Origin is Ever-Present
Eternity is in love with the productions of time — William Blake
I am going to attempt to explain the meaning of Jean Gebser’s phrase “ever-present origin” (which is also the title of the English translation of his book) and how this pertains to his idea of “time-freedom”, which is, after all, the essential meaning of the term “transcendental”.
This is a bit tricky, because of the paradoxical nature of the relationship between time and eternity, or the finite and the infinite, or the mediate and the immediate, or all forms of dualism generally. But if we manage to pull it off, it will also reveal the fuller meaning of what William Blake means by “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” or by “Eternity in the hour”. In fact, it would make the sometimes enigmatic and complex mythology of Blake’s “mystical” poetry much more accessible, as well as much else besides.
The modern sensibility is that we move through time, which we associate with the dynamics of evolution. This conception of ourselves as beings in motion and of moving through time is by no means universally shared. In other cultures, it would be more correct to say that we do not move through time so much as time moves through us, or even originates with us. This was certainly the doctrine of the neo-platonist philosopher Plotinus, and it was, to some extent, the common-sense understanding of time of Medieval Man. Gebser quotes St. Augustine as saying “Time is of the soul” in much the same sense. I haven’t found that quote in Augustine specifically, but it would certainly ring true in the case of Plotinus.
“We never left the Garden” is a line from the song “Never Left” by The Oyster Band. It actually captures what Gebser means by “the ever-present origin” quite nicely. Origin for Gebser is not to be thought of in terms of beginnings or endings in time, but as equivalent to what is often described in terms of “Eternal Now” or “Eternal Present” or in terms of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and so on. Gebser associates Origin with what he calls “the archaic” structure of consciousness, which he considers ever-present for being foundationally active, albeit latently, within the whole human psychic configuration, and is the same as what Buddhism calls “the unorginated” and “the unconditioned” because it is, itself, the source for everything considered originate and conditional. In that sense, it corresponds to the belief that “time is of the soul”. Gebser wrote his book The Ever-Present Origin, in fact, from his conviction that this archaic structure of consciousness was “awakening” (or “irrupting” in his terms) again in our times.
It is convenient, in fact, to think of Gebser’s archaic structure of consciousness as being the same as Jill-Bolte Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”, as she described that in her TED talk (to which I’ve frequently alluded in past posts).
The phrase “archaic consciousness” might be a little misleading if you think of it only in terms of something ancient from deep time, although you could also think of it in such terms. Better it is to appreciate it as what we sometimes call “the ground of being” or to think of the archaic as foundational, or perhaps as pre-egoic consciousness. The archaic is itself not timebound. It is timeless, so that you could say that it is from the foundations of the world, as long as you don’t temporise the meaning of that. The foundation is like a fountain — a fountain of energy — and Blake often uses the metaphor of a fountain to much the same end to describe Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”, too.
So, there’s one of the main paradoxes of the archaic — it being eternally new and “now” but also ancient. Some people who have intimations of eternity or infinity are tapping into the abiding archaic legacy in their own psychic constitution (and sometimes more explicitly such as John Wren Lewis described in “The Dazzling Dark“. Oftentimes, tapping into the archaic is represented as symbolic journey into the Underworld, and in terms of “the treasures of darkness”, which is a very common narrative theme, including Dante. And I’m sure a lot of us feel like we are on a journey into the Underworld, or the Inferno, in today’s world!).
So, the archaic is not something that has been superseded by time or evolution. We never left it behind. Nor did we leave behind other states or structures of consciousness described by Gebser as “magical” or “mythical”. They remain largely active in us still, but in various degrees of latency or manifestation. The only thing that really changed was the ego-consciousness’s perceptual relationship to its world and what Gebser describes as the “distantiation” of the ego-consciousness from its roots or source in the archaic. This is the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, who is the human ego-consciousness grown alienated and estranged from the sources of its life and identity.
The recovery of the archaic (and of the other consciousness structures for that matter) is what Gebser calls “presentiation”. Presentiation and integration are practically synonymous terms. “Time-freedom” and “presentiation” are also practically synonymous, and what we have been referring to as “the return of the repressed” (or what Gebser calls “irruption”) is also connected with the process of presentiation.
Gebser dislikes, for that reason, any glib talk about “evolution” as movement through time, even though it’s difficult for us not to think in terms of progression and regression in such terms. There are, for Gebser, “unfoldings”, and the other civilisational structures Gebser interprets — the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational — can be described in terms of what William Blake refers to as “the productions of time”. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” may be very easily interpreted as the actual description of the relation that exists between the archaic consciousness and those other structures which have unfolded from it — the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — and which remain active within us, in a more or less pronounced way, even despite ourselves.
It is somewhat ironic that what really only marks the metamorphosis from one structure to another was what Nietzsche called a “revaluation of values”. In any event, it always brings to my mind John Lennon’s line about “look into a glass onion”. They layers or skins of the onion can be likened to the various structures of consciousness, grown around the “core”, which is the archaic (or what Gebser also calls “the diaphainon“). The glass onion is an interesting metaphor for combining multiple aspects of his “integral consciousness” — the diaphaneity or transparency of the world, the sphere or orb as symbol of the integral, and the skins of glass onion as his structures of consciousness.
The glass onion is a pretty good metaphor for the idea of “presentiation” and of the integral consciousness.