On the previous IPS forum, I started a thread on the work of David Michael Levin -- primarily based on his book, The Opening of Vision.  [You can find an archived copy of the discussion here.]  Recently, I just picked up another of his books, The Listening Self: Personal Growth, Social Change, and the Closure of Metaphysics, and I have continued to appreciate his articulation of an embodied, postmetaphysical approach to spirituality (as well as psychological and social well being).  In The Opening of Vision, Levin explored the 'spiritual' possibilities inherent in the transformation of the field of vision or seeing; in The Listening Self, he approaches the transformation of the self (and society) in the context of a phenomenological hermeneutic exploration of the evolution of our listening.


As in The Opening of Vision, he traces out a developmental sequence which involves an hermeneutic recovery, and 'integration,' of a primordial form of embodied experience.  Here is his summary of the four main stages of this developmental process:


"Stage I


The first stage is one I am calling our Zugehorigkeit.  Taken from Heidegger, this word will refer to the fact of our inherence in, belonging to, and attunement by the dimensions of the auditory field as a whole.  Since this field, an utterly open, incommensurable matrix of sonorous energies, is how the Being of beings primordially manifests itself for the organs of our hearing, Zugehorigkeit is a pre-ontological understanding (or an ontological pre-understanding) of Being.  Heidegger never recognized in this Zugehorigkeit a pre-ontological understanding of Being.  Although he introduced this term into his texts because he wanted the auditory significance it carries (horig, gehorig) to resonate within the discourse he was setting in motion, he did not in fact use the term as we shall here, namely, to describe the hearing modality distinctive of our earliest infancy, when our hearing is minimally complex and is functioning with relatively little figure-ground articulation and little differentiation of the positional being of the listener from the encompassing being of the whole auditory field (the sonorous topology of Being) as a whole.


In this 'first' phase, our hearing may be said to inhere in, and be attuned by, the field of sonorous Being as a whole: the infant lives in a bodily felt inherence in the openness of the sonorous matrix and hears with -- hears through -- the entire body.  The infant's ears are the body as a whole.  Hearing in this rudimentary phase is global, holistic, syncretic, synergic, ek-static; it is an elemental hearing, deeply, symbiotically embedded in the elemental ecology of nature.  Our experiences during this phase are constellated under the influence of familiar feminine archetypes: the 'uroborus,' roundness, wholeness, openness, receptiveness, embodiment, feeling, communion with the matrix of soundings.  During this earliest phase of our lives, our hearing is pre-personal and pre-egological: since no selfconsciously continuous centre of experience has yet coalesced and no strong-boundaried ego-logical identity yet emerged, the auditory situation is not yet structured as subject with object.


By grace of this initial state, the gift of a primordial openness to the sonorous dimensionality of Being, the infant may be said to 'enjoy' the gift of a pre-ontological understanding of the Being of beings.  Naturally, the infant is not (much) conscious of this relationship with Being; nevertheless, this experience of being so related, with which, as a hearing being, the infant is always and already graced, is at work in all motivations, movements, and gestures: it is an understanding borne entirely by the auditory body as a whole.


In the next chapter, I shall tell this story -- about the embodiment of our pre-ontological understanding and the development of this initial gift -- in more detail.  Heidegger tells us only that there is a pre-ontological understanding of Being always assigned to us, and that we have an inveterate tendency to 'forget' it, to conceal it from ourselves.  He gives no account of our self-development in this regard; nor does he explicitly embody this pre-ontological understanding, although he writes of the fact that Dasein is always embodied.


In the process of socialization, we inevitably lose touch with this pre-ontological relationship to, and understanding of, Being; and as we mature, the utterly open dimensionality of our hearing is increasingly repressed -- sometimes getting psychotically split off.  This 'renunciation' of our primordial ecstasy is in fact a necessary condition for the further development of our auditory capacity.  What is unfortunate is not its Aufhebung, its sublimation, in stage II, but our continued abandonment of Being, in the time of our maturity.


