The Last Stage of Image-Work: Petrifaction

9 Aug

Consider this remarkable passage that describes the tipping point when a Culture, its forms and traditions worn out, parodies of themselves, ossifies into Civilization:
“Where the Civilization develops into full bloom stands the Cosmopolis, the great petrifact, a symbol of the formless, vast, splendid and spreading in insolence. It draws within itself the now impotent countryside…Here money and intellect celebrate their last triumphs…uncanny, too good to be true” like the market, the victory in Iraq; the new exalted leader…
Spengler’s comments on the dynamics of Culture remarkably complement my thesis on the nature of Western poetics. When the new image of self and culture is fresh, an idyll (the word is related to idol and idle or vain) of idealization spurs enthusiasm and activity and discovery. As the image ideal takes on a life of its own, possessing, displacing and dominating the lives of the ‘parent’ individual or culture that created it, as TV and screen world generally dominate and displace our personal lives now, a condition of alienation, confusion and terror occurs. A process of grieving begins. Finally, the self and individual are felt to be irrelevant and weak while the IMAGE (now wholesaled by the media) absorbs, like the Cosmopolis all life into itself. This is an apocalypse of self and culture leading to forms, styles, and feelings of mourning and elegy. The past is felt to be irretrievably lost and for most cultures is lost. This is the time of the “petrifact” that Spengler denotes “formless” because it has disorganized and displaced organic forms of life and relationship.
The occultist late W B Yeats celebrated the supremacy of the image over life in poems like “Byzantium” which lauds imagery as self-generating, free of human agency: “those images that yet fresh images beget” far above “the fury and the mire of human veins.” In this demonic work, human beings have become an unsightly, unaesthetic nuisance. No wonder that in his last decade Yeats was a Nazi sympathizer and slated to receive a medal from the Third Reich.
But the main point of this note is the remarkable congruence of Spengler’s historical analysis and what I have found in the West via literature, the logic of image-work in the drive for metamorphosis of a Greek-rooted culture that seeks idealization and salvation in an image, giving its life to it. The rule of inflated money and dubious financial systems, the swallowing of social governance by money and power, the lies of the media owned by the oligarchy distinguish both analyses. They explain what we are, whence we have come and where we are heading.
Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (1917 Volume !, 1922; English abridged edition 1962, Alan Helps editor, translation by Charles Atkinson), 378, “Caesarism” in the section on “State and History.”


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