Age of Anxiety
“Fear is the mind killer” is one of the memorable memes from Frank Herbert’s Dune series — (that and “the spice must flow”) — and this is certainly our time of fear, and anxiety, and paranoia, which can be extremely destructive forces.
With that in mind, I’ld like to return to one of the major themes in Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin and in his other writings: Angst or anxiety. Gebser was concerned enough about existential Angst during this age of transition that he wrote a separate book about it, still in German, entitled Keine Angst vor der Angst. A rough English translation of that would be “nothing to fear but fear itself”. Much of human thought and action today seems, indeed, to be driven by fear and anxiety.
In Existentialist philosophy Angst is used typically to describe irrational fears, anxieties, or dread. It is certainly that for Gebser also, but also more nuanced. Gebser views it as ambiguous, since it characterises both birth and death processes. As he points out, the words Angst, anxiety, anxious (also anger) are derived from root words for “narrowing”. It is related to the word “angle”. This “narrowing” describes both passage through the birth canal as well as the death process. The idea or experience of “painting oneself into a corner” describes a quite similar sense of this idea of narrowing.
This, then, is connected with Gebser’s acceptance of “fate”, and as you may know, fate and fatal are related terms. Gebser would approve of Nietzsche’s doctrine of amor fati or love of fate. “Fate”, like personal mortality, also seems to be a narrowing, and reflects the Buddhist principle of the law of impermanence akin to Heraclitus’s panta rhei — “all flows”
Gebser’s own amor fati (Schicksal in German) follows quite logically from his explication of the lawful evolution of consciousness structures from a “pre-existing pattern”. That pattern will be fulfilled, and so this constitutes Gebser’s idea of “fate” — the fulfillment of the pre-existing pattern. There are, as you may know by now, four such consciousness structures or “civilisational types” that have manifested in human history — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. This quadrilateral relation of the four consciousness structures is the secret of the mandala symbol, as well as the meaning of “the fourfold Atman” in Vedic scriptures. The “Atman“, especially as described by Sri Aurobindo in his fabulous book The Human Cycle, is another name for Gebser’s “pre-existing pattern” as is William Blake’s “fourfold Vision” and four Zoas become fully integrated and manifested in his figure “Albion”, who is Blake’s vision of Integral Consciousness or Gebser’s “pre-existing pattern” fulfilled, realised, and made manifest. Moreover, Blake’s “New Jerusalem” is configured in the shape of a mandala as well.
We have, of course, described all this and all these connections in earlier posts in The Chrysalis, so I will restrain myself to discussing Gebser’s (and Nietzsche’s) principle of amor fati as their own victory over, or mastery of, Angst. also related to Gebser’s “Primal Trust” or what others might call “faith” (which has nothing to do with religion). Nietzsche had his own, similar confidence in “Primal Trust” which largely informs his own amoral philosophy, for in many respects Nietzsche disdained “moralism” as a corruption and distortion of this innate Primal Trust.
So, these issues are related — love of fate (amor fati), Primal Trust, and the unfolding (evolution) of the pre-existing pattern represented in various realised civilisational types.
Our own age — the Modern Age — is passing away, and this is presently cause for much that looks like mass psychosis driven by fear, anxiety, paranoia and even mass violence. Nietzsche already anticipated that as our own “two centuries of nihilism”, which he both dreaded and yet greeted cheerfully in faith that the passage would give birth to a more life-affirming Age. It was a faith shared also by William Blake, Jean Gebser, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy as well as others. So, Gebser’s “Integral Consciousness”, Blake’s “New Jerusalem”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Johannine Age”, and Nietzsche’s Life-Affirming Age or Aurobindo’s “Savitri Era” (or “Supramental Era”) are the same. But to be born, this new era would have to pass through the portal of death and turbulence of the old era — Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”. That means, too, the fragmentation and disintegration (or dehiscence) of this age’s consciousness structure, which Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “the perspectival” consciousness, or what Blake decried as “Single Vision”.
Anxiety (or Angst), then, is a two-edged sword — ambiguous in it’s meaning and forms of manifestation, which may even contribute much to the present pandemic of cognitive dissonance. The initial signs of this new life-affirming age are certainly in evidence today, but vulnerable to being suffocated and snuffed out by reactionary forces, and this gives rise to a certain sense of anxiety that we, after all, might not make “the leap”. On the other hand, the passing away of the Old Era gives cause for another sense of anxiety, a kind of reactionary anxiety that drives present paranoia and even violence against the emergence of the new. As Rosenstock-Huessy described it, the disease of decadence is a lack of faith, but of faith that is more akin to Gebser’s “Primal Trust” rather than any moralistic notion of “faith” as such.
If we truly understood such matters, we could dodge Gebser’s anticipated “global catastrophe”. But as matters now stand, avoiding this seems very unlikely.
If it makes it easier to comprehend, we might say that God is composing the next verse in his long poem of human universal history — to borrow a metaphor from both Rosenstock-Huessy and Omar Khayyam. I think even William Blake may have thought of himself as God’s scribe or secretary in that sense. Aurobindo also with his massive “Savitri” poem, tracing and commemorating the beginning and ending of all things.
“Let go or be dragged” – the lovely Zen proverb so applicable to our times. Very appropriate for addressing the miserable and wretched plague of narcissism which gives rise itself to so much paranoia and anxiety about the security of the “Self”, or what we call “identitarianism”, when our true identity is as all-encompassing as the universe itself. To settle for something so small and petty as the narcissistic self…..
In any case, the life-era promises, at least, to recover our identity with Life, the web of life, and the life-process itself, and there are plenty of indications that this is happening today parallel to the more morbid features of late modernity.