When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors (and later my supervisor) steered me in the direction of propaganda analysis. He had been a resistance fighter in Belgium during the Second World War and had been mightily impressed by the power of propaganda to mobilise the energies of the nations for collective mass suicide. Having lived through that period, he came to see the propaganda weapon as the chief danger and threat to the realisation of any kind of human or humane social order.
So, I dived right into the question of propaganda with a sense of mission, both here in Canada and in Germany, where I eventually went to continue my studies and most especially to research the social legacy of the Nazi propaganda system in terms of its current impacts on the German language.
Most dystopian literature depicts a future society in which humanity has ceased to be effectively creative. “Expect poison from the standing water”, as Blake put it in one of his Proverbs of Hell in his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Another one of Blake’s very wise Proverbs of Hell, related to this, is especially poignant today: “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind”. Indeed, “reptiles of the mind” is pretty much an accurate description of contemporary man’s state of mind, as we witness it daily — the irruption of the so-called “Lizard Brain” (which is probably what the alt-right’s adopted mascot “Pepe the Frog” signifies — the Lizard Brain associated with the Shadow). You may take these proverbs about the standing water as even the essential problem of the “point-of-view” consciousness structure now functioning, in Gebser’s terms, in “deficient mode”.
This effectively gives us another way of understanding Gebser’s distinction between the “effective” and “deficient” modes of a consciousness structure or civilisational type. Effective means creative; deficient means destructive. “Effective” means “generative”; deficient means “degenerative” or decadent. The one is associated with “Genesis” and the other with the Nihil, or Ens and Non-Ens.
Some of you may be Game of Thrones aficionados. For my part, it’s one of the most curious things I’ve ever seen — the magical, the mythical, and the historical all mixed up, pretty much as it really is in post-modernity. Despite being “fantasy” it is, in many ways, brutally realistic about the human condition. I see Game of Thrones as a metaphor for a world going through “chaotic transition”. There are already a lot of places on Earth today where it is not fantasy, but the daily reality. “Winter is coming!” has even become something of a meme among those who already feel or sense that we are on the brink of succumbing to a new Dark Age.
A few moments ago, I posted a quotation from the artist Maurice Grosser’s The Painter’s Eye to the comments section of the previous post on Holonic Awareness. The quote is excerpted from Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, which is also a book I highly recommend to students of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy. I found the quote so deeply meaningful, significant, and revealing in relation to what Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “perspectival” consciousness structure that I have decided to comment on it at even greater length than could be done in a short comment.
The passage appears on pages 77 and 78 or Hall’s The Hidden Dimension. Here, Grosser is describing the proper distance — not just physical but psychological — for the proper visual rendering and representation of a subject or model in perspective space, just as the Renaissance artists would have approached the problem.
I recently spent another enjoyable afternoon of coffee-drinking and conversation with Chris Kutarna, co-author (with Ian Goldlin) of The Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging — anything from the meaning of the “zombie” as cultural meme, to Game of Thrones, to contemporary politics (local and global), to the limits of Cartesianism and dialectics (and thus to perspectivisation or the “point-of-view” consciousness and mode of perception). Always stimulating, these conversations over coffee help me articulate what is my “Holy Grail” in terms of any prospective “New Renaissance” or “Age of Discovery” — that is to say, that which remains to be “discovered” (rather than simply invented) and why we must move from a triadic or tripartite logic to a four-term or quadratic logic. My “Age of Discovery” thus involves the realisation of holonic awareness and perception.
There have been a number of such “Ages of Discovery” in human history — the “discovery of the soul”, the “discovery of the will”, the “discovery of the mind“. The discovery of a new “dimension” to our reality was always coincident with the disclosure of some new potency or faculty in the human form and configuration leading to a radical reconstruction of perception and to the meanings of “truth”, “human nature”, or “cosmos” — literally a “new Heaven and a new Earth”. This is what Gebser refers to as the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure and the self-revelation of what was previously a hidden dimension or domain.
In yesterday’s posting on Giotto, Picasso and Aperspectival Consciousness, we briefly (perhaps all-too briefly) traced the turbulent unfolding — in “agony and ecstasy”, as it were — of the third dimension of space (or, rather, the tripartition of space into spaces) to consciousness and perception that was prefigured in the Early Renaissance/Late Middle Ages and represented in the works of Giotto and Petrarch; proof that very big things often arrive in very small packages — or on little dove’s feet.
The unfolding (or “evolution”) of a new “dimension”, as I mentioned, also involves a corresponding “in-volution” befitting the law of dynamics that states: every action has an equal and opposite reaction — that is to say, a coincidentia oppositorum. Standard histories of the Renaissance and Late Middle Ages very seldom pay attention to the “in-volution” aspect of the transition — the restructuration of consciousness, perception, and cognition — although this is now what is usually intended to be understood by the term “co-evolutionary” — the co-evolution of cosmos and consciousness. Or, as the great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi once put it, “the whole universe is a form of truth”.
I’m sure, by now, that you have taken note of the fact that the mainstream “public conversation” of Late Modernity has become completely incoherent and self-contradictory, being afflicted (as I’ve noted many times before) with Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind — the various masks of duplicity. Duplicity in word and deed (or “lip-service” by another name) is, indeed, the “New Normal” — something that even Pope Francis has recently noted and lamented (and which Adam Curtis also scrutinised in his recent film documentary “Hypernormalisation“).
This pandemic of duplicity attests to an overall loss of integrity — a fragmentation, a dissolution, a decoherence, a dehiscence and perhaps even a form of autothysis— of the personality and consciousness structure of Modern Man. This is also what Charles Taylor has called “The Malaise of Modernity“, and it is now global in scope. This is the first layer of fact about “globalism”. There seems to be no part of the Earth that is not afflicted with it. We are, if nothing else, united in our mutual malaise.
We need to recognise, then, that this disintegration is evidence of the decay and deterioration of the Modern Era as a whole — and, that means the accelerating deconstruction of what Gebser calls the “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure”. This is not unprecedented historically. Yet today its scale and scope are unprecedented. Here, I want to explore a precedent for the decay of an Era — the Waning of the Middle Ages.