“And The White Knight is Talking Backwards”
Somehow — fantastically, improbably, impossibly — we’ve passed through the looking-glass and have become the topsy-turvey, inverted mirror images of ourselves — a kind of negative of the photograph, even a parody of ourselves. It’s Alice through the looking-glass. That’s the only way to begin to understand how the present period has suddenly come to seem so surreal, so bizarre, and so absurd. It occurs to me that this is the only way to also understand Lewis Mumford’s observation that everything once considered vice has now been revalued as virtue, or what was once considered unworthy of us is now considered worthy and desirable; or, for that matter, Sheldon Wolin’s diagnosis of our “inverted totalitarianism“. This is not describable in terms of reversion or of conversion, but only as inversion. The White Knight is talking backwards. We are being seduced by, and assimilated as, our own mirror image — like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I can describe the dynamics of that in terms of enantiodromia, or “ironic reversal” and the paradox of the coincidence of opposites. In those terms, everything presently strange, forbidding and ominous begins to make a kind of sense. I can describe it in terms of the self-contradictions of Late Modernity beginning to assert themselves, and thus the self-negation of the Modern Era of itself — as Nietzsche’s forecast “two centuries of nihilism” and his “Last Man” as this parody. What I can’t tell you right now is what it means in psychological or spiritual terms, but it is quite evidently connected also with confusion about what is “real” today.
I can account for some of the how and the what of it. I can’t account completely, yet, for the why and the when of it. I can assemble a good deal of evidence, and put together a pretty good argument, I think, that this inversion is occurring to us whether we notice it or not. But I have the dreadful feeling that this inversion also has something to do with Gebser’s ominous reference to “the law of the Earth” and to its “automatic” fulfillment.