It strikes me that the word “frenzy” best describes the current situation — frenzy being the marker of our “chaotic transition”, or of Jean Gebser’s “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, or of Peter Pogany’s “havoc”, or of Nietzsche’s anticipation of the “madness” that would attend his anticipated “two centuries of nihilism”. The contemporary terms being used for this frenzy are, of course, “irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.
It’s in respect of this “frenzy” (which some describe as “the Crazies”) that I want to return to something I posted some time back, and entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”, because for me the words were, and remain, daunting and haunting.
Trapped in the Mirror was the title of a book on narcissism by Elan Golomb. It’s a very good title. Unfortunately, as I recall it, the book never really fulfilled the potential suggested by its title, largely because of its limited clinical and psychological focus on the individual where it could have broadened into the historical, sociological, or cultural context. Christopher Lasch attempted to do this with The Culture of Narcissism. Even then, I think, Lasch, despite the excellence of his sociological insights, erred in thinking that this, too narrowly, was a problem peculiar to “American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations”, as the subtitle has it.
Narcissism is the state of being “trapped in the mirror” and is the human, all-too-human condition. It has been that since human beings became self-conscious. It was just what was formerly called “idolatry”, which is the same state of being “trapped in the mirror”. If it were not the human condition, the ancient myth of Narcissus and Echo would not have been composed, and an event like the “Axial Age” of the prophets would never have occurred. It is narcissism that lies behind the legendary “Fall of Man”, and the Fall of Man was to become trapped in the mirror. This is also referred to as “the Fall into Time”, or “The Kali Yuga“.
I was recently re-reading an old mimeographed essay (yes, from back in the Stone Age of my university days when we said “mimeograph”) by Kenneth Burke — the formulator of “Dramatism” — called “Definition of Man“. It came to mind after I posted the last essay on “the myth of the machine”. Burke was a highly intelligent (and witty) writer and thinker, and I regret I have not spent more time on him in the pages of The Chrysalis because his work is also very relevant to its themes.
It’s Burke’s audacious “definition of man” that I want to address here as it bears on Mumford and the Myth of the Machine, and I will present it exactly as it appears in his essay in The Hudson Review, circa 1963-64.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery. — William Blake, The Proverbs of Hell
Following close upon Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article on “transhumanism” as a contemporary theology of the Megamachine (“God in the machine“), yet another article — this one by Andrew Anthony — appeared in today’s Guardian also in a quite similar vein. “What if we’re living in a computer simulation?” describes what we might call, after Lewis Mumford, the contemporary “Myth of the Machine”, or the mysticism (or mystique) of megatechnics.
This is, indeed, an Age of Irony, because this new “myth of the machine” is also an example of the “return of the repressed” — for it is, in fact, the resurrection of the old doctrines of the Gnostics. Even students of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy must find this contemporary insurgency (or “irruption”) of the “irrational” factors of magic, myth, and mysticism within the “logical” mental-rational structure of consciousness to be quite unnerving (and a most appropriate word that is, too. The meaning of “unnerving” is worth a post in itself).
Earlier, I asked you to imagine yourself as being suddenly thrown into a Kafka novel, a Dali painting, or an Escher print, as though these mind-bending scenarios had suddenly become the context of your life — the absurd and the surreal, like Alice in Wonderland or Dorothy in Oz. Aporia, a sense of bewilderment, perplexity, or sense of chaos, is most likely the feeling you would have within those contexts.
And this is, ironically, not far from the truth of things, already partially realised in and as “the Anthropocene”, and in connected themes like Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society and Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain. The dreamy quality in Kafka, Dali, and Escher were anticipations of the imagined world made “real”, of the breakdown of the subject-object differentiation that underlies themes like “New Normal” and related issues of “post-rational” or “post-truth” society. Bloom’s “Global Brain” and Jensen’s “Dream Society” are corresponding issues which, together, make for “the Anthropocene”. Accordingly, as William Blake put it, we do not see things as they are, but as we are, for, in effect, the “global brain” corresponds to Blake’s “Urizen” and “the Dream Society” to Blake’s “Ulro”.
We now live inside the matrix of this “global brain” — the thick network of global information and trade flows — and that matrix is the “dream society”. This “new within” is the essence of the New Normal, of “the Anthropocene”, or what Adam Curtis also describes as “hypernormalisation“.
While we are on the topic of “the collective representations” (that is, images) and how this plays out in relation to Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain” theme, I’ld like to revisit an earlier posting (pre-Trump) on that and build upon it further. That posting was called “The Image and the Spirit of Place” and addressed some of the missing information that always attends the image as a “genuine imitation” reality. Images are abstractions from the real, and often only have a tenuous relation to the reality which they supposedly mirror or represent. The Anthropocene. as the “built-environment”, is, amongst other things, a vast ecosystem (or technosystem) of images and image complexes, or “collective representations”. So, in a sense, we live inside this collective hallucination of the “Global Brain” within a system of mental abstractions called “the images” or the “representations”, which is a kind of schizophrenia.
… and a cast of millions.
I just wanted to briefly follow up on the last post on the Global Brain with a comment about Trump’s “style” — and megalomania – in terms of his seeing himself as the actor and director and star of his own movie or reality TV show. That was clearly evident in his referring to his cabinet appointments as “central casting”, and how he views himself as a star and “celebrity” that affords him certain exceptional entitlements, not least of which is “grabbing pussy”.
This is, I think, very much involved in the meaning of the term “hypernormalisation” and Rolf Jensen’s notions of “The Dream Society” as also “New Normal”.