On the old forum, I posted an essay by Robert Miller on Zen and an aesthetic philosophy of play.  Here is another of his essays (excerpted below, and attached in full as a document to this post).

 

~*~

 

What Might Come After Postmodernism?

 

Here’s a thought-experiment. Let’s explore the idea that human consciousness is a

metastable interplay between being and not being, believing and not believing.

Though I had not thought of Sartre in a long while, the idea reminded me of him. For

it seems similar to the characterisation of human consciousness he presents in Being

And Nothingness, particularly in his chapter on Bad Faith.i So I had a look at that

again. His account is intriguing, though rather negative in tone. I’d like to

counterbalance his play on the negative in the interplay of consciousness by playing

up the more positive aspects. It may help us explain how the general phenomenon of

human playing is possible – eg, how children can play so easily at cops and robbers,

or how an actor can play at being Hamlet, or how audiences can play at believing in

the reality of the play unfolding on stage when they also know at the same time that

it is not real, or how the player in a relatively trivial game can nevertheless play the

game as if it had great importance. In other words, it may help elucidate the “as if”

phenomena in human life that involve elements of pretending – and, we may note,

not always in a “bad” sense.

 

Let’s raise this Kantian-sounding question: What are the conditions of the possibility

of the phenomenon of human playing and pretending? The suggestion is that what

conditions the possibility of the phenomenon is the ongoing metastable interplay of

consciousness between being and not being, believing and not believing.

 

In what way has Postmodernism added to our understanding of this phenomenon?

It has helped to highlight for us how this interplay of consciousness is influenced by

the differential play of signs in semiotic systems, especially words in a cultural

language or in paradigm language-games – much along the lines suggested by such

writers as, eg, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Derrida, and Baudrillard. Postmodernism has

focussed on how this factor of linguistic structuring and differential play makes it

impossible to establish a final decision – closure – on such key philosophical terms as

truth, knowledge, proof, power, value, and meaning: for the criteria for and meaning

of these key terms is said to be culturally and historically relative and shifting in an

evolving way. Accordingly, the tendency in postmodernity has been relativistic and

deconstructive, even nihilistic and auto-destructive – as Baudrillard, among others,

claimsii – a corrosive criticism undermining the very foundations of all theory and

knowledge, an “antifoundationalism” that undermines every foundation, even its

own in the long run.

 

This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if one were to focus attention

exclusively on the negative, highlighting and attempting to consolidate only its

critical and nihilistic effects, there is a sense in which it could be rather debilitating or

depressing or even incapacitating – as many these days complain. At an extreme it

could perhaps make human life impossible. For if postmodern theory declares

everything problematic, unfounded, and undecidable, still, something has to get

decided all the same if there is to be purposive human thought and action in the

world. For this presupposes some kind of transcendental framing – that is, some kind

of being and believing – even although it takes us well beyond proof.

 

On the other hand, looking on the bright side, one can see how the postmodern

demise of fixated truth can have a liberating effect, viz., in that it can free us up to be

more playful, creative, artistic, and positive in our beliefs. If there is to be something

“after Postmodernism” – after this onslaught of critical theory – it will have be

something that plays up the factor of creative belief while at the same time fully

taking into account the preceding critical play of the auto-destruction of theory.iii

 

If we say that human consciousness is an ongoing metastable interplay between

being and not being, believing and not believing, then the recurring sceptical

movements in the history of philosophy from Socrates and the ancient Greek

Pyrrhonian sceptics to the postmoderns tend to play up the negative or nihilistic side

of the interplay: ie, the philosophical “via negativa”, as it were, which attends more

to non-being and non-believing – or to “the suspension” of being and believing.

Meanwhile, rationalist metaphysicians and other master-builders and believers, tend

to play up the positive or constructive side: the philosophical “via positiva”, as it

were, which attends more to being and believing – or to “the fixation” of being and

believing. However, overall the situation is not simply one side or the other. Rather,

it is the ongoingmetastable interplay of the two: hence an interplay in human

consciousness of being and not being, believing and not believing, the condition of

the possibility of the general phenomenon of human playing and pretending (eg,

theatre, games, sports, etc)....

