Imagine, if you will (as if, these days, you need to imagine it at all) that you wake up one morning and find yourself propelled into a Franz Kafka novel, or into a painting by Salvador Dali or a mind-bending M.C. Escher print. What you would most likely experience is a state of aporia where nothing makes sense. Aporia might be translated as “puzzlement” or bewilderment, but perhaps “stupefaction” is the most accurate translation of the meaning of aporia.
Appropriately, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister, opens his history of the global finance system The Global Minotaur by describing our present aporia since the market meltdown of 2008,
“Nothing humanizes us like aporia — that state of intense puzzlement in which we find ourselves when our certainties fall to pieces; when suddenly we get caught in an impasse, at a loss to explain what our eyes can see, our fingers can touch, our ears can hear. At those moments, as our reason valiantly struggles to fathom what the senses are reporting, our aporia humbles us and readies the prepared mind for previously unbearable truths. And when the aporia casts its net far and wide to ensnare the whole of humanity, we know we are at a very special moment in history. September 2008 was just such a moment.”
In other words, awakening to find oneself inside a Franz Kafka novel or a Salvador Dali painting. A sense of aporia is very much connected with the fact of chaotic transition, and of crisis in general. It’s a wonderful word.
Being Greek, Varoufakis has a fondness for referencing Greek mythology to illustrate some aspect or another of the labyrinthine ways of global capitalism and the global financial system (think also of “Dark Money” and “the Global Laundromat” as part of the Minotaur’s labyrinth). In one way, Varoufakis’s “global minotaur” also resembles Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s description of Goldman Sachs as the “great vampire squid” (“The Great American Bubble Machine“. The “great vampire squid” is an allusion to the mythical sea monster the Kraken).
When people talk about the new normal as “absurd” or “surreal”, what they are describing is that state of aporia, of feeling at a loss or having a sense of perplexity. Varoufakis thinks that this state of aporia is preparatory to the realisation of, or perhaps irruption of, new truth — a view that accords very well with Jean Gebser’s notion of the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure concurrent with “chaos” (or Varoufakis’s fellow economist, Peter Pogany, and his anticipation of “global system 3” emerging through mayhem and “havoc”).
Aporia is also the result of meeting with the Trickster figure, and much disinformation is deliberately designed to bring about a state of aporia. (Many of Trump’s supporters rationalise his mendacity and disinformation because they like that he’s “messing with their heads“).
It’s said that the word “panic” is derived from the name of the great god Pan, whose sudden and unexpected appearance in the wilderness could induce a state of “panic”. But the first response to the unexpected would be, at first, aporia — a bewilderment that then becomes a rout of the senses.
Apparently Pan loved to mess with people’s heads, too.