Regression Analysis Redefined

Introduction: Regression Analysis Redefined

            We live in the time of the world regression. How do we then respond to such a world, wherein what appears to have become the most plausible sensibility is the least sensible, the most probable the least possible? In a word, that time can run backward, that history can fold in on itself, and that culture can regress into, and unto, its childhood, even yet its primordial inexistence. And though such an event in some of its symptoms can be measured statistically, this volume of studies suggests that we redefine the analytic of regression. To do so, we might use the following rubrics:

            1. That regression is present any time one desires to base reality upon fantasy, and has thereby lost the ability to distinguish between the two.

            2. That regression is present any time nostalgia is in the ascendant, no matter the cultural thematics or personalist narratives involved.

            3. That regression is present whenever childhood, a mere phase of life, is exalted as both innocent and yet also wise at once.

            4. That regression is present if and when youth and its experiences, once again, a brief phase in human existence, are negatively sanctioned, limited, mocked, or bullied.

            5. And most importantly, when history is itself understood as the handmaiden of myth, and thus its auto-teleology is aborted, regression is the source of this inauthenticity.

            The exaltation of childhood, the disdaining of youth, the disbelief in reality through ‘anti-science’, the dismantling of history through ideology, the inability to discriminate between fantasy and the world as it is – perhaps observed most popularly in our entertainment fictions and more darkly, in our moral panics – and, most insipidly, the inveigling of a marketeering that plays upon our personal desires to re-attain lost youth or yet childhood in the form of generational nostalgia in fashion, popular music, and once again, emerging from the shadows, in mores and norms, is the source of the world-crisis today. ‘I want to return our education system to about 1930’, says Dennis Prager, the billionaire founder of PragerU, a private sector purveyor of fantasist school curricula, ‘but without all the bad stuff’. Which would be? The only thing that comes to mind that would perhaps be better would be textual literacy – more people read books a century ago than today; but at the same time we must ask, what kind of books? – but this too would have to be oriented to other more contemporary forms, such as that digital, in order for it to be salutary to literacy in general. This is but a single example of hundreds globally, which would include populist and nationalist movements in politics, ethnic-based religious affiliations and churches, charter schools based upon ethnicity feigned or historical, government policies that pander to the neuroses of otherwise absent parents, and so on. Let us recast as questions each of the five points listed above, which designate types of regressive presence.

            1. How can one distinguish between what is real and what is non-real?

            The irreal is a third form of general human experience which occurs only when something ‘irruptive’, an event or a presence which breaks into waking reality as if one suddenly and momentarily dreamed awake, makes itself known. These kinds of experiences are rare and we, in our modernity, no longer interpret them in the traditional mode of the visionary or the religious-inspired presence. That they continue to occur sporadically is certainly of interest, given that the cultural matrix which might be seen to have generated them in the first place is long lost. This phenomenological concept can serve us in a different manner today: anything that tends to hitch itself up to the authentically irruptive but is not itself irreal is fantasy, pure and simple. The difference between Israel and Zion is a current example of a political attempt to base a modern nation-state on a legendary construct. Similar historical examples abound: Victorian England’s smittenness with Arthurian Britain, given ideological, that is, unhistorical, literacy by Mallory; The Second and Third Reichs’ genuflections directed to Nordic mythos, given artistic transcendence, but equally non-historical this time, by Wagner. Is there now a Zionist composer or children’s author about?

            2. Why do our desires for youthfulness take on a nostalgic formula?

            Mostly for market purposes, childhood and youth are extended far beyond their phase of life appropriateness. It may well be that the reappearance of neoconservative or even neo-fascist norms regarding child-raising and the curtailing of youthful desire and wonder are the result of simple economics; the market targeting the only people with non-responsible disposable income coupled with the general lack of control over anything but consuming by which children and youth are characterized. In this sense, youth consumption is no different from anorexia; a simple attempt to exert agency in an otherwise adult world. Even if this is the case, however, such regressions are no less than evil, as they strike at the heart of what makes youth profound. Hazlitt, writing at the time when ‘youth’ itself was a novel concept, is correct when he states that youth’s very lack of experience is what makes it not only a unique period of human existence, but also gives it its patent sense of wonder, wanderlust, desireful passion, and naïve compassion all at once. From our first love to our first knowing brush with death, such events appear once again to be irruptive, so filled with wonder are they. The very absence of the human irreal in mature being prompts a regressive desire to ‘return’ to our salad days, green not so much with envy but with a desperate melancholic anxiety.