 

Now, let’s relate all this to the title of our talk. Suppose we were to appropriate the

lessons of 20th century Existentialism and Postmodernism to seek a way forward

into the 21st century. What might come after them? What seems likely? If we accept

that human consciousness is an interplay of being and not being, believing and not

believing, and if the tendency in the 20th century has been mainly to play up and

consolidate the negative side – eg, nonconformist existential and postmodern

scepticism, disbelief, deconstruction, auto-destruction, nihilism, emptiness, etc –

what seems likely is that there will now be a counter-reaction to this of trying again

to play up and consolidate the positive: the side of stable being and conformity in

believing. The rise of various fundamentalisms lately on the global scene may be a

sign of this happening. There is a tendency to re-introduce some authoritarian

dichotomies of old: of absolute good and evil, truth and falsity, religion versus

religion, science versus religion, religion versus science, and so forth, in the way of a

new crusade.

 

On the other hand, if we learn the lessons of history, we might come to an awareness

that it is contrary to the metastable nature of consciousness to rest for long in either

one side or the other. If this is so, then perhaps the wisest thing to do is to

acknowledge and become comfortable with the metastable interplay itself. That is:

get in harmony with human life in the world as a kind of playing and pretending.

 

It’s a double game: a matter of living in the interplay between being something and

not being anything – a flickering between being and nothingness. With this in mind,

recall now Hamlet’s famous either/or – the most famous question in the history of

playing: “To be or not to be”. Maybe the proper reply to this riddle is: to be and not to

be – the opposites held together but, somewhat paradoxically, not mediated in a

higher synthesis. It is this interplay, after all, that allows us to be players playing in

this or that theatre of the world....

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A few thoughts.

1) I want to go back to the essay that Balder put up as the genesis of this thread. The operant sentences of which are: "As we embrace our authentic human situation it acquires a more positive feel to it. After all, there is a charm and enchantment of the theatre: a playacting beauty of pretend-being in the play and counter-play of posited or staged illusions and self deceptions. It is like a living art form that we are in and that we are. We may begin to appreciate the theatre as theatre if we learn how to let go of the yearning for old-style being and believing and get more in tune with a post-Postmodern playing of pretend being and believing."

I guess Miller is saying here that Sartre was pomo. I never gave that much thought, but on reflection if Heidegger was to any extent pomo then so was Sartre and since he was arrested in the Paris Spring of '68, the birth-season of Philosophical Pomo Per Se (architectural and artistic pomo came quite before) then Sartre was pomo and Miller in this essay is more than correct (IMHO) to go looking for a post pomo, or at least post-Sartre, grounding. Maybe when Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness philosophy had a leg up on science as to the nature of consciousness...but no more. To say as Sartre said that the willful suspension of disbelief (as in his Hamlet example) is an act of bad faith, a betrayal of authenticity, (while we now know that it is fully in line with the exercise of complete authenticity) was either ignorance, simple stupidity or a forced acceptance of his self-manufactured dogma of authenticity that he was too lazy or too gloomy to work around.

The point Miller is trying to make is that philosophy should be seeking that post-pomo time when Philosophers Just Want to Have Fun. With the dubious exclusion of Derrida--though for certain not Derrida acolytes and scholars--everyone, all the pomo critical theorists, all the fey pomo litterateurs, hunger to be imbued with the "spirit of seriousness." Given their cold shoulder reception in the USA how else can they look legitimate?

So, let's just have fun. Let's see who is having fun. I think Miller was having fun when he used Sartre's absurd language games as a spring board to ask Philosophy to adopt a point of view it has feared to take since Diogenes--much to the self- creation of its own marginalization and debilitation.

