Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Here's a side discussion that took place on Infinite Conversations on the ever-sticky topic of whether language (and philosophy) is necessarily disembodied, non-experiential, etc.
As to Tom’s paper on uncertainty and emptiness, I appreciate what David Loy said of relevance in this 2 article:
"Today the thinker most often compared to Nagarjuna is the French philosopher Jacques Derrida… Derrida is not interested in defending any philosophical position of his own but instead is concerned with showing the limits of language and the difficulties we fall into when we overstep them. Derrida’s work builds on structuralism, which argues that words do not have meaning in and of themselves. The meaning of any linguistic expression always depends upon some other expression, and that ‘other expression’ is also dependent on something else. Meaning is therefore relative and always in flux, part of a chain of reference that never comes to an end. Whatever we think we understand right here and now always presupposes something else that is not present.
“Derrida’s term to describe the relativity and ‘indeterminability’ of meaning is différance, and the way différance functions in his philosophy can be compared to how Nagarjuna uses shunyata, or emptiness. Derrida emphasizes that différance does not refer to some specific thing. It is merely a conceptual tool useful for describing how conceptual meaning is never quite settled, but always ‘deferred.’”
Given the last post, and since Derrida is considered the ultimate postmodern Boogie Man, some questions.
Tom: If Loy has a correct interpretation of Derrida, and from my reading he does for the most part, does this change any of your developmental assessment of postmodernism?
Marco: Given your post in the definitions thread claiming that modernism and postmodernism are the same mental stuff, does the Loy material above change your position?
I read some Derrida in college, but have not studied his work in depth. He is on my list, along with Levinas—for their ethical thought especially. It’s just a matter of when.
However, as far as I can tell, Derrida’s concept of differánce is basically about meaning and language, part of the linguistic turn in philosophy coming out of Heiedegger’s ‘destruction’ of metaphyics and critique of presence. As a practical matter: he is philosophizing.
Foucault seemed to be more on the trail of the integral when he began studying the history of sexuality and the ‘care of the self’, coming out of the ancient Greek ascesis. Here we are moving out of the predominently mental orientation towards some integrated praxis of embodiment (which includes the mental, but with a sense of human proportion).
The other David Loy quote you posted, about the point of meditation not being to “get rid of thoughts” or conceptualization, does square with my understanding of practice.
So but I don’t think my position has changed wrt modern/postmodern. If we are caught in distortions of language, then use language to decontruct the language we are caught in, we are still operating on the mental plane of language. I would ask, what other dimensions, realities, or embodiments are in play, in addition to the linguistic?
What’s going on subliminally? What are the interpersonal dynamics? What is the living context of the utterance? Who is speaking and what do they want? How do our discourse events relate to the unfolding planetary drama? Where are we when we are in cosmic time?
Can you draw a picture of all that? Can you bring all of that into your body and allow a gesture to come forth? Can you sing it? If you cant do any of the above you haven’t become Integral yet. And if you don’t know what to do that is a very good sign. Perhaps you can drop into the Liminal? But you have to let go of everything first. And you may not come back.
It dont mean a thing if it aint got that swing. We can dip into the subliminal by paying attention to all non-verbals in animal communiques and in humans. And we can pay attention to the tone of the voice and where that voice comes from. Head? Heart? Gut? And does any of that communique from the field of all possibility have a size or a shape? And is there a relationship between all of that and what you can say about all of that? And all of that is like what? Most philosophers are talking from the top of their heads. A few of them visit their bodies on rare occasions. Weary of splashing in the shallow end of the pool they venture beyond the life guard’s view. They slide, undetected, into secret waters…
There is no need to respond to this message with what you already know. Ye who are experts cannot enter here. The bottom of the sea is cruel.
Marco: No, Derrida’s work is not just about linguistics but about the very nature of being. I don’t have the time at present to go into the details but I suggest you read Caputo, Desilet, Bryant and Freeman on the topic if you’re interested, who address all of your questions. We’ve discussed all of them at length in the IPS forum.
PS: The de/reconstructive method is a practice that induces experience.
Isn’t the “very nature of being” one of those deffered difference engines that precisely refuses to be simply signified in Derridean discourse?
What John’s talking about actually brings attention out of mental-conceptual language and into a mental-perceptual field of somatic experience, metaphor, poetry—the use of words, I mean, their performativity.
I am curious, what kind of experience, for you, does de/constructive praxis induce? What is it like to be you, when you perform this practice?
