Panoramic and Participating Apocalypse

Further to the impending Judgment Day, here’s Frye in The Great Code distinguishing between panoramic and participating apocalypse:

There are, then, two aspects of the apocalyptic vision: One is what we may call panoramic apocalypse, the vision of the staggering marvels placed in a near future and just before the end of time. As a panorama, we look at it passively, which means it is objective to us. This in turn means that it is essentially a projection of the subjective “knowledge of good and evil” acquired at the fall. That knowledge, we now see, was wholly within the framework of law: it is contained by the final “judgment” where the world disappears into its unending constituents, a heaven and a hell, into one of which man automatically goes, depending on the relative strength of the cases for the prosecution and the defence. Even in heaven, the legal vision tells us, he remains eternally a creature, praising his Creator unendingly.

Anyone coming “cold” to the Book of Revelation, without context of any kind, would probably regard it as simply an insane rhapsody. It has been described as a book that either finds a man mad or else leaves him so. And yet, if we were to explore below the repressions in our own minds that keep us “normal,” we might find very similar nightmares of anxiety and triumph. As a parallel example, we may cite the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the soul is assumed immediately after death to be going through a series of visions, first of peaceful and then of wrathful deities. A priest reads the book into the ear of the corpse, who is assumed to hear the reader’s voice telling him that all these visions are simply his own repressed mental forms now released by death and coming to the surface. If he could realize that, he would immediately be delivered from their power, because it is own power.

If we take a similar approach to the Book of Revelation, we find, I think, that there is a second or participating apocalypse following the panoramic one. The panoramic apocalypse ends with the restoration of the tree and water of life, the two elements of the original creation. But perhaps, like other restorations, this one is a type of something else, a resurrection or upward metamorphosis to a new beginning that is now present. We notice that while the Book of Revelation seems to be emphatically the end of the Bible, it is a remarkably open end. It contains such statements as “Behold, I make all things new” (21:5); it describes God as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all possibilities of verbal expression; it follows the vision of the restoring of the water of life with an earnest invitation to drink of it. The panoramic apocalypse gives way, at the end, to a second apocalypse that, ideally, begins in the reader’s mind as soon as he has finished reading, a vision that passes through the legalized vision of ordeals and trials and judgments and comes out into a second life. In this second life the creator-creature, divine-human antithetical tension has ceased to exist, and the sense of the transcendent person and the split of subject and object no longer limit our vision. After the “last judgment,” the law loses its last hold on us, which is the hold of the legal vision that ends there.

We suggested earlier that the Bible deliberately blocks off the sense of the referential from itself: it is not a book pointing to a historical presence outside it, but a book that identifies itself with that presence. At the end the reader, also, is invited to identify himself with the book. Milton suggests that the ultimate authority in the Christian religion is what he calls the Word of God in the heart, which is superior even to the Bible itself, because for Milton this “heart” belongs not to the subjective reader but to the Holy Spirit. That is, the reader completes the visionary operation of the Bible by throwing out the subjective fallacy along with the objective one. The apocalypse is the way the world looks after the ego has disappeared. (CW 19, 156-8)

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1 thought on “Panoramic and Participating Apocalypse

  1. Michael Happy Post author

    Argh. My bad luck seems to come in threes. I got a friendly email from Veronica Abbass today who, among other things, pointed out three minor typos in the apocalypse post that have since been fixed.

    Sorry, folks. It’s a bit of fatigue. I put these posts together at the end of a long day; I do proofread them, but the kinds of errors I seem to be making tend to be small omissions, so I’m seeing what is not there — and spellcheck misses them because “thin” is as acceptable as “think,” “Go” as “God.” and “of” as “or.” I seem to have been temporarily blind to them, but now that I’m aware of the blind spot, I will try to be more vigilant.

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