Utopia Banished. Thought of the Day 103.0

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In its essence, utopia has nothing to do with imagining an impossible ideal society; what characterizes utopia is literally the construction of a u-topic space, a space outside the existing parameters, the parameters of what appears to be “possible” in the existing social universe. The “utopian” gesture is the gesture that changes the coordinates of the possible. — (Slavoj Žižek- Iraq The Borrowed Kettle)

Here, Žižek discusses Leninist utopia, juxtaposing it with the current utopia of the end of utopia, the end of history. How propitious is the current anti-utopian aura for future political action? If society lies in impossibility, as Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) argued, the field of politics is also marked by the impossible. Failing to fabricate an ideological discourse and incapable of historicizing, psychoanalysis appears as “politically impotent” and unable to encumber the way for other ideological narratives to breed the expectation of making the impossible possible, by promising to cover the fissure of the real in socio-political relations. This means that psychoanalysis can interminably unveil the impossible, only for a recycling of ideologies (outside the psychoanalytic discourse) to attempt to veil it.

Juxtaposing the possibility of a “post-fantasmatic” or “less fantasmatic” politics accepts the irreducible ambiguity of democracy and thus fosters the prospect of a radical democratic project. Yet, such a conception is not uncomplicated, given that one cannot totally go beyond fantasy and still maintain one’s subjectivity (even when one traverses it, another fantasy eventually grows), precisely because fantasy is required for the coherence of the subject and the upholding of her desire. Furthermore, fantasy is either there or not; we cannot have “more” or “less” fantasy. Fantasy, in itself, is absolute and totalizing par excellence. It is the real and the symbolic that always make it “less fantasmatic”, as they impose a limit in its operation.

So, where does “perversion” fit within this frame? The encounter with the extra-ordinary is an encounter with the real that reveals the contradiction that lies at the heart of the political. Extra-ordinariness suggests the embodiment of the real within the socio-political milieu; this is where the extra-ordinary subject incarnates the impossible object. Nonetheless, it suggests a fantasmatic strategy of incorporating the real in the symbolic, as an alternative to the encircling of the real through sublimation. In sublimation we still have an (artistic) object standing for the object a, so the lack in the subject is still there, whereas in extra-ordinariness the subject occupies the locus of the object a, in an ephemeral eradication of his/her lack. Extra-ordinariness may not be a condition that subverts or transforms socio-political relations, yet it can have a certain political significance. Rather than a direct confrontation with the impossible, it suggests a fantasmatic embracing of the impossible in its inexpressible totality, which can be perceived as a utopian aspiration.

Following Žižek or Badiou’s contemporary views, the extra-ordinary gesture is not qualified as an authentic utopian act, because it does not traverse fantasy, it does not rewrite social conditions. It is well known that Žižek prioritizes the negativeness of the real in his rhetoric, something that outstrips any positive imaginary or symbolic reflection in his work. But this entails the risk of neglecting the equal importance of all three registers for subjectivity. The imaginary constitutes an essential motive force for any drastic action to take place, as long as the symbolic limit is not thwarted. It is also what keeps us humane and sustains our relation to the other.

It is possible to touch the real, through imaginary means, without becoming a post-human figure (such as Antigone, who remains the figurative conception of Žižek’s traversing of the fantasy). Fantasy (and, therefore, ideology) can be a source of optimism and motivation and it should not be bound exclusively to the static character of compensatory utopia, according to Bloch’s distinction. In as much as fantasy infuses the subject’s effort to grasp the impossible, recognizing it as such and not breeding the futile expectation of turning the impossible into possible (regaining the object, meeting happiness), the imaginary can form the pedestal for an anticipatory utopia.

The imaginary does not operate only as a force that disavows difference for the sake of an impossible unity and completeness. It also suggests an apparatus that soothes the realization of the symbolic fissure, breeding hope and fascination, that is to say, it stirs up emotional states that encircle the lack of the subject. Moreover, it must be noted that the object a, apart from real properties, also has an imaginary hypostasis, as it is screened in fantasies that cover lack. If our image’s coherence is an illusion, it is this illusion that motivates us as individual and social subjects and help us relate to each other.

The anti-imaginary undercurrent in psychoanalysis is also what accounts for renunciation of idealism in the democratic discourse. The point de capiton is not just a common point of reference; it is a master signifier, which means it constitutes an ideal par excellence. The master signifier relies on fantasy and imaginary certainty about its supreme status. The ideal embodied by the master is what motivates action, not only in politics, but also in sciences, and arts. Is there a democratic prospect for the prevalence of an ideal that does not promise impossible jouissance, but possible jouissance, without confining it to the phallus? Since it is possible to touch jouissance, but not to represent it, the encounter with jouissance could endorse an ideal of incompleteness, an ideal of confronting the limits of human experience vis-à-vis unutterable enjoyment.

We need an extra-ordinary utopianism to the extent that it provokes pre-fixed phallic and normative access to enjoyment. The extra-ordinary himself does not go so far as to demand another master signifier, but his act is sufficiently provocative in divulging the futility of the master’s imaginary superiority. However, the limits of the extra-ordinary utopian logic is that its fantasy of embodying the impossible never stops in its embodiment (precisely because it is still a fantasy), and instead it continues to make attempts to grasp it, without accepting that the impossible remains impossible.

An alternative utopia could probably maintain the fantasy of embodying the impossible, acknowledging it as such. So, any time fantasy collapses, violence does not emerge as a response, but we continue the effort to symbolically speculate and represent the impossible, precisely because in this effort resides hope that sustains our reason to live and desire. As some historians say, myths distort “truth”, yet we cannot live without them; myths can form the only tolerable approximation of “truth”. One should see them as “colourful” disguises of the achromous core of his/her existence, and the truth is we need more “colour”.

