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The Ever-Present Origin

The Ever-Present Origin

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Published by John Michael

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Published by: John Michael on Apr 19, 2009
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THE PRIMORDIAL LEAP AND THE PRESENT: THE EVER-PRESENT ORIGIN - ANOVERVIEW OF THE WORK OF JEAN GEBSER by Ed Mahood, jr.
Opening remarks
The German author Jean Paul Ricther once wrote, "What has puzzled us before seem less mysterious,and the crooked paths look straighter as we approach the end." This seems a fitting motto for our investigations into one of the least understood areas of human knowledge: consciousness. There has been a great wave of interest in this area in recent years, but it is clear that as much as has beenaccomplished all the more there is yet to do.Before anything else, we need to come terms with the word itself, not in any final sense, but as a firstapproach to the matter. What is consciousness? Is it our emotions, our intelligence? Is is equivalent tothe term 'mind' or 'spirit' or 'gnosis'? Does it have anything in common with these terms? Is it a separateand distinct phenomenon or is it embedded in nature and experience (whatever these may be)? Whenwe discover what it is, will we really recognize it? The choice of starting point will seriously impactwhere we arrive in the end.Our purpose here is to become acquainted with Jean Gebser's seminal work,
The Ever- Present Origin
[1]. To this end, it would be helpful at the onset to gain a little background on Gebser's life and work,which, in turn, should help us overcome the intellectual inertia present is such a task. This brief paper,then, is comprised of several parts: first, a quick biographical sketch of the author; second, a summaryintroduction to the work, focusing on Gebser's approach, third a closer look at each of the structures inexemplary detail; fourth the introduction of two key notions for understanding Gebser's work, systasisand synairesis; then, finally, a brief summary.
Biographical background
Jean Gebser was born August 20, 1905 in the Prussian town of Poznan (which is now a part of Poland).His lineage dates back through an old Franconian family that had been domiciled in Thuringa since1236. His uncle was the German Chancellor von Bethmann- Hollweg and on his mother's side he was adescendent of Luther's friend Melanchthon. He came into this world at an auspicious time to be sure.Five years earlier, Freud had published his groundbreaking work,
The Interpretation of Dreams
, thatwas to form the foundations of psychoanalysis and change the course of the study of psychology. In thevery year of his birth, Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity that was to have asignificant impact on Gebser's thinking as well as on the world of science as a whole. Max Planck, thegreat German physicist was promulgating his quantum theory; and Edmund Husserl, a then unknownAustrian philosopher, published his
 Logical Investigations
which were to become the foundation of oneof the most influential schools of philosophic thought in the 20th century, namely phenomenology. Thiswas also a time of a great occult revival as well, for the primary rosicrucian organizations that are stilloperating in the United States, for example, were incorporated around this time as well.
 
Gebser's father was a lawyer of some renown; his mother a whimsical, self-seeking beauty many yearsyounger than her husband. He grew up, then, in an educated and cultured environment. Difficulties between his parents drove him inward and he instinctively turned toward literature as his medium of discovery; this was especially true after his father's death in 1922. Being forced to interrupt his studiesupon his father's death, he spent two years in an apprenticeship in a bank, a task that he dislikedseverely. A year after beginning this training, however, he and a friend started at literary magazinecalled the
 Fischzug 
, where his first poems were published. In Berlin at the time, and at least a part-timestudent, he listened to many of the renowned faculty teaching at the university there. Among these wasthe Catholic philosopher Romano Guardini whose depth of knowledge and spirituality left an indelibleimpression upon Gebser. During this time he also discovered the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke whichhad a tremendous impact on his thinking. It was during his Berlin years, however, that he firstconfronted suicidal despair and the realization that he must venture out into the world in order to findhimself. The appearance of the first Brown Shirts in Munich provided him with the reason he needed toleave Germany.The first stop on his journey was Florence, where he worked for a while in a second-hand bookstore. Itwas here that he came to the realization that all the books he read had never taught him how to live,hence he began a more active quest toward fulfillment. He tried Germany again, but bade it a finalfarewell in the Spring of 1931, first going to Paris and then on to Southern France. It was here that hechanged his German first name "Hans" to the French "Jean." Following the footsteps of Rilke, Gebser moved to Spain. He managed to learn the language and obtain a position in the Ministry of Education,in fact, and made friends with many prominent Spaniards, among them Federico Garcia Lorca. Gebser also published a volume of translations of some of these newer Spanish poets. It was in Spain thatGebser first conceived of the ideas that would later take form in his works,
 Decline and Participation
and, of course,
The Ever-Present Origin
. Shortly before his home in Madrid was bombed in 1936, hemanaged to flee from Spain. Gebser settled in Paris and made the acquaintances of many of the notableFrench artists and intelligentsia of the day, including Pablo Picasso. He was involved in writing andliterature for the most part, translating Hölderlin's poetry into Spanish and some of his Spanish friends' political essays into German; he also produced some of his more minor works. Two hours before theGermans sealed off the borders to France, Gebser again managed to flee, this time to Switzerland,where he would reside from then on. These years were the most productive for Gebser, although lifestill was not easy for him. He supported himself by freelance writing for the most part, but it was inBasel that he befriended Carl Gustav Jung, at whose institute he also taught for many years. In1949/1950, his efforts culminated in the publishing of 
The Ever-Present Origin
, his most profoundstatement regarding the unfoldment of consciousness in man. Throughout all of Gebser's writings wefind him wrestling with this subject, trying to find real answers to the important questions in life, suchas "Who am I?," "Where do I come from?" and "Where am I going?" This work is an answer to allthese questions on behalf of us all. During the remainder of his life, Gebser taught, traveled, wrote andlectured. Each subsequent publication elucidated and illuminated various aspects of his mostfundamental theme, the evolution of consciousness. He had come into his own and enjoyed a certain,yet modest, renown for his work. On May 14, 1973, Jean Gebser passed through transition, asFeuerstein describes it, "as his death mask bears witness, with a soft and knowing smile."[2]
The approach
Ancient mythology informs us that the destruction of worlds is accompanied by catastrophiccircumstances. Wherever we look today we see evidence of impending catastrophe. Would it be wise to
 
