Immanence of the Transcendent

The principal matter that Blake, Nietzsche, Gebser, Aurobindo, or even Rosenstock-Huessy share in common is a conviction about what we might call “the immanence of the transcendent’ — that our turbulent times are also a self-manifestation of the transcendent. For Blake, this is “Albion”, for Nietzsche the “overman”, for Gebser the “diaphainon” (or “the Itself”), for Aurobindo the “supramental consciousness”, and for Rosenstock-Huessy the “metanoia“. There are many others, of course, who have sensed it in some way or another as a “New Age”, even if only vaguely.

That would seem to be counter-intuitive and counter-factual, given the corruptions and deficiencies of the Anthropocene. But it is something of a paradox. All the same, an apocalyse is a paradox itself and all these men were apocalyptic thinkers. The self-manifestation and self-revelation of the transcendent as an apocalypse is invariably a rending of the veil or a deconstruction of the familiar and established order of things that appears catastrophic, which it is. That is also the meaning of Rumi’s poem “Green Ears”. It’s the meaning of the Dance of Shiva, and the wave of anxiety that is sweeping the globe.

The emergence of a new consciousness structure in ages of transition is always an apocalyptic event. All previous historically realised species of consciousness — the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational — were but partial and incomplete self-revelations of the transcendent, or what the Upanishads refers to as “Atman“. It has been known by many other names, such as the Logos, or the Tao, or “Christ Consciousness” or “Buddha Mind” and so on. For Gebser, it is “the Itself” or (the term I prefer too) the “diaphainon“.

The immanence of the transcendent we will call the self-revelation and self-manifestation of the diaphainon. There is no reason to think otherwise than that Gebser’s diaphainon is the same as Jill Bolte-Taylor’s direct experience of the “Life Force Power of the Universe” as described in her “Stroke of Insight”. In all likelihood, too, this is much the same that Nietzsche attempted to describe as “Dionysus” and as “the will to power”.

I’ve argued in past posts that Bolte-Taylor’s own personal apocalyptic experience describes the pattern — the archetypal pattern — that our own Age must pass through; “the crucible of change”, as it is sometimes called. The symbol of the crucible, as you might recall, comes from alchemy and Hermeticism. It is related to words like “crux”, “crucial”, “crisis” and “crucifix” and to the idea of transfiguration or transmutation or metamorphosis. It’s counterpart in nature is the “chrysalis”, which is also a state of mutation, and a near perfect metaphor also for what Gebser means by “the double-movement” of disintegration and integration. Both Blake and Nietzsche even make explicit reference to it as such. It’s nature’s alchemy and crucible — the transmutation of the worm into the butterfly.

Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” is similar to the chrysalis stage. From the worm’s point of view, a catastrophe and an evil, for it is the destruction of its form. From the butterfly’s, it is something else altogether. Gebser has suggested we pay as much, or more attention, to the equivalent of the activities of the “imaginal cells” in the chrysalis stage as to the gruesome disintegration of the caterpillar, both in ourselves, and in the culture-at-large. He used the analogy of observing the new “seedlings” emerging amidst the ruins and detritus of the older culture and consciousness structure. “Seedlings”, though, is another way of saying “imaginal cells”.

Crucible and chrysalis and their meanings are excellent metaphors and symbols as guides for gaining deeper insight into what the above mentioned authors are on about — the process of transmutation — the the paradoxes of our times. It is certainly the pattern in Bolte-Taylor’s experience, too.

Nietzsche claimed that his wisdom and insights came from having one foot in life and another in death. That pretty much describes the chrysalis stage, doesn’t it? It’s another of Nietzsche’s ironies that he practiced seriously Christ’s injunction to “die to oneself daily”.

Can we think of the Anthropocene as a crucible and a chrysalis? It certainly is a paradoxical thing, as being both hyper-object and hyper-subject, to employ Timothy Morton’s terms. It may seem as though there is little in the way of the self-manifestation of the diaphainon or of Hoelderlin’s “saving power” in the midst of it, or of what Gebser also calls “the concretion of the spiritual”. There are, nonetheless, certain present signatures of its potentiality and possibility, in what the philosopher of historian of science Thomas Kuhn called “anomalies” in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s these “anomalies” that might even hint at the immanence of the transcendent or the incipience of the “mutation”, even if, as they seem at present, to be completely misunderstood and misinterpreted, or give rise to all sorts of bizarre paranoias and conspiracy theories. The anomalies are real, but not necessarily our interpretation of them. (And I have in mind here also Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson, who seem to have misconstrued practically everything).

When we talk about the immanence of the transcendent, the counter-part to that is what Nietzsche called “self-overcoming”, which is pretty much a challenge to what we call “identity”, and even as a deconstruction of that “identity”. The “caterpillar’s job is to resist the butterfly”, as Augusto Cuginotti aptly put it. It’s these very anxieties about “identity” and “identitarianism” that signal an incipient or underlying transformation in process. If so many today are anxious about their “identity”, it may well be because of the incipience of that more “universal way of looking at things” or aperspectival consciousness that Gebser anticipated now emerging to challenge mere narrow and myopic “point-of-view” or perspectival consciousness, even within us and despite ourselves.

