5. Symphony of Emergence 


Art, Evolution 
And The Tragic Genre


Section 5 .1.3

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon




 5. Symphony of Emergence  
     5.1 Cycle, System Return: The Axial Age  
        5.1.1 Non-genetic Evolution
        5.1.2 Karen Armstrong's The Great Transformation
        5.1.3 Art, Evolution and The Tragic Genre  
     5.2 Stream and Sequence: The Axial Transitions   
        5.2.1 Archaic Greece: The Clue 
        5.2.2 The Old Testament as Eonic Data 
        5.2.3 Aryans, Hinduism, and a Buddhist Revolution
        5.2.4 Axial China: Continuity and Discontinuity
        5.2.5 A Flowering of Greek Tragedy and The Birth Of    Democracy  
     5.3 A Rebirth of Freedom...Cycle, System Return       
     5.4 On The Threshold of World Civilization  
        5.4.1 Slavery, Abolition, and Eonic Sequence
        5.4.2 Religion and Empire   

 6. Transition and Modernity


    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     5.1.3 Art, Evolution and The Tragic Genre


We are confronted by the fact that Greek tragedy arises in the Greek Axial interval, flowers in spectacular fashion and in perfect correlation, then begins to wane promptly at the conclusion of the transitional interval. In terms of our evolution formalism the correspondence is eerily exact, in terms of macro and micro, System Action and Free Action. We are left to wonder about earlier stages of human evolution if we see such spectacular kibitzing at the level of art.

Thus, the historian William MacNeill, in Keeping Together in Time, considers the element of dance and song in human evolution. But this process is right under our noses if we carefully do some accounting of relative transforms in our eonic pattern. Most ‘song and dance’ elements are well established in the human legacy and cease to show relative transformation. We need to find one that is inside the eonic mainline, what we will call an eonic emergent. We can see that the eonic pattern is pervaded by spectacular cases of artistic flowering. Here is a prime case for our distinctions made between what is potential at all times and what appears in our macroevolutionary pattern. We can in fact isolate one spectacular intermittent effect in the genre of Greek tragedy  (whose ‘song and dance’ elements are almost vestigial, as it passes into a literary genre). Its relevance to our ‘evolution of freedom’ is direct. And the suspicious similarity of the ‘tragic theme’ to the issues of religious evolution should alert us to the importance of the issue. The potential to create art, acts of purpose, and will, and the freedom to ‘screw up’, closely resemble each other. This is a complex subject, but our remarks will be restricted to periodization, and it also true that the example of the tragic genre, although of special interest, is only one of a whole range.[i]

As we move to create a model we need to remind ourselves that aesthetic issues are a still more complex domain beyond even the ethical ones we find lacking in causal thinking. Later we will look at the philosopher Kant, and there find it no accident his Newtonian musings split into three critiques, one each for the causal, ethical, and aesthetic modes, with an ambiguous fourth as to the teleological. As a token of the complexity of (eonic) evolution we can notice the issue of the evolution of art embedded in our data. Note that, from a high-level view, seen in retrospect, we can see that as the Axial interval switches on somewhere ca. -900 a whole series of literatures start coming into existence, accomplished by -400 at the latest. Nothing in this preempts later contributions, but the relative effect is unmistakable, occurs simultaneously in five or more areas independently, and shows feats never matched even today. Note especially the sequence from the Iliad to Greek tragedy, which suddenly appears very briefly. This kind of data is beyond analysis in current science, yet simple periodization forces a paradox. We are approaching a crisis of analytical concepts. The difficulty of the tragic genre makes its appearance ultra-rare, and as it happens it sandbanks inside our pattern.

Note how Greek drama (comedy/tragedy) is confected out of ‘song and dance situations’, in tribal traditions of dance and choral verse, and complex poetic lore. This point can be exaggerated, but the data is sufficient to open a discussion (and even include the quite different example of Judaic, and other, literature). In fact, that lead up is not very much, and the genre simply appears like an apparition (as far as we can make out), with the epic as a clear precursor. A similar effect is visible in the Old Testament era before the exile, as a complex literature comes into existence based in part on received texts, and new additions in the immediate prior time frame. This case is interesting because its redactors explicitly noticed a termination or cutoff in the emergence process, e.g. by about -400, and created redactions of the material. Nietzsche puzzled over the sudden cutoff in Greek tragedy. He cites the factor of rationalism, but isn’t the issue the rapid falloff of ‘eonic determination’? We usually take the Old Testament as a religious document, but fail to notice the almost exact synchronous emergence of two literatures in Axial concert.