deduce quickly then that our world is coming to an end? Maybe, maybe not. We definitely know thatsomething significant is impending. Many of us feel it, we intuit it; and we are seeking confirmation for this working hypothesis. But where can we find it?Certain support for this notion of earth-shattering change can be found in the works of Jean Gebser, soit is here that I should like to devote our attention in this presentation. Gebser is not a psychologist,economist, or scientist, in a more narrow sense, but is perhaps best characterized by the concept of 
 Kulturphilosoph
, a German term that literally means "cultural philosopher." A student of literature, poetry, psychology and science, Gebser brings a unique combination of talents to bear upon the subjectof his investigation: the unfoldment of consciousness. By better understanding the forces that are atwork and our own role in this process, we can better hope to rise to the challenges that confront us sothat our world truly becomes "the best of all possible worlds." The fundamental premise of Gebser'swork is that we are on the threshold of a new structure of consciousness. Overall, Gebser describes four mutations, or evolutional surges, of consciousness that have occurred in the history of man. Thesemutations are not just changes of perspective, they are not simple paradigm shifts (although the wordsimple may seem inappropriate at this point); rather they are fundamentally different ways of experiencing reality. These four mutations reflect five separate eras of development that are not distinctand isolated from one another but are, instead, interconnected such that all previous stages are found insubsequent ones. Each of these stages is associated with a dimensionality, beginning with the geometricorigin of zero and progressing to the fourth, the transition which we are experiencing at this time.Gebser identifies these five phases as the Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, and Integral stagesrespectively.Another key element of Gebser's theory encompasses two fundamental concepts: latency andtransparency. The former deals with what is concealed; as Gebser describes it, latency is thedemonstrable presence of the future.[3] In this manner the seeds of all subsequent phases of evolutionare contained in the current one. It is on the basis of this aspect that integration takes place. The secondterm transparency deals with what is revealed. According to Gebser, transparency (diaphaneity) is theform of manifestation (epiphany) of the spiritual.[4] This is perhaps the most important statement hemakes. The origin, the source from which all springs, is a spiritual one, and all phases of consciousnessevolution are a testimony to the ever less latent and ever more transparent spirituality that is inherent inall that is. Without a recognition of this fundamental and pivotal idea, Gebser cannot be understood andwe will not be able to understand ourselves. It is not just an intellectual development that is beingdescribed in his theory, rather it is the ever more apparent manifestation of the spiritual that underliesand supports the concept of evolution itself. And finally, one further element must be mentioned. Themanifestation of these structures occurs in a quantum-like, discontinuous leap, not in a slowlydeveloping and changing framework as is postulated for Darwinian evolutionary theory, for example.There are overlaps in these structures in as far as different peoples and cultures may be manifestingdifferent structures at the same time, but a clear development can be recognized and it is to be expectedthat all cultures will eventually go through the same process.It would seem, then, that we are dealing with a kind of historical description of a linearly unfoldingschema, but this would be a grave misinterpretation of his thesis and it does injustice to his approach.At first blush it would appear that Gebser is approaching his subject as we would expect any historianto proceed, but it must be emphasized that Gebser's approach is quite deductive. We are presented at thevery beginning with the model; later we are taken step-by-step through the 'evidence' which he believessupports the claim. Consequently, we find a number of historical, archaeological, and philologicalarguments presented that are not necessarily in keeping with generally agreed-upon theories in thesedisciplines. At times, these appear quite creative but this is most often a result of reading Gebser in astrictly intellectual and analytical manner. This is not to say that he should be approached uncritically,

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