I’m fascinated by “post-historic man”. I’m obsessed with discovering the secret of this type — the man of the “New Normal” who Francis Fukuyama celebrated even as the new normal in his essay (and later book) on “The End of History“. You can learn quite a bit about post-historic man by simply reading between the lines of Fukuyama’s book or earlier essay. You can learn even more about the type through reading Nietzsche’s musings on “the Last Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra — the “Last Man” who Nietzsche thought of as being only a caricature of man, as “the ape of his ideals”; an historically exhausted type that had already exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date.
Stephen Marche has a pretty significant article on “survivalism” and “America’s midlife crisis” in today’s Guardian. At least, I think it’s a pretty significant article. Marche puts the question there whether “America [is] falling apart for real this time?”, and as part of his attempt to try to come up with an answer to that question he attended a recent “prepper and survivalist summit” in Bowling Green, which he evidently believes, pars pro toto, served as a microcosm for the more general mood and state of America (although I would add, too, not just America).
Ultimately, I think he doesn’t resolve the question. But the comparison America’s current plight to “midlife crisis” — that America is in suspense somewhere between its beginning and its ending — does remind of the dynamic of enantiodromia, — reversal at the extremity, or a coincidentia oppositorum (which is pretty much the meaning of a “midlife crisis”). And if you interpret “midlife crisis” as a descriptive metaphor for the dynamics of enantiodromia, it becomes pretty significant indeed. As befits enantiodromia, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at it.
There are plenty of indications in “post-modernity” that what we call “the Modern Mind” has reached the limits of its possibilities, and has even overreached those limits. This “overreach” — just another term for hubris — is what Jean Gebser describes as a consciousness structure functioning in “deficient” mode. A consciousness structure in deficient mode has ceased to be adequate to its circumstances and the existential challenges it faces. To persist in it invites Nemesis, goddess of vengeance and retribution. That is now the case for Leonardo’s “Vetruvian Man”, icon of the Renaissance and the ideal of the Modern Age.
A few moments ago, I posted a quotation from the artist Maurice Grosser’s The Painter’s Eye to the comments section of the previous post on Holonic Awareness. The quote is excerpted from Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, which is also a book I highly recommend to students of Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy. I found the quote so deeply meaningful, significant, and revealing in relation to what Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “perspectival” consciousness structure that I have decided to comment on it at even greater length than could be done in a short comment.
The passage appears on pages 77 and 78 or Hall’s The Hidden Dimension. Here, Grosser is describing the proper distance — not just physical but psychological — for the proper visual rendering and representation of a subject or model in perspective space, just as the Renaissance artists would have approached the problem.
I recently spent another enjoyable afternoon of coffee-drinking and conversation with Chris Kutarna, co-author (with Ian Goldlin) of The Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging — anything from the meaning of the “zombie” as cultural meme, to Game of Thrones, to contemporary politics (local and global), to the limits of Cartesianism and dialectics (and thus to perspectivisation or the “point-of-view” consciousness and mode of perception). Always stimulating, these conversations over coffee help me articulate what is my “Holy Grail” in terms of any prospective “New Renaissance” or “Age of Discovery” — that is to say, that which remains to be “discovered” (rather than simply invented) and why we must move from a triadic or tripartite logic to a four-term or quadratic logic. My “Age of Discovery” thus involves the realisation of holonic awareness and perception.
There have been a number of such “Ages of Discovery” in human history — the “discovery of the soul”, the “discovery of the will”, the “discovery of the mind“. The discovery of a new “dimension” to our reality was always coincident with the disclosure of some new potency or faculty in the human form and configuration leading to a radical reconstruction of perception and to the meanings of “truth”, “human nature”, or “cosmos” — literally a “new Heaven and a new Earth”. This is what Gebser refers to as the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure and the self-revelation of what was previously a hidden dimension or domain.
In yesterday’s posting on Giotto, Picasso and Aperspectival Consciousness, we briefly (perhaps all-too briefly) traced the turbulent unfolding — in “agony and ecstasy”, as it were — of the third dimension of space (or, rather, the tripartition of space into spaces) to consciousness and perception that was prefigured in the Early Renaissance/Late Middle Ages and represented in the works of Giotto and Petrarch; proof that very big things often arrive in very small packages — or on little dove’s feet.
The unfolding (or “evolution”) of a new “dimension”, as I mentioned, also involves a corresponding “in-volution” befitting the law of dynamics that states: every action has an equal and opposite reaction — that is to say, a coincidentia oppositorum. Standard histories of the Renaissance and Late Middle Ages very seldom pay attention to the “in-volution” aspect of the transition — the restructuration of consciousness, perception, and cognition — although this is now what is usually intended to be understood by the term “co-evolutionary” — the co-evolution of cosmos and consciousness. Or, as the great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi once put it, “the whole universe is a form of truth”.
I’m sure, by now, that you have taken note of the fact that the mainstream “public conversation” of Late Modernity has become completely incoherent and self-contradictory, being afflicted (as I’ve noted many times before) with Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind — the various masks of duplicity. Duplicity in word and deed (or “lip-service” by another name) is, indeed, the “New Normal” — something that even Pope Francis has recently noted and lamented (and which Adam Curtis also scrutinised in his recent film documentary “Hypernormalisation“).
This pandemic of duplicity attests to an overall loss of integrity — a fragmentation, a dissolution, a decoherence, a dehiscence and perhaps even a form of autothysis— of the personality and consciousness structure of Modern Man. This is also what Charles Taylor has called “The Malaise of Modernity“, and it is now global in scope. This is the first layer of fact about “globalism”. There seems to be no part of the Earth that is not afflicted with it. We are, if nothing else, united in our mutual malaise.
We need to recognise, then, that this disintegration is evidence of the decay and deterioration of the Modern Era as a whole — and, that means the accelerating deconstruction of what Gebser calls the “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure”. This is not unprecedented historically. Yet today its scale and scope are unprecedented. Here, I want to explore a precedent for the decay of an Era — the Waning of the Middle Ages.