BermanMorris painting full copy

in a dark time, the eye begins to see a world of early childhood damage

WE LIVE IN A WORLD of early child­hood damage, says Morris Berman. This is what caught my eye when I was turned on to Berman’s web­site, Dark Ages America. The reader will find below ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view with Berman by Murray Cox for Omni mag­a­zine (Au­gust 1991 issue).

What fol­lows is an abridged ver­sion of their ex­change. I have taken a lib­eral ed­i­to­rial li­cense with the layout of the quotes. I also added a few ob­ser­va­tions to make this more than just an abridged in­ter­view.

“The [first Gulf War] was ba­si­cally un­con­scious. We live in a world of early child­hood damage, of which George [H.] Bush is prob­ably an ex­cel­lent rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Look at his stiff body lan­guage, his me­chan­ical be­havior. He got elected be­cause he echoes our body lan­guage. When the op­por­tu­nity arises to forget our in­ternal damage, we em­brace it.

The ego, in order to main­tain its in­tegrity and iden­tity, has to have an enemy, so it be­comes like a heat-seeking mis­sile. After glas­nost, we lost our enemy of forty years, the So­viet Union.

For a few months, we talked about giving money to art or med­i­cine or ed­u­ca­tion. We floated around in am­bi­guity but fi­nally couldn’t handle it.

 

Childhood Damage: photo of Morris Berman.

If we can un­der­stand our in­ability to tol­erate am­bi­guity and the fact that the ego must have an enemy in order to feel whole, then this war is com­pletely ex­plic­able. We would have fought Ghana, Antarc­tica, it doesn’t re­ally matter. We had to find an enemy … 

What emerges as strength in this cul­ture?

The person who wages peace or lives without heroism?

No.

Just the op­po­site.

Watch the body lan­guage of our elected of­fi­cials: it’s wonderful—I mean sad, but won­derful.

When George Bush an­nounced that we were going to war, The New York Times de­clared, ‘A somber Pres­i­dent Bush.’

Somber?

He was giddy.

There’s a pa­thetic quality to our heroism, and eighty-seven per­cent of the country thinks that’s what strength is about.”

Of course, if Mr. Berman is cor­rect, then this ob­ser­va­tion ap­plies to Nor­iega and Gaddafi and our cur­rent invasions/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. If Mr. Berman is cor­rect, then there is more of the same, end­lessly.

 

Childhood Damage: the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

The Hall of Mir­rors, the most fa­mous room in the Palace of Ver­sailles, was built to re­place a large ter­race which opened onto the garden. The ter­race was awk­ward and above all ex­posed to bad weather, and it was not long be­fore the de­ci­sion was made to de­molish it. Work started on the Hall of Mir­rors in 1678 and ended in 1684. The whole length of the Hall of Mir­rors (73m) pays tribute to the po­lit­ical, eco­nomic and artistic suc­cess of France. (Chateau de Ver­sailles)

Emergence of the individual

“I as­sume that if mir­rors are present in a cul­ture at any point, it means a greater in­terest in self-awareness. It turns out that the Vene­tians began to man­u­fac­ture sil­vered glass on the Isle of Mu­rano during the Renaissance—part of the so-called ’emer­gence of the in­di­vidual.’

The ob­ses­sion with mir­rors cli­maxes at the Hall of Mir­rors at the Palace of Ver­sailles, where people con­stantly looked at them­selves. Chart the man­u­fac­ture and dif­fu­sion of re­flecting sur­faces, and you get a curve of the na­ture of self-awareness in any pe­riod.

The mirror as the map of the evo­lu­tion of con­scious­ness is a god ex­ample of the types of method­ology we might con­sider when ex­am­ining so­matic his­tory. Tech­nology is also a record of con­scious­ness.”

Merriam-Webster de­fines so­matic as “of, re­lating to, or af­fecting the body es­pe­cially as dis­tin­guished from the germplasm or the psyche; of or re­lating to the wall of the body.”

Merriam-Webster de­fines germplasm as “germ cells and their pre­cur­sors serving as the bearers of heredity and being fun­da­men­tally in­de­pen­dent of other cells.”

So, we can in­ter­pret “so­matic his­tory” as the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tory through the body and the aware­ness of self, rather than through mere ar­ti­facts and con­structs. 

 

Childhood Damage: front cover of the paperback edition of Morris Berman's THE REENCHANTMENT OF THE WORLD (1985).

This is the pa­per­back edi­tion of The Reen­chant­ment Of The World from 1985. For better or worse, this book had a pro­found im­pact on many of what came to be called New Agers. I like the title and the third gen­er­a­tion psy­che­delia of the cover art didn’t hurt.

