The Third Adam and the Modern “Higher” Self
The modern world is defined by the rise of a new self that is neither mind, nor body, nor a function of either, but an autonomous entity using mind to address, or—more accurately—solve, the problem of “the body” (mortality): the continual relapse of all things into oblivion, or the past. The rise of the modern… The post The Third Adam and the Modern “Higher” Self appeared first on VoegelinView.




The modern world is defined by the rise of a new self that is neither mind, nor body, nor a function of either, but an autonomous entity using mind to address, or—more accurately—solve, the problem of “the body” (mortality): the continual relapse of all things into oblivion, or the past.
The rise of the modern self responds to deep disappointment in the face of Sisyphus’s plight with a drive to overcome all disappointment.  Yet prior to the rise of the modern self, through the Word, or in speech, death is no longer what we commonly suffer as a mirage of eternity, or as a pain we endure with pleasure, but is a mirror in which we begin to understand the life of permanent forms.
Turning in speech upon the common experience of death (where speech is the proper “logical” articulation of death), we enter into death itself as the realm of true life—the life of mind (noetic life).  But modern man is distracted from that life, alienated from it in the name of the experience of being, an experience that, having eclipsed its source, converts into a pretense—the pretense of being.  Thereupon arises the modern self, no longer a mask representing a mysterious coincidence of mind and body, but an autonomous and indivisible entity that is to control thought for the sake of achieving what thought alone, “unaided” thought, cannot accomplish, namely unqualified empowerment or complete emancipation of the body.  This supposed emancipation amounts to the utter subjugation of the body to the controlling self—the purported “higher” self that has used mind to conquer the body.
The new self does not merely use a method to achieve its goal; it is the method, or the method of its method-production, the ground of its building labor.  Through the modern self are produced the formal methods that are to place mind in the service of the establishment of the bodily under the control of the new self as universal method.  The new self gives itself—sacrifices or empties itself—continuously into the universal method as consummate machine that is to function as prime motor of all bodily motion.  The new, consummate machine is not to be guided by any living being, but by a soulless fuel, a material abstracted abruptly from spirited nature.  Such is electricity, or even burned fuels such as carbon, allowing the modern self to store or harvest power abstracted from spirited, meaningful nature, or to ostensibly convert nature into raw power.  Hence the revolutionary import of the dynamo.[1]
Whereas the old self had masked a will or spirit through or in which mind would govern/order/guide the bodily, the new self rises to appropriate or attribute for itself “will” as cut off from its intellective source.[2]  The will becomes, now, a property of the new self, as opposed to being the primary force underlying the self providentially.  In other words, the will is no longer conceived, in practical terms, as a spirit rooted in mind or intellect, but as instrument of a self-creative self using will to move forms or set the immobile into motion in the interests of the new self.
The new will is key to the new machine working to build a world in which the new self can be terminally at home and so at peace with itself.  Having abstracted a fixed or “dead” image of nature out of spirited nature as a whole, the self “wills” that image into motion through a method, or by applying thought to body strategically or with the goal of controlling the bodily and so of transposing the bodily onto a new, artificial ground.  For the bodily is no longer to serve mind naturally, but method artificially.
Distracted or deviated from thought itself, the bodily now follows methods and ultimately the new self as universal method of domination of the bodily, a means to “solve” the problem of the body once and for all.  For the bodily (σῶμα/sôma) is the “tomb” (σῆμα/sêma) of mind and in converting into a method to control the body, mind seeks to free itself from body by mastering it.  For the new self, you are either a slave or a master of nature.  But again, the new self is nothing other than a peculiar modification of mind, a form in which mind can transport itself for the sake of confronting the bodily without being overtaken by it.  How can mind free itself from bodily compulsions?  With modernity, we witness mind attempting to respond to this question by converting into an “enlightened self,” a superior self, even an Overman (Übermensch) abstracted above the classical tension between good and evil, or the classical telos of man involving the pursuit of a given, natural and divine end.
The new self is mind, then, determining itself in a form abstracted from an original end for the sake of establishing a new one, or one conceived as novelty itself, or as self-creation, a beginning that begins-itself.  In biblical terms, we are speaking here of a Tower of Babel beyond biblical condemnations; a Tower built by using biblical condemnation itself, thereby integrating within its “building” the pull to divine perfection.  The abandonment or betrayal of God characteristic of the Babel experiment depicted in the Bible is now integrated into a vaster experiment in which divine judgment is re-conceived as fuel for “building,” rather than as a curse.  All religious objections are to be “neutralized”—for instance via psychological ruse—in terms of “symbols” of fear of our destiny as self-creative individuals bent upon creating their perfect world, namely a machine converting the inanimate into the animate or the semblance thereof.
Such is the “positive” impetus of the modern self.  Yet, a negative dimension remains inseparable from the positive one, as concealment (λήθη/lethe) is inseparable from un-concealment (ἀλήθεια/aletheia).  If the ancient self had been a poetic leaf masking the fall of mind into body, the modern self is a mask of the mask, expression of mind’s attempt to cover its traces in the aftermath of its primordial attempt to conceal its fall (the first fall that is manifest to us readers, as one from Eden and decreed by a divine judge).
If the old self had poorly concealed our mortality, or concealed it only to realize that its art was destined to disclose, the new self uses the old self as stepping stone to establish a world that is supposed to convert death into a positive asset, insofar as now death is redeemed in/through our collective building.  We no longer merely shun death as in old Babel but use it—or so we assume—to create a world in which the hiatus between mind and body is finally overcome.  And with this conquest comes the destruction of the First and Second Adam.  For hiding behind both is supposed to stand a Third Adam, the higher self of modernity, who is not quite fully human though still somewhat human, if only tragicomically, in spite of itself.


[1]See Henry Adams’s 1900 “The Dynamo and the Virgin” (chapter 25 of The Education of Henry Adams.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1918).
[2] A glaring parallel is found in a certain conception of Christianity as appropriating the Hebrew Bible by cutting it off from its original/proper theological-political context.

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