Stage II


In the second phase, extending from later infancy to adolescence or adulthood, our hearing is gradually developed.  In the course of our socialization, the biological potential naturally manifests; by the time the infant is a year old, there is already, in fact, a well-developed auditory competence: the child can discriminate between and recognize many different sounds and sources of sound; can recognize different patterns of sound; can accurately imitate tones of voice.  Stage II culminates in a hearing that is personal, adequately skillful in meeting the normal demands of interpersonal living, and ruled over by the ego, which habitually structures all the auditory situations in which it finds itself in terms of subject and object.  In the modern age, this structuring has become peculiarly willful and oppositional: the auditory Gestalt, manifesting the distinctive character of our present historical situation, accordingly becomes an enframing -- a Gestell, obliterating the ontological dimensionality of the field.


Stage III


As adults, we are capable of assuming responsibility for our hearing; hearing is a skillfulness we can develop beyond what normal living, normal socialization, minimally requires of us.  In stage III, the individual is committed to further training, a practice of self-discipline.  By virtue of this commitment, this work on oneself, the self-responsible individual grows beyond an ego-logical identification and begins to live the more creative becoming of a Self.  Recognition of the difference between (the being of) the ego and (the being of) the Self is crucial.  Whereas the ego is a defensively adaptive structure identified with an essentially fixed, socially conforming content, the identity which begins to form in the work of stage III, the way of living I am calling the 'Self,' is an ongoing process of self-development, a structure of individuation creatively open to change, a structure organized by, and identified with, processes that carry forward learning and growth.


There are many different goals that can motivate such work on oneself.  We shall be considering four specific fields of self-disciplinary practice: in Chapter Four, the ecology of nature, the art of music, and the interactions of psychiatry; and in Chapter Five, the discourse of politics.  In Chapter Four, I will argue that, in the third stage of listening, we are essentially involved in developing our listening as a practice of compassion, increasing our capacity, as listeners, to be aware of, and responsive to, the interrelatedness and commonality of all sonorous beings.  (Although distinct from this compassion practice, the development of hearing as an aesthetic skill both contributes to, and is in turn advanced by, the development of hearing as an organ of compassion.  For the aesthetic is precisely the cultivation of sensibility, a deepening of our capacity for sensuous and affective appreciation.)  In Chapter Five, then, I will argue that the development of a deeper awareness of the reversibility dynamics in all auditory situations -- an awareness necessary for the emergence of a sense of justice, an understanding of reciprocity principles, and participation in rational processes of consensus formation -- is a third-stage development; and, moreover, that it is a developemnt which must take place, if our capacity for hearing is to be fulfilled in the good life of a just and democratic society.


Stage IV


Borrowing a term from Heidegger, we will be calling this stage 'hearkening' (das Horchen).  Very few people ever attempt to continue the development of their hearing beyond the kinds of skill belonging to stage III.  Even fewer attempt to do the kind of work necessary for the achievement of 'hearkening.'  Hearkening requires the disciplined practice of Gelassenheit, i.e. letting-go and letting-be, as a mode or style of listening.  In learning Gelassenheit, the art of 'just listening', listening without getting entangled in the ego's stories and preoccupations, one learns a different way of channelling, focusing, attending.  There is a restructuring of the figure-ground difference, with an awareness that it manifests the appropriation of the auditory field by the double tonality of the ontological difference.  Hearkening makes, or lets, this ontological difference -- the difference between beings and Being -- be manifest, be audible, within the Gestalt of the auditory situation. 


The Gestaltung of stage IV is a distinctively spiritual accomplishment.  The work of this stage begins with the practice of Gelassenheit and gradually performs an ontological recollection, a recollection of the utterly open dimensionality of the auditory field, as which the sonorous Being of beings manifests for our (properly) listening ears.  Though never finished, this recollection realizes and fulfills our potential as human beings in relation to the Question of Being.  With the achievement of this ongoing recollection, not as a cognitive operation separate from our listening, we may enjoy an authentically ontological relationship to, and an existentially meaningful understanding of, the Being of beings: in particular, (1) Being as such and (2) the dimensionality, the radical alterity, of other human beings.  The pre-ontological relationship and understanding that we once inhabited (during our infancy), and that we subsequently lost touch with in the course of our socialization (our ego-logical development), we begin to retrieve in stage IV, getting it back, this time, in a highly conscious, thoughtful, and articulate experience, meaningfully integrated into the auditory situations of our daily lives.


