Losing the Plot
“Language is wiser than the one who speaks it. The living language of people always overpowers the thinking of individual man who assumes he could master it” — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
Popular discourse very often encodes “hidden” social and spiritual dynamics long before those dynamics become fully conscious or articulate. Take the phrase “losing the plot”. Everything we’ve discussed in The Chrysalis pertaining to the “culture of narcissism” (Christopher Lasch), the end of the Grand (or Master) Narrative (post-modernity), the crumbling metaphysical foundations of the modern mind and the corresponding breakdown of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure (Jean Gebser), the disintegration of the personality and character structure of Modern Man (Rosenstock-Huessy), or “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “post-Enlightement”, and so on, is effectively condensed and encoded in the simple phrase “losing the plot”. All I’ve done in The Chrysalis is, in a sense, try to unwrap what is more deeply encoded by the phrase “losing the plot”.
Most contemporary sociological literature that reflects on the modern crisis is, likewise, simply an attempt to articulate fully what “losing the plot” actually means. In truth, most people neither really understand the words they speak, nor listen carefully to what is actually said. They speak without intention. They hear without attention or deliberation. Intention and attention, though, are the rhythmical dynamics of awareness, mobilised in the form of speaking and listening, expression and impression — the alternating current of human consciousness in its polar aspects. Since we don’t invest much awareness in our speaking and listening acts, the public discourse appears more like a computer programme. That lack of both intention and attention in our common discourse is what largely makes for the culture of narcissism and for what Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg referred to as “post-historic man”, who is basically an automaton (or what Lewis Yablonsky described as “robopaths“).
The circulation of vital speech in society is of far more importance to the health and welfare of that society than the circulation of money. This is what distinguishes the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser, or the “speech thinker” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, or the media guru Marshall McLuhan. They paid attention to grammatical forms and to the circulation of speech in society for diagnosing the states or structures of consciousness, and whether these were healthy or diseased (in Gebser’s terms “effective” or “deficient”). Basically, what Jean Gebser calls a “structure of consciousness” is a grammar, which Rosenstock-Huessy calls a “matrix”. A structure of consciousness and a grammatical matrix are pretty much interchangeable terms.
We understand that the mental-rational consciousness is, today, in crisis and in the throes of disintegration from diagnosing the its speech patterns. Contemporary discourse is sick with spin, propaganda, lying, duplicity, racism, “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “fake news”, false memory, the “gender wars”, the “echo chamber” and so on. All these may be said to be outgrowths of what Christopher Lasch once described as “the culture of narcissism“, including, of course, nativism and nationalism. All this is summarised in the expression “losing the plot”.
The “plot” was, of course, what is variously called “the Grand Narrative”, the “Metanarrative” or the “Master Narrative” of the Modern Era, and the resultant state of perplexity, disorientation and confusion — if not havoc, mayhem, frenzy, and pandaemonium, and “identity politics” — that goes with the loss of the plot. Everybody senses it even if very few have managed to articulate it. There are now some efforts to articulate a “new story”, including Rosenstock-Huessy’s efforts to articulate a “universal history” of the full human experience of the Earth suitable for a planetary age. One might mention also Brian Swimme’s “Universe Story” as being among these.
Such efforts tie into Jean Gebser’s anticipation of the new, emerging structure of consciousness he calls “integral” or “aperspectival”. We see incipient forms of this new integral consciousness structure in things like “The Overview Effect”.
But it is also taking form in works like Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics described in his book The Master and His Emissary. In time, linkages will start being made between such things as “global ecology”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “universal history”, the overview effect, McGilchrist’s neurodynamic investigations, and Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy of integral consciousness. Eventually, these seemingly separate events and episodes will coalesce into a new coherent structure of consciousness — one truly universal and integralist. It will also mean a transformed ego consciousness — a “metanoia” or “New Mind” in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms — and, in those terms, “identity”.
This “new story” definitely comes into conflict with “the culture of narcissism” and of the primacy of the self-interest as normative, that self-interest being the core value of what we presently understand as the “identity” or the mere “point-of-view” consciousness. And while it’s true we are “losing the plot” — which in Gebser’s terms is the “disintegrative” dynamic of his “double-movement” with all that this implies in terms of apparent madness and insanity — we also see, in formation, a new integration unfolding as well, so that we might speak of “losing the plot” as also a restructuration of values (Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values”) such as truth, reason, logic, space and time, and even a new understanding of “human nature”.