Nature Objectified—The Nature Of Both “Inner And Outer Reality”

The Human Spirit’s Pursuit Of Liberation Continued

Ernst Cassirer tells us that Pre-moderns, as they engaged their environment through emotions, desires and work, acquired the ability, via symbolic representation, to objectify nature–the nature of both “inner and outer reality.” There was (and is) a double movement that arises from one’s interaction with his/her environment; in one direction there develops an objectification of one’s
self-nature and in the other direction there arises the objectification of the
social and cultural contents of society. From Cassirer’s point of view, art,
myth, magic and ritual are co-creative products arising from this objectifying
movement, which in turn, arises from the work that people do in society. “For
the form of society,” Cassirer states, “is not absolutely and immediately given
any more than is the objective form of nature, the regularity of our own world
of perception. Just as nature comes into being through a theoretical
interpretation and elaboration of sensory contents, so to the structure of
society is mediated and ideally conditioned reality.” (Ernst Cassirer, The
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vol., vol. 2, Mythical Thought, 1955, pl 193) In
his three volume work, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Cassirer concentrates
his focus on the nature and origins of symbolic form as it first arises in
language and myth and then, over time, develops into the theoretical
orientations of scientific thought. The utility of symbolic forms, if that is
the right word, is not just about a “thing” to be apprehended, it is about a
movement towards constancy, endurance and certainty, and that objective applies
to both culture and mind.

Pre-moderns then, as participating agents in an environment conceived
holistically, objectify mind and culture in and through creative acts of
differentiation. This process evolves out of the acquisition of life’s
necessities and into the creation of more complex societal structures, e.g., kinship
systems, sacred and profane boundaries, talismans, origin myths, etc. Thus,
myth, or the mythical-religious consciousness of man, for Cassirer, is
understood to be the precursor to the technological culture that, from the
standpoint of utility, increases our ability to do work, as is makes life easier
for all. However, this is not the end of the story. Self-liberation or the
movement towards constancy, endurance and certainty continues to direct the
human spirit’s progressive movement towards new forms of self-expression.

For Cassirer, myth and myth making becomes the expression of human
spirit/culture that seeks to liberate itself from the restrictive conditions
that hinder and retard the self-liberation process. In our present modern
episteme, as Foucault likes to call it, however, the myth-centered universe of
the Middle Ages has given ground to a more matter-centered, self-centered
universe—a universe that, for Cassirer, represents a more spiritually liberated
state, but, for Foucault, represents just another power/knowledge driven
episteme, catering to the needs of those who desire and benefit most from
power/knowledge relationships. Shortly, I will challenge this assumption by
Foucault, but first I must add a bit more structure to Cassirer’s
self-liberation world view. This structure comes from an unlikely source, the
philosophy of Jean Paul Sartre.


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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