Age of Paradox

As I mentioned a few comments back, my own candidate name for the present chaotic transition is “Age of Paradox”. The incipient manifestation of the new is the paradoxical. If we understand the paradoxical nature of the present, the chaotic won’t seem so chaotic (although it will certainly be that too).

Our present story must begin, as it usually begins when speaking of the Modern Era and the mental-rational structure of consciousness, with the Renaissance. The name “Renaissance” means “rebirth”. It’s the rebirth of the Greek Mind, the classical period of Greco-Roman civilisation. The Roman mind of the classical age, for its part, was pretty much a wholesale appropriation of the Greek, even of their gods, and a further articulation of the Greek Mind.

The Renaissance, similarly, was a near wholesale appropriation of the Greek Mind or Greco-Roman culture. It was, in those terms, a retrieval and a recovery, and a further elaboration upon that, especially in the way of perspectivisation (based on Euclid) and the opening up of the third dimension of space. The “new” was very much related to a retrieval or recovery of the past. The Renaissance is therefore associated with the contemporary origins of “the mental-rational consciousness structure” and with what we call “Age of Reason” or “The Enlightenment”. Bruno Snell’s book The Discovery of the Mind is a very fine book about the Greek origins of modern mind and thought.

The Greek Mind had a flaw or “deficiency”, however. That flaw has been highlighted by contemporary authors such as cultural philosopher Jean Gebser and the social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. (That deficiency, though, isn’t the main topic of this post and must wait for another day).

Now, as we have insisted in other posts, the era that began with Renaissance and Reformation is coming to a close, having ended in reductionism and in fundamentalism, respectively. Both reductionism and fundamentalism are proof of the exhaustion of the Modern Era’s founding inspirations, and symptoms of its nihilism and decay.

We are presently in a period called “post-modernity”, therefore, and this period is most frequently associated with the name Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche, however, represents also an act of retrieval and recovery. He was enamoured of the pre-Socratic philosophers and held that Socrates was actually a symptom of civilisational malaise and degeneracy in his time. The Dionysian is pre-Socratic in contrast to the “Apollonian” consciousness represented by Socrates. It’s in these terms that post-modernity then also very much resembles the pre-Socratic world, particularly in the philosophical contest at the roots of the philosophical tradition between Parmenides and Heraclitus, and even earlier — before philosophy itself.

Before philosophy, though, we have the mythical and magical consciousness, and others have plunged even further into “deep time” in that respect — men such as Gebser or men such as the garden philosopher, Ralph Naydler whose book The Future of the Ancient World delves even deeper than Nietzsche did into the history of ancient Egypt and the discovery of the soul (for, indeed, even the Greeks credited the Egyptians with the discovery of the soul even where we credit the Greeks with the discovery of the mind).

You may already see the pattern in this, and it’s a very paradoxical one. The further we delve into the ancient past, the more the future comes to resemble the past also, and this is very much implicated in what we refer to as “the return of the repressed”.

What the hell is going on? To those who are accustomed to thinking of time as linear and as a “progression”, this is profoundly disconcerting, even if they recognise it.

At issue is very much another paradox that Gebser plays with in his cultural philosophy: origin is not the same as beginning. Origin and beginning relate to one another in the same paradoxical way that Iain McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary modes of consciousness relate to one another. In such terms, the further we delve into the past, the more we stir up ancient layers of the psyche too, activating those things once manifest but which became latent in psychic terms. And it is in this sense that we should understand St. Augustine’s remark that “time is of the soul”.

In those terms, future and past come to mirror each other and are being integrated with the present. For that reason, Gebser refers to this as an “irruption”. The irruption of the “irrational” elements, like myth and magic (and potentially the archaic) is coincident with the recovery or retrieval of the deep past or ancient world in time.

The activation of these ancient layers of the human psychic configuration coincident with our delving into “deep time” — the “irruption” — belongs to “chaotic transition” and will be either successfully integrated with the mental consciousness or unsuccessfully integrated. It’s in this sense that we speak of all humankind’s various “mutations” or structures of consciousness as elements of our human autobiography or psychic configuration or “human form”. The failure to integrate these awakening structures with the ego consciousness will be Gebser’s “global catastrophe”.

Duane Elgin’s views on The Awakening Earth are for this reason also coincident with the Gebserian “irruption”. And T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets are very much related to this odd paradox of the coincidence of past and future time. William Blake, Jean Gebser, or Rosenstock-Huessy, or Carl Jung, and the idea of the “fourfold” cannot be appreciated in their fullest meaning unless one realises this paradox of past and future time, and how all past and all future becomes integrated as “presentiation” in this sense.

For this reason, too, we are compelled to distinguish between the rational, the irrational, and the arational. The arational is beyond both the rational and the irrational for the very reason that it integrates the paradox with itself, and it is for that reason, too, that Blake, Gebser, Jung, and Rosenstock are also “arational” thinkers inasmuch as they are also “time-thinkers” or apocalyptic thinkers. Gebser’s “irruption” (which is also Blake’s “Vision of the Last Judgment”) is apocalyptic. And, as you know, apocalypse is itself a paradox for that reason. We call it that because it disintegrates even as it reveals or discloses — the Dance of Shiva. The apocalyptic is especially “coincidentia oppositorum“.

The “enlightened ego consciousness” is one that can successfully integrate the irruptions of the “ancient force” in those terms. That’s what Rosenstock-Huessy attempts to do with his mandala-like “cross of reality” and grammatical method, or what Blake tried to map through his mythology of the “four Zoas”, or Gebser with his cultural philosophy of “structures of consciousness” (and perhaps Aurobindo too with his “Integral Yoga”, although I’m not entirely familiar with him yet).

The flaw of Greek rationalism was to eliminate the paradox on principle as “monstrous” and “irrational” because it belonged to mythical polarity, especially of a mythical consciousness that had become itself “deficient” (ie decadent) in Gebser’s terms. “Efficient” mode and “deficient” mode of a consciousness structure correspond to what we mean by “rise” and “fall”, and the mental-rational (or perspectival) is very much presently in its twilight.

This coincidence of past and future is very much at the root of the Age of Paradox, although it is also expressed as the coincidence of the subject and object (or what we refer to as “co-evolutionary” nature of cosmos and consciousness or psyche).


One response to “Age of Paradox”

  1. abdulmonem says :

    As you are aware in the sufi tradition god is known as a paradoxical phenomenon and since the cosmos and the humans are created into his image, the paradoxical principle runs amok through his creations. In that vein the human conundrum resides, only to be augmented because of the finite nature of the human and his denial or lack of understanding of the laws he lives under. The laws which have not been respected but defied and violated by the arrogance of some leaders who have led the world astray. The purpose of the paradox is to keep the human alert and never feel at rest with one pole of the paradox forgetting the work of the other pole, persisting with great attention and intention to be with the positive side of the paradox. Consciousness in all its shades is the human tool to navigate in this paradoxical existence and to be aware not to leave the higher ground from where one can watch the play and avoid to lose the higher ground to the lower ground. Life is a game of attention and intention and through the human will supported by the the divine will the seeker can move to the higher ground. It is an exercise in understanding the paradox.

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