Our practice at stage IV is a practice that needs to take place under the influence of the feminine archetypes: there ust be an appreciation of and a recovery of experiencing modalities that, in our culture, have been traditionally constellated through these archetypes.


By virtue of our existential work, our channelling is opened up.  In this state, it 'invites' a gathering of all sonorous, audible beings from all sonorous dimensions, bringing them into a Gestalt that we will call, again borrowing from Heidegger, das Geviert -- the Fourfold.  Whereas, at stage II, the auditory Gestalt is enframing, is a Gestell, here the structure becomes a gathering of sonorous Being: a gathering mindful of its utterly open dimensionality, attentive to the primordial difference by grace of which all auditory structures are possible, and respectful of the incommensurability of the Being of sonorous beings, letting the inaudible be inaudible.


... The developmental model I am proposing in this study -- and not only the model, but also the design of the table [see below], which cannot accommodate a hermeneutical time-dimension -- will be open to some very destructive misunderstandings unless, anticipating them here, I can successfully ward them off by clarification.  That is what I shall now try to do.


First of all, it is essential to understand that the developmental process is not a straightforwardly linear progression, but rather a dialectic of sublimations and sublations: a dialectic for the evolution of which Hegel introduced the term Aufhebung.  In other words, each phase of the process is carried forward: not only transformed, but also preserved, as transformed, by the subsequent stage.  Thus, the first stage, Zugehorigkeit, is never entirely left behind, nor is it ever totally split off, when the infant undergoes the process of socialization.  To be sure, socialization gradually installs an ego-logically boundaried centre in the 'place' where an ecstatically open centre once functioned; but the auditory body always continues to bear within it some 'traces,' or an echo, of this primal experience with the sonorous dimensionality of Being.


In this regard, it is crucial to keep in mind that the 'primordial relationship with Being' attributed to infancy is a past that has never really been present -- a past that never was what it now, i.e., from the vantage point of stage IV, presents itself as having been.  Zugehorigkeit is a projection, a reconstruction, an understanding constituted after the fact, redeeming an experience that 'from the very beginning' fell short of itself; fell short, I mean, of being 'the beginning,' a primordial experience of the pure and total presence of Being...


...Even though there never was an 'original' experience with Being as absolutely pure and total presence in the first place, the advances of stage II are not achieved without a loss: a loss that we may call, using Heidegger's phrase, a 'loss of Being,' or a loss of contact with ecstasy (ek-stasis) of Being -- 'Being' understood here as the utterly open ek-static dimensionality of the auditory field, the sonorous field.  And yet, this loss of contact (which, as noted, never was an experience of pure presence) is not total, and therefore not irrevocable and irremediable: by grace of our embodiment, echoes of our earliest experience with the Being of sonorous field are preserved and continue to resonate, so that, later in life, after the ego is firmly established, it becomes possible to 'return' to these echoes, not only making contact with our bodily felt sense of that pre-ontological openness -- whatever sense of that 'primordial ecstasy' we may now, by virtue of some directed exertion, be able to feel -- but also 'retrieving' it and freeing it for an ongoing integration into present living.


In principle, then, the infant's experience of Zugehorigkeit, a 'primordial' inherence in the openness and wholeness of Being, is always to some degree retrievable.  And when it is retrieved, it is always also more than retrieved, as well as less, since it is only nachtraglich, after the fact and belatedly (as Freud would perhaps have wanted to suggest), that this experience, which the infant lived through without (much) consciousness, gets to be recognized for what it was (is) and accordingly comes to be understood as an ontological relationship.  The 'retrieval' therefore retrieves in two senses:  it brings back what was 'forgotten'; but it also redeems it by 'making' it what it never was.


