Chaos Theory describes states in relative equilibrium and states “far from equilibrium” (or “chaotic”). Basically, “far from equilibrium” means crisis or critical, a word which is related to “cross” and “crucial” (and “crucible” and “crucifix”) because a crisis is a crossroads, and traditionally crossroads were sensed as being places of evil or evil-doing, mainly because they are associated with life and death decisions. When Francis Fukuyama penned his ridiculous “End of History” thesis, he almost immediately followed that up with America at the Crossroads, apparently without even noticing the self-contradiction. But that kind of double-think — thought descending into self-negation and self-contradiction — is very characteristic of the state of mind of post-modernity, which we might describe as a consciousness structure now in a state “far from equilibrium”.
But to be in a state “far from equilibrium” (which is death by another name, also described as “homeostatic failure”) means that the cross of reality is broken or disintegrate, and along with this decay or disintegration of the cross of reality come symptoms of nihilism, morbidity, and what Erich Fromm calls a “necrophilous” or a thanatic dynamic (destructivness). So, today we want to carry on with the exploration of the meaning of “the Guardians of the Four Directions” at peace and at war (or integrate and disintegrate states) as these pertain to the quadrilateral of the cross of reality and the meaning of equilibrium and “far from equilibrium” as life and death states of the cross or reality.
I certainly hope you had an opportunity to read about the role of “imaginal cells” in the chrysalis stage of the caterpillar/butterfly as discussed in the previous post. If you did then the full meaning of Jean Gebser’s paradoxical “double-movement” of our times — a dynamic of disintegration coincident with a dynamic of integration — becomes intelligible as a quite fertile coincidentia oppositorum or coniunctio oppositorum (coincidence or a conjunction of the opposites). Much else besides becomes fully intelligible in our strange times despite the appearance of present chaos, havoc, and pandaemonium.
Dark Age and Chrysalis stage are paradoxically related in those terms. How we choose to look at the global situation is also respectively one of diagnosis and another of prognosis. A Dark Age likewise may well be taken as a period of preparation for a new mutation as described by the chrysalis stage. The historical record bears this out. What cultural philosopher Jean Gebser calls a “consciousness structure” or civilisational type functioning in “deficient mode” means its Dark Age — its time of decadence like that of the caterpillar. This is what we call “nihilism” as its own self-devouring, self-negating dynamic. But that same dynamic of nihilism or disintegration becomes a stimulus also for a new, more “effective” transfiguration, integration or mutation of consciousness — the butterfly. It’s this tension of the opposites — of Being and Non-Being, Life and Death, Cosmos and Chaos, All and Nothing, Genesis and the Nihil, Integration and Disintegration, etc — that underlies Blake’s statement that “without opposites there is no progression” as well as the real meaning of Heraclitus’s “strife is the father of all things”.
Every so often I do a summary or recap of the former Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis for new subscribers — of which there have been quite a few lately — as orientation to the history of the blog. With the passing of time, those summations kept getting longer and longer. I want to keep this one blessedly short.
Needless to say, perhaps, the reason for the earlier Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis is declared in the blog’s masthead, in the quote from William Blake: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”. That is the problem of “contraction”, and is the problem of a purely sensate consciousness that is pretty much synonymous with “dark age” (the Kali Yuga) and with “post-historic man” (Seidenberg, Mumford) — this “post-historic man” (or “Urizenic Man” or “Prosaic Man“) being also Nietzsche’s decadent “Last Man” as described in his Zarathustra. It is the de-souling of man via his own mechanisation through submission to mechanism, and what this actually signifies for the further possibilities for all life on this planet. This submission to mechanism is obedience to the Great Clockwork now embodied on Earth as Mumford’s “Megamachine” (or “Death Economy”) and as the shape of the Anthropocene as well. It is W.B. Yeats’ “rough beast” from his poem “The Second Coming“, and is the return of the ancient “Moloch” of Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl“.
And yet, this situation of “contraction” into purely sensate consciousness (which Jean Gebser also calls “disintegration” or the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure) is strangely ambiguous and paradoxical, for the social isolation, “culture of narcissism”, and “cocooning” that it describes is also the chrysalis stage — the passage through the crucible — that precedes the birth of the butterfly, which is the ancient significance of the word psyche or “soul“.
There are diseases of consciousness. That is the meaning, after all, of what Charles Taylor calls “the malaise of modernity” and what Buddhism calls “dukkha“. Malaise and dukkha are the same. The phenomenon of “projection” is a symptom of a disease of consciousness. The healing of consciousness from disease is called “integration” (integrare means “to heal” or “to mend”), and this is essentially what is meant by “purification” of awareness or achieving clarity and the clarification of perception and experience. “Purity” isn’t what most people make of it, nor is it a moral issue at all, nor is the ideal of “perfection”. These matters pertain to healing the diseases of consciousness and perception.
So, this post is about such diseases of consciousness, among which I include scientism (or reductionism) or its apparent antitheses such as “New Age mysticism”. We will explore these issues as diseases of consciousness with the aid of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical method and “cross of reality”.
As Mark Lilla frames things, the Pilgrims “did not speak in terms of personal identities; they had souls back then” — (from a review in The Guardian)
Yes, indeed. The identity crisis and identity politics is about the eclipse of the soul, which is the meaning of the symbolism of the Sol Niger or Black Sun. It’s for that reason, too, that restoring the meaning and integrity of the soul — reviving the soul as Jean Gebser’s “diaphainon” — is one of the main objectives of the writings of Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy, among others. It is correct to say that “identity” is only the soul which has shriveled up and has shrunk into a mere “point” — the “point of view”. The zombie image — the living dead — is really identity minus soul.
Last evening, I rented a pretty campy movie called Resident Evil: The Final Chapter — yet another installment in the continuing saga of the zombie and of the plucky surviving (and outnumbered) humans struggling to survive against chaos and armies of the undead. There seems to be no end of appetite for the living dead, and for zombie movies, zombie carnivals, and the zombie apocalypse.
Campy though it was, watching Resident Evil after reading Stephen Metcalf’s very insightful article on neo-liberalism in yesterday’s Guardian, and having just watched Vice‘s remarkable video of an insider’s account of the recent Charlottesville incident, this present pop cultural obsession with the living dead and its symbolism, along with my recent meditations on “The Shadow”, began to make profound sense. It triggered in my mind a recollection of Jung’s definition of the Shadow as “the unlived life” (and what that means also in terms of “the return of the repressed”) and so I understood then that there is a direct reciprocity between these themes of “the Living Dead” and “the Unlived Life” that also ties into Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and the fuller significance of “the Anthropocene”. The insatiable hunger and craving that drives the undead, or zombie, is not for flesh and blood but for life.
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.