The difficulty with talking about time is knowing when to begin. So, I might as well start with this, here.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s After the Future (2011) and Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility (2017) have both been illuminating.
In my book, “Bifo” Berardi’s work, alongside Mark Fisher’s (Capitalist Realism), is brought into conversation with Jean Gebser’s cultural phenomenology (kulturphilosophie)—and integral philosophy in general—to help us understand the crisis of sensemaking and civilization. I know. Tall order. But, this is where my writing and reading takes me.
I’ve always felt that the philosophical and political writings on the left, concerning modernity and its discontents (Deleuze, Latour, Fisher, Jameson, Bauman, to name a few) needed to be looped back into countercultural conversations in the integral movement and metamodernism (to name just two overlapping milieus).
For example, where Mark Fisher describes how the modern experience of time appears to be slowing down, or flattening (“non-times,” he says, which is something like Marc Augé’s “non-places”), I draw parallels with Gebser’s “stasis.” Stasis is what we have in the latter period of the mental epoch, now well into its deficient phase, the “mental-rational“, where the previous achievement of spatialization runs itself into the ground, attempting to capture the Real in its totalizing perspectival gaze. The result, rather than a new level of mastery, some next promising gradient, is instead a kind of self-inflation, an impotency.
The mental-rational consciousness was crucial in its achievement of spatializing time through the segmentation (hence ratio, to make the cut), but becomes exclusively bound to it, eliminating alternate temporalities, such as forms of sacred time. “Is there any time left in this world?” asks Andreas Malm in The Progress of This Storm, citing Frederic Jameson’s assessment of postmodernity being about, “the predominance of space over time.”
The strange paradox is, as time continues to speed up, the future slows down. Virtual tomorrows—think of the spinning space stations in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—recede from the horizon. Disaster capitalism intensifies time until becomes a high pitched, flat, now.
This kind of time is not all of what time is, or rather, the consciousness that has achieved spatialization has, very often traumatically, cut itself off from its own deep past (the archaic, magic, mythic structures), and so too, ironically, the latent future. The mental-rational has no yesterday and no tomorrow, nor even a present, just a flat now. A “non-time.” The tragedy is that in its bid to absorb the Real in totalizing abstraction, the deficient mental consciousness became lost to its own deep history from which it sprang (Ursprung).
Conversely, William Gibson is often quoted for saying that, “we live in an unthinkable present,” a “howling wind tunnel,” in which, as I mentioned in my first book, Paul Klee’s “Angelus Novus,” time blasts us forward like a terrible storm from heaven. This rushing forward of time, a time not mastered by the perspectival world but increasingly out of control, as well as the impotency of creating and sustaining new futures, is precisely what Gebser wrote about back in 1949. It is what interests me and—with the climate crisis as it is—interests all of us now. I hope more integral thinkers take note of inquiry, too.
So, this is partly the diagnosis: the ailing mental-rational consciousness, haunted by its own magic-mythic origins, unable to realize the new consciousness, the integral, which has to do with a mastery not of space, but time. Where do we find remediation?
A few different nodes link together here. Building on my first work, Seeing Through the World (2019), which introduced some of the core insights of Jean Gebser into contemporary discussions around cultural evolution and sensemaking, what I’m interested in doing next is leaning further into the cultural phenomenology of the present (i.e., our civilizational crisis). I’m interested in this admittedly bold claim: that we should reclaim the future. Or, rather, that we should reclaim time through a phenomenology of presence.
There is a creative principle at work in this. When we become transparent to ourselves in an integral way, we become transparent to the creative, spiritual origin, and the mutational, imaginative possibilities that spring forth from that relationship. We become, to borrow a theological word from J.R.R. Tolkien in this instance, sub-creators with the spiritual; “the Itself,” as Gebser often, albeit cryptically, described it. We learn, at last, to participate not with mere wakefulness, nor in the magic-mythic darkness, but in the lucidity of the diaphanous present.
This is what Gebser’s project was, in a fundamental sense. Everything concerning what he called the “integral-aperspectival consciousness” involved cultivating a sort of radical embodiment of the present, wherein the past and future exist not in the abstract but, in his words, the “concretized” present. Where we become transparent to the living past and the efficacious future.
This has to do with relieving our fixation on spatializing thought and time; each structure of consciousness, like the slow and invisible movements of tectonic plates, took centuries to coalesce. The ground underneath us has shaken, again, like the “quake in heaven,” and now we find ourselves in a new world with a new ontology, as equally significant as the appearance of “I” in language and the realization of the mental world out of its magic-mythic matrix. The integral ontology is something we’re only now learning the first forms of utterance.
The integral has something to do, not only with thinking (mental) but soul-making images (mythic), harkening the interweaving with spirits and nature (magic), and being identity with the whole (archaic). It suggests an intensification of consciousness where the whole history of cultural evolution becomes embodied in the integral human being, homo integer, and the human being becomes a-ware of that participation. It implicates that these structures of our consciousness should not be read in such a linear way—which would be the business of the spatializing mental structure, anyway—but closer to how the biologist Lynn Margulis saw life’s early evolution: the endosymbiotic story of the with-ness of things. The archaic, magic, mythic, mental, all co-mingling with us, as us; organelles and mitochondria and flagellum all. Somehow, our being seems to contain multitudes: the magical timelessness, the mythical rhythmicity, the mental directionality.
As Whitman wrote,
“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes).”
Donna Haraway calls it sympoeisis, rather than autopoesis, in order to emphasize this with-ness. What would it really mean to become transparent to the whole history of unfolding consciousness and equally the efficacy of the future, in the present? It starts somewhere, or rather It has already started us and called us to this task. I believe forms of contemplative practice are profound allies in this investigation.
If we’re going to talk about re-imagining civilization, fundamental re-wirings have to take place. Ontological and phenomenological considerations.
What would an integral futurism look like?
So, I return to this initial inquiry: why not reclaim futurism from the techno-utopiasts of Silicon Valley? More fundamentally, what would our understanding of the future look like if we liberated it from the progress-oriented compulsions of modernism? What would an integral futurism, with its multiplicity of time forms, look like?
The blurb for my book continues,
In this philosophical manifesto, Jeremy reclaims the notion of “futurism” from the techno-utopian dreams of exponential progress. In the process, an “integral futurism,” however incipient, gleans forth, promising a new phenomenology of time and a new, seductive ontology of tomorrow; one where symbiosis and planetary thinking might thrive.
If we’re going to talk about the future, we need to address the ontological re-writing that’s taking place right now; in ecology, in hyper objects, interbeing. The “seductive ontology of tomorrow” is arguably contained within our civilizational crisis, which is teaching us that an exclusively “mental-rational” world, in Gebser’s terminology, is already over.
And so, if that is how that world ends, how do we talk about what is beginning?
Featured artwork by Syd Mead