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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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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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Blake, Newton, and The Megamachine

I raced through James Gleick’s biography of Isaac Newton last evening, who Gleick describes as “the chief architect of the modern world”. Although I could get disputatious with him about that characterisation of Newton as the architect of the modern world (and therefore of the mental-rational structure of consciousness) it has some merit. But one could say as much about Rene Descartes, too, and when we often speak of the “Newtonian-Cartesian world view” or the “Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm” as we so often do, it is in that joint sense.

At the same time, neither Newton nor Descartes are understandable as separate from the invention of perspective by the Renaissance artists. Perspectivism laid the foundation for the “objective attitude” and new approach to reality that informed both Newton and Descartes, as cultural philosopher Jean Gebser (among others now) has described that in his Ever-Present Origin. Da Vinci, as the perfecter of perspectivism, could just as well be called modernity’s “chief architect”, which is why his Vitruvian Man and his Mona Lisa have become even iconic of the Modern Age.

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Nature: The Pursuit of an Idea

Lately, I have immersed myself in the history and philosophy behind the idea of evolution and, of course, the new human concern with and discourse about time. And in the course of my studies of man’s ever evolving understanding of time and the evolutionary idea, I realised what a tremendous Tower of Babel exists in the sciences and the common culture not just about the meaning of the term “evolution” and time, but of “Nature” and of the “natural”. There is a tremendous amount of unarticulated and unconscious presumption about the meaning of names like “evolution” and “nature” — or “life” for that matter — as if people knew exactly what these names describe and represent when, in fact, for the most part they know nothing and are simply faking it.

“Nature: The History and Philosophy of a Name” (or “Idea”) would make a very good book, and perhaps it has already been attempted. “Nature” isn’t just another word, like “the” about which hardly anyone quibbles. “The” has determinant meaning and is non-controversial. “Nature”, though, isn’t just a word, it’s a name — a name for something we know not what, but which we only presume to know, much like the name of “Truth” or “Life” itself, or, for that matter, the idea of democracy.

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George Kubler: The Shape of Time

Students of cultural historian Jean Gebser will, I think, find George Kubler’s short book The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962) of especial interest. The Shape of Time is a book on art history, but essentially deals with time and change processes, and how these are differentially reflected in the arts and in the sciences.

A copy of the book is available online. The third chapter, “The Propagation of Things”, may be the most pertinent in that respect. Kulber, like Gebser, attempts to read the evolution of a culture’s artifacts (repetition and variation) for insight into it’s sensibilities, and he has some very interesting things to say in about time and change processes.

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The Mutation Into Machinery

In his book Yuga: An Anatomy of Our Fate, Marty Glass highlighted five essential features of the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age. These five are 1) The Fall Into Time; 2) the Reign of Quantity; 3) the Mutation into Machinery; 4) the End of Nature; and, 5) the Prison of Unreality.

Although, arguably, the latter four are consequential from the first — the Fall Into Time — they are all implicated in one another as inseparable aspects of one and the same process which we could broadly refer to as samsara or samsaric existence, and in those terms also, aspects of what William Blake called “Ulro” — the realm of Shadow or Maya, which Blake calls “the Sleep of Ulro”. Ulro can therefore be taken as Blake’s own symbolisation of what is called the Kali Yuga or “Dark Age”.

While the Fall into Time is the leading edge of the Kali Yuga, my concern today is  principally with one aspect of that fall, and that is “the Mutation into Machinery”, or, described differently, the mutation of the human form into a mere “automaton of reflexes”, which could also be called “post-conscious”. This would be the final triumph of the “Sleep of Ulro”.

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The Integral Mind

I’m presently reading The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Fans of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary will also appreciate The Tree of Knowledge, as will students of the “speech philosopher” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and of his “grammatical method”, although the connection may not become really apparent until the last couple of chapters of Maturana’s and Varela’s book . This is evolutionary biology and the psychology of cognition done differently.

It was in the course of reading the book, and the authors’ own contribution to understanding the divided brain, that I came across of reference to another book called The Integrated Mind by M.S. Gazzaniga and J.E. LeDoux (1978). A quick check of McGilchrist’s bibliography for The Master of His Emissary shows that it is referenced there. I managed to locate and order an inexpensive copy through the internet, but it is unfortunately otherwise very, very pricey. I’m very keen to see how these two neuroscientists, in their own way, approach the issue of integral consciousness as described also by Jean Gebser in his The Ever-Present Origin.

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