Pseudoreality doesn’t need to prevail 

Savage faculties?

“There was a personality who lived in the later period of Mexican civilisation and was connected with the utterly decadent, pseudo-magical Mystery cults of Mexico; with an intense thirst for knowledge he studied everything with close and meticulous exactitude”. With typical sobriety Rudolf Steiner described this dark scene to a hushed lecture hall in 1924, all the while rejecting the fashionable interest in such ancient lore by remarking that although this mysterious individual “knew that Quetzalcoatl was a Divine Being who could take hold of man in his circulating blood, in the working of his breath”, the ‘knowledge’ he possessed was automatic and unconscious, the opposite of the intentional wisdom that we develop by individual effort. Continuing his fantastic narrative, Steiner remarks that this perverse soul later incarnated into the body of the occultist known as ‘Eliphas Levi’ and offers the penetrating comment that if you read Levi’s books “you will find evidence of great wisdom spread out as it were over something extremely primitive”.

Of the nineteenth century occult revival which Levi was a figurehead, Steiner commented that it’s practitioners attempted to “convince themselves, one might say, artificially […] to accept the existence of a super-sensible world”. The word ‘artificial’ was pejoratively used by Steiner’s esoteric contemporaries Gurdjieff and Ouspensky to describe a fake world of automated or robotic perceptions, similar to the contingent state of humanity outlined by Heidegger and the existentialists that followed. One occult practitioner at this time believed himself to be Levi’s reincarnation, and seemingly possessed the same instinctive abilities as Steiner’s Mexican adept. Describing Aleister Crowley’s lumbering psychic constitution, Colin Wilson notes that “instinctive, animal faculties” were his compass, an insight given extra weight in Crowley’s memoir where he speaks of a “subconscious physical memory” connected to his motor functions (“my limbs poses a consciousness of their own that is infallible” he writes of his mountaineering skills). This faculty, he says, has led him over all manner of territories and is only thrown off balance by the interference of his conscious mind (“I have several other savage faculties” he writes in his Confessions; “in particular, I can smell snow and water”). Regarding his magical and mystical abilities, he cheerfully boasts that he “picked up the technical tricks of the trade almost by instinct”. 

It’s likely that Steiner differentiated between ‘involuntary’ and intentional perception due to his interest in the ideas of Franz Brentano, a philosopher who had stated that perception is always about something (“reference to an object”). In his Steiner biography (1985) Wilson comments that this idea of active perception is exactly what the young Steiner wanted to hear (Steiner was still enthusing about Brentano later in his career). By the time Brentano’s pupil Edmund Husserl wrote the Logical Investigations in 1900 this aboutness had developed into the vigorous “directed aiming” of intentionality, the core concept of Husserl’s phenomenology and later, of Wilson’s new existentialism. Our attentive thought, writes Husserl [VI § 38] “aims at a thing, and it hits it’s mark, or does not hit it” according to the strength of the intention. “In our metaphor an act of hitting the mark corresponds to that of aiming” [ibid. V § 13]. Husserl states that without such intentionality, the ‘shot’ is simply missed; the greater the energy, the more total the perception. In this energetically intentional act, says Husserl, “we live, as it were, principally”; in the subordinate and partial acts, we live only partially [ibid. § 19]. With reference to this variable of perception Wilson would quote Yeats’ line about completing the partial mind and note Blake’s “remarkable anticipation of phenomenology” as a possible corrective. For Blake’s fiery aphorism that energy is eternal delight is in essence the argument that Husserl makes here for the “greatest energy […] displayed by the act-character which comprehends and subsumes all partial acts”. Elsewhere [ibid. § 15 b] Husserl carefully separates intentions from sensations (“tactual, gustatory, olfactory”) so when Crowley tells us that he can smell snow and water despite his “olfactory sense [being] far below the average”, the “savage faculty” he is describing is an instinct, not an intention. 

