The Anthropos of the Anthropocene
It has been quite some time since I read Dante’s Inferno, and my recollection of the book is somewhat hazy. But I may not be too amiss in suggesting it as a map and metaphor for our own journey through the Anthropocene. It does have some of the same structural components and elements as the Anthropocene. The “Inferno” was, as it were, the Anthropocene of Dante’s day — the hypersubject of the medieval world, or the Anthropos considered as “soul“.
Dante lived from 1265 to 1321. Petrarch lived from 1304 to 1374. These dates are highly significant in respect of the intersection but also transition from the “unperspectival” to the “perspectival” consciousness, as a kind of “mitosis” such as I described earlier. Dante represents, as it were, the last will and testament of the Medieval world, while Petrarch, the father of Renaissance humanism, discovers space and landscape from the heights of Mount Ventoux, and yet initially recoils from the sight and tries to take refuge, again, in the medieval world — in Dante’s world. But he cannot. He is already “moved” by the sight of space. And it is quite interesting, too, that the painter Giotto (1267 – 1337), whose life overlaps that of Dante, is also beginning to experiment with perspective space in painting.
The relation of Petrarch to Dante is as the two faces of Janus, or as the relationship between the brothers Prometheus (“forethought” or “foresight”) and Epimetheus (“after-thought” or “hindsight”). The shift here represented in Dante and Petrarch is from the emphasis on “soul” to an emphasis on “nature”, and also from time to space, and from a concern with the relationship of eternity to time, to a concern with the relationship of the infinite to the finite (and definition).
The reason why the Medieval world was “unperspectival” was because the medievals weren’t the least bit interested in space except as a matter of “saving the appearances”. Their real interest was eternity and its relationship to time — also a kind of “tale of two cities”: one, the City of God (aeternitatus) and the other, the City of Man (saeculum), or this notion of the Church on Earth as the “bride” of Christ. This is the theme that is picked up again by William Blake in his vision of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.
As Dante reveals, the medieval world was also an Anthrpogenic construct, as it were. Only, the “Anthropos” was the soul, rather than the mind. And Petrarch’s anguish on the top of Mount Ventoux, ably described by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin, shows him now torn inwardly between soul and mind, between eternity and infinity, or between time and space or, as Gebser might put it, between “unperspectival” and “perspectival” modes of consciousness and perception. And in many respects, the shift from the medieval to the modern was often only a matter of a “revaluation of values” or a translation of a temporal idiom into a spatial one. As I’ve noted earlier, theologies morphed into ideologies, and retain still many of their theological DNA, so to speak, which is why we seem to have a devil of a time in confusing ideology with theology, or politics and religion.
The history of the modern revolutions down to our day shows a clear pattern in this respect. They were, in effect, the form of a “revaluation of values”. Rosenstock-Huessy, in his history of the revolutions called Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man, revealed that pattern in the four European Revolutions — the Lutheran, the English, the French, and the Russian. These altogether have been formative of what it means to be “modern”. Why four revolutions? Because each was a specialisation — if not an overspecialisation — of only one aspect or principle of the fourfold human — soul, spirit, mind, or body. None of the European revolutions embraced the human fourfold in its entirety, but the Lutheran or German Revolution made each of the following revolutions necessary in order to complete the modern “Anthropos“. That is to say, each of the modern revolution has some connection with the meaning of Blake’s “four Zoas” of the fourfold divided “Albion”. These “Zoas”, as it were, have merely been disguised as “ideology”, but they also have a connection with the four evangelists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, John — of the Medieval world, as represented in their fourfold relation for example, in the Book of Kells
Each revolution was, in effect, a particular interpretation of what is meant by “human nature” — a particular perspective. And each revolution attempted to recreate and reproduce the human in that particular specialised form. And each ended up making a caricature of the human form to the extent that they did so. This is what Blake refers to as “Single Vision” rather than “fourfold vision”.
Blake also saw in the revolutions the march of the Anthropos towards self-realisation — the contentions of the Zoas in the nightmares of the sleeping but bestirred Albion, as it were. But he did foresee Albion’s awakening in the turmoils of the Modern Era, even if he wasn’t around to witness the four revolution in the series — the Russian. Still, there is an odd correspondence between Blake’s prophetic books about Albion and Rosenstock-Huessy’s history of the Revolutions. Rosenstock-Huessy held that the Russian Revolution completed modernity’s “cross of reality” which would be sealed and concluded by yet a “fifth revolution” — the quintessential or integral — which would definitively close the Modern Era and mark the beginning of a new age and a “new mind” (a metanoia); that, whereas the previous revolutions had specialised in only one aspect of the “cross of reality” — as mind, body, soul, or spirit — the fifth principle would be “health” (which is the meaning of “integral” or “whole”). This is one reason why Rosenstock-Huessy thinks it important to reclaim the whole of the Modern Era — warts and all,, in sickness and in health — as our own “Autobiography” before we can move on to the new “Johannine Age”.
This is also why I suggest we treat the Anthropocene as this “autobiography” made “objective reality” — the culmination of modernity itself, just as Dante’s Inferno was the culmination of the Medieval world but also it’s last will and testament before the great upheaval represented in Petrarch. Gebser apparently saw this same pattern, too, in the revelation of the “fourth dimension” and in Einstein’s unification of space and time as the incipient manifestation of the fourfold Anthropos — or “integral consciousness” or “diaphainon” — considered in terms of the four structures of consciousness — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental.
If you follow what William Blake, Jean Gebser, and Rosenstock-Huessy have all represented here, then the hypersubject of the Anthropocene is this incipient fourfold Anthropos. Not only the culmination terms of all that has gone before that makes up the epoch called “Modern Era” (and thus our autobiography) but also Modernity’s last will and testament, as it were. It has no where else to go now but to transcend itself — its own inner contradictions — Gebser’s “mutation”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia” or Blake’s “Albion’s glad day”.
This fourfold or quadrilateral IS emerging in our time, albeit in a somewhat messy, chaotic and confused way presently. It’s the signal amidst the noise. We have to get this right. But we also see this process at in play in present cosmology — in the still fumbling attempts to relate the four fundamental cosmic forces to the Anthropic Principle, which is the cosmos mirroring back to us the same relation of Blake’s four Zoas to Albion.