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- Gebser and the radical enlightenment
- Gare, Arran
- Jean Gebser’s work is devoted to showing that the crisis of Western culture, manifest in the turmoil of the twentieth century, was part of a restructuration. This restructuration, manifest in diverse disciplines within the natural and human sciences and the humanities and in new art and literary forms, involves a mutation of consciousness leading us into the ‘aperspectival age’. Gebser represented this as one of a number of major mutations of consciousness that have taken place through the history of humanity, in the transformation from the archaic to the magical, from the magical to the mythical, from the mythical to the mental, and then from the unperspectival to the perspectival. The birth of the aperspectival consciousness, Gebser suggested, began with the irruption of time into our consciousness, not as an analytical system of measurable relationships, but recognized as a quality and an intensity. In accordance with this new appreciation of time, Gebser did not portray the coming mutation as inevitable. It is a challenge to achieve it. There is nothing automatic about such mutations. As he put it, ‘if we do not overcome the crisis it will overcome us’. This suggests a long struggle to effect this mutation, which in turn suggests that such mutations are associated with conflicts between structures of consciousness over extended durations. Here I will argue that the beginnings of the new consciousness celebrated and promoted by Gebser extends further into the past than Gebser realized, to the Renaissance. The first manifestations of this new consciousness were suppressed and almost aborted with the persecution of its greatest proponents (such as Giordano Bruno) and, in the seventeenth century, with the development of the mechanistic world-view and possessive individualism designed specifically to combat it. However, the abortion was not completely successful, and the new consciousness revived as what has now come to be known as the Radical Enlightenment, perhaps the ‘true’ enlightenment as opposed to the ‘fake’ enlightenment of proponents of the ideas of Newton and Locke. Gebser’s work and the developments in consciousness he identified can thus be appreciated as part of this Radical Enlightenment, and conceiving it in relation to this longer history, I will suggest, highlights the need for and could improve the chances of effecting the mutation of consciousness Gebser called for.
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- Conference paper
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. Faculty of Life and Social Sciences
- Invited paper presented to the 37th Annual Conference of the International Jean Gebser Association, La Trobe University, 18-21 June 2008
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