Musing on Medusa, Reflections on the Gorgon's Head
Those of us who fear chaos, through our efforts to control chaos, bring about more chaos, a more virulent chaos, a more violent chaos.
At such times we see chaos as the Gorgon's head, writhing, wriggling, frightening. We project our anger, anger resulting from our fears onto this horrific mass, "If I am afraid it must be because these serpents are out to kill me!"
The Gorgon's head. Viewing Medusa, just looking at it turns us to stone. So goes the legend. What does this entail, being turned to stone?
Turning to stone, succumbing to the act of petrification, we become petrified. This is the name we give to a particular kind of fear, a fear that results in paralysis. To be petrified is to be overwhelmed by a fear that stops us in our tracks. We become like stone, or, as we imagine a stone to be: numb, empty of thought, of feeling, of Will, and even of intention. This brings on a cessation of what it means to be alive, aware. We fear that we will be – unlike an actual stone, weathering the ages unperturbed, unmoving, ready to submit to gravity and momentum without expecting any say in the outcome – We see in our threatened petrification a kind of death-sentence. We are condemned to an un-dead existence. Neither alive nor truly dead, a condition in which our state would no longer be of concern to us, being beyond the reach of the forces tearing at us as we approach the Gorgon.
Our failure at such moments is complete. We fail to see that our fears, and the anger they induce in us are in-here, not out-there in the world, on the Gorgon's leering head, however its snakes my writhe, how bearded and wreathed in head-scarves, how crowned with impossible orange hair…. This is how we allow an unrecognized internal disturbance to become manifest in the world and appear to us as Fate.
We fail by misunderstanding chaos itself. We consider any order we do not understand to be disorder. We equate order with a sense of control. We insist on replacing any order we do not recognize as order with a violent imposition of an appearance, an image of order that reflects our willfulness. We fail to see that this Will we wish to put in charge is itself out of control, out of order. It cannot be anything else. It is the true home of all we fear as it strives to convince us that its fear's causes are external. Holding to its demands we initiate, conspire, perpetuate, and proliferate a truly violent chaos. The only chaos that does exist. A fugue of fear whose single purpose is to dissolve an existing idea, an image of order, that has broken down enough to allow this form of chaos to ascend.
This is the nub. See this and all the compulsion, the petrification resulting in a sense of an unrelenting externalized Fate dissolves. Warmth returns to our flesh. Sensation re-animates us with the freedom to act.
This new form of action has no semblance to the actions compelled by fear. Those acts have only one end, no matter how we may desire to justify them. They lead to petrification and, as a stone, within our perverse undead idea of what a stone is, we are compelled to carry out a role in fulfilling this Fate we envision befalling us. These new possibilities of a kind of action do not depend on Will. Once we can see this; that all such rationalizations can only lead to this one end: petrification and being condemned to act as agents of dissolution; we arrive at a newfound freedom. This realm of action outside compulsion returns us to life.
Perseus slays Medusa by getting around looking at her by looking instead at her reflection. He is then able to use the Gorgon's head to petrify, to stop, to freeze Leviathan who has captured and was preparing to ravish and kill Andromeda. Andromeda stands for life, fecundity, sensation and generation. Leviathan…, could we say that Leviathan stands for the Enormity, the dissolution Gorgonian reactions bring upon the world?
So far so good…, but what of Perseus? Who is he?
A man of action. He seeks to secure the world by saving Andromeda, by slaying Leviathan. He is assisted by Athena who gives him her shield on whose divinely perfected polished surface he can look safely upon Gorgon's reflection.
Perseus seems a straightforward hero…. Such a role may once have been inspiring, but we have exhausted the Era of Heroes. We can now see how every twist and turn of the hero's journey leads back into an expanding Labyrinth of expectation. We can see that there is no escape from the Enormity. No hero can save us.
What does his act of reflection mean? How does reflection neutralize the Gorgon's stare?
This seems clear enough, straightforward. Reflection is looking at an image and recognizing it as an image. Looking directly at the Gorgon we are powerless because we cannot help but be drawn into the projection as if it were something real, something out-there. Reflecting upon the Gorgon we deprive it of this avenue of attack, defuse its power, disarm it. This is eminently reasonable. It's no wonder this idea occurred to Athena!
Reflection is also tied to self-reflection. We cannot look at anything in a mirror without recalling the impact of seeing our own reflection, placing an image of ourselves out-there as if before us. This is another highly reasonable supposition, something we can arrive at rationally. Again, no wonder Athena, Perseus, and then all the rest of us would see this whole drama as an expansion of Techné. An elaboration of Prometheus' gift. In a Heroic Age when a new, acting sense of order was just coming into being, far from the point of laboring futility we now experience in our time when this now old sense of order has been reduced to blind reaction, an acting-out of roles no one can in good faith any longer believe in.
Our time is ripe for the dissolution the Gorgon strives for. Any would-be Perseus today does not act out of divine inspiration. Does not take in the breath of a God and act out the will of an Athena, fresh and vibrant in her newly discovered powers. He reaches for a shopworn role reduced to a pantomime, acting-out an acting-out based on willful opinions of how to act-out better than anyone has acted-out before. He acts-out seeking glory, seeking a reward for acting-out.
At this point we need to look at the original iteration of this story with eyes only available to us today. Eyes attuned to the Enormity we face. Our Leviathans are not Perseus' Leviathan. We can see the whale, any natural "monster" of the past as a fellow victim of our Enormity. We recognize ourselves in them. See that whatever destroys them destroys us all, destroys everything…. Not strictly everything, that cannot happen, but it risks destroying everything that matters to us, whether we are aware of it or not. Everything that makes up this particular order, however impenetrable it may remain to our gaze. Everything that allows this order in this place at this time to persist, allowing us to live as a part of it.
