The Chrysalis: A Review of the Fundamentals

The Chrysalis exists to try to bear witness to the transformations and the transition between ages (and thus consciousness structures) that we are currently undergoing — and our under-going is also a going-under — the sunset of the Modern consciousness structure and its worldview. The “chrysalis” metaphor is a most appropriate one for describing this since it is the stage in which the worm or caterpillar suffers its own dissolution and disintegration that it might emerge and rise as a being transformed — a butterfly. Rosenstock-Huessy has described this state of being between two Ages (and thus two consciousness structures) as “The Great Interregnum”, which we here call “The Chrysalis” era, and in respect of that I highly recommend Augusto Cuginotti’s wonderful essay on the chrysalis stage entitled “Imaginal Cells: The Caterpillar’s Job to Resist the Butterfly”). You will learn a great deal about the meaning of our times and of “the Great Interregnum”, including your own, from reading Cuginotti’s short essay.

Another useful metaphor in respect of the transition is that of the alchemist’s “crucible” — the site of the transformation of base metals into noble metals, typically lead into gold. This word “crucible” is related to “crucis” (cross) and “crisis” — the condition and state of being in transition between one form and another, between on structure and another, between one state and another. In effect, the crucible and the chrysalis are the same. Ages of transition are ages of crisis, chaos, confusion, of disintegration, disease, decay, and great turbulence of time and the psyche.

It is a time of the coincidence of the contraries or opposites (coincidentia oppositorum or coniunctio oppositorum) a receding past meets an emerging or acceding future, and I’m sure you know what occurs when warm and cold air masses meet. There is a comparable condition in your body when the forces of disease and the forces of health meet — an intensification of these. You may go through seemingly chaotic transitions between fever and cold chills, with bouts of delirium. The term “crisis” was used to describe the decisive juncture when either the forces of health or the forces of disease gained the upper hand. But in many cases the disease challenges us to call upon new resources of health. As Nietzsche put it, “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. Disease can be transformative, and a way to new health, just as the caterpillar suffers its own disintegration and dissolution that it may be reborn as a butterfly. Nietzsche, likewise, compared the ascent of his “overhuman” to a convalescence from a long sickness of the soul and spirit — what we sometimes refer to as “the Kaliyuga” or spiritual dark age.

For my part, the most terrible and gruesome aspect of the transition is not so much the climate crisis, or the pandemic, awful enough as these are, as much as the awful epidemic of Orwellian Double-Think, cognitive dissonance, duplicity, or what has been called “21st Century Schizoid Man” — symptoms of the disintegration of the whole man or woman — a loss of integrity or integrality, the loss of coherence of mind, body, soul, and spirit. It is well described in some of William Blake’s visionary poetry as the clash of his “four Zoas”, or the conflict between each of Jean Gebser’s “consciousness structures”.

This inner division, nonetheless, is to be expected, perhaps even a necessity. One part of us still resides in a quickly receding past (the “mental-rational” or perspectival as Gebser calls it), while another part of us lives in the largely still unknown and unfamiliar emergent future, so that we live in this double condition which makes for “duplicity” (which, God knows, is a huge problem today). So, it is up to us to exercise some honest self-scrutiny to determine what we must to leave behind and what we need to embrace and affirm in this transition. That is the wisdom of the Zen proverb “Let go or be dragged”.

This condition was lucidly described by Goethe as his “two souls”.

“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”

The “lofty fields of ancient heritage” should not be confused with nostalgia for some merely imagined “golden age” of yore. It is what is here and now as what Gebser calls “the ever-present origin” which knows no limits of time or space as the other “soul” does — the portion of us oriented towards physical reality and the spacetime system. You may also consider this in terms of the “two modes of attention” described by Iain McGilchrist in his neurodynamic theories, which are associated with the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

So, it should not come as a surprise either than the transition also has a biological or physiological dimension or aspect to it as well. The transition and transformation implicates the entirety of the human form, body, mind, soul, and spirit. It is demonstrably so that even the locus of consciousness is shifting from the left-hemisphere mode of attention to the right-hemisphere mode of attention, and this also sets up a condition of inner turbulence until such time as a new relationship and a equilibrium is established between these two modes of attention or between Goethe’s “two souls”, as it were.

