Clever Beasts, Part I

elmyr7-644x662

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought (F. Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, 1873).

This is quite an humbling statement from our friend, Nietzsche; it sets the seemingly all-knowing scientist and philosopher in his or her proper place. That “mendacious minute of world history,” in which the clever beast invents the art of knowing, may be temporal, even though we pompously view it as the beginning of something unending. The believer in Platonic Idealism will violently rail against these statements, for this violates every precept of that doctrine. Likewise, Christians will hurl accusations of heresy at the mere mention that the art of knowing will dissipate with the death of that great star. Since it created the gathering of knowledge, humanity believes itself to be the center and master of the universe. This is, of course, the rankest form of hubris.

If you read on in the essay, Nietzsche goes on to tell us, “The pride connected with knowing and sensing lies like a blinding fog over the eyes and senses of men, thus deceiving them concerning the value of existence” (ibid.). An extreme pretentiousness has begotten a form of deception that blinds us entirely to the nature of existence and truth. “As a means for the preserving of the individual, the intellect unfolds its principle powers in dissimulation” (ibid.). Man is the master of dissimulation. This is without a doubt, symptomatic of the deficient form of the mental-rational mode of consciousness, spoken of by Jean Gebser.

Deception, flattering, lying, deluding, talking behind the back, putting up a false front, living in borrowed splendor, wearing a mask, hiding behind convention, playing a role for others and for oneself-in short, a continuous fluttering around the solitary flame of vanity-is so much the rule and the law among men that there is almost nothing which is less comprehensible than how an honest and pure drive for truth could have arisen among them (ibid.). 

This is our culture in a nutshell. These are the impediments that prevent any form of individuation, any form of deepening consciousness. We will not profit by a return to a purer, more enlightened era; mankind has been like this since the birth of the intellect. Some future Utopia will not solve our problems either.

They are deeply immersed in illusions and in dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see “forms.” Their senses nowhere lead to truth; on the contrary, they are content to receive stimuli and, as it were, to engage in a groping game on the backs of things (ibid).

Empirical data and the quantifiable will not be our saviors. While beneficial to humanity in some ways, science is still living in that deep, dense fog that causes it to blindly grope in the darkness.

Politicians are the most deceived, and most deceiving, group of all humans. While “normal” people engage daily in dissimulation to a certain extent, according to their natures, politicians are absolute masters of deception, possessing finely honed words of rhetoric designed to cause the bleating sheep who follow them to do their bidding, while they look on approvingly. The most mendacious among them move to the head of the herd. These have the ability to deceive the most sheep into voting for them. One of their primary tactics is demagoguery. By preaching xenophobia and racism, and thereby inflaming the passions of the masses, their agenda is furthered.

But this begs the question, Who, among us, knows? If mankind is blinded by hubris because we possess intellect, of what good is the quest for truth, and where did the desire even originate in the first place?

More to come…

Share Button

Dreams of a Planetary Society

1
Die gefrorene Stadt, by Matthias Zimmermann (Künstler)

The task of constructing a global commonwealth  — a planetary civilisation — which still preserves the integrity and dignity of different human experiences of the Earth, and one in which all kinds of different people can still feel at home in the Earth, is the Great Work of our time. It requires a different and more adequate consciousness structure — an integrating consciousness. That means, largely, a switch from an “either/or” type of logic to a “both/and” type of logic. This really isn’t a simple matter for those who have been schooled from birth in the former, and who everywhere think in terms of dualisms (Scott Preston, Person and Planet, The Chrysalis).

I suppose you’ve realized by now I am a huge fan of blogger, Scott Preston. His website contains some of the best writing on the Internet.

I’ve been thinking of this paragraph all day, contemplating how far we are from realizing a truly planetary society, where all people of the world can feel comfortable being a global citizen, where they “can feel at home in the Earth.” It would probably be easier to colonize Mars, but what good will that do for the billions of souls who yearn for true freedom? The obstacles seem insurmountable. But just imagine being one of the early humans who, many, many thousands of years ago, trudged out of Africa and migrated to lands all over the world. Think of the difficulties these people faced for generations upon generations, to finally come to where we are now. We all trace our lineage back to those stalwart souls (this is a starting point of commonality for a new global society). At that point in the human journey, they had no idea what lay ahead for them. The thought of traveling to the moon would have blown their minds. Is the thought of a global commonwealth such an impossible idea?

Scott is right. It will take a transformation of consciousness (or mutation, according to Jean Gebser) to get there. Those of us who love peace, who eschew greed and malice, who desire that our world be a good home for all peoples, we will dream big dreams that require an equally big consciousness, a kind that humans have never experienced before. The more we reach for the big dreams, the easier it will be to get there. Gradually, by stretching our minds, by properly caring for our souls, human consciousness will evolve. Then, we will have the world we dream of.

What prevents this from occurring now? It seems to be in large part due to the desire to roll back the clock to some distant point in the past, where many believe society was better. Sadly, it also has much to do with religion. Religious belief structures are inextricably ingrained in the current consciousness structure of the world, so getting everyone to agree, even to “agree to disagree,” will be extremely difficult. That may be the most difficult task of all. But there are others. Agreement on a form of government that is fair to all seems impossible. But, again, think about those early humans who trekked around the planet. Sure, it was over a great period of time, but they did it. If we survive, it may take an equal number of years to achieve our dreams. The important point is that it can be done, eventually.

It is hard to imagine such a world with our current perspective. The entire point of view of human thinking will need to change. The current deficient mental-rational funk simply will not do. Dualistic thinking will not suffice. Forget Descartes. He had his day in the limelight. Glean what is useful from him and move on. The same with Newton. Learn his ideas and move on. Don’t build a city in his name. It is the same with all thinkers. Let them teach us what is useful for the mutation of our consciousness, what can open our minds to new possibilities, then move on down the road. As Preston suggests, mankind requires a switch from either-or thinking to both-and thinking. There is no other way to transform ourselves into what Nietzsche envisioned, the Overman, or the Transhuman, as Preston likes to call the self-realized, individuated Human.

Share Button

The Umpqua Community College Shootings

The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli, 1781
The Nightmare, by John Henry Fuseli, 1781

Another gun rampage, another massacre today, this time on the campus of Umpqua Community College in southwestern Oregon. Add thirteen to the many senselessly killed in the past several decades at the hands of those seemingly possessed by what Scott Preston calls “ultimate self-contradiction leading to self-annihilation (A Tsunami of Unreason II, The Chrysalis). We are living in the midst of what Nietzsche predicted well over a century ago, and what came after his pronouncement of the death of God:

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, pg. 3).

Nietzsche knew the forces that had become manifest in the earth. He recognized the deficiencies of rational thought that transformed the minds of the people and Western culture. But he also knew that nihilism has two faces: a destructive side, which we usually see, and a creative side.