The recollection of Being -- the very same movement by which we grow beyond our ego-logical identifications -- is a hermeneutical movement: we must first 'go back' to Zugehorigkeit, 'back,' as it were, to the 'beginning,' in order to develop beyond the ego-logical stage of ontological forgetfulness in listening.  Or rather, to state this point more accurately, since in truth this 'beginning,' this 'origin,' can never be retrieved now as it actually was then, we must first generate within ourselves a presently felt sense of our 'pre-ontological beginning.'  This movement forward, this growth, requires a hermeneutical movement backward: a movement, however, that must not be confused with an infantile or psychotic regression.  It is essential to understand the difference between this hermeneutical 'return' and a pathological regression.  Regression is a movement in one direction only; it repeats what came earlier instead of redeeming it; and it is always a movement, therefore, that closes the process of personal growth.


We are always free, of course, to continue living in the stage II reality of anyone-and-everyone (das Man), virtually deaf to the dimensionality of Being that resounds all around us.  But after we have achieved the maturity of stage II, we can still continue to grow, committing ourselves to a practice of the Self by virtue of which we begin to grow beyond the ontologically alientated condition of being-an-ego to find ourselves more opened up to this dimensionality of Being and enjoying a spiritual wholeness not otherwise possible.  The hearkening of stage IV, a gathering embrace of whatever may be given to our ears for their hearing, is an achievement that brings with it a self-fulfillment altogether different from that which comes at stage III: a self-fulfillment that is not possible at all in stage II."  (Levin, 1989, pp. 45-56)


[I will include Levin's table of the stages of listening here later this evening, once I have a chance to copy it out]



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These days, I've noticed (admittely, with some chagrin) that I've been tearing up and crying easily.  I've felt a little emotionally raw and 'open' lately, and have been finding myself moved to tears when I see something beautiful or emotionally moving, or even if I witness someone else experiencing that.  I have felt a little uncomfortable with this, wondering what's up with me, but then I started thinking about Levin's writings on crying as a 'practice of the Self,' and have decided to try being a little more open to this experience, as long as it is coming. 

Here are some of his writings on crying, from The Opening of Vision:

“With crying, I begin to see, briefly, and with pain. Only with the crying, only then, does vision begin.”

“Our eyes are not only articulate organs of sight; they are also the emotionally expressive organs of crying.  The site where vision takes place is sometimes a site where a very different kind of process takes place.  We will now give some thought to the character of this process. What is crying?  Is it merely an accidental or contingent fact that the eyes are capable of crying as well as seeing?  Or is crying in the most intimate, most closely touching relationship to seeing?  Is crying essential for vision?”

“Only human beings cry.  Animals are beings endowed with sight; but only we are capable of crying.  What does this show about us?  What does this show TO us?  Is it this capacity for crying, then, which ennobles our vision, makes it human?  And is it not the ABSENCE of this capacity which marks off the inhuman?  By the ‘inhuman’ I mean the monstrous and the inwardly dead:  the Nazi commandant, for example, and his victim, the Jew, locked into a dance of death, neither one, curiously, able to shed a tear:  for different reasons, their eyes are dry, empty, hollow.”

“What does this capacity [for crying] make visible?  What is its truth?  What is the truth it sees?  What does it know as a ’speech’ of our nature?  How does it guide our vision?”

“We could think of our eyes as capable of three kinds of mood:  (i) the ontical moodedness of everyday seeing, which can differentiate and articulate what it beholds only in a more or less dualistic, objectifying, re-presentational manner; (ii) the transitional moodedness of a seeing which cries for vision, immersed in painful seeing, immersed in the processes of its subjectivity; and (iii) the moodedness of a more joyful, more fulfilled seeing, clear and bright and articulate, and capable of being deeply touched and moved, even at a distance, by what it is given to see.”

“Crying is the rooting of vision in the ground of our [universal, shared & interacting] needs:  [our] need for openness, [our] need for contact, [our] need for wholeness.”

