Only the Gods Can Save Us:
A Review of Jason Jorjani’s Prometheus & Atlas
Jason Reza Jorjani
Prometheus and Atlas
London: Arktos Media, 2016
Editor’s Note: Andrew O’Donnell is a poet, writer, editor, and teacher. He edits his own poetry and metaphysical journal named The Fiend.
Prometheus. . . . Know ye not me,
The Titan? He who made his agony
The barrier to your else all-conquering foe?
Oh rock-embosomed lawns, and snow-fed streams,
Now seen athwart frore vapours, deep below,
Thro’ whose o’ershadowing woods I wandered once
With Asia, drinking life from her loved eyes;
Why scorns the spirit which informs ye, now
To commune with me? me alone, who checked,
As one who checks a fiend-drawn charioteer,
The falsehood and the force of him who reigns
Supreme, and with the groans of pining slaves
Fills your dim glens and liquid wildernesses:
Why answer ye not, still ? Brethren! . . .
The Earth. I am the Earth,
Thy mother; she within whose stony veins,
To the last fibre of the loftiest tree
Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air,
Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,
When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!
—Prometheus Unbound, P. B. Shelley
The figures of Prometheus and The Earth in Shelley’s early closet drama disclose the modern, Romantic template for the much older signification that is the title of Jorjani’s book, Prometheus and Atlas. And, while Jorjani has not written a book of poems here, the impulse behind these lines from Shelley very much share the emergency each has for the archetypes of Prometheus and Atlas.
Indeed, when perusing the Internet or shopping around for books, how often are we simply looking for a mind that thinks similarly to ours? This, Jorjani’s first book (published last year by Arktos), is one such book for me. I would perhaps go further. The author of this book both thinks like me, but also attempts a discussion that seems vital to me, vital to life, and vital to the human future. His subject comes out of myth, out of literature, out of the ancient world . . . and attempts, via the medium of analytical prose, to further an insightful parallel between those two figures – Prometheus (stealer of Jove’s fire, the translation comes down to us most potently in Heidegger’s use of the Greek: tekne) and Atlas (stalwart protector of the earth, he who holds up the sky, whose name designates both our present Atlantic Ocean and the etymology of the name of Atlantis) – and certain streams of theory and ideology in the modern mode. (It’s also worth asking whether these two figures – beyond Aeschylus’ fixedly establishing them in the minds of the ancients – were not only gods of the ancient Greek pantheon but also real giants, actual living beings, residing in the early Atlantean period, where men resembling our size today intermingled with beings of much larger size?)
The titanic or gigantic is the godlike capacity that mortals could unleash and cultivate so as to rise up in rebellion against the heavenly gods. Zeus punished Prometheus not only by chaining him to the pillar in the Caucasus where the Eagle devours his liver, but also insofar as he binds the children of Prometheus in the chains of servitude. We can melt and break these chains with the stolen fire of techne, and this fire affords us the ability to forge the world anew and even reshape ourselves in ways that are to our own benefit.
Where the fire of Zoroaster and techne exist, so do these two mythological figures – Prometheus and Atlas – who naturally preside throughout the work, interweaved into a mélange of sub-discourses that gather together such figures as Henri Bergson, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, William James, Friedrich Nietzsche, F. W. J. Schelling, Rudolf Steiner, Jacques Vallée, and Jeffrey Mishlove, amongst others.
Though well-schooled in philosophy, Jorjani is unafraid to stray into areas that traditional Continental and American philosophy has shied away from. In many ways, he straddles the areas that Internet alternate research was concentrating on four or five years ago, and the newer world of twitter-political emphases. His book specifically heralds and echoes sections of the New Right that seek a mythological consciousness, and a mythologically-minded elite to bring forth the qualities of ancient thought that would best correct the problems of modernism and post-modernism. Jorjani’s contribution is to achieve all this through a syncretism of the American tradition, European tradition, and – most explicitly (through his own personal lineage) – Persian tradition. The results of this are radically divergent, and he offers unique treatments of some of the more established figures he introduces, bringing more oblique facets about them into the open as well as bringing newer and more hidden sources into the light.
Most notably, the book is bound by two chapters promoting procedures or approaches regarding the future: “The Spectral Revolution” and “Mercurial Hermeneutics.” The two concepts – after the work of people like Colin Wilson and Julian Jaynes? – attempt to overcome what have been the assumptions of modern philosophy’s skepticism regarding the supernatural, and to uncover the alchemical and hermetic elements underpinning even the most materialist and empiricist of newer thinkers (in fact, Jorjani goes further in allowing us to re-conceive of empiricism under a new paradigm, as the poet Pasolini partially did in some of his essays of the 1960s and ‘70s).