Life in the culture-medium 

Husserl tells us that intention aims at it’s object as if it were “desirous” of it [ibid. VI § 20], something Blake clearly understood. In Blake’s mythology, the core human value is the ‘Poetic Genius’, the origin of inspiration and “the first principle” with “all the others merely derivative” – the ‘others’ being the naturalistic pantheism of antiquity. Husserl’s ironic name for partial perception is the natural attitude, a state where “we take [things] for granted […] without even thinking about it” [Ideas § 77]; the fallacy of passive consciousness, as Wilson has it in The New Existentialism. Blake thought of the Poetic Genius as a faculty – “the true faculty of knowing” and “the faculty that experiences”, in other words a phenomenological and existential faculty (“scientific common sense” which would hardly be “out of place in a a Secular Society pamphlet” comments Wilson in The Outsider). True to his anticipation of this philosophical stance, Blake notes that this pure inspiration is too often distorted when transmitted through individual “weaknesses“ – Husserl would have said ‘prejudices’ – via philosophical sects and closed religions. Husserl states [Ideas II § 59] that a faculty is “not an empty ability but a positive potentiality” in the “stream of lived experience”. Similarly, Husserl’s pupil Heidegger asserts that the “question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself” [Being and Time § 12]. “The understanding of oneself which leads along this way we call ‘existentiell’”. Wilson made the distinction between pantheistic ‘occult faculties’ and this existential/intentional or phenomenological faculty in his book The Occult, where the latter is known as ‘Faculty X’. Proust’s famous moment of ‘time regained’ in Swann’s Way is often used as an example of this Faculty in action, and Proust later explains that it happens rarely because our faculties lie dormant due to habit. “A slight burst of energy, for a single day, would be sufficient to change these habits for good” he writes. Like Blake, Wilson thinks this Faculty is common to poets. “What is poetry?” he asks in Poetry and Mysticism. “It is a contradiction of the everyday life-world”, Heidegger’s trivial ‘everydayness’. Another lumbering modernist novel – Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, which Wilson rated higher than Proust’s – examined this existential dilemma of a diminished life. “There’s no longer a whole man confronting a whole world, only a human something moving about in a general culture-medium”. 

The Personality Surgeon

Compared to those who “work in the medium of life itself” says Musil, “mere literature” is only an illustration of living, a point also made by Wilson in the fourth chapter of The Outsider; certain existential problems cannot be solved by writing about them, as they must be lived. The ‘culture-medium’, then, can be understood as Husserl’s ‘life-world’, the surrounding ‘given’ world which he thoroughly analysed in his final book The Crisis of European Sciences. “Culture creates personality and is at the same time the product and the result of personality” said Gurdjieff, making a distinction between ‘personality’ (social self-awareness of and in response to other people) and ‘essence’ (what is ‘yours’, your unique individuality). Personality is false, he tells us, because it is created by “involuntary imitation” of the “intentional influences of other people”. Husserl likened intentionality to a “universal medium” in Ideas [§ 85], “disregarding its enigmatic forms and levels”, that is. Wilson later had it as a “distorting medium” or “distorting power”. The great gift of phenomenology and existentialism, he says, is to show that the distorting medium is the human personality – “which knows itself as an active participant in the world, in relations with other people” – not the senses. This “fine network of relations” warps our interpretations of reality. The active mind is “continuously selecting, filtering, interpreting, colouring – and sometimes distorting and misinforming” our experience, he writes. Musil understood this when he pointed out that we do not notice “the part our personality plays in directing our perceptions” just as we don’t notice the silent revolutions of the earth.

In the ‘visionary’ chapter of The Outsider Wilson comments that the poet Rimbaud knew that our inner being (Blake’s Poetic Genius) orders what we see. Later he transformed Rimbaud’s ‘systematic derangement of the senses’ into a kind of motto for phenomenology – ‘the systematic derangement of human prejudice’. Through this ‘derangement’ we can reach the inner being, which Husserl named the Transcendental Ego. Husserl describes intentionality as an attentional “Ego-ray” striking an object (“it is the target”) as the Ego “does and undergoes, is free”. This “ray of attention presents itself as emanating from the pure Ego and terminating in that which is objective”. The pure Ego or “free being” is consciousness shorn of presuppositions and prejudices which lives in these free acts, actions which he calls spontaneous doing [Ideas § 92]. Gurdjieff told Ouspensky that individual evolution is ‘doing’ and doing cannot just ‘happen’ – it is dependent upon powers and possibilities which never develop by themselves (i.e. non-mechanically). In other words, intentions, Husserl’s faculty that is a positive potentiality. Wilson grapples with this “evolutionary intentionality” in Beyond The Outsider (1965).

