“The decadence will descend, by perpetual moral improvement….The decadence of the Greco-Roman world with its violent soldiers and its mahogany dark young athletes was as great, but that suggested the bubbles of life turned into marbles, whereas what awaits us…may suggest bubbles in a frozen pond—mathematical Babylonian starlight.”—W. B. Yeats, A Vision (176)
Spiritualism is full of prognoses for the future of mankind, ranging from the unbelievably optimistic to the unbelievably grim. Given that I don’t entirely take the linear direction of our lives in history to be all there is and that I take the nonlinear elements to have an influence on the linear elements, I have a hard time taking any pronouncement on the future as final.
The future, the present, the past? None of them are done yet from the perspective of other worlds. And yet, the past is done for us living from it. There is an analogy to be made here to the problem of relativity as posed by Einstein. Emphasis on analogy—I’m not ready to head on down the road toward conflating physics and spirit.
But, the properties of linear time dominate what we call embodied life, have a weight and trajectory that define our potentials and shape the products of our action.
That description of the future by Yeats…well, it’s a bit unintelligible, isn’t it? Some of that seems to be the cultural distance between Yeats and ourselves, but there is more, having to do with William’s inability to fully conceive of the complex entanglements of time that his model opens up.
Some of that may be false complexity, the sort of complexity that has more to do with the confusion of the thinker than the intricacies of their subject. In other words, some of this is surely William overthinking it. To the extent that he is doing that, I suspect it has to do with the way his model of history subverts the traditional spiritualist model of progress without quite posing an alternative to it.
I can’t shake the sense that there is more going on than that.
“When the new era comes bringing its stream of irrational force….it must wake into life, not Durer’s, nor Blake’s, nor Milton’s human form divine—nor yet Nietzsche’s superman, nor Patmore’s catholic, boasting ‘a tongue that’s dead’—the brood of the Sistine Chapel—but organic groups, covens of physical or intellectual kin melted out of the frozen mass….a world resembling but for its immensity that of the Greek tribes—each with its own Daimon or ancestral hero—the brood of Leda, War and Love; history grown symbolic….no mere alternation between nothing and something like the Christian brute and ascetic, but true opposites, each living the other’s death, dying the other’s life.” (176–77)
William senses that what is coming to be will be different but that the form of our understanding remains overly dependent on what has come before. He is obscure because (1) he has over-conceptualized the Sun and Moon, and (2) the difference between what has been and will be are great enough to make them only partially commensurable.
The sheer size of this movement makes it different, the break up of a town can only compare so much to the break up of an empire, and the break up of an empire only so much to the break up of a world. Or, to choose a different register, the flight of the bee cannot be modeled on the flight of the gander.
So, we can talk about Rome and Babylon, Greece and early Christianity, only as a means of grappling with an obscure reality confronting us in the present.
This demarcates a whole range of matters about which it is difficult to speak, which require more profound tools rooted in communitas, but a communitas that is not yet.
“true opposites” as opposed to conceptual opposites. Consider that. Not an opposition rooted in a image according to which you develop yourself toward an ideal, but the lived articulation of antithetical modes of life. Ideas turned into seeds, from which will bloom the tendrils that will draw together individuals into those communities.
The symbol becoming actual, the actual becoming symbol. It doesn’t seem so different than the condition of late capitalism does it?