Metaview, Overview, and the Art of the Fable
First of all, I hope all are having a pleasant and enjoyable holiday season, at least as much as is possible under the present trying circumstances — a little oasis of peace and calm among a sea of troubles.
So, with the obligatory Seasons Greetings out of the way, let’s today dive right into what it means to speak of “the You of you” which, when understood sufficiently, has far-reaching implications for how we conduct our lives, for the failure of understanding also pertains to how (as Nietzsche put it) “all higher values devalue themselves”. The rectification for this kind of cynicism and nihilism is to recognise the full meaning of this phrase “the You of you”. When it is not recognised, the relation collapses into narcissism and the culture of narcissism.
It is this “You of you” that is, in Gebser’s terms, the emergent “diaphainon” and which is also implicated — to a greater or lesser degree of intensity — in what is called “The Overview Effect” often experienced by astronauts, which can be a profoundly life-altering experience when “everything changed”. A recent article in Inverse entitled “6 NASA Astronauts Describe the Moment in Space When “Everything Changed”” is a an example. It is, nonetheless, not unique to the experience of astronauts.
As students of Jean Gebser or William Blake (among others), we have an especial interest in this question of “the You of you” as the emergence of a new consciousness and a new reality with its potential to finally overcome the culture of narcissism and this very turbulent present “crisis of identity”. There is also, these days, no lack of evidence to buttress Blake’s prophecies about a “New Age” of “fourfold vision” or Gebser’s anticipation of the emergence of the “diaphainon” leading to a complete restructuration of identity, consciousness, and reality — the whole Gestalt of things that he calls “integral” or “aperspectival” consciousness.
We will continue to employ Gebser’s term “diaphainon” for this “You of you”, since it seems to avoid some awkward implications from the use of other idioms (such as the Self and the Ego). Nonetheless, the emergence of this diaphainon, or You of you, has not gone unnoticed by others who employ different terms for it. Nietzsche describes it in terms of the Dionysian-Apollonian relation, or Self and Ego relation, as does Jung. It is also sometimes recognised as the relation and distinction between the “True Self” and the “False Self”. If you have read Iain McGilchrist’s wonderful book on neurodynamics entitled The Master and His Emissary, you’ll recognise there this relation called “You of you” also as his “two modes of attention”, as well as in the experience of neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor as described in her book My Stroke of Insight and in her wonderful TED talk on her experience.
(Which talk I highly recommend if you are not yet familiar with Bolte-Taylor and her extraordinary experience)
Equally, as McGilchrist deploys the terms “Master” and “Emissary” (which he credits to Nietzsche), Sri Aurobindo uses the terms “Sovereign” and “Minister” to express this same “You of you” and identifies the Sovereign as “the Supramental Consciousness”, equivalent in those terms to Gebser’s own terms “diaphainon” or “aperspectival” and “arational” consciousness.
We can dispense with any doubts about whether this diaphainon is emergent reality and consciousness in any case. The only question here is whether it will be successful or not. Gebser did entertain the possibility that it could be abortive, and succumb to “a maelstrom of blind anxiety” resulting in a “global catastrophe”. And we do see this maelstrom of blind anxiety in the general Angst about “identity” and in various, even violent, identitarian movements. This panic about the “loss of self” or crisis of identity is concurrent with the emergence of the diaphainon as this “You of you” — the greater entity and identity which you are implicitly or latently, but which is now emerging into explicitness and self-manifestation. Nonetheless, it is being challenged and resisted, even violently so, by the petty-mindedness of the narcissistic mind or ego-consciousness, which is what Gebser also describes as the “deficient” functioning of the perspectival or mental-rational consciousness.
“Eternity is in love with the productions of time”. This statement by William Blake pertains to what we call “the You of you”, for the “little you” is the product of time and the experience of spacetime while the greater “You” does not fully participate in spacetime at all except through the agency of its “emissary” or “minister” which is your ego-consciousness or “little you”. So, it is in these terms that Gebser identifies the emergent diaphainon also with “time freedom” or “spacetime-freedom”, for unlike the ego-consciousness, it is not immersed or submerged within the spacetime system. This is quite paradoxical, indeed, at lies at the root of the paradox of the One and the Many, for you yourselves are this paradox. This was the experience and insight of Walt Whitman, too, when he wrote “I am large. I contain multitudes”.
