Anthropological Fairytales and Mindful Thinking

Another gem from Ben Morgan’s “On Becoming God: late medieval mysticism and the modern western self”.

In their anthropologically colored account of the rise of modern rationality, [Max] Horkheimer and [Theodor] Adorno suggest that a combination of awe and anxiety generated social practices that eventually became modern rationality. Debates about the apostolic life in the thirteenth century illustrate in a more concrete form the process that the authors of Dialectic of Enlightenment [warning PDF] imagined as an anthropological fairytale. In the thirteenth century, we find both the sense of connectedness (what Horkheimer and Adorno termed ‘mimesis’) and the anxious need for order and control.

When he refers to debates about the apostolic life, he’s referring to Meister Eckhart’s polemic with the ascetic milieu of his day. Ascetic practices paralleled mercentile “best practices” that also pertained to successful commerce: self-monitoring, reporting, privation, and cultivation of an inner-life. Adorno and Horkheimer locate the onset of these habits in the ancient past, which unhelpfully dehistoricizes its critical content. It shows how bourgeois fairy tales are constructed, but misses how their reading of Ancient Greek myth is how it is for the bourgeois consciousness. In otherwords, they are verging on the contemplation that Marx denounces and deconstructs in Theses on Feuerbach. Morgan’s inspection of spiritual habits aims to encourage mindfulness in scholarly practice that breaks down some elitist barriers it poses to non-scholarly thinkers.

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