The Immanent Turn


Throughout evolutionary history, humanity has been on the steady trajectory of transcendence. The deep root of this movement is the transcendence of the ego. As consciousness birthed out of its undifferentiated state, it separated from the unconscious and the larger totality of the Self. That is, in order to create individual self, a particular aspect of self had to split off from the larger totality of Self, and perceive itself as a separate Self.

The splintering of the eternal into temporal created the unique human experience of the “I”: an ego, an individual capable of self-reflective awareness. But in doing so, it also created an existential user error, as the need to consider the self as separate in the face of survival became transposed upon our relationship to the larger body of life. Humans began to think of themselves as separate from, above, and outside of the larger body of life. This movement of transcendence created a deep oppositional conflict within the human psyche. A split in which we find ourselves in opposition to not only the materiality and corporeality of nature, but also to each other, and even to ourselves.

The word transcendence means ‘to surmount, to go beyond or to climb‘. The transcendence of the ego created the illusionary experience of surmounting the flow of intestines, of going beyond the multiplicity, of climbing out of the womb of nature. The transcendence of the ego ushered in transcendence at a cultural level: transcendent religions, the advent of industrialization, and the “triumph” of industry over nature. Hierarchical civilizations were oriented toward the individual and collective effort of transcendence. Icons were created of perfect humans, heavenly bodies who resided eternally in the heavens above. Deities such as Zeus, Apollo, Venus became icons of the ultimate power of the transcendent ideal.

The transcendent ideal was partly a representation of the human self, and partly a mirror image of the eternal Self, from which we turn our gaze. While it takes an openness to one’s own subjective experience to encounter the actual Self, it is not as difficult to create and worship a symbol of the Self.  The symbolic Self, placed in a transcendent position, served as the perfect representation of mankind’s ideal ego, providing a focus for our desire and distracting our awareness away from life as truly lived.

The transcendent drive toward idealized symbols became all-encompassing, as humans sought to take the place of the gods that they had created, and to seek the ultimate positions of power and prestige for themselves. Omnipotence reigned supreme as the collective human desire for transcendence became an uninhibited drive toward the powerful fantasy of becoming the all-encompassing ego ideal.

The drive was not to create a collective Eden or utopia, but instead a fantasy particular to the individual, a fantasy of reaching high enough to replace the icon of the heavenly god with one’s own ego. And although it was a fantasy that took place within the singular mind of any given individual, it became so widespread and rampant that the civilization itself became the method, mode, mandate for this drive.

Now, the transcendence of the ego had gone into hyper-drive, as the hierarchy of the transcendent God is being replaced by the hierarchy of wealthy, power, and prestige. With this, the social world is becoming fragmented into those who greedily grab for power and those who idealized those in power, with only a few outsiders capable of seeing the madness for what it is.

After a few thousand years of marching upward and onward toward the all-illuminating heavenly bodies, the infinite possibilities opened by the pursuit of the ideal have becomes narrowed down to a well trodden path. The power and prestige promised in the individual pursuit of the ideal ego has been replaced by an intricately manufactured social order, catering to those who wish to climb, surmount, and go beyond. The pursuit of ego ideal has become a path as clearly mandated as that the curriculum of an academy. And our collective drive has turned existence into a transcendence machine, in which each and every person is guaranteed the freedom to pursue their illusions of ego omnipotence.

Levers and pulleys, buckets and belts, gears and cogs have become the terrain, with a powerful motion that only moves in one direction: “Upward and onward my darling.” Until we are so-far-out that we are each living in our own little nook within this vast machine of fantasy production, isolated and uncertain how it is that we even got here in the first place.

This collective matrix has become so powerful that the very ground– our world, as well as our psyches– has become territorialized by this collective drive: a pursuit of some vague something just beyond our grasp. And when we pause for a moment to look within, we find that the depths of the self has been carved out and replaced by hidden shafts leading to burial chambers where the undead endlessly await transformation through mourning. Dark corridors in which the gatekeepers lurk, warning of madness least you journey into the void.

And so where do we turn in order to discover ourselves? Where is the ladder, so that we can climb back down from our lofty heights? What stories and parables will guide our way so that we can begin to discover that sacred terrain, the Self, that we so naively turned away from?

Now that the hero’s journey has become a well trodden path, and the transcendent ideal has become a fixated reflections of the ego’s need for power, we will have to find a method of opening that does not once again becomes territorialized by the ego’s need to become the ideal. This takes new ways of intuiting our relationship to life, and new ways of navigating the terrain.

Given the contextual situation of the ego, it seems rather understandable that we would have little idea as to the meaning of the Self. Transcendence is the overarching mental matrix of civilization, and the language we collectively speak is the language of the transcendent ego matrix: order, duality, hierarchy, power, prestige, wealth.

To speak of the Self is to speak in terms of immanence: to hold the capacity to represent something so essential, so subtle, that it lies beyond all representations offered by the collective ego.

To reclaim the Self is to give value that which has no value by the collective ego. Being by nature subtle and ordinary, the Self is far from the ego ideal.

The Self is a lived experience that defies our explicit representations, and in this way never be dressed up or imitated.

The Self is immeasurable, and in this way can never be bought or sold.

The Self is the emergent background of creation hidden behind the foreground of conscious thought, and in this way can never be an object of our desire.

The Self cannot be bought or sold in the market place. And, although it is represented by archetypes and symbols, it can never be known in such form.


One thought on “The Immanent Turn

  1. Beautful writing, a poetic exploration and exposition on the human condition. I believe you have developed profound insight into the soul of humanity. I also believe we must struggle to grasp the truth of our existence. In understanding the power of social transformation as an evolving truth, originating with the emergence of subjective experience and subsequent developments of history and language, I could suggest, in response to your insight (however insufficiently), that the answer to the dichotomoy is resolved when transcendence and immanence merge into the substance of a fulfulled human being.

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