“Crying, of course, is involuntary.  But the experience of crying, with which we are all familiar, can be taken up by the self, taken to heart, and turned, through the gift of our thought, into a PRACTICE of the self.  The practice is concerned with the cultivation of our capacity for care —  Crying becomes a critical social practice of the self when the vision it brings forth makes a difference in the world, gathering other people into the wisdom of its attunement.”


I came across another interesting-looking text by Levin that I hadn't seen before:  Before the Voice of Reason.


Here's a summary and a few reviews (and also a sample chapter):



Provides a critique of reason, demanding that we take greater responsibility for nature and other people.

Before the Voice of Reason is a phenomenological critique of reason grounded in our experience of the voices that already address us and summon us prior to the emergence of the voice of reason. In part one, David Michael Kleinberg-Levin explores the voices of nature and draws on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology to offer a new way of thinking about environmental responsibility. In part two, he looks at the voice of the moral law and the voices of other human beings, advances a more nuanced account of Levinas’s distinction between “Saying” and “Said,” and proposes a new argument for our responsibility to the other.

“Kleinberg-Levin is that rare phenomenologist who continually ‘does phenomenology,’ instead of just talking about its necessity. He finds in Merleau-Ponty’s work the concrete phenomena of childhood and language progression that justifies the distinctions that are made about the priority of the phenomena. Kleinberg-Levin demands that phenomenological description not be speculative and metaphysical, but rather have a basis in the human developmental process. The work on Levinas in the second half of the book is equally exquisite, if not more so.” — Glen A. Mazis, author of Earthbodies: Rediscovering Our Planetary Senses

“Kleinberg-Levin has brilliantly rendered the phenomenology and ontology of Merleau-Ponty and the ethical philosophy of alterity developed by Levinas as an address to the ecological crisis of the earth and sky. He has done so with both wide-ranging scholarly erudition and a sense of practical urgency. This is a work of true philosophical wisdom for our times, written in a voice of compassion and strength.” — Galen A. Johnson, author of Earth and Sky, History and Philosophy: Island Images Inspired by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty



Also recall p. 5 of the "IP definition of states" thread, where I explored Levin's use of Levinas as well as referenced Levin's work on Merleau-Ponty. That thread is where you got annoyed with my references to Derrida, admittedly one of my fixations.

I enjoyed the sample chapter, raising many of the themes I explored in the above referenced thread, particularly the means of using language to establish relations with what was pre-language, i.e., nature. And how such attunement is achieved via a bastard reasoning or hyper-dialectic in MP's turn of phrase, which is not merely a return to what was but an an intertwing with the yet to come:

“The attunement...having originally preceded the ego-logical consciousness, is not realized, and does not actually take place, until the belated moment of its reflected recuperation. The 'always already' that memory strives to retrieve is inseparable from a 'not yet,' a future conjectured in hope” (61).

In the following passage I found much akin to my own rhetoric against the totalizing hegemony of "nested hierarchies" posited by allegedly purely quantitative, mathematical models of hierarchical complexity and much exploited in kennilinguist altitude sickness:

"What I want to argue here...is...the voices of the non-identical: what cannot be subsumed and contained...by the 'sober,' tone-deaf concepts produced by our strictly 'rational' understanding—a hearing in excess of, or say beyond, our concepts for grasping and comprehending them; a hearing impossible within the ontologies codified by both rationalism and empiricism, both of which enshrine in reification the structure that positions a subjective interior opposite an objective exterior” (65-6).

Here's an excerpt from my referenced thread that demonstrates “using a mytho-poetic language...to evoke in us...this reconnection with both the always already and not yet."

Levina's language is intended to evoke a “deep, bodily felt sense” that is a “return effected by phenomenology.” It is pre-conceptual in a sense, this return to body. As we've discussed before, only in one sense, since the return is also an integrative move that is more than what was before concepts.... Hence Levinas language uses such mythological motifs and tropes that move us deeper than conventional experience based only on concept, back down into those roots of morality in the body where we are more directly connected to the other. In a way his language is magical in that it takes us to a place both before and after language by the use of language. But language is part of the equation, right in the middle of it, hence Hermes is indeed a messenger that uses language to convey meaning.