            3 and 4. How is it possible that the absence of experience generates wisdom?

            It isn’t. If experience can sometimes harden our biases, turning us into ironic bigots, it also has the power to banish prejudice and for all time. Akin to the jaded hypostasy that suffering makes one insightful – for the artist this may be true in some cases, for the rest of us, suffering produces primarily misery, secondarily, resentment, even ressentiment – lack of temporally adjudicated biographical experience in a life is, writ small, the lack of historical consciousness in a culture. What adults are reacting to in the child-mind is a naivety that appears to make suffering blissful; if only we could manage to bracket the world so easily! And what we are reacting to in the mind of the youth is the ability to dare to question the world as it is. Now this second aspect of the illusion of the absence of experience is an excellent tutor, if only we adults would take it up with all due seriousness. Instead, we seek to limit the questions of youth just as we limit youth’s ability to express its phase-of-life’s essential characters; wonder, desire, passion, romance, and most importantly, its rebellion against authority. If we merely took the last facet of the youthful gem and lived it, leaving the other more phantasmagorically inclined imagery behind us where it belongs, we would be by far the better for it.

            5. How do we attain an ‘effective historical consciousness’?

            The phrase is Gadamer’s, and points to a kind of working pragmatics that, in its ‘fusion of horizons,’ generates Phronesis, or practical wisdom. One simple way to approach a sophisticated state of being is to recall to ourselves the how-to skills associated with a specific material task, such as fixing something around the house or cooking a meal, a project in the workplace or helping a child with their studies. These are aspects of a consciousness directed ad hoc, or to some specific task or object. They are also the stuff of Weber’s ‘rational action directed towards a finite goal’. Finite goal agency is, in turn, a manner of thinking about the self: I am an actor who needs to get from here to there – what do I need to do to accomplish this movement? The process by which I do so, whatever its content, is a temporal one, but one that belies its own historicity due to its intense focus on what is at hand. Nevertheless, time has passed, and a small part of one’s own personal history has been acted out. Now think of species-being in History as a form of agentive action directed to specific, if various, series of goals. This can not only provide some inspiration in anxious times, when once again, the mythic apocalypse is being contrived as an overlay upon very material conflicts regarding resources and their distribution, it can also give us, as individuals, the sense that what we do matters within the wider cultural history of which we are a part.

            Finally, the redefined regression analysis (RRA), differs from demythology in that it cannot take place through art. It is an aspect of critical and reflective thought alone. Its effect may be equally disillusionary, but its means must stay analytic, never adopting either the allegorical or the agenda narrative. It also differs from a deontology, which is to be seen more as another effect therefrom rather than a source method. Demythology is an anti-transcendentalist critique that is perhaps best performed in art, deontology similarly in philosophy, but RRA in the sciences, and specifically in the human sciences, their critical allies.

            This volume of essays, both popular and scholarly, is dedicated to redefining the analysis of regression in all its forms. It does so at a time when we are witnessing a worldwide regression, the psyche of which is desperate, anxious, and fearful, all of the very weakest aspects of our shared human character. Instead of giving in to those base impulses, grasp rather the more noble cast of compassionate critique, both in your own life and in the life of the world itself.

            The following two articles first appeared in edited form in peer-reviewed journals which are now defunct. They are reprinted here in their original state for the first time.