Why the Political needs the Pervert? Thought of the Day 102.1

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Thus perverts’ desire does not have the opportunity to be organized around finding a fantasmatic solution to the real of sexual difference. The classical scenario of Oedipal dynamics, with its share of lies, make believe, and sexual theories, is not accessible to them. This is why they will search desperately to access symbolic castration that could bring solace to their misery. — Judith Feher-Gurewich (Jean-Michel Rabaté – The Cambridge Companion to Lacan)

Nonetheless, it is contradictory to see the extra-ordinary’s goal as the reinsertion of castration, when in fact there is nothing in his perverse scenarios that incarcerates him in misery. It is more a fantasmatic solution to the deciphering of the enigma of sexual difference, precisely by veiling difference. The extra-ordinary wishes to maintain this veiling, in as much as his jouissance is derived this way. Even if the extra-ordinary efforts to infinitize jouissance are eventually sealed by castration, this is more a side effect of the “perverse” act. At the end, desire always reinscribes itself. Symbolic guilt is inserted in the extra-ordinary’s world through castration, not because the latter relieves him, but because his fantasy has failed. This failure is what creates the misery of the pervert, as in any other subject.

His main target is centred in filling the Other with jouissance. However, it is not something he produces, but more something he unlocks. The pervert unleashes a jouissance, already present in the Other, by eradicating the primacy of the phallic signifier and revealing the Other’s jouissance (the emptiness, the feminine). The neurotic’s anxiety concerns the preservation of desire through the duplication of castration, whereas the pervert’s anxiety emerges from the reverse condition. This is the question of how to extract jouissance from the object without it falling. He does not want to let the object fall, not for fear of castration, but because of the wish to retain jouissance. Inexorably, the nagging question of how to obstruct desire from returning to its initial place grips the pervert because, together with desire, the lack in the Other returns, restoring and maintaining his desiring status, instead of his enjoying status. Without doubt, these are fantasmatic relations that sustain “perverse” desire for jouissance and, at the same time, impose a safe distance from the horror of the Thing’s return.

Anxiety intervenes as the mediating term between desire and jouissance. The desiring subject seeks jouissance, but not in its pure form. Jouissance has to be related to the Other, to occupy a space within the Other of signification, to be put into words. This is what phallic jouissance, the jouissance of the idiot, aims at. The idiocy of it lies in its vain and limited character, since jouissance always fails signification and only a residue is left behind. The remainder is the object a, which perpetuates the desire of the subject. But the object is desired as absent. Coming too close to it, one finds this absence occupied by a real presence. In that case, the object has to fall, like the phallus in its exhausted stage, in order to maintain the desiring status of the subject. The moment desire returns, the object falls, or, better, the moment the object falls, desire returns.

While the subject is engaged in an impossible task (that of inscribing jouissance in the place of the Other) she draws closer to the object. The closer she gets, the more anxiety surfaces, alerting the subject about the presence of a real Other, a primitive pre- symbolic being. In the case of the pervert, things are somehow different. It is not so much the inscription of jouissance in the Other that troubles him, but more the erasure of desire from the field of the Other and its return to a state of unconstrained enjoyment. So, for the pervert, it is essential that the object maintains its potency, not in the service of desire but in the service of jouissance. The anxiety of the extra-ordinary becomes an erotic signal that calls the Other to abandon the locus of desire and indulge in jouissance. But, eventually, desire puts an end to it.

It is not the extra-ordinary that aims at castration, so that he lets loose some of his anxiety. As an integral part of sexual jouissance, the extra-ordinary does not want to give up anxiety, which is what the neurotic does with his symptom, in the reverse way. The Other’s anxiety, the exposition of its truth, requests the confinement of the jouissance operating in perversion. Castration has to be imposed because of the contaminating nature of the object’s jouissance. The more it maintains its omnipotent character, the more it threatens the Other’s consistency, as provided by desire. The extra-ordinary dramatizes the staging of castration. It is not an actual event, as the phallus does not belong to the order of the cosmic world. None the less, politics and power locate the phallus in the imaginary realm. Emblems of patriarchal power are handed from one authority figure to the next, propelling the replication of the same power mechanism and concealing the absence of the phallus.

The social and the political world needs the “pervert” in order to redefine and reinscribe the imaginary boundaries of its morality and, hence, since the patriarchal orientation of the majority is taken as a gnomon, enhance the existing moral code. This reflects the underlying imaginary dynamics of what social constructionism has long now described: the exception of the pervert makes the rule for the “normality” of the present moral, social, political, and cultural organization of the world. As long as the pervert remains outside of this world, the safety from the perilous obscenity and odiousness of real jouissance is ensured. Concomitantly, this is translated to further distance from desire and its permanent endurance, something that nourishes guilt, as was previously argued. As if guilt suggested a privileged moral state, power uses it as an essential demagogic tool, in order to secure its good and further vilify the “pervert”, who also experiences guilt for “betraying” desire, not in the sense of staying away from jouissance, but failing to fully consummate it.

Desire of the Pervert. Thought of the Day 102.0

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The subject’s lack is the cynosure of the analytic process. The psychoanalytic discourse places the object a, the marker of lack, in the dominant position. The analyst embroiders the transferential relationship with the analysand by centralizing the constitutive lack of the object as a precondition for desire, which brings the subject to the locus of the Other. As well as lack, the specular image that takes over it and marks its boundaries, that is, the ego, is the other focal point of analysis. The image has its borders; this is the frame of the mirror. Around the limits of the image is where anxiety will make its appearance as what signals the momentary disruption of all points of identification. The limits of the mirror are symbolized by Lacan’s “little diamond” (<>), the sign which indicates the relation between the subject and the object in the matheme of fantasy ($<>a). This relation is mediated by desire. The role of the specular image, functioning as a sort of filter, is to protect the subject from anxiety by covering lack, but also marking it. The reflection in the mirror functions like a window frame that demarcates the illusory world of recognition (imaginary) from what Lacan calls “stage” (symbolic reality). In this stage, we find the desire of the masochist and the sadist. The extra-ordinary and the ordinary subject stage their desire in the same arena, playing the same part, with diametrically different techniques.

