Sunday, November 21, 2010

There is clearly an action of involved knowledge at work

Everything in Whitehead cries out against the unilateral thrust of Levinas’ vision. Levinas conceives a single grand transition: something that does not happen in time, so much as it determines and instantiates a new sort of time. The apotheosis of the Other ruptures linear, homogeneous clockwork time, and installs instead an “infinite” or “messianic” time: a “discontinuous” time of “death and resurrection” (Levinas 1969, 284-285). For Levinas, in striking contrast to Bergson, “there is no continuity in being” (284). Continuity is false, because the appearance of the face ruptures it once and for all. This epiphany points to a radical anteriority: an instance that precedes, and that can never be contained within, the extended present time of lived duration.
Now, Whitehead also rejects Bergsonian continuity; but he does so in a very different manner, and for very different reasons. “There is a becoming of continuity,” he writes, “but no continuity of becoming” (1929/1978, 35). That is to say, continuity is never given in advance. “The ultimate metaphysical truth is atomism”; but out of the basic atomic constituents of reality, “there is a creation of continuity” (35). Both continuity in space (which Whitehead calls the extensive continuum – 61-82) and continuity in time (Bergsonian duration) must actively be constructed, in the course of the “creative activity belonging to the essence of each occasion” (1938/1968, 151). In other words, continuity is approximated through a series of discrete, punctual “becomings” and “transitions.” Transition is the very basis of continuity; this means that the experience of transformation is not unique, but common. Concern is not the result of some sublime epiphany; rather, it is an everyday experience. For Whitehead, even death and resurrection are commonplace occurrences. Everything is subject to a rule of “perpetual perishing”: “no thinker thinks twice; and, to put the matter more generally, no subject experiences twice” (1929/1978, 29). If this is so, then there can be no single, specially privileged moment of transition, and no radical alterity such as Levinas demands. Time is irreversible, and irreparable; but there is no traumatic moment in which my sensibility would be breached, and my primordial enjoyment definitively interrupted.
Whitehead therefore rejects any grand narrative of a passage from self-enjoyment to concern, or from the aesthetic to the ethical. Just as every actual occasion has both a physical pole and a mental (or conceptual) pole, so too every actual occasion evinces both self-enjoyment and concern. Indeed, this is precisely why these terms form a patterned aesthetic contrast, and not an irreducible ethical opposition.
Whitehead refuses to choose between concern and self-enjoyment, just as he refuses to “pick and choose” between “the red glow of the sunset” and “the molecules and electric waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon” (1920/2004, 29). If Whitehead is on the side of aesthetics as opposed to ethics, and on the side of immanence as opposed to transcendence, this is not because he would reject either ethics or transcendence. Rather, he finds an immanent place for transcendence, and an aesthetic place for ethics. He insists that every occasion is already, by its very nature, a “conjunction of transcendence and immanence” (1938/1968, 167). Indeed, “every actual entity, in virtue of its novelty, transcends its universe, God included” (1929/1978, 94). But this transcendence is just the other side of an immