“Where there is no vision, a people perish….” Proverbs 29:18
I was once involved in an exchange with political scientist Corey Robin about his book The Reactionary Mind, which soon descended into nastiness. For one thing, I took issue with the book’s reductionist thesis that equated conservatives with reactionaries. Robin’s logic seemed to be that a) modern conservatives are descended from Edmund Burke and his Reflections on The Revolution in France, (the liberal revolution) and b) Burke was a reactionary who sought to roll back the revolution in France and the Age of Revolutions more generally, ergo conservatives are reactionaries and backward looking. By contrast, Mr. Robin identified with the Jacobins, and is also associated with the journal by that name.
Things got rather tense between us when Robin began to lump Nietzsche in with the reactionaries too, but also any “visionary” whatsoever, which is a very strange thing for a revolutionary to argue. I began to suspect Mr. Robin was afflicted with a large dose of cynicism and of post-modern nihilism. Apparently, he hadn’t entertained the meaning of the proverb that without vision the people perish. It was the first thing that popped up in my mind as a response to him.
But if “vision” is so important to a people’s survival, we ought really to understand what it is.
A visionary is a seer. William Blake uses the term “vision” quite a bit, and it doesn’t mean eye-sight, but in reference to that capacity he had to see “thro’ the eye” and not “with the eye”. Blake writes of four aspects of this kind of vision as reflects his mythology of the “four Zoas”; the “single vision” of Newton; the twofold vision, the threefold vision, and the fourfold vision.
Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep!1
This “fourfold vision”, symbolised by his “new man” he calls “Albion”, is, I have argued in The Chrysalis, represented also in Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s notion of “metanoia” (or “new mind”) and his fourfold “cross of reality” as also symbol of the integral consciousness.
And, in fact, Blake has even illustrated his “fourfold vision” for us to compare with Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and cross of reality
“Single vision” is the path of his Zoa named Urizen, which is the sphere at the botton. Urizen corresponds to what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational consciousness” (or perspectival consciousness), or the idea of “pure reason”. Some people argue that the name “Urizen” means “Your Reason” or is a contraction of “Universal Reason” or even of “Horizon” in the sense of being limited or for the fact that Blake describes Reason as lying on the outward or most external circumference of the soul, and therefore in touch only with the most remote and circumstantial aspects of our full reality which we call “the objective approach” or “the objective attitude”. This is what Jean Gebser describes as “perspectival” consciousness or the mental-rational consciousness.
It should be noted that Blake, like Jean Gebser, distinguishes between authentic Reason (or “Intellect” as he calls it) and mere “rationality”. Urizen, in his reduced, diminished, or fallen aspect is mere rationality. In his “eternal” aspect, he is Intellect. This distinction parallels Jean Gebser’s (and Rosenstock-Huessy’s) distinction between reason and rationality that are confused in “single vision”. Gebser distinguishes between the “effective” mode of the mental-rational consciousness and the “deficient” mode of the mental-rational in much the same sense. The reasonable and the rational are not to be considered synonymous, and this is what also underlies Blake’s objections to Newtonianism.
In that sense, it is precisely “vision” that allows Blake, or Gebser, to perceive that distinction, and that rationality is a decayed form of what Blake calls “Intellect” or what Gebser calls “Reason”. Rationality is but the shadow of true Reason or Intellect, and is part of the “Ulro” in Blake’s mythology. “Ulro” is his term for Maya or samsara, the shadow realm or world of illusion of which Urizen, in his fallen form, is the architect. And in that sense, Urizen is also known as “the Prince of Lies” and is the same as the demon “Mara” in Buddhism also called “Lord of Illusion”.
Now, Urizen is Urizen, and is in conflict with the other Zoas of the divided Humanity, because he does not remember or recall their original, primal unity or integration. This is the “sleep” of Newton. That’s the problem Blake wants to highlight by the idea of “Single Vision”. It is not unified. The only one of the four Zoas, in Blake’s terms, that actually remembers that primal unity is the Zoa named “Los”, known as “the Eternal Prophet”. The Eternal Prophet not only remembers the primal unity of the four Zoas, but is also the visionary of their destiny, the eventual re-integration in futurity as “Albion” or integral consciousness.
This is a second dimension or aspect of fourfold vision — the Prophetic. And this is most likely what the quote from Proverbs is alluding to, the idea of a destiny to be fulfilled already latent, but unrealised or unmanifested, in the present. Futurity is latency. It was the “telos” — the end or purpose or meaning of time. Vision is what activates that latent potentiality and draws it into actuality in the same way that true recollection or recall draws the past also into presence. So, there is, equivalently also an authentic “vision” that overcomes false memory as illusion and sees what is past as still latent in the present and which also can be “re-membered” or “re-collected” or “re-called”.
So, now we have three aspects for three dimensions of vision, and the fourth is the transparency of the self, and the vision of ever-expanding inwards into worlds of Great Eternity. It is this that Gebser describes also as “time freedom”.
We are now, then, in a good position to understand the meaning of “vision”, the visionary, and Blake’s “fourfold vision”, for the same is also represented in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, which is a map of vision. Real awareness is vision and is visionary, and that awareness penetrates into the four dimensions of our reality — backwards, forwards, inwards, outwards. We are all visionaries. We just don’t know that we are. To realise it, we have to “cleanse the doors of perception”, as Blake put it because presently “man has closed himself up, till he sees all thing thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”. This is the “fall into time” and into purely sensate consciousness, which Marty Glass, in his book Yuga: An Anatomy of Our Fate, calls “the Prison of Unreality”.
Vision is what Castaneda describes in his books as seeing. Seeing is what makes a Seer, after all. A Seer is a visionary, and a visionary is one who has gained authentic insight into reality, which insight Gebser calls “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”, and which is the contrary of concealment or opacity. This concealment or opacity is due to the loss of vision, which results in Glass’s five characteristics of the Kali Yuga or dark age: 1) the Fall into Time, 2) the Reign of Quantity, 3) the Mutation into Machinery, 4) the End of Nature, and 5) the Prison of Unreality. Arguably, the latter four are consequential upon the first, and may be considered the very opposite of Blake’s “fourfold vision”. And since these are diseases of consciousness (or the “modern malaise”) a good argument can also be made the they map to Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality as obstructions to our insights into authentic reality and as the concealment of it.
Now, these four or five features of our Dark Age are exactly what is rendered in the movie The Matrix. There is a haunting sense of the truth of it, an emergent intuition that isn’t yet become fully conscious, and so has some taint of the irrational, the paranoid and the conspiratorial about it, but which is, in truth, simply an effect of “single vision” — the consciousness structure itself.
If it weren’t for the visionary, we couldn’t possibly speak of anything like “insight” or “transparency”, and nothing like a “Seer” would be conceivable — the consciousness of penetrating insight which we call “wisdom”. Without the visionary, indeed, we would perish from our own delusions and illusions, as we certainly now appear to be threatened with.
Therefore, something like a visionary science has become quite necessary, something which really does transcend “single vision” to embrace the full potentialities of that holistic visionary consciousness that we are already implicitly, but which has been handicapped and narrowed by “single vision” into the mere “point-of-view”. A visionary science would, necessarily, be directed to penetrate, by insight, into these various forms of concealment described by Glass, just as natural science penetrated into the mysterious mathematical and geometrical structure of nature, or at least one aspect of nature, for it largely ignored the living aspects of nature. That’s the problem of “single vision”.
And therefore, too, it seems to me that Blake, Gebser, and Rosenstock-Huessy have, to name just three visionaries, laid the foundations for such a visionary science.