The scenarios of “perverse” desire do not just linger in a fantasmatic frame (as happens with neurosis); the extra-ordinary cross the window, taking fantasy on stage, that is, acting it out in the symbolic. The vacillation between desire and jouissance is absent from the extra-ordinary, because he is certain about what he wants. Contrary to the neurotic, whose desire always remains in doubt (this is the desire of the Other), the pervert does not have the doubt, but the knowledge of what he desires. The enduring question of “what the Other wants from me” is absent; the “pervert” takes the game in his hands, he knows and applies the rules. The desire of the “pervert” is to be passively enjoyed by the Other, as it is best manifested in masochism. Lacan notes that the masochist is supposed to know how to enjoy the Other. The masochist is the one who gives the orders, the commands, the knowledge, to the Other, who has to tackle its limits. The masochist is aiming at the jouissance of the Other . . . the final term he is aiming at is anxiety of the Other.

Perverse Ideologies. Thought of the Day 100.0

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Žižek (Fantasy as a Political Category A Lacanian Approach) says,

What we are thus arguing is not simply that ideology permeates also the alleged extra-ideological strata of everyday life, but that this materialization of ideology in the external materiality renders visible inherent antagonisms that the explicit formulation of ideology cannot afford to acknowledge. It is as if an ideological edifice, in order to function “normally,” must obey a kind of “imp of perversity” and articulate its inherent antagonism in the externality of its material existence.

In this fashion, Žižek recognizes an element of perversity in all ideologies, as a prerequisite for their “normal” functioning. This is because all ideologies disguise lack and thus desire through disavowal. They know that lack is there, but at the same time they believe it is eliminated. There is an object that takes over lack, that is to say the Good each ideology endorses, through imaginary means. If we generalize Žižek’s suggestion, we can either see all ideological relations mediated by a perverse liaison or perversion as a condition that simply helps the subjects relate to each other, when signification fails and they are confronted with the everlasting question of sexual difference, the non-representable dimension. Ideology, then, is just one solution that makes use of the perverse strategy when dealing with Difference. In any case, it is not pathological and cannot be determined mainly by relying on the role of disavowal. Instead of père-vers (this is a Lacanian neologism that denotes the meanings of “perversion” and “vers le père”, referring to the search for jouissance that does not abolish the division of the subject, her desire. In this respect, the père-vers is typical of both neurosis and perversion, where the Name-of-the-Father is not foreclosed and thereby complete jouissance remains unobtainable sexuality, that searches not for absolute jouissance, but jouissance related to desire, the political question is more pertinent to the père-versus, so to say, anything that goes against the recognition of the desire of the Other. Any attempt to disguise lack for instrumental purposes is a père-versus tactic.

To the extent that this external materialization of ideology is subjected to fantasmatic processes, it divulges nothing more than the perversity that organizes all social and political relations far from the sexual pathology associated with the pervert. The Other of power, this fictional Other that any ideology fabricates, is the One who disavows the discontinuities of the normative chain of society. Expressed through the signifiers used by leadership, this Other knows very well the cul-de-sac of the fictional view of society as a unified body, but still believes that unity is possible, substantiating this ideal.

The ideological Other disregards the impossibility of bridging Difference; therefore, it meets the perversion that it wants to associate with the extra-ordinary. Disengaging it from pathology, disavowal can be stated differently, as a prompt that says: “let’s pretend!” Pretend as if a universal harmony, good, and unity are feasible. Symbolic Difference is replaced with imaginary difference, which nourishes antagonism and hostility by fictionalizing an external threat that jeopardizes the unity of the social body. Thus, fantasy of the obscene extra-ordinary, who offends the conformist norm, is in itself a perverse fantasy. The Other knows very well that the pervert constitutes no threat, but still requires his punishment, moral reformation, or treatment.

Žižek’s Dialectical Coincidentia Oppositorium. Thought of the 98.0

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Without doubt, the cogent interlacing of Lacanian theorization with Hegelianism manifests Žižek’s prowess in articulating a highly pertinent critique of ideology for our epoch, but whether this comes from a position of Marxist orthodoxy or a position of a Lacanian doctrinaire who monitors Marxist politics is an open question.

Through this Lacanian prism, Žižek sees subjectivity as fragmented and decentred, considering its subordinate status to the unsurpassable realm of the signifiers. The acquisition of a consummate identity dwells in impossibility, in as much as it is bound to desire, provoked by a lacuna which is impossible to fill up. Thus, for Žižek, socio-political relations evolve from states of lack, linguistic fluidity, and contingency. What temporarily arrests this fluid state of the subject’s slithering in the realm of the signifiers, giving rise to her self-identity, is what Lacan calls point de capiton. The term refers to certain fundamental “anchoring” points in the signifying chain where the signifier is tied to the signified, providing an illusionary stability in signification. Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) were the first to make use of the idea of the point de capiton in relation to hegemony and the formation of identities. In this context, ideology is conceptualized as a terrain of firm meanings, determined and comprised by numerous points de capiton (Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology).

The real is the central Lacanian concept that Žižek implements in his rhetoric. He associates the real with antagonism (e.g., class conflict) as the unsymbolizable and irreducible gap that lies in the heart of the socio-symbolic order and around which society is formed. As Žižek argues, “class struggle designates the very antagonism that prevents the objective (social) reality from constituting itself as a self-enclosed whole” (Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek-Gaze and Voice As Love Objects). This logic is indebted to Laclau and Mouffe, who were the first to postulate that social antagonism is what impedes the closure of society, marking thus its impossibility. Žižek expanded this view and associated antagonism with the notion of the real.

