Illuminating the Anthropocene: Gebser and Jung in the Time Between Times
“If the project [of modernization] has become impossible, it’s because there is no Earth capable of containing its ideal
of progress, emancipation, and development.” – Bruno Latour, Down to Earth 1
“We need more understanding of human nature, because the only danger that exists is man himself — he is the great
danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man — far too little.” — C.G. Jung interview on
BBC’s Face to Face, October 22, 1959.
“If we do not overcome the crisis it will overcome us.” – Jean Gebser 2
This essay situates Swiss poet and phenomenologist of consciousness Jean Gebser (1905-1973) and Swiss psychoanalyst C.G. Jung (1875-1961) as key scholars illuminating the present civilizational crisis. Historical contemporaries and colleagues at the Eranos Lectures, both Gebser and Jung present us with, at times, a largely concordant diagnosis of our planetary predicament.
With Jung’s visionary component—both through The Red Book and his late-in-life visions of a planetary catastrophe—and Gebser’s echoing warnings of a civilizational collapse, this essay will consider the insights of these scholars in the “dark” light of the Anthropocene. There is the possibility that we do face an end to things. Yet we must ask: what is ending, and by its ending, what
is beginning? We hope that it is not the extinction of our species, let alone something on the scale of the Permian-triassic Extinction 250 million years ago. Disheartening climate reports continue to describe an accelerated, even exponential turn of events that potentially spell out not only an end (read: hard stop) to global capitalism and our lifeworld, but the existential dissolution of the structure of consciousness that wrought it. It is what Gebser calls a “pivotal juncture,” of “decisive finality,” not only of the human species, but also for “life on earth.” This ntological re-wiring contains the possibility for transformation; in dissolution, solution. In the midst of crisis, we can, as C.G. Jung urges us, see through ourselves.
This civilizational crisis is equal parts ecological evolution, offering an opportunity to release us from the stasis of the perspectival world—a world already over!—and begin to glean
insight from what Jem Bendell has called “deep adaptation.” This is a move from the perspectival abstraction of the industrial, resource-laden Globe to Bruno Latour’s “Terrestrial,” or Donna Haraway’s playful “Cthulucene”; the shared “sympoiesis” of human and non-human entities. This new yet ever-present aperspectival world has always been beneath our feet, and it offers us a pathway between worlds. It is very good with helping us understand what Gloria Anzaldua calls nepantla, the “in-between” spaces, but it also speaks to this unbearable yet lived interim which we now inhabit: a time between times. The essay will close with a contemplation on the ontology of the future, for if any tomorrow is to be realized it is of integral necessity that we tend to the images of it: where the deep history of consciousness is presentiated, the psyche, hyper-illuminated, is wared, and the future attuned in the present.
1 Latour, Bruno. Down To Earth.
2 Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin, p. XXVII.