below: Two Noble Kinsmen , I, ii, 7
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For not to swim in the aid of the current were almost to sink -
At least to frustrate striving, and to follow the common stream
ould bring us to an eddy where we should turn or drown
Thinking crosses from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth century, but its cultural centering does not hold.
Jan Vermeer's 'Geographer' (1668) A map of the life of the mind would show a broad river between the banks of the Twentieth century and the Nineteenth. Other centuries would appear likewise divided by fluid boundary conditions, but of dramatically different qualities. And Mind, it seems, adventures to cross these currents not just in one place, nor all at once. Stories of the early crossings we may recognize, from our own time, as somehow more connected to each other than even to the common origins from which they had often diametrically departed. Indeed, the subsequent changes in culture, economics, and technology show themselves in some way belonging to a land which required these divergent paths for its compass. Nevertheless, since Shakespeare's time it seems more and more challenging to articulate the fit between such new found lands and how they come to be occupied. In Europe, for example, as the Nineteenth century commenced, the wider culture first embraced the Romantic movement but soon became disillusioned by what it believed it had adopted. It thereupon fell back toward a world-view held over from the preceding Enlightenment - seemingly depositing in language, as a token both of its retreat and of the identity it mistook, the lamentable misuse of the word Idealism as synonymous with personal values.

The Gates of Hell

The Man in the Moon
In the case of the crossing into the Twentieth century, the records left by the pathfinders have received, for better or worse, a smaller audience and fewer emulators than the crossing from the Eighteenth. But also the Twentieth century has been full of astounding distractions: Time here has birthed such strange mutations that their genealogies remain difficult to acknowledge. Partly also it is clear that much of culture, having retreated to an Eighteenth century world-view, found it inconceivable to jump across unlearned lessons toward new lessons having those as their prerequisites. But most crucially, the crossing into our time is of a particularly demanding nature, whose demands revolve specifically around questioning coordinates of experience that have remained untampered with for over two thousand years. The changes in music, philosophy, mathematics, physics, and technology were the true flowerings of long traditions of inquiry and exploration, but for the wider culture the impression they made was more of lights being turned off than on. The wonder of the intellectual developments at the turn of this century was in uncovering deeper and less evident foundations of things. But this new ground, while promising new human beginnings in a truer reality, became captive of the specialized languages shaped as sophisticated probes into its unknown depths. The increasingly technical orientation of those languages effected, at the heart of the guiding mentality of culture, a Babel. The best that many have been able to do in acknowledging their Estranged New World is to leave much of what matters most up to 'experts' - who with their terminologies meanwhile play blindmen and elephants.

Woes by wrong imaginations
lose the knowledge of themselves

Above: Occam's Razor prophetically parsing Neo-Darwinism? Will we fare as well as Jonah?
Pieter Bruegel's 'Big Fishes Eat Little Fishes' (1556)
Kant's three questions: 'What can I know?' 'How should I live?' And 'what can I hope for?' In our time come to reverberate against each other in a dis-chord we all feel - Franz Kafka (1883-1924)but few have expressed so clearly as Franz Kafka. Many of the tendencies unfolding within our century are terrifying in their ultimate prospect. Little movement in the wider culture to find its footing on the new ground is evident, and what is called 'common sense' today is often the mere application of self-serving maxims to contexts that are either (1) too complex to face, or (2) abstracted into issues of economics or 'rights'. In our time, even as the gap between the rich and the poor yawns ever wider, those dimensions of mind opened at the beginning of our century remain distressingly remote from helpful embodiment in the general culture.
before after

The most general form of the religious problem is the question whether the process of the temporal world passes into the formation of other actualities, bound together in an order in which novelty does not mean loss.

- Alfred North Whitehead    

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...lineup and alibi

Woes by wrong imaginations
Lose the knowledge of themselves.

- King Lear, IV, v, 283

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