The Anthropocene as Psychodrama

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare, Macbeth

In many respects, what we call “the Anthropocene” can be considered in terms of an enormous psychodrama. That would also seem to be the implication of what Aurobindo calls “the Age of Subjectivism”, which seems to be clearly upon us now with the advent of the “Global Brain” and the apparent loss of discernment between the fantastical (or phantasmagorical) and the real, or the subjective and the objective fronts of life (or, for that matter, past and future). This was also the implication of my earlier review and critique of Rolf Jensen’s 2000 book The Dream Society.

The Anthropocene as psychodrama: how do we understand that, apart from the fact that the “Universal Market” itself increasingly assumes and takes on the characteristics of what Jung described as “the collective unconscious”, with also the “Universal Market’s” all-encompassing and ubiquitous nature increasingly resembling Shakespeare’s “all of the world’s a stage”.

But in what way, and what is it that is being staged?

For Jung, the “collective unconscious” was the great field in which the archetypes and the archetypal dramas (dreams) played themselves out, often also into physical reality via projection or “synchronicity”. The notion that all “reality” is a psychodrama of the interactions of his “four Zoas” is already implied in much that William Blake wrote.

At least a couple of scholars have taken this Shakespearean idea that “all the world’s a stage” quite seriously. Kenneth Burke developed his quite intriguing social theory of “dramatism”. Likewise, Hugh Dalziel Duncan, following Burke, wrote a quite engaging book on the matter called Symbols in Society. Besides Rolf Jensen’s dubious and questionable book on The Dream Society, Jungian psychotherapist Robert Romanyshyn also wrote a book entitled Technology as Symptom & Dream. More recently, we have Neal Gabler’s Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality and Andersen’s Fantasyland.

What such offerings suggest (and they all seem to point to the same thing) is that the event we now call “Anthropocene” be considered the unfolding of a great psychodrama. As mentioned also earlier, Tim Morton’s idea of the “hyperobject” is paradoxical, in that the same “hyperobject” may well be considered, too, as an enormous hypersubject — the Anthropos of the Anthropocene now in the form of a “Global Brain”.

This is pretty much what Rosenstock-Huessy calls, also, our “new within” and which finds its representation in the idea of The Matrix. The Matrix also has this dream-like character of the collective unconscious as psychodrama.

Now, much of this psychodrama is connected with “the return of the repressed”, which is also what makes for Aurobindo’s “Age of Subjectivism”. And as I’ve argued earlier in The Chrysalis, this “return of the repressed” was the fundamental theme of the entire 20th century, especially following “the death of God” and the disillusionment of the intellectuals with “Enlightenment” and “Universal Reason” subsequent to the First World War and its aftermath, all emerging symptoms of what Nietzsche had already foreseen as his “two centuries of nihilism” — the upshot of this being, also, the insurgency of the Jungian “Shadow”.

There is increasing evidence for this, and that what is sometimes now called “the collapse of reality” is its still unrecognised manifestation as psychodrama, and leading to enormous confusion about “the real”. This is also reflected in the very interesting research, cited in an earlier comment, that the monsters of our imagination are growing ever larger and in increased potency with every increase or intensification in our anxieties about our reality.

All of which, too, was anticipated by Jean Gebser decades ago, not to leave unmentioned William Blake, who offered us a way of understanding this psychodrama as he saw it also coming.

I give you the end of a golden string;. Only wind it into a ball,. It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,. Built in Jerusalem’s wall….

The return of the repressed — or what Gebser calls the “irruption” — is hardly an orderly process. It is literally pan-daemonium, and you might wonder, of course, how we’re ever going to get these mischievous genies back into their proverbial bottles once they’ve been let loose from their previous confinement. But, it is true, that the other side of the “gate of Hell” is “Heaven’s gate”. As you might recall, Athena is the alter ego of the Gorgon, and Dionysus, the god of life, is the alter ego of Hades, god of death. All devils were angels, once, and still are in another aspect.

Blake was rather fond of devils (although you have to read Blake to understand why), and that’s largely because for Blake the world and reality were transparently a psychodrama, and he was not fooled by the camouflage of Maya that he called “Ulro”.