We are made of habits, prejudices and earth 

“Everything gained by a struggle becomes just something to be manipulated” writes Heidegger in Being and Time [§ 27]. Wilson’s mechanical metaphor for this passing of willed intentions to habits which just ‘happen’ is called ‘the robot’, who is “actually composed of compacted layer upon layer of willed intentions”. Seemingly mechanical actions like driving or typing are learned slowly and perhaps with difficultly, but eventually they become automatic or rather automated and we no longer need to concentrate on the mechanical drudge – that is passed to the robot or sedimented into a metaphorical geology of older, former willed intentions. We are made of “habits, prejudices and earth” says Walter in The Man Without Qualities. Husserl considered this problem of sedimentation (“traditionalization”) in the Crisis. He asks if this process is not tied up with presupposition and “the problem of the instincts”, and likens it to a reliable, useful machine, “a machine everyone can learn to operate correctly without in the least understanding the inner possibility and necessity” of it’s accomplishments [§ 9 h]. Musil sardonically deals with this theme in his novel, blaming Galileo for “a veritable orgy and conflagration of matter-of-factness”. Wilson noted Musil’s debt to Nietzsche, who had gone even further in this argument by declaring the philosophers Hobbes, Locke and Hume proponents of “English-mechanistic world-stupidification”. Their ‘associationism’ was succinctly explained by Wilson: that ‘you’ are just what happens to you; as in Gurdjieff’s idea of ‘personality’, we are just a bundle of sensations with no core. Although Wilson was aware of Hume’s anticipatory influence on Husserl, he agreed with Husserl’s opinion that this philosophy was guilty of taking “immediate insights […] as given truths”. This was merely “naive, uncritical, everyday experience […] a mere assumption, no more than a common prejudice” (ProlegomenaLogical Investigations). A thought experiment later in the book [V § 9] imagines a “being” as this “mere complex of sensations” who can only speak of ‘bodies’ or ‘inanimate things’ and is incapable of emotion. This he says, would be due to a hypothetical flaw in the interpretive ability of this being, it’s intentionality.