We should note that more primitive men often had a sense that their arts were not subject to arbitrary volition. It is perhaps futile to remind our modern reductionist that Homer opens his great oeuvre with an invocation of a muse. The question is highly complex. We need not just examples of art, but an example of relative transformation sandbanked inside the eonic effect. The genre of tragedy gives a good example, especially cogent because it shows direct eonic correlation, appeared in a great flash in a short spree, and then died out in the middle period, a strong hint of system action behind the scenes. The problem is that this case is tough, it is beyond our powers of analysis. Please note this thinking is self-referentially about the evolution of freedom (man and his ‘fate’), and, further, the freedom to produce art, not the evolutionary generation of art deterministically. This is both clearly visible and beyond our powers of analysis by an order of magnitude. But there is no contradiction here. Any agent with a large investment fund creates a field of potential creative action not deterministically realized. In any case, we can see that Greek tragedy as a social construct is in the mainline of the eonic sequence. This example is useful because we are not distracted by the religious issues of the Old Testament. Directly comparable examples are occurring in India and China .

In general, let us note that our ‘evolution of some kind’ seems able to leave great art in its wake, as a matter of relative transformation, i.e. in the intermittent series visible as the eonic effect. Please note what we mean, the potential for art already exists in man and occurs in every generation but at a relatively higher degree of contingency, the random distribution of genius. Here we see our ‘evolution’ inducing a spectacular clustering period of the highest art, e.g. Greek Tragedy, with or without the factor of genius, against (to some degree) the element of contingency. Later periods can’t continue this because they don’t understand it.

This ‘evolution’ doesn’t just generate art, it generates relative transforms seen in periods of higher, the highest, level of art. Yet human creativity is never violated. We know this only by periodization and careful accounting of time periods. Therefore this ‘evolution’ operates at some higher level than the highest level of art. The same could be said of philosophy or religion. Shall we go on? Darwinian stock is starting to collapse. We have several million years of coarse-grained observation of Darwinian evolution, and five thousand years of fine-grained observation of some other ‘evolution’. Are the two the same, or did one pass into the other, and if so, when?

The Tower of Babel In the throes of the Darwin debate  and beset with the Creationist design arguments, Robert Pennock in The Tower of Babel, attempts to compare the ‘evolution’ of language with Darwinian evolution. But we must already wonder if this differentiation of languages does not rather correspond to a type of ‘microevolution’, leaving the real ‘macroevolution’ as obscure as before. The various theories of an original superfamily of human languages, perhaps taking us back to the Great Explosion, are highly suggestive here.[ii]

Axial Age Literature The eonic effect puts an ace up our sleeve: we see distinct eonic sequences of linguistic phenomena at the level of poetic art. Examine the eonic sequence in terms of Axial Greek epic and lyric poetry, Homer to Archilochus onward, and its precise eonic timing. Everything falls into place, down to the poetic meters. This clear relative transformation (given the unknown but clearly indicated stream entry phenomenon of bards and their sagas) shows us that ‘macroevolution’ in short bursts definitely exists in the most exotic form as the advanced linguistic-poetic behavior of the man, whatever that tells us about early linguistic evolution. Nearby, a similar phenomenon is occurring in the emergence of the Old Testament literature.

Oral Traditions The collation of history with the invention of writing  is misleading, perhaps, in so far as even in historical times traditions of oral literature remain outstanding. Homer is notable because he put an oral tradition into writing, one that he did not invent. The oral traditions of Indian yoga should remind us that millennia of religion in the Neolithic or before could have maintained continuity before the onset of written documents. Lao Tse, in fact, often seems to be protesting the misleading character of written documents, as if these were a decline from a deeper form of transmission. Buddhists often indicated just such an issue, and spoke of the direct transmission of teachings, forever grumbling at the limits of written sutras. The Old Testament is thoroughly modern in this regard, the first of the great literary religions armed with the new ‘hi-tech’ technology of democratized alphabetic writing. These hotshots are pointing to the future of ‘religion by the book’.  



   Web:  chap5_1_3.htm


[i] William McNeill, in Keeping Together in Time (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995).

[ii] Robert Pennock, The Tower Of Babel (Cambridge: The MIT press, 1999), Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn ( New York : Penguin 2006), Steve Olson, Mapping Human History ( New York : Houghton Mifflin, 2002).





Last modified: 09/27/2010