From one extreme to another?

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Liquid                      -                    Solid
Progressive              -                    Conservative
Chaos                       -                    Order
Surface                     -                    Depth
Unlimited                 -                    Limited
Sky                           -                    Ground


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In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. 

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'


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In this post I talked about the idea of exclusion, and made the case that exclusion is inherent in creation. In other words, whenever a thing comes into being (be it an physical object, or a mental construct), it does so by not being all of the other things it could have been. From a chaotic multitude, certain characteristics are selected and this collection of elements constitutes the thing in question. An order, or direction, is imposed.

You are tall and not short; you like quiet places rather than busy ones; you are Left and not Right: creation is a process of narrowing down; from all possibilities, to these ones.

All structures are made from constituent parts; including and bonding separate elements into something greater (if it is a healthy structure it will be coherent, i.e. its parts will follow a common set of instructions; if it is unhealthy, it will be incoherent). In this sense, structure is also synonymous with ‘story,’ ‘category,’ ‘group,’ ‘identity,’ and so on. Any ‘thing’ that you can think of will be composed of other ‘things’. Any ‘thing’ has borders, and defends its borders. A borderless ‘thing’ is no ‘thing’ at all.

From this it follows that any structure, by its nature, is exclusive; that exclusion is a vital element in how we build structures. A thing is this thing because it is not every other thing. You are who you are because of your preferences, the things that you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to; that you include and exclude.

However, exclusion is not a fashionable word these days, which is one of the reasons why I feel it important to assert its value. It is a vital part of a balance, and as such has a crucial role to play in how we apprehend the world.

Postmodern culture - that is, the culture that more or less predominates at the minute - arose in part as a reaction to too much structure. It is accordingly characterised by the urge to break structure down, and was crystallised in the philosophy known as post-structuralism, espoused by the likes of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (if you look at the binary at the top of this page, then postmodernism is characterised by those words on the left hand side).

At its heart, postmodernism is opposed to any form of categorization (i.e. structure-building) because categorizing excludes, limits, and separates. Its god is Hermes, the shapeshifter; he who dances from here to there but never stays put; never puts down roots. Like quicksilver, he refuses form, and eludes all categories.

Postmodernism started life as a reactionary movement; a tugging on the pendulum of culture, a pendulum that had swung, in the eyes of many, too far in one direction. But like any reactionary movement, it was inherently imbalanced. In order to counteract the prevailing trends of the day it took an oppositional stance: inasmuch as white was the shade of the establishment, it clothed itself entirely in black.

And this is the crucial point. By defining itself in opposition to what had gone before it threw the baby out with the bathwater. A balanced approach would have been to combine the best of black, and the best of white; to have recognised that to deny either is pathological; and to have made gray the shade-de-jour. Yes, the pendulum must always swing, but it needn’t go to  extremes. Swinging from one extreme to another is the characteristic pattern of the manic-depressive; and as most manic-depressives would attest, it may be fun from time to time (jet-black and snow-white are much sexier than shades of gray), but it is also unsustainable and destructive. If a healthy society is truly what we desire then we must seek homeostasis, the temperate middle path.

The postmodernist mindset fell in love with one side of the opposition - became enamoured with black - and pushed the other side into the darkness. It placed emphasis on those concepts that were associated with a lack of structure - ‘fluidity,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘relativism’ - whilst devaluing those associated with structure - ‘solidity,’ ‘exclusion,’ ‘absolutism.’ In other words, it repressed a whole section of human experience.

In consciously denying these elements it condemned itself to unconsciously enact them: witness, for instance, its moral absolutism, or its exclusion in the name of inclusion ('no-platforming,' 'safe-spaces'). Repressed elements will always find a way to the surface, generally emerging as symptoms, or pathology; as blind spots, or sore spots. Accordingly, our cultural landscape is becoming increasingly pathologized. Disturbing data points are cropping up all over the place; chattering, doubting voices assail the postmodern psyche. A split is occurring.

How the prevailing order deals with these symptoms is of crucial importance to us all. We are facing another pendulum shift, and the critical question is whether we will once again swing into another imbalance; whether we will heed the lessons of our time, or whether we will again, in our disgust at the current way of things, attempt to repress one side of the balance in favour of the other.

I'm writing this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, because at times like this it is always tempting to vilify the old and make heroes of the new; to raise the qualities of the incoming order whilst denouncing those of the outgoing. But in vilifying one side of the balance we also make a villain of the corresponding aspect of ourselves. Collective repression goes hand in hand with individual repression. As a result we're unable to see that the villain isn't really a villain at all; that, as unfashionable as he may now be, he still has many positive qualities, and many important things to share.

It is vital that we retain the positive aspects of postmodernism, and do not, in our haste to distance ourselves from it, reject it outright. 

This would be an immature reaction, a knee-jerk venting of pent-up emotion. Whilst it may have gone too far, it was not all in vain. Nor is it now irrelevant. And its proponents are not, for the most part, villains.

It has been said that evolution works by transcending and including. If we are to evolve then we must find a way to include what came before and to integrate it into something greater, rather than seeking to erase it from our memory.

It is becoming ever more clear that we must begin to allow to the surface those things that postmodernism has held under for so long. We must begin to accept the importance of structure, and all of its analogs (limits, exclusion, solidity, fixity). But in doing so we must resist the temptation to make virtues of these elements at the expense of their counterparts.

After an excess of one thing, its opposite will always seem disproportionately appealing; but we must keep our heads; and keep our eyes on both sides of the balance.

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Unfortunately, we are somewhat unpracticed in polytheism. We don’t know how to acknowledge all the squabbling gods together. When one god lets us down we tend to redirect all our worship to another.

Yet swapping the groundlessness of our Hermes-pathology for the fundamentalism of a Senex-Pathology is no solution to our problems. Far better to learn from Hermes that all the gods are to be worshipped.

A polytheistic Hermes consciousness is something we desperately need. It is a necessary protection against the oppression of new and old orthodoxies.

The development of a Hermes consciousness in this century provided a long awaited relief from the domination of Apollo and Prometheus. The Enlightenment invited humankind to see the world clearly for the first time. The technological revolution invited us to break free from the domination of the gods and gain control of our world. If Hermes asserts anything, it is that we must honour all the gods equally, and allow soul back into the world.

It is consistent with Jungian theory to argue that it is the suppression of Hermes for so long which has led to this outbreak of the negative Hermes, and the best way of dealing with this is to acknowledge and value the positive manifestations of the god: imagination, flexibility, intuition, the sense of the sacred, playfulness, irony, delight in paradox, grace, heterogeneity, complexity, healing, transformation.

[Bernie Neville]
‘The Charm of Hermes: Hillman, Leotard, and the Postmodern Condition’, Journal of Analytical Psychology (1992), p. 351-2


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Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Exclusion
Life Amongst the Rubble
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Forever Becoming
The Real Thing
Walk a Straight Line 

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the problem is that the middle path is boring. Who wants temperance, when you can have excess?

    ReplyDelete