Saturday, November 20, 2010

What "is" the differance?

It struck me that Derrida's descriptions of khora and differance sound reminiscent of Wilber's description of consciousness per se in Integral Spirituality (Shambhala, 2007). For example Wilber says in Chapter 2:

"This happens to fit nicely with the Madhyamaka-Yogachara Buddhist view of consciousness as emptiness or openness. Consciousness is not anything itself, just the degree of openness or emptiness, the clearing in which the phenomena of the various lines appear (but consciousness is not itself a phenomena—it is the space in which phenomena arise)" (66).

Compare with this from Deconstruction in a Nutshell (Fordham UP, 1997):

“But something like khora is 'indeconstructible' not because she/it is a firm foundation, like a metaphysical ground or principle... Rather her indeconstructibility arises because she is...the space in which everything constructible and deconstructible is constituted, and hence...older, prior, preoriginary. Far from being a likeness to the God of the monotheisms...[it] is better compared to...the incomparable, unmetaphorizable, desert-like place without properties or genus....which is not be to confused with the Eternal, Originary Truth...of the intelligible paradigms above” (97-8).

I went into an exploration of Wilber's use of CPS on pages 4 and 5 of the IPN thread, how I think he uses the distinction metaphysically. So let's see how Derrida might be different. “Let us then, like the fool...ask 'what' differance 'is,' in a nutshell....[it] doesn't 'mean' anything at all” (99). After that quote Caputo launches into a discussion of linguistics, about how any word can only be defined in context with other words, and how that definition will change depending on the context of different words around it. In that sense meaning is all within relative context, and yet that differential between meanings, that space or interval in which meaning takes place, is itself not part of the context or meaning. Thus there is not one “essential” meaning of any word because it is contextualized within this play of differences, the play itself being a groundless ground in which meaning takes place.

This seems different than Wilber's metaphysical ground wherein all forms arise. The latter seems much more like Plato's archetypal realm of Ideal forms that step down into the sensible world and “in”form it. Granted Wilber doesn't see them as “pre-formed” but rather much more amorphous involutionary and morphogenetic “potentials.” Still, it seems this is part of the involutionary versus evolutionary dualistic scheme with one side being origin and absolute, with the other being result and relative. Derrida's differant khora is both outside and within that duality, not taking sides, as it were, but providing the stage upon which they play out their differences and similarities.

“He does not stake out the ground of a higher principle but concedes a certain an-arche at the bottom of our principles. Derrida is not denying that we have 'principles' or 'truth'.... He is just reinscribing our truth and principles in the an-arche of differance, attaching to them a co-efficient of 'contingency.' For the only 'necessity' he acknowledges is the necessity that precedes all oppositions...inscribing them in a vast and meaning-less receptacle called differance. This is why you cannot ask what differance 'is,” for its 'meaning' or 'truth'....[it] but points a mute, Buddhist finger at the moon” (102).

This differant khora is thus a way to keep meaning open so that it doesn't become fixed and rigidified. All possibilities reside therein so that different contexts as yet unseen will provide new meaning. It requires that we are ceaselessly pushing out boundaries and testing our limits, boldly going where no one—except perhaps Jean Luc and crew—have gone before.

Or maybe those Buddhists to whom Wilber refers? Balder and Bonnitta have made the case for a similar type of open, groundless ground that is in Dzogchen. Maybe so. And that perhaps Wilber, while using that Buddhism, still retains some metaphysics in his interpretation?

As context we discussed many similar themes in the Meillassoux thread, where contingency was explored as a non- or postmetaphysical ontology. As one example I said:

I just read Caputo's interesting review of a book about a debate between Millbank and Zizek. Here are some excepts highlighting my point from the next to last post, and related to what I've read so far about Miellassoux:

"The core theoretical debate in this book goes back to Hegel, about which Milbank and Žižek share considerable agreement. For Hegel, the fundamental motor of time and becoming is dialectical reconciliation of the members of a binary oppositional pair in virtue of which each one tends to pass into the other on a higher level. But Žižek rejects Hegel's invocation of "reconciliation" of opposites in a happier harmony. For Žižek the next step, the negation of the negation, does not mean a step up (aufheben) to a higher plane of unity but instead a more radically negative negation in which we are led to see that this mutual antagonism is all there is and that we are going to have to work through it. The unreconciled is real and the real is unreconciled. The only reconciliation is to reconcile ourselves to the irreconcilable, to admit that there is no reconciliation, and to come to grips with it. The negation of the negation leaves us with a deeper negation, not with an affirmation. It is not that the spirit is first whole, then wounded, then healed; rather such healing as is available to it comes by getting rid of the idea of being whole to begin with. The antithesis is already the synthesis (72).

