Thursday, December 23, 2010

The changing status of states

Continuing our discussion of states at IPS:


Personally, I think "nondual" has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid. I believe there's room for multiple "enactments."

In relation to Batchelor's comment about emptiness not denoting a particular state of absorption, if you look at Levin's comment, he describes "emptiness" in deconstructive terms (the practice of lhaktong) rather than as a discrete "state of absorption," but he then notes that the combination of mental stability and deconstructive insight nevertheless did lead to a shift (also) in his phenomenal experience. In other words, he is not (a la Wilber) describing "Emptiness" as a particular deep-sleep-like state of absorption and loss of distinctions, or as a particular Realm, but he does (rightly, I think) note that the nature of the phenomenal self-world gestalt does shift in the context of stability of mind and clear insight into phenomena as empty (dependently originated).

If you recall, Levin describes stage four work as a hermeneutic-phenomenological exercise, so I don't think he's describing only an attitude-change, but a change which involves and impacts the whole self-world gestalt. It is more than, or not limited to, a condition of longing (the latter being more akin, as I see it, to Derrida's messianism than particular Buddhist enactments).


I agree with your statement:

"I think 'nondual' has several referents and do not believe a postmetaphysical, enactive approach requires only accepting only one of them as valid. I believe there's room for multiple 'enactments.'"

I think we are seeing each other's view through our own preferences and perhaps we are both right? While I'm interested in Buddhism in a general sense I'm not much attracted to its specific practices or beliefs so never took the time to enact them and likely never will. Hence I could very well be missing what Levin is describing through terms that have different meanings to me.

I might not agree though that by "attitude" I didn't mean to include "the whole self-world gestalt," or that Derrida might be limited to only a condition of longing that is only partial in relation to the Buddhist account.

Taking a step back, I'm looking over Levin's book The Philosopher's Gaze (UC Press, 1999), particularly his chapter on Levinas. As some of you know Derrida was influenced by Levinas and extended some of his ideas. Levin begins by noting that to understand Levinas one must learn how he uses philosophical terms,how he modifies their meanings to fit his ideas, which is some cases go beyond the limitations of common usage. If we are to understand his language in those accepted meanings we'd miss completely what Levinas is trying to convey. Hence one must study the entirety of his context to understand him. This is reminiscent of how Derrida* himself approaches the study of anything, by immersing in the entire context to understand the author in his own terms and meanings before deconstructing them.

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. Then Levin says this:

“When I have written of hermeneutical phenomenology I have not meant to bind phenomenology to the Gadamerian method, but rather to draw on the world's etymological and mythological order to reinforce in our practice of phenomenology a radical exposure to alterity” (238).

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 directed 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.

* Derrida also infamously changed the meanings of words to fit his ideas, in some instances even changing the spelling in unique ways to exemplify this. Hence he too was broadly misunderstood since the traditional philosophical meanings were applied to his words.

Following the above Levin makes clear that meaning, like being, builds on the "always already" but it 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.

So what I was sensing through Levin's language in the original quotes above was this naive return of the always already lacking the not yet of Caputo.* My previous reading of Levin didn't think he'd make such a gaffe and in PG he is making it clear he does not. So he might be using a mytho-poetic language like Levinas with the same intent, to evoke in us through language this reconnection with both the always already and not yet? I don't know. Such language still sounds metaphysical to me! Whereas the likes of Caputo does not, so it's not like I cannot understand or appreciate such metaphorical and transportive language.** Just my preference and prejudice?

* Which by the way he was only emphasizing at that moment, as he too, like Derrida, explicate the relation of the always already to the not yet.

** Hence my interest in the hybrid bastard language of khora through dreams and images, even Tarot.

Let's look at this recent example from another Dzogchen apologist, Elias Capriles, in his article "Some preliminary comments on Wilber V" that appears at Integral World.

He criticizes Husserl's phenomenology for its reliance on “that which appears” in experience and agrees with Derrida that this is a crytpo-metaphysics based on “the immediacy of experience.” He says:

“The problem, for me, is that basing ontology exclusively on that which appears in human experience is no guarantee that metaphysical constructs will not slip into it, for in saṃsāra, to which human experience pertains, fully-fledged avidyā causes us to experience being as given, unquestionable, uneradicable, and somehow absolute; the mental subject as being in its own right and hence as a substance, and as the thinker of thought, the doer of action and the experiencer of experience; the essents we face as being in their own right and thus as constituting a series of different substances; etc. Hence an ontology elaborated on the basis of samsaric experience alone would not be really free from metaphysical fictions, as it is most likely to feature at least some of the ones just mentioned.”