Soul travel and ascent

“The con­trol of nature—the very heart of the modern sci­en­tific paradigm—has its his­tor­ical root in the re­nais­sance Her­metic ver­sion of soul travel and as­cent. But the al­chem­ical world­view hard­ened into the me­chan­ical world­view of the 17th cen­tury, which I think is breaking up today.

Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, mea­sure­ment, tech­nical mas­tery be­came the hall­marks of the new age. The ques­tion, How? re­placed the ques­tion Why?

Truth was equated with utility, thanks to Bacon, among others. Newton told us, What is, is mea­sur­able. Fact and value were split apart. Vex na­ture and na­ture will yield its se­crets.

So we tor­tured na­ture for four hun­dred years, un­in­ter­ested in the con­se­quences of our in­ven­tions. Tech­nology be­came the source of a new epis­te­mology em­bodied in the con­cept of ex­per­i­ment.”

Mr. Berman fol­lows this state­ment with a brief dis­cus­sion of his dis­ap­point­ment with the New Age move­ment, of which his book The Reen­chant­ment Of The World (1981) was one of the more re­mark­able (and read­able) ex­am­ples on the New Age breathing life back into the Old Age.

Which I ac­tu­ally bought and read in the early ’80s—before Reagan and the resur­gent Rep*blicans started rip­ping every­thing asunder.

Of which Mr Trump is only the most re­cent agent.

 

Childhood Damage: painting by Mandiri Bhanduri titled "In a dark time, the eye begins to see."

Painting by Mandiri Bhan­duri ti­tled “In a dark time, the eye be­gins to see.”

A world of early childhood damage

To wrap up the in­ter­view, Mr. Cox re­marks, Isn’t it ironic that in the In­for­ma­tion Age we seem to know less and less about the world. To which Mr. Berman replies with his final state­ment:

“The Gulf War was por­trayed by the news as the war of graphics. We’re fed lots of in­for­ma­tion but we learn nothing.… We think in thirty second sound­bites, and the in­for­ma­tion in­dustry caters to that men­tality. In­for­ma­tion is in­stantly pack­aged so we don’t have to think, though we think we’re thinking.

But there are sig­nif­i­cant coun­ter­move­ments. Some people are dis­sat­is­fied with the larger cul­ture and they’re moving away from a pack­aged and pre­fab­ri­cated world in which every­thing is handed to them in the form of a Har­le­quin ro­mance.

Like many au­thors, I get the most re­mark­able let­ters from people all over this country. Dra­matic stuff.

 

When the op­por­tu­nity arises to forget our in­ternal damage, we em­brace it.

 

Not every­body has been so over­whelmed by the media that they want to stuff their pain, ques­tions, and doubts [and] be­lieve in the Gulf War, and think every­thing’s just fine. There are people who want to get to the bottom of their pain.

On a hidden, so­matic level such change might be afoot and that’s a hopeful pos­si­bility.

Here’s an­other quote from Roethke: In a dark time, the eye be­gins to see.

Not Utopia per­haps, but just pos­sibly a non­for­mulistic ex­pe­ri­ence of life. And that’s not half bad, you know.”

And not once in the five pages worth of ex­change with the in­ter­viewer did Berman men­tion “shock and awe,” the hor­ri­fying phrase con­jured by the evil war­locks in the White House to sell the murder of tens of thou­sands of people, the de­struc­tion of count­less an­cient build­ings, and the il­legal plun­dering of count­less his­tor­ical and cul­tural ar­ti­facts.

Of course, that was not ger­mane to the topic—I just wanted to men­tion it in case you have for­gotten the count­less hor­rors and crime lev­eled upon the Iraqi people by the Amer­ican people.

Aside from Mr. Berman’s books, he over­sees a rather in­ter­esting blog, Dark Ages America. DAA is note­worthy not only for his ob­ser­va­tions, but for the many com­ments he re­ceives from his readers and his in­ter­acting with them. Go ahead and give it a read.

When the op­por­tu­nity arises to forget the damage of our early child­hood, we em­brace it. Click To Tweet

Childhood Damage: section cropped from the painting by Mandiri Bhanduri titled "In a dark time, the eye begins to see."

FEATURED IMAGE: For the image at the top of this page, I took Mandiri Bhan­duri’s painting, flipped it on its side, then cropped the sec­tion you see from it! I wanted the sec­tion with the chil­dren’s art (?) to cut across the page hor­i­zon­tally, rather than ver­ti­cally.

 

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