Jorjani is rightly intrigued by the most uncanny experiences of human life that encompass spiritualism and the darker corners of psychoanalysis . . . and seems to attempt to provide a benchmark for where these spectral phenomena cross over with academic norms of philosophical speculation (poetically speaking, he mines the area between the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning . . . the question concerning that arch-maverick of the psychical world: D. D. Home . . . with the husband most resolutely against anything genuine in him, and the wife strongly in favor?).
As a number of writers over the years have noted failings in Descartes on grounds similar to these, so the philosopher Immanuel Kant comes in for similar treatment. Kant is also a writer I have become more and more skeptical of over the years, and I have recently written of similar worries regarding his self-professed Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Jorjani is eminently more thorough, however, and juxtaposes Kant’s Swedenborgian, and little-known, early spiritualist texts: Natural History and Theory of the Heavens and Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, with the later system established in the three Critiques and other works. As with Terence McKenna’s establishing of Descartes as profoundly influenced by spiritualism, alchemy, and esoterica, but presenting a philosophy that attempts to negate the spirit world, so – with Jorjani – do we see Kant as performing similar trickery.
Kant believes that “scoffing” at the paranormal should be encouraged “whether it may be justified or not” because it will hold natural philosophers back from attempting serious interpretations of paranormal phenomena, and thereby being “caught in such” that they place themselves “under suspicion.”
His use of Jacques Derrida, also – from the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum, and from almost a couple of centuries later – is typical of this investigation of what seems most liminal between the forces of Prometheus and Atlas:
The way in which the spooky disturbs the serene “order of conceptual distinctions” for the researcher ought to also “disturb both the ethics and the politics that follow implicitly or explicitly from that order.” The “untimeliness of its present, of its being,” or the being “out of joint” of beings within the horizon of time, demands that we “introduce haunting into the very construction of… every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time.” This, Derrida claims, is the basis of his ‘hauntology’, against which ontology is only “a movement of exorcism” and a “conjuration.”
This is perhaps the most Yeatsian that this most prominent of the post-modern schools of philosophy might get, yet there is much talent in scouting out where these “spectral indicators” might be – even amongst the most unsavory landscapes? Still, this is only the beginning of Jorjani’s bravest correlations. In handing over the spectral realm to us, he is also willing to reconfigure the norms of scientism into a newer, reincarnational perspective, a perspective that very few moral philosophers since ancient times have been willing to entertain (yet, I’d argue there is an entire lineage of Celtic thought which, if plundered, would prove true to the reincarnational viewpoint).
Sex changes between lifetimes are commonplace. There are cases wherein one of two lovers who dies long before the other one returns as that person’s son or daughter, or conversely, cases where one of two siblings who are very close to one another die while the other is young enough to go on to marry the reincarnation of that sibling, and there are cases where a person’s parent is reincarnated as her child or grandchild. . . . the fact that people are inclined, evidently by emotional attachments deeper than their public morals, to reincarnate as family members of those with whom they have had intimate relations, ought to be unsurprising. Still, these transmigrations of the soul threaten deeply-held beliefs about proper social roles and relations. They call into question the nature or parental authority, complicate gender identity and sexual orientation, and even violate the incest taboo.
The suggestion, always, through discussions like these is that philosophy must broaden its wings to take in the spiritual world or suffer the kind of death Heidegger talked about in the latter part of his career. In fact, it is Heidegger’s 1966 Der Spiegel article that gives Jorjani room to maneuver:
Only a god can save us. The only possibility available to us is that by thinking and poetizing we prepare a readiness for the appearance of a god, or for the absence of a god in [our] decline, insofar as in view of the absent god we are in a state of decline.
Jorjani takes Heidegger’s reflection as a literal attempt to bring the realm of the gods back into view, with Prometheus as its masthead. Heidegger also re-emphasizes this shift in emphasis for the philosophical by proclaiming, “The role of philosophy in the past has been taken over by the sciences.” This crisis thus incites, for him, an appeal between the mythological and the philosophical. Perhaps here we could invoke the words of Ezra Pound to illustrate the same shift of philosophical focus, since Pound saw the return of that Titanic force almost half a century before Heidegger’s interview, and perhaps in poetry that schism of Heidegger’s becomes all the more explicit:
See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
and half turn back;
These were the “Wing’d-with-Awe,”
inviolable . . .
