Creating people's geographies
A Norwegian friend and I living in Canberra a few years ago had fun filling up some rare idle time writing lists on a rainy day. Personal top tens such as favourite classical pieces, friends’ classic quips, favourite novels, albums, and so on. It amused us that at this one sitting the lists would break out like mandelbrot sets and we’d generate further sub-categories and lists; that is, it was never enough to nominate ‘favourite songs’, it would then have to be subdivided into ‘best 1980s’ or particular genres as we tried to squeeze all our nominations into just ten. Yes, it was cheatin’. Have you ever tried it? Its hard to be pinned down to nominate specific selections …
Being postgrad nerds, we of course had a go at nominating our Top Ten books in our respective disciplines, even in the Social Sciences generally. Just take a look at Amazon, the list trend has gone berserk.
What are among my personal favourite books in the contemporary social sciences? They include geographer David Harvey’s The Postmodern Condition, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and John Ralston Saul’s Voltaire’s Bastards, amongst other books of excellence.
Another book I’d venture to place above all others as one of my personal favourites and nominate as one of the best books I’ve read thus far in the social sciences is Richard Tarnas’ sublime, beautifully written tour de force intellectual history of western thought, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding The Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View.
Here is just the very last part of the Epilogue from said book, which is well worth a read. The Passion… should occupy a prominent spot on every self-respecting social scientist’s or big-picture book-lover’s bookshelf, to my mind. The very last few pages are reproduced here in appreciative tribute.
New York: Random House, 1991
©1991 Richard Tarnas
Bringing It All Back Home
Many generalizations could be made about the history of the Western mind, but today perhaps the most immediately obvious is that it has been from start to finish an overwhelmingly masculine phenomenon: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Descartes, Newton, Locke, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud….The Western intellectual tradition has been produced and canonized almost entirely by men, and informed mainly by male perspectives. This masculine dominance in Western intellectual history has certainly not occurred because women are any less intelligent than men. But can it be attributed solely to social restriction? I think not. I believe something more profound is going on here: something archetypal. The masculinity of the Western mind has been pervasive and fundamental, in both men and women, affecting every aspect of Western thought, determining its most basic conception of the human being and the human role in the world. All the major languages within which the Western tradition has developed, from Greek and Latin on, have tended to personify the human species with words that are masculine in gender: anthropos, homo, l’homme, el hombre, l’uomo, chelovek, der Mensch, man. As the historical narrative in this book has faithfully reflected, it has always been “man” this and “man” that–“the ascent of man,” “the dignity of man,” “man’s relation to God,” “man’s place in the cosmos,” “man’s struggle with nature,” “the great achievement of modern man,” and so forth. The “man” of the Western tradition has been a questing masculine hero, a Promethean biological and metaphysical rebel who has constantly sought freedom and progress for himself, and who has thus constantly striven to differentiate himself from and control the matrix out of which he emerged. This masculine predisposition in the evolution of the Western mind, though largely unconscious, has been not only characteristic of that evolution, but essential to it.
For the evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial unity with nature. The fundamental religious, scientific, and philosophical perspectives of Western culture have all been affected by this decisive masculinity–beginning four millennia ago with the great patriarchal nomadic conquests in Greece and the Levant over the ancient matriarchal cultures, and visible in the West’s patriarchal religion from Judaism, its rationalist philosophy from Greece, its objectivist science from modern Europe. All of these have served the cause of evolving the autonomous human will and intellect: the transcendent self, the independent individual ego, the self-determining human being in its uniqueness, separateness, and freedom. But to do this, the masculine mind has repressed the feminine. Whether one sees this in the ancient Greek subjugation and revision of the pre-Hellenic matrifocal mythologies, in the Judaeo-Christian denial of the Great Mother Goddess, or in the Enlightenment’s exalting of the coolly self-aware rational ego radically separate from a disenchanted external nature, the evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine– on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciousness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all-pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman–of all that which the masculine has projectively identified as “other.”
