Demise of Mental-Rational Ontology

Romuald Hazoumè (Benin), Twin Airbags, 2004

It never ceases to amaze to me to see how connections in this world are made, how, in the words of Michael McClure: “We swirl out what we are and watch what returns.” Case in point, a lodger coming to the Subud House in October for a conference. (I am rental agent for the Subud House/Spring Street Center and we get some interesting people staying with us.) In addition to helping run the conference, they also say they are an “experimental writer.” Am going to let the name and gender be anonymous for now. This writer sends information on the conference:

For Jean Gebser, philosophy is rooted in a structure of consciousness that has dominated the west for the past two and a half thousand years. It is an expression of what he terms the ‘mental-rational ontology’, which according to him has been shifting into its deficient phase or ‘fragmentation’ for the past five hundred years.

What are the implications for philosophy’s future? Alfred North Whitehead said, “It is the business of the future to be dangerous”. Part of the current philosophical task is our ability to see our own place in history, be aware of the nature of our perspective. Are we imprisoned by the invisible measures of the Western mental/rational perspective? Or can we give categories a radical new flexibility? Do we have the ability to think in another dimension about ourselves beyond the realm of logos?

That the Whitehead quote would be used here was another bit of synchronicity. McClure has used this quote and I learned it from McClure’s writing. That this lodger would be doing research on Charles Olson and come to some of my essays on Olson was another wrinkle. That Olson used of Whitehead as a source for his own poetry and poetics was a little more synchronicity or at least increased the likelihood that the organizer and I would eventually connect. (Olson wrote about the problem in western culture of logos being dominant over muthos, a word which he preferred because it refers to mythos yet has an etymology suggesting it also pertains to “mouth”.) That Olson essentially began to see poetics and cosmology as synonymous is also critical to think about here for our condition/situation at the end of the mental/rational model and when addressing its shortcomings, lending more depth to this emerging dialog and train of thought for me.

I had to follow that train, so emailed the co-organizer and the next day, had a chat, asking the question: “Do you see identity politics and identity poetics as a manifestation of the mental/rational perspective?” “Oh yes” they said. I knew it. So limited in its perspective. Take in point the very welcome Black Lives Matter movement and its call for a Basic Guaranteed Universal Income… but only for Americans of African descent. Did they not read their Martin Luther King Chaos or Community: Where Do We Go From Here? Apparently not. A class movement is not their focus. This writer and conference co-organizer agreed that the literary community is splitting along racial lines and their background was not in favor anymore, regardless of the content, which does not come across to me like the “content of their character” standard King envisioned.

And the thread continues to manifest by itself with something from a year ago Sam Hamill linked to on Facebook today:

Quotes from Berry:

The disease of the modern character is specialization. Looked at from the standpoint of the social system, the aim of specialization may seem desirable enough. The aim is to see that the responsibilities of government, law, medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, etc., are given into the hands of the most skilled, best prepared people…

The beneficiary of this regime of specialists ought to be the happiest of mortals – or so we are expected to believe. All of his vital concerns are in the hands of certified experts. He is a certified expert himself and as such he earns more money in a year than all his great-grandparents put together…

The fact is, however, that this is probably the most unhappy average citizen in the history of the world. He has not the power to provide himself with anything but money, and his money is inflating like a balloon and drifting away, subject to historical circumstances and the power of other people. From morning to night he does not touch anything that he has produced himself, in which he can take pride. For all his leisure and recreation, he feels bad, he looks bad, he is overweight, his health is poor. His air, water, and food are all known to contain poisons. There is a fair chance that he will die of suffocation. He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage.

It’s a very clear indictment of what the mental/rational perspective leads to and to me explains the popularity of neoliberalism, materialism, the support by Democrats of Hillary Clinton as their standard-bearer and a few other things. What is most important, however, is that understanding this stance-toward-reality (a phrase Olson used in Projective Verse and directly relevant to what I’m arguing here)  validates someone who has long seen the limitations of Newtonian/Cartesian paradigm Mental/Rational model &c.) and who works to establish a more holistic and sustainable model. As for the art side of things, Identity Poetics, when not transcended by the practitioner, is a trap and a huge limitation and work produced that is limited by any such lenses, work that does not transcend that, won’t stand the test of time. Stick to your gut I want to tell this writer/conference organizer, because we need people like you to stand up and while rejecting all the worst facets of the mental/rational perspective, we need help in building that REAL community that replaces it, because there is no question it is going down.

About Splabman

SPLAB and Cascadia Poetry Festival founder Paul E Nelson wrote American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), Organic Poetry (VDM Verlag, Germany, 2008), a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, Washington, A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme, Brazil, 2013). Founder of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, in 26 years of radio he interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Brenda Hillman, George Bowering, Joanne Kyger, Jerome Rothenberg & others, including many Cascadia poets. He lives in Seattle and writes at least one American Sentence every day. https://www.paulenelson.com. Co-Editor of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, he is in year five of a twenty year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation. www.CascadiaPoetryFestival.org (Oct 12-15, 2017, Tacoma, WA)

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