The Dramatic Universe volume 1

I have now completed my first reading the first volume of The Dramatic Universe. I do not even vaguely pretend to have understood it. There were some pages of which I could make neither head nor tail. Yet, it has been an extraordinary experience, spread over several months. I have long realised that Bennett belonged to a high order even among those of genius. This reading has confirmed it.

I would summarise its value for students of Gurdjieff as being a sterling, honourable effort to understand ever more about the laws of world-creation and maintenance. To be specific, I think he is trying to find a way to speak about and to study fact and value, as we encounter them.I think Bennett is saying that both arise from our partaking in a cosmic drama produced by the interaction between what I might call the spiritual (hypernomic) and the material (hyponomic) levels of existence at the intermediate level of life (the autonomic). This first volume paints something of this awe-inspiring pageant on a cosmic scale, with special attention to our solar system.

By understanding the energies active on each of these three levels, we can come to “establish a single scale of existence, beginning with inanimate objects and ending with man” (180). This shows us our place, to where we can fall, and to where we can rise, for “the gradations of life are distinguished by the ableness-to-be formed in and through the organic sensitivity” (372). This last clause takes us to the concept of “hyparxis,” perhaps the most notoriously abstruse concept in a difficult book.

Bennett is inspired by this vision and his researches: that comes through loud and clear. This is a being-study (if I may coin that phrase), and Bennett is a “genuine terrestrial scientist.” There is even something of the prophet about him, but this is not a fantasy about some new millennium when the wool of sheep will be ready dyed. Bennett states:

A new world is coming into existence upon a time-scale measured in thousands of millions of years. It is being born in life and through life, and it will be neither all-powerful not will it be impotent, but it will be free. Such a world must be full of hazard … but it is this world alone that is bringing significance and purpose into the whole cosmic structure. (400)

If we are to consciously partake in the drama, we must awaken to see it, and not be blinded by false concepts and ideas, hence much of Bennett’s work on the patterns and forms of reality. We need not just new ideas, but more basically “new categories of thought” (8). Now, the categories are those elements of experience which are both given immediately and have a universal character. Our categories therefore allow us to “construct from our immediate experience an orderly picture of the world” (31). We begin with perception, and can thus consider the world from below, but “we must strive to see it from above with our understanding. … Our consciousness alone can reconcile the perennial conflict between the simplicity of the principles and the complexity of knowledge between the affirmation of a single plan and the denials of the planless disorder into which our sense-experience is plunged” (472).

Rejecting arbitrary fishing expeditions for categories, Bennett, a mathematical prodigy, focusses on “the significance of objective number” (33). A number is “attached” to each category, not as a symbol, but as designating “the minimum number of terms which must be present in a given system in order that the corresponding category may be fully exemplified” (33). His categories are as follows:

Wholeness: One-term

Polarity: Two-term

Relatedness: Three-term

Subsistence: Four-term

Potentiality: Five-term

Repetition: Six-term

Structure: Seven-term

Individuality: Eight-term

Pattern: Nine-term

Creativity: Ten-term

Domination: Eleven-term

Autocracy: Twelve-term (34)

As I read this volume, and saw how Bennett employed these categories, I soon found that he had uncovered a productive way of looking at the world. If his achievement had been no more than this it would still be notable. The two categories which most interested me were “individuality” and “pattern.” I have long sensed a critical truth that ancient Semitic typology – the idea that the earth is made as an antetype, an imperfect model of the original divine type. Together with being certain that this was a critical doctrine, it has been like a horizon: always beckoning but never within reach. I now sense that some aspect of it, at least, may be coming within reach.

There is much I have not dealt with, even much of a fundamental nature. For example, Bennett asks: what do we experience? Whatever the scientific and philosophical worldviews may suggest, he says, we experience function, being, and will. Here he cites Ouspensky’s analogy of man as a dark room stacked with various pieces of equipment: the machines correspond to function, the illumination or lack thereof to being, while it is will which uses them (56-57).

I am impressed by the way Bennett notices concepts and things we do rarely stop to consider. He is clearly asked basic and fundamental questions: what is number, space, time, eternity, virtue, action, nature, and so on, endlessly. He therefore made discoveries of a fundamental nature. Another aspect of this is the artistic flair with which he defines when definition is possible, but has a sense when it is not.

I think, too, that in writing this series of books, Bennett has been strongly influenced by Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, to the extent that this book was his attempt to meet the challenge thrown down by Ouspensky in that book: how can Kant be answered? It would take another thousand words to explain that, but if you read Dramatic Universe from that perspective, a lot of Bennett’s references to both Ouspensky and Kant acquire new significance. This has the upshot that I do not think that Ouspensky and Bennett are in fact working in discontinuity from the Western philosophical tradition: it is just that their interest is far broader than that tradition.

There is much more I could say, and maybe I should write a series of notes on this volume. But already my reading of the first pages of volume 2 has shown me that Bennett found ways of better expressing some of the ideas in this volume. It would be better for me to complete the four volumes before attempting this, because it seems that the reading of the later volumes will deepen my understanding of this one.

I close with this brilliant quote: “The invisible universe of light is a plenum compared with which the visible universe is an emptiness” (488) Here Bennett touches a sublime and deep mystery. As A.G.E. Blake, one of Bennett’s closest students remarked to me, it sounds like Bennett had intuited the existence of dark matter.

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