Functioning as a hegemonic fantasmatic veil, ideology covers the lacuna of the symbolic, in the form of a fantasy, so that it protracts desire and hence subjectivity. On the imaginary level, ideology functions as the “mirror” that reflects antagonisms, that is to say, the real unrepresentable kernel that undermines the political. Around this emptiness of representation, the fictional narrative of ideology, its meaning, is to unfurl. The role of socio-ideological fantasy is to provide consistency to the symbolic order by veiling its void, and to foster the illusion of a coherent social unity.

Nevertheless, fantasy has both unifying and disjunctive features, as its role is to fill the void of the symbolic, but also to circumscribe this void. According to Žižek, “the notion of fantasy offers an exemplary case of the dialectical coincidentia oppositorium”. On the one side, it provides a “hallucinatory realisation of desire” and on the other side, it evokes disturbing images about the Other’s jouissance to which the subject has no (symbolic or imaginary) access. In so reasoning, ideology promises unity and, at the same time, creates another fantasy, where the failure of acquiring the anticipated ideological unity is ascribed.

Pertaining to Jacques Derrida’s work Specters of Marx (Specters of Marx The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning; the New International), where the typical ontological conception of the living is seen to be incomplete and inseparable from the spectre, namely, a ghostly embodiment that haunts the living present (Derrida introduces the notion of hauntology to refer to this pseudo-material incarnation of the spirit that haunts and challenges ontological present), Žižek elaborates the spectral apparitions of the real in the politico–ideological domain. He makes a distinction between this “spectre” and “symbolic fiction”, that is, reality per se. Both have a common fantasmatic hypostasis, yet they perform antithetical functions. Symbolic fiction forecloses the real antagonism at the crux of reality, only to return as a spectre, as another fantasy.

Orgies of the Atheistic Materialism: Barthes Contra Sade. Drunken Risibility.

The language and style of Justine are inextricably tied to sexual pleasure. Sade makes it impossible for the reader to ignore this aspect of the text. Roland Barthes, whose essays in Sade, Fourier, Loyola describe the innovative language of each author, underscores the importance of pleasure when discussing the Sadian voyage:

If the Sadian novel is excluded from our literature, it is because in it novelistic peregrination is never a quest for the Unique (temporal essence, truth, happiness), but a repetition of pleasure; Sadian errancy is unseemly, not because it is vicious and criminal, but because it is dull and somehow insignificant, withdrawn from transcendency, void of term: it does not re­veal, does not transform, does not develop, does not edu­cate, does not sublimate, does not accomplish, recuperates nothing, save for the present itself, cut up, glittering, repeated; no patience, no experience; everything is carried immediately to the acme of knowledge, of power, of ejacula­tion; time does not arrange or derange it, it repeats, recalls, recommences, there is no scansion other than that which al­ternates the formation and the expenditure of sperm.

Barthes’s observation reflects La Mettrie’s influence on Sade, whose libertine characters parrot in both speech and action the philosopher’s view that the pursuit of pleasure is man’s raison d’être. Sexuality permeates a great many linguistic and stylistic features of Justine, for example, names of characters (onomastics), literal and figurative language, grammatical structures, cultural and class references, dramatic effects, repetition and exaggeration, and use of parody and caricature. Justine is traditionally the name of a female domestic (soubrette), connoting a person of the lower classes, who falls prey to promiscuous behavior. Near the beginning of Justine, Sade renames the heroine the moment she accepts employment at the home of the miserly Monsieur Du Harpin, surname evocative of Molière’s Harpagon. Sophie, the wise example of womanly Christian virtue in the first version, becomes Thérèse, the anti- philosophe in the second, who chooses to ignore the brutally realistic counsel of her libertine persecutors. Sade’s Thérèse recalls the heroine of Thérèse philosophe who, unlike his protagonist, profited from an erotic lifestyle.

Sade may manipulate language to enhance erotic description but he also relies upon his observation of everyday life and class division of the ancien régime to provide him with models for his libertine characters, their mores, and their lifestyles. In Justine, he presents a socio-cultural microcosm of France during the reign of Louis XV. The power brokers of Sade’s youth who, for the most part, enriched themselves in his Majesty’s wars by means of corruption and influence, resurface in print as Justine’s exploiters. The noblemen, the financiers, the legal and medical professionals, the clergymen, and the thieves-robber barons representative of each social class-sexually maneuver their subjects to establish control. While we learn what the classes of mid-eighteenth-century France ate, how they dressed, where they lived, we also witness the ongoing struggle between victim and victimizer, the former personified by Justine, an ordinary bourgeois individual who can never vanquish the tyrant who maintains authority through sexual prowess rather than through wealth.

Barthes tells us that Sade’s passion was not erotic but theatrical. The marquis’s infatuation with the theater was inspired early on by the lavish productions staged by the Jesuits during his three and a half years at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Later, his romantic dalliances with actresses and his own involvements in acting, writing, and production attest to his enormous attraction to the theater. In his libertine works, Sade incorporates theatricality, especially in his orgiastic scenes; in his own way, he creates the necessary horror and suspense to first seduce the reader and then to maintain his/her attention. Like a spectator in the audience, the reader observes well-rehearsed productions whose decor, script, and players have been predetermined, and where they are shown her various props in the form of “sadistic” paraphernalia.

Sade makes certain that the lesson given by her libertine victimizers following her forced participation in their orgies is not forgotten. Once again, Sade relies on man’s innate need for sexual pleasure to intellectualize the universe in a manner similar to his own. By using sexual desire as a ploy, Sade inculcates the atheistic materialism he so strongly proclaims into both an attentive Justine and reader. Justine cooperates with her depraved persecutors but refuses to adopt their way of thinking and thus continues to suffer at the hands of society’s exploiters. Sade, however, seizes the opportunity to convince his invisible readership that his concept of the universe is the right one. No matter how monotonous it may seem, repetition, whether in the form of licentious behavior or pseudo-philosophical diatribe, serves as a time-tested, powerful didactic tool.

