Trajective and Prejective in the Social Philosophy of Rosenstock-Huessy

I’ld like to speak this morning to what Jean Gebser refers to in his Ever-Present Origin as the “directedness” of consciousness, and as this relates to things like the Sacred Hoop or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Cross of Reality”, or, indeed, to the meaning of the “Guardians of the Four Directions” more generally. As noted in other posts, the four guardians are, as far as I can tell, universals of the human experience and occur in one form or another in all cultures, including the mental-rational civilisation where they appear, somewhat disguised, as the four main ideologies of secular society: liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and environmentalism (or naturalism) but also seemingly, unlike other patterns, without a clear Logos or coordinating and synchronising “vital centre”, which role is merely left to what we call “opinion” (which is a pinioning) and the ego-consciousness itself.

So first, I’ld like to revisit some of that fourfold pattern as it pertains to other cultures and other consciousness structures or “species of consciousness”.

In William Blake, we find the “four Zoas” and their organising or integrating centre “Albion”. In China, we have the four dragons and their organising or integrating centre named “the Jade Emperor”. In Buddhism, we have the “Guardians of the Four Directions” and their organising and integrating centre called “The Buddha” or “Buddha Nature” or “dharma”. In pre-Socratic Greece, we find the four guardians as the four elements — Earth, Air, Fire, and Water — and their organising or integrating centre called “Logos”. In Christianity we find the “Four Evangelists” — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, especially in the zoomorphic forms as Eagle, Gryphon, Lion, and Angel — and their organising and integrating centre, “Christ on the Cross”. In indigenous North American culture we find the Sacred Hoop, and the four Guardians arrayed as North, South, East, West, and their organising and integrating centre represented as the wise man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice”. The list could go on and on. These are all mandalas of the true human form and of Blake’s “fourfold vision”, represented equally in Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy or “grammatical method” as the trajective, prejective, subjective, or and objective “directedness” of consciousness, as so….

Basic Cross of Reality

Basic Cross of Reality

This “cross of reality” represents this directedness of consciousness as it thrusts backwards, forwards, inwards, and outwards from a vital centre, which is the integral centre or place of integrity, and no social organisation or civilisation can exist which does not adequately organise and integrate its past, its future, its inner and its outer life. The integrating centre is what is called “Albion”, or “Jade Emperor”, or “Christ”, or “Buddha” or the wise man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice”, and in that way synchronises the times, and coordinates the spaces of life which is called “Sacred Balance” or dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis and so on. This is not a unification. It’s a true integration. And this difference between a unification and an integration is what marks the distinction between a mere Totality and an authentic Whole.

Nothing can be said to exist in manifestation which does not take time to take place, as it were, the interplay between the latent and the manifest. To become “real”, in physical terms, is to acquire duration and extension — to “unfold” or “evolve” — into the “dimensions” of time and space, which is to acquire a past and a future, and a inwards and an outwards — the elements of “form”. Manifestation is, in these terms, a fourfold process, much like a flower unfolds its petals. This process of unfoldment or manifestation is encoded in grammar, which is the engine of manifestation of the latent, and for which reason it is said “the Sacred Hoop is in language” or “in the beginning was the Word” — the creative word.

The same four guardians are the four beasts who surround the Throne of God in the Book of Revelation, and are the same, in their polar aspects, who are the four riders of the apocalypse, in much the same way as the Gorgon is the “alter-ego” of Athena, or the Medusa the polar complement of Minerva, and who represent “Nemesis” at the limit of the rational, which is “paralysis”. Beyond the limits of reason is also inscribed “here be monsters”. It is this transgression of a limit that invokes the process called “enantiodromia” or “ironic reversal” where the guardians of the four directions, in their aspect as the beasts around the Throne of God, revert to their monstrous forms as the four riders of the apocalypse, who are simply altogether Nemesis by other names.

My interest here today, though, is in the trajective-prejective polarity represented by the time axis of the cross of reality, which we refer to formally as the “conservative” or “progressive” directedness of consciousness, or past-oriented and future-oriented. The trajective and prejective polarity may also be cast in other terms, as the known and the unknown, or the predictable and the unpredictable, or the certain the the probablisitc, or the convention (tra-ditional) and the unconventional, the familiar and the unfamiliar and so on (McGilchrist, in his Blake Lecture, at one point speaks of the polarity of the “symmetical” and the “asymmetrical” in much the same sense).

In these terms, subjective, objective, prejective, trajective are simply other terms for “the Guardians of the Four Directions” and represent the directedness of consciousness that Gebser speaks of in his Ever-Present Origin, or what Phenomenology also refers to as intentionality of consciousness. What is, is only because it passes into manifestation through the cross of reality via the “vital centre”, which is why we speak of the cross of reality or the fourfold as “prismatic” or “radiant”

The interplay of the predictable and the unpredictable (or familiar and unfamiliar) is what makes for past and future, or trajective and prejective respectively. This means, really, that real future is never just a continuation of things known from the past, and the corresponding terms for “past” and “future” in Gebser’s work are “manifest” and “latent”. The future, as such, is never the predictable, but the probablistic. And it’s in these terms that the two guardians of the time fronts of consciousness and society are contraries, and Shakespeare’s “times out of joint” is the expression of their mutual contrariness.