2. Let's hope that Gary Hampson was having fun in the Integral Review article that Edward cited above. I can make an assumption either way. Though Integral Review is not normally a hot bed of pomo analysis (to the contrary it is more like the Integral Province's arch-modern venue for the distribution of sensible shoes) it appears that the editors allowed Hampson the freedom to work toward something of that kind. In one aspect however he failed. The essay seems to be grounded on, and rallied toward in the last few pages, the myth of the given that the Universe supports the oh-so-modern notion that it is always "onward and upward"--toward, toward, toward an ever more perfect future. In as much as Miller said in his piece that optimism is modern, pessimism is pomo, then Hampson's analysis is thoroughly modern.

But perhaps it can be saved by a little deconstruction of its own deconstruction...how pomo can one get? Maybe even how post-pomo can one get now that there is Millers introduction of fun and the un-spirit of seriousness. The key here is the theoretical backward engineering of Hampson's rhetoric so that it becomes obvious that his goal was primarily an unequivocal flailing of Wilberismo and all the accompaniment was highly sophisticated, and perhaps extemporaneous, burlesque. This might have been the point: the torturing of AQAL As Is (god, how gratuitously tacky, especially these days when one Patron of an Integral site recently referred to Wilber as "Frank Visser's favorite dead horse") in the name of..(?)..in the name of..(?)...oh I don't know...what sounds good; ending white slavery or rehabilitating pomo in the Integral Province? Hmmm. I guess the pomo option is more appropriate, this is philosophy after all...let's eviscerate AQAL to the benefit of pomo in the Province.

In explaining why he was not a Marxist, Marx wrote that instead of relying on dogma or precedent or the cachet of a famous philosopher, one should always allow the issue to decide the mode of its own analysis. This is always the best fall-back position because it allows one to make up the methods as one goes along and skew them in favor of the beneficiary and against the victim. The only work that follows is matching the victim's cherry picked flaws with contraindicant quotes from fashionable theorists and lacing it all together with bouquets for the beneficiary. In the end one reconciles the few discrepancies that exist between what passes for pristine analysis and the concluding paragraph, which of course was written before the rest of the project ever took shape. Finally one rests in knowing that an act of assassination has the appearance of furthering the world's intellectual enterprise. It is called having fun with rhetoric and I was always so satisfied when I did it well and without detection.

So, I reiterate my hope that Hampson, in Miller's post-pomo spirit of having fun, wrote the cited essay in this same declamatory sensibility, because if he did not then all that work and no play made Gary a very dull boy.

3. In the recent past I have come across two instances of concise elegance: the first was Patti Scialfa's lyric, "I left some skin on fortune's wheel..." and the second was Joseph's take on pomo, "...the point of it all is to engage our unexamined presuppositions and grandiose constructions with a critical methodology."

What could, should come after that?

Nothing.

Hey, I've had my post pomo fun. Hope you did.
Gosh, Steven, I couldn't work out whether you were being pomoerotic or post-pomoerotic -- until I found myself in some kind of metastable interplay between the two and suddenly it didn't matter, a hard on is a hard on after all : )
I'm reading Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Denial of Human Nature, and I have to say that it is changing my perspective on a number of things, including post-structuralist/post-modern thought.
Elaborate please.

Here's a wikipedia excerpt, which not surprisingly relates to my questions in the Avatar thread:

"The Blank Slate... [is] arguing against tabula rasa models of the social sciences."

Also see Pinker talking about it here.
Hey theurg,
I've posted a kind of initial commentary/review at the Film and Book club, though I've barely started reading the book.

theurj said:
Elaborate please.

Here's a wikipedia excerpt, which not surprisingly relates to my questions in the Avatar thread:

"The Blank Slate... [is] arguing against tabula rasa models of the social sciences."

Also see Pinker talking about it here.
Assuming for the moment that a strict constructivism might miss the mark, such a view isn't representative of postmodernism generally but rather a specific branch within it. To make such a broad generalization about pomo is antithetical to pomo itself, as it doesn't have its own dominant agenda with broad consensus. It's like the term postmetaphysical, which in itself can enact in diverse ways, only related by being "post" metaphysical.

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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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