            2011v    ‘On Distinguishing Between Criticism and Critique in the Light of Historical Consciousness’, in Journal of Arts and Culture Volume 2, #3, Nov. 2011. Pp. 71-78 dc. ISSN 0976-9862

2012v    ‘Is there Hermeneutic Authenticity in Pedagogical Praxis?’ in Journal of Education and General Studies, volume 1 #8, July 2012. Pp. 180-187 dc ISSN 2277-0984

The New Mythology is Demythology

The New Mythology is Demythology

     “Life as a whole appears as a fragment insofar as each particular piece of it is naturally only a splinter relative to its form as perfected in autonomous creativity. From this comes the further fact that we can speak of defective art in two entirely different senses. There is defective art, insofar as the work is indeed entirely formed for the sake of the artistic invention and remains within the strict bounds of autocratic artistic forms  – but does not satisfy that immanent demands of art, and is uninteresting, banal, and powerless. And there is defective art, when the work, though perhaps not showing the latter impairments, does not yet fully free its artistic forms from their existence as means to their existence as values in themselves has not yet taken place in absolute measure. This is the case where a tendential, anecdotal, sensually excitative interest resonates as one somehow decisive in the presentation. Here the work may be of great psychic and cultural significance, since for this it need not be bound to the conceptual purity of a particular category. However as art it remains imperfect as long as its formative elements still display something of that significance with which they fit in with the currents of life – however deeply and comprehensively they may have assimilated these currents.” (Simmel 2011:48 [1918] italics the text’s).

            Kristen-Seraphim is defective art. That is, the second of Simmel’s categories. It is so because it does not, and cannot, stand alone as a work of art or as an aesthetic object. Nor was this ever my intent. On the one hand, the conceptual impurity of the work – falling as it does across the fantasy, science fiction, adventure, quest saga, thriller and even romance genres – was only what was necessary, not for the sake of literature, certainly, but for the sake of what Simmel refers to as ‘psychic and cultural significance’, however great or nominal. And second, my sense has always been that adventure fiction can never be art. By definition, because even the idea of adventure itself is bound to content and does not elevate its form beyond itself. Long before I ever sought to become a writer I knew this given my own youthful reading, Enid Blyton, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan-Doyle, C.S. Forester, Jean le Carré, Arthur Clarke, H.G. Wells, Kurt Vonnegut and others. Excellent writers all, but not artists. Then again, matriculating a little later later to Balzac, Dickens, Lawrence, Twain, Stendhal, Cervantes and de Sade et al, I didn’t really understand why these guys were somehow better than their middle-brow cousins.

            I do now. After having completed a work which ran through some six thousand pages, none of them literary – there may have been a few good paragraphs here and there – it is precisely Simmel’s distinction that may be applied. If the agency in one’s work is to address the world, then once again by definition it cannot be art. Yet the older and seemingly very dated wisdom ‘art for art’s sake’ is not quite what Simmel is getting at: “Art is our thanks to the world and to life. After both have fashioned the sensory and spiritual forms of our comprehension, we thank them for it as we create a world and a life with their help.” (ibid:164 [1920]). This realization helps immensely with the at first puzzling issue that is contained in great literary works as the discourse defines them. For they too, including all of the authors mentioned in my second list above, sought to address, redress, expose, explain or even resolve worldly problems and contents. Dickens, for example, is famous for it, but so is Lawrence. And when I had the privilege as an illiterate human scientist to teach Cervantes, Shakespeare, De Sade and others in a Great Books Canon program in the USA, I haltingly gained the understanding that while at once did the work hail squarely from within its historical epoch it also overleapt the ‘bounds’ of its respective period, and in so doing, enacted the incipience of what was to come. No more so than Cervantes, whose ‘errant’ hero invented the picaresque, a genre type that lives on today in popular culture protagonists such as Don Draper of Madmen. It would be a stretch, for example, to call Oedipus ‘picaresque’.

            It’s stock to have stand-up characters juxtaposed with dubious ones, a greying of the simpler design of hero and villain. Even the most ruthless of the heroines of Kristen-Seraphim, Seraphim herself, is in love with more than one other person, balancing out her narcissistic love for herself. More current is the idea of having standpoints; asking the question, ‘who is standing for what, where and when and why?’, and so on. Can this character be relied upon in this situation, under these conditions, in the company of these others versus those? The answer must be given situationally, and in this the work is a refraction of the world at large. In adventure fiction, the heroes are inevitably larger than life, as they exist in their own world, the one we have created with the help of the factical life of the world as it is, as Simmel stated. But this alone does not make them party to the aesthetic object. Their fictional lives, in other words, are no closer to art than are our own.