In January of 2014, I wrote these words concerning nihilism:

Nihilism is a transitional stage in the process of overcoming oneself. Many times, the thinker will arrive at the edge of the Maelstrom (my metaphor, not Nietzsche’s) after deciding that all is meaningless. The Maelstrom makes one giddy, its potency is overwhelming, its possibility incomprehensible. Frightened by the roaring, gyrating turmoil, most turn away, commit suicide, or live the remainder of their lives in torment (Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation).

This turning away is what I suspect most of these shooter-killers are doing. In this era of what Gebser calls the deficient mental-rational mode of consciousness, we all daily face degrees of nihilism. The good thing is that some of us can deal with it and remain on the path to emergent consciousness and the coming era of integration. On the other hand, some us can’t deal with it. Many of these persons turn to the destruction of others and themselves.

Nihilism is an extremely powerful force which has the ability to wreak utter havoc. We have seen its decadent side during most of the twentieth century, especially since the beginning of The Great War in 1917, as well as what we have experienced so far in this century. Nietzsche believed in an “active” and “passive” nihilism.” Passive nihilism is a decaying, depraved perversion. The active nihilist actively seeks to overcome this state of decay. It is a revolutionary mindset, the philosophizing with a hammer, if necessary, to break down old, decrepit values, transforming oneself into the Self one is meant to be.

The decrepit side of nihilism is self-contradictory and disintegrative. These are characteristics of the deficient mental-rational mode of consciousness. The shooter-killers are souls divided against themselves. Instead of seeking harmony within themselves, they have, whether consciously or unconsciously, thoroughly embraced a meaningless and irrational existence. Their souls have been annihilated.

We hear much about gun control when these massacres occur. I am of the opinion that guns are definitely too easily procured these days, but this is not the answer. It is the reply of the knee-jerk reactionary. Scott Preston does a good job of describing this type of person:

The reactionary, however, isn’t really given to honest reflection, self-evaluation, sincere self-appraisal, or self-knowledge. Instead, rather than honestly face one’s own self-contradictions and duplicities,  ideological reconstruction, revisionism, lip-service paid to “principle”, and rationalisation (and failing that, violence) are the usual resorts of the reactionary mentality and attitude, regardless of how irrational, absurd, or untruthful these may be (The Reactionary, The Chrysalis).

In the case of gun control, the advocates would be reactionaries of the political left. There are also reactionaries of the political right, such as Kim Davis, who refuse to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. Both these types are prisoners of the deficient mental-rational type of consciousness. These two types have a stranglehold on our culture. No, gun control will not suffice to stop these killings. We must learn about soul, about consciousness, and most of all about our true selves. We must learn to harmonize with the earth instead of fighting against it. Let us lay down the repudiated thinking of The Enlightenment and embrace the future.

Share Button

Consciousness and Water

1
Sea Witch, by Frank Frazetta, 1967

 

Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?—Water—there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all (Melville ).

What is this mysterious attraction we have to the sea? Melville calls it “the ungraspable phantom of life…the key to it all.” Since the dawning of human consciousness, the importance of water has been paramount. Civilizations were usually created near great bodies of water. Was it simply convenience, economics, or was the lure of the sea, lakes, and rivers something deeper, more primal? 

It is not surprising that the human body and the physical earth are both about 75% water, thus asserting once again the validity of the Hermetic principle, As above, So below. It seems to apply universally, especially in the relationship between the earth and mankind.

The beginning of humanity lies in the seas and oceans. The image of the deep ocean is seared like a brand in our consciousness. It symbolizes the most primordial aspects of human being. It is no surprise that Melville would turn to this image to symbolize Ishmael’s quest for self-realization. Heraclitus tells us, “Water comes into existence out of earth, and soul out of water.” Soul, earth, and water are very closely intermingled. The ocean has been considered for millennia to be a symbol of the unfathomable and limitless, but also of potentiality, for all creation proceeds from it, the fons et origo. Jung considered the ocean to be a prime symbol for the collective unconscious. This tells me that soul is this ocean, although no one symbol can encompass it’s depth. Marcel Proust profoundly comments, “It is said that the saline fluid in our blood is merely the survival of the primordial sea element in us” (qtd. in Gebser 218).

Of the four classic elements of antiquity, water is perhaps the most transitional. It is an intermediary between life and death because it brings forth life in abundance, but it is also a destroyer par excellence. Just think of the disastrous Japanese tsunami in 2011, or Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I am also reminded of the Greek conception of death as having to pay Charon to cross the river Styx, prior to entering Hades. Soul is connected, yes, deeply connected to death and the Underworld.

The myth of Narcissus is mentioned by Melville in the above passage. What he says is quite interesting and mysterious: “because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned.” We know Narcissus fell in love with his own image in the water. He was not conscious of the fact that the image was his own. Eventually realizing his love would never be reciprocated, he killed himself. Because the soul has always been connected with water, and thus the deepest mysteries of human life, Narcissus died never realizing this beauty to be his own. There are enigmatic and deadly things in the soul/water/ocean. But it is also the font of all life and being. This is why the ocean is such a profound symbol. This “ungraspable phantom of life” is our soul, that which “we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans.” If Narcissus could have somehow become conscious of his own image, he would have experienced what Gebser calls the integral; what Jung calls individuation; and what Nietzsche calls the Ubermensch.

 

Works Cited

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Project Gutenberg: 2008   <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2701/2701-h/2701-h.htm>.

Share Button

The Unveiling of Origin

1
Magic Garden, by Paul Klee, 1926

In the consciousness mutations, there is a process of rearrangement in a discontinuous and intermittent (sprunghaft) form apart from spatially and temporally dependent events. These processes of relocation make it possible for the intensified spiritual origin to be assimilated into human consciousness. Origin itself comes to awareness in a discontinuous mutation: consciousness mutations are completions of integration (Gebser 39).

In my article, Origin and Beginning, I have attempted to say a few words about what the idea of “Origin” means to Jean Gebser. You might want to peruse that prior to reading this installment. 

Basically, I see Gebser’s Origin as similar to what Hermeticism calls The All. Speculating further, one also finds similarity between Origin and Giordano Bruno’s idea of God. Bruno’s theological thought stemmed from an anti-Neoplatonic cosmology, but seemed to embrace a Neoplatonic theology. He agrees with Nicholas of Cusa and Plotinus that God was totally beyond every concept and knowledge. In fact, as Plotinus asserted, God is even beyond ‘being,’ understood as ‘being something specific and determinable’  (Mendoza 140). Gebser views Origin as the ground from which all things spring forth. But this originary presence is not to be viewed as a telos, or as some origin in the past. Origin is non-temporal and non-spatial in every way. It is ever-present.

Now, in the above passage, Gebser is describing the mutations of consciousness as processes that do not follow any regular pattern, and that irrupt chaotically. They are “rearrangements” of consciousness, and they are completely free of any temporal and spatial dependencies. Intermittently and discontinuously, consciousness becomes rearranged by means of mutation in order to further integrate and assimilate what Gebser refers to as “the intensified spiritual origin.” This is the intermingling of the divine (for want of a better word to describe God) with our humanity. It is a complete reacquaintance with Origin, the true spiritual essence. Our true Self is this integration of God and man. It is what William Blake called the Poetic Genius, and it is what Jesus meant when he said, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” (John 10:34, KJV). The entire enterprise of Gebser (and of Jesus, for that matter) was one of bringing to awareness the nature of our True selves, that we are destined to be god-humans. Furthermore, this destiny is probably programmed into our DNA, but there are many ways to reject one’s destiny. If we choose complacency over action, the integral mode of consciousness cannot revolutionize our lives.