"Žižek provocatively suggests an odd kind of 'positive' unbelief in an undead God, like the 'undead' in the novels of Stephen King, a 'spectral' belief that is never simple disbelief along with a God who is never simply dead (101). God is dead but we continue to (un)believe in the ghost of god, in a living dead god. If atheism ("I don't believe in God") is the negation of belief ("I believe in God"), what is the negation of that negation? It is not a higher living spirit of faith that reconciles belief and unbelief but a negation deeper than a simple naturalistic and reactionary atheism (like Hitchins and Dawkins). Belief is not aufgehoben but rather not quite killed off, even though it is dead. It is muted, erased but surviving under erasure, like seeing Marley's ghost even though Scrooge knows he is dead these twenty years; like a crossed out letter we can still read, oddly living on in a kind of spectral condition. Things are neither black nor white but shifting, spectral, incomplete. We have bid farewell to God, adieu to the good old God (à Dieu), farewell to the Big Other, Who Makes Everything Turn Out Right, Who Writes Straight with Crooked Lines, who maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Still, that negation of negation does not spell the simple death of belief but its positive mode in which belief, while dead, lives on (sur/vivre). This unbelief would be the 'pure form' of belief, and if belief is the substance of the things that appear not, Žižek proposes a belief deprived of substance as well as of appearance. Žižek mocks Derrida mercilessly, but when spaceship Žižek finally lands, when this buzzing flutterbug named Žižek finally alights, one has to ask, exactly how far has he landed from Derrida's 'spectral messianic.'"

Remember this from the comment to my last post, from DIAN:

“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" (83)

Recall Balder says this in the M thread:

"What isn't clear to me is whether this completely invalidates the evolution of meaning-systems that Kegan describes, or whether it just undermines the 'closure' we might expect any new emergent meaning-making system (including a meta-system like Kegan's) to exhibit.... If contingency is taken at an extreme...[then] there is no possibility of speaking of 'systems' at all."

Perhaps you can see from above that Derrida (and perhaps M, not sure) is not taking contingency to an extreme, that it doesn't undermine meaning and truth, just grounds and opens the latter's closure?

And as kela noted in the M thread "his [M's] idea of unreason sounds somewhat anarchic to me." Recall the an-arche of khora/differance above, and the type of reason that apprehends it from this excerpt of the "con and decon pomo" thread quoting DIAN:

"Plato says it is not a legitimate son of reason but is apprehended by a spurious or corrupted logos, a hybrid or bastard reasoning."

One of M's critiques or correlationism in that thread was that it accepts ontology as unknowable. To the contrary it would indeed appear one can apprehend it with a bastard form of (un)reasoning much like his own.

And this from DIAN:

"The last thing Derrida is interested in doing is undermining the natural sciences or scientific knowledge generally. A 'deconstruction' of natural science...would be to keep the laws of science in a self-revising, self-questioning mode of openness to the...'anomaly' the upstarts, the new ideas" (73).

But this is not done in an arbitrary fashion by simply questioning the underlying principles of science or any knowledge base without having a firm grounding in that base. For one must first know the thing one deconstructs inside-out from the point of view of those holding such knowledge. For example:

"To read Aristotle and Plato well one must learn Greek, learn as much as possible about their predecessors, contemporaries and successors, about their religions, social, historical and political presuppositions, understand the complex history of subsequent interpretations of their works, etc." (78).

It is this type of thorough understanding of Plato that Derrida brings with his deconstructive reading, and the implications are right in Plato's text.

"The very idea of a deconstructive reading presupposes this...classical reading....only after that reading, or through it, or best of all along with it, does a deconstructive reading settle in.... The idea is not to jettison the classical discipline but to disturb it by way of exploring what systematically drops through its grid and, by so disturbing it, open it up" (76-7).

One of Wilber's criticisms is that deconstruction is not a praxis that leads to a direct apprehension of emptiness, it's all words and concepts, all lingusitic, all "relative." As we can see, it most certainly is a practice that leads to apprehension, albeit a different praxis and a different, non-relative (and non-absolute) emptiness.

Also for reference here are the links to the prior Gaia threads on Derrida and Desilet's synergist spirituality. The documents are so large that Google docs sometimes cannot load them for viewing but you can download them quickly and then open them in any word processing program. I did so just now with the Derrida thread. It is 183 pages so you can see why sometimes (ofttimes) Google docs has difficultly displaying them. (Desilet's thread is "only" 155 pages.)


