This Changes Everything

“Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.”

— Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment

This statement from Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment has always struck me as the quintessential meaning of the Frankfort School and the “New Left”, which certainly left its imprint on the counter-culture of the 60s and 70s. It was this radical openness to the mythical consciousness, or recovery of the validity of the mythical consciousness, that probably impressed Gebser, too, when, in his final years, he expressed his hopes that the new generation might be more receptive to his thesis in Ever-Present Origin. In any case, the Frankfort School incurred the wrath and enmity of reactionary forces of both the Old Left and the conservatives that continues down to this day, even after “New Left” and Critical Theory has actually now largely morphed into the “Greens”.

How the New Left came to be, emerging from the cultural and political turmoil of the interwar years in Germany, its struggle with fascism, and how its principal figures ended up dead or in exile in America, is an engaging story in itself. It’s also an important story in understanding the emphasis Aurobindo places on Germany’s role in his thoughts on the emerging “Age of Subjectivism”. This assertion of the validity of existential clarity of the mythical, and also the latency of the mythical still in mental-rational “Enlightenment” was one of the most important and overwhelmingly influential statements of this period in relation to this “Age of Subjectivism”.

A lot of very conservative forces are still fighting a rear-guard action against this cultural influence of the counter-culture and the “New Left”, which they blame for everything that has gone wrong with America — or the world — since the 50s — and which they casually bundle up altogether in the less than adequate phrase “cultural Marxism”. It is ignorant phrasing since the New Left was called “New” because it was as much a critique of conventional Marxism as of “the System”, as it was referred to. It was, and remains, a critique of the European Enlightenment generally, which is to say after Gebser, the “mental-rational consciousness”.

This subjective turn, which is very much the meaning of the New Left, was the result of attempting to integrate the insights of Nietzsche, Freud, Jung and others into social philosophy. And it is, in that sense, an important and significant event or chapter in the movement to that new consciousness that Gebser describes in The Ever-Present Origin — the re-admission of the mythical or even spiritual.

“Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” There are enormous implications to this simple statement, for it is, in many respects, the exact reflection of something Jill Bolte-Taylor also stated following her “Stroke of Insight”, that we are feeling creatures that think, rather than thinking creatures that feel. Right here, we are at the crux of the matter, for myth is the realm of feeling, and the “enlightenment” and clarity of myth, for the Frankfort School, is also the enlightenment and clarity of the emotional life largely suppressed by the Enlightenment, or what today is sometimes referred to as “emotional intelligence”.

The Modern Era, of course, has this precisely reversed, and the insight that we are actually feeling creatures that think rather than thinking creatures that feel, pretty much accounts for the gap between the “masculine” and the “feminine”, if we want to put it that way, or perhaps better — animus and anima, or yang and yin.

“We are feeling creatures that think” has enormous consequences, then, for understanding the implications for thought and reality that follow from Gebser’s diagnosis of our present “chaotic emotion”, so that the proper function and role of myth can be seen as bringing clarity and structure to the passions (which is why myth is often associated with eros). That we are feeling creatures who think is also the implication of don Juan’s statement to Carlos Castaneda, also full of import, that “reality is a feeling we have for it”.

It’s because myth brings clarity to the energies of the subjective dimension that Blake felt he could only express the truths of our inner life through art and myth. What Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “stroke of insight” brought to her — the truth that “we are creatures of feeling who think” rather than vice versa, is already known to Blake as his “Voice of the Devil” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,

“All Bibles or sacred codes, have been the causes of the following Errors.

  1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
  2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
  3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

  1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
  2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
  3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”

So, when we talk about “feelings”, it’s not about those weak kinds of feelings we call “sentiments”, but are matters of energy. What Blake is saying here in the “Voice of the Devil”, (which is somewhat a tongue in cheek way of putting it), is that these energies are our true sources of creativity and vitality. That was also the most important truth that Jill Bolte-Taylor gleaned from her own experience.

So, as important as Reason is to Blake, it is not the sovereign power of the soul. The sovereign power of the soul is the “Divine Imagination”, which he thinks of as the artist. Not reason and analysis, but art guarantees our individuality, and this becomes his formula for politics, too: “The Arts, and all things in common”.  In that respect, Blake has nothing but disdain for those “classical British liberal values” that men like Jordan Peterson profess, seeing them as little more than the values of the marketplace and of a commercialist and commercialising civilisation.

“Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology”, or “we are feeling creatures who think” are equivalent statements, and there are a lot of implications that follow from really accepting this as the truth of our being, and what is behind much of today’s social turbulence. Navigating this turbulence without succumbing to the crisis of chaotic emotion (or what we call “return of the repressed”) was pretty much what Blake was all about, what Gebser was all about, and what Rosenstock-Huessy is all about.