Now, soul is said to be the bridge between spirit and matter. Plato referred to this as metaxy, the state of in-between-ness. It is the middle way between all polarities. As Nietzsche said, “Man is a rope fastened between animal and Superman–a rope over an abyss” (Nietzsche 43). Soul is the via regia to the integral mode of consciousness, to Origin, to the intermingling of God and man. It is up to us to actually place ourselves on this road and begin traveling. In other words, there is a volitional element involved.

Physicist David Bohm describes how the man’s Weltanschauung can be changed:,

Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole (Bohm ix).

To remain in our current state of consciousness, the deficient mental-rational, means utter and complete fragmentation. This is what we see all around us everyday. Whenever a nation refuses to allow refugees safe passage across their borders, it is evidence that said nation is enmeshed in the deficient mental-rational mode of thought. Whenever any of these refugees commit acts of terror against those nations that do offer them shelter, it is an example of the deficient mental-rational structure of consciousness. But, as Bohm says, if we can see things in a holistic manner, the rearrangement of consciousness will occur and humans will intermingle with the gods. We have a very long way to travel.

 

Works Cited

Bohm, David. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. New York: Routledge, 1980.

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.

Mendoza, Ramon G. The Acentric Labyrinth. Rockport: Element, 1995.

Friedrich Nietzsche. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kauffman and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Share Button

Borders

1
Refugee Children, by Majsiej Sliapian

We have been hearing much in the news recently concerning thousands of refugees fleeing   from their homes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan only to be met with closed borders. The Hungarian borders have even been lined with razor wire, along with many police and military personnel. They attempt to deter the refugees with teargas, pepper spray, and water cannons. This is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. What we are seeing everyday in the headlines is the gradual disintegration of the predominant consciousness structure, which Jean Gebser called the mental-rational, in its deficient mode. The people want peace. They crave true freedom and safety from crazed psychopaths who want to murder them and their families. The people are crying out for what integration and world individuation will bring.

The daily news is replete with evidence for the ongoing fragmentation of this so-called rational society. The more of this we see, the closer we come to the Integral, the next mutation of consciousness, which will encompass all other modes and will transform us from a three-dimensional paradigm to a four-dimensional paradigm. I look at this as individuation on a cosmic scale, the individuation of the World Soul.

It is said that it is darkest before the dawn; we may see more darkness, more totalitarianism, more fascism before we fully experience the world as it is meant to be. Remember what James Hillman taught us: pathologization is the nature of the soul, even on a world scale. In that day when the World Soul overcomes herself, as Nietzsche would say, there will be no nation-states, and no borders to close; as a matter of fact, there will be no borders! Humans will move freely where they choose. It is the current deficient mode of human consciousness that brings about situations where human freedom is impaired. Hierarchical authorities, with apparently no regard for human lives, attempt to rule with economics as their prime directive.  I know it sounds Utopian to think that there will come a day when there will be no nation-states, no wars, no borders, but I choose to imagine it will come to pass. To choose otherwise is total nihilism.

The perspective of Late Modernity, which Wikipedia describes as being “marked by the global capitalist economies with their increasing privatisation of services,” along with the continuation of extreme rationality, to the exclusion of all other modes of thought that might offer succor to the suffering masses, is the driving force behind our current society. The global capitalist market is paramount in the minds of those who have brought us to this state of affairs. Things are melting down. We have seen war upon war, especially in the last twenty-five years. There is a crisis occurring, a turning point. As Gebser puts it,

…weapons and nuclear fission are not the only realities to be dealt with; spiritual reality in its intensified form is also becoming effectual and real. The new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted. Its realization alone seems able to guarantee man’s continuing existence in the face of the powers of technology, rationality, and chaotic emotion. If our consciousness, that is, the individual person’s awareness, vigilance, and clarity of vision, cannot master the new reality and make possible its realization, then the prophets of doom will have been correct. Our alternatives are an illusion; consequently, great demands are placed on us, and each one of us have been given a grave responsibility, not merely to survey but to actually traverse the path opening before us (Gebser 5).

God help us choose the right path.

 

Works Cited

Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985

Share Button

The Inner Striving of the World Soul

Weeping Woman, by Picasso
Weeping Woman, by Pablo Picasso

Alas! Two souls within my breast abide,

And each from the other strives to separate;

The one in love and healthy lust,

The world with clutching tentacles holds fast;

The other soars with power above this dust

Into the domain of our ancestral past (From Goethe’s Faust).

I realize this classic verse from Faust speaks to the terrible inner conflict of one who, on one hand is attached to the cares of the mundane, everyday world; on the other hand is a person seeking truth, self-realization, or, as Nietzsche called it, self-overcoming. The former is interested only in self-aggrandizement and material things. The world and nature are to be subservient to and distinct. The latter person is interested in overcoming the egocentric life, and loving her world and her fellow humans. In my experience, the conflict is an intense ordeal that never ceases.

We are familiar with interpreting this passage as pertaining to our own struggle. But these words can also be elevated to the level of the World Soul, that collective personage that is the sum total of human consciousness. Does she also experience the pain of this struggle? If the current state of our world is any indicator, then yes, most assuredly. On one hand, we see a disintegration of society, civilization, and culture. Historically, this side of the World Soul has become more evident since the advent of the Great War in 1914. Since then, the earth has been plunged into chaos and turmoil. One of the most disastrous events in this destructive chain was the discovery of nuclear energy. The atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki set off a deadly chain of events that we’re still seeing the effects of today, nearly seventy years later. This is not to mention the meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Since 1914, irruptions of the shadow personage of the World Soul have been wreaking havoc in our world. We all know of the problems and challenges we face in the coming decades. But, there are “two souls” abiding within the World Soul. The other is full of truth, love, creativity, awareness, and wisdom. Just as we struggle, one nature against the other, so does the World Soul. Alongside the terror and malaise we have faced since 1914, there have also been amazing human achievements that have kept alive the notion that the human race can survive and thrive in the decades and centuries to come.

The World Soul must overcome herself and enter a deeper level of consciousness, just as we strive to do. The manner in which this will occur will be if we discipline ourselves and overcome ourselves, as Nietzsche bid us, along with many other wise human prophets. We must strive to overcome ego-consciousness and the narcissism of our world. If we band together in doing this, the world will survive and flourish. We know what will happen if we fail.

As in my last article, we have strayed too far from our origin. So has the World Soul. She has allowed it because we have allowed it. To find her way back, we must decide to find our way back. In his book, Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser writes,

Man is in the world to sustain it as well as himself “in truth,” not for his or its own sake, but for the sake of the spiritual present. It is this spiritual present which elevates wholeness to transparency and frees us from our transient age, for this age of ours is not the present but partiality and flight, indeed, almost a conclusion. Only someone who knows of origin has present–living and dying in the whole, in integrity.

