on August 26, 2001
This book is not a light read. However it is a fascinating read penned by one of Europe's hidden philosophical treasures: Jean Gebser. The Ever-Present Origin is a translation of _Ursprung und Gegenwart_, a book which was published in German in two parts around 1949 and 1953. The central contribution of this book is Gebser's analysis of the history of culture -- mainly but not exclusively Western culture -- in terms of the predominance of different modes of consciousness. Gebser details five structures of consciousness: the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental, and the integral (or aperspectival). His theory seems to be that these structures unfold in a sequential but non-linear fashion (i.e. in quantum increases in the self-transparency of consciousness), and have different kinds of characteristic ways of experiencing self, other, and world. With each leap, the previous structures of consciousness are superceded and yet retained in a subordinate fashion. Meanwhile, the other structures lie largely latent and untapped. VERY briefly, the archaic is instinctual and primitive. The magical is tribal and involves participation mystique. The mythical is imaginative and often involves seeing through complementary polarities (darkness and light, good and evil). The mental is analytical, dualistic, and skeptical of the other structures of consciousness. And the integral structure allows for a re-membering of all of the structures of consciousness without the problematic reification of their respective "worlds". The integral or aperspectival structure additionally involves going beyond the previous four structures in something akin to Buddhist or Christian (a la Meister Eckhart) enlightenment as understood in terms of the perennial philosophy. If you're looking for an easier read, Georg Feuerstein's introduction to Gebser (titled _Structures of Consciousness: The Genius of Jean Gebser_) is a good place to start. If you're looking for a place to continue similar explorations, much of Ken Wilbur's work is largely based on synthesizing Gebser's theory of structures of consciousness with other developmental models. [I give Wilbur and A for effort, but I am very skeptical about a number of his syntheses.]
on April 9, 2007
Jean Gebser does not get the same kind of exposure as Heidegger or Jung, but his thinking belongs to, and organically evolves out of, the tradition of German thinking that began with Goethe and Kant and continues right down through Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Rudolf Steiner, Oswald Spengler and others. And what this tradition of thought has common to it is the notion that there is no such thing as an object that is not conditioned by the phenomenological faculties of the subject. Kant, Schopenhauer, Husserl and Heidegger resolve this problem in various ways, but with each of them, it is the subject, not the object, that is of overriding philosophical importance in our experience of the world around us.
What Gebser tried to do in this book was to give a kind of phenomenological grounding to the human being's experience of the world not in terms of Kantian categories, but in terms of various evolutionarily derived structures of conscious which the human bears within itself. That is to say, earlier consciousness structures, such as those of tribal man or literate man of the high Bronze Age civilizations, do not just disappear, but sleep latently within the psyche as valid experiential modes unto themselves. Certain life experiences will activate and call forth these modalities, and once the consciousness structure has been activated, it actually changes the very physics of the experiences which the subject has. In the Magical consciousness structure, for example, space and time are a point-like unity in which there are no dimensions, since the world is intricately interconnected through magical pathways like the songlines of aboriginal Australia. Magic actually, really does work when this consciousness is activated (hence the reality of synchronicities and the like). The rational consciousness structure has its own laws, too, and the structure of its interior is that of a three dimensional world in which time and space are radically distinct from one another, and in which the subject and the object are locked into a fierce opposition. Magic is invalidated within this highly differentiated structure, which is evolutionarily late, since this consciousness is something that always evolves in late phases of culture or in the history of civilization generally speaking, just as the intellect does not function fully in accordance with its own powers until one reaches maturity.
Gebser's philosophy is a wonderful antidote to Jungian typology and formulae, since he creates a kind of philosophical architecture out of the collective unconscious, while leaving the theory of archetypes behind. Gebser, however, is no Jungian, and despite his having taught at the Jung Institute in Switzerland, never was one.
Gebser's philosophy also evolved as a kind of antidote to the pessimism of Spengler's vision in The Decline of the West. What Spengler missed was the advent of the aperspectival epoch that began to emerge during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Whereas Spengler experienced the decline of European culture forms--such as the abolishment of perspective in painting, or the leaving behind of Newtonian physics in Einstein--Gebser realized that what was really going on was the transcendence of the Rational consciousness structure and the emergence of a supra- (not ir- or non-) rational consciousness in which the laws of the Mental structure were in process of being relativized to a specific experiential domain, just as Einstein's physics relativized the applicability of Newtonian laws to a specific domain of validity. Thus, the Decline of the West is really about the Decline of the perspectival (i.e. late rational) consciousness structure, and this is where Gebser's philosophy begins. (Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also where Marshall McLuhan saw a shift into the electric modality of culture; indeed, McLuhan and Gebser have a great deal in common when one looks closely at their ideas.)