In the beginning is the Deed – Husserl, quoting Faust  

Wilson thought that Husserl began as something of a poet or mystic – his enthusiastic referencing of Goethe’s Faust would seem to suggest so, and his statement that ‘normal’ consciousness “leaves our deepest cognitive cravings unsatisfied” [ibid. § 44] would have delighted a poet and mystic like Blake. The symbol for robotic consciousness in Blake’s mythos is the ‘Spectre’, likened to “a machine which has lost its controls and is running wild” by the Blake scholar S. Foster Damon (‘Damon Reade’ In Wilson’s novel The Glass Cage). According to the final chapter of Wilson’s The New Existentialism it is the “limited everyday self” – limited because it is lazy and materialistic (it desires little beyond “security and material rewards”). At its worst, this limitation is illustrated by the cases in Wilson’s true crime books; a softer focus variant can be found in the embarrassments catalogued in his compilation of scandals from 1986 (“the ‘scandal personality’ is basically a confidence trickster who tricks himself”). In The Outsider the Spectre is “static consciousness […] the personality, the habits, the identity” which “mistakes [it’s] own stagnation for the world’s” – everything appears “solid, unchangeable, stagnant, unreal”. As Blake says, expect poison from the standing water. Gurdjieff’s notion of false personality, Husserl’s “naive man” or Wilson’s bourgeois ‘Insiders’ who think they are their own prisons; these are all the ‘Spectre’. This prison is our immediate, limited field of vision through which we consequently devalue the world, like, comments Wilson in The New Existentialism, the condemned character in Sartre’s tale The Wall. “If we could grasp this with genuine insight, we would instantly become aware of the extent to which consciousness is intentional; it would be the first and most important step in the direction of a creative phenomenological attitude to our own existence”. Blake would have agreed with the word creative when speaking of perception. He used the mythological symbol of the ‘mundane egg’ for the distorting medium of intentionality which ‘surrounds’ us (“Enlarg’d into dimension & deform’d into indefinite space”) and depicted it’s sedimentation with images of the hardening crust of matter. “Like all Nature, it is a projection of man” comments Foster Damon. Similarly, Steiner imagined the evolution from instinctive to self-aware consciousness as akin to the cooling and hardening of the crust of the earth over flowing molten magma. “When the human being develops faculties that stand in a relationship to nature, he is not free” he comments. Husserl similarly remarks that such ‘robotic’ traits are “dependent on nature” and equally unfree. The instincts, he says, are the “lowest psychic layer”, “a lower layer of all spiritual existence” and “the world of the mechanical, the world of lifeless conformity to laws” [Ideas II § 61]. Likewise, Gurdjieff thought living through instincts and sensations as the lowest form of human awareness, a state which can only produce imitative art, literal-minded religious ritual and rote knowledge. 

One must be so careful these days – T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land 

Perhaps this is the “primitive” effect which Steiner sensed in the works of Levi, a kind of aesthetic handicap or creative limitation, what Blake sarcastically meant by derivative pantheism and Husserl by natural or naive man. Wilson states that the direct method of phenomenology makes old mystical practices unnecessary and that this faculty has more in common with the freshly creative insights of poets – this is why Faculty X is not an ‘occult’ faculty. Crowley was not a good poet. His first biographer accurately pointed out that his verse lacks the numinous quality of genuine inspiration (“the dominating effect is one of insincerity”). Wilson thought his poems antiquated, “soft”, stuffed full of “overcoloured adjectives” and found more interest In the philosophical implications of the creed Thelema (one root meaning of the word is intention) and magick (defined by Crowley in the book of that name as any “intentional act”). Even so, Crowley’s school-boyish personality still looms uncomfortably over his magical writings. He had an “ego like a raging tooth” says Wilson, quoting Shaw. Had he started with a sombre tome like Steiner’s The Philosophy of Freedom (1894), he may have been taken more seriously from the beginning, writes Wilson. Ironically enough, a passage from Steiner’s book explains why he wasn’t. “Immature youths without any moral imagination like to look upon the instincts of their half developed natures as the full substance of humanity, and reject all moral ideas which they have not themselves originated, in order that they may “live themselves out” without restriction. But it goes without saying that a theory which holds for a fully developed man does not hold for half-developed boys”. 

It was only a few years later when the young Crowley began self-publishing tracts on the joys of rejecting morality and living without restriction, often presented as artificial ‘found manuscripts’ beginning with the lewd prank White Stains and grandiosely culminating in a series of alleged ‘holy books’, supposedly dictated from an alien source (despite one carefully spelling out the name of a mistress in acrostic). Acolytes believe that these codexes can be properly comprehended by cabalistic exegesis but Crowley himself said that this process works equally well on nursery rhymes, advertisements, or anything. It is fitting then that the Crowley revival was strongest during the postmodern era with all of it’s deconstructive leveling and simulated artificiality. In his memoir Crowley describes a mentality where black is white and vice-versa: this “faculty” uses “criticism of the most destructive kind”. His ultimate goal was a state of cosmic indifference, and one passage of scripture tells us to make no difference between anything as this generates “hurt”. He comments that once difference is obliterated, we will develop a post-rational faculty which does not depend on the “hieroglyphic representations” of letters and numbers. But he also takes this instruction as a “charge to destroy the faculty of discriminating between illusions” which unfortunately sounds exactly like the intentionality which magick is supposed to be. He etymologically traces that word in the book of that name [Ch. 8] and comes to remarkably similar conclusions about magic and writing to those of Jacques Derrida in the second part of Of Grammatology – a text which informs us that Husserl’s suspension of prejudices “is perhaps not possible” due to ‘différance’, the inbuilt ambiguity of language.