–“The Return” (1917), Ezra Pound
Later, in The Cantos, Pound affirms the simultaneity of all of time by negating that return and replacing it with a possibly anti-theoretical prediction, synonymous with the human senses broadening and deepening in acuity, such that the bounds of the five senses would only be the beginning of a much stranger sensual and intuitional fruition. This would be one that corresponds with spiritual entities – once lost to the senses, in their pre-Biblical shrinkage – becoming available to the human faculties of sense once again, as facet of this expansion of awareness.
. . . The hells move in cycles,
No man can see his own end
The Gods have not returned. “They have never left us.”
They have not returned.
Cloud’s processional and the air moves with their living . . .
–“Canto CXIII,” Ezra Pound
These two separate realizations in Pound, I believe, allow for a complex re-imagining of what mythology in the twenty-first century might be. It is the classical entrance into the eternal realm (Tir nan Og in the ancient Celtic conception), but also a nexus involving that para-historical vision and the supposedly “real” historical circus we ultimately find our biological means resumed in. Jorjani invokes the latter in his exploration of Atlas and the Atlantic, meaning specifically our pre-Greek roots:
Philosophy is not Greek in the sense that the Athenians at one point falsely viewed themselves as autochthonous – as the native sons of a given land. Rather, the first philosophers were refugees, exiles, travelers, and strangers. Plato and Aristotle are not the beginning, but the culmination.
Yet, as with so many newer researchers, the modern – for Jorjani – very much signals a falling away from the imperative that the Greeks and their precursors, the Atlanteans, established. Jorjani also suggests, in an incredibly insightful move, that the Atlantis of Francis Bacon (one of the great enemies in William Blake’s Jerusalem) does not represent the great coalescence of the early Atlantean civilization, but Atlantis in its later, corrupted phase . . . a “global” cosmopolis that had spread to the regions of our modern Pacific ocean. As a philosopher, Jorjani consistently intimates that the modern in Heidegger’s phrase of technicity (the fallen tekne, as it were) spells the echoes of a fallen Atlantis. Atlantis, in its final phase, mirrors modernity in its will to greed and hyper-individualism, against national cohesion of vision and communality. The only difference being that psychic and supernatural powers were known then, while now we exist in a denser hyper-biological state (which the work of Rudolf Steiner further confirms, and which Jorjani, toward a clearer identification with Atlas, also exploits).
Between the cusp of the beginnings of tekne and the murkier, more unknown waters of Atlantis, we are presented with investigations into the origins of what a definition of knowledge might be, what its strands of etymology descend from, and what the origins of poetic utterance might be, each finding their own connections within world mythology; the lost Titans, the fallen gods, and our current maya: Indra’s Net, or the Mind of Zeus.
The archaic words for knowledge were sophia, eidanai, and suniemi – which mean, respectively: masterful crafts experience or proficiency in an art; familiarity with something gained on the basis of having seen or inspected it; and hearing something in a way that means at once obeying it. None of these is anything like ontological or epistemological knowledge as we understand it, or the kind of ethical thing that presupposes them. Knowledge was synonymous with polymathos, and the supreme knower was the polymath: “The wider their experience, the greater the number of adventures, of things seen, heard, read, the greater their knowledge. Thus, the fundamental turn takes place when a Pre-Socratic thinker such as Heraclitus utters the judgment: “Learning of many things [polymathy] does not teach understanding/intelligence.” Parmenides also cautions people not to trust “custom born of manifold experience . . .” as a source of true knowledge.
We see these themes repeating themselves in modern Continental philosophy, with the dialectic between the approaches of Heraclitus and Parmenides implicit in Hegel’s use of dialectic, even in Stephen Dedalus’ need to transcend the forms of experience and of history which make their claims upon his personality. It is what could be phrased as The Rip . . . a schism between the kind of automatic theurgy of the early Atlanteans and the later emphasis on the experiential as the most authoritative. We also see it in the increasing use of specialized methods in modern education, with the reality of career and monetary gain providing the end-goal of a career title, which tends to define from the start one’s chosen qualification. (This would be a descent from the old method of classical basic instruction, with increasing intent toward an aspect of what was a broader knowledge to begin with . . . would the Internet, then, allow for a return to some form of polymathos? Or only the stale and abstract ideological indigestion that post-modernism, in large parts, has exemplified?)
