The Jean Gebser Project
Jean Gebser (1905-1973) was a German poet, philosopher, and phenomenologist of consciousness. He is best known for his magisterial opus, The Ever-Present Origin (Ursprung und Gegenwart, 1949/1953), in which he articulates the structures and mutations of consciousness underpinning the pivotal shifts in human civilisation. Gebser’s key insight was that as consciousness mutates toward its innate integrality, it drastically restructures human ontology and with it civilisation as a whole. Five hundred years before Christ, the fundamental mode of reality-perception mutated from mythos to logos through the agency of figures such as Socrates, Siddharta, and Lao Tzu. For Gebser, we are on the cusp of a new mutation, presaged by figures such as Rainer Maria Rilke, who in Gebser’s view passed through “things” into the integral, transparent lucidity “behind” things, thus breaking through to a new, aperspectival perception of reality.
Apart from his opus on the phenomenology of consciousness, the full breadth of Gebser’s œuvre remains largely neglected in the Anglophone world. The Jean Gebser Project seeks to redress this problem by undertaking a series of dedicated translations and critical studies of Gebser’s work.
Rilke and Spain
Our inaugural release seeks to return to the poetic roots of Gebserian philosophy. Presented in English for the first time, Gebser’s first book, Rilke and Spain, is a short monograph on the celebrated Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1929). The work is characterised by Gebser’s deep, scholarly rigour, his sensitivity to the finest, most detailed textures, and his ability to open these up to their broadest philosophical implications. From his very first work, therefore, we see the incipient signs of the overwhelming gravity and intensity that would distinguish his later works; a gravity that has the effect of breaking through to a liberating spiritual lucidity. This lucidity is what he sought in Rilke; it would also come to characterise Gebser’s perception of what he later called the integral consciousness.
The Grammatical Mirror
In 1944, Gebser wrote The Grammatical Mirror: New Forms of Thought in Linguistic Expression (Der grammatische Spiegel: neue Denkformen im sprachlichen Ausdruck). Here Gebser returns to his innate sensitivity for language in order to articulate the reflection of the new consciousness in contemporary poetry. The Grammatical Mirror is, in many respects, an expanded discussion of an idea broached in Rilke and Spain, in which he first grasped the process of consciousness mutation through the register of human language. ‘In the structure of sentences’, he writes, ‘a part of the structure of the human soul is reflected’.
In this work, Gebser adduces grammatical examples from contemporary Spanish, French, and German poetry: e.g. Jorge Guillén, Paul Valéry, Franz Kafka, and Georg Trakl, among others. In all these instances, Gebser sees the breaking down of perspectival limitations through the use of the language. Importantly, this “method” of opening the most delicate of details up to their broadest philosophical implications would come to characterise Gebser’s later work.
The Jean Gebser Project is coordinated by Dr. Aaron Cheak (president of the International Jean Gebser Society, 2013–2015), with the editorial assistance of Dr. Rudolf Hämmerli (president, Jean Gebser Gesellschaft), Dr. Elmar Schübl, and Dennis Claggett.