Let me get started by positioning the point at which “Of the Refrain” enters into the discussion. It opens up in the middle of the world that I have just painted using Whitehead’s concepts, a cosmos in which two immanent powers (God & World) enter into communication with each other, a cosmos in which consciousness flickers along and between the feelings that are an expression of the world in flux. The ‘refrain’ defines a point at which consciousness and feeling find a rhythm between themselves that puts them in sympathy with the immanent powers composing them.
A few months ago, I saw a sticker that said something to the effect of “Gender is Over” and it annoyed me to no end. At the most personal level, I wasn’t preparing to undertake HRT because I thought gender was over. More abstractly, though, it has to do with a frustration I have with a lot of progressive discourse on gender. It inherits a position born in a certain moment of feminism that asserts the irrelevance of gender to human life, except incidentally. That strikes me as wrong-headed.
With the two interpenetrating domains in play, it’s time to turn to the wind-up that ends Whitehead’s account by focusing on what the most intense expressions of the interaction between God and World looks like (350–51). It’s a dynamic process (no surprise), but Whitehead does suggest a basic fourfold pattern that describes it. It is along this axis that complex and durable spiritual entities form, most importantly our selves. That process (not the subject of the process) loops back upon itself, the result being the initiating element in another dynamic process.
Of late, I keep coming back to Althusser’s conception of interpellation. The basic idea is simple enough—namely, that your subjectivity becomes constituted on the receiving end of an ideological system that expresses itself through and in the apparatus of political power. When you are called a criminal, you are made a criminal, subjected to practices that compel you to accept that assignment, not just performatively, but in your own self-conception.
This post over on Hermetic Lessons hit close to home. The frank discussion of how slippery depression can be, how it can take hold and manifest in beliefs that impair us, is important. We need to talk about that, need to be aware that we, magical and creative people, are often especially prone to it. So much magical work deploys symbolic and imaginal forms as an essential feature that we can pick up forms alien to our practice and weave them into our lives as nasty little depressive cages. Worse yet, because we produce symbolic and imaginal forms, we are an especially good vector for toxic ones to proliferate along.
I have seen people trap themselves like this, and have hobbled myself for years with these sorts of mistakes. The ones that can mask themselves in respectability are definitely some of the most insidious. Learning to read these cages as symbolic forms we are using to talk to ourselves helps (it makes clear their externality, breaking some of their spell), and reorienting toward ourselves, cleaning ourselves of other people’s business is a big part of getting on the right track again.
His follow-up post is also good, putting on the table a good strategy for breaking out of those habits. As the I Ching has put it to me before, put your ideas to the test. Let the work of moving toward a goal clean and clarify you.
Also, you know, be kind to folks who are trying to do this. If they are doing it right, they will tear through their own illusions. You don’t need to walk up and kick them around for having to stumble through some foolishness en route.
However far our gaze penetrates, there are always heights beyond which block our vision.—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (Corrected Edition), 342
Enough with the throat clearing; let me get down to business with Whitehead. I am not sure how long this is all going to take, or how many posts it will run. Maybe this will take three posts and a couple weeks, maybe it will take eight posts and a few months. Gender transition, too, is something of a wild card in all this, requiring a significant share of my intellectual and emotional resources; I may not always have the time or energy to work on this. This will need to take as long as it takes.
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.