Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
ALMOST IS GOOD ENOUGH:
THE CONTEMPORARY METAPHYSICS OF ADJACENCY vs. THE CLASSICAL RHETORIC OF FUSION
(in a world of thresholds, membranes, touches, links, networks, approximations, teams, relativities, relationships, connections, interludes, partials & plurals, meetings, parallax, short-circuits, crossovers and recontextualization where every Art and Science of Knowing is remade by the deep logic of dynamic proximity.)
Our contemporary age is bringing into popular discussion the Metaphysics of Adjacency under various names -- “post-metaphysics,” “post-correlationism,” “the end of philosophy,” “the death of the subject”. A major function of these signpost is to reflect the widespread shift in our sense of truth. It loses its fixity, centrality, independence. It becomes interactive, contextual, adjacent.
Adjacency is not new. The world is obvious with touching, abutting, reaching, nearing, being close -- but in past & classical ages of human thinking it was felt very strongly that all such facts conceal, represent and misrepresent forms of essential unity. The ancient mind in its “apollonian” mode spoke of each individual being as ONE despite its apparent changes. In their “dionysian” mode they contemplated the Supreme One with whom we may accomplish a transcendental fusion, merger, unification. That great unhappy man Schopenhauer thought that of the true world beyond our thoughts and perceptions we could know very little -- except for its fundamental unity. After all, he reasoned, manyness was just a superficial product of the human mind, an artifact of egoism. And what is laudable old ethical doctrine of love in all its forms, romantic, institution & mystical, if not an endless attempt of fusing? But this unification never quite happens...
This noble ancestral attitude, which seems to stand as an alternative to our banal world, is poetic, evocative, stirring. We feel it very strongly. Yet in reality we do reach ecstasy through unity but rather by drawing very close, so close, perfectly close until we enter into a teamwork and machinery of pleasurable insight. This latter notion, true in affairs of life, has begun to become our understanding of the world in its totality. And its “totality” is among the first things we begin to doubt...
Today’s thoughtful person is suspicious of all unities. The process of teasing apart, finding gaps, opening up alternatives, uncovering differences is so easy, so universal today. We are all in various stages of adaptation (including refusal) to an electronically-fuelled planetary realm of humanistic skeptics.
Today everything is in quotation marks.
Context has muscled its way onto the stage -- good! She had been waiting long enough...
Both “quotation marks” and “context” share a common style. They present edges, they provide frames, they are the presencing of contact surfaces which operate our interpretation of every “thing”.
We talk now as if Reason consisted primarily in deploying the “as if” function of the mind. Actuality gives way to possibility in our popular philosophies. We don’t just want to know things anymore, we also want to know how they are being -- held. Perspectives start to organize our thinking. All these contextual frames, all these maybe’s, all these also’s, these almost’s whose substance is mediated, these discrete perspectival reality tunnels... proximity is implied by all their edges.
The ancient conversations about how “inside” is related to “outside” provoke, in our age, a challenge or supplementation by a discourse about systems, relationships, networks of enactment, sliding signifiers, interpretive connexions, pluralities of option. The implication in all this is consistent: adjacency.
Networks of relationships can perform only where component parts are “close enough” to function together -- but never so close that they lose their individual functions. All relativity, like all teamwork, becomes visible only when there is some adequate proximity among different contexts.
So the emerging metaphysics of our age, under all its names, deploys adjacency at every turn. This is true both of its ongoing critique of unity & fixed individuality AND its articulation of relativity, relationality, perspectivism and networking.
Homogeneity is sacrificed to Connectivity but this costs us nothing. Any spiritual depression or moral malaise associated with this new worldview is naive or else imported from some other condition of life. No loss is suggested in the transfer from unitive to adjacent metaphysics. Skepticism challenges beliefs but subtracts nothing from Faith. All empowerments previously believed to reside in unification and definite identity have actually always been produced by uniquely optimal proximity. With our enhanced understanding we are even in a more likely position to successfully nourish ourselves at the fountain of spiritual self-confidence, cultural potency and meaningful benevolent harmony in all areas of life.
The anciently anticipated moment of unity is really like a terminal point, a narrowly clenched fist, a fissure in our feelings. Its self-annihilating suggestiveness has always been the root of much isolation and desolation and it is this dark quality which may come into our awareness as the clench begins to release.
The continuity of Being -- justly celebrated by mystics of all kinds -- operates just as well, perhaps even better, under the idea of “excessive optimal proximity” as it ever did under the idea of “a Great One”. The latter has only ever been rhetorical, poetic or pathological. It has always been greatly or slightly misleading.
Descartes found it impossible to doubt his “I think therefore I am”. He assumed his first “I” (the ONE of thinking) was identical to his second “I” (the ONE of being). We vainglorious contemporary people fancy that WE can doubt this -- are they really the same??? But this is only the infancy of the new view. One it gets its legs under it there is this realization that, either way, those two “I”s are almost the same. Don’t they meet OUR minimal standard for maximal similarity? Hasn’t “the same” always only meant “optimally proximal”? And in this profound turn about our classical feelings are restored and assimilated for the New Age.
Almost IS Good Enough.
An ancient universe of “things” has for centuries been losing ground to flowing visions of energy, information & interpretation. Flow is activity. Activity requires Time & Space together. Activity appears AS locations and durations. This is dynamic adjacency. It is the connective or disconnective “room” combined with synchronous or asynchronous durations of occurence precisely in and as this “room”.
90% is the new 100%.
In our sciences we start to understand every simplicity in a new way. The “boiling point” of water is a threshold of bifurcating molecular activity at which a quantum jump (sic) occurs in its behavioural regime. This is a place where steam and water are near, nearest, to each other.
We start to sense something wrong in the gesture of grabbing, identifying, targeting, categorizing, isolating. We want to replace it with something like reaching forward, deepening contact, showing interest, honoring the Other & the elusive Real.
Our religion stands out to us as the deification of teamwork. Its well-known skewing into threatening or redemptive forms is accomplished not on the basis of our unity with this or that racial geography but rather by the health of the interactions within the individuals and the sophistication of their collective intelligence protocols among them.
Social progressives, empowered by their cultivated use of the pre-frontal cortex, advocate “leaning forward”. This gesture of interest and focus is always a “getting a little closer”. In our age this “a little closer” receives -- should receive! -- its full ontological dignity. A little closer -- the key to empathic civilization.
Draw your hands close together. Feel the subtle feedback which gives rise to amplified sensation -- micro tingles. Is this the life-force? This surplus, this ontological excess, comes to presence as a function of adjacency. To bask in it, to contemplate it at any level, is already to meditate. Optimal adjacency induces meditation. This fact has often been called: love.
Our human reluctance to surrender into nearness creates two opposed attitudes -- either we pull back into the “me” supposedly identical with myself OR we become excessively one-pointed in our need to get “all the way across”, to overwhelm the gap and achieve fusion with the Other one. But the dawn of a new age in which we are all better at touching, at being close, returns us to the functional, meditative, satisfying and universal aspects of sheer proximity.
Your compass wishes you to travel northward a little while... there is no need to try to get right to the North Pole every time! Just get a little closer.