Carl Jung writes in the Undiscovered Self,

[A] mood of universal destruction and renewal…has set its mark on our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially, and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos–the right moment–for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious human within us who is changing. Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own technology and science….So much is at stake and so much depends on the psychological constitution of the modern human.

I am confident we will be transformed, as will the World Soul. It won’t be easy, but nothing great ever is.

 

Share Button

Worlds of Being and Meaning

 Nova Aurigae, Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz - 1918

Nova Aurigae,
Stanislaw Ignacy, Witkiewicz – 1918

This article is dedicated to my brother, Jeffrey, who died July 27, 2014, of complications resulting from congestive heart failure. Jeff was only 49. He was a life-long student of history, religion, and the esoteric. He bequeathed to me his library, which I will cherish as long as I am upon this earth.

…the Gods and Goddesses are worlds of being and meaning in which my personal life participates (Miller 61).

Our ego-centered culture has not yet grasped the fact that the archetypal structures of all reality are these worlds of being and meaning. We do not live in these worlds; these worlds live through us.  To the degree that we recognize the Powers who manifest through our lives, we can become that which we were meant to be.

These Powers are in conflict with each other. Throughout our lives, we undergo our very own Trojan War. Pathologization is the way of the soul. This conflict can be mediated by a “transcendent function,” which is the “transpersonal nature of the archetypal structures…it gives us an Archimedean point of leverage, a perspective on the world from the standpoint of the world whose name is that of a God or Goddess” (ibid.).

This viewpoint transcends both the subjectivity of psychology and the objectivity of science. In essence, there is no inner/outer dichotomy. All reality is founded upon these worlds of being and meaning, the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and how they manifest through, not only our lives, but through the entire universe: stars, worlds, galaxies, and all animateriality. One can trace all things back to a particular God or Goddess. These are the foundation stones upon which our reality is built.

The Powers have manifested throughout human history in many different forms, especially in the many religious views of the world. I have always wondered why there are so many different factions within Christianity, for instance, since this is where my roots are. There are even factions within the factions. There is a first church of this and a first church of that. It seems so insane, but it is the way of reality, the way of the Powers. They fight and war against each other continually. This is how the Fabric of Reality is constructed.

During the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the monotheistic God of Christianity had lost its potency. Each God or Goddess has potency and uniqueness. Because they are at war, a God or Goddess who loses its potency is supplanted by others. This is connected with the idea that a symbol or image can lose its power, and is then subsequently replaced by other symbols. In the case of the monotheistic God, the practice of using symbols and images was, for the most part, eliminated during the Reformation. Symbols possess power, so when the symbol goes, the God will eventually die out. Nietzsche also believed that the monotheistic nature of this God led to his death, and then mankind’s encounter with nihilism. But the encounter with nihilism is but a prelude to transformation. “The death of God gives rise to the rebirth of the Gods” (Miller 4).

Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious was an imaginative historical breakthrough, a watershed event for human psychology. As we hear the stories of the Gods and Goddesses, we are provided with a framework for imagining their worlds of being and meaning, how they live and breathe through us, and through all of reality throughout the universe.

 

Works Cited

Miller, David. L. The New Polytheism. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

 

 

Share Button

Metaphysical Solace

Oedipe et Antigone, by Charles Jalabert

In writing about Attic tragedy, Nietzsche states,

The metaphysical solace which, I wish to suggest, we derive from every true tragedy, the solace that in the ground of things, and despite all changing appearances, life is indestructibly mighty and pleasurable, this solace appears with palpable clarity in the chorus of satyrs, a chorus of natural beings whose life goes on ineradicably behind and beyond all civilization, as it were, and who remain eternally the same despite all the changes of generations and in the history of nations (Nietzsche 39).

 

The “metaphysical solace” Nietzsche speaks of, is the human experience that is at the very ground of life, an experience that nullifies those things we usually consider as bringing well-being to a person, such as wealth and success. The phrase is misnamed because it really has nothing at all to do with the “metaphysical,” taken to mean, “the supernatural or incorporeal.” The solace Nietzsche is referring to here is perfectly natural and requires no external world or transcendent deity to produce it. 

Early in his career, Nietzsche sought after metaphysical solace in the “revitalization of myth and activation of the myth-building potential of consciousness” (Safranski 86), as opposed to the attempts to find metaphysical solace in religion, philosophical idealism, or the quest for knowledge, as in science. To these latter solace-seekers, Nature needs to be corrected or compensated for in some way. Somehow, it is not sufficiently equipped to bring about the state of solaciousness we are discussing. But in Nietzsche’s mind, solace is to be derived solely from Nature in the form of the tragic tension that emerges from the conflict between Apollinian and Dionysian forces.

The satyr, half-man, half-goat stands in stark opposition to the Apollonian man. The satyr is a carefree being, totally devoid of the mundane worries of life. He knows how to have a good time. He doesn’t concern himself with bills, mortgages, a job, etc. The natural life is all he knows. We would do well to allow some of this attitude into our own lives. The movement of Bohemianism, as well as the Beat movement, was in tune with the satyr.

Even though we value life and the world for its good things, Nature is notorious for being, at times, unjust, unfair, and filled with misery. Life itself is tragic and we are all tragic characters. We all suffer. As the Buddha said, the essence of life is suffering. Most attempt to transcend the world through religion, philosophy, drugs, sex, even suicide, but life is what it is.

Since the time of Socrates, our world has been dominated by, and an overemphasis placed upon, the forces of Apollo. The Dionysian forces of our world have been suppressed, usually by social viewpoints that consider these as sinful, evil, or just uncivilized. Apollo, of course, is the god of order, rationality, and the visual arts. Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, the fertility of nature, and music. These two powers are in perpetual conflict, not only within our world, but within ourselves. Nietzsche believed that Attic tragedy was the synthesis of these forces.

We have emphasized Apollo for so long that it is very difficult for us to embrace Dionysus, especially if we have been brought up in Christianity, truly an Apollonian religion if there ever was one. Christ is light, just as Apollo is the god of the Sun. In I John 1:5, the Apostle states, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (KJV). This is a one-sided understanding of reality, and is the typical Western viewpoint. It is Apollonian to the core.

The metaphysical solace Nietzsche refers to is the primordial experience of unity. It is a unity of the contrary forces of Nature that makes our lives worth living. It is naive to ignore one side of reality, as many times we do in our orderly, capitalist, consumer-driven world. Under the streets of our very civilized and ordered societies, the earth is rumbling. The cthonic forces of Nature, having been repressed for so long, seek an outlet. If Apollo and Dionysus cannot be reconciled in some way, as Sophocles and Aeschylus did when they wrote their tragedies, the unfettered powers of the Underworld will be unleashed on the world, and in the lives of individuals.