Paradox of Phallocentrism. Thought of the Day 34.0

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The paradox of phallocentrism in aIl its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies. The function of woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is two-fold. She first symbolises the castration threat by her real absence of a penis, and second thereby raises her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, her meaning in the process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory which oscillates between memory of maternal plenitude and memory of lack. Both are posited on nature (or on anatomy in Freud’s famous phrase). Woman’s desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it. She turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis (the condition, she imagines, of entry into the symbolic). Either she must gracefully give way to the word, the Name of the Father and the Law, or else struggle to keep her child down with her in the half-light of the imaginary. Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.

Atlantis

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After the Lemurians had existed for ages as beings not very different from the mankind of later times, yet more spiritual than intellectual, a gradual division took place into two well-marked sections, the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. Selfish desire increased and the decline of the third race set in rapidly, but was not allowed to proceed too far. The law of progress prevented too great a downfall by the destruction of a large portion of the individuals through the breaking up of the Lemurian continent. Simultaneously with the decay of the third race civilizations, the beginnings of the new type of man, the fourth, began to appear, and new lands arose from the sea to take the place of the previous continent. Some of the islands of Polynesia are remains of some of the mountaintops of long-forgotten Lemuria, and the native traditions of a universal deluge, etc., greatly puzzled the early missionaries, who could not conceive how the ignorant savages, living in widely scattered islands, had obtained stories closely resembling those of the Creation and the Flood in the Bible. Australia and New Zealand are the largest parts of Lemuria now existing, but there are other portions, such as Ceylon or Lanka, which is a remnant of a northern highland of Lemuro-Atlantis, and the Polar lands, though the latter belong properly to the first and second continents.

Lemuria is said to have perished finally 700,000 years before the commencement of the Tertiary age of geology. The highest group of its inhabitants, the comparatively few “Sons of Light,” were not disturbed by the upheavals, for they had taken precautions and had moved away to safer regions; most of the small proportion of the average mankind that escaped centered towards land which is now under the waters of the North Atlantic. They formed the nucleus of the next root-race, the Atlantean, and from that land the coming great Atlantean civilization spread over the new continent that was rising. Nature never breaks the continuity of her processes, so no hard and fast line can be drawn as to when one race ends and another begins. For many thousands of years the first subrace of the fourth had been developing parallel with the culminating of the last subraces of the third, just as we see today a new subrace of our fifth root-race forming in America; so that the relic of mankind saved from destruction contained representatives in all degrees of advancement. It should be well remembered that it is not only mankind as a whole, but man as the individual ego, whose progress we are tracing. The races are the temporary vehicles of the larger life of the egos constituting them, and though they may perish when they have served their purpose, and before they have fallen too deeply into degradation, the immortal ego simply passes on to the next experience and will continue to do so until the succeeding manvantara or world period.

Atlantis gradually took form as Lemuria broke up under the turbulent disruptive forces of the adolescent period of earth’s growth, and as the portion of humanity which escaped the destruction spread afar, they peopled the newly risen lands and some of the old that were not submerged, with a race which subsequently touched the lowest depths of materiality that the world has seen. Since the Atlantean period man has been rising, though with many cyclic depressions, for the Atlantean civilization marked a turning point in the history of the Earth. Until then mankind was slowly descending into material conditions with a corresponding obscuration in spirituality. The Atlanteans stand as the apotheosis of matter, and it was in those far-distant days that the heaviest karma of the human race was generated, a karma which is holding us back from the advance we should otherwise make, and whose existence explains many of the difficulties and anomalies of life. Humanity reached its fullest physical development in the fourth race, the physical bodies themselves being much larger than at present. The old saying that “there were giants in those days,” was correct when applied to the Atlanteans. The curious decrease in the size of many organisms, which is so well marked in the case of the fearful saurians of the Secondary period — now represented by comparatively minute reptilian forms — also took place in the human kingdom; but as the practice of cremation was almost universal we are not likely to find many remains of gigantic human bones. Immense footprints have been found in the geologic strata of Nevada and Ohio, USA, which seem to be human, but geology has not definitely sanctioned the claim that they are so.

Legendary island of Atlantis.

The fourth race started under far less favorable conditions than the third, and towards its decline the story of Lemuria was repeated on lower levels; the same fight between the higher and lower natures within and without was waged, but more mercilessly; and as that was the age of passion and desire in excelsis and the eclipse of spirituality, the result was mainly in favor of the lower principles for a long time. But not forever, for, although the majority of the Atlanteans were not the descendants of the higher group of the third race, the “one third that remained faithful” fought such a good fight that they were enabled to escape before the Deluge from the lands that had been cursed by the evildoers, and to become the progenitors of the majority of our present humanity. The story of Noah’s Deluge is, in one of its aspects, a fanciful account of the great Atlantean submersion; but it also has deeper meanings, one of which allegorizes the primeval building of the world.

Full personal responsibility came to the man of the Atlantean period, and although the last or final choice between spiritual advancement on the one side, and materialism or personal aggrandizement on the other, “good and evil,” has not yet come for the mass of humanity, and will not until the next round, a long step in that direction was taken by the Atlanteans. But nature is merciful, and the world is not destined to perish ingloriously; so before the mischief had become irreparable, “the law that moves to righteousness” again arrested further degradation by giving a shock which allowed the egos to start anew with a fresh opportunity, upon new lands not soaked through with the evil memories of past sins. The majority of the Atlantean evildoers perished finally amid indescribable terrors, and the ocean soon obliterated all remains of that proud civilization which had misapplied greater powers than any with which we have since been entrusted. The last large destruction took place towards the close of the Meiocene age, when the Alps were upraised. Most of those then destroyed were of the giant race; but mankind was already diminishing in size, and when the final destruction of the few remaining islands upon which Atlanteans still existed took place, only about 11,000 years ago, men had long before assumed their present proportions. It was the latter destruction to which Plato refers when he handed on the tradition that the gods had caused the wicked Atlanteans to perish 9,000 years before his time. Airships of great perfection were used by the “White Adepts,” and the measures taken and the weapons spoken of illustrate a much deeper knowledge of natural forces — magic — than science has yet suspected, fortunately for us in this age of selfishness!