            Critics speak of the ‘identification factor’, suggesting that a good read allows a reader to identify with the hero or someone important within the narrative, at least some of the time. The response to this for those like myself who do not and likely cannot write literary art is to have many characters, some forty plus in Kristen-Seraphim, so that one can cover the bases regarding the widest plausible readership. Even so, the principals in any narrative must be polymythic enough to appeal to anyone who has lived just enough to understand that, as Goethe noted, ‘the devil is quite old’. Another formulaic trick is to extend the narrative over a goodly portion of the life course in order to chart the career of the characters through different phases of their own created existence. In this, the work takes on a life of its own, but it still does not approach art. But unlike in Gogol or Faulkner, for instance, we do not need to repeat indefinitely generational conflicts and lineage bigotries, cultural customs and the unending circuit of the peasant. Could it be that what once was art descends, given historical prejudice, into mere story, mere image, mere content, ‘mere’ history? The general argument runs that ‘once art always art’ but this is clearly not necessarily so, given the discursive careers of figures such as Vermeer and much of contemporary art from the impressionists onwards. And though it is no doubt correct to levy against philosophy and related work that it so seldom ascends the other way, becomes art in itself, one must resist the inevitable resentment that, as a social philosopher myself, for instance, one feels against the defining character of great art. But if the novelist has the daunting task of facing up to Middlemarch or Don Quixote, then writers like myself have the equally intense gaze of Thus Spake Zarathustra or Being and Time eyeing us and finding us more than wanting.

            What can one do in the face of such works, the work itself, world, life, and an understanding that art is at once from the world and yet overcomes that very world to herald the new and to grasp the as-yet-unknowable, just as science is charged with doing the same to the as-yet-unknown? Simmel again:

     “…that one seeks to give his own life a value such that this value may be something subjective, without any real or ideal connection back to the Ego. This is the practical application of the purely spiritual fact that man can make himself into his own object. When we first regard ourselves objectively, we reach the bridge by which to extinguish the Ego altogether and to exist only for the object. The highest intensification of this is creativity. Here, the Ego has not only repressed and forgotten itself in order to exist in and live from the object, but it is metamorphosed into an object. Its powers have themselves become the object – it is now no longer Ego and yet has left nothing of itself behind. In creative achievement, spiritual objectivity has overcome its opposition to the subject – it has absorbed the subject into itself.” (ibid:172-3).

            The idea of a ‘legacy’ is the lesser part of this process. Minkowski (1933) has reminded us that to dwell within the ambit of the creative work, once concluded, is to kill both it and ourselves. One cuts off the future and with it the next world, the one that must come, for the old world now contains that which was once new to itself. ‘Moving on’ is the casual if not causal casualty of loss. Indeed, there must be art ‘out there’ that has as yet gone unrecognized, originating in any time period, coming from any culture. New worlds, in other words, are already extant even if their existence in the old world is as yet part of the radically unknowable. So one cannot truly refer to this or that work as ‘radical’ as well as being ’defective’ as art. Such works that address the world and have the fate of the world as their chief content are rather revolutionary, and not radical. The revolution in Kristen-Seraphim consists of the new mythology being in fact a demythology, which in itself can be radical only in the worldly sense. Not only do we find that the definition of fantasy departs from utility into principal – until now ‘fantasy’ has described means and not ends, for instance (the modus operandi of such adventure fiction never attains its own metaphysics, let alone threatens it; phantasmagorical means and characters alike are there merely to either defend or attack the good-evil spectrum) – and thus the ontotheology of the fantasy genre, from Lewis to Pullman, is overcome, we also find that the social order defended therein is itself dismantled. If metaphysics requires of us radicality, then it is the lesser, revolutionary mode that is needed in the face of cultural institutions. Ideas cannot be killed in the same way. Demythology is the halfway house of revolution. Kristen-Seraphim brings home a new world and makes one at home within it, but it cannot claim to have utterly understood ‘nature’ or to have overleapt it. What it has accomplished is to have understood – and vanquished – the nature of morality as one literary genre has supplied it.

