Our Mental Meltdown: Mind in Dissolution
Regular Guardian columnist Kenan Malik published a short piece today about the deep connections between Europe and Islam as revealed in Renaissance art. It is necessarily short because the invention of perspectivism in the Renaissance marked a parting of the ways, since perspective in art — and photographic effect — was rejected by Islamic authorities at the time as “competing with God” (ie “magic” or sorcery). Ironically, though, it was Islamic scholars — men like Averroes (ibn Rushd), Avicenna, among others – who helped prepare the way for the European Renaissance, including Islamic works on optics that were used by Europe’s “first scientist”, the monk Roger Bacon (also called Doctor Mirabilis). That work on optics laid the important foundations for the invention of perspective art in the Renaissance, beginning largely with the pioneering works of Giotto.
If you have been with The Chrysalis for any length of time — or have read cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s account of the ascendance of the mental-rational or perspective consciousness — you will perhaps appreciate how the invention of perspective is foundational to what we call “modern mind” or “modern self”, presently in the throes of dissolution, confusion and chaos. Malik’s short article has reminded me to revisit those earlier postings and the dissolution and incoherence of perspective consciousness now manifesting in today’s social and individual phenomena of chaotic emotion and cognitive dissonance.
For some couple of generations, now, this perspectivising mentality, which is so much tied up with the notions of “identity” and “point-of-view” or “line-of-thought”, as formalised in dialectic and Cartesian method, has been under pressure, and its precisely because the “field” concept is overtaking and subsuming the mere “point-of-view” (or particulate, atomic, or individualistic). If people are feeling anxious and overwhelmed today about “identity”, it is largely because perspectivism is incapable of handling the irruption of the field — the holonic or global — into consciousness.
This is particularly the case with America, which has made perspective consciousness (and individualism) so much its ruling idea, the icon of which is the Great Seal
This image on the Great Seal — the image of the Enlightenment or “illuminatus” — is the formal representation of Leonardo’s perspective eye, as we’ve discussed earlier,
And it is this “perspective eye” or point-of-view that becomes formalised as Cartesian method and metaphysics, as Descartes himself illustrated,
This “Eye” is the eye of Blake’s Urizen, the false god who represents “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” as illustrated in his famous painting of the “Ancient of Days”, which is not a portrait of “God” as some assume, but of Urizen
Now, in many respects these are images of what we call “sensate consciousness”, and largely an overspecialisation on the eye as the organ of knowing. “Seeing is believing” as we say, and even the word “evidence” is bound to vision and the eye. This perspectivising perception or the conic view is limited and constrained, of course, because at any one time it only has a 90 degree focus, like the beam of a flashlight. What lies outside the focus or beam is represented in the Great Seal as a desert and wasteland, or as “the occult”, which simply means the occluded or hidden, and otherwise called in “Cloud of Unknowing”. For the merely perspectivising mind and consciousness, with its all-too-narrow focus, this “wasteland” is now become the emerging “field” in arts and sciences, but as wasteland or desert was only a description of our ignorance of the field.
So, when Gebser uses the phrase “mental-rational structure of consciousness”, this is synonymous with “perspectivism” or what we sometimes refer to here as “point-of-view” and “line-of-thought” consciousness which is quite paradoxical in itself. It illuminates powerfully what lies within the scope of the conic view, but remains ignorant of the greater whole of which it is only a fraction and a fragment, and in fact, suppresses and represses it, which is what is now referenced as the “unconscious” or “collective unconscious”. These are not “places” or “things” but only deliberate ignore-ance. So this wasteland or desert or darkness represented outside the pyramid or conic view isn’t really there. It’s an image, a projection, of our own inner darkness about ourselves. Illuminating this darkness is connected with Gebser’s “transparency of the world” and achieving a real “universal way of looking at things”.
We can represent that as the “holonic view” (the “field concept”) as opposed to the “conic view” (perspectivist or “point-of-view”).
The panic, paranoia, and pandaemonium that you see around yourselves these days — these are the result of the holonic or “field” (or “unconscious” if you will) irrupting into the confined and limited conic view or perspective mentality, dismantling and dissolving it in the process, breaking its boundaries. This is what we are calling “the return of the repressed”. And this return of the repressed, and the rupturing of the boundaries of the conic view or pyramid, is felt as a threat against the ego and its “identity”, which is so closely connected with the perspectivising point-of-view.
