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KRONOS Vol. I, Issue 2

Cosmic Instability and Modern Man:
An Introduction
JOSEPH A. SOLDATI

"The aim of man and matter is to create joy.
(Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba, p. 272.)

An old woman stumbled along a busy city street. One hand clutched both a large paper bag and a purse to her thin frame. Her other hand was empty, but with it she groped, staggering, for the security of an equally thin tree planted on the downtown street corner. Her eyes were wide and staring; her mouth a dark O of startled awareness. It seemed that in the horror of lonely old age she had suddenly realized the magnitude of the chaos around her. Hers was a look of fearful dognition; her face betrayed a betrayal she had not before comprehended until now. Staring into and beyond the bright morning sky, her eyes seemed to behold in the cosmos the reflection of the violence and terror of her world.

On the street her course had been unpredictable; like an errant cosmic particle she had weakly bumped into pedestrians, some had collided with her, and others had sought to get out of her way, crossing her route so close to her frail frame that she stumbled slightly every time she halted to avoid them. To her, passersby were nothing more than intruders upon the sphere of her sanctity; they were stinging human gadflies - potential molesters and purse-snatchers. The street, as the heavens, had no complacent order; neither uniformity nor predictability existed. She seemed the victim of some horrible catastrophe; she stumbled in a world where instability was the rule, not the exception. Seeing her I recalled Yeats' famous lines —

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world —

and I felt that she had come to know this in whatever images dying old women have.

Of course, Yeats' "centre" has never held; the anarchy has always been with us. It was unleashed in the universe before human time, our primitive forebears were in awe of it, the ancients recorded it, and it is present now and will continue to be. So prevalent is cosmic anarchy* its violence and unpredictability - that its detectable influence on past and present human life seems inescapable. And although modern man is its chief imitator, he persists in believing he is a member exclusive of his unstable cosmos. His attempts to give order to universal disorderliness seem futile; his efforts to avert catastrophe— in nature or in his societies— prove ineffective. Prayers, incantations, Five Year Plans, law and order platforms are mere whispers at the void. He strains his ears for the cosmic explosions he cannot hear, and he is dumb to those explosions on earth within earshot. He does not sense that both are fundamental aspects of his existence.

[* See for example, N. Calder, The Violent Universe (N. Y., 1971) and N. Calder, The Restless Earth (N. Y., 1972) - The Ed.]

This is not an advocation for the criminal violence or international terrorism in much of the world. Rather, I suggest here that the instability of modern times reflects, as it did in ancient times, the instability of the cosmos itself. Obviously, the modern era has experienced no cosmic catastrophes equal to those chronicled by Immanuel Velikovsky in Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval. But if a violent cosmos might influence ancient societies toward instability,(1) might not that same cosmos continue to exert its influence on us? We know from the works of Freud, Jung, and other contemporary psychoanalysts that the terrifying events of childhood are, as Velikovsky writes, "often forgotten, their memory displaced into the unconscious strata of the mind, where they continue to live and to express themselves in bizarre forms of fear. Occasionally they may be converted into symptoms of compulsion neuroses and even contribute to the splitting of the personality." (2) And Velikovsky's hypothesis of a "collective amnesia" speculates that whole nations "erased" terrifying cosmic cataclysms and buried them so deeply in their unconscious that when they appeared in myths and folklore they were read as allegories or metaphors rather than as the cataclysmic experiences themselves. (3)

But literary men seem not to be the only mythmakers of a society. Indeed, the mythic process - that which makes the myth come alive seems not to be exclusively represented in the images and symbols used by the literati, but also in the actions of all members of a society. It seems quite possible that a society's members act out of, or re-enact, a sense of instability impacted more deeply in the unconscious than their present (and conscious) social disharmony or economic inequity. That is, the allegories of cataclysm in myth and legend becomes manifest through real human actions. This imminent insecurity of the very universe in which man dwells permeates his world actions. Furthermore, in acting out this instability, modern man also acts as a creature separated from his primordial past, as if the historically catastrophic universe had not existed.

Our problems with understanding the influence of an unstable universe on the modern era are similar to the problems of understanding myth itself. Susanne K. Langer, in her Philosophy in a New Key, refutes the doctrine that "mythology is essentially the work of epic poets." She writes: "The 'making' of mythology by creative bards is only a metamorphosis of world-old and universal ideas." (4) Obviously the violence, inconstancy, and general turmoil— prominent features in so many myths and legends— hardly needed a poetic structure to make them "universal" experiences. The influence of past cosmic, violence exerted itself long before it was incorporated by the myth-makers, and this influence seems to persist today. Thus, reading the violent catastrophes of myth merely as literary accoutrements-insulates man from the reality of ancient cataclysmic events.(5) Similarly, "reading" the general instability of the modern era solely on the basis of the times themselves (for example, on the indifference of technocracy) is to limit the total historic experience of mankind. Such a view falsely maintains that man has always been a creature of the modern era and negates entirely man's primordial past, the memory of which is forever refreshed by myth.

Since twentieth-century man seldom includes myth in his bedside library, he becomes more and more isolated from his primordial experience. And what a troubled sleep overtakes him. The apparent chaos of his helter-skelter days must be routed deep into the brain, producing, during his brief sleep, a micro-amnesia. Like countless men before him he erases the instability of his world from his conscious state and buries it in his unconscious. He sleeps— if he sleeps— as a man without a past, a truly "modern" man. It is a condition totally alien to human existence.