14 responses to “This Changes Everything”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Well, I certainly love kismet like this. Right after I posted this, this article appeared on the Aurobindo Studies website “Great Art Expresses Truth Through Inspiration, Not Intellectual Process”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Max Leyf has posted an excellent piece on “post-truth” of his website, and I highly recommend it.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Interview with Iain McGilchrist on “Rebel Wisdom”

  4. erikleo says :

    Vis a Vis McGilchrist what do you make of Tony Wright’s critique? In a nutshell he says the left hemisphere is malfunctioning nowadays. And that when we were hunter-gatherers the nutrients from the food had a beneficial effect on neural development. Then the two hemishpheres were in balance. [Not sure how the last point can be proved!]

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Just when we think everything has changed and the truly “revolutionary” forces of the Planetary Era “now dawning at the frontiers of social awareness,” as Anodea Judith put it, has left the old left-right binaries behind, we find a great many of those “forces” being siphoned off and entrenched in new left-right dogmas of their own devising.

    Suppose “cultural Marxism” is not a reference and reaction to “the New left” — much less the activities of an emerging “integral consciousness structure” — but an “usurped” response to the remnants of the “Old Left” also mentioned? Do we think “the New Left” represents an “integral consciousness structure?” A John the Baptist-like clearing of the way for a truly “integral consciousness structure” to emerge? A…what exactly?

    Old school pitfalls — especially becoming lost in the “fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities” to the point that anyone and everyone is suspect of being part of a “rear-guard action against” who-or-whatever — is, indeed, epidemic. Many of us are speaking of a local, regional, national and international politics largely devoid of the political for that very reason. Fortunately, politics is not the only field of human endeavor in existence* and, of course, “our institutions will be the last to change.” While some of us are in the process of transforming (or attempting to transform) our institutions, however, most of us are too busy attempting to transform “others” to have much of an effect (other than “blowback”) in that regard.

    * Hanh’s practice is self-described as “socially-engaged Buddhism” and not “politically-engaged Buddhism,” by the way. This is a most subtle — and some might even say irrelevant — distinction, but a distinction nonetheless. Hanh’s “socially-engaged Buddhism” is, in fact, most notable for actually performing miracles around the globe while, at the same time, not being or becoming inextricably involved in what we might call unenlightened geopolitics. Hanh himself has, of course, been targeted politically — having been exiled from his home country for a time, for instance — but has managed to come up smelling like a rose, regardless, and not without a lot of help along the way. Personally, I think it’s that distinction that has made all the difference (at least, in the case of the Order of Interbeing) and a most relevant distinction given our chaotic “times.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Suppose “cultural Marxism” is not a reference and reaction to “the New left” — much less the activities of an emerging “integral consciousness structure” — but an “usurped” response to the remnants of the “Old Left” also mentioned? Do we think “the New Left” represents an “integral consciousness structure?” A John the Baptist-like clearing of the way for a truly “integral consciousness structure” to emerge? A…what exactly?

      What on earth are you going on about now? Didn’t I specifically point out that the “New Left” in retrospect was itself a transitional movement to a more ecologically oriented politics? Not at all difficult to trace that pathway through the New Left into a more ecologically-oriented politics.

      As I read somewhere the other day, Americans have funny ideas about left and right, not really shared by other jurisdictions, owing to their own rather strange (and strained) political history. Certainly not something I can make sense of most of the time. We could go into why that’s so, but I’m more interested in exploring the larger historical context.

      I’ve noticed especially that a lot of American Libertarians claim to hate politics without the slightest awareness that this, in itself, is a political stance, or maybe just cynical.

      But I do question whether you’ve actually understood at all what Adorno and Horkheimer meant by saying “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology”. It really means, the breakdown of ideology, since politics in the Modern Era is ideology. But that is not true of all politics, and I’m supposing that you’re confusing politics with ideology.

      Myth is not ideology, but it can be appropriated, distorted, and misused by ideology.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        The only thing I’m confused about at the moment is what you’re on about, especially with regard to “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology,” which I understood just fine, thank you. And, no, I didn’t miss your identification of “the New Left” as itself a transitional movement. I also didn’t miss your poignant observation in a previous thread that “what we are transitioning into, what we are morphing and mutating into — this is still vague and undetermined.”

        politics in the Modern Era is ideology. But that is not true of all politics

        I said, “many of us are speaking of a local, regional, national and international politics largely devoid of the political,” not completely devoid of the political. Enough said?

        The problem in communication here may be that “politics” is itself most often used as an umbrella term for the mess that presently passes for “politics” on “the world stage.” You may have read Teodrose Fikre’s Forget Tribalism, Disavow Politics and Stand Up for Inclusive Justice. Upon reading the article, I understood Fikre to mean, “disavow (identity) politics” and very much doubt I’ve misconstrued him, especially considering his parting “advice” to new political activists: “[P]ay no attention to frauds who try to convince you that your enemy are people who are struggling just like you.” I also very much appreciate Popova’s reframing of “political correctness” as “identity-political correctness.” The “Age of Subjectivism” is fast becoming famous for making highly nuanced and truly “artistic” distinctions.

        Myth is not ideology, but it can be appropriated, distorted, and misused by ideology.

        As can anything said or written, and the most prevalent cautionary note sounded on that score has been to avoid the temptation of “mistaking the map for the territory.”

