Letter Fragments on the Evolution of Consciousness


Editor’s note: I found a tattered scrapbook from which I was able to save the following fragments from letters addressed to “Monique” by one “Folio.” What I could discern, I have transcribed for the sake of readers for whom these ideas may hold interest.

Folio to Monique. In these words that you wrote, there is a little keyhole, and the light of the Golden Age is shining through it:

Maybe we project personal biographical experience onto our readings of history, particularly when we create myths of Eden.

If we hope to understand pre-Modern (i.e. before A.D. 1500) peoples on their terms rather forcing them to conform to ours (according to which they will never measure up because the standards of value have changed), then precisely what is needed is for us (1) to reconnect with our personal biographical experiences of youth and then (2) intentionally project this mode of thinking, but not the thoughts themselves, into our reading of history. For me, to even seemingly boring of abstruse prose of folks like Aristotle suddenly springs to life when I attempt this. It’s extraordinary and profoundly humbling.

Editor’s note: next letter

Folio to Monique. You wrote

Do you not contradict yourself to say we should at once project and not project onto our readings of the past? Perhaps you should dispute this question with yourself before you implicate me.

My dear, I don’t think that I am contradicting myself else I would not have written it. You have written in other studies of this theme:

Experiencing of oneself as an individual, with a goal of personal improvement, is at once the cause of liberation and of alienation of that liberated self from the world. This double movement of our destiny is arguably still playing out.

It implies that before (1) one did not experience oneself as an individual and (2) one did not experience an alienation from the world (the second point is of course contingent on the first, since one cannot experience alienation without also being an individual self which could be alienated). Does not the condition this describes also remind you of the mode of experiencing (though not the particular experiences) that we all passed through when we were young, still green, in our salad-days? I was trying to say that we should not project our adult condition onto the Greeks, but should recall our way of experiencing (not our personal experiences) of childhood and proceed to read Greek texts in the golden glow of this recollection. Have you ever revisited the playground at your elementary school? There was a hill we used to run up and down which might as well have been Mount Olympus itself when I was young but to my more-or-less adult eyes it looks like a little grassy knoll. In other words, now I don’t see it anymore unless I am able to enter into the mode of youth.

I thought of another way to say it: in the mode of youth, it is not “a mountain” or “a hill” that one experiences, but every time “the Mountain,” or “the Hill.” Similarly it is not just any parents that happen to be one’s own, but “the Mother” and “the Father,” for instance. Every particular object that an adult perceives was perceived as a principle in his youth. In this way, the child is the father of the man, just as the ancients were our fathers. From the archetypal experiences of childhood, experience gradually begins to atomise into mere instances of the original principles, so nothing seems especially numinous any longer. At the same…

Editor’s note: the rest of the letter was indecipherable. Below follows what I conjecture to be remains of the subsequent letter, though whoever collected these did not care to indicate their relation.

Folio to Monique. You wrote:

The human does indeed harden into habits with age, but neoteny in humans would suggest the human retains child-like features far longer than its ancestors. The extended period of “play” found in the human is thought to be a key feature of human evolution.

This is very interesting that you should bring up this point, my dear. I have thought that this condition of protracted childhood, together with other phenomena like the obvious fact of vertical posture, together with the ability of human beings to reflect on questions like this and subsequently to exchange letters in reflection on them warrants classifying them in a separate kingdom because the differences are not less striking than what apparently warranted other such divisions as between Eubacteria and Protista etc… “All philosophy begins in wonder,” and wonder is the condition of childhood. Philosophers forget this at the peril of their discipline, in my opinion. I expect that a visitor from Saturn, for instance, would find it remarkable that our scientists insist on classifying humans with other mammals in spite of immediately manifest differences. I won’t say more because I expect it would take us into another subject. I don’t understand how the fact of neoteny in humans has any bearing on the point of “drying out” since the neoteny is measured in respect to other species, not in respect to biography. If, for instance, a human being assumed features of youth as he or she aged, then evidence would compel me to revise my view of this and I would happily oblige.

You also wrote:

I am also wondering why you chose to speak about the marriage of the Sun and the moon. Especially when reflecting upon “poetic generativity of participation,” I think instead of the relationship between the Sun and Earth. For me, this is where the action is: in the relationship of the Sun and Earth. 

For me, to bring the “self-consciousness of onlooking” into the poetic generativity of participation” involves a feeling like this: to look at the relationship between the Sun and Earth is to see the relationship that births me now.

Is it similar for you, Folio? How is it different, if you don’t mind my asking?

I certainly would not argue with anything you wrote. It’s wonderful to live on the green Earth. I will only say that I chose to use a certain symbolic correspondence to embody what I meant to say, and I could have used another one (as you rightly pointed out), though it would have also lent a different inflection to the meaning…

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