Saturday 17 March 2018

1740 - The dawn of Romanticism; the year that human consciousness changed

Colin Wilson was the first to recognise that human consciousness changed in 1740; and what marked this historic moment was the publication in London of Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson - which was the first novel.

The novel produced an instant sensation and within months had spawned numerous imitations. And the novel was the first evidence of the power of Imagination. Romanticism was born.

From that moment, human imagination exploded in the Western nations: the British Isles, Germany, France - spreading to all the developed countries and increasing until it was the dominant social theme by around 1800 - and the world was never the same again.

But if 1740 really was The Moment - then the direction of causality remains to be established.

Colin Wilson argued that The Novel caused the change in consciousness; but I would argue that the change in consciousness caused The Novel - and that Pamela was merely the first evidence that Man (specifically Western Man) had already begun to undergo a change in consciousness.

Here we come to the ambiguity in the term 'evolution'. Wilson saw the evolution of human consciousness; but he saw this as consciousness adapting to changed circumstances - he saw consciousness as 'passively' following changes in the environment...

But I see a process of developmental unfolding, in accordance with divine destiny. Thus I see human consciousness as developing a greatly-enhanced power of Imagination as a process of a long term plan for humanity. The novel was an early product of this change.

Consciousness is itself the driving force; and it was the change in consciousness which drove the changes in the environment - such as the Romantic Movement and the Industrial Revolution.

Most historians of ideas, on the contrary, regard Romanticism as a reaction-to modernity - especially a reaction-to the Industrial Revolution. (e.g. That Romanticism was a daydream of escape into magic and nature from the grimy and alienating 'realities' of industrialisation.) But this can't be right if we consider Pamela as the beginning of it all, since in 1740 the Industrial Revolution was as yet so small in scale as to be almost imperceptible. The greatest commentator of the age, Samuel Johnson, saw continuity, not revolution.

Instead, I would say that both The Novel and the Industrial Revolution were different products of the same driving, qualitative change in human consciousness; a change that affected England before it affected anywhere else - but which before long had affected everywhere else in Western and Central Europe and the diaspora of these peoples.

This general insight - of changing consciousness driving culture - was articulated by Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield; although neither emphasised much the point that this was a developmental divine destiny; and that its ultimate aim was the aim of God in creation: to enable Man to rise to full divinity.

Enhanced Imagination was something that was imposed-upon Western Man - it was not his choice, he was passively-swept-along by this change in consciousness.

But 250 years later I think we can perceive that Imagination was only meant to be the first step - and the divine plan was that Imagination would lead on to Man's explicit choice to embrace an Intuitive consciousness that was also conscious and free. That is, Man needed voluntarily to embrace what I have termed Primary Thinking.

So, the intention was that Imagination would show us the way - but Imagination is not-necessarily-real. Imagination was meant to lead-onto Intuitive Primary Thinking. While Imagination is creative in the realm of public communications, Intuition is creative in terms of universal reality - Intuition is, in fact, human creativity in the context of on-going divine creation. Intuition is Man's participation in God's creativity.

Yet since 1740 this evolution, this developmental unfolding of consciousness, has stalled; and we now live in a world where Imagination is encapsulated, hermetically sealed-off from Real Life which is The System, The Bureaucracy, an invasive totalitarian web of surveillance and control... Intuition (or claims of Intuition) is regarded as merely wishful thinking, evidence of childishness, or an evil attempt to manipulate others for personal advantage...

This happened because, unlike previous unfoldings of human conscious development, this last one (into the divine type of consciousness - divine in quality albeit not - initially - in quantity or scope) must be consciously chosen.

(We must consciously and explicitly choose to become gods - we cannot be made gods unconsciously and without our consent and cooperation.)

We must become explicitly aware of the next-step, then need to choose it. And this entails becoming explicitly aware of God's Plan - of our divine destiny - and choosing to join this; to be, live and work in harmony with God's Plan.

So far - very few people seem to have done this - of those we know, perhaps Goethe, William Blake, ST Coleridge, Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield are among the well-known examples of people who have made this choice; who have made this choice and qualitative step...

But culturally - the divine destiny of consciousness has been roundly and comprehensively rejected by modern Western cultures; as foolish, childish, meaningless nonsense - itself evil or tending-to evil.

Modern Culture is therefore divided between two wrong answers: between those who reject the assumption of God, and those who reject the assumption of a developmental unfolding of human consciousness.

Yet my belief is that both need to be accepted - which entails recognising them explicitly, and choosing them freely. Only then can Man take-up and resume his development towards divine consciousness.


William Wildblood said...

Could it be that both you and Wilson are right, but you’re more right! I mean to say that the change in consciousness did come first but its opening up was aided and abetted by the products, such as the novel and new forms of music, that the people at the vanguard of this change created. Then each one fed off the other. But, as you say, the whole thing stalled. Whether because we simply weren’t mature enough or because of a deliberate attempt at derailing and sidetracking the burgeoning new form of consciousness is hard to say. I suspect both.

People tend to follow where they are led. Hence the majority of the populace genuinely seems to believe the nonsense that passes for truth nowadays. There simply weren’t enough leaders to ground the new form of consciousness and of those there were, artists, philosophers and the like, not enough of them saw deeply enough to go beyond imagination viewed as personal inner vision to seeing it as the seed of a genuine higher form of consciousness that should be pursued as a way of encountering the divine reality. And also the moral and spiritual aspects of the change were not perceived as clearly as the aesthetic ones.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William, yes there is an interaction, a feedback... But it is crucial to knwo what comes first and what drives the process. There is all the difference in the world between a consciousness that changes passively (even if those passive changes then have a knock-on effect), and a consciousness the-changing-of-which drives everything else (even though consciousness then needs to adapts to those external changes).

This is related to the two main meanings of 'evolution' - the pre-Darwin idea was of evolution as *including* a developmental unfolding change, analogous to the maturation of an organism from conception to maturity - this entails purpose as a part of reality...

And the post-Darwinian concept of evolutionary change as *only* a passive consequence of reproductive competition and heredity (and undirected, 'random' variation) - this destroys all purpose, hence meaning.

William Wildblood said...

Oh absolutely. That's why I said you were more right. The evolutionary impetus always originates from within.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I've never read Pamela, so I wonder what special characteristics it has that would lead Wilson to consider it the "first novel." Wasn't Don Quixote a novel? Or Robinson Crusoe? Or, looking beyond Europe (since we're talking about "human consciousness" here!), the 14th-century Chinese works Water Margin and Three Kingdoms?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - It is the mainstream consensus that Pamela was the first novel - that isn't Wilson's idea. The others are precursors, but not the actual thing (for various reasons). Certainly the effect on people of Pamela was unprecedented, and its influence was incredibly rapid.