Age of Revolutions
I have, on occasion, mentioned Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s study of the European Revolutions entitled Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man. It’s one of the works in which he applies his “grammatical method” to the study of history, in this instance the Modern Era as Age of Revolutions and how precedents established in the Renaissance and the Reformation made the subsequent revolutions of the modern era — the Lutheran, the English Civil War, the French, and the Russian Revolutions — necessary and logically consequential. The new image of man represented in Renaissance humanism and the rebirth of the Greek Mind meant a complete revaluation of the human form, and a remaking of the human form, in all its members — mind, body, soul, and spirit — in the image of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man.
For this reason, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man has become the iconic form of the fully secular and fully rationalised human. He has discovered the power of geometric thinking — as “euclidean mind” — but has, at the same time, become trapped in those geometries and defined by them. There is also in Vitruvian Man, the faintest echo still of Christ on the Cross.
The four revolutions of the Modern Era, then, could be said to be a reforming of the Anthropos in all its members congruent with this new archetype and idol — Vitruvian Man. And the totalitarian character of each of the revolutions — through Luther, Cromwell, Robespierre, and Lenin — was owing to its specialisation of one aspect of the fourfold human in terms of mind, body, soul, and spirit and the reduction of the human form to this one characteristic alone. Everyman a priest; everyman a gentleman; everyman a king; everyman a worker. And the totalitarian character of our own era is proclaimed equally in the liberal ideal — “everyman an entrepreneur” or self-made man.
There was an obvious clash of ideologies between “everyman a worker” and “everyman an entrepreneur” in recent history, though both strongly emphasised the purely economic function and use of the human. But the liberal (and neo-liberal) utopia of a “universal civilisation of commerce” specifies “everyman (and everywoman) an entrepreneur” as its ideal type. Much of the duplicity of our times — the double-think, the double-speak, the double-standards, and the double-bind — is owing to the sheer impossibility of reconciling this ideal type with ecological reality and with the economic requirements of consumerism.
Each of the modern revolutions, while they did emancipate some facet or aspect of the human whole from obsolete and anachronistic “truths” or forms, also hyper-exaggerated that emancipated aspect, eventually turning it into a caricature of itself. Each of them claimed to represent the advent of a new human type, but which type — the “New Man” — was a caricature by this exaggeration or “privileging”, as they now say, of one potentiality — the mind, the soul, the spirit, the body — all now reworked, however, within the larger model and image of Vitruvian Man as the perspective consciousness structure. Reworked in his thinking, reworked in his feelings, reworked in his willing, and reworked in his sensibilities, the “Modern Man” was a “revaluation of values” in the flesh, and a very different creature from what had preceded him. And it is in these terms that the four revolutions, when we forego the mere “point-of-view” for the “overview”, conform to the pattern represented by Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”,
It’s in those terms that the four revolutions of the Modern Era follow “ecodynamic laws”, as Rosenstock-Huessy described it along with the peculiar fact that four generations separate each from the other.
To digress a bit here, this pattern is also found in Jean Gebser’s taxonomy of civilisations as “structures of consciousness” when we apply the “grammatical method” to its intepretation,
and which we likewise find mapped in the same quadrilateral, psychodynamic structure or “psychological types” described by Carl Jung (although the correspondences with the “cross of reality” are not exact, and we have replaced “intuiting” with “willing”),
It’s the tyranny of the Zoa named “Urizen” (who is the rational function) that most concerned William Blake in much of his poetry and mythology of the four Zoas, and Urizen corresponds to Gebser’s “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure”. In many other cultures, the same four Zoas are referred to as “the Guardians of the Four Directions”, as noted in earlier posts. In those terms, Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — correspond to the Guardians of the Four Directions. The fifth is the integral, also called “Christ Consciousness”, “Buddha Mind”, or “Golden Flower”, “Diamond Mind”, “Pearl of Great Price” and so on.
The hyper-partisan character of our times, so much a symptom of our “chaotic transition”, is also the hyper-exaggeration of one of the four directions of the quadrilateral, which ends in self-caricature. This hyper-exaggeration is what we refer to as “bias” or “prejudice” or “self-righteousness” or “privileging”, and so on. It is to be carried away along one arm of the fourfold relation — backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards — because extremity in one direction is where “things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”, as Yeats put it in “The Second Coming” — this “centre” being Gebser’s “vital centre” coincident with the centre of the quadrilateral.
This traveling too far in one direction is precisely what is represented by the “perspectival eye” of the triangulating mind, represented in the familiar symbol,
This form of consciousness can be compared to the beam of a flashlight in a darkened room. It illuminates very well one quarter of the room at any one time. But at the same time three-quarters of the room remain in darkness. It is very good at picking out detail but very bad at acheiving the overview. If one wants to illuminate the whole room, that requires the overhead light. Then all four corners and all four walls of the room will be seen together, as a coherent whole. This is an analogy. The beam of the flashlight, intensely focussed as it is nonetheless, is what Blake also called “Single vision & Newtons sleep”.
Reductionism and fundamentalism both reduce the human form to a caricature of the human. It’s not surprising the people then act out this caricature in daily life. Reductionism and fundamentalism are certain signs that the inspirations that founded the Modern Era in Renaissance and Reformation are now exhausted residua of an age in decay and incapable of further possibilities, and which now threaten us with complete disintegration. New inspiration, if such is to be found, must come from the “vital centre” or “source”. But that also implies a new integration, a metanoia, and a transformed consciousness, or what Gebser calls also “arational-aperspectival”.
There are clearly, in our time, new efforts being made in this respect. Whether they are sufficient to forestall the consequences of total exhaustion in breakdown and collapse remain to be seen. The potentiality of self-transcendence is there, however. The problem, though, as Gebser points out, is that man’s sense of responsibility has not kept pace with technological feasibility which, in Gebser’s estimation, presages a “global catastrophe” in the making.
This has become all-too evidently the case, and particularly since Nietzsche’s “death of God”. No one now knows who one is responsible to and for what one is responsible, and all the more so since Thatcher’s announcement that “there is no such thing as society” and Fukuyama declared his “end of history”. The death of God, the death of society, the death of history, and now the death of truth in “post-truth” society leaves not much for which and to which human beings feel themselves responsible. And in those terms, it’s not surprising that the flipside of that is “the culture of narcissism” of which neo-liberal economics is the chief expression and for which Trump and his team are now the standard-bearers.
And unless we discover some new inspiration soon, and a new sense of purpose and responsibility, the gig is up.