Perseus had a glimpse of an order personified in Athena. An intense clarifying light that could be shone upon the world. A light capable of reflection. Up to a point…. And, the vista this light revealed seemed endless. The power of this light seemed limitless. This light could be used in reflection, but its powers were so seductive, its capacities appeared so great, it was hard to give up the energetic actions it made possible to drop into the hard and murky depths to do the work of following-through on the implications of reflection.
The Easter Egg to be prized out of this story rests in the capacities of reflection. Unlike Narcissus, Perseus was able to harness reflection. He did not fall for its seductive power.
Self-reflection misunderstood leads to a paralysis not much different from the one brought on by Gorgon's petrifying gaze. Narcissus was unable to see that his reflection was not perfect. That what it showed him of himself was not really out-there beneath the blemish free surface of that cold, lifeless water. Mesmerized by an image of an infinite regression of his own projections of what he wished to be; each reflection of his face reflected back onto his eye reflected back to him by the pond's surface held another smaller but no less flawless reflection of his face reflected on the pond and back onto his eye, and on and on…. Infinite regression overwhelmed his sense of himself in the world replacing that necessarily partial, incomplete view with an image of himself, a perfect image reflecting what he saw in himself. A naive reflection that grew to overwhelm him, leading him to drown in his own self-regard.
Perseus could use reflection. He understood it well enough, presumably, to recognize that it reverses what it shows. Otherwise he would have slashed to the left when Medusa was turning to the right….
We can take both lessons to heart. The self-destructive nature of a naive self-reflection and the realization that entering a world of reflected images transposes what we think we see.
Add this to our sense of how the Gorgon acts upon us by acting through us, not at us as it appears, as we might imagine when we fail to take projection into account….
Projection, reflection, the gaze…, we begin to detect a pattern. We are talking about the characteristics of vision, of seeing. That naive sight sees images as what-is. That it cannot differentiate a projection or a reflection from what-is. That it takes an image, whether seen before our eyes or in our mind's eye for what-is. Therefor it cannot do other than lead us astray.
We are talking about a new way of looking at seeing. We recognize that talking about it too much can create the illusion that this new seeing is something to be perfected, mastered, and therefore brought into Techné, made available to Will. But what this vision has begun to uncover shows us that such an approach is futile. It would compel us to re-enact Narcissus' Fate. To be petrified anew as our failures to see that acting-out the role of a would-be Perseus only strengthens the Gorgon's ultimate purpose and increases her powers. Only leads to the need for a more radical countervailing dissolution, unleashing a greater Enormity to strip the world of orders of order that fail to cohere.
Medusa's icy breath on our necks reveals the power of dissolution working to cleanse the Earth of an incoherence.
What we mean here by coherence is that which holds together. No more, no less. It is a feature of order that we can sometimes glimpse in orders of order that might otherwise be beyond our capacities to comprehend.
We can only rationally understand so much about order. An order that actually exists and functions in the unfolding of creation is and will always be beyond our powers of comprehension. They are not as they appear to our naive sight, or as they appear in the abstractions we partially extract and mostly project onto what-is.
The order that-is is always beyond such an approach to apprehend it. The most we are capable of seeing is to be able to perceive hints pointing at some coherence and to recognize signs of violence brought about through incoherence. Seeing in this light we are struck by the futility of past approaches. But instead of being petrified by this realization we are animated. Inspired by the breath of a God once again to act creatively, to begin to see how such a world unfolds and perceive hints as to how we might find ways to act in harmony with coherence.
This changes nothing and changes everything. It removes us from the forces of dissolution. This does not "weaken" them so much as it diminishes their need to act.
If as dissolution dissolves the bankrupt, imagined, pseudo-order we take our energies away from that pseudo-order – and recognize that "fighting a foe" in the heroic stance does not destroy the foe but merely adds to the violence of incoherence – we add our energies instead to the forces working to re-establish coherence and aid in the unfolding of creation.
Creation is not what Alan Watts described as a Ceramic Act of Creation or as a Mechanical grinding of lifeless gears. Creation is not imprisoned within a narrow image of a sovereign creator molding lifeless clay and firing it with HIS, always his, force. Nor is it captured within the fitful adolescent imaginings of clever boys laying out rules that appear to act aimlessly while actually acting-out a wish-fulfillment imposed by their Will. Clever immaturity hiding behind a mask of uncaring Nihilism.
Creation is the unfolding of what-is as Consciousness acts through Intelligence and brings what-is into explicit being, creating the basis for a continuing unfolding of coherence through acts of intelligence witnessed and participated-in by every form of awareness.
In this we see how the Gorgon's victims, Leviathan, any would-be Perseus, or even every stray Narcissist and Nihilist; participates in the dissolution of a broken view of what order entails. A view that has grown so incoherent that our tremendous Enormity has had to come to pass so as to dissolve this incoherence and make room for a more coherent order to take its own place in a continuing participation in Creation.
What is left to us to decide is whether we will persist in forcing the necessity for dissolution to continue to cut away at what-is past the point at which what we can recognize as that once viable world that had a place for us in it. Or whether we put ourselves and our energies into reestablishing enough coherence to allow whatever remnants of the world we can be a part of to have a chance to continue to live.
Our decision, our actions as they unfold based upon these realizations, does not guarantee anything. Our continued blindness, however, does guarantee that the dissolution of the world as we know it will continue. Will deepen. Be more radical and leave the world in a much more diminished and impoverished state before some new coherence can begin to establish itself. A coherence that may have no place in it for us or our kind….