For Gebser, the most dangerous part of the transition is the Angst or anxiety is arouses, which often moves people to think and act destructively and violently. He was concerned enough about it to devote a separate book to the problem of Angst, which, he believed, would drive the world towards a “global catastrophe” (anxiety and anger are related words). Yet this anxiety or Angst is itself a paradox, for it is associated with both birth process and with death process — another coincidentia oppositorum or conjunction of the opposites. It is, of course, more than a psychological malady but also a physiological one that sets up stressful chemical reactions in the body associated with fight or flight responses. These stresses, experienced as an inner irritant, also drive the problems of projection and scapegoating, and to make people devious if they come to believe that their very survival, let alone their status, is at stake.

The conditions of life in Late Modernity, then, tends to place people in double-binds or vicious circles. This, too, is to be expected in transitional ages and is certainly a symptom of the fact that a particular age and it’s associated consciousness structure has reached the end of its tether and has lapsed into self-contradiction where it begins to negate itself and its own professed values — ie, nihilism. (“All higher values devalue themselves” as Nietzsche described it).

We either overcome and master the crisis or it will overcome and master us, which would mean, in Gebser’s estimation, the end of this Earth and its humankind. That’s how serious Gebser understood the present transition to be. If you though previous transitional ages were shot through with manias, anxieties, mass neuroses and even psychoses, this one is a whopper, since no previous transitional age had the technological resources to totally annihilate the planet and all life on it. As Gebser put it, our sense of responsibility is not commensurate with our technological prowess and capacities, something that seems especially true about the internet and The Information Bomb, as Paul Virilio described it.

The caterpillar must fulfill the law of its nature. Likewise, Gebser insists we must likewise accept our fate and ground ourselves in “Primal Trust” that the formative or evolutionary forces at work in the transition and effecting our transformation are ultimately benign and benevolent and not malign or malevolent. There are many who hold, like Gebser, that a “new heaven and a new earth” await us if we don’t lose our marbles and succumb to powers of anxiety and fear. In the meanwhile, we must, as the old saying goes, pass “through the crucible” without “losing our shit”, and that is to ground ourselves in this Primal Trust.

There are now early indications of the emergence of this new consciousness and this new heaven and earth, as we have attempted to survey in previous posts, arising amidst the detritus and the ruins and the chaos of the present Age. This new species of consciousness has not existed before, so it is quite useless to use older landmarks and signposts to understand it. It follows from Gebser’s own survey of the history and evolution of consciousness structures as various articulations of an implicit essential awareness, that an “integral age” has not been fully realised hitherto. It would seem that all the precursors necessary for a true integration had to be articulated and evolved over long ages before we could even begin to speak of an “integral consciousness” by bringing all these earlier ages and manifestations — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational — into a conscious relationship or communion or cofraternity, or what Gebser calls “presentiation”.

Later, we’ll speak in much more depth than previously here to one of the essential characteristics of this new consciousness as foreseen by Gebser as described in his book The Ever-Present Origin, and that is what he calls “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. It is nothing like what most people think of as “transparency” today when they demand “government transparency” or “corporate transparency”. Gebser’s “diaphaneity” is a much more involved matter than a mere lack of secretiveness. Diaphaneity is the result of abiding in “Truth-Consciousness” (as A.H. Almaas calls it) or a state “being-in-Truth”, and in consequence, you too become transparent. You will not be able to practice pretense or the arts of deception or self-deception without it also being completely transparent.

That alone will send some people’s anxiety completely through the roof.

5 responses to “The Chrysalis: A Review of the Fundamentals”

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