The fifth or Aryan race had started some time before the last destruction of Atlantis. Descended from the more spiritualized and better class of Atlanteans, a few had preserved the knowledge of their ancestors and were ready to revive it when the race demanded it. The institution of the Mysteries in all countries at a later period was an effort, and fortunately a successful one, to preserve the ancient wisdom from the profanation it had suffered in Atlantis. An example of the profound knowledge of the Atlanteans is shown in the astronomical computations of Indian astronomy, which are based upon a little that was permitted to escape from the guardianship of the Mysteries.

It was in Atlantis, too, that language took its inflectional form, after having passed from the stage of musical nature-sounds in the second race, to monosyllabic speech in the later third, and then to the agglutinative form in the fourth. Of course writing was well known to the fourth race, for during its long career it possessed civilizations higher than were those of Greece or Rome in their palmiest days, and even far higher than our own civilization today, though it may have been lost to the world at large during the period of confusion when the first subraces of the fifth were forming. The traces of writing in the “Stone Age ” (which belongs to our epoch) are not conclusive; and yet it is strange and entirely unexplained by modern science, that Palaeolithic man could draw animals upon antlers and cavern walls, etc., in a style that would not disgrace a good draughtsman of today, and which is certainly superior in accuracy to that of some of the Egyptian conventional representations of animals, or to the crude drawings of the famous Bayeux tapestry which was woven perhaps five hundred thousand years after the time of the supposed brutal “primitive” man — a savage that we are told was nearly on a level with his hypothetical ape-grandfather! Palaeolithic (ancient Stone Age) man was in reality carrying on some memories of the perished civilizations, as his artistic talent shows; the Neolithic (new Stone Age) man who followed him had lost this power, although he was improving in some other respects. The Palaeolithic drawings show no resemblance to the scrawls of children, but display concentrated observation and high technical skill — in other words, qualities of advanced civilization!

With this gradual break-up of the fourth race civilizations, which were varied and numerous, the dawn of what is known to science as the human period, begins. In actual years the distance is enormous from the first subrace of the fifth race to the present day, and what is generally supposed to be the whole history of man “does not go back. In the brief space at our disposal, only the most cursory reference can be made to the progress of humanity during the fifth race.

The destruction of the spiritually degraded Atlanteans gave a shock to the survivors which resulted in the sinking of material civilization for a long time over the main portion of the globe; we are not yet told exactly what proportion of the world kept some vestiges of the past greatness, but it cannot have been large. Anyway, the effect of the fresh start was good, for it provided conditions under which the later comparatively unsophisticated tribes could be helped by advanced souls who incarnated among them and taught them the elements of the arts and sciences. In every tradition that has come down to us from antiquity a Golden Age is spoken of — the “Garden of Eden” in the Bible — and, although in some cases this unmistakably refers to the first, second, and the early third races, when rudimentary mankind had not fallen into materiality, it may generally be taken to mean the dawn of the fifth when mankind was again comparatively pure and happy, and was guided by semi-divine kings, adepts of wisdom and compassion. In Egypt the traditions of many dynasties of gods and heroes were recorded by Manetho, and have actually come down to us, though the lists of names have been mutilated. While no doubt the details of the Greek, Hindu, Egyptian, Central American and Scandinavian cosmogonies and primitive histories of mankind are largely allegorical, their general agreement is not due to chance. By degrees the same old process of materializing came into action; and as the “family” races, or smaller divisions of the subraces, differentiated into the nations of the later ages, we arrive at “historic” and present times, with the numerous red, yellow, brown, black, and white representatives of the complex developments of the great evolutionary process of human expansion. Although we have descended into an age of moral and spiritual darkness (not intellectual), as compared with the Golden Ages it must not be forgotten that in the great journey of the soul from spiritual conditions through the material and back to a higher point, it is subject to a continual series of smaller cyclic ups and downs, and that even in the darkest time necessary experience is being gained. As we have long since passed the densest materiality of the fourth race, every step onwards is leading to higher conditions, and although the road seems to cross many a hill and descend into dark valleys, its general tendency is upwards all the time.

Astrobiological Traces Within the Secret Doctrine.

पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवाशिष्यते

pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāśiṣyate

‘From the Fullness of Brahman has come the fullness of the universe, leaving alone Fullness as the remainder.’

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमादाय पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवाशिष्यते
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ।

pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamādāya pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāśiṣyate
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ |

‘The invisible (Brahman) is the Full; the visible (the world) too is the Full. From the Full (Brahman), the Full (the visible) universe has come. The Full (Brahman) remains the same, even after the Full (the visible universe) has come out of the Full (Brahman).’

नित्योऽनित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानाम्
एको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान् ।
तमात्मस्थं योऽनुपश्यन्ति धीराः
तेषां शान्तिः शाश्वतं नेतरेषाम् ॥

nityo’nityānāṃ cetanaścetanānām
eko bahūnāṃ yo vidadhāti kāmān |
tamātmasthaṃ yo’nupaśyanti dhīrāḥ
teṣāṃ śāntiḥ śāśvataṃ netareṣām ||

‘He is the eternal in the midst of non-eternals, the principle of intelligence in all that are intelligent. He is One, yet fulfils the desires of many. Those wise men who perceive Him as existing within their own self, to them eternal peace, and non else.’