  1. Hegel was of course an influence for Wilber, especially in the way described above, as we can see in his higher nondual resolution of absolute and relative. As Zizek and Caputo note though, the negation of the negation or khora is not that. Two negatives make a positive assertion in a roundabout way, but one that remains "spectral," one that never quite comes into being or fades completely away into nonbeing.

  2. I referenced Desilet above and linked to 2 prior IPS threads in which he participated. Let's now look at his article "Misunderstanding Derrida and Postmodernism."* He says:

    "But by embracing any form of absolute transcendence in his philosophical outlook, Wilber necessarily retains traditional metaphysical distinctions between emptiness and form, the real and the manifest, and Being and time."

    Desilet gives Wilber credit for his exposition in IS (Appendix II) on the relative side of the coin and agrees with much of it. But W still maintains an absolute in clear distinction with the relative and his nonduality is a higher synthesis and reconciliation between the two. Whereas for Desilet (and Derrida)

    "time (as difference or change) and Being (as sameness or permanence) interpenetrate each other all the way through and at every point....At certain places in his discussion Wilber seems to grasp the postmodern approach to oppositional tensions as interpenetrations simultaneously essentially different and essentially related."

    And in other places W maintains the divide with his absolute Spirit apprehended via nirodha meditation as the other side of the equation. W's version of the myth of the given only applies to the relative side.

    Desilet then goes into this "witness" business, which relates to the other thread on Shinzin Young. It is distinguished form the ego in that the latter is again only relative whereas the witness is pure, absolute consciousness. Particularly relevant to this discussion is that Derrida's "undeconstructable" (like khora) should not be confused with the likes of this transcendental absolute:

    "Every instance of necessarily already divided. Consciousness and Being are split by difference all the way to the core.... The 'other' functions as an 'absolute' for Derrida only in the sense of presenting an absolute 'opening' as the 'yet to come' (what Wilber might regard as the 'unmanifest'). The 'yet to come,' as that which can potentially come into awareness and experience, cannot be absolutely alien to the self yet neither can it be absolutely known or comprehended at any moment in time. As such, the 'yet to come' retains a quality of essential difference from and essential relation to 'what is.'”

    And Desilet's concluding remarks make a point I've made several times before, that retaining the absolute (as metaphysically defined) maintains notions of superiority and hegemony, something we've certainly witnessed in the kennilinguist integral community.

    "Traditional metaphysics and its construction of notions of absolute transcendence that easily slide, however unintentionally, toward authorization of modes of certainty that do little more than contribute to predispositions of non-negotiation and systems of exclusionary discrimination."

    Granted Wilber does move away from traditional metaphysics, per both my and Desilet's comments above, at least on the relative side of the street. But he still retains it for his absolute.


  3. I'm going to transfer over some commentary from the IPN thread* relevant to Wilber's views, with the page # of that thread in parentheses:

    And we can find his dualistic nondualism again on display in page 2 of the series [Excerpt G] in his discussion of the Two Truths which he says "are of radically different orders." (2)

    And lest we forget, Integral Spirituality is full of the same type of metaphysical descriptions. As one example of several see Appendix II, The sliding scale of enlightenment:

    “Enlightenment is a union of both Emptiness and Form, or a union of Freedom and Fullness. To realize infinite Emptiness is to be free from all finite things, free from all pain, all suffering, all limitation, all qualities—the via negativa that soars to a transcendental freedom from the known, a nirvikalpa
    samadhi beyond desire and death, beyond pain and time, longing and remorse, fear and hope, a timeless Dharmakaya of the Unborn, the great Ayin or Abyss that is free from all finite qualities whatsoever (including that one).” (3)

    Wilber is certainly metaphysical in this way as well. To reiterate something I've posted numerous times before, from Integral Spirituality, Chapter 5, section "emptiness and view are not two":

    "When one is in deep meditation or contemplation, touching even that which is formless and unmanifest—the purest emptiness of cessation—there are of course no conceptual forms arising. This pure 'nonconceptual' mind—a causal state of formlessness—is an essential part of our liberation, realization, and enlightenment.... When it comes to the nature of enlightenment or realization, this means that a complete, full, or nondual realization has two components, absolute (emptiness) and relative (form). The 'nonconceptual mind' gives us the former, and the 'conceptual mind' gives us the latter."

