Gebser's "WE"

Continuing the discussion from Week 1 – Kick-Off Hangout – Wednesday 1/13:

These are some notes from the initial reading of Gebser’s Prefaces and Chapter 1: Fundamental Considerations (before watching Week 1 Hangout and reading parts of the transcript for the Hangout #1 :

Gebser’s “we” stands out as a defining term.

Is it we, the reader and Gebser? It is partly this, as not everyone will be able to accept what Gebser is proposing, not everyone has discovered this structuration. He does engage the reader, though, to participate as a we, as if we know the path ahead or are working out to discover with Gebser this underlying consciousness he proposes. We have been willing to go along with this guy and hear him out…so far, in these first few pages, not much can be denied about his fundamental insights.

Is it “we” the researching team of anthropologists, historians, philosophers? …the “Yes, we have identified humanity’s demise and we wish to prevent it. Here is our science.” While he probably discussed this stuff with many friends and within intellectually stimulating conversations, the book was probably outside the realm of academic usage and peer-reviewing (just guessing)…he states in the Preface that he is basing the “academic” version of the “we” on about fifteen years of readings, insights and theories from a multitude of fields that resonate with his theory here. Does this leave a possibility for bias, on the selected material from his favorite fields of study, neglecting some of the more materialistic/capitalistic view of things? Is this causing Gebser to pigeon-hole himself into a specific niche or is it allowing him to open up a new realm of thinking?

Gebser’s “we” really seems to be describing those of us who have seen through the world, those of us aware of this underlying structure and also willing to pursue a life filled with this structure as the core of how we see consciousness playing out in the world. And in some sense, can the “we” identify as a calling…is he describing the theological or religious answer to the questions of “can we find the source of being?”… “how are we to live our lives?” “How are we to,” in the words of the children’s sage Raffi, “turn this world around?” The “We” is a call to see or be seen as alien to the world while within the world and for the world, maybe.


Keats, who was very close to death, addresses the Nightingale.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that ofttimes hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

When I was in England many decades ago I visited the poets house and sat on the bench where he most likely mused upon that immortal bird. I always felt close to Ruth, sick for home, amid the alien corn. It was a very ordinary bench, in an ordinary clump of greenery.

Jean was primarily a poet. He wrote in a style close to Rilke. He also admired Thornton Wilder, who wrote that great classic Our Town, which Gebser claims as an example of the new consciousness of Time. Here is a famous moment from that play, the great speech by Emily. This play displays a vast cosmic sweep in its rehearsal of small town life.

Gebser is first and foremost a poet. And it is in the company of Picasso and Lorca and in the big sky of the Spain, that he loved, as he tried to escape the fascist threat, that he received his vision.

We should be so lucky!


Gebser took his sources seriously, he treated them with respect, even the ones with whom he disagreed or those he thought drew divergent conclusions from the evidence they examined. He never disparages, he never dismisses with a sweep of the hand, those who think differently than he does. You always have the feeling that he engaged those sources, just as he engaged those with whom he no doubt discussed and debated in fleshing out his own insights.

And Gebser takes his reader seriously, whoever they may be. He does not talk down to them, nor insult their intelligence. You always have the feeling that he in concerned with whether he’s making himself clear and he takes pains to be as clear as he can, even in light of the fact that he knows that what he is saying is not going to be readily understood nor accepted by whomever is reading him whenever.

In this way, Gebser builds a community of seekers who are willing to examine their own assumptions and presuppositions, who are willing to take seriously what he has to offer for it has been gleaned through the eye-level engagement of all who got him to where he is to say what he is trying to say.

But, he also knows that all of us, every single one of us human beings is addressed by what he has to say, not only those who have passed, but also all those who now are and those who are to come.

As @johnnydavis54 noted, he is a poet (probably foremost), and that “we” is, we can say, a poetically inclusive one to be sure.


Great feedback @johnnydavis54 and @achronon.

After reviewing the conversations from Week 1 (video,transcript and Infinite Conversation thread), the idea of the “WE” weaves in and out of the conversation, from @Jeremy’s lead-off, noting the ‘we’ right from the beginning; to @madrush’s “problems with defining the we…the problems that manifest as we go from I” "to “we,” to @Donna’s view that we are all on the Never Ending Quest towards the integral “we.”

Arewetalkingaboutthepoet @johnnydavis54? He gets our vote!


Ambiguously phrased, to be sure … the “he” in my statement was written with Gebser in mind, but your reading is certainly a fitting one.


His subtle language in EPO seeks a sort of seeping into the reader’s mind. Gebser resides within this poetic realm, surprisingly so in such a philosophic tome. It is a pensive wandering of the soul, extracting ethereal elements as above, picking berries from various bushes below as “we” wander around la tierra.
These hidden soul berries are to be savored; art critique had a bland flavor until the aperspectival perception introduced palatability.


Glad to be working at my own pace! The Underground Gebser reading would have been difficult for me…
Finished Ch.1 & 2 and, at some point during the Petrarch and also during the Picasso portion, I was reading in slow time; the world stopped around me…the best description is a meditative state…not many writings/writers can achieve this, let alone in non-fiction!