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The Secret Doctrine of the Ages teaches that the universe came into existence through creative and evolutionary processes; and it demonstrates why both are necessary to explain our origins. It harmonizes the truths of science and religion, while showing that major assumptions of both Darwinism and Fundamentalist Creationism do not bear up to careful examination. By drawing our attention to the questions of why we live and die, of what is mind and substance, the Secret Doctrine helps us realize that wisdom begins with understanding how very little we really know. Yet it also affirms that the most perplexing problems can be solved; that of the progeny of one cosmos.

Evolution means unfolding and progressive development, derived from the Latin evolutio: “unrolling,” specifically of a scroll or volume — suggestively connoting the serial expression of previously hidden ideas. A climb from the bottom of the Grand Canyon reveals an unmistakable evolutionary story: of the appearance of progressively more complex species over a lengthy period of time. But how actually did this happen? The compelling evidence of nature contradicts the week-long special creation postulated by Bible literalists. Darwinian theory is also proving unsatisfactory, as a growing number of scientists are relegating its major claims to the category of “mythology. “Though not assenting to any metaphysical implications, Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould declared in 1980 that the modern synthetic theory of evolution, “as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy.” Pierre-P. Grassé, former president of the French Academy of Sciences and editor of the 35-volume Traité de Zoologie, was more forceful:

Their success among certain biologists, philosophers, and sociologists notwithstanding, the explanatory doctrines of biological evolution do not stand up to an objective, in-depth criticism. They prove to be either in conflict with reality or else incapable of solving the major problems involved. Through the use and abuse of hidden postulates, of bold, often ill-founded extrapolations, a pseudoscience has been created. It is taking root in the very heart of biology and is leading astray many biochemists and biologists, who sincerely believe that the accuracy of fundamental concepts has been demonstrated, which is not the case.

While most critics readily acknowledge that natural selection and gene changes partially explain variation in species or microevolution, they point out that Darwinism has failed spectacularly to describe the origin of life and the mechanism of macroevolution: the manner in which higher types emerge.

Textbook theory asserts that life on earth began with the formation of DNA and RNA, the first self-replicating molecules, in a prebiotic soup rich in organic compounds, amino acids, and nucleotides. Robert Shapiro, professor of chemistry at New York University, wrote:

many scientists now believe that neither the atmosphere described nor the soup had ever existed. Laboratory efforts had also been made to prepare the magic molecule from a simulation of the soup, and thus far had failed.

Even if the purported soup existed elsewhere in the universe, and DNA were brought to earth by meteorite, comet, or some other means, there remains the enigma of how it was originally synthesized. Astrobiology.

In the first place, several mathematicians have shown the astronomical improbability of chance mutations “evolving” any organized system — neither complex DNA molecules nor higher organisms. The 10-20 billion year time frame presently assigned to our universe is far too short a period, given known mutation rates. Moreover, nothing in empirical experience suggests that unguided trial and error — i.e., random mutation — will produce anything but the most trivial ends. Research biologist Michael Denton writes that to “get a cell by chance would require at least one hundred functional proteins to appear simultaneously in one place” — the probability of which has been calculated at the negative figure 1 followed by 2,000 zeros — a staggeringly remote possibility, to say nothing of the lipids, polysaccharides, and nucleic acids also needed to form a viable, reproducing cell.

The same reasoning applies to the extraordinary number of coordinated, immediately useful mutations required to produce “organs of extreme perfection,” such as the mammalian brain, the human eye, and the sophisticated survival mechanisms (including inter-species symbiotic systems) of the plant and animal kingdoms. There is simply no justification, according to Denton, for assuming that blind physical forces will self-organize “in the finite time available the sorts of complex systems which are so ubiquitous in nature.” In observing the sheer elegance and ingenuity of nature’s purposeful designs, scientists like Denton can hardly resist the logic of analogy. The conclusion may have religious implications, he says, but the inference is clear: nature’s systems are the result of intelligent activity.

Another enigmatic problem is the absence in fossil strata of finely-graded transitional forms between major groups of species, i.e., between reptiles and birds, land mammals and whales, and so forth. Darwin himself recognized this as one of the “gravest” impediments to his theory and tried to defend it by asserting “imperfection of the geologic record.” Yet over a century of intensive search has failed to disclose the hypothetical missing links. Thus far only conjecture, or imagination, has been able to fill in how gills became lungs, scales became feathers, and legs became wings — for the record of nature on this point is still a secret.

Darwin also worried over one of nature’s most formidable barriers to macroevolutionary change: hybrid limits. Artificial breeding shows that extreme variations are usually sterile or weak. Left to themselves these hybrid varieties — if they are able to reproduce at all — revert to ancestral norms or eventually die out. In this sense, natural selection, environmental pressures, and genetic coding tend as much to weed out unusual novelties, as to ensure the survival of the fittest of each typea fact which is confirmed by the fossil record. Unquestionably, species adapt and change within natural limits; refinement occurs, too, as in flowering plants. But no one has yet artificially bred, genetically engineered, or observed in nature a series of chromosomal changes, micro or macro, resulting in a species of a higher genus. There are no “hopeful monsters,” except, perhaps, in a poetic sense. Trees remain trees, birds birds, and the problem of how higher types originate has not been solved by Darwin or his successors.

We do not give up our dogmas easily, scientific or religious. Obviously, ideas should be examined for their intrinsic value, not blindly accepted because somebody tells us “Science has proven” or the “Bible says so,” or again, because the Secret Doctrine teaches it. But with science’s recognized ignorance of first causes and macroevolutionary mechanisms, as well as the failure of scriptural literalism to provide satisfactory explanations, there remain the questions about our origins, purpose, and destiny. The answers to these questions are, in a sense, nature’s secret doctrines. Her evolutionary pattern suggests, however, that they are not hopelessly beyond knowing. Just as from the conception of a human embryo to a fully-developed adult, so from the first burst outward of the primordial cosmic atom, the progressive unfolding of intelligence is a natural and observable process. The whole universe seems bent on discovering itself and its reason for being.