            The heroines and heroes of the new mythology are hardly upstanding in the usual sense. Their nobility is restive, their rest unquiet, their deaths equivocal and their resurrections awkward. They eventually triumph, but what is the true nature of their collective victory? “Who claims to recognize surely where the truth of my nature lies?” Simmel asks us. “Perhaps it becomes visible only in one single hour of my existence.” He is here speaking against the usual differences that are connoted by good and evil, and as did Nietzsche before him, senses that our new world, and thus our new myths, must leave them behind: “This whole distinction is most problematic. The person is at one time thus and another otherwise, and only optimism or pessimism about our own value moves us to conclude merely from the more frequent appearance of a specific quality that one resides in principal in a different characterological or metaphysical layer than the other. That this possibility of life, to be really entirely good or really entirely bad, exists; that we are not inwardly divided into layers of different ethical-metaphysical depths of being so that one act falls unalterably into the fundamental, the other into the superficial – this is human freedom.” (ibid:132-133 [1918], italics mine).

            The new demythology is dedicated to human freedom in all of its uncertainty and aspiration, its doubts and its hopes. In book seven, the second Kristen reflects: “For life was not meant to be lived as such. Life not only wasn’t art, as many an artist himself had discovered over time, it also wasn’t meant to continuously be larger than itself, as many a politician and the like had discovered. No, life was meant only to be lived, but in that word ‘only’ lay the secret of the good life. ‘The demands of the day’, she quoted again.” Simmel interprets this proverb of Goethe’s to mean much more than whatever the material day brings to us. It ‘proceeds from the deepest inner life’  which tells us of the next step, and then the next, without revealing what is to come before this point (ibid:109). It is the ‘life of the Ought’, and in this all of us live like heroes. For the Ought is larger than our own life and directs if not our actions per se, then the obligatory nature of the meaning we understand from taking them. Early on in book six we find the same character given pause by her community’s potential complacencies: “The heroes themselves turn into those they destroyed because of their self-centered adoration of the unthought freedom of the present.” Like ourselves, the fictional characters are not always prepared to meet the demands of the day, either on the surface of the world or in the depths of being. Their own beings. Even so, one of the hallmarks of heroism is that when the bell is rung, they do respond because they know, if not the full meaning of their actions to come, horrifying as some of them turn out to be, where meaningfulness must be found in life. In book seven the first Michelle intones: “I can tell you this: we are here in Paris by happenstance, mimicking the great chain of non-being that has brought every one of us to live a human life. Deny that, in any way, shape, or form, and you are denying the basis of life itself, the essence of all life.” Just so, our birthright and our demise is of the moment, a demand of this day like any other. We neither ask to be born nor ask to die, Gadamer reminds us, and it is this combination, to which philosophers refer as being part of the essence of human finitude, that impels the heroic figure to impale herself upon the day, so that what is at hand can be taken into one’s human hands and given both form and meaning.

            If not, if we do not act heroically in spite of the fact that life can never be by itself either art or myth, we are left with musings alone, realizations that limit not only action but living as well. Life remains merely a dream, and as we read in book eight: “Not many people yet realized that the self who dreams is not the same self who then wakes and lives out the day, day after day. And in such dreams from which we do awaken – and indeed, there are those additional to the unconscious from which we never again emerge – what, perchance, remains of the days within which all dreams come to grief?” The heroes are, of course, about to find out, but what certifies their heroism is that they bear up the fear associated with ‘being the new’. This is also what takes them ‘beyond good and evil’ and into the truer, if still human, nature of freedom itself.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty-five books in ethics, religion, education, and aesthetics. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades in both the USA and Canada.