Vitruvian Man and The Holomovement
There are plenty of indications in “post-modernity” that what we call “the Modern Mind” has reached the limits of its possibilities, and has even overreached those limits. This “overreach” — just another term for hubris — is what Jean Gebser describes as a consciousness structure functioning in “deficient” mode. A consciousness structure in deficient mode has ceased to be adequate to its circumstances and the existential challenges it faces. To persist in it invites Nemesis, goddess of vengeance and retribution. That is now the case for Leonardo’s “Vetruvian Man”, icon of the Renaissance and the ideal of the Modern Age.
We have covered a little of the history and development of Vitruvian Man, iconic as he is of the perspective consciousness structure, in previous posts, and have noted also that this ideal of Renaissance humanism has ended, finally, as a caricature of himself — an exhausted type. The surest indication of this is observing how the founding and grounding inspirations for Reformation and Renaissance of the 500 years past have finally exhausted themselves in the decrepitude of fundamentalism and reductionism, and in the fully rationalised caricatures of “Average Joe and Average Josphine”, or even in a kind of mockery of the Vitruvian Man ideal.
These caricatures are, in effect, images of Nietzsche’s “Last Man”. And there are other indications that Vitruvian Man — or Perspectival Man, or “Urizenic Man”, or “Prosaic Man” or “Post-Historic Man” as such — has had his day, has run his course and has exhausted his possibilities for any further creative development. That was the real meaning of Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the dreaded thing that Blake decried long ago as “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”. Much of today’s identity crisis and hyper-partisan identity politics (or “tribalism” and the “echo chamber” effect) is also related to this exhaustion.
There are indications other than the present “maelstrom of blind anxiety” that indicate deficiency and inadequacy of the “point-of-view-line-of-thought” approach associated with the perspectival mode of consciousness and perception. In physics, the “Measurement Problem”, the Uncertainty Principle, and the “non-visualisability” of essential reality characteristic of the paradoxes of the quantum domain suggests the inadequacy of perspectivisation, dialectic, and the “point-of-view”, and the impossibility of even sustaining any longer a “point-of-view” or of “keeping things in perspective”. Confusion, disorientation, and perplexity (and “noise”) abound, and not just in the arts and sciences, but throughout the culture of Late Modernity or Post-Modernity. This is associated with what we call “chaotic transition”.
There is a widespread sense of urgency in the need to somehow get beyond this impasse, to master a situation that seems so “out of control” and its more negative developments that threaten even the continuity of life on Earth — Sixth Extinction Event and Climate Change, along with the associated “splintering of social cohesion” (also characteristic of demise of Christendom in sectarianism and the decadence and waning of the Middle Ages). The answers given by Reformation and Renaissance saved the continuity of what we call “Western civilisation” and society from total collapse and reversion to barbarism. But those answers and responses given then, adequate and transformative as they were for that time and age, will not serve or save us today in the Global Era. Today, we are threatened again with the risk of total collapse and a reversion to barbarism. That situation of disintegration is what informs and underlies Jean Gebser’s quest in The Ever-Present Origin for a new “universal way of looking at things” through a metamorphosis or “mutation” of the consciousness structure of Modern (or Vitruvian) Man now in the throes of dissolution. It also underlies and informs Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s quest for a “universal history” of the full human experience of the Earth and for a “metanoia“, or “new mind” more adequate to meet the challenges of our full reality.
What are the prospects of us “outrunning” the demise of the Modern Mind (as Rosenstock-Huessy described it, or overcoming what he called “our withering from within”)? Gebser, of course, also describes the “double-movement” of our times, one nihilistic and disintegrative, another regenerative and integrative. There are developments even in the physical sciences that point towards an incipient self-transcendence of the limitations of perspectivity and the rule of the self-interest. Two books, especially, stand out in my mind as foundational texts for such a “New Era”, and they stand out because they are exemplary of the attempt to transcend limitations of perspectivism and perspective consciousness. One, by the physicist David Bohm, is entitled Wholeness and the Implicate Order, and introduces the term “holomovement“. The other is chemist Ilya Prigogine’s Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue With Nature. Both are clear attempts to develop a more holistic, a more integral, awareness of reality and of our role in it.
“Our role in it” is very key, here. As we saw in the review of Grosser’s The Painter’s Eye earlier (in “A Truly “Universal Way of Looking At Things”), perspective consciousness and the perspectivising eye sought maximal social and psychological distance — the space of “pure reason” or pure objectivity — an abstract space purified of all subjectivity or “subjective values” (Blake called this horrid space “Non-Ens” or Non-Being). As Rosenstock-Huessy once remarked equivalently: “the body was delegated to the struggle for food and shelter, the mind however, with the optimism of the Age of Reason, was contemplating the truth of the matter”. That was a put down of Cartesian metaphysical dualism, which was, itself, a development from perspectivism.
