David Bohm’s book, “Wholeness and the Implicate Order,” explores the problem of fragmentation in human thought and consciousness. Along with a very thorough analysis of why the problem of fragmentation exists, he also provides suggestions for undoing what he calls “habits of thought” which limit our ability to perceive wholes, or to even be aware of them.
“A new kind of mind thus begins to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change.
Man’s general way of thinking of the totality, i.e. his general world view, is crucial for overall order of the human mind itself. If he thinks of the totality as constituted of independent fragments, then that is how his mind will tend to operate, but if he can include everything coherently and harmoniously in an overall whole that is undivided, unbroken and without border (for every border is a division or break) then his mind will tend to move in a similar way, and from this will flow an orderly action within the whole.“
Although we may all experience a common pool of meaning in varying ways, the idea of a pool or a consensus might help us gain some insight by separating form of meaning from content. Without this separation, we risk missing the context which we bring to experience that allows us to understand the specific habit patterns, either in thought, feeling or action, that each of us enacts.
Content is perhaps the easiest to see, and is the “what” of perceived experience; the immediacy of sense impressions of the objects, ideas, emotions, beliefs that grip us, not unlike the sun in your face, or the wet, damp cold of a winter’s day. Content is etymologically related to the word “contain,” what is held together, or can be held together. Interestingly, content, with the emphasis on the second syllable, meaning satisfied, also shares this idea of containment; to be held, or a feeling of holding together. Content reflects subjective awareness, the view from the inside of direct engagement both immediate and apparent within the sensate world and the world as it translated into various forms of expression.
Form is then the shaping or patterning of how the content gets contained, and potentially provides one with a meta-view of the content, or what and how something is contained, categorized or understood. If content consists of the subjective insider view, form is what we see when we zoom out. Is subjectivity, then, associated more with feeling and sensate perceptions, where objectivity pulls back into modes of abstracting, thinking and evaluation? If so, the nature of the shaping of content can easily get lost as focus is on the unreflected insider impressions of the content. Form can bring us ways of contextualizing through expansion, amplifying and distancing from immediate experience through reflection, “as if” from the outside looking in.
Both of these modes of perception interplay and we shift in and out them perhaps not only seamlessly, but without an awareness of their distinct styles. When we are directly engaged in the world, soaking in whatever we are attending to, we may more or less pause to reflect and pull back from the engagement. We may also sense a tension between the two modes. To be engrossed in a project, or a conversation, or any intense level of participation that we sometimes refer to as “losing ourselves in,” can be pleasant. But as well, a deep immersion into sadness, loneliness, or any kind of pain, also belongs to the mode of subjective immersion.
We humans are both blessed and cursed with such tools and abilities afforded us through sense, language, reflection, desire and the creative impulse to expand, control and change our environment. Perhaps though, when we fail to look for and see and reflect upon the nature of relationship itself, whether between humans, or to the world we live in, great distortions of these gifts grip us, either through too much abstraction, or too much immersion, or the failure to engage how and where they influence each other.
David Bohm referred to the problem as “fragmentation” in which we lose sight of the “whole” while being immersed, and lose sight of the immediacy while zooming out. He saw language itself as a big contributor to the loss of an ability to see connections and relationships by dividing the whole into parts, thereby mistaking objects as truly separate from each other in the same way that words are separate and discrete. Language does not have any true bearing on the nature of the unified whole, except as it shapes our perception, which is always subject to the ebb and flow of the both the narrowing and expanding qualitative states of one’s attention and field of consciousness.
The focus of his book is on the ways in which science is likely to fail the greater good of society by neglecting to see the relatedness between what knowledge allows us to do and the implications for technologies that ultimately cause harm. But here I am more interested in modes of perception in our day-to-day living, and especially that which truly has the power to influence us through emotional and intellectual disruption, trauma and all that tears asunder, that which in our current style or mode of being in the world, and subsequently becomes ineffective and possibly broken, brings with it the potential of more relational styles of being in the world.
In James Hillman’s essay on Dionysus, he uses the image of dismemberment as an archetypal force, or metaphorical image for the distinct styles of being changed through participation and relationship within a community of others:
If we take our clues from Jung’s exploration of the theme in alchemy (“The visions of Zosimos,” CW 13), dismemberment refers to a psychological process that requires a body metaphor.  The process of division is presented as a body experience, even as a horrifying torture. If, however, dismemberment is ruled by the archetypal dominant of Dionysus, then the process, while beheading or dissolving the central control of the old king, may be at the same time activating the pneuma that is distributed throughout the materializations of our complexes. The background of the second Dionysus offers new insight into the rending pain of self-division, especially as a body experience.
He continues by emphasizing that the Dionysian experience is neither physical nor psychological, but both. The essential point not to be missed is that through disintegration psyche and soma are experienced integratively, or conjoined, which as Hillman notes later, awaken consciousness, not of, but in the body:
We experience this process in psychosomatic symptoms, in hysterical conversions, in specific sadomasochistic perversions, in cancer fantasies, in fears of ageing, in horror of pollution, or in disintegrative incoherent conditions that have a body focus. This experience has its other side. The dismemberment of central control is at the same time the resurrection of the natural light of archetypal consciousness distributed in each of the organs.
But does King Ego die, and if so, how? Hillman suggests that the death of the king is a dying to the community through “lysis,” or a loosening.
Dionysus was called Lysios, the loosener.  The word is cognate with lysis, the last syllables of analysis. Lysis means loosening, setting free, deliverance, dissolution, collapse, breaking bonds and laws, and the final unraveling as of a plot in tragedy.
The loosening, or death of the king by, and for, a more relational and integrated community within and without, has both personal and collective significance for our times. Perhaps the tyrant within must become the tyrant without, amplifying the visibility of the archetypal power in our midst, and now perhaps, brings us full circle. Bohm’s fragmentation might then be seen as a Dionysian move that is yet to be made fully manifest, but could serve as a catalyst towards providing a corrective move in which the King, both within and without, no longer able to stand in for his forgotten, neglected subjects, dissolves into a more integrated association with humanity at large.
As noted: Hillman, James. Mythic Figures (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman Book 6). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
2 thoughts on “Wholeness, Fragmentation and Dionysus”
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You’re welcome, Jim!