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Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Nature abhors a vacuum. So does human nature. Vacuum and “the soul shuddr’ing Vacuum” is a frequent theme in Blake’s poetry. Pascal, likewise, shrunk back terrified before “the silence of the Infinite Void”. In Blake’s poetry, Chaos, Vacuum, Void, and Nonentity are pretty much treated as one and the same.

The disintegration of the modern ego-consciousness, (which has also been described as “crisis of the individual” or “malaise of modernity” or “the crisis of the Modern self” or “deficiency” of the mental-rational consciousness structure, and so on), also results in a “soul shuddr’ing Vacuum” — Nietzsche’s “stare into the Abyss”, modern “emptiness” that we generally refer to as “nihilism”. Into this psychical vacuum attending the disintegration of the ego-consciousness (and the consequent “return of the repressed”) flow all sorts of monsters from the deeps, either from deep space or the depths of the sea: ghouls, demons, goblins, aliens, krakens, ancient chthonic forces from the Underworld. This has been referred to as “opening the gates of Hell”.

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Truth, Fact, and Chaotic Transition

Just following up on my previous comments on the Peterson-McGilchrist encounter, I’ld also like to touch once again upon a recurring theme in The Chrysalis in respect of that encounter — that is, the proper relationship between “the facts of the matter” and “the truth that sets free”. That relationship also strikes me as an umderlying issue in the “Peterson versus McGilchrist” issue.

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The Dissolution of the Sensate Consciousness

“Sensate consciousness” is a term used by the sociologist Pitrim Sorokin (in The Crisis of Our Age) to describe what Jean Gebser refers to as “the mental-rational” or “perspectival” consciousness structure. Sensate consciousness is a form of consciousness beholden for its sense of reality and order to the empirical senses (the physical senses), and the evidence of the empirical senses. Sorokin’s “sensate consciousness” is, in those terms, an optional name for what Iain McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” (in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World). “Seeing is believing” might be taken as even the motto of sensate consciousness, although it must be pointed out that “seeing” is quite ambiguous, since the Seer — the man or woman of insight and visionary experience — also sees, but in a quite different sense than understood by the sensate consciousness. There is a difference between sightedness and insight, after all.

But for sensate consciousness, there is no other reality than that disclosed and revealed via the empirical senses, and this is usually the only understanding of the word “perception”. In other words, what we call “materialism” and “sensate consciousness” are interchangeable terms, and this is what Blake means in saying that “man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”. In other words, too, “sensate consciousness” is equivalent to Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”.

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“Everything Is Pregnant With Its Contrary”

I’ld like to follow up on a comment I posted earlier to the previous post on “The Great Irony of Our Times” after having come across a review of Marshall Berman’s book All That is Solid Melts Into Air. The review in The New York Times cites a passage from Berman’s book that I find very meaningful as the central theme of The Chrysalis as well: “everything is pregnant with its contrary”.

This is the great insight of our times — in fact, it even is the reason why we speak of “times” in the plural at all, or why we refer to this as an Age of Paradox or why I describe it as an age of great ironies and of “ironic reversals” (or what some call “the Great Unravelling”). It is even essential to understanding “chaotic transition” and the meaning of Jean Gebser’s “double-movement”. “Everything is pregnant with its contrary” is just another way of understanding the Hermetic principle of the coincidence of opposites (coincidentia oppositorum) or the conjunction of the contraries (conjunctio oppositorum), or even the meaning of Blake’s “marriage of Heaven and Hell”.

If also offers a way to understanding what Gebser means in saying that everything — the fate of the Earth and of life —  hinges on our knowing when to let happen, and when to make happen, for that is the expertise of mid-wifery. That is, in a sense, what Gebser is summoning us to become during chaotic transition.

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The Fall (and Madness) of Urizen

“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” — Leonard Cohen

….also described as “the crack in the cosmic egg” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

For those unfamiliar with William Blake’s psycho-mythology of the “four Zoas” (who “reside in the Human Brain”),  Urizen is the rational part of the fourfold human. The name “Urizen” is supposed to be a contraction of “Your Reason”. I prefer to think of it as a contraction of the phrase “Universal Reason”. But whether “Your Reason” or “Universal Reason” the name Urizen amounts to the same thing. Urizen is what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” or “the perspectival” mode of perception. Urizen, for Blake, was a tyrant in the psychic household economy, or what might be described as “the God Emperor” of the soul. But Blake also in his time prophesied the downfall of Urizen (and the onset of a “New Age”) in a number of horrific visions he cast into poetry and myth.

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Tragedy and the Value of Learning

Nah ist. Und schwer zu fassen der Gott. Wo aber die Gefahr ist, wächst Das Rettende auch. — Friedrich Hölderlin, “Patmos”

Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) is one of the greatest of the German poets, and Jean Gebser refers to Hölderlin’s poetry quite a lot in his Ever-Present Origin. Just as you can learn a great deal about what Nietzsche really meant by reading Gebser (and vice versa), so you can learn a great deal about what Gebser meant by reading Hölderlin (and vice versa). I prefer to think of Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Blake, and Gebser as but four strands of a much larger golden braid. They have much to teach us about the present troubles and the meaning of the double-movement. This I will explain and justify in today’s post.

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The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth?

Not a great deal of attention has been paid to how this New Testament promise and prophecy — “the meek shall inherit the Earth” — has underwritten much of modern history, and continues to do so in the various flavours of populism, ie, the idea that the “meek” are entitled to the Earth as against the “elites”. That the meek shall inherit the Earth has even come to be seen as an entitlement or as an historical inevitability, both of left-wing and right-wing populisms, as God’s promise to those who labour and suffer under tyrannies.

Nietzsche mocked the whole idea that “the meek shall inherit the Earth”. He dismissed it as being vile herd sentiment or “slave mentality”, rooted in the psychology of resentment. He is somewhat right about that. But Nietzsche was also a philologist, and must surely have known that the meaning of “meek” had (like the words “value” and “virtue”) had undergone an inversion from the original meanings. Words have biographies as people have biographies, and also undergo “mutations”. “Meek” doesn’t mean what most people merely think it means. But a lot of people still invest almost all their hopes for the future in it.

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