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The Shock of the Real

I’m not sure who should be credited with the phrase “the shock of the real” (but it is, apparently, the American environmentalist Edward Abbey from his book Desert Solitaire). It’s a very good phrase. It’s basically the meaning of the word “apocalypse” and has been borrowed extensively by others too to describe the bursting of bubbles of all kinds. “Shock” has become something of a theme of Late Modernity or the post-modern condition — Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, or, indeed, “Shock and Awe”. Shock might even be said to be the essence of “the New Normal”.

The phrase “shock of the real” brings to mind the Tarot card called “The Fool”.

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Dimensions and Directions

I mentioned earlier that I was reading George Morgan’s The Human Predicament:  Dissolution and Wholeness (1968), and excerpted a couple of quotes from the introduction to post in the comments to the last post on Smith’s “Invisible Hand”.  I do recommend Morgan’s book in connection with Gebser studies, since The Human Predicament can be considered a more extended treatment of — or contribution towards fuller understanding of — what Jean Gebser means by the “disintegration” of the consciousness and personality structure of modern man, ie, the “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure”.

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Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and the Tribal Genius

I woke up this morning thinking about neo-liberal economics, Jean Gebser, Adam Smith and his “Invisible Hand”, and how this metaphor (or simile) of the “Invisible Hand” morphed into  “mechanism” in the term “market mechanism” — and, in those terms, whether in the form of “Invisible Hand” or “mechanism” (Mumford’s “Megamachine”), we aren’t dealing with a superstition masquerading as “science” or ideology.

There is, actually, an ancient antecedent and precursor to this benevolent “invisible hand” — it is the tribal “genius” (“genie”), or tutelary deity. And this relationship between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the tribal “genius” reveals something very significant about Jean Gebser’s philosophy of “consciousness structures” as well.

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Frenzy and “The Return of the Repressed”

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.

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“A Government of Death”

Globalisation. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was always a lie — a propagandistic slogan only — from the outset, for even its proponents described it in terms of “creative destruction”. There would be “winners” and “losers”. But in public, they overplayed the “creative” and downplayed the “destruction” bit, and they did so in the context of an “age of diminishing expectations” as Christopher Lasch called the period.

“Neo-liberal globalisation” isn’t, actually, the most accurate term for this process. “Globalised neo-liberalism” is the more accurate term. “Globalisation” is actually the creative aspect of this process. Neo-liberalism is the destructive aspect.  But these two processes — one creative and integrative, one destructive and nihilistic — have become conflated as the meaning of “globalism” itself.

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The Symbol-Using, Symbol-Misusing Animal

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.

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The Myth of the Machine

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).

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