Alfred North Whitehead’s summation in Process & Reality forms the foundation for my own here. I spoke of the dikenga as a vital element in my coming to terms with it, but Whitehead’s work is also a sophisticated latter-day articulation of quite ancient and widely-dispersed philosophical intuitions. Those intuitions are not developed in precisely the same way in all places, but where they are developed and preserved, we find sympathetic parallels with Whitehead’s work, parallels which allow me to place otherwise disparate religious and spiritual practices built in response to those insights into dialogue with Whitehead.
Here that parallel with Gnosticism. Here, too, why I suspect that what I am writing here and what gets written over at Hermetic Lessons intersect, even where our terminology and points of departure are at variance.
When we read Whitehead in dialogue with Gnostic texts like Justin’s Book of Baruch, the distinction Whitehead makes between God and World refines the distinction between the Good and Chaos. These two forces delineate a creative encounter from which all other developments spring such that all other developments are also the interaction of God and the World on a smaller scale. In Mediterranean Antiquity, the best way of describing this relationship between fundamental initiating process and the smaller scale was to talk about macrocosm v. microcosm. Whitehead can provide us with an alternative.
Whitehead’s work allows us to view all of the interactions between the Good and Chaos, God and the World, Process and Reality, in a common multidimensional field. There is only one cosm (cosmos) and everything takes place within it according to the same fundamental processes. The small and large scale influence and interact with each other, too, on the same terms. This is not a play of mirrors but a play of fractal-like forces.
Those terms (Good/Chaos/God/World/Process/Reality) also provide the condition for magical and spiritual work, for it is in the sympathy between the scales that we are able to enter into communication with the various powers and potencies that animate them.
Rather than a ladder of nested cosms, we have a more or less heterogeneous cosm through which consciousness can move like a lightning strike. It is to the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari that I turn to describe the trajectory of the lightning strike and the terrain that its trajectory reveals and generates. The terrain pre-exists the strike, but is remade and the relationships established by the movement differentiate fields of action which have the superficial appearance of being other realms. It also skips and jumps, forming a discontinuous line within the line of time. We are joined to ‘everything’ only indirectly, through overlapping networks formed by these lightning flashes of consciousness.
There is a hint of phenomenological analysis here, in that consciousness takes pride of place, but it breaks out of the traditional phenomenological frame by refusing to bracket ontological and epistemological claims. Instead of claiming a sure place for consciousness at the expense of its engagement with the ‘real world,’ it makes a case for the interpenetration of psyche and matter. Such an account places an inherent limit on psyche and replaces the unassailable interiority of European modernity with a fraught position in history that opens onto a wondrous and polyphonous world.
This is all very philosophical in the technical sense of the term, I know, but it is important. This is why I am going to spend more time with each of these texts, drawing out of them their connections to my work here (both have more than a few links to Stoicism). It drives me a little crazy that I feel like calling something ‘philosophical’ means I have to argue for its significance, but them’s the breaks these days. When I talk after Philip K. Dick using terms like the “Black Iron Prison” (BIP), I have come to understand it in these terms. The BIP manifests itself through a long trajectory from Mediterranean Antiquity into European modernity as a prolonged corruption of a fundamental appreciation for the simultaneous fragility and preciousness of consciousness.
It manifests as a belief in a form of being that can be excerpted from our bodies without alteration to it. It manifests as a spiritual virus that gives us the husks of our dead as if they were the souls of our ancestors. It manifests as a destructive form of self-limitation that encourages us to constrain ourselves to fulfilling a self-conception we have of ourselves that we believe will survive as a ghostly double of our personality and body. It can manifest, too, in a faith in reincarnation through which we will have endless opportunities to work upon ourselves, where that ‘self’ is understood to be further iterations of this silly ghost self.
It also manifests in radical materialism, as a conviction that we are nothing more than these bodies, nothing more than a temporary process which will simply come to an end. It manifests as a radical sense of alienation from those who are no longer alive and who are yet to live.
All of this begins in antiquity with the conflation of oblivion and chaos, on the one hand, and the good and eternity on the other. From here it becomes a simple matter to try and figure out how to separate the good from the bad, the perfect from the imperfect. This basic failure to appreciate and preserve their fundamental entanglement spirals out into numerous lines of self-nullifying forms of life.
Either direction represents a profound mutilation of our human being and the more we act upon them, the more we diminish ourselves, the less able we are to make our lives flash across the veil of time. Thankfully, many who accept these forms of self-mutilation do so lightly, living in ways that can counter them. But many accept these more deeply, engaging in progressively deeper forms of self-mutilation, diminishing what they are able to proffer up to eternity.
The truth isn’t abolished by this corruption, but our ability to live and be more fully by understanding it is. Our bodies comingle process and chaos as a crucible for consciousness. The souls of our ancestors remain anchored in their life, accessible to us through all manner of kinship (blood and otherwise) that puts us into sympathy with the consciousness that was their life (and on some level still is their life in the temporal dimension that cuts across the line of our time). There is no ‘survival’ of the soul within the line of our time; what we call survival is the degree to which the flash of lightning we receive joins us to others in the other line of time, in eternity, through which we transmit across time, across our death, a continuance that these others must participate in for it thrive.