The disharmony of the times and spaces (ie, the don’t cohere or articulate) is what Blake describes in his mythology of the four Zoas “who reside in the Human Brain” and their mutual warfare, which we might call the splintering and fragmenting of the “cross of reality” as loss of the vital centre. What Walter Benjamin describes as “self-alienation” (and what is hubris in that sense also) is travelling too far along only one arm of the cross of reality. Too much in any one direction of the cross of reality invokes enantiodromia and Nemesis, and Nemesis is what Rosenstock-Huessy describes as the four social “diseases” of nihilism — decadence, anarchy, war, and revolution. Too much predictability (trajectivity) is stasis and decadence; too much individualism is anarchy as “war of all against all”; too much unpredictability is revolution;  and too much war, as “total war”, destroys societies from the outside. In decadence, the past attacks the future; in revolution, the future attacks the past; anarchy dissolves the society from within, and war attacks it from without. In effect, narcissism is getting stuck in one direction of the cross of reality and calling that “all”.

The Guardians of the Four Directions (which are also Blake’s Zoas) are erected to protect against these evils — the evils of too much or not enough, but also of too soon or too late. The Guardians of the Four Directions are thought, will, sense, and feeling, and when these elements are out of harmony in the human form, the human form is at war with itself — the centre cannot hold and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, as Yeats’ had it. This is the war of the four Zoas in Blake’s mythology. It is the task of the enlightened ego consciousness to coordinate and synchronise the powers of the spaces and the times, which it can only do by returning to the vital centre, which is called “Ever-Present Origin” or “Genesis” — which is the parable of the Prodigal Son. To travel too far in one direction of the cross of reality is, in other words, nihilism.

In those terms, the Guardians of the Four Directions, are paradoxical. They have their “protective” and also their dour or monstrous aspects, their light and dark aspects. The present “chaotic transition” may be considered in terms of Blake’s warring “four Zoas” in their fallen aspects, as he describes it, rather than their “eternal forms”, and it is in such terms that chaotic transition corresponds to the disintegration of the human form.

What is called “mending” or “healing the Sacred Hoop” is the same as Rosenstock-Huessy’s plea to “restore the cross of reality” — re-integration of the human form as the recovery of the “vital centre”. This is equally Gebser’s notion of the “integral consciousness” or “arational-aperspectival” as the integration of the various consciousness structures — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — that constitute the human psychic (or bio-psychic if you will) configuration — holism. These are the same “Guardians of the Four Directions”. In Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy the Guardians are named “respect, unanimity, power, and faith”, and the task of synchronisation and coordination is the task of the integral consciousness to cultivate and balance all four and so restore and harmonise the “cross of reality”.

“Respect”, “Unanimity”, “Power” and “Faith” are simply contemporary names for the eternal forms of the Guardians of the Four Directions.



6 responses to “Trajective and Prejective in the Social Philosophy of Rosenstock-Huessy”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    To be clear: the fourfold structure of man as “mind, body, soul, spirit” is also a reflection of the Guardians of the Four Directions. In Gebser’s philosophy, basically, the ages of man (or consciousness structures) were specialisations in one or the other which became “deficient” because of over-specialisation or “directedness”. mind and body pertain to the inner and outer, while soul and spirit pertain to the trajective and prejective, respectively, although this is a matter of accentuation rather than absolute difference, since they are essentially integral.

  2. Dwig says :

    “The integrating centre is what is called “Albion”, or “Jade Emperor”, or “Christ”, or “Buddha” or the wise man or woman who “speaks from the centre of the voice”, and in that way synchronises the times, and coordinates the spaces of life which is called “Sacred Balance” or dynamic equilibrium or homeostasis and so on. This is not a unification.”

    Then later: “In Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy the Guardians are named “respect, unanimity, power, and faith” — I’m guessing that R-H’s “unanimity” is more like your “integration” than “unification”, but it might be worth some clarification.

    • Scott Preston says :

      more in the sense of “unanimate” or “unus animus” — correspondingly meaning a convivium or a concord –. Convivium is more the meaning here. Not really integration. Union and integration are quite distinct. The idea of the unanimate is “one soul”. In that sense, unanimity is only one aspect of the integral.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Excellent. Thanks for linking.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ve been reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, and in it I’ve come across an ancient Chinese origin myth called “The Journey to the West”.. It tells the story of the Original Man, named Pangu or P’an Ku, and Ghosh takes this interesting excerpt from it

      “At this point the firmament first acquired its foundation. With another 5,400 years came the Tzu epoch; the ethereal and the light rose up to form the four phenomena of the sun, the moon, the stars and the heavenly bodies…. Following P’an Ku’s construction of the universe… the world was divided into four great continents… Beyond the ocean there was a country named Ao-lai. It was near a great ocean, in the midst of which was located the famous Flower-Fruit Mountain”

      More on Pangu/ or P’an Ku is located on Wikipedia.

      where it’s noted that he also had assistance in his work from four beasts — the phoenix, the turtle, the dragon, and the Chimera (Qilin). Probably these are references to the same four elements — Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. I’ll have to look into this particular creation myth.

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