Unsurprisingly, Wilson wrote off Derrida’s philosophy as a “kind of defeatism” and bracketed him and his poststructural comrades – Foucault, Barthes, Althusser – alongside fake messiahs like Crowley and David Koresh. Crowley preemptively denied the inevitable charge of antinomianism in the seventeenth chapter of his memoir, but it drove his thought as much as it drives Foucault’s anti-authoritarianism. “There is no such thing as history. The facts, even if they were available, are too numerous to grasp. A selection must be made, and this can only be one-sided, because the selector is enclosed in the same network of time and space as his subject”. Not Foucault on the épistémèbut a footnote from Crowley’s memoir, complaining about his school exams. Foucault’s The Order of Things begins it’s anti-phenomenological argument with a reproduction of Las Menias by Velasquez; viewing this painting in Madrid Crowley comments on “the absurdity of trying to ascribe an order to things”, despite his previous analysis of the ordering ‘selector’ (intentional Ego) in the same book. Crowley was as serious as Blake regarding the individual search for the ‘Genius’ but he himself appeared to be in the grip of something else.

The Sun’s Light, when he unfolds it / Depends on the Organ which beholds it – William Blake, ‘What is Man’ from The Gates of Paradise 

“What man first listened to as the voice of God, to that he now listens as an independent power in his own mind which he calls conscience” writes Steiner in The Philosophy of Freedom, anticipating Julian Jaynes’ theories of the bicameral mind and the evolution of consciousness. Crowley was notably deaf to this voice, preferring to heed the advice of his garrulous subconscious. Of his childhood fixation, the Biblical number 666, Steiner said that this represents not a solar force of liberation, but a baleful possibility of “human disintegration, a universal cult of the I and of egoism” – that is to say, a cult of Gurdjieff’s ever-distracted ‘pseudo-I’, the opposite of the intentional Ego. In his cabalistic dictionary Crowley indexes his own nom de plume under this number alongside סורת [Sorath] which Steiner describes as “the adversary of the sun”, a materialistic current which places “spiritual power […] in the service of the lower “I”-principle”, i.e. the instincts and sensations. “This state in which the personality becomes one with the all-embracing spirit of life, must not be confused with an absorption in the “All-Spirit” that annihilates the personality” (Steiner uses ‘personality’ for individuality here). “No such annihilation takes place”. The only ‘annihilation’ worth seeking then is the one which Derrida thought impossible, Husserl’s suspension of the natural attitude in Ideas [§ 49: Absolute Consciousness as the Residuum After the Annihilation of the World]. Crowley’s genuine search for a “new faculty […] by the use of which I could appreciate truth directly” led him to the rather nihilistic conclusion that future humanity “will possess no consciousness of the purpose of it’s own existence”, rather like Steiner’s own gloomy picture of ‘involuntary’ ancient perception. The difference between the intentional ‘I’ and the reactive, blank self is why Blake thought pantheism derivative, why Gurdjieff warned against sinking back to instinct, why Husserl thought the natural attitude passive and why Wilson made a discrepancy between occult faculties and Faculty X. Near the end of The Occult Wilson argues that we can climb to new levels through “a gentle, cumulative effort; no frenzied leap is required”. Steiner said that our ordinary perception can lead us further into the ‘super-sensible world’ with more accuracy than any artificial occult pretensions – ‘rejected knowledge’ – so long as we elaborate these intuitions “with the aid of the intellect” (intuition aided by intellect was Wilson’s definition of philosophy). New influences will develop “in the sphere of the present-day conscious mind” even though such impulses are currently in their infancy.

