Thursday, September 26, 2013

Desilet on Wilber's metaphysics of presence

I've highlighted Desilet before but he came up again in the IPS integral semiotics thread. The following are excerpts from a more recent Desilet essay. Some commentary to follow.

“If you want to know this, do this” (Wilber, 2006, p. 267).

"With respect to spirituality and the question of God, this means that in a very concrete sense the existence of God, the ultimate transcendental signified, is, in Wilber’s view, verifiable and may be verified by any person who chooses to undertake the demonstration. [...] It may be safely said there are no set of operations ensuring the level to which any given player can rise. Coaching and practice may be important ingredients but at a certain level of mastery it becomes difficult to instruct anyone on how exceptional greatness is achieved. The grandmaster’s difference is operationalized in game performances yet the secret of success remains hidden. The secret cannot itself be operationalized in a set of words or routines and provides an ongoing stimulus to others to uncover it. The secret is unobservable (say, in the grandmaster’s beetle box) but not therefore entirely inaccessible or untheorizable to the imagination due to its observed effects. This residual or partially hidden genius is anything but irrelevant."

"Within any circumscribed context certain invariants will become possible. [...] Within each of these selected spatial contexts it becomes possible to work with particular types of invariants allowing for repeatable measurements. But this is perfectly consistent with Derrida’s deconstruction, since the problems of underdetermination deconstruction underscores are a direct result of the problem of contextualization—which is the problem of the absence of an absolute context of contexts. [...] This means the problem of context is a problem not only of where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them in ways not so reductionistic as to become irrelevant to the complexity of the field of study.

"Wilber does acknowledge the important role of context and the constant shifting of context through time as presented in much of postmodern theory yet fails to theorize that role radically enough. Wilber’s analogy between Kosmic addressing and Einstein’s special relativity therefore remains inadequate to the challenge of deconstruction and the pervasive problem of contextualization. Wherever a context is drawn, there are always other ways of drawing it which then open the door to alternative addresses for selected things and events. The crucial problem, then, is not so much one of relativity as it is one of multiple contexts along with the underdetermination of signs—material, observable marks—within and through shifting and overlapping contexts.

"Furthermore, the limitation of addressing cannot be resolved by the notion that multiple contexts provide multiple addresses and thereby a complex convergence of object identity through an intersecting mapping of these multiple addresses. If each address is itself potentially incomplete and/or misdirecting, the accumulation of addresses may add stimulation and provoke thinking but cannot fulfill identity and overcome the potential for a 'misreading of signs.' Problems of iterability and underdetermination necessitate that any given address, contrary to Wilber’s claims and consistent with Derrida’s theorizing of language, does not and cannot ever provide an instruction which will guarantee arriving at a particular location. This is not to say Wilber’s addressing system cannot be useful. Instead, it points out that his addressing system does not rest on the kind of absolute foundation he claims for it in Integral Spirituality."

"An economy built around a principle of precise measurement, strict correspondence of cause and effect, and, speaking fiduciarily, a balance of payments, corresponds to a closed economy. Scientific theories of the natural world lean strongly in favor of theorizing whatever system is being observed as a closed economy because closed economies are more amendable to basic mathematical strategies of measurement and calculation. [...] But there are alternative economies of order, economies that see partiality (lack of fullness) and limitation (contamination) as a consequence of the nature of being itself, of the nature of all creation. Derrida (1978), following Georges Bataille, 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. This general economy circulates around and through an excess irreducibly present in the nexus of causes and effects.

"This possibility for irrecuperable loss is theorized by Derrida in his notion of the trace—a term he finds descriptive of the quality of being. The trace is an absenting presencing, disappearing as it appears. In the process of emergence there is also loss [....] This feature of unpredictability (technically named entropy) is inherent in systems that lack strict causality.

"From the language Wilber uses in his current characterizations of spirit and enlightenment in Integral Spirituality it becomes clear his spirituality remains within what Derrida calls a restricted economy. All restricted economies fall within classical metaphysical traditions and cannot be regarded as in any profound sense 'post-metaphysical' as Wilber claims for his integral spirituality. There are two primary indicators for this assessment: 1) the deep structure of basic oppositions in Wilber’s notion of Spirit, such as, for example, Emptiness and Form, timeless and temporal and 2) the dominant role of notions such as union and oneness in his characterization of Spirit as well as the transcendence of enlightenment.

"In both of these [Wilber's] notions, Freedom and Fullness, a distinct betrayal of the nature of being. The ideal of 'fullness,' and of oneness with the fullness of the 'productions of time' through all of time is still a classic expression of the metaphysics dominating the entire history of humanity—the metaphysics of presence and the ideal of the fullness of the 'now.' For Derrida, being—adequately understood—necessarily precludes both the possibility of absolute Freedom and absolute Fullness. Freedom as freedom from loss and mortality and Fullness as oneness with all temporal creation are both paradigmatic symptoms of an orientation grounded in the metaphysics of presence."


  1. Desilet refutes the notion that to attain to a signified, developmental or otherwise, one only need follow the injunction of those who claim to have it. Following the instruction to the letter does not guarantee one will arrive at the signified because in both the signifier and the signified there is a hidden and inaccessible ingredient, aka as the excess or the withdrawn. Such ingredients are inherent to general economies and are missing from restricted economies. The latter have clear lines of demarcation that are certainly useful in certain contexts, but they also presuppose a transcendent or absolute context like God or Spirit.

    So yes, invariants or universals can be posited within any given economy. Or in Bryant's terms, within any marked space. But the unmarked space still remains, full of other possibilities where things can be otherwise. Hence there is no absolute outside of all context. This does not destroy meaning but rather provides it by defining one's terms in a context, and within which then one can draw universals. But they are conditional or quasi-universals. So the matter becomes not only "where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them" while avoiding a metaphysics of presence.

  2. Also notice that within this field of matter (signifer) and meaning (signified) there are "shifting and overlapping contexts." We see the likes of this in Bryant's Borromean diagram and economy and not so much in the Lingam's, as the latter maintains a clear separation of transcendent and immanent aka a metaphysics of presence. As Desilet said, it is a matter of how we explain the relation between these complimentary planes, and one version is definitely (pun intended) of the restricted variety. And the latter is what I term metaphysical. More general economies I term postmetaphysical only in its refutation of restricted or transcendent versions, not in terms of positing an ontology of the ontic or metaphysics proper.


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