Now, there is a great deal of talk these days about the “post-modern loss of self” or “malaise of modernity”, and this “loss of self” is closely connected with the return of the repressed as well. In the Grail Legend, which is part of the mystical tradition and not “history” as such, this loss of self is called “the Land without a King”, and considered a dreadful state of affairs. Pandaemonium, in effect. The Land is the soul and the King is the “vital centre” or what Gebser calls “the diaphainon” or “the Itself”. The “King” is the called, by Blake, “Albion”, by Emerson, “Oversoul”, by Nietzsche and Jung, “the Self”, by Meister Eckhart, “the Aristocrat”, by Aurobindo, “the Atman” or “the Sovereign”, and by McGilchrist, “the Master”. It is represented in alchemy as the Cosmic Androgyne (anima and animus integrated) called “the Rebis”. As you can see, it is a representation of what is called “the Tao” or yin and yang).

Rebis. The hieros gamos.

The Grail Legend was also psychodrama, and very influential. The land without a king, being a dreadful state of affairs, the Enlightenment attempted to establish the kingship of the Sovereign Reason or “Universal Reason”. “Every man a king” was a real ideal, meaning this Sovereign Reason. This is Blake’s “Urizen”, and we now understand, in retrospect, that Reason and the reasoning ego, alone was insufficient to effect a genuine integration. So, once again the land is without a king, so to speak. And this is also the meaning of the post-modern loss of self.

So, “the land without a king”, in its real meaning, is closely associated with “the death of God”, the breakdown of the mental-rational consciouness structure or “Universal Reason”, the “end of the Master Narrative” and the subsequent post-modern “loss of self”, the “identity crisis” and attendant “return of the repressed” — all related issues. And this is behind the authoritarian turn — the psychodrama by which “kingship”, which should be invested in a new integrating principle, is instead vicariously projected onto a “strong man” or authoritarian type who serves as a kind of surrogate, but inauthentic, “vital centre” which had previously been served by the idea of the “Sovereign Reason” that made the idea of a democratic politics seem natural.

(The archetype of “king” or “queen” or of “kingship” is extremely interesting, and the idea of its divine origin and sanction goes back to at least The Epic of Gilgamesh, where kingship is described as “descended from heaven”. The same kind of motif reappears with the “sign of the dove” descending upon Jesus), or the relationship between Pharoah and Ra — the Sun god. So kingship didn’t disappear, but was claimed by the sovereign reasoning mind).

7 responses to “The Anthropocene as Psychodrama”

  1. Max Leyf says :

    Amazing. Only yesterday, on a whim, I memorised this soliloquy from Macbeth.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Philippe Sands 2005 book Lawless World seems as pertinent today as it was when it was written. Sands wrote it largely in response to the invasion of Iraq. One would have thought that this historic blunder would have taught the world a lesson about lawlessness, but since then governments and politicians (and not just governments and politicians) seem to have doubled down on their lawlessness and foolhardiness.

    These, of course, are just symptoms of a deeper and more widespread corruption that attends Late Modernity — symptoms of an age in process of passing away, and in which the rot has set in.

    But, of course, the rot of the fruit is the compost that the seeds need to sprout anew.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Really love this Tweet by “Scummy Waters”. Although he modestly describes himself as a “failed magician”, only a real shaman could actually see this:

    The reasoning mind petrifies existence in order to give it identity, thus it is the enemy of life which is always in motion. On the other hand, body seeks dialogue with the world therefore doesn't tyrannize life. Listen to your body.— Scummy Waters (@PartiallyJB) June 15, 2019

    • Scott Preston says :

      There’s real depth of insight in that statement. I think it’s a marvel of succinctness, and yet gets to the gist of what we mean by “embodied being” and the kind of life experience and sense of embodied existence that the existentialists often aim to recover and redeem from the errors of metaphysical dualism. There is also much of McGilchrist’s neurological theories of the “master” in it. There are also echoes of Heraclitus, and the Phenomenologists (especially Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy).

      This insight about the body seeking dialogue with its world — that’s also very Rosenstock-Huessy, who largely considered language a biological phenomenon rather than a purely mentalistic one. So, in this statement @PartiallyJB really touches on some key themes of the contemporary situation.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Might (or might not) want to keep an eye on the nonsense surrounding Cyberpunk 2077.

    The game has yet to be released, yet it’s already come under intense scrutiny and fire for supposedly portraying “cisgenders” and ethnicities “stereotypically” in in-game advertisements and so forth, when it is (in fact) the game world itself that portrays all of humanity “stereotypically”…as is the custom of “the system” or The Matrix.

    Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a Matrix/Blade Runner-esque world based on a RPG created by Mike Pondsmith.

    I suppose it remains to be seen whether or not the fact that “future” is now ever syncs in.

  6. Steve Lavendusky says :

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