In times like these, giving in to your instincts is just one more disaster – Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols 

The trouble with instinct, writes Wilson in Frankenstein’s Castle, is that it is powerful but short sighted. The logical faculties which Jaynes believed were shunted to the left hemisphere of the brain were an evolutionary necessity, not a blunder. “That simple combination of instinct and robot can be a disaster” as they are both too easily prone to defeat. “This is why we need the left-brain ego: to overrule the instinct and the robot”. Libertines like De Sade preach total freedom and the rejection of civilisation but this is laughably naive. “For better or worse, man has developed this obsessive, left brain ego with it’s passion for order. There is no going back”. In his book on the strange wonders of the pyramids and the Sphinx (1996) Wilson argues that it was necessary to pull ourselves out of this pleasant but passive state of communal awareness and into something more dynamic and individual. The controlling ego is the left brain ego, but it is “trapped in its narrow conceptual consciousness, overawed by the enormous mechanisms of the brain and body […] it sits in the corner, studying the feelings and sensations of the body, and waiting to be told what to do” (Frankenstein’s Castle). So the ego is a ‘confused Transcendental Ego’, passively sitting in the cinema seat like a spectator, not knowing that it is the projectionist. Wilson admits that this realisation left him a little shaken – surely the answer lies in an omnipotent Self, presiding over consciousness, as mysticism suggests? 

It does, but Husserl himself thought that we could only reach that ‘Self’ or Transcendental Ego through the ‘normal’ ego [cf: Ideas § 33]. Steiner’s descriptions of the evolution of consciousness tell of involuntary impulses becoming instincts and slowly transforming into individual choices. Wisdom was once given to tribes or clans – which Musil names a “pseudoself, a loose fitting group soul” – but now new faculties can only be generated by committed individuals. Wilson points out that the existential dilemma of his Outsiders – alienation, neurosis, and lack of direction – are a misunderstanding of the potentialities and possibilities that are to be found in everyday life. “What I had grasped intuitively, and what slowly formed into an intellectual conviction, was that misery and alienation are not laid upon us by fate” he writes, contradicting ancient wisdom. “They are due to the failure of the ego to accept its role as the controller of consciousness”. The ironic alternative would be that we will not be able to dispense with outside stimuli like crises and disasters, for as Wilson notes, consciousness without crisis tends to become negative. This is especially true if our “mental life is a series of sensations and ideas aroused by [our] immediate experience” – the philosophical position of Hobbes, Locke and Hume which Nietzsche and Husserl rejected. Steiner warned against the possibility of a cult of diminished human ego in thrall to nothing but sensations and instincts, and even posited a future global collapse brought about by this narcissistic ego. Fittingly, he chose the associationist Hobbes’ nihilistic phrase ‘war of all against all’ to describe it. 

Nasty, brutish and online 

“It may seem harmless to think only automatic thoughts” remarks Steiner. But true to his intuitive understanding of the distorting power of intentionality he offers a glimpse of a future where humanity becomes what they behold, to paraphrase Blake. “These materialistic thoughts will then bring forth a terrible race of automatic beings […] endowed with great power of intellect and understanding and will enclose the earth in a kind of net or spiders web”, which thinks Steiner, will resemble the caduceus of Mercury. “All modern unreal thoughts will become endowed with being” he says. Husserl’s thought experiment about a ‘being’ devoid of intentionality, a “mere complex of sensations”, could be a clue. The plot of Wilson’s horror parody The Mind Parasites revolves around Lovecraft’s Mythos, phenomenology and a plague of anhedonia beginning in the 1800’s, although it is set in the present day. This satire was drawn from a passage in The New Existentialism discussing Blake’s Spectre and the intentional limiting of consciousness. Steiner’s lectures typically hint at dark forces entering into the human subconscious during the nineteenth century, when “materialistic impulses [were] instilled into humanity”. Steiner calls these impulses “spirits of hindrance” – phenomenologically speaking, they are our sense of contingency, itself due to our self-limiting of consciousness. Expressing this in science-fiction terms, Wilson describes this limitation as “some mysterious agency, that wishes to hold men back”, a mind parasite; “active in the feeling, will and mind impulses of human beings” since the middle of the nineteenth century, according to Steiner. These impulses “spin a web of illusion over human beings and into human brains” [and] “throw people’s views into confusion, turning their concepts and ideas inside out”. Thanks to these illusions, the atmosphere of the present is “impregnated with the will to misunderstand to such an extent that one’s words are immediately interpreted as something different from what they actually mean to convey”. A massive upsurge in materialistic “subtlety of conception, acumen and critical faculties” during the nineteenth century, then, was an anticipatory cause of today’s very confused ego. 