    Wilber's definition of "postmetaphysical" in IS is described in Appendix II, section "what is the address of an object in the kosmos?" where he notes that there is no fundamental, pregiven world apart from all perception of it. There are only perspectives in relation to each other. Thus we need to establish this relation via a kosmic address, which includes the altitude and perspective (aka quadrant or quadrivium) of both the subject and the object. Although he does slip up in this section and admit this only refers to the "manifest world." Which goes with what he said above about the radically different realms of emptiness and form.


  4. And how do we determine altitude? He makes this clear in Chapter 2, section "the relation of the different lines to each other," discussing consciousness per se:

    "This happens to fit nicely with the Madhyamaka-Yogachara* Buddhist view of consciousness as emptiness or openness. Consciousness is not anything itself, just the degree of openness or emptiness, the clearing in which the phenomena of the various lines appear (but consciousness is not itself a phenomena—it is the space in which phenomena arise)."

    So the formless unmanifest consciousness experienced in nirvikalpa samadhi is the measure of the relative altitude in any kosmic address. Hello! This is "post" metaphysical?

    * Here he slips again in admitting this as a Yogacara doctrine, and as I've said numerous times before, it is this type of "Vajrayana" Buddhism he equates with Vendanta, and rightly so. (4)

    I think Wilber definitely does provide the basis of his kosmic addressing system in his definition of enlightenment as the combination of the highest state and stage present at any particular time in history. For now that it indigo altitude with a nondual state. (Which is our course his own personal kosmic address so he decides.) And his descriptions of both of those are highly problematic, aka metaphysical. So while the actual statement that one has to be enlightened to be postmetaphyhsical isn't contained in IS (that I can find) the implication is clear. And we know who is enlightened in IS, don't we?

    Some of you might find this ancient (started 3/23/07) Lightmind discussion* on this topic will provide a lot of context. kela participated in this one.


  5. Take a look at the above referenced section in IS on consciousness per se. He notes that it is the contentless measuring stick of altitude, using the metaphor* of inches. The difference is that inches are a "relative" convention constructed to provide useful grids to accomplish practical functions. Which is of course how L&J describe basic metaphors in their relation to and applicability with the environment. But note that for Wilber CPS is not a convention, i.e., it is the absolute from which the relative depends. In itself (yes, the thing in itself) it has no qualities, being formless. And this ultimate realm is directly contacted-experienced in nirvikalpa samadhi practice. This is laid out plainly in IS. So the problem is how to relate this metaphysically derived model of two realms from a "completely different order." Somehow (magically? but it seems such a skyhook is required) the unqualifiable becomes qualified inches. (How many inches in your CPS-dick?) Whereas the cogsciprago postmeta (re)solution is that there aren't two radically different orders to begin with, i.e., an alternative, postmetaphysical nondualism, integral to boot.

    * The key is that CPS is indeed a conventional metaphor, not a thing in itself. Same for the AQAL holon of everything. Just this realization goes a long way toward making Wilber's whole edifice postmetaphysical and puts it into useful context, like inches.

    Copied from the Dennett thread, as it applies here. In Appendix II of IS, in talking about kosmic addressing, Wilber says this:

    "Thus, we cannot make any ontic or assertic statement...without being able to specify the Kosmic address of the subject, which also means the injunctions that the subject must perform in order to enact and access the worldspace of the object....if I want to know if there is a referent to the signifier Ayin or Godhead, then one among the necessary routes is to take a concentrative form of meditation....a clear majority of those who complete the experiment report that the signifier Ayin or Emptiness...can be said that, among other things, that Spirit is a vast infinite abyss or emptiness out of which all thing arise" (267-68).

    Now it would be fine if Wilber keeps this in the "state" category, as in this state will then be interpreted by the level. But as we saw this state is interpreted as the measure of altitude level in the kosmic address! I guess it takes an indigo level, combined with this state, to make that interpretation (aka enlightenment)? All of which plays right into kela's thesis of privileged access.

    For you see, when you are of the highest absolute state and relative stage, i.e., enlightened, the distinction between states and stages dissolves into the nondual... Glory be unto God, amen. (5)

  6. We've explored the philosophy of Nishida in the past. Here's an excerpt from an article* relating his view of basho to Derrida's khora.

    "In a certain sense, Nishida’s description of non-relative nothingness as infinitely elusive, on the one hand, and inherently ambiguous, on the other, seems to echo Derrida’s descriptions of Plato’s khora:

    'As it is neither this nor that (neither intelligible nor sensible), one may speak as if it were a joint participant in both. Neither/nor easily becomes both…and, both this and that.… Khora is nothing positive or negative. It is impassive, but it is neither passive nor active.'