The way to solace is not the avoidance of suffering, but the phenomenological embracing of Nature. It is not the embracing of pie-in-the-sky idealism or social Utopianism. It is not waiting until we get to heaven. A wonderful life awaits us here in this world now. The understanding that there are contrary forces within all of Nature, and that they require equal recognition, will foster new imagination and birth new creations.

Works Cited

Nietzsche, F.W. The Birth of Tragedy. Trans. Ronald Speirs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Safranksi, Rüdiger. Nietzsche, a Philosophical Biography. Tr. Shelley Frisch. New York: Norton, 2002.

Share Button

Nihilism as a Precursor to Transformation

An illustration from Jules Verne’s essay “Edgard Poë et ses oeuvres” (Edgar Poe and his Works,1862) drawn by Frederic Lix or Yan’ Dargent.

 

How many of you have encountered the experience of nihilism, as in the experience of total skepticism of any meaning concerning life and existence? Have you yet peered into the yawning abyss of nothingness, that your life means nothing, that the world and its laws and moralities mean nothing, that there is no objective basis for truth? According to Nietzsche, if you are to be transformed from a mediocre member of the masses into a fully individuated human, then the encounter with nihilism is a dire necessity. Nietzsche writes,

Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a “meaning” in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the “in vain,” insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure–being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long…Thus, disappointment regarding an alleged aim of becoming as a cause of nihilism: whether regarding a specific aim or, universalized, the realization that all previous hypotheses about aims that concern the whole “evolution” are inadequate (man no longer the collaborator, let alone the center, of becoming) (Nietzsche 12).

 

Nihilism is a transitional stage in the process of overcoming oneself. Many times, the thinker will arrive at the edge of the Maelstrom (Poe’s metaphor, not Nietzsche’s) after deciding that all is meaningless. The Maelstrom makes one giddy, its potency is overwhelming, its possibility incomprehensible. Frightened by the roaring, gyrating turmoil, most turn away, commit suicide, or live the remainder of their lives in torment. What they don’t understand is that the Maelstrom is a means of transformation. Nietzsche referred to this form of nihilism as “passive nihilism.” The “active” nihilist is the one who recognizes the Maelstrom as an avenue to greater things, to be what one is meant to be in the earth. One must, with all abandon, leap into the whirling vortex of energy! This is the overcoming of nihilism. Yes, it is extremely dangerous, but the value of what you will become is overwhelmingly richer than the danger that ensues.

This quote from Edgar Allan Poe is powerful:

It may look like boasting — but what I tell you is truth — I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God’s power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man’s mind in such extremity — and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed (A Descent Into the Maelstrom, by Edgar Allan Poe).

The Maelstrom possesses a certain hypnotic appeal that is not easily ignored. This is the call of the Anima Mundi, an invitation to be metamorphosed from mediocrity to remarkability. The soul’s primary purpose in existence is to bring all animaterial entities, not to a static state of completion, but to a dynamic state of continual metamorphosis. This is the secret of the earth. We are here to meet our amazing destinies, but we must will it to be so. This is the will to power.

You might ask, “Isn’t this just more idealism?” No. These are earth-processes, entirely endemic to this natural world. All that we require to be remarkable human beings is here in this world, our home. There is no need to posit any other world, i.e. a metaphysical world, as the cause of this world. Our destiny is here. So, go ahead and take the leap! 

Works Cited

The Will to Power. Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kauffman and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1967.

Share Button

Slow Reading

Leser mit Lupe, c. 1895

The following is a wonderful article by Lance Fletcher on slow reading. This article inspired me some time ago to read more slowly, especially writers like Heidegger and Nietzsche. Thank you, Lance, for sharing this with me.

SLOW READING: the affirmation of authorial intent[1]
 
by Lancelot R. Fletcher
 
The phase, “slow reading,” is taken from Nietzsche. In paragraph 5 of the preface to Daybreak (Morgenröthe) he writes:
 
A book like this, a problem like this, is in no hurry; we both, I just as much as my book, are friends of lento. It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, A TEACHER OF SLOW READING:- in the end I also write slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste – a malicious taste, perhaps? – no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is ‘in a hurry’. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow – it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the WORD which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But precisely for this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of ‘work’, that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to ‘get everything done’ at once, including every old or new book:- this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read WELL, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers…My patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and philologists: LEARN to read me well![2]
 
“I AM A TEACHER OF SLOW READING.” So says Nietzsche. When I started my teaching career (in the 1960s) I tried saying the same thing in the first class of every course I taught: “Good morning,” I would say. “My name is Lancelot Fletcher. I am a teacher of slow reading,” at which point all the students would laugh. Why? Because they thought they already knew how to read slowly. In those days in the US many people used to pay considerable sums of money to teachers who promised to teach them “speed reading.” Students and businessmen alike were desperate to improve their reading speed because they had too much written material to read and not enough time to read it all at their normal reading speed – which they all felt was much too slow for their purposes. So the idea of taking a course from a teacher of slow reading struck them as utterly ridiculous. As far as they were concerned reading slowly was a problem, a sign of their inadequacy in the field of reading. Why would they want to study how to walk (slowly) when what they needed to do was to run – as fast as possible?
 
After the laughter subsided I would tell my students that what I meant by saying this was: “This is the nature of philosophy. For me philosophy IS the teaching of slow reading.” This didn’t help very much, but it was strange enough so the students didn’t laugh and some of them began to pay attention. In one class the cleverest student said, “Ok, I will accept that, even though I don’t know what you mean. I’m ready. So let’s begin slow reading.”
 
And I answered, “But that’s just the problem. You can’t begin.” “What do you mean?” he asked, beginning to sound rather exasperated. “If you can’t begin slow reading, how can anybody learn it, and how can you honestly say that you teach slow reading?”
 
“The problem is you are thinking that to begin slow reading means to pick up a text and read it in a certain way, different from how you have been reading before, but that’s not the way it works. Slow reading doesn’t start with reading. When slow reading begins, you are already reading. You have been reading for a long time. Slow reading starts, not with reading but with slowing. But even that is not quite right. It would be more accurate to say that slow reading starts with stopping, with turning around. In our reading habits we are like drivers who have been speeding down the highway, intent on reaching our destination, when we begin to notice that things along the side of the road don’t look quite the way we expected. At some point we begin to think that we might have misinterpreted a road sign that we passed a few kilometers back, and then suddenly the thought strikes us that we have been driving rapidly in the wrong direction! Now, as you turn your car around and start driving back to take another look at that sign, now you may find yourself in the slow reading frame of mind.”
 
If one could begin slow reading the first lesson would be:  Just be present to the words on the page. Allow the words to simply BE there, and take note of the fact that they ARE there – BEFORE YOU DECIDE WHAT THEY MEAN.
 
If you are like most of my students you will again feel tempted to find this ridiculous and dismiss it with a wave of your hand. “Does this guy think he is some kind of Zen master? What does he mean by telling me that I should learn to ‘Allow the words to simply be there?’ I mean, the words are what they are! They can be what they are without any permission from me, so I don’t need to allow them to be there, and I certainly don’t need to learn how to do this!”
 