It is amusing to read that in this 1917 lecture, Steiner was complaining how pointless is was to still be thinking as it were still 1913, with the hindsight of the war, for this is the topic of Musil’s novel. Written in the thirties but set in 1913 – the year that Husserl published his phenomenological handbook, Ideas – it’s philosophical digressions unfold within the management of a political campaign celebrating the doomed Austro-Hungarian Empire. Musil’s satire on the culture world with it’s gestures and poses is timely (“reason and progress in the Western world would be displaced by racial theories and street slogans”) but even this “playacting” is an attempt to escape the past, however naive. What would you do if you could rule the world for a day? goes one conversation. “I suppose I would have no choice but to abolish reality” comes the answer. This is explained as a rejection of the here and now (“so much Present”), a craving for “a new concept of life” which grasps it directly, what Wilson meant by Faculty X, the awareness of the reality of other times and places. This Faculty cannot be activated without understanding the intentional ordering of consciousness. “The mind stands for order” says the man without qualities himself, Ulrich. He is speaking to his old General, and he asks if him you attempt to escape from “drab repetitiveness into the darkest recesses of your being, where the uncontrolled impulses live”, what do you find? “Stimuli and strings of reflexes, entrenched habits and skills, reiteration, fixation, imprints, series, monotony! That’s the same as uniforms, barracks, and regulations” he argues. Wilson compared intentionality to a barking sergeant-major, smartening up the recruits (impressions and sensations) for inspection by the conscious mind. This ordering function should protect our energy and vitality, but too much security of this kind soon curdles into the boredom and resentment which produces relativism. “It is a sign of Goethe’s astonishing genius that he managed to express this disillusionment in Faust before the scientific century was really under way” comments Wilson in The New Existentialism (Steiner also thought Goethe had preempted modern thought with Faust).

From the superficial, however, one is led into the depths – Husserl, The Origin of Geometry

“We can now see why Faust’s solution to this problem was the wrong one” he continues. “He tried to go backwards, to sink to a more instinctive level. Clearly, this is no solution. The solution is to repair the sense of purpose through a deepening of consciousness – which can be achieved by phenomenological analysis” (the practical discipline he champions at the beginning of the second part of the book). An essay he wrote on Husserl and evolution likens this process to poking a hole in stage scenery, the kind of artificial construct which Blake imagined as a mundane egg or shell. It is the ‘direct solution’ he later celebrated (cf: ‘In Search of Faculty X’ in Mysteries) and the reason why he held Proust in higher regard than Crowley and magic. His ‘evolutionary phenomenology’ challenges our presumptions about ourselves as passive beings and the conceptions we hold about the interior forces we have at our disposal, the layered strata of intentions. The aim is to become the ultimately free individual “who lives an inner reality, independent of the present, sustained from within”. Outsiders like Blake or Nietzsche are perfect examples; penniless or invalided, but indomitable. This is implicit in Husserl’s transforming of the ego to the Ego via his phenomenological method. New faculties can only be generated by a vigorous optimism and in the clear light of ‘normal’ consciousness – this is the theme of Wilson’s philosophy. Steiner understood this intuitively, even if, as Wilson thought, his imagination often got the better of him. 

But perhaps Musil put it most succinctly in The Man Without Qualities: “happiness can do wonders for a man’s latent possibilities”. 

Note: Rudolf Steiner’s lectures are archived here.
Also: numbers [§ -] refer to relevant passages in the phenomenological texts.


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