Levin makes clear that meaning, like being, builds on the "always already" but is extended into novelty by the "not yet." And these two are in continual relation, at least after the "fall" or "rise," depending on your interpretation, of the ego. But since its advent there is no simple return to the always already of the pre-egoic, no pristine or original awareness. The belief in the latter is in fact one of the symptoms of metaphysics, since it is now the "not yet" that transforms the "always already," but without which the not yet would not exist.

To complement Levin's discussion in Beyond the Voice of Reason, here's an interesting talk on biophony by sound ecologist and sound engineer, Dr. Bernie Krause.

Dr. Bernie Krause: The Great Animal Orchestra from California Academy of Sciences on FORA.tv

The part about how animals teach us to sing and dance reminds me of this post earlier in the thread. I still sing with the birds and still imagine it will be my last living act.

That would be a fine way to go.


I can't sing, but I used to play ocarina with the birds out in the canyons of Az.  That's how I explored and slowly figured out the ocarina, my first wind instrument -- trying to follow what the birds were doing, or to get them interested and draw them into a conversation.

Since we've re-opened this can here, I'll type up parts of pp. 47-8 of The Opening of Vision below. Quote:

5, the ontological body: This is a hermeneutical body because i) it is accessible only through hermeneutical phenomenology and ii) it is itself hermeneutical, i.e., disclosive of the presencing of being.

4, the transpersonal body: This is our ancestral body, the ancient body of our collective unconscious, that dimension of our bodily being through which we experience our connectedness with all sentient beings, our participation in nature's organic processes, and the cessation of our total identification with the conventional time and space of our socialized ego. Religions use ceremonies and rituals to schematize and bring forth such a body.

3, the ego-logical body: This is the civil body, socially constituted in the economy of a body politic. It is personal and interpersonal, and consists in masks, roles, habits, routines, and social practices. It is formed through child-rearing practices, education and participation in social structures.

2, the pre-personal body: This body is pre-civil and pre-egological. It is the body of the infant and child: a body adults still carry with them, however split off it might be; a body which adults can retrieve through memory or a relaxation of defenses, letting it take part in life involuntarily and spontaneously.

1, the primordial body: This is the wild body, the dreambody, the animal body, the body of nature, the vegetative body rooted in the earth. This body can only be invoked with the language of metaphors, symbols, stories, legends, fairy tales, myths, poetry and dreams. This body is both pre-egological and pre-ontologial. It carries around with it a dark, implicate pre-understanding of Being: a subsidiary guardian awareness of the meaningfulness of Being.

Development from stage 1 to 3 is normal and typically completed when the child becomes an adult. Stages 4 and 5, however, represent stages of individual development that require special effort, commitment, and maturity. Stages 1 and 2 are basically biological. Stage 3 is distinctively cultural.... The ego-logical body is the body shaped according to the ego's image of itself. But stages 4 and 5 go beyond what society requires. We might call them 'spiritual' stages.

Normal development (stages 1-3) is always, more or less, a linear progression, but the progression beyond 3 is not; it is essentially hermeneutical, involving a return, a turning into the body of experience, to retrieve a present sense of the earlier stages. Beyond 3 it is necessary to go 'backwards' in order to go 'forwards.' Stage 3 is the moment when, for the first time, this return and retrieval is possible.

A new book by Levin forthcoming: Redeeming Words.

I could have shared this story about animal speech many different places, from the thread on Becoming Animal or just in O'Kenny's Pub, but I am putting it here for fun, to complement Levin's book on the presence of the pre-human and non-human in our own speech:

Scientists Decode Prairie Dog Language

And here's a separate interesting article about plants doing math!

Alchemy of the Third Millennium, Day 2, 1/2 from Artek oy ab on Vimeo.

David Michael Kleinberg-Levin: Meditation: Notes for Living with the Elements

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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