But, in truth, the field — the holonic — is our true identity, our fullest or “higher” identity, if you will. And the panic, the paranoia, the anxiety, and pandaemonium today is what Blake foretells in his “prophetic books” about the corruption and fall of Urizen and Urizenic Man.
Now, when Rosenstock-Huessy decries the limiting “Ego-It” perspectivism of the Cartesian mind (the res cogitans and the res extensa) in his essay “Farewell to Descartes“, he is also taking direct aim at the limitations of the perspectivising consciousness or the “conic view” and its three-term logic, transforming it in the process to a more realistic four-term logic — his “quadrilateral logic” or “cross of reality” model. Rosenstock-Huessy is also bidding adieu to Urizen and his limited perspectivising Eye as “Single Vision”, as it were, and affirming Blake’s “fourfold vision”. You only have to contrast Blake’s own illustration of “fourfold vision” and Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” with Descartes’ illustration of his “wondrous strange method” to see the essential meaning of the “paradigm shift” we all talk about today (but usually without understanding what it essentially means)
The apocalyptic mood that seems so omnipresent today, and which is such a cause of much anxiety, is connected with the return of the repressed, for apocalypse really means “revelation” or “uncovering” or “disclosure”, but which is also a disillusionment, which is what perspective illusionism was always anyway — a way of looking, a way of thinking but which had no finality to it, but was simply a useful convention and not ultimate truth. In many respects, what Iain McGilchrist calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master (in his book The Master and His Emissary) was the Emissary’s insistence that this way of thinking and way of looking WAS the ultimate truth of our being (what is called “rationalism”), which it could never be because it is quite obviously only a partial and relative view, therefore also transient and not absolute. Apocalyptic times are “shattering” and even catastrophic because what is shattered in the revelation is the delusional view, and in our case the delusion is the assumption that the conic view is the absolute view and “the final form of society” and mind that Ms. Thatcher and Mr. Fukuyama formally declared, and which turned out also to be delusive.
Chaotic emotion and cognitive dissonance are connected with the return of the repressed, but the repressed is the whole, the holistic, and the “field” and the revelation of the unity of all being and life which so offends the “identity”, which is merely the point-of-view-line-of-thought consciousness structure and its limited “ratio” derived from perspective or 3-d space where length, width, depth correspond to thesis, antithesis and synthesis of the dialectical mind. And what is obviously missing from this triad of the spaces is time.
This is also why I object to Ken Wilber’s AQAL model as simply a modified Cartesianism, and deny that it is integralist, largely by its omission of time.
Now, the value of what we call “post-modernism” lies in its exploding the view that the perspective consciousness (or “modern mind”) represents any absolute truth or finality — the “deconstruction”, so-called — although it seldom has anything positive to say. It is itself transitional in this shift from the cosmic number 3 to the cosmic number 4, which is both novel and yet also ancient wisdom, and this coincidence of future and past is in large part the meaning of Gebser’s integral consciousness and what Gebser calls “presentiation”, for this is precisely the meaning of the “field” and the implications of the quantum universe. Post-modernism has not been successful in providing an integral framework for this, which is why I consider it not the first phase of a new order of times but the last and disintegrative phase of a dying one, for perspective consciousness has now decayed into the culture of narcissism, which is the condition that Gebser calls “the deficient mode” of the mental-rational.
Gebser is quite right — our mastery of chaotic emotion and cognitive dissonance, so threatening today, will only come about as the result of a new integration and a truly enlightened ego-consciousness, which he also calls “aperspectival” or “arational” which does in many respects acknowledge the primary of “the field” and corresponds to Blake’s “fourfold vision”.
The stakes are very high if we don’t successfully make the transition from the perspectival to the aperspectival, or from conic view to field view, or from the three-fold to the four-fold humanity and universe. A total dissolution and disintegration would be nothing less than a descent into total insanity, which we seem very close to now — what is called “the abyss”, or what Blake referred to as “non-Entity” of Primordial Night.
This is quite possible. Many people want to be relieved of the burden of consciousness. The Primordial Night is a great temptation — the logical end point of all nihilism or the thanatic. Nietzsche referred to this in his Zarathustra — his discourse on “the teachers of sleep”. Blake referred to it as a time when “the soul slept in beams of light”.
“Progress” right now can only mean one thing — a new and true integration, and not the counterfeits and phoney integrations that are on offer today, which are nothing but the old totalitarianisms, which Blake refers to as the “terrors of Entuthon” in his poem Jerusalem,
“Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish’d at me,
Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.
O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages,
While I write of the building of Golgonooza, and of the terrors of Entuthon….”