This is the “objective attitude” which has finally run to ground in the almost complete alienation from reality, including from ourselves.
“Holomovement” or “order out of chaos” both seek to rectify this omission and negligence. The holomovement is not amenable to a merely perspectivising or rationalising consciousness. It requires a new mode of perception, or aperception, which we’ve called “holonic awareness” to distinguish it from perspectival consciousness. Gebser calls this mode of perception “aperspectivity”. Ironically, though, neither Bohm’s nor Prigogine’s ideas are really new. Holomovement and Chaos are only new terms for the Heraclitean “flux”. And the significance of that cannot pass without comment.
Heraclitus (also called “Heraclitus the Dark” or “Heraclitus the Obscure”), although one of the greatest of the Greek philosophers, was largely passed over by his contemporaries in favour of his philosophical archfoe, Parmenides. The intellectual struggle between Parmenides (and his philosophy of “Being”) and Heraclitus (and his philosophy of “Becoming”) set the tone for much of the Western intellectual history that was to follow, and it followed largely along the track laid out by Parmenides. For almost 2500 years, Parmenides has largely ruled the roost. It was he, and not Rene Descartes, who first proclaimed that “thinking and being are the same”. It was this that Heraclitus largely mocked with this doctrine of panta rhei or “all flows”. It seems clear, too, that the contest between Parmenides and Heraclitus about the true Logos mirrors that between Confucius and Lao Tse about the true “Tao“, so much so, in fact, that we may assume that the Logos and the Tao are the same. The same applies to the Buddha’s contest with the Brahmins. (In fact, Rosenstock-Huessy quite accurately called Heraclitus “The Greek Buddha”).
You might think that the arguments of two Greek philosophers who lived and died 2500 years ago don’t have much bearing on the present, but they were dealing with pretty relevant issues — questions of permanence and change, stasis and flux, and so on — that also had far reaching social and cultural implications. Rosenstock-Huessy even penned a “letter” from “Heraclitus to Parmenides” in which he took the part of Heraclitus to critique Parmenides precisely because the issues they dealt with are still very relevant for today.
Needless to say, that Heraclitus might finally get the upper hand on Parmenides after 2500 years rather upsets the apple cart. Suddenly 2500 years of intellectual tradition becomes curious, if not suspect, along with identities formed through those 2500 years. That Heraclitus “the Dark” starts making sense while Parmenides starts making no sense — that’s a major metamorphosis of thought and consciousness. Yet, that’s what Bohm’s and Prigogine’s work points to, and I doubt that we are very well prepared for the shock to our minds or to the system. That is, in essence, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia” or “New Mind”. And to detect a structure to the flow or holomovement (Bohm’s “implicate order”) or a pattern in the chaos (Prigogine), that suggests a renewed interest and quest for Heraclitus’s Logos. That pattern or structure is more akin to a grammar. (A consciousness “structure” in Gebser’s sense is really a grammar). Even ecology is more akin to a grammar, and a Picasso painting — also a representation of the Heraclitean flux — is more akin to grammar, and is more akin also to the holomovement and Prigogine’s “order out of chaos” than is conventional perspectival painting.
As Gebser anticipated, big changes are afoot, but we are in a race against time. Which is as much to say, a race against Death. The diffusion of this new thinking is very uneven, and even, in some cases, actively resisted, so that you have different groups of people living within different historical horizons — modern, post-modern (or even “pre-modern”) and what we might call “transmodern”. Under those circumstances, the potential for social conflict is enormous. But that’s what the “splintering of social cohesion” mentioned above implies. That’s largely why Bohm, in his later years, turned his efforts and attention to “dialogics” to try to bridge the chasm between newer and older ways and forms of social life, much as Rosenstock-Huessy has also attempted with his “grammatical method”.
If there is an iconic image for Blake’s “New Age” (or New Renaissance) to contrast with Vitruvian Man, it might very well be Blake’s portrait of “Albion” in his painting “Glad Day”
The caption Blake provided for this painting reads “”Albion rose from where he laboured at the Mill with Slaves. Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death” which is only enigmatic until you compare that with the Dance of the Nataraj (Shiva)
Personally, if the iconic is wanting for the “New Renaissance” I’ld favour the old hieros gamos or “sacred marriage” symbol from Hermetic Philosophy and alchemy that is so reminiscent of the paradox of the Tao itself in its Yin and Yang aspects, as sacred “androgyne” or coincidence of opposites
I suspect we’ve had too much “yang” over the last few centuries.
There’s a sense also in which Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” might also be considered equivalent meaning of the Tao or Logos, if we take the space axis to represent the yang aspect, and the time axis to represent the yin aspect, and their unification as “spacetime” is also a hieros gamos. (Whether Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” describes also Bohm’s “holomovement” is something I’ll have to explore later)