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Well. Now, we’re getting somewhere…maybe: Obama Admits Bipartisan Capitalist ‘Washington Consensus’ Fueled Far-Right & Multiplied Inequality, though…he still believes in it. : /

      More importantly, however, is what “leading thinkers” on the subject are getting wrong:

      Part of what’s happened is that when people feel their status is being jostled and threatened, they react.

      Among the “outdated theories” we must confront and transcend is that “loss of status” is the one and only driver. Among the primary drivers is that people, and certainly not the multinational corporations now considered by law to be “persons” in many “jurisdictions,” are in the red and can’t afford to eat…” or a mortgage, rent, healthcare and other basic necessities of life, much less so-called “green alternatives,” e.g. electric cars, because they’re essentially footing the bill (monetary and otherwise) for unconscious malfeasance on the part of “<a href="the “top [‘economic units‘] of the world.” (Parenthetical, Oren Lyons: “49 are countries and 51 are corporations.” Now, as we’ve learned, 69.)

      On this subject, the British comedic character, ‘Jonathan Pie,’ was absolutely correct: “Not everyone who voted for Trump is a sexist or a racist — some of them are, but most aren’t. Most people didn’t vote for [Clinton], not because she’s a woman. They didn’t vote for her because she offered no palpable change whatsoever…. Trump represented a change — a terrifying change, but a change nonetheless.” (Feel free to replace “Trump” and “Clinton” with the names of any “populist” or “technocrat” presently in a position of political “leadership.”)

      I wish to bring attention to this statement by Obama, in particular:

      [T]hey’re looking at GDP numbers, and they’re looking at the Internet, and everything is looking pretty great; and…you have this period of great smugness on the part of…elites, thinking, ‘We got this all figured out.’

      Yep. There it is: a “period of great smugness.” Kind of like the “smugness” of the White Star Line over its prized accomplishment, the Titanic.

      As unadvisable here as it may be, I’m nonetheless going to borrow a bit of social commentary from (of all things) a Fallout 4 DLC, Automatron, by way of illustrating just how blinding such “data” can be. (So, okay. Bethesda is not the best at social commentary, but — as absurd as it may seem on the surface — this particular example-by-way-of-story actually may be sufficient to the task of illustrating the problem it attempts, at least, to illustrate.)

      “The Mechanist” sincerely believed her robot army was doing good in the Commonwealth because the data dumps she was receiving from them seemed to indicate such, when what they were actually doing — due to “an error in logic” — was killing every living being in sight. The robobrains leading the squads of robots Isabel, the Mechanist (this go ’round), had sent out interpreted “the good of the Commonwealth” to mean putting living beings “out of their likely chance of misery.” According to the robobrain, Jezebel, “Assisting a human to the best of my abilities only affords a 25 percent survival rate. That means there’s a 75 percent chance that, despite my efforts, the human I’m assisting will die from something beyond my control. Therefore, it’s better to hasten the human’s death and put them out of their likely chance of misery than to deplete my limited time.”

      One of the dialogue options available to you as “the protagonist” when speaking to Isabel is, “You’re blind to what’s happening,” which results in spoken dialogue that finally succeeds in helping Isabel to understand that the data she’s receiving from the robots and exclusively reviewing as a measure of the success of her…project…is lying.

      Think of it what we will, something tells me this particular bit of “social commentary” may itself more than likely be flying “under the radar.” As it happens, science fiction is an exceptional vehicle for conveying ideas.

  6. K says :

    I’m only just discovering Indian philosophy, but I was delighted to find Blakean parallels in kundalini in particular.

    At the base of the root (chakra) of the (human) tree (of life), which is associated with the (hellish) color red and the planet Saturn (Satan), there lies a coiled serpent (the Devil): called the Shakti (feminine) energy. The body itself, whether male or female, is symbolically feminine. Despisers of the body despise (the long forgotten true nature of) the feminine. Beautiful symmetry.

    And then I saw this recently:

    And in a sense (symbolically) he’s correct.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I know what you mean. I’ve just starting delving further into Indian Philosophy myself, and was quite taken with the parallels between Blake and, say, what’s in the Upanishads. I still have some way to go with this, though, before I’ld want to post anything about it.

      • K says :

        Furthermore, the enlightened state is supposedly reached by raising the Shakti feminine energy from the root to the crown chakra, associated with Shiva: the sacred marriage of Heaven and Hell. This is something they apparently knew in ancient Egypt: you see depictions of the divine king with a serpent coming out of the forehead/third eye, being fed the ankh by Horus. Seems to me the snake of Eden was never a deceiver, but a liberator trying to spread secret wisdom at that time only privy to god-kings like Yahweh. But now the jig is up – we all have the potential to be god-kings: “Ye are gods.” Take that, Yuval Harari.

        John Weir Perry explores the symbolism of divine-kingship in the structure of the individuation process in Lord of the Four Quarters and Roots of Renewal in Myth and Madness. May be of interest to you. Fours, fours, everywhere…

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