And, of course, for the students who respond in this way, which is to say most students, this is a very hard lesson, because it asks them to do something that they are completely unaccustomed to doing, and even the request they experience as an insult. If you doubt this, make the following test: Read a sentence of eight or ten words to a group of students – or to any group of people you choose — and ask them to reproduce the sentence word for word. What happens? Do they repeat the words that you spoke? In my experience that almost never happens. Instead almost everybody responds by telling you what they thought the sentence meant – but in different words.
 
Why does this happen? I think it is because we are utterly preoccupied with deciding what the sentences we read and hear MEAN to us. Even more than that, we are preoccupied with deciding whether WE agree or disagree with what we take the sentences to mean, whether WE approve or disapprove. And, because we are so preoccupied. we generally do not pause to take note of what the sentences we read actually SAY. This rush to interpretation and judgment is strongly encouraged by most of our educational practices.
 
Perhaps we need to consider how we originally began to read. Nowadays most of us have learned to suppress vocalization as we read. We are taught that it is bad form to read aloud unless we are intending to share what we are reading with someone else who is willing to listen. And some of us can even read without moving our lips. But I am willing to bet that, for each one of us, when we first learned how to read, reading meant reading aloud — that is, speaking, reproducing, the words exactly as they are on the page. In your first moments of reading, when you were just learning to read, being a reader meant that you were an actor. To read you had to speak; you had to become the voice of the author. So that is where we begin.
 
The intention of the teaching of slow reading (which, as I said, is what I understand philosophy to be) is to subvert the customary mode of reading. Its intention is to afford students (i.e. those who make us the gift of their listening) some critical access to their own interpretive activity. The purpose is not to leave students with the notion that the text means whatever they wish to make it mean. That is pretty much the customary mode of reading that the teaching of slow reading wishes to subvert. These days students will do that pretty well on their own without any teaching from us. But to subvert this mode of reading we do first need to make students aware of what they are doing, aware of the fact that they are in the habit of imposing their own meanings on the text.
 
But some people might say that that is the only thing we can do. What alternative is there to imposing our own meanings or interpretations on the text? To answer that question it is useful to step out away from the literary context for a moment and think about an ordinary conversation. As an example let me relate a conversation I recall from my childhood, when I was about fourteen. My best friend had a younger sister named Fay who was about seven at the time of this conversation. Fay had the misfortune to be blind, but she was also a musical prodigy and had perfect pitch. One day I was visiting my friend and her sister was playing the piano as she often did when suddenly Fay stopped playing music and started simply banging her fists on the keyboard, making horrible, loud crashing sounds. Then she screamed, “This piano is so out of tune I can’t play it anymore!” To which her mother responded, “Fay, what’s the matter? Are you hungry, do you want me to fix you some food?” And Fay then screamed even louder, “NO! I don’t want any food, I just want you to get the piano tuned!”
 
What happened in this little domestic drama? Fay’s mother, being the sort of mother who lived in the kitchen and tended to understand many things in terms of food, brought her “kitchen listening” to her daughter’s exclamation and, being full of motherly concern for her daughter’s wellbeing she responded to her daughter’s cry for help with an offer of the kind of help she was most capable of providing, To that extent Fay’s mother was like one of our usual modern (or postmodern) students in imposing her own meaning on her daughter’s “text”. Fortunately, Fay’s mother then did something that our students rarely do: she asked the “author” if her interpretation was correct, and the author emphatically set her straight.
 
To say it once more, the teaching of slow reading is intended to give students some critical access to their own interpretive activity – their own habit of manufacturing meanings. However, this is not the end of slow reading. It is only the beginning. For the discovery of our own interpretive habits is the necessary precondition for gaining access to authorial intent. In ordinary life we become aware of and sometimes correct our interpretations of the speeches we listen to by having conversations with the authors of those speeches. The purpose of the teaching of slow reading is to allow us to enter into conversations with the authors of great works — those authors whose distinction is that they afford us the opportunity to think things that are worthy of thought.
 
But how can you enter into a conversation with an author who is dead or otherwise not available? I will offer a suggestion in a moment, but first let me pose a question: Do the principles of interpretation critically depend on whether or not the author is available to answer your questions? If you are reading a book by a living author to whom you could presumably send email and then, when you are half way through the book you learn that the author has suddenly died, does this fact cause you to suddenly change your way of interpreting the book? Do you say, “Oh, good! He is dead so now I can make his words mean whatever I want because he is not around to tell me that I am wrong?”
 
Now let me say how I approach this issue in my own teaching. When I am beginning to teach a course on one of the important texts in philosophy, say Plato’s Republic, after saying that I am a teacher of slow reading I say, “As you read this book, I want you to assume that it was written by God.” This often causes a certain amount of consternation and incipient revolt (more in the US than in Georgia). Most of the students suddenly feel that I am trying to dominate and control their minds. They ask, “You mean we have to accept what this guy says, even if we don’t agree? Even if we think he is wrong?”
 
“Not at all,” I reply. “The purpose of asking you to assume that the text for the course is written by God is to give you the opportunity to learn.”
 
“How so?”
 
“Well, if you are going to learn, and you are going to learn from the author of this text, then I suppose there must be something you have to learn from that author. Right?”
 
“I suppose so.”
 
“And what you have to learn from the author, in this case Plato, must then be something about which you know less than Plato. It might even be something about which you have incorrect opinions or assumptions. Do you agree?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Now, when you read a passage in a book and you find the passage unclear or inconsistent with what you already think, do you immediately say to yourself, “Here is an opportunity for me to learn?”
 
“Well, not always.”
 
“‘Not at all,’ would be more like it! What most of us do is to say, ‘That guy was confused. He is just making fallacious arguments.’ Of course, in the abstract, especially when we are being polite, we say we ‘know’ that knowledge is supremely desirable. Somebody who took us seriously might suppose, therefore, that when the opportunity to acquire knowledge and get rid of some portion of our ignorance presented itself we would immediately jump at it, as if it were some particularly delicious food which we have long craved. But, in fact, that is not what usually happens, is it? In most cases, when the opportunity to learn is seen close up it looks distinctly unattractive. It is bad news. The reason it is bad news is that the opportunity to learn is always accompanied by the realization that we have hitherto been ignorant and mistaken. Naturally enough, we tend to avoid such discomfort by seeking to shift the blame. ‘It’s not my fault!’ we cry, ‘It’s the author who is mistaken.’ That, then, points us to the purpose of assuming that the author of our text is God, i.e. a being whose intention may be obscure, but who does not make mistakes. If we adopt the working hypothesis that the author of our text is God, and if we act on that hypothesis when we come to something that appears strange, confusing or wrong, attributing this to errors or ignorance of the author is not an available strategy, so we are driven to look first at the possibility that the confusion reflects our own ignorance.”
 
And then a student will say, “But what if the author really IS mistaken? I mean, we can pretend that Plato’s dialogues were written by God, but we all know that that isn’t really so, and besides I don’t even believe in the existence of God. So, by accepting your hypothesis, don’t we run the risk of deceiving ourselves and never finding out the truth?”
 
