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On the Crumbling Metaphysical Foundations of the Modern Era, II

“Something unknown is doing we know not what” — physicist Sir Arthur Eddington

InfiniteWarrior sent me a link this morning to an article by the astrophysicist Adam Frank. The article, in Aeon, is entitled “Minding Matter” in which Frank explains why materialism ultimately cannot account for “the riddle of consciousness”.  More importantly, it provides further insight into what I earlier wrote about the crumbling foundations of the Modern Era, or, put alternatively, the disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure, as anticipated by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin.

Now, strangely as it may seem, the challenges posed by quantum physics for conventional cosmology and our understanding of matter and consciousness, as described by Frank in the Aeon article, tie into the aspects of the pop culture Poppy meme I spoke to in the last three postings, as well as to Caroline Orr’s very interesting work on internet propaganda that I linked to yesterday. In a very peculiar way, they all provide a peek behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain. Put simply, they all, in their own way, point to the erosion of the structural foundations of modern consciousness.

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On The Crumbling Metaphysical Foundations of the Modern Era

I’ve been thinking of late how to simplify and clarify the meaning of “chaotic transition” in a way that might further illuminate what cultural philosopher Jean Gebser means by the “disintegrative” dynamic of Late Modernity; what he means by the mental-rational/perspectival structure of consciousness now functioning in “deficient mode”, and the prospect, too, of civilisational collapse.

Nietzsche once observed that the foundations of the Modern Age were erected upon “running water”, invoking the idea of the Heraclitean flux, yes, but also the unstable metaphysical assumptions upon which the whole Age was erected. The whole structure has become quite wobbly because those assumptions have now proven to be questionable or, indeed, wrong. Here, I’ve attempted to identify at least four such metaphysical assumptions that have served as main pillars or foundation stones of the modern order and worldview. In this way, we can gain insight into the present havoc.

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A Sense for the Tragic: The Heart-Rending, The Soul-Crushing

“All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in an otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse. Anyone disassociated from his origin and his spiritually sensed task acts against origin. Anyone who acts against it has neither a today nor a tomorrow.” — Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin

There is a very heart-rending video making the news of a starving polar bear on Baffin Island. It is in its final moments of life. The film crew spoke of their “soul-crushing” anguish at the spectacle of the starving bear, fighting through their tears to film the poor creature’s slow, agonising death. As one of the film-makers states, it haunts him still, with a warning that this is just a foretaste of things to come.

There is a profound lesson in this tragedy, and it brought to my mind that quote from Gebser about taking upon ourselves, too, the pain and torment of a dying world.  What Gebser means by that quote is also the meaning of the compassionate, for compassion is also pain and anguish and a deep sense for the tragical aspect of life. Our hedonistic/consumerist times, on the other hand, aim to dodge this sense of the tragic and the painful which must necessarily also be a suppression of compassion. In the death of the polar bear by starvation, we see the first of the Buddha’s noble truths as well, which is the awakening to the sense of the tragic. Life is dukkha.

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Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser: Reason and Revelation in Post-Modernity

Reading Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism is a very rewarding experience. It is more rewarding, though, if one also knows something of the cultural philosophy of Jean Gebser. It’s a peculiar experience to read and compare them. Bell and Gebser see the exact same malignancies and pathologies in the culture of Late Modernity — many of which we’ve discussed here in The Chrysalis — but they seem them in entirely different ways reminiscent of the paradox of the half-full or half-empty glass that recalls also Gebser’s notion of “the double-movement” of our times.

In some respects, the relation between Daniel Bell and Jean Gebser is an example of the emissary and master relationship of the “divided brain” described by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Not a dualism or a dialectic, but a polarity of Reason and Revelation. Bell and Gebser are so similar. Bell and Gebser are so different. And the only way I can think of what finally distinguishes them is this polarity of Reason and Revelation which they represent. I think it was Bell’s commitment to “cultural conservatism” that inhibited him finally from making that “leap” or “mutation” that Gebser felt was necessary to overcome the now manifest malignancies and pathologies of Late Modernity by a metamorphosis: embracing a new consciousness structure — the aperspectival, arational, or integral.

So, let’s explore that polarity here. Let’s explore Daniel Bell as representative of Reason, and Jean Gebser as representative of Revelation, and in so doing I think we’ll get a relatively good idea of the difference between perspectival and aperspectival modes of consciousness.

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Paradox and Paranoia

Man is a paradoxical creature. Ultimately, it is what distinguishes the human from the machine. The machine cannot handle paradox. It is paralysed by paradox. That is why the Mechanical Philosophy and its logic had to deny and suppress the paradox in favour of “clear and distinct ideas” (as Descartes put it). But in doing so, it also had to deny and suppress Man in everything but Man’s mechanical aspects. In fact, dialectics and dialectical rationality breakdown in the face of paradox, which is connected, in logic, with what is called “the ears of the wolf dilemma”. When thesis and antithesis become one and the same, thinking dialectically collapses into perplexity, bewilderment, and confusion. The dialectic becomes a self-devouring, self-negating, self-contradictory process.

In earlier posts, I suggested that paradox and paranoia were intimately connected. Today, I want to explore that further as it pertains to the meaning of “chaotic transition”, and how paradox and paranoia can be transcended in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia“, or Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

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The Inquisition has become symbolic of the irrationalities, disproportionalities, and reactionary paranoias of decaying regimes. The Inquisition was the form of that self-negating, self-devouring logic of the Age of the Church that is revisiting our time as well. It is the shape of the so-called “New Normal”.

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Mystics and Warriors

“In times of peace”, Nietzsche once wrote, “the warrior goes to war against himself”. I suspect that this piece of wisdom was gleaned by Nietzsche from Sufism.

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