There is evidence for that, indeed. It is not only the meaning of Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” relation, but also of Bolte-Taylor’s experience. And it is also implied in the strange phenomenon of “symbolic belief” where the ego-nature or “identity” denies even that which it otherwise tacitly knows to be true, or holds to lies and falsehoods that it tacitly also knows to be untrue. And so “symbolic belief” represents a retreat of identity into the narrowness of the “point-of-view”, which represents a narrowing of the ego-consciousness in an attempt to conserve its identity, even at the cost of falsifying reality.

This is pretty evidently so. The panic about “identity” is reflected in all sorts of hyper-partisanship — political, racialist, gender, or other things. But this panic and anxiety about identity might readily be the result of the incipience of that new “aperspectival” or “universal way of looking at things” which already seems to be the latent issue in the dissonance of symbolic belief — where some larger aspect of us knows to be true but what our narrower ego identity denies. This is exactly the issue that McGilchrist calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the whole.

So, what we call “cognitive dissonance” may not actually be what it seems, or is more than what it seems. Yes, it points to a disintegration of the loss of integrity of consciousness, but at the same time, a signal of the immanence of the transcendent. And in that sense, the phenomenon of symbolic belief resembles, too, the chrysalis stage.

Just something to consider when we hear talk about “identity crisis”, and which might help explain Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement” as well.

8 responses to “Immanence of the Transcendent”

  1. Benjamin David Steele says :

    What you refer to as “symbolic belief” seems to relate to what I call symbolic conflation. It’s a theory I came up with a long time ago and have written much about over the years. You can search my blog if you’re curious about it, as there are numerous posts where I discuss it. I’ll point to only one of them:

    Basically, symbolic conflation means one thing being taken for another. It’s a proxy treated as the real issue, and this is the anchor of the social order. So, it does have everything to do with identity. One of the best writers that covers that territory is Lewis Hyde in Trickster Makes the World. He writes that (pp. 169-170),

    “[A]n unalterable fact about the body is linked to a place in the social order, and in both cases, to accept the link is to be caught in a kind of trap.

    “Before anyone can be snared in this trap, an equation must be made between the body and the world (my skin color is my place as a Hispanic; menstruation is my place as a woman). This substituting of one thing for another is called metonymy in rhetoric, one of the many figures of thought, a trope or verbal turn. The construction of the trap of shame begins with this metonymic trick, a kind of bait and switch in which one’s changeable social place is figured in terms of an unchangeable part of the body. Then by various means the trick is made to blend invisibly into the landscape. To begin with, there are always larger stories going on— about women or race or a snake in a garden. The enchantment of those regularly repeated fables, along with the rules of silence at their edges, and the assertion that they are intuitively true— all these things secure the borders of the narrative and make it difficult to see the contingency of its figures of thought. Once the verbal tricks are invisible, the artifice of the social order becomes invisible as well, and begins to seem natural. As menstruation and skin color and the genitals are natural facts, so the social and psychological orders become natural facts.

    “In short, to make the trap of shame we inscribe the body as a sign of wider worlds, then erase the artifice of that signification so that the content of shame becomes simply the way things are, as any fool can see.

    “If this is how the trap is made, then escaping it must involve reversing at least some of these elements. In what might be called the “heavy-bodied” escape, one senses that there’s something to be changed but ends up trying to change the body itself, mutilating it, or even committing suicide…”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Just finished watching a new video of McGilchrist giving a talk on the divided brain, which I think you might find interesting….

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Found another one, which has some further interesting remarks by McGilchrist. Gebser once said that everything today hinges on our knowing when to make happen, and our knowing when to let happen. McGilchrist actually addresses this at one point in the interview, so it might give you some notion of what Gebser means by that

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Which is it? “Believing is seeing” or “seeing is believing”? That is, in some respects, the “hermeneutic circle” of many of Escher’s drawings, especially the “hands”

    • Scott Preston says :

      One of the reasons I brought this up is, not only McGilchrist’s reference to the Hermeneutic Circle in one of his talks, but because, last night, I watched a really corny movie (well, it was for children) called “Voyage of the Unicorn”, and the central theme of the movie was “Credendo Vides” — “by believing one sees”, which is, of course, the inversion of the normal formula “seeing is believing”.

      But “credendo vides” is actually another way of stating Anselm’s formula that guided scholasticism and theology in the Middle Ages “credo ut intelligam” — “I believe that I might understand”. And the odd thing is, if you consider science historian Thomas Kuhn’s work, is that the guidance of theory (or models) in shaping what we see is very similar to Anselm’s otherwise discredited formula that was replaced by Descartes “cogito ergo sum”.

      Like an Escher drawing, it’s a bit of a mind-bender, isn’t it?

  5. Scott Preston says :

    The latest interview (yesterday) with Iain McGilchrist on NPR — very interesting. About 51 minutes.

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