The Swiss philosopher and poet Jean Gebser belonged to that rare Socratic breed. He was a man of extraordinary vision who did not allow himself to be seduced by his learning, but intrepidly pushed beyond the boundaries of accepted truth. He likened modern philosophy to the “picking apart of a rose.” His foundational work on the evolution of human consciousness and culture is among this century’s finest contributions to our modern self-understanding.
In a nutshell, what Gebser succeeded in demonstrating through painstaking documentation and analysis was this: Hidden beneath the apparent chaos of our times is an emergent new order. The disappearance of the pre-Einsteinian world-view. with its creator-god and clockwork universe as well as its naive faith in progress. is more than a mere breakdown. It is also a new beginning. In fact, long before the apostles of a “new age” arrived on the scene, Jean Gebser spoke of our period as one of the great turning points in human history. What makes his work so appealing and relevant is that it offers a unique perspective on human history and the present global crisis. When Gebser’s study on the unfolding of human consciousness was first published it was considered one of the most controversial intellectual creations of our era. This is still true; his ideas challenge not only those of the establishment but also many of the new contenders.
Who was Jean Gebser? And why are a growing number of people excited about his ideas? Until seven years before his death at the age of sixty-two, Gebser was almost completely ignored by the academic establishment. It was then that the University of Salzburg, a venerable institution in Austria, created a special professorial chair for him-comparative culturology. This unique appointment was a belated acknowledgement of his genius. But it changed little, if anything, in Gebser’s lifestyle; he had lived and worked most of his life as a maverick.
Some intended outcomes of Gebsers insights are:
To come to terms with the notion of consciousness as a creative dynamic, and thus changing, modality of awareness
To experience culture as a distinct function of space and time that reaches beyond the particularities of ethnicity
To engage natural abilities to discern fine distinctions between Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness
To develop specific skill sets of observation, inquiry, and creative interpretation that hearken to deeper historical undercurrents of consciousness
To identify the ontological problem in the conceptual separation of subject and object, and to explore the possibility of unifying this separation
To become aware of how our perceptions of space and time influence the way we perceive ‘reality’ in an historical context
To learn how to examine visual art and poetics and identify the different structures of consciousness at play
To successfully use new philosophical jargon designating the nuances signified by integral awareness; to gain experience with the use of historical, archaeological, and philological arguments
To recognize the extended roles that magical, mythical, and mental awarenesses play in our current lives as aspects of our vital, psychological and conceptual selves
To develop an understanding of ‘latency’ and ‘transparency’ as functions of insight into the integral world; to become familiar with Gebser’s philosophical method of synairesis