But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost–especially after the masculine heroic quest has been pressed to its utmost one-sided extreme in the consciousness of the late modern mind, which in its absolute isolation has appropriated to itself all conscious intelligence in the universe (man alone is a conscious intelligent being, the cosmos is blind and mechanistic, God is dead). Then man faces the existential crisis of being a solitary and mortal conscious ego thrown into an ultimately meaningless and unknowable universe. And he faces the psychological and biological crisis of living in a world that has come to be shaped in such a way that it precisely matches his world view–i.e., in a man-made environment that is increasingly mechanistic, atomized, soulless, and self-destructive. The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis, and I believe that its resolution is already now occurring in the tremendous emergence of the feminine in our culture: visible not only in the rise of feminism, the growing empowerment of women, and the widespread opening up to feminine values by both men and women, and not only in the rapid burgeoning of women’s scholarship and gender-sensitive perspectives in virtually every intellectual discipline, but also in the increasing sense of unity with the planet and all forms of nature on it, in the increasing awareness of the ecological and the growing reaction against political and corporate policies supporting the domination and exploitation of the environment, in the growing embrace of the human community, in the accelerating collapse of long-standing political and ideological barriers separating the world’s peoples, in the deepening recognition of the value and necessity of partnership, pluralism, and the interplay of many perspectives. It is visible also in the widespread urge to reconnect with the body, the emotions, the unconscious, the imagination and intuition, in the new concern with the mystery of childbirth and the dignity of the maternal, in the growing recognition of an immanent intelligence in nature, in the broad popularity of the Gaia hypothesis. It can be seen in the increasing appreciation of indigenous and archaic cultural perspectives such as the Native American, African, and ancient European, in the new awareness of feminine perspectives of the divine, in the archaeological recovery of the Goddess tradition and the contemporary reemergence of Goddess worship, in the rise of Sophianic Judaeo-Christian theology and the papal declaration of the Assumptio Mariae, in the widely noted spontaneous upsurge of feminine archetypal phenomena in individual dreams and psychotherapy. And it is evident as well in the great wave of interest in the mythological perspective, in esoteric disciplines, in Eastern mysticism, in shamanism, in archetypal and transpersonal psychology, in hermeneutics and other non-objectivist epistemologies, in scientific theories of the holonomic universe, morphogenetic fields, dissipative structures, chaos theory, systems theory, the ecology of mind, the participatory universe–the list could go on and on. As Jung prophesied, an epochal shift is taking place in the contemporary psyche, a reconciliation between the two great polarities, a union of opposites: a hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the long-dominant but now alienated masculine and the long-suppressed but now ascending feminine.
And this dramatic development is not just a compensation, not just a return of the repressed, as I believe this has all along been the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution. For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West’s masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation.
But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. This is where the real act of heroism is going to be. A threshold must now be crossed, a threshold demanding a courageous act of faith, of imagination, of trust in a larger and more complex reality; a threshold, moreover, demanding an act of unflinching self-discernment. And this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness, to own its unconscious shadow, to choose to enter into a fundamentally new relationship of mutuality with the feminine in all its forms. The feminine then becomes not that which must be controlled, denied, and exploited, but rather fully acknowledged, respected, and responded to for itself. It is recognized: not the objectified “other,” but rather source, goal, and immanent presence.
This is the great challenge, yet I believe it is one the Western mind has been slowly preparing itself to meet for its entire existence. I believe that the West’s restless inner development and incessantly innovative masculine ordering of reality has been gradually leading, in an immensely long dialectical movement, toward a reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many-leveled marriage of the masculine and feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. And I consider that much of the conflict and confusion of our own era reflects the fact that this evolutionary drama may now be reaching its climactic stages. For our time is struggling to bring forth something fundamentally new in human history: We seem to be witnessing, suffering, the birth labor of a new reality, a new form of human existence, a “child” that would be the fruit of this great archetypal marriage, and that would bear within itself all its antecedents in a new form. I therefore would affirm those indispensable ideals expressed by the supporters of feminist, ecological, archaic, and other countercultural and multicultural perspectives. But I would also wish to affirm those who have valued and sustained the central Western tradition, for I believe that this tradition–the entire trajectory from the Greek epic poets and Hebrew prophets on, the long intellectual and spiritual struggle from Socrates and Plato and Paul and Augustine to Galileo and Descartes and Kant and Freud–that this stupendous Western project should be seen as a necessary and noble part of a great dialectic, and not simply rejected as an imperialist-chauvinist plot. Not only has this tradition achieved that fundamental differentiation and autonomy of the human which alone could allow the possibility of such a larger synthesis, it has also painstakingly prepared the way for its own self-transcendence. Moreover, this tradition possesses resources, left behind and cut off by its own Promethean advance, that we have scarcely begun to integrate–and that, paradoxically, only the opening to the feminine will enable us to integrate. Each perspective, masculine and feminine, is here both affirmed and transcended, recognized as part of a larger whole; for each polarity requires the other for its fulfillment. And their synthesis leads to something beyond itself: It brings an unexpected opening to a larger reality that cannot be grasped before it arrives, because this new reality is itself a creative act.
But why has the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition suddenly become so apparent to us today, while it remained so invisible to almost every previous generation? I believe this is occurring only now because, as Hegel suggested, a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize its own significance, until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death.
Today we are experiencing something that looks very much like the death of modern man, indeed that looks very much like the death of Western man. Perhaps the end of “man” himself is at hand. But man is not a goal. Man is something that must be overcome–and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine.
New York: Random House, 1991
©1991 Richard Tarnas