Which is of course my own criticism, that certain language lends itself to these metaphysical constructs which are “illusion.” He sees the above as Husserl's claim to immediate experience when it is in fact mediated, part of his ideology. While he seemingly agrees with Derrida's critique of the metaphysics of presence there is a way out, through nirvana by which one can attain an “undistorted experience of the true condition of reality.” He further describes nirvana as “the immediate, direct, nonconceptual realization of the true condition of ourselves and the whole of reality.”

He criticizes Derrida for only going part way, for only deconstructing existing ontologies but for now positing one of his own like this. I think it's been amply demonstrated elsewhere this is not the case but rather that Derrida's ontology differs in not using such metaphysical language. I agree with Capriles that “the given” is a dualistic and metaphysical illusion. And that a postmetaphysical revelation, if you will, exposes this in a different way to posit an ontology. But the traidtional Dzochen language still seems to me to posit it in a way that partakes of the dualistic samsama-nirvana divide, with the latter entering into a static always already.*It seems to me that Capriles does not heed his own warning that "metaphysical constructs will not slip into it."

* And it seems Thakchoe agrees, cited in several threads elsewhere, in his book The Two Truths Debate.

In PG Levin is discussing Derrida's critique of Husserl, in that the latter uses the metaphor of light to represent this phenomenological presence. Levin agrees with Derrida in that such language "generates a virtually irresistible temptation to reify, totalize, and homogenize, and reduce the forces of temporality and historicity to a state of eternal presentness" (70). We see this same critique by Capriles above. Nonetheless, despite both Capriles and Levin's warning they continue to use the traditional Dzogchen language that seems to lead down the path into metaphysical luminosity, like a moth irresistibly drawn to light.


I do think Levin is more careful and subtle than Capriles (and Levin's explicitly Dzogchen language appears in an appendix dedicated to the Dzogchen practice, and does not show up in the articulation of his main view). I think there is a way this mythopoetic language can be held creatively, perhaps after the manner of Ricoeur's second naivety, without necessarily falling into totalizing, reifying, homogenizing patterns.

I did find the passage by Levin I was recalling. I'll type it up when I have a chance.


I found a relevant passage in Levin's Sites of Vision (MIT Press, 1999), the chapter on Derrida and Foucault. The entire chapter up to this point was Derrida's refutation of the metaphor of light and vision, equating it with the metaphysics of presence. But when the metaphor extends to how blinding light diffuses any distinctive presencing Levin notes:

“Without disputing the heliocentrism and ocularcentrism of metaphysics, Derrida will argue, however, that, contrary to first appearances, the logic of this sun-and-light-centered discourse does not in fact entail, or necessitate, a metaphysics of presence—on the contrary, the more one thinks about the matter, the more one will be compelled to acknowledge that the logic of this metaphorics actually resists, and even subverts, the possibility of presence. Thus he asks us to reflect on the phenomenology actually implicit in the logic of this metaphorics: 'Presence disappearing in its own radiance, the hidden source of light, of truth, and of meaning, the erasure of the visage of Being—such must be the insistent return of that which subjects metaphysics to metaphor.' Here we can see Derrida's deconstructive strategy at work—that is, at play: he uses the metaphorics of light to deconstruct the metaphysics of presence, that very presence that the visual generation of metaphyics has been thought to support. If this is a Hegelian Aufhebung, it is a sublation with a mischievous, chiasmic twist.

“Derrida is not the first philosopher to remind us that metaphysics uses and depends on metaphors, but he is perhaps the first one to call attention to the subversive implications, using one of the favorite tropes to make his point: just as the sun, the source of light, hides itself, can become invisible and elude our efforts at mastering the power of its light, so all metaphors are ultimately going to be disruptive of and resistant to the impulse behind metaphysics—its drive to 'dominate' presence through intuition, concept and consciousness. And if all metaphors transgress the 'proper meaning' of words, establishing affinities that are never more than partially 'appropriate,' and, in general, introduce uncontrollable semantic play into the discursive field, then metaphors of light and vision will be doubly disruptive and resistant.

“For Derrida, then, metaphysics is indeed ocularcentric. And he contests this encoding of the discourse, just as he will contest all forms of domination—hence, all frames and margins, all centers and totalities. He also believes that metaphysics has been, and still is, written under the authoritarian spell of presence, and that this too must be questioned and contested. But what he shows is that the metaphorical code cannot be reduced—not even by metaphysics—to any essentially fixated ontology. Thus, the use of a vocabulary generated by light and vision, far from supporting a metaphysics of presence, will actually negate its very possibility” (416-18).

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