I answer, “Did I ask you to believe anything? To accept anything in the text as true? Not at all. I am not asking you to believe anything the author says. I am asking you to try to think what the author thinks. We are concerned with what we should do when a passage in the text occurs for us as questionable, and I am suggesting that, by supposing the author to be God, the perplexity that occurs for us in the text becomes an occasion for self-examination, an occasion for the discovery of our own ignorance. Yes, I suppose that, at the end of the day, after we have finished our slow reading, I might have to agree that the author of the text was probably a human being capable of making mistakes, not a god. But if we start out operating on the assumption that the text was written by God, by the time we reach the point where we need to consider the author’s mistakes, we will have reached a thorough understanding of the questions which the author meant to ask. If we refuse to assume the author’s divinity even provisionally, we may never get so far. And perhaps that — the knowledge of the questions — is the real object of philosophical inquiry.”
 
In some parts of the academic world the idea of authorial intent has become an object of contempt. We are sometimes told that, since the meaning of the author cannot be known with certainty (especially in the case of dead authors) we should interpret texts based on our own ideas, without even considering what the author meant. The absurdity of such a practice becomes very clear as soon as you imagine it in the context of ordinary conversation: A person says something, say X. You respond by saying, “That means …Y.” The first speaker responds, “No, that’s not what I meant at all.” And you say, “I don’t care what you have to say now. I know that what you meant was Y, and that’s the end of it.” In short, the denial of respect for authorial intent entails a contempt for authors which ends by sanctioning in students a contempt for speakers that ultimately leads to a complete breakdown of effective communication.
 
The teaching of slow reading, therefore, is an experiment that aims beyond itself. In itself the practice of slow reading intends to create occasions for joining in conversations with (not just about) some of the most powerful thinkers who have ever lived — not merely to learn what they thought, but to think with them and learn from them. But the aim of slow reading beyond itself is to consider whether the practice of slow reading might foster the recovery of a certain art of conversation: that in which listening holds at least an equal place with speaking.
 
The practice of slow reading avoids debates about the status of authorial intent in hermeneutic theory.  Instead, the practice of slow reading aims at a practical demonstration of the power of respect for authorial intent and, through that, a demonstration of the power of respect for authors, whether they are alive or dead, whether their authorship is expressed in writing or in speaking. The practice of slow reading explores the possibility that a respectful reading of books that are thoughtfully written, whatever their age, is an exceptionally powerful means for generating new ideas relevant to the issues of the present day. And we hope to find that reading with respect for the intent of the authors of our study texts also tends to generate conversations in which we are attentive and respectful toward one another.
 


[1] © 2007 Lancelot R. Fletcher – lrf@aya.yale.edu
[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, 1881, translation by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1982, p.5.
Share Button

Zarathustra’s Three Metamorphoses

b16e8-1

In his greatest work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche proclaims that “God is dead” (Nietzsche 41). For Nietzsche, this means that the philosophical abstraction known as “God” to institutional religion, especially Christianity, has died in the hearts and souls of Western man. It also means that the dualistic metaphysics of Plato is no longer viable. With one fell blow from his philosophical hammer, Nietzsche strikes down the two-world theories that have dominated Western thought since Plato. But even though God’s death leaves a gaping hole in Western man’s being, Nietzsche has recognized that the death of God is necessary to bring about transformation.

Prior to God’s death, human consciousness is bound in a morass of “Thou shalts,” a controlling, will-less existence, where the new, the unique, is anathema. Creativity, which is mankind’s birthright, is frowned upon when it is implemented to bring about new values, new opinions, and new attitudes, that deviate from the norm. But when the ideals, the “eternal” standards have died, creativity can burst forth. As in the saying of Jesus, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24 KJV). Before, the existence of God guaranteed eternal standards of ethics, knowledge, politics, metaphysics, etc. But afterwards, all these are obliterated. Now, humanity is tossed upon a sea of uncertainty. Now, there are no absolutes. In the midst of such a tempest, however, a new creation is born. The problem, for Zarathustra, then, is to discover new realities–to create new meaning out of the chaotic aftermath of God’s death.

In the section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra entitled, “Of the Three Metamorphoses,” Zarathustra describes a process of human transformation. The metamorphoses will become Zarathustra’s answer to the nihilism created by the death of God.

Nietzsche begins: “I name you three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall become a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child” (Nietzsche 54). These metaphors describe various stages in the transformation of human consciousness. Just as we pass through physical stages on our way to adulthood, Nietzsche proposes that we pass through various stages of consciousness. We are constantly becoming. We are not static creatures. In fact, for Nietzsche, nothing is static; all is in flux; there is no imperishable being; all is becoming. One point, however, should be noted: this process of transformation is not necessarily linear. Rather, it is cyclical in nature.

First, let us ponder the camel. A camel is a beast of burden. When commanded, it kneels down to accept heavy loads. It seems to possess a sense of duty in bearing what it is ordered to bear. It can go days through the desert without water. The camel-image refers to the human tendency to confront that which is difficult for us out of a sense of duty. We do not will what we do at this stage, but do “what we ought to do.” We are not free to make our own decisions because we give our will over to what we believe are our duties. Nevertheless, by doing “what we ought” we challenge ourselves, paving the way for further refinement.

Zarathustra says, “What is the heaviest thing, you heroes? so asks the weight-bearing spirit, that I may take it upon me and rejoice in my strength” (ibid.). In bearing the heaviest burdens, the camel-spirit becomes lofty in its strength, in doing its duty. This type of attitude reminds me of someone like Hegel, who would try to systematize all reality into a neat logical box, and then have the audacity to believe that everything has been explained. In order for further metamorphosis, this pride must be weakened: “Is it not this: to debase yourself in order to injure your pride? To let your folly shine out in order to mock your wisdom” (ibid.)? It would be a heavy burden indeed for someone like Hegel to admit that he was wrong. I know of one philosopher who did this. Shortly before his death, Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience that caused him to describe his life’s work as so much straw. Sometimes, “wisdom” must be mocked in order for new realities to be born.

Zarathustra asks if it is not a heavy burden “to feed upon the acorns and grass of knowledge and for the sake of truth to suffer hunger of the soul” (ibid.)? For someone who has devoted much time to the search for truth and understanding, it is a very heavy burden to discover that all our so-called wisdom and knowledge is fleeting. The seeker longs for a person, a book, or some other foothold that can lead him or her to a bedrock of truth. It is burdensome because one discovers there is no such absolute foundation. One must consume what small morsels of truth one can find on the cold, damp ground. One must suffer hunger of the soul when the understanding comes that all so-called truths are really uncertain.