In short, if you are interested in the development of Western, and particularly Germanic philosophy, then you cannot afford to ignore Gebser. Academics may do so for some time to come, since the spiritual implications of his Integral structure makes them uneasy. And what also repels academics about Gebser is the fact that he has been taken up by New Agers like Ken Wilber (who, as is so often the case with Wilber, thoroughly misunderstands him) and Richard Tarnas, with whom academics want absolutely nothing to do. And who can blame them? The New Age kitsch of such "thinkers" is a mediocratization of philosophy and all it does is sully the image of such true geniuses as Rudolf Steiner and Jean Gebser in the public's perception.
Try Gebser. You'll like him. But you shouldn't try reading around him with "substitute" works by Georg Feurstein or Ken Wilber. These thinkers are not good representatives of Gebser's thought, since they bring their own private agendas to bear upon him, and end up distorting his ideas. To really experience the dazzling brilliance of this man's mind, you must read his dense prose for yourself. Preferably with a strong cup of coffee in hand.
SEE ALSO MY YOU TUBE VIDEO SERIES ENTITLED "JEAN GEBSER'S EVER-PRESENT ORIGIN PART 1 BY JOHN DAVID EBERT"
--John David Ebert,
author of "The New Media Invasion: Digital Technologies and the World They Unmake" (McFarland Books, 2011)
on March 9, 2002
Hans Gruenig has given an excellent overview of Gebser's monumental work. My review offers a sort of color commentary to augment Gruenig's words. The Ever-Present Origin, which has a generic-looking cover, is an extraordinarily rich survey of art, science, culture, and symbolism from an author who achieved more than scholarly excellence. In a letter written to Georg Feuerstein, Gebser acknowledged achieving satori (see the Feuerstein book cited by Gruenig). A transcendent consciousness shines through this book. One of its highlights is Gebser's scholarly survey of the evolution of soul. Gebser's vision was formed in part through his friendship and acquaintence with many of the leading people of his time, including Einstein, Picasso, and Jung. Although he taught for awhile at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, he asserts an independent vision. An essential Gebserian contribution is his subsuming of the scientific worldview. That worldview crystallized with the linear perspective geometry of the Italian Renaissance, a drawing technique that artificially separated subject and object. Gebser convincingly demonstrates the emergence of an integral consciousness where the time and space of "objectivity" no longer offer an adequate description of our world or personal experience. This book is a masterpiece, written in simple, somewhat repetitive language. It is quite readable, though a bit awkward in translation.
on August 15, 2010
Two years ago, I had just dropped out of a Philosophy program at USF because I had the intuition that philosophy itself was becoming obsolete. Of course, I thought science and technology were its heirs, but only a few months later, I stumbled across The Ever-Present Origin.
It is the single greatest book I have ever read.
So much of what is contained in this book either corroborates with, correlates to, or strengthens much of what the postmodern philosophers have done since Bergson, Husserl, and existentialism's hay-day. A main strength of the book is something I personally see as contained yet LATENT in the project of postmodernist philosophy at-large: the overcoming of philosophy itself and the overcoming of strictly dualistic ontology through an awareness of reality as a-psychic and a-physical, through something Gebser calls "verition", a spiritual awareness of things in their wholeness. Yet the most important thing contained in the book is the characterization of consciousness as a mutating structure that makes discontinuous jumps, the most "recent" of which is an awareness of time as a quality, not simply a quantity, and the ramifications such a consciousness holds.
In addition to this, the book itself is written soberly, with seemingly endless sources, data, examples, and a simply astonishingly vast scope that still did not strip the book of rigor and attention to detail, as is the danger in such a large undertaking. I can only imagine how limited my insights from Gebser's investigations are in relation to what future generations will take from his book. This book has hardly even begun to be understood. Read it; it will enrich you in a way that philosophy usually can't.
on October 11, 2013
The Ever Present Origin is difficult and dense but richly rewarding. A second reading, of some parts at least, may be a good way to go. It is an awesome book and I agree with the previous reviewer who said there is so much for future research to explore. The breadth and scope is immense and comprehensive. A really good summary is provided by John David Ebert on You tube, (although the sound quality is not the best). To be able to recognize the magical, mythic and mental structures of consciousness is liberating, and the essence of Gebser's 'aperspectival' structure. The "mutations" (he does not call it evolution) from one structure to the next are demonstrated through extensive references to art, literature, science, etc. The section on modern art alone is worth the effort of reading up till then. The "aperspectival" structure - the most recent mutation of consciousness that Gebser identifies is characterized by the dawning awareness of Time in the same way that the mental structure began with the discovery of "space" and hence, perspective in painting, appeared (around the time of Leonardo da Vinci.)