The legacy of Julian Jaynes
By David Auerbach
Julian Jaynes is dead, but I'm going to leave him aside
for now to look at the buried legacy of Charles Fort (1874-1932). While the
Fortean Times continues to publish arch examinations of Wilhelm Reich,
Immanuel Velikovsky, and other crackpots, Fort's own work is reprinted in
series with the most drug-addled or Marxism-saddled ramblings of Foucault and
Kathy Acker, and the ethos of Fort's work has diffused its way through the
world. Fort's most infamous idea--"I think we're property" (of higher
beings)--was ripped off in countless pulps and was partly responsible for the
establishment of one or two religious organizations.
Fort was roundly dismissed by scholars of his day as a cross between Robert
Ripley and P.T. Barnum, with all the exhibitionistic trappings of both.
However, Fort's sincerity surpassed a lust for fame: of his anecdotes and
conclusions, he wrote, "I no more believe them than I believe that twice two
He had probably read Notes from Underground, but was too flighty to be
nihilistic--he preferred rubber cement to Ockham's Razor. He is the patron
saint of all the urban legends and conspiracy theories of this century, but
also of relativism.
Fort loved exceptions and corner cases, and so the story of Kaspar Hauser
caught his attention. Hauser turned up in Nuremberg one day in 1828, barely
able to walk or speak, and later claimed that he had been kept in a cell since
birth. Fort launches from the story into a bizarre sequence of suppositions
about teleportation, alien transport, and the indeterminacy of history, and
leaves them hanging firmly in the air.
Which brings me to Julian Jaynes, the only writer who maintained a shred of
credibility in most people's eyes while effectively pursuing the same course as
Fort. Jaynes passed away last Nov. 21, which I only recently discovered, due to
the generally low profile he kept after the publication of one brilliant book,
The Origin of Consciousness in the Bicameral Mind.
Jaynes wrote it as an all-encapsulating treatise on the very recent evolution
of the human brain, postulating that we had only 3,000 years ago shaken off a
left/right-brain split that had until then made the right brain act as "god" to
the left, producing visual and auditory hallucinations. Schizophrenia in
Jaynes's framework is a regression to this "bicameral" state, so that people
such as Bruno S. would exist in a pre-modern state of awareness.
Jaynes was far removed from the mainstream, and was as criticized by the
conservatives as he was embraced by the extremists. Many disagreed, and it's
not difficult to do so, but reading Jaynes to be convinced is for the
narrow-minded. Jaynes stood in the nexus of ancient history, Vico, modern
academia, and a good deal of Forteanism, and if any scholar could be said to
have been in Bruno S.'s state of "other-awareness," it would be him. His main
achievement for me was in re-mythologizing humanity.
In 1988, Life asked Jaynes to contribute a comment on the
meaning of life. Sandwiched between the homilies of Armand Hammer and Norman
Vincent Peale ("Approach Life the Joy Way!") is Jaynes's Fortean answer: "This
question has no answer except in the history of how it came to be asked. There
is no answer because words have meaning, not life or persons or the universe
itself. Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the
history of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is
Back to Opinion...