But the unconscious mind does not allow man any secure isolation from his human past; it seeks, if. not mythic resolution, at least actual expression of the total human experience. The chaotic past as well as the chaotic present that the conscious mind represses become manifest in man's actions triggered by his unconscious; and the modern era is a ripeness of terrible catalysts to which man can re-enact the instability of both his past and present. The most horrible prospect of all this is that man may be caught in a cruel maelstrom toward total annihilation. Indeed, as Prof. William Mullen has pointed out, man may be doomed to act out his unconscious memory of catastrophic experiences;(6) and, since the necessary nuclear weapons exist for an atomic holocaust, man's Armageddon with himself seems only in temporary abeyance. But it is only modern man's self-imposed exile from both the primordial past and the real universe that will allow this grim prognosis to become an even grimmer reality. (7)

Entrapped in the present, modern man asks "how?" rather than why?", and the result breeds an obsession with method. Blinding as well as binding, like all fanaticism, the method is, curiously, rational rather than emotional; indeed, it is ultra-rational. The question that begins how? is the mind's question: it is safe, confident, orderly; it anticipates rationale. But the question that begins why? comes from the heart of man: it reflects the mysterious spirit of man's basic uncertainty; it links man to his primordial past when in the most unsure world imaginable he scrounged for grubs and threw rocks at things that growled in the night. Because the methodogogue's approach is so incessantly uniform that it rejects the idea of a universe in flux, it is no wonder that to modern man, whose madness is method, questions from the heart are anathema. Method itself has become the ultimate answer to human problems; the ends have become so inseparable from the means that the results are merely vague abstractions that further underline the obsession with methodology - the plan, the program, the machine. Method itself is not, of course, unnatural - man has always attempted to order his world - but modern man applies his methodology as if the universe were unchanging and unchangeable. He works deluded in the inoperative Aristotelian cosmos, denying himself and his universe the dignity of change, growth, or even vital counteraction.

He rejects an unpredictable universe - thereby exiling himself from the cosmos in which he dwells - because he virtually refuses not to believe in perfection. The "incorruptible" heavens of Aristotelian philosophy - where "nothing ever changes; all remain the same; the same stars, the same eternal planets, the same sun, the same moon"18) - still remains for modern man a secure cosmological foundation, one whose "perfection" he strives to emulate. All evidence to the contrary, he undauntedly tries to imitate the order that is really not there and, ironically (and unconsciously), he preserves the instability that is. His sense of failure and his frustration come from his not seeing the relationship between himself and his universe. Failing to see, he has lost the ability to struggle against the universe and, therefore, against himself as well; he has instead substituted method for struggle, mechanization for triumph.

While I do not propose that man take a masochistic delight in the frenetic disorder about him, I would suggest that he accept it as the natural state of the universe, that things tend toward disorder. There is in the universe, as Jacquetta Hawkes writes, "a living informality. . . . The casual formation of the supernovae, their inevitable end which may, however, come sooner or later; the occasional collision of galaxies; the endless variety of galactic forms, their free, irregular distribution as they wheel through the boundless realm of space. To me it seems comparable to a vast human society, harmonious yet prone to tragedy and accident. More firmly ruled by fixed laws than human society, yet in the end, historically speaking, never quite calculable."(9) And George Gamow, writing about the expansion theory of the universe, states: "the entire space of the universe, populated by billions of galaxies, is in a state of rapid expansion, with all its members flying away from one another at high speed."(10) Here is the cosmic paradigm for modern man; this pulsating, unpredictable, unstable universe is one we should be at home in, for the incalculability of its cosmic accidents gives credence to man's own earthly "accidents." We are in many ways followers of the stars, yet we sublimely reject such a notion. Because of this we have lost our joy.

The loss of joy— that, I think, was behind the horror perceived by the old woman on the crowded city street. It seemed as though all her life she had given in to method and mechanization; for her, "Life had turned into a lucid, transparent game, unencumbered by even a single drop of blood."(11) She saw, in a sense, everything. I have had a similar vision. As a child, my first conception of human digestion came from a television commercial: the disintegration of a Bufferin tablet into a bubbling string of B's in a clear plastic mannequin. No blood, no guts, no pain. I was being prepared for twentieth century humanism! Now the plastic mannequin is a nightmare image, but it is an apt example of modern man's religious fervor for method and mechanization (and even, incidentally, for the dulling of the senses). The modern world's method and mechanization has produced neither freedom nor the joy that accompanies freedom; that is the bleak harvest of man's striving, and the ironical result is an instability that goes far beyond the unconscious mind's subversion of man's conscious actions.

REFERENCES

1. Douglas Den Uyl, in a letter to Pensee, 3 (Winter 1973), p. 48, has speculated: "The fact that very ancient regimes appear to us to be chaotic and unprincipled may be due to the simple fact that nature herself was in such a state." See Z. Rix, "The Great Terror," KRONOS I, No. 1 (Spring-1975).
2. Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (New York: Dell, 1970), p. 3G2.
3. Velikovsky, p. 304. See T. A . Parry, "The New Science of Immanuel Velikovsky," KRONOS I, No. 1 (Spring-1975).
4. Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 197-198.
5. Thomas L. Ferte, in his unpublished essay, "A Note on Immanuel Velikovsky and Sigmund Freud" (1973), p. 6, writes that "mankind's cataclysmic 'human drama' is exposed for those who know how to read the myths."
6. William Mullen, "The Center Holds," Pensee, 2 (May 1972), p. 33.
7. See L. M. Greenberg and W. B. Sizemore, "From Microcosm to Macrocosm: The Fearful Symmetry of Catastrophism," elsewhere in this issue
8. I. Bernard Cohen, The Birth of a New Physics (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1960), p. 26.
9. Jacquetta Hawkes, Man and the Sun (New York: Random House, 1962), p. 17.
10. George Gamow, The Creation of the Universe, rev. ed. (New York: Viking, 1961), p. 23.
11. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952), p. 133.

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