    "Nishida’s statements about 'place of non-relative nothingness' seem to echo the discourse of 'neither this nor that… and both this and that,' and hence to expose their own internal ambiguity. The idea of basho is 'neither the noesis nor the noema… and both noesis and noema,' and hence is neither their symmetry nor their asymmetry… and yet and both their symmetry and their asymmetry" (41-2).

    * Kopf, G. "Between foundationalism and relativism." Nanzan Bulletin 27 / 2003

  7. From the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy entry on Derrida, with my brief (for now) commentary:

    "Derrida has provided many definitions of deconstruction. But three definitions are classical. The first is early, being found in the 1971 interview Positions and in the 1972 Preface to Dissemination: deconstruction consists in 'two phases' (Positions, pp. 41-42, Dissemination, pp.4-6)....deconstruction is a criticism of Platonism, which is defined by the belief that existence is structured in terms of oppositions (separate substances or forms) and that the oppositions are hierarchical, with one side of the opposition being more valuable than the other. The first phase of deconstruction attacks this belief by reversing the Platonistic hierarchies....the second 'phase' of deconstruction....the previously inferior term must be re-inscribed as the 'origin' or 'resource' of the opposition and hierarchy itself.... In the experience of the present, there is always a small difference between the moment of now-ness and the past and the future....this infinitesimal difference is not only a difference that is non-dualistic, but also it is a difference that is, as Derrida would say, 'undecidable.' Although the minuscule difference is virtually unnoticeable in everyday common experience, when we in fact notice it, we cannot decide if we are experiencing the past or the present, if we are experiencing the present or the future. Insofar as the difference is undecidable, it destabilizes the original decision that instituted the refer to the resource that is indeed 'older' than the metaphysical decision."

    I am here reminded of Young's idea of cessation of phenomena, only in a different light (or is that shade?). And this is a methodology for experiencing this gap between now and then, between manifest phenomena as experienced through our usual dichotomous apparatus and "as it is" nondually prior to this distinction.

    The other definitions are not useful to my purposes in this particular gap between the worlds of absolute and relative.

  8. We also see this gap between the intelligible and the sensible in Merleau-Ponty. From his entry in the Internet encyclopedia of philosophy:

    "Rather than maintaining a traditional dualism in which mind and body, subject and object, self and other, and so forth, are discrete and separate entities, in The Visible and the Invisible Merleau-Ponty argues that there is an important sense in which such pairs are also associated....he does not dispute that there is a...difference that exists between...the sentient and the sensible in his own vocabulary. On the contrary, this divergence is considered to be a necessary and constitutive factor in allowing subjectivity to be possible at all. However, he suggests that rather than involving a simple dualism, this divergence...allows for the possibility of overlapping and encroachment between these two terms.

    "There is then, a gap (or ecart in French) between...the sentient and sensible aspects of our existence, but this gap is importantly distinct from merely reinstating yet another dualism.... Our embodied subjectivity is never located purely in either our tangibility...but in the intertwining of these two aspects, or where the two lines of a chiasm intersect with one another. The chiasm then, is simply an image to describe how this overlapping and encroachment can take place between a pair that nevertheless retains a divergence, in that [they] are obviously never exactly the same thing."

  9. The above article goes into the relation of MP and Derrida on this, but then discusses MP's method of hyper-reflection which is reminiscent of Derrida's bastard reasoning:

    "There is a temporal divergence that precludes the attempted recovery of meaning via reflection from coinciding with that which it attempts to demarcate. The task of hyper-reflection then, is to ensure that reflection is always aware of its own finitude. It is hence somewhat removed from philosophical reflection itself, and resides in what several theorists have referred to as the non-space of philosophy."

    Here is a temporal gap similar to Derrida's located in non-space that our hyper-reflection catches and allows us to be aware of reflection's finitude. MP also calls his method hyper-dialectic and is quoted in the article:

    “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)."

    The author continues:

    "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 idiosyncretic 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.

  10. This article* suggests that the bastard reasoning that apprehends khora is "as if in a dream," quoting the Timaeus. This is extended into artistic creation and divination, both through inspiration from the divine. I would concede that indeed the apprehension is through this type of creative inspiration but that the source is not some essential ground but rather our very embodiment, and it is our unconscious wisdom coming through, both bodily and socio-culturally via the lifeworld (Habermas, for example). The latter are in fact various layers of "embodiment" we discussed earlier, from physical to social to hermeneutic (Levin also talks about this). Hence I sometimes play the tarot meditation game, as it is this bastard means to apprehending khora, an embodied reasoning that reaches both into the past and future in that gap between now and then.



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