TAO AND THE APERSPECTIVAL WORLD
For Cultural Studies Conference
At University of Oklahoma
California State University
Carson CA 90747
1. The Mutative Stage of the Western World
The world, the Western World in particular, has been in an elusive transition today. Not Heraclitean "panta rhee" (all in flux), but the stability of the world order has long been totally lost and the well established hierarchy of traditional values has been radically challenged and now generally denied. Instead, therefore, relativism in the form of egoistic individualism is rampant.
Erupted, too, is, so it seems, the philosophical horizon in which we understand the meaning of being or, if you prefer, you may call it the paradigm of the cosmic structure.
The world appears chaotic and totally meaningless to the person of keen awareness who lives in it. In such a state the student of history may well attest that the world is in basic transformation . It is not easy, however, to discern if the world is in another mere transitional period as before or if it is indeed in the unique, unreversible process toward the finale of Western civilization.
Conspicuously visible are many signs of utter directionlessness, self destructive surges, hopelessly helpless decaying of the traditional structures and forms of life. From the Renaissance till the middle of the 19th century, all human endeavors in Western civilization such as natural sciences, visual arts, architecture, music, literature, religion and philosophy in their own genres of creativity appeared to have made linear upward moving, uninterrupted successful progress. However, today without exception, all of them have been experiencing an upheaval, a bottomless confusion and a radical metamorphosis.
At the same time the attentive student of cultural studies cannot help but witness everywhere many clear indications of the rising tide of the new world and its "order"(This "order" appears as a chaos from the perspectival point of view, which shall be discussed later). We attest it in the new open, nonnrigid, integrating philosophical visions, in the radically different principles from those of19th century which underlie the current "Kunstwollen" in visual arts and architecture, in the no longer avant garde or experimental systems of music making, in the new thrusts into reality in poetry and literature, in innumerable revolutionary transmutations in the sciences and technologies.
Together with Hegel, Spengler, Croce and Toymbee, Jean Gebser is definitely one of the greatest scholars of historical studies of culture in Western civilization (although the four other than Hegel claimed that it be possible to have without bias a total vision of the world history and to write it with a consistent principle ).
Gebser exerted himself with disclosing this latter newly sprouting world as "the aperspectival world" while characterizing the former self-aborting world as "the perspectival world."
Gebser ambitiously attempted to envision a world history as the process of development through the three mutative stages, the stage of the non-perspectival world, that of the perspectival world and that of the aperspectival world, and the non-perspectival world was further supposed to go through three phases, the archaic, the magical and the mythical phases. These stages prior to the aperspectival world have their own principles and structures with the attributes unique to these stages, which shaped their own realities with cultures.
Gebser held that by explicating these principles and their structures we should be in a position to reveal through their mutations not only the arrival of the new world, but also its fundamental features as the integration of those principles, which would promise to overcome the crises of and bring forth a new rebirth of the current Western civilization.
This courageous venture by Gebser is rather Eurocentric, although with the superhuman wealth of his knowledge about the rest of the world civilizations Gebser exerted himself to overcome this limitation in his visionary scholarship.
Jean Gebser's endeavor to comprehend and incorporate the wisdom of Far Eastern civilization is noble and well intended indeed, and yet his understanding is needless to say necessarily limited (by construing Chuang Tzu's thought as a mere expression of the archaic structure, for example).
Thus Gebser seems to have been short of noticing many incredulous implications of Taoistic philosophy in the revelation of what Gebser wants to disclose as the aperspectival world. Or even if he did so in fact, he apparently failed to show it.
Therefore it is our aim to demonstrate that the world of Lao Tzu and Chaung Tzu according to our new interpretation will better help us to envision Gebser's "aperspective world". It does so better in the sense that it will disclose the need and the way of a "phenomenological epochee", i.e., the shift of our attitude, which enables us to open up to that aperspectival world. It will further reveal the being and the ground of the aperspectival world, too, will become apparent. By so doing, at the same time, we shall hopefully exercise a radical criticism on Gebser's method, his formation of the problems, and his approach.
II. European Ego In The Perspectival World
The quite unique and inspiring explication by Gebser may be found more in his analysis and disposition of the perspectival world. Not only in itself it is of great significance, but also Gebser reveals a novel understanding of the perspective and the spacial reality in order to have us gain a better insight into what the aperspectival world is all about. And yet, just as this is one of the premisses for the aperspectival world, the preceding three (archaic, magic, mythical) structures are almost equally relevant to the aperspectival world since their underlying principles, too, its constituent moments.
According to Jean Gebser, in the process of mutation in the consciousness structure from 1) the archaic, 2) the magic, 3) the mythical, 4) the mental (perspectival) to the 5) integral (aperspectival), their space-time relations which are most easily illustrative may be observed as follows:
1) zero-dimensional: non-perspectival prespacialpretemporal
2) one-dimensional: pre-perspectival spaceless-timeless
3) two dimensional: unperspectival spaceless-
4) three dimensional: perspectival spacial-
5) four dimensional: aperspectival space free-time free
Though through these five structures apparently obvious, they appears to constitute a "progress" or "evolution" in the sense of the mutational process from the lower to the higher, from the simple to the more complex, which, however, Gebser explicitly rejects. According to Gebser, this should be a transformation of the structures of consciousness.
And yet somewhat Hegelian characters of the "later' stage contain ("aufheben") the "earlier" stages as their essential elements as either being deficient or efficient. This shall be discussed later.
We shall now direct our attention to Gebser's conception of "the perspectival world."
Gebser shares with many of his predecessors as well as his contemporaries (even such philosophers as Husserl and Dilthey) the common and prevailing assumption that European Reason ( ÷ beginning to be awakened in Ancient Greek, is essential to the development of European culture, particular that of the Renaissance and post-Renaissance conscious structure and its world in its fully awakened state.
The period prior to the awakening to the mental (perspective in European culture) structure of consciousness, the human ego or self generally was not yet explicitly aware of oneself as a self-conscious individual. The human consciousness structure finds its ontic meaning rather in solidarity with the community and thus solely being a member of the integrated group (e.g. as a citizen of a city state ), where no individual had the meaning of one's own being in and by oneself .
When the Greek philosophers wondered about the " ¹