Monday, November 28, 2011

Gregory Desilet

In this IPS thread I am re-opening some previous discussions we've had with and about Greg in the previous forum, as well as this one. (See it for ongoing discussion.) Here are the links to the prior Gaia threads on Derrida and synergist spirituality. In this post from the OOO thread I introduced his new book, Radical Atheism and New Spirituality. Therein I linked to an Integral World article that highlights a few excerpts of the book. I will include the referenced passage from that post below in some more lengthy excerpts:

"The nature of being may be such that it can only reveal itself partially...there are alternative economies of order, economies that see partiality and limited perspective as a consequence of the nature of being itself.

"Derrida...calls such an alternative economy of order a general economy. A general economy features the necessity of interrelation and dissemination of information or meaning as exceeding all measures of control and recuperation. It forms a law of irrecuperable loss.... Arkady Plotnitsky explores Derrida's use of general economy in great detail alongside parallel developments in theoretical physics.

"A restricted economy imposes a structuring principle that establishes a strong polarity of opposites and clear lines of choice. The structural tension between opposites such as true and false or fact and interpretation operates with a clarity that facilitates either/or alternatives and simplified decision-making. In a general economy, however, every oppositional structure submits to a reversal and a displacement. This displacement involves an extraordinary reconfiguration of the structure or dynamic play between opposites.

"General economy displaces discrete and essential difference between opposites with a new structure that sees the opposition as presenting a tension between elements both different yet connected, both penetrated to the core each by the other yet irreducible one to the other. Plotnitsky calls this structure complementary—after Niels Bohr and the quantum theory of wave/particle duality.

"Applying the principle of complementarity to any oppositional pair yields a structure in which the two sides of the opposition penetrate each other in every instance such that there is no pure instance of either. As will be discussed in the next section, this complementary structure of oppositional relations has profound consequences for the concept of transcendence.

"In a general economy there is no crossing over from one pure instance to another pure instance since no clear boundary separates one instance from the other. This circumstance of structure supports the notion of a universal law of contamination. This universal contamination cannot be explained in simple degrees of mixture, gradation, or shades of difference. Instead, this law of contamination presents the circumstance of superposition—superposition of continuity (irreducible dependence) and discontinuity (irreducible separation).

"The possibility for unique and irretrievable loss inherent in a general economy is theorized at the philosophical level by Derrida in his notion of the trace—a term he uses to describe the nature and quality of being. The trace is an absenting presencing, disappearing as it appears.

"From the language Wilber uses in characterizing his view of Spirit and his view of enlightenment it becomes clear that his spirituality remains within what Derrida calls a restricted economy. There are two primary indicators for assessing Wilber's approach to spirituality as consistent with a restricted economy: 1) the implicit assumptions about the deep structure of basic oppositions such as Emptiness and Form, timeless and temporal and 2) the dominant role of notions such as unity and union.

"Wilber speaks of the overcoming of this dualism in the union of Emptiness and Form and time and timelessness as if each side in the pair were in some sense separate, as if the Emptiness and Form aspects of Spirit could be approached separately in paths that then lead to partial enlightenment. The mere notion of the possibility of partial enlightenment in the sense Wilber suggests is symptomatic of an organization or structuring of oppositional relation in a manner consistent with a restricted economy."

In the “essence and identity” thread I introduced Gregory Desilet's essay “Physics and Language.” From that essay he said:

"As both the one and the many, the continuum does not require, and in fact precludes, a thorough merging of opposites. Where there is a tendency to see unity as fundamental the continuum asserts that difference is equiprimordial with unity. Oddly enough...[this is] consistent with descriptions Derrida gives for the term differance" (349).

In this post quoting the same article he says:

“Contexts are not absolute, [they] are in motion and continually changing within an infinite, changing net…. The reality that emerges though particular contexts is not objective reality in any traditional sense of the word. Reality as a superposition does not conform to the idea of objectness or thingness. This way of thinking places it in a conceptual category for which adequate metaphors are difficult to find—thereby necessitating terms such as ‘continuum’ or ‘differance,’ ‘superposition’ etc.

“Yet the contextualization that limits interpretation does not function with the closure of totalization; its boundary remains open. This lack of closure entrails, paradoxically, that reality both is and is not what it is interpreted to be. It is, at one level, what is interpreted to be but also always exceeds, at another level, what it is interpreted to be. This ‘exceeding’ means that at every point of capture reality escapes calculation and thereby admits construction” (352).

Also recall the following, originally posted in the “what 'is' the differance?” thread:

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.


  1. I’d also like to link to Bryant’s article “The time of the object,”* wherein he discusses some of the same Derridaean themes but with his OOO twist. Excerpts from the latter article:

    "Far from being characterized by presence, substance seems to be that which withdraws from presence; or that which is nowhere and never present. It is for this reason that Graham Harman argues that the very being of substance of objects lies in withdrawal.

