Thursday, November 18, 2010

Context-transcendent meaning?

Here are some posts from a discussion by this name at the IPS forum:


I am researching a working paper tentatively called "The search for context-transcedent meaning." In this post-metaphysical age, is there any context - independent knowledge or context-transcendent meaning? If maybe so... what kinds of categories, notions, meaning-drivers, values do you suppose they would be?


It depends on what you mean by "context," i.e., in what context are you referring to the term? If you mean can we have meaning or knowledge without a physical body, then I'd say no and any such assertion is one of the many definitions of "metaphysical." But if you mean cultural context, then the embodied realists Lakoff & Johnson would say a qualified yes. For example, in Philosophy of the Flesh (Basic Books, 1999) they note that "there is no poststructuralist person, no completely decentered subject for whom all meaning is arbitrary, totally relative, and purely historically contingent" (5-6), all because we are embodied and that is a qualified universal beyond solely cultural constructs.

If you mean can knowledge or meaning be category-free, as if categorization is some kind of cultural context, then L&J would say no. "The categories we form are part of our experience.... We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience" (19). Just as there is no strictly poststructuralist person there is no strictly phenomenological person who can discover or experience reality as it is sans embodied categorization (5).

Also regarding cultural contexts and constructs, I quoted the following on p. 3 of the con and decon pomo thread:

"That Derrida here could be said to hint towards a form of context-transcendent meaning based in ‘otherness’, that is to say, outside the realm of ‘ownness’ and thus in between subjects, is not picked up by Habermas.... Critchley then argues that there might be a universal, ‘undeconstructable’ ethical moment in deconstruction."

Ironically Derrida was labled a relativist by the constructive postmodernists like Habermas, Griffin and Wilber. But as that article and John Caputo make clear that is just a straw man Derrida knocked down by their own inherent misunderstandings. For example this from Caputo, from Deconstruction in a Nutshell (Fordham UP, 1997):

"Every deconstructive analysis is undertaken in the name of something...affirmatively un-deconstructable.... What is neither real nor ideal, neither present nor future-present, neither existent nor idealizable" (128).

That is, deconstruction only operates on the relative, a relative that assumes a universal but only through an unconscious (or sometimes conscious) ignorance of its relative compliment. However there is a (quasi) universal beyond such relativity, beyond such cultural constructs like language, that doesn't partake of its dichotomies.


How about pre-reflective meaning?
Something like Heidegger's in-dwelling

Where do our categories-in-experience come from?
Is there a kind of pre-reflective existential situation?


I would think Heidegger's in-dwelling or pre-ontological understanding -- which, of course, is a significant topic in Levin's work -- would be such a candidate. In The Listening Self, Levin explores this (as I expect you're aware) through the concept of Zugehorigkeit, the infant's "primordial" experience with the pre-reflective field of hearing, which is later "recovered" through the phenomenological-hermeneutic task of his Stage IV work (Gelassenheit). As Levin stresses, there never really was an absolutely pure experience of total presence -- never, perhaps, an entirely context-free experience or field of meaning -- but this pre-ontological experience nevertheless approximates that (from the point of view of the conventional self), as a field of experience that is " global, holistic, syncretic, synergic, ek-static," and can be appreciatively recovered through spiritual, existential praxis. In the passage I quoted on my recent Levin thread, he adds some additional archetypal images to represent the qualities of this pre-reflective / post-reflective condition: "the 'uroborus,' roundness, wholeness, openness, receptiveness, embodiment, feeling, communion with the matrix of [experience]."

Are some of these terms in line with what you are exploring in your paper? As a field which is at least self- or ego-transcendent, if not entirely free of all possible contexts (the assertion of which would likely push us into metaphysical territory)?


Pre-reflective experience, of course. Even so our embodiment delimits what pre-reflective experience will be. That's where inherent, basic-level categories come from, our embodiment that developed in relation to the environment, and why those basic categories are so close to a 1-to-1 representation of that environment. Notice the terms Balder uses above for the reflective, recontextualization of that experience: global, holistic, syncretic. Compare this with the descriptions of basic-level categories discussed in the “real and false reason” and “integral postmetaphysical nonduality” threads.


I guess what I am trying for -- what I would love to put in the article, is some direct understanding or phenomenology of what it might mean/ be that some awareness, understanding, experience, knowing ... is context transcendent. Isn't there ANYTHING in you/ your life/ your existential situation/ your experience that you feel is true or real without interpretation, or pre-reflectively? or is your primordial existential situation/ experience/being/ embodied presence enfolded in an interpretive or reflective understanding?

And when you go "check into" that something that might be pre-reflective, or non-whatever ... how might you explain (with metaphor after the fact) what that was like?


OK how do we normally cognize experience? We feel there is a self somewhere inside our head maybe 2 inches behind our left eyeball or some such. Or maybe not so much of a self but a vantage point of existing “in here” and interpreting what is happening “out there”. When that meaning making basis of division of re-presenting stops, it is not so much a “transcending” of context to a new meta-context or synthesis of opposites but the previous ways of interpreting based on the that division flush out of awareness so there is no longer an intuited “in here” vs “out there”. You talked about figure and foreground perspectives and that is not quite it as there is still a meaning making division between the two i.e. we accept the division or differentiation as actual. (Although shifting figure and fore/background exercises can help begin to loosen the belief in said separation.) I don’t feel pre-reflexive gets to it either as when “in here” and “out there” lose all meaning, “before” and “after” is flushed out as well.


The idea here being that there is some process of a-waring that is not defined by the scholastics, but seems inevitably to require constantly being brought into new context, depending not only on the period or culture, but also, on an individual basis either i-thou, or i-awe.. and that the "dharma" is not something that is formulaic, but a process that continually re-news its form or structures... so perhaps it is this process that is context-transcendent, but the forms are context-dependent.

Now I am thinking of a kind of Platonic Ideal - which i do not like or adhere to-- brought into the post-postmodern era. That the forms are not "shadows" of separate Ideas outside the cave, but are elementals of their generative process... the generative process is like a "developmental modality" that itself transforms through time, so what arises through the process, evolves.


"...require constantly being brought into new context, depending not only on the period or culture, but also, on an individual basis either i-thou, or i-awe...and that the 'dharma' is not something that is formulaic, but a process that continually re-news its form or structures.... Now I am thinking of a kind of Platonic Ideal."

I know from our past conversations that you think Derrida is not a candidate for what you seek but perhaps that has changed? Nevertheless I find a lot of him in what you describe. For example, as to your point about the singular event free from the formulaic context, here's Caputo in The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida (IUP, 1997):

"Like the singularity of an event whose uniqueness makes each occurrence both an unprecedented first time and an unrepeatable last time.... The wholly other is any singularity...[that] we cannot lift up, cannot generalize, cannot universalize, cannot formalize" (51-2).

And as to a kind of Platonic ideal, recall D's take on Plato's khora:

"Derrida's concern is with 'something' which is neither the one nor the other, which is anterior to both, something which is not a thing, 'something like an indeconstructable khora,' not because it is invulnerable to deconstruction but because it is 'the very spacing of de-construction'" (53).

DIAN (cited above) devotes the entirety of Chapter 3 to Derrida's take on Plato's khora. A sample:

“Khora is not a universal (abstract place in general), nor a particular (a contained place), but something radically singular: place itself—within which multiple places are inscribed” (95).

1 comment:

  1. From Deconstruction in a Nutshell (Fordham UP, 1997):

    “When we think of Plato we think of the two worlds or regions allegorized in the cave: the upper world of the intelligible paradigms, the sphere of invisible and unchanging being in the sun of the Good that shines over all, as opposed to the sensible likenesses of the forms in the changing, visible world of becoming.... When presented with a neat distinction or opposition of this sort—and this distinction inaugurates philosophy, carves out the very space of 'meta-physics'—Derrida will not, in the manner of Hegel, look for some uplifting, dialectical reconciliation of the two in a higher third thing, a concrete universal, which contains the 'truth' of the first two. Instead, he will look around—in the text itself—for some third thing that the distinction omits, some untruth, or barely remnant truth, which falls outside the famous distinction, which the truth of either separately or both together fails to capture, which is neither and both of the two.

    In the Timaeus the missing third thing, a third nature or type—khora—is supplied by Plato himself. Khora is the immense and indeterminate spatial receptacle in which the sensible likenesses of the eternal paradigms are 'engendered,' in which they are 'inscribed' by the Demiurge, thereby providing a 'home' for all things.... This receptacle is like the forms inasmuch as it has a kind of eternity: it neither is born or dies, it is always already there, and hence beyond temporal coming-to-be and passing away; yet it does not have the eternity of the intelligible paradigms but a certain a-chronistic a temporality. Because it belongs neither to the intelligible nor the sensible world Plato says it is 'hardly real.' Moreover, while it cannot be perceived by the senses but only by the mind, still it is not an intelligible object of the mind, like the forms. Hence, Plato says it is not a legitimate son of reason but is apprehended by a spurious or corrupted logos, a hybrid or bastard reasoning. Khora in neither intelligible being nor sensible becoming, but a little like both, the subject matter of neither a true logos nor a good mythos” (83-4).

    This hybrid, bastard reasoning, in my twisted postmeta parlance, is the ego turned back to its roots in the body, the centaur that is neither and both, again "in the middle" way of my mad, madhyamaka kaka.


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