Zarathustra asks if it is not a heavy burden “to wade into dirty water when it is the water of truth, and not to disdain cold frogs and hot toads” (ibid.)? Think of sloshing through a green, miry swamp. It is a nasty undertaking. One can get lost very easily. The air smells bad. There are dangerous creatures at every turn. The frogs and toads are not really dangerous, but they are a nuisance, and there may be serpents lurking about. Seeking for truth is exactly like this. It is a burdensome affair to search and search, only to find that one is going around in circles, not to mention all the encumbrances along the way. This is the realm of becoming, where there are no absolute standards–no firm path on which to tread. Actually, there is no sense of being, except that it is becoming. The greatest burden here, however, is when one learns to wade into these waters without disdaining the difficult struggle of living in a world that is devoid of standards. This undertaking can bring about transformation.

The camel takes upon itself its heavy burdens and flees into a desert of solitude. Here, the camel must continually question even the “truths” it has accepted. It must interrogate this new idea, i.e., that there are no absolute standards.

The seeker of truth who carries the burden of uncertainty will eventually need solitude. Not actually literal solitude, but a separation in thought from those who still adhere to two world theories. Only in solitude can genuine creation be brought forth. This is why Zarathustra traveled to the mountains. “Here he had the enjoyment of his spirit and his solitude and he did not weary of it for ten years” (Nietzsche 39). It is in the desert that the camel changes into a lion, for “it wants to capture freedom and be lord in its own desert” (Nietzsche 54).

The lion is, at the same time, a mighty, noble warrior, and a vicious killer. It is noble in the sense that it craves freedom. It desires to create its own freedom, but it must kill to get it.

The camel is only a beast of burden. A beast of prey is required for the task of capturing freedom. The might of the lion can perform the task at hand.

Who is to be the lion’s victim? “It seeks here its ultimate lord: it will be an enemy to him and to its ultimate God, it will struggle for victory with the great dragon” (Nietzsche 54-55). The great dragon, which the lion will battle for its freedom, is called “Thou Shalt.” The lion’s foe is the spirit of commandments, i.e., when others seek to instruct us in what we must believe and accept as truth. History is replete with examples of the enforcement of commandments. One that comes to mind is the Catholic Inquisition.

The great dragon sparkles with gold. “The values of a thousand years” shine on its scales (Nietzsche 55). The dragon believes itself supreme because it believes it possesses the one truth concerning all existence. It believes in a transcendental realm of absolute ideas that can be understood by humanity through the faculty of reason. It believes in a transcendental being (God) that has created this realm and now watches over it, so that truth remains eternal. The dragon despises opposing opinions. “There will be no ‘I will,'” it says. One either conforms, or one is trampled underfoot. But the might of the lion says, “I will!” The lion is the beginning of the will to power, the will to create new realities, the will to become what one is meant to be.

The lion cannot create new values. However, its might is needed to capture freedom for itself. After the dragon has been mauled by the spirit of the lion, what then? The lion must understand that now there is no guiding hand of a transcendental God, or the firm foundation of a realm of absolute Ideas. There is no external authority. Now, the lion is alone; it is responsible for itself. There are no more laws, no more duties for it to bear. Is this not the greatest burden?

The lion is victorious. It has uttered the sacred “No” to the dragon. One thing remains: the lion is not capable of creating new values for itself. It is merely a warrior. Its talent lies in destruction. For creation, another metamorphosis must take place: the lion must become a child.

But tell me, my brothers, what can the child do that the lion cannot? The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes (ibid.).

The child possesses unique talents which make it the perfect choice for the third transformation.

The child is innocence. It has no sense of what life was like when the dragon was still alive. There is no guilt because there is no awareness of Thou Shalt. It knows only becoming–awaking each day to discover a new idea, a new game to play, a new world to explore.

The child is forgetfulness. It has forgotten the heavy burdens of duty and the longing for freedom. Now, it constantly abides in freedom. It has forgotten the golden scales of the dragon. It has forgotten the ancient ways of the past, the so-called eternal values and standards. It lives only for the moment.

The child is a new beginning. When long-held beliefs have been called into question by the camel, and then destroyed by the lion, one enters a new epoch. After a time, the values one has created for oneself become obsolete. These must not be allowed to become sacred cows, for, eventually, they must be destroyed and replaced by new values. The spirit of the camel will question whether these beliefs are still viable. If not, the spirit of the lion will destroy them. Then comes a new beginning, the spirit of the child, who will bring about the creation of new values. This cyclical process never ends, unless one becomes stagnant, i.e., if one ceases to create by returning to a notion of static being.

The child is a sport, or a game. Children are always inventing new games, along with a set of rules for each. When I was about eight years old, some friends and I invented our own version of “whiffle ball”. It was similar to regular baseball. But, because we didn’t have enough fielders, we had to create a set of rules that would work for just three or four players. Also, the rules would change depending on whose yard we were playing in at the time. We didn’t need any adults telling us how to play our game. We created it ourselves. This, in my opinion, is the attitude that Nietzsche is trying to get us to think about here. We need to adopt the attitude of a child. When faced with a problem, even if it is only how to play a silly child’s game, the child will create a solution. He/She will allow spontaneity to flow freely, creating rules that fit the particular situation.

The child has no knowledge of anything eternal or transcendent. There is only spontaneity and creative play, that is, until we adults pound our values into their heads. After enculturation is complete, they are fortunate if they ever break free from the Thou Shalts of the herd.

The child is a self-propelling wheel. At this stage of transformation, the child possesses the will to power, or the power to roll its own wheel. Creation is the wheel that is propelled along by the will. As long as it is understood that all is becoming, the wheel continues to roll along. However, when “wisdom” becomes ensconced in one’s thinking, then the wheel comes to a screeching halt.

The child is a first motion. When the great dragon was still alive, no movement existed. There was only static being; there was no creation. There were only “the values of a thousand years.” The camel questioned those values; the lion destroyed them. Now, the child is the first motion, because the child is the creator. Creation is not static, but dynamic.

Think of how the earth continually creates and re-creates. Every spring, new life bursts forth from the earth. There is a period of growth, decay, and then death. I think this may be how Nietzsche envisions this process of transformation. Creators always pass through such periods of growth, decay, and death. The child represents growth, i.e., the growth of new realities. The camel eventually doubts these realities (decay), and the lion destroys them (death). Then, once more, the child creates new ones, and the process begins all over again.

The child is the sacred Yes. In order for new creation to occur, the spirit of the child must utter a holy Yes to life.

Yes, a sacred Yes is needed, my brothers, for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will, the spirit sundered from the world now wins its own spirit (ibid.).

Before, the spirit had no will of its own. It was controlled by the beliefs of others, by the beliefs of the herd. But the sacred No was spoken by the lion. The spirit now has no sense of duty; it is not impelled to act in any other way than the behavior it chooses. Now the sacred Yes is needed in order for creativity to be unleashed, for new values to be invented. Nietzsche is not saying that we should simply adopt those values that give us the greatest pleasure. I see it as being much more complex. He is affirming the need to pass beyond all polarities (good and evil, for example) and create for ourselves a set of values which will allow us to envision the prospect of overcoming ourselves. Perhaps we will never get there. The Ubermensch may only be a possibility. The main point, however, is to take the risk, to make the attempt, to struggle with the uncertainty. By doing this, we are constantly abiding in the flux of life.

Works Cited

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Share Button