Nothing seems more permanent than a long-established government about to lose power, nothing more invincible than a grand army on the morning of its annihilation — John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards
The light of dawn and the light of twilight look very much the same. And you may think of Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement” very much in those terms as well.
The will to a system is a lack of integrity — Friedrich Nietzsche
In his Ever-Present Origin (Ursprung und Gegenwart in the original German edition) Jean Gebser spends some time untangling the meanings of the words “whole” and “total”, arguing that they are, in fact, contraries and not synonyms for one another. “Whole”, he points out, has the meaning of health or wellness or integrality, while “total” is connected with words signifying death (German tot or Tod). And it is that distinction that is reflected in Nietzsche’s comment about integrity and systems. Whole and totality are quite different values, and I would say, too, that in the collapse of the meaning of the one into the other there is a perfect example of Nietzsche’s understanding of nihilism, or of how “all higher values devalue themselves”.
And I would also say that what Gebser describes as chaotic transition and the “double-movement” of our times is also connected with the “irruption” of the holistic into mere systems and totalities, resulting in a disaggregation or decoherence of those systems and totalities (connected with what Jacob Bronowski calls “the crisis of paradox” in his wonderful little book The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination). It’s in that sense, too, that I want today to draw a distinction between what is called “individuation” process and “individualism” as also being contraries parallel to the distinction between wholes and totalities. This is equally demonstrated in Iain McGilchrist’s fabulous (must-read) book The Master and His Emissary about the divided brain (and its two modes of perception) as well as in neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience described in her “My Stroke of Insight” TED talk.
The road up and the road down are the same — Heraclitus
A lot of people have puzzled over this particular paradox of Heraclitus. While it might be obvious that a road going up a mountain is also, at the same time, a road going down a mountain, I can assure you that Heraclitus had nothing so banal in mind as to point out the obvious. It was a metaphor for something else — life and death — just as his remark about not being able to put the same foot in the same river twice was a metaphor for what Buddhists describe as “impermanence”, which is Heraclitus’s “panta rei” — “everything flows”.
Panta rei is what informs Zigmunt Bauman’s thesis of “Liquid Modernity”, revealing Bauman as being a Heraclitean at heart, (and perhaps even a Buddhist in principle). For, indeed, Heraclitus has been described as “the Greek Buddha” (as well as “Heraclitus the Obscure” or “Heraclitus the Dark”).
Anyone in my acquaintance who I have known to identify with the so-called “Alt-Right” I have known to be scared, timid little men (mostly men in my experience) who have blown themselves up out of proportion to their actual importance. They remind me of the humble pufferfish which, when feeling threatened, blows itself up to monster proportions to look scarier than it actually is. Mr. Trump, of course, is the alpha-pufferfish.
I’ve read some really ludicrous bullshit lately in some of the press insinuating that “global warming” was a hoax given the record cold temperatures some parts of the globe have experienced this winter. National Post pundit Rex Murphy even opined that climate scientists had suddenly conspired to drop the phrase “global warming” because of this cold spell and now speak instead of “climate change”, insinuating that this was some sort of change of tune in an attempt to save face when confronted with an apparent contradiction.
However, the phrase “climate change” is, contrary to Mr. Murphy’s opinion, not a sudden innovation at all. And “extreme weather events” or “climate chaos” likewise say nothing about such extreme weather events being consistently extreme heat events. Moreover, Mr. Murphy, in his myopia, seemed to overlook the fact that even while North America was suffering an extreme cold spell, other parts of the globe were suffering from record heat waves.
Nonetheless, Mr. Murphy’s denialism and ignorance is instructive of an all-too-common malady of the mind. But let’s first get clear on what “climate change” or “global warming” actually signify, and why it’s important to understand it rightly.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time — William Blake
I am going to attempt to explain the meaning of Jean Gebser’s phrase “ever-present origin” (which is also the title of the English translation of his book) and how this pertains to his idea of “time-freedom”, which is, after all, the essential meaning of the term “transcendental”.
This is a bit tricky, because of the paradoxical nature of the relationship between time and eternity, or the finite and the infinite, or the mediate and the immediate, or all forms of dualism generally. But if we manage to pull it off, it will also reveal the fuller meaning of what William Blake means by “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” or by “Eternity in the hour”. In fact, it would make the sometimes enigmatic and complex mythology of Blake’s “mystical” poetry much more accessible, as well as much else besides.