Breakdown of Perspective Consciousness Revisited
The physicist and science writer Paul Halpern tweeted this morning the cover of a book by Isaac Newton on Optics that was in the library of Werner Heisenberg. It’s quite fascinating because of the graphic that was included on the cover of Newton’s book on optics shows Dürer’s grid — a device invented by Albrecht Dürer to train the eye to perceive perspectivally. This device is of great interest because it illustrates exactly, in a very objective and concrete way, what is called “a point of view” as having once been an actual physical instrument to deliberately focus perception in a particular way and direction that became a metaphor for logic and thinking in general — the rational and logic ordering and arranging of space as a ratio of spaces and as a system of objects. Beginning in the Renaissance, the onus and emphasis shifted to the eye as the principal sense and organ of knowing and intellectual mastery.
The device illustrated here is the invention of Albrecht Dürer. It was widely used in the Renaissance to aid artists in learning to visualise perspectivally (Leonardo also reputedly used it).
What Dürer’s grid illustrates is a way of looking (perspectival) and a method of analysis (the gridwork) where the organ of knowing now shifts from the ear to the eye. The enthusiasm with which this new way of looking and understanding were received in the time is illustrated by prints from the period
As we’ve previously noted in The Chrysalis, this new way of looking called “perspective consciousness” even informed Descartes’ own ‘wondrous strange method’ — his new organon now called “Cartesianism” or “the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview”
This way of looking and thinking became formalised in the now well-known symbol of the European Enlightenment that still graces the Great Seal of the United States — the perspectival eye, the shape of the Modern Mind and consciousness structure that William Blake caled “Urizen” or “Single Vision”.
Again, we’ll use Blake’s own illustration of his deranged Zoa and god “Urizen” as revealing of this particular pattern or structure of consciousness and perception.
It is this structure — this way of looking with its own tacit logic or ratio — that Blake foresaw breaking down in his Prophetic Books as the madness and derangement of Urizen, also anticipated by Nietzsche, and which Jean Gebser described so well in his book The Ever-Present Origin as the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure.
We need to remind ourselves occasionally that the present mental, emotional, social and environmental chaos we perceive around ourselves today, and which we call “New Normal”, is the breakdown of this perspective consciousness and its “ratio” as a particular way of arranging and ordering reality. Why is it now breaking down, as we see in the case of this “New Normal”?
Time, is the short answer. This particular method of perspectivising consciousness is not adequate for handling the phenomena of time. Descartes himself pointedly omitted time from his method, basically leaving the realm of time and the care of souls to the ecclesiastics and the Church, while his method, the objective method, would focus on the possession and mastery of space and Nature.
This is associated with “the return of the repressed” (and the death of God). While we tend to think of “the unconscious” as subjectivity or an “inner space” it is really time. It is all those legacy structures of former consciousness that have returned to latency in the overall psychic constitution — in Gebser’s terms, the archaic, the magical, the mythical structures. These all persist in our psychic constitution as “deep time” and the return of the repressed corresponds to what Gebser means by “presentiation” through which all these older, latent structures associated with “deep time” formerly prohibited and banned now emerge into presence, coincident also with “the discovery of the unconscious”.
If you follow such matters, you’ll also know that there is tremendous confusion in the physics community about the physics of time. Time is almost considered like the unwelcome visitor. The multiple paradoxes of the quantum worldview, or the insights of Chaos Theory, are intimately related to this irruption of time, which evidently requires a new mode of thinking and logic, such as that proposed by Ilya Prigogine in his book Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature or in David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order. At the social level, that new logic of time-thinking is proposed by Rosenstock-Huessy as his “grammatical method”. These are attempts to come to terms with the return of the repressed and the irruption of time into consciousness.
The return of time into consciousness is not only evident in our attempts to grapple with the meaning of evolution but the implications of the “Universal Flux” (Heraclitus and David Bohm) and also the return of history. This matter of the return of history is what informs Jeremy Naydler’s paradoxical The Future of the Ancient World. We also see this in various books by Gary Lachman, particularly his recent Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump and his various other works on the occult in politics. It is also evident in everything from Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society to Richard Stiver’s Technology as Magic, Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, Robert Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom & Dream, or Algis Mikunas’s essay “Magic and Technological Culture”.
This return of the repressed as both the emergence of deep time and the return of history is both peril and opportunity. It underscores what Jean Gebser means in saying that the fate of the Earth and its mankind crucially hinges on “knowing when to let happen and knowing when to make happen.” The “let happen” pertains to this emergence. The “make happen” is to know the secret to the re-organisation of consciousness and the arrangement of this return of the repressed. It helps to know that there is signal in the noise — that amidst all this chaos there is, as Gebser puts it, a “pre-existing pattern” in play, one that Blake attempted to make explicit in his Prophetic Books and which Rosenstock-Huessy attempts to make explicit through his “metanomics” and “grammatical method”. These do, in my view, offer effective ways of drawing forth that “pre-existing pattern”, making it explicit, and using it to effectively organise the return of the repressed so that the Modern Mind does not completely disintegrate and descend into total psychosis. These offerings do meet the requirement for what Gebser describes as “new consciousness” — the aperspectival or integral.
It should be quite evident to us now that this older form of consciousness — the perspectival or “point-of-view-line-of-thought” mode of consciousness — is in disarray, perplexity and confusion — that the so-called “end of the Master Narrative” of the postmodern condition is part and parcel of this dissolution and fragmentation of the perspectivising mentality. There is no putting the genie of time back in its bottle, and that is certainly not what Gebser means by “time-freedom”.
If time-freedom means anything, it means to be in time, but not of time, you see. That’s the import of Blake’s “Eternity in the hour” or “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”. It’s the import of the Zen koan “show me your face before you were born”. It’s the import of the Rosenstock-Huessy’s describing the centre of his “cross of reality” as being “the Eternal Now” which is the centre of a mandala — the wheel of space and time. The Buddha was also described in just such “time-freedom” terms. He was called “the chakravarta“, which means both the wheel turner and the one who stops the wheel from turning.
This distinction of being in time but not of time pretty much describes the relationship between McGilchrist’s “Emissary” and “Master” modes of attention respectively, and I take the publication of his book The Master and His Emissary as a very important landmark event in the history of consciousness and its transformations, especially in relation to the awakening of Robert Kegan’s “self-transforming individual”. Time-freedom and the self-transforming individual are pretty much the same matter, and the self-transforming individual is very much the interest of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “multiformity of man” and his cross of reality approach.
Recognising this multiformity and these “ecodynamic laws” of both the psyche and society may be the one thing that prevents us from descending into complete totalitarianism and ultimate self-destruction with the breakdown of the perspective consciousness.