What’s also gleaned over the course of the book is an approach to pantheism that is ever so much more particular than much modern Continental philosophy has made of it up until now. The Titans, here, become very much more distinct in the ancient pantheon, and they are not treated with the sometimes-post-Romantic method of simply glorying in the fact of the existence of the gods. Each god is chosen for a reason, as with Nietzsche, as with Hölderlin, Keats, or Shelley, and these gods, coming directly out of the pantheon, are an immediate reality (as real as any human presence) whose attributes – as with human personality – intermingle with any given social scenario. We read that James Joyce took myth so seriously that he literally hid from thunder and lightning, as one would who takes the wrath of Zeus as a living, pan-historical, and quotidian reality. If there are certain failings in the works of Sigmund Freud, then would they be connected with the subject of human dreaming and human metaphysics as a continual process of myth-enactment? The War in Heaven provides us with a challenge of determining which celestial players had the good on their side . . . as with any historical war, we are given the opportunity, through the study of mythology, to clear up what specifically occurred with the Titans, and how it is that Prometheus became the outcast that he did (and that we don’t rely on whatever interpretation Ridley Scott may want to come up with?!).
In his regurgitation of the Greek pantheon to get closer to ancient Atlantis, Jorjani also involves early Biblical narratives to strengthen his points. He puts the emphasis on the antediluvian being very much the pre-historical indicator of modern urban civilization, albeit vastly more spiritual and dominated by psi-ability. Does Jorjani even confirm the Hermetic intention of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake or Joseph Campbell’s monomyth (the centering of all myth as a narrative imperative involving a revolving cast of thousands of gods and human players in a kind of meta-panoply of storytelling and – by implication – storytellers?) by reinstigating the mono-linguistic charge of prediluvian cultures that the Babel story implies?
Once humanity built itself back up again after the Flood, what seemed to be a “cosmopolitan” civilization – an urban culture with a single world language – undertook a project to build something like a tower, by means of which they would have been able to ascend to the heavens. The Lord was once again afraid and jealous of their progress, and decided to destroy this unified human civilization, scatter its survivors, and set them against each other.
The stratification and dissipation of the earlier language into confusion and separation also mirrors what Doris Lessing has mentioned in her novels as “the feeling of We” . . . could it be that the Wake adhered to what is now happening with the spread of English (originally, and quite fittingly, a mongreal language?) into all corners of the world? Or is the loss of dialects and languages to the use, and possible over-use, of English a thing that is simply systematized by governments and education programs? This seems a simplification. There could also be a dual-action going on, however . . . as in Ireland, where we have both the use of a Lingua Franca and a retrieval of the earlier, original language. Regardless, it will be time that administers clarity upon the subject and presents personal choices for our human future; to discover to what extent all language is a unity of one (as Joyce’s cross-linguistic punning so mercilessly pursued).
The discovery of the “I” that persists through disparate mental states, and is expressed through various behaviors, in other words of a single subject, and the discovery of substances behind appearances [one thinks of Rimbaud’s “Il s’agit d’arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens” as against his “Je est un autre”?] inevitably leads to radical departures from the ethical orientation of archaic man as well . . . Within the archaic worldview, such insights cannot at first be expressed without a terrible abuse of language so that, speaking in riddles and seeming paradoxes as they do, the Pre-Socratic philosophers who are on the way to a new language sound like “raving maniacs” both to those who come before them and long after them, but it remains the case that “madness turns into sanity provided it is sufficiently rich and sufficiently regular to function as the basis of a new world-view.”
There is a role here for the Fictive in a conception of truth, in the sense that truth plays a role, a function, in order to create worlds of man’s imagination. The poverty of his imagination is a measure of his will to stasis (and this would not imply fiction in the very loose way of representing unreality, but more like the notion of a necessary fiction, vital to human self-development, in the Bergsonian sense). Instead, with the Fictive, as with the Yeatsian mask of each poem’s speaker, we discover ourselves in the most outlandish features of the twenty-first century data-stream. Could this constant flux of attitude and information have a whiff of the archaic about it? Could it be pre-Heraclitean?
In the course of this review I have by no means had time to discuss every topic Jorjani has presented in Prometheus and Atlas. I can only hope that I have given the reader a taste of this exciting, learned, insightful, and well-researched book. For those interested in how mythology and technology intertwine, or even – from the materialist viewpoint – in these two seemingly distant areas of study, I would highly recommend what Jorjani has achieved here. (Here’s also hoping that further books from him will come our way soon.)