The concept of the universe evolving for purposes of self-discovery and creative expression is found not only in modern European philosophy, such as Hegel’s, but also in ancient myths the world over, some of which sound surprisingly up-to-date. The Hindu Puranas, for example, speak of our universe as Brahma, and of alternating periods of cosmic activity and rest as the Days and Nights of Brahma, each of which spans over four billion years — an oscillating universe reminiscent of modern cosmological theory. In each “creation” Brahma attempts to fashion an ever-more perfected mankind, in the process of which he serially evolves from his own consciousness and root substance all of nature’s kingdoms: atoms, minerals, plants, animals, and so forth. Conversely, the stories allude also to the striving of mankind and, for that matter, of all sentient beings, to become Brahma-like in quality — i.e., to express more and more of the hidden mind pattern of the cosmos.

We often look down on ancient traditions as moldy superstitions. While this judgment may well apply to the rind of literalism and later accretions, concealed within and giving life to every religion are core ideas which bear the hallmark of insight. Biblical Genesis also, when read allegorically as is done in gnostic and kabbalistic schools, yields a picture of evolutionary growth and perfectibility, both testaments clearly implying that we are sibling gods of wondrous potential. But are the secret doctrines spoken of in these older traditions expressions of truth or simply romantic wish-fulfilling fantasy? Can they teach us anything relevant about our heritage and our future? It is to such questions that the modern book entitled The Secret Doctrine addresses itself. Impulsed by divinity and guided by karma (cause and effect), each of us has been periodically manifesting since eternity through all the kingdoms, from sub-mineral through human, earning our way to the next realm and beyond. Although seeded with godlike potential, we are not irrevocably fated to an unsought destiny. Karma is a philosophy of merit, and within our power is the capacity to choose — to evolve and create — our own future. We give life and active existence to our thoughts and, to a very large extent, we become what we think we are, or would like to be. This affects ourselves for good or evil, and it affects all others — profoundly so.

Theosophical Panpsychism

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Where does mind individually, and consciousness ultimately, originate? In the cosmos there is only one life, one consciousness, which masquerades under all the different forms of sentient beings. This one consciousness pierces up and down through all the states and planes of being and serves to uphold the memory, whether complete or incomplete, of each state’s experience. This suggests that our self-conscious mind is really a ray of cosmic mind. There is a mysterious vital life essence and force involved in the interaction of spirit or consciousness with matter. The cosmos has its memory and follows general pathways of formation based on previous existences, much as everything else does. Aided by memory, it somehow selects out of the infinite possibilities a new and improved imbodiment. When the first impulse emerges, we have cosmic ideation vibrating the first matter, manifesting in countless hierarchies of beings in endless gradations. Born of the one cosmic parent, monadic centers emerge as vital seeds of consciousness, as germs of its potential. They are little universes in the one universe.

Theosophy does not separate the world into organic and inorganic, for even the atoms are considered god-sparks. All beings are continuously their own creators and recorders, forming more perishable outer veils while retaining the indestructible thread-self that links all their various principles and monads through vast cycles of experience. We are monads or god-sparks currently evolving throughout the human stage. The deathless monad runs through all our imbodiments, for we have repeated many times the processes of birth and death. In fact, birth and death for most of humanity are more or less automatic, unconscious experiences as far as our everyday awareness is concerned. How do we think? We can start, for example, with desire which provides the impulse that causes the mind through will and imagination to project a stream of thoughts, which are living elemental beings. These thoughts take various forms which may result in different kinds of actions or creative results. This is another arena of responsibility, for in the astral light our thoughts circulate through other minds and affect them, but those that belong to us have our stamp and return to us again and again. So through these streams of thought we create habits of mind, which build our character and eventually our self-made destiny. The human mind is an ideator resonating with its past, selecting thoughts and making choices, anticipating and creating a pattern of unfolding. Perhaps we are reflecting in the small the operations of the divine mind which acts as the cosmic creator and architect. Some thoughts or patterns we create are limiting; others are liberating. The soul grows, and thoughts are reused and transformed by the mind, perhaps giving them a superior expression. Plato was right: with spiritual will and worthiness we can recollect the wisdom of the past and unlock the higher mind. We have the capacity of identifying with all beings, experiencing the oneness we share together in our spiritual consciousness, that continuous stream that is the indestructible thread-self. All that it was, is, or is becoming is our karma. Mind and memory are a permanent part of the reincarnating ego or human soul, and of the universe as well.

In the cosmos there are many physical, psychic, mental, and spiritual fields — self-organizing, whole, living systems. Every such field is holographic in that it contains the characteristics of every other field within itself. Rupert Sheldrake’s concepts of morphic fields and morphic resonance, for instance, are in many ways similar to some phenomena attributed to the astral light. All terrestrial entities can be considered fields belonging to our living earth, Gaia, and forming part of her constitution. The higher akasic fields resonate with every part of nature. Various happenings within the earth’s astral light are said to result in physical effects which include all natural and human phenomena, ranging from epidemics and earthquakes to wars and weather patterns. Gaia, again, is part of the fields which form the solar being and its constitution, and so on throughout the cosmos.

Like the earth, human beings each have auric fields and an astral body. The fifty trillion cells in our body, as well as the tissues and organs they form, each have their own identity and memory. Our mental and emotional fields influence every cell and atom of our being for better or worse. How we think and act affects not only humanity but Gaia as well through the astral light, the action of which is guided by active creative intelligences. For example, the automatic action of divine beings restores harmony, balancing the inner with the outer throughout nature.