It will take me a long time to review all the reading you cite! But perhaps this would be a common entry point into a productive discussion of Tom’s paper? He does a really great job of bringing “postmetaphysics” down to earth, imo. It’s not quite, but I could see how it could be, a practical guide.
So what’s it like to do postmetaphysics, if one follows the various arguments about consciousness development, epistemological humility, ontological pluralism, and the like, to their concrete, worldly, embodied conclusions? How do you make integral postmetaphysical spirituality a reality in your daily life?
Why share my experience of de/reconstruction? I can see that too will only be interpreted from what I see as a fundamental religious dogmatism here. My time is too precious for this so I’ll move on.
I’m not a practitioner of deconstruction, in any formal Derridean sense, so I won’t try to answer that for Ed. But with my own integral grammatology, I’m aware there could be the same response: isn’t that all just in-the-head mental/language stuff? For one, I reject the dichotomy between language and embodiment or experience; language is embodied and experiential, not just mental. I learned this more than 25 years ago when I created my own language, and first had to discover how to radically reorder my perception before I could create a fundamentally new grammar. More recently, I’ve created a number of experiential exercises and have explored them in some workshops around the different elements of my grammatology. Each part of speech can be seen not only as a mental label, but as an element of the structure of experience. For instance, with prepositions, you can sit eye gazing with a partner or listening to them speak, or you can take a walk in a forest, etc, and explore the relations and time-space dynamics of the unfolding of any gestalt of experience that enfolds and connects you and other beings. You can notice what relations predominate, and you can practice shifting them and feeling into what happens, in sense perception, self-sense, body, heart, mind, etc. I’ve gotten good feedback on this, from students, artists, spiritual practitioners, and therapists. Therapists, for instance, noticed how they were able to get new insights into their clients, and new insights into how they were sitting with and ‘holding’ their clients in awareness.
That discussion is the straw that broke my IC back. To me they are a bunch of dogmatic, religious fundamentalists of the privileged access to direct and superior experience variety. It's almost as bad as trying to reason with a Dumpster, since both denigrate valid reasoning.
Also see Lane's criticism which is applicable to the IC crowd too. The very process of map making chooses what to include while leaving a huge chunk of the mapped territory out. Hence all maps are incomplete and what is missing must be taken into account. And yet we mapmakers need constant reminding, as we often and seemingly inevitably forget this and take our maps for the territory.
Hence given our delusion we continue to think that we can actually know the territory in toto, often through some privileged access to reality as it is. Lane debunks this absurd assertion (as does cognitive science etc.) in that our very brain and biology are limited and constrained by what we can know. "Abdicating our critical faculties and accept[ing] eye of spirit experiences axiomatically devolve into reifications that are not much more than theological sloganeering." Whereas the eye of contemplation, tempered, constrained and syntegrated by the eyes of mind and flesh, accept what it experiences conditionally instead of jumping to conclusions about ultimate reality. Otherwise it becomes "third eye blindness" and/or "cross-eyed."
At least a few of the postmetaphysicians in this forum agree with the following critique:
"Two main aspects of Derrida's thinking regarding phenomenology remain clear. Firstly, he thinks that the phenomenological emphasis upon the immediacy of experience is the new transcendental illusion, and secondly, he argues that despite its best intents, phenomenology cannot be anything other than a metaphysics. In this context, Derrida defines metaphysics as the science of presence, as for him (as for Heidegger), all metaphysics privileges presence, or that which is. […] Phenomenology is a metaphysics of presence because it unwittingly relies upon the notion of an indivisible self-presence, or in the case of Husserl, the possibility of an exact internal adequation with oneself."
And consistent with Balder, according to Caputo:
"Deconstruction is an experience of the impossible, which means that différance is an 'absolutely general condition' of experience. […] Différance is not an absolute but a point of view whose fruitfulness Derrida invites us to consider and explore. It is not an intellectual intuition but a framework or condition of experience. That does not reduce it to a theory of mere appearances as opposed to a noumenal being outside time and space […] since the point of departure of phenomenology, no less than deconstruction, is to undo the phenomonal/noumenal binarity."
