For the world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, and I smell it in the air.
Treebeard – from The Two Towers; presciently used as an introduction to the Extended Edition DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring
I am sorry I have been so remiss in working on this blog this year. The things I want to say I struggle to find among kindred minds the vocabulary to express. With the infosphere so full of disheartening political and economic news, the signal-to-noise ratio remains appallingly low. Nobody within earshot of me seems to be saying anything useful or encouraging except for the Orthodox, some of the better Catholics, Wendell Berry, the Scylding, and, surprisingly, some granola-crunching New Agers.
Oh yes, Tim Enloe is doing some important work digesting primary sources which can act as signposts especially to those whose interest is in the development of what can only be called the Mind of the West.
I can only hope my problem isn’t selective hearing on my part; what the Reformed refer to as “judicial hardening”.
One of the reasons I had for reading Owen Barfield was the hope that he would have:cleared a path for me through the intellectual thicket in which I currently find myself The Western world in general, and the United States of America in particular, appears to be approaching an impasse to which no easy solution presents itself. There is a dislocation on the horizon that will be certainly uncomfortable, probably grueling, and possibly violent. If the current “common sense” consensus prevails, we in the USA and aligned countries will find ourselves on an unsustainable trajectory where we are competing with the rest of the world for a dwindling amount of resources. By the current “common sense” consensus, I mean the pragmatic, objectivizing, particularizing, quantifying, and now digitizing impulse that produced both the Scientific and the Commercial revolutions, and led to us organizing ourselves into, and relating to each other primarily through the mediation of, corporations that act as vast Turing devices acting only for the quantification and increase of Capital, now expressed primarily as a series of 1s and 0s on a digital medium somewhere.
Recently , I read an interesting online essay by Jim Davis, Globalization, Romanticism, and Owen Barfield. Even though Mr. Davis’ presuppositions and concerns are not my own, I heartily recommend the essay. Summarizing Mr. Davis is a little difficult, not entirely because of the subtlety of his arguments, but also because of the surprising eclecticism of his sources. He draws not only from the Usual Suspects in Barfield studies; Eliot, Auden, Steiner, the German Naturphilosophen, but also Karl Marx and William Blake.
The connection with Karl Marx struck me as being interesting. Marx was, after all, a Romantic at heart, and the Romantic concept of the Eternal Return was deeply embedded into his narrative. However, it was the mention of William Blake that most ignited my imagination. Blake was present at the birth of a particular sort of Imperial consciousness, that of the regnant Whig classes in Great Britain. There appears to have been a kind of energy which was liberated by the disposal of the Catholic, medieval-minded James Stuart, which energy manifested itself in both the Scientific and Commercial revolutions of the 18th Century, and the establishment of the Whig Empire.
That Empire, with a very few modifications, is the very same Urizenic regime currently in power, which, in Blake’s poetic vision, was a metaphor what was occuring as a result of the Commercial and Industrial Revolutions; the dilution of risk through the use of joint stock corporations, the commoditization of labor in the “dark Satanic mills”. Artisianry, whereby a particular suit of clothes was made for a particular man, was sacrificed for the mass production of abstract “clothes” for abstract “men”.
It is not to lament the “world that once was”, but rather to show how a particular consciousness engenders a particular state of affairs in the so-called “material world”, that world which is characterized by the words “politics” and “economics”. In this sense, essence precedes existence; the Interior is anterior to the Exterior, nothing emerges in the technosphere which did not previously exist in the imagination, but a particularly focused kind of imagination.
The Church is not the interior of the Empire, the Empire is the material expression of the Church. Man was created to live and move and have his being in this Empire/Church which was intended to mediate the life [energies?] of the Blessed Trinity to the whole of Creation.
Charles Williams saw, no, felt this acutely, and called it the “Web of Exchange”, “Co-inherence”, or simply “the City”, and hinted that it was intended to encompass the entirety of Creation. Indeed, we see that one of the gravest problems that we are facing is an ecological crisis, whereby the Web of Empire, that portion of the Web of Exchange which organizes the energies of men, is returning material to the Web of Physical Nature, that portion of the Web of Exchange whose interchanges and sacrifices we describe as chemical reactions, in a condition unusable by it. What men call “the economy” has its inputs from this other, more elementary Web, and its impact upon this Web is considerable, but the terms of Exchange have not hitherto been charitable.
The changes we desperately need at this juncture will have to come from a change in Church. There are a lot of conflicting voices out there, and most of them are clamoring for a preservation of the status quo, with which voices I certainly sympathize, because it is comfortable for me.
But I don’t know whether that will be a option for us very much longer. As our Lord put it
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
It’ s always like that; we’re comfortable, and we begin to feel constriction and the pressure, until suddenly light and cold burst in on us, and we are thrust into a larger world.