Urizen is the Anthropocene
Many of the matters I post about first occur to me in my dreaming. I awoke this morning musing on Nietzsche’s critique of “herd mentality” as this relates to the present wave of authoritarian populism sweeping the globe (and posted a couple of comments about that below the previous post). And during the course of reflecting on that, and the seeming collapse of the spectrum of consciousness in the Anthropocene, I also began to recollect the dream that underlay it and which was still echoing and reverberating in my daylight mind.
In this dream, I’m a member of the crew of a boat on the sea. The boat has a ladder attached to its side that allows people to enter the sea or climb out of the sea. It is attached to the boat at four points or hinges, and I notice that corrosion and rust has dissolved three of the hinges, so that the ladder has become very wobbly and precarious. The fourth and last hinge is showing signs of corrosion as well, and the ladder is swinging wildly on this one hinge whenever I attempt to climb it. There is, moreover, a woman in the water. She’s a scuba diver, and I fret that that ladder won’t hold her when she tries to get back into the boat, and see her face and mouth change into that of the gaping maw of a hideous-looking Anglerfish.
If you’ve followed The Chrysalis for any length of time, you’ll probably recognise the significance of the ladder and its four hinges. It’s Blake’s “fourfold vision” and his four Zoas, Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness” and Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality”. The ladder alludes to the Biblical “Jacob’s Ladder” of ascent and descent, and the sea, of course, to the Jungian “collective unconscious”. The female in the water is the Anima — a very common archetype in myth and legend (eg, the Lady of the Lake, the nymph, the mermaid, etc). But her sudden mutation into an Anglerfish is an image of Kali Ma, the devourer, and the dark or thanatic side of the Anima Mundi, which Gebser refers to as “the law of the Earth”.
So, the dream motifs are familiar, and they also reveal very well how the “Master” mode of attention or consciousness described by McGilchrist thinks in symbol and metaphor in distinction from the “Emissary” and its more prosaic and analytical mode. But it was only after I had posted those comments about the narrowing (or collapse) of the spectrum of consciousness into the “point-of-view” that I began to recollect the dream that underlay that, and how the dream was, in effect, a kind of rehearsal for today’s post.
Before I delve into the meaning of that, I hope to illustrate by this what Nietzsche also intended to be understood about his philosophy as reflected in the chapter in Zarathustra called “The Despisers of the Body“. It reveals very clearly that Nietzsche’s “soul” or “Self” is not the ego, and more closely resembles what we have been referring to as the Anthropos or what the Hindus refer to as Atman or what Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to in “The Oversoul”.
What I call “my mind”, then, (or the Emissary in McGilchrist’s terms) is simply a conduit (or interface) for feeding experience to the Master, and the Master, in turn, digests the experience as its “food” and returns it as “meaning”. So this is another way of reflecting on the Master-Emissary relationship as described by McGilchrist (or Nietzsche, for that matter): as a kind of exchange between experience into meaning, and meaning back into experience. This is simply what is called the “hermeneutic circle”, and reflects that process in Hermeticism — the transmutation of lead into gold. There is also, though, the reciprocal process — the debasement of the gold into lead, which we call “fundamentalism” or “reductionism”, and which underlies the Kali Yuga, or the problem of “spiritual materialism”. This debasement or devaluation is what McGilchrist, correspondingly, calls the Emissary’s “usurpation”, or what Gebser calls “distantiation” from the vital centre, or what is generally referred to as “alienation” or “anomie”. This is reflected, clearly, in the sense of meaninglessness and seeming pointlessness of existence, or referred to as the loss of the “transcendent” (the “ladder” of my dream). This distinction, and relation, between the meaningful and the experiential (or the “Master” and the “Emissary” in McGilchrist’s terms) is clearly the subject of neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk on her “stroke of insight”.
This dream is an example, really, of the integrating dynamic of “the Master” mode of consciousness, and it’s truly magical and marvelous to behold. All the elements of the dream can be traced to fragments or images of experience that I had the day before, but which had no apparent cohesiveness to them. (I was reading about the Anglerfish on a German website yesterday). So, let’s look closer at what was accomplished in and by this dream, and how it subtly steered my mind’s concerns for the day even before I had fully recollected it, for the dream sort of acted as a fate. Yet, it originated in me.
The boat is, apparently, an image of the Anthropocene itself. Things which float on water (or which walk on water for that matter) are common archetypal symbols of the ego consciousness or society as a whole. Sea, ocean, lake, water generally is a common symbol of the unconscious or the soul or what Jung described as the “collective unconscious” (but which in the Anthropocene has largely become transposed as the “universal market”). What occurs to me about the “boat” in my dream is the Aquarius — the Mediterranean rescue ship about which I was reading yesterday in The Guardian, and the threats against it to revoke its flag. But what also occurs to me in connection with the Aquarius is “das Rettende” — the saving power — of Hölderlin’s poem “Patmos”.
Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst, Das Rettende auch.
Which translates as, “where the peril is greatest, grows the saving power (or saving grace) also”. Rosenstock-Huessy also uses the metaphor of a boat or ship as a symbol of society.
The “ladder” that connects the boat with the sea is clearly, to me, the ladder of transcendence, or Jacob’s Ladder that connects Earth and Sky, and is both ascent and descent, and an appropriately Heraclitean image of the paradoxical (“the road up and the road down are the same”). The ladder has four points of connection with the ship, and three of these are corroded or broken. These seem clearly references to Blake’s Four Zoas or Geber’s “four structures of consciousness” or Rosenstock-Huessy’s four space and time fronts of society. This pertains to the “fourfold vision”, and the last remaining hinge still attached pertains to what Blake calls “Single Vision”. And although I don’t recall the number of rungs on the ladder, I have the impression there were twelve rungs — the four and the twelve — the number we explored in the previous post in reference to the “Twelve Titans” or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Twelve Tones of the Spirit”. The fact that three of the ladder’s hinges are broken invokes the idea of “unhinged” — the demented, the deranged.
The last hinge is also weakening, though, and I worry that the Lady in the Sea will not be able to ascend safely into the boat. And with that thought her face transforms into a hideous Anglerfish — the image of Kali Ma the Devourer. And yet, hideous as that sounds, her appearance also strikes me as somewhat comical and cartoonish.
The dream now seems pretty transparent in its meaning, and — as you can see — it influenced my comments this morning in the previous post about the reduction, contraction, or narrowing of the spectrum of consciousness (and debate) that I saw reflected in this absurd Munk Debate between David Frum and Steve Bannon, only two exemplars of Urizen’s mind of Single Vision, and only the creaky last hinge of the ladder — Urizen’s last stand, as it were.
The Lady in the Water recalls, too, Athena and what Gebser wrote about Athena — that her alter ego was the Gorgon, just as the other face of Dionysus is Hades. If the Lady is to get safely on board, the ladder must be repaired. The four hinges must be restored. This is the “spectrum”. This is what Blake calls “fourfold vision”. This is what Rosenstock-Huessy refers to as “The Multiformity of Man“. Respect the spectrum.
The spectrum is not chaos. It has structure. To Urizen’s mind, though, the spectrum is chaos, which is why Urizen oppresses and suppresses the other Zoas of Albion “divided fourfold”. So, let’s turn to this theme of the ‘spectrum’ — which is, in some ways, the web of life itself .