And then there's this interesting take:
"As a method of oppositional reading, deconstruction argues that a text, and by extension any object of observation including the self, is characterized by disunity rather than unity. The present paper proposes that if we define the self as having a dimension that is not an object of observation, but is a pure witness, or what in Eastern cultures is known as ‘pure consciousness,’ then deconstruction can be seen to undo in practice what it claims to do in theory. This reversal has implications for the postmodernist self, which is thought to be fragmented by a multiplicity of social voices and the loss of a unifying depth of feeling. Through an analysis of the deconstructive notions of consciousness and language, this paper suggests that fragmentation can in effect take the postmodernist self toward a sense of wholeness. In theory deconstruction undermines the unity of language and consciousness, while in practice it invites a nonconceptual response similar to that of aesthetic experience. The deconstructive ‘freeplay’ of language empties out the meaning of a text and leads the reader toward a state of being anterior to thought, toward an experience of awareness itself as opposed to its phenomenal content."
A relevant clip from Philosophy in the Flesh:
"Categorization is thus not a purely intellectual matter, occurring after the fact of experience. Rather the formation and use of categories are the stuff on experience.... We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that" (18).
But since this process is unconscious we don't know this from inside our experience. Hence the false assumptions that such experience is separate from our inherent categories.
I'm also reminded of thispost on ILP practice. A relevant clip:
The initial stages of the absolute practice is basically about sitting and unwinding. The mid-stages then include relative deconstructive and dissolving practice to get one back to absolute pure awareness. The last stage is that pure awareness then permeates every other practice, the union of absolute and relative. So in the last stage one can maintain pure awareness in the activity of philosophical or intellectual activity.
And hence its practice returns us to emptiness. This is in fact the goal of the practice. Derrida doesn't, as far as I know, start with trying to settle into a pure state of presence, largely due to his critique of the metaphysics of (absolute) presence. Hence there is no pure present awareness, given its inherent infection with the relative. Still, his practice of differance can lead one to an open, non-attached state of awareness. I know it often does that for me, a state I recognize from years of meditative-martial training. And a state that is informing this very post. Granted it isn't the same as what eastern meditators do but perhaps a homemorphic equivalence? And certainly one with less metaphysical baggage than ILP. At least according to my de/re.
And later in that thread:
And the following from the first page of the ITP thread:
Back on the Gaia forum I discussed Fenner's deconstructive contemplation in relation to Derrida's deconstructive (methodless) method. Fenner's method is based on various Buddhist ideas. I've also made much hay on the relation between Derrida and Buddhism. The latter connection has been much researched, and Fenner's bibliography (link above) cites a number of those studies. Like Fenner's method, Derrida's deconstruction is not a fixed method but particular to the matter at hand, which is always singular and novel. Same with his notion of iteration, which like Levin acknowledges the repetition of the always already and yet includes the not yet, given the novel singularity of each particular. Like Fenner it is a 'way' to enter the ineffable and talk about it! And a way to talk ourselves into it!
I'm struck by how every written or spoken communication is an occasion of the unprecedented. Yes, we use the same words we've always used, maybe a new one on occasion. But each time we speak or write is novel in that we've never done it exactly that way before. It seems ironic that we're searching for ways to elicit the unprecedented when we do it naturally with every utterance.
Merleau Ponty on hyper-dialectic:
“What we call hyper-dialectic is a thought that, on the contrary, is capable of reaching truth because it envisages without restriction the plurality of the relationships and what has been called ambiguity. The bad dialectic is that which thinks it recomposes being by a thetic thought, by an assemblage of statements, by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; the good dialectic is that which is conscious of the fact that every thesis is an idealization, that Being is not made up of idealizations or of things said… but of bound wholes where signification never is except in tendency” (VI 94)."
"Merleau-Ponty’s hyper-dialectic is envisaged as being a situational thought that must criticize all thinking that ignores the conditional nature of idealizations, and it must also maintain a vigilance to ensure that it does not itself become one of them. This is why Merleau-Ponty describes his project as propounding an ‘indirect’ ontology, rather than a direct ontology (VI 179)."
Given my own personal and idiosyncratic twist, I see in the above the emptiness of emptiness doctrine, in that emptiness must not itself be reified and become another conditional idealization, that it must remain in the unconditional gap that is indeed ambiguous and ill-defined. And we get "there" (here) with bastard-hyper-reason-dialectic. Or at least that's one method, one that is already built into a postmetaphysical wineskin. One that functionally fits nicely with me.
And then there's Tibetan Buddhist debate practice: "The distinctive form of Tibetan debate (rtsod pa) plays an important part of philosophical investigations in Tibetan intellectual communities. It is central in the Gelug sect, in particular those earning their kenpo (mkhan po) degrees, though it is also practiced in other sects to varying degrees. […] The debaters […] are aiming at wisdom, at finding out the truth about the subject."
And this mindfulness of thinking meditation.