Thursday, April 7, 2011

Shadow of Spirit

In my research for the IPS Religion and Politics thread I came upon this interesting and free e-book at Scribd, Shadow of Spirit: Postmodernism and Religion (Routledge 1992). Section two, "Ethics and politics," is particularly relevant to this thread. The blurb on the book:

"By illuminating the striking affinity between the most innovative aspects of postmodern thought and religious or mystical discourse, Shadow of Spirit challenges the long-established assumption that contemporary western thought is committed to nihilism.

"This collection of essays by internationally recognized scholars from the humanities and social sciences explores the implications of the fascination with the ‘sacred’, ‘divine’, or ‘infinite’ which characterizes much contemporary thought. It shows how these concerns have surfaced in the work of Derrida, Levinas, Baudrillard, Lyotard, Kristeva, Irigaray and others. Examining the connection between this postmodern ‘turn’ and the current search for a new discourse of ethics and politics, it also stresses the contribution made by feminist thought to this unexpected intellectual direction."

The following excerpt I found interesting from Section II, "The politics of spirituality, the spirituality of politics" by Geraldine Finn, reminiscent of Derrida's khora:

“What I was really seeking…was the possibility of a being-in-the-world-with-others which was not always already pre-dicated, pre-determined and pre-scribed and thereby foreclosed… I was seeking to inhabit the space of becoming, to use Berger’s terms: the space between experience and expression, reality and representation, existence and essence: the concrete fertile pre-thematic and an-archic space where we actually live: the space of sensibility and affect, of undecidability and chance, of being-otherwise-than-being a man, a woman, a Christian, a Jew, a mother, daughter, father, son, etc. I was seeking, that is, to establish relationships with others in ‘excess’ of (beyond and between) the categories which render us knowable and/or already known (as re-presentations of the Same, the familiar); relationships beyond and between the categorical imperatives predicated upon our being-as a man, a woman, a Christian, a Jew; relationships beyond and between the classifications and identities which pre-empt the specifically ethical encounter with others as other: as otherwise-than-being man, woman, Christian, Jew, etc.

“This space between representation and reality, text and context, expression and experience, language and being is the necessary and indispensable space of judgment and critique, creativity and value, resistance and change. It is the ground of the critical intentions and originating experiences which enable us to call the political status quo into question and challenge the already-known universe and its organization into and by the predicative and prescriptive categories of ‘practical reason’. As such, it is the ethical space – the space of the specifically ethical relation with others – and the only place from which the conventionality, the contingency (the ‘arbitrariness’) of reality (of political positivities and identities) can be seen and challenged. Managing this silent but nevertheless signifying/signifiant space between the pre-thematic an-archical-ethical and the categorical hier-archical-political encounter with others, this space of the otherwise-than-being a re-presentative of a category or class is absolutely central therefore to the exercise of political power and to the organization of our subjection to it. It is absolutely central, that is, to our ‘subjectivity’: to our being as subjects of experiences and actions which ‘count’, of sentences which make sense in the polis” (112-13).

Here's another quote from Finn I like, as it relates to my critique of developmental models of complexity based on category theory:

"For the contingent and changing concrete world always exceeds the ideal categories of thought within which we attempt to express and contain it. And the same is true of people. We are always both more and less than the categories which name and divide us" (113).

She's making the case that while such categories are useful they also tend to control and delimit us, hence the political implications. We can see this hegemonic control in the likes of those who promote such hierarchical models, particularly the kennilinguists. Those who cannot be controlled and/or question the ideal categories must obviously be (categorically) green.

Per above she talks of the space between (recall Edwards' version of this) and graphically I'm reminded of how I used the Venn diagram for categories in the real and false reason thread, since any given "holon" shares space between a larger frame/holon but is never completed subsumed by it.

She then goes into a lengthy discussion of metaphysical spirituality with its dichotomy of other-worldly spirit distinct from this worldly flesh. Whereas for her spirituality is indeed the space between per above, the khora.
Our experience of the space between does not fit into the tidy boxes of categorical reason, it is more like Merleau-Ponty's "wild being" and hence must be quashed due to its disruptive influence on the usual program. So even our deepest spiritual experiences are squeezed into little boxes of accepted dogma lest they challenge the power structures responsible for said dogma.

She criticizes not just the conservatives (moderns) for this framing but the progressives (postmoderns) as well, since they too buy the frame of delimiting liberation into their own agenda of identity politics. Whereas the key to unlocking the dilemma is in not "identifying," for so doing is part of the problem of not recognizing what falls outside identity in the space between. It is this spiritual space that binds us in a polis and through which we accept and treat each other not as ourselves but as a "wholly other" that we may never understand yet love nonetheless. Per many of the other excerpts in the referenced thread it is this unconditional love that must root our political relations.


  1. Also remember our discussion in the "spirituality & horror" thread, how the alien and wholly other has this opening, liberating and yes spiritual function much like the above.

  2. On the issue of hegemonic categorization see this new article by Tom Murray, which discusses how this occurs in kennilinguism.

  3. In Phillipa Berry's Introduction to Shadow of Spirit she quotes D.M. Levin as saying on p.3:

    "Western metaphysics has forgotten, has suppressed this other vision, this vision without the presence...of the light of day: a vision which understands (the ontological significance of) the absence of light and is open to learning from the greatness – even the terror – of the night."

    I also appreciate how Berry makes clear that alterity is not "an opposite term in a binary couple." She notes it's a "new mode of awareness," a "non-dual perspective" (4). Indeed it is.


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