    "However, here we must proceed with caution, for in suggesting that substances are anterior to presence, we invite the possibility of a sort of 'negative theology' of objects, where, like God, substances are withdrawn from other objects, non-present and inaccessible to other objects, while remaining fully present to themselves and in themselves…. withdrawal characterize[s] the very substantiality of substance…such that substances are withdrawn even from themselves and in themselves.

    "Derrida…provides the resources for demonstrating the radical withdrawal of substance. This demonstration requires the concept of substance to be indexed to the nature of time conceived as différance. As a consequence, one of the further surprises substance holds in store for us is that it turns out to be essentially temporal and processual. Substance is not that which is opposed to temporality and process, nor is it an abiding identity that persists beneath changing qualities, but rather it is temporal through and through. As such, substance must produce itself from moment to moment and perpetually faces the threat of entropy or dissolution from both within and without. Substances are negentropic unities whose identity consists in their operations through which they produce themselves across time. As such, they evolve, change, and mutate in all sorts of ways. The terms 'substance,' 'process,' and 'dynamic systems' are all synonyms within the framework of my onticology. ​The core of Derrida’s critique of presence revolves around the nature of time and what must be the case in order for succession to occur.

  2. Continuing:

    "If time is to be capable of succession, then the now cannot be a pure and indivisible present, but must instead be fissured from within…. Derrida thus argues that the passage of the now necessarily requires a split within presence, such that presence is never purely present but is always already 'contaminated' from within by absence…. With Derrida’s resolution to the aporia of succession—or rather with his thesis that presence is aporetic in itself, such that it is simultaneously withdrawn and present –we thus get the beginnings of an account of the ontological grounds of withdrawal. If substances are necessarily withdrawn, if they cannot be treated as synonymous with presence, then this is precisely because they are fissured from within by time, such that one face of the substance or object shows itself to the world in presencing or manifesting itself and another face of the object faces towards this pure past that was never present.

    “Derrida’s neologism 'différance' is designed to 1) capture the two senses of difference, and 2) the manner in which all presence harbors absence within itself…. The neologism différance captures the two senses of difference as deferral and difference. That is, the neologism captures the difference between difference as act or activity, becoming, as in the case of the verb 'to differ' or 'to produce a difference,' and the noun 'difference' which might denote 'difference between.'… Derrida’s point is that external difference, externality, diversity, is a form of difference that must be produced through a temporal process, not a form of difference that is 'already' there.

    "Deferral denotes not only that substance is not yet, that it’s actuality or presence is deferred…but also that the object is already, that it is past, that it contains within itself a reserve that is not present…. As deferred both with respect to the pure past that has never been present and a future that is yet to come, objects or substances are never fully present even to themselves and are thus withdrawn with respect to themselves. Différance as deferral names the split-nature of substances as withdrawn in the dimension of their virtual proper being and as presencing themselves in their local manifestations.

    "It will be recalled that Derrida’s différance has not one dimension (the becoming-other of substances in local manifestations or deferral), but two dimensions. Derrida refers to this second dimension of différance as 'spacing,' whereby entities are individuated from one another. In this second dimension of différance do we find evidence for the autonomy of substances from one another.

    "The word we most commonly use for this withdrawal is 'resistance.' There is always something in the object that refuses or resists complete integration by the other object…. [With reference to] Derrida… in 'Signature Event Context,'…. Derrida’s thesis is thus that every 'sign' contains within it the possibility of breaking with the context in which it emerged, such that it can fall into other and different contexts…. It is only where entities are autonomous and independent substances that they can exceed and escape their context. What Derrida articulates in this passage is a variation of Aristotle’s concept of primary substances; for the very being of primary substance is to exceed and be detachable from every context."


  3. There is much above upon which to reflect and comment. For now just a scratch at the surface. In juxtaposing Desilet and Bryant I'm trying to find how they agree or not, and how, in order to further clarify my own ever-morphing position(s).

    When Desilet says "no clear boundary separates one instance from the other" we find the fuzzy boundaries discussed by L&J in terms of categories, or as I've interpreted in holonic terms. There is kinship here with Bryant's strange mereology, where there too there is no overall unity or union, no assholon, yet obviously smaller objects can be part of larger objects and boundaries are more flexible, and clearly distinguishing said object/holons not so obvious.

    Where it appears Bryant adds something is in delineating an object's autonomy and substance, which indeed has boundaries that are open in one way yet closed in another. He uses the other aspect of Derrida's differance as support for the latter but not sure how Desilet would take this, as I don't find the discussion of dynamic systems in Derrilingus.* Bryant is also critical of how he perceives that Derrida confuses substance with presence, and in the above article he shows how indeed his version of object substance is also not 'present' in the way criticized.

    * Or perhaps I might call it Jacqueinoff?


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