So, the apocalyptic mood that seems so prevalent today is not without good reason, although the little “you” tends to associate this with the catastrophic. This is because the revelation of divine Truth is often a shattering experience for the delusional narcissistic mentality. The revelatory process is very often (almost always) a very turbulent and even “disastrous” event, as described even by Rumi in his poem “Green Ears”.
The Overview Effect is an evocation of this latent emergent factor called “the You of you”, and this corresponds to what Gebser calls the quest for “a universal way of looking at things” — sub specie aeternitatis, as it were. And today many who have never actually experienced the Overview Effect nonetheless begin to speak of the “metaview”, like “metamodernism” and such. This is both an attempt to achieve this universal (holistic or integral) way of looking at things, but also an affirmative response to the emergent reality of the diaphainon, even when it goes off track. Because part of the problem is the ego-consciousness attempting to impose its own terms of validity and its own expectations upon the diaphainon or this “You of you” which is quite inappropriate. This is very inappropriate, like the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and this is why Gebser cautions that “everything hinges upon our knowing when to let happen, and our knowing when to make happen”. That is to say, the ego-consciousness or what we call “identity” must allow itself to be transformed by the diaphainon rather than trying to impose limits and controls upon the diaphainon itself. This is, unfortunately, all too common, and you get wonky “New Age” philosophies and beliefs that belong to the narcissistic self. I see this all too often, but the spirit bloweth where it listeth and it is quite improper to make demands and expectations upon it and how it should or should not manifest itself.
Now, we can at least turn to fable and parable to begin to get an inkling for what is meant by the “You of you” and for the Overview or Metaview effect. There are fables that are merely for entertainment purposes but others that belong to a class of teaching stories. The teaching stories invite you to recognise yourself in the fable. Some never “get it”. They deny, in effect, that the fable is about them and do not recognise themselves in the fable. It’s when you recognise yourself in the fable that you acquire the “metaview”. When you recognise yourself in the fable, you’ve achieved a degree of non-attachment. You may say to yourself “gee… I’m just a character in a fable!” But what brings about this act of recognition is not the character in the fable — not the ego-consciousness at all. It is this “You of you”. So, the fable first asks you to identify with itself and the characters in the fable, then leads you to dis-identify with those same characters, which is non-attachment and which comes about through insight.
These kinds of teaching stories (such as the Parable of the Prodigal Son) work to effect the same kind of outcome as psychoanalysis — liberation through insight. When you gain insight into the complex that is causing you trouble and misery in your life, you have freed the energies trapped in that complex for more creative tasks and purposes. The same principle holds for the ego-consciousness, which is a “production of time”. Insight into the ego-consciousness brings about emancipation from it, and when this is achieved, this is called “time-freedom” or “spacetime freedom”, non-attachment or non-identification with the ego-consciousness. This “You of you”, in effect, can assume any identity it pleases then without ever become over-identified with, or lost in, any of them. This is what we mean in saying that we are, essentially, polymorphous and polychrone entities.
While on this subject of our implicit multiformity, we should note once again where Rosenstock-Huessy places the ego or “I” in his cross of reality model. It is not at the centre of the mandala, but on the periphery, as just one “persona” among others. This, again, is valid insight into the meaning of “the You of you” as the One who is Many.
The ego-nature is not at the centre of this structure — what corresponds to what Gebser calls “the vital centre”. Rosenstock-Huessy, at one point, refers to this centre as the “Eternal Now” and this is Gebser’s “ever-present origin” or “the Itself” and it is from this vital centre that arises the radiance of being, so this centre is what Blake refers to as “eternity’s sunrise” or also as “fountain” (“The cistern contains, the fountain overflows”). “The cistern contains, the fountain overflows” is just another way of referring to “the You of you”, just as the Zen koan “show me your face before you were born” refers also to this “You of you”.
“Let go or be dragged”, the Zen proverb, is the very succinct way of saying the same thing Gebser says about knowing when to let happen and when to make happen to survive the transition. And I recall the story of one Buddhist monk, in that respect. He had submitted to some pretty harsh monastic practices disciplines in various monasteries in his pursuit of satori without success. Finally, he distilled it all into one simple meditative practice on the words “Let go”. That was all, but it was successful. But it certainly does recall, too, something from Goethe that also pertains to this issue of “the You of you”.
“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,
And each from the other would be parted.
The one in sturdy lust for love
With clutching organs clinging to the world,
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage”