cure for the disease is in the disease” or Goethe’s remarks about his “two souls”
“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,and each from the other would be parted. The one in sturdy lust for love with clutching organs clinging to the world, the other strongly rises from the gloom to lofty fields of ancient heritage”
The key here is “synchronisation”, and that has to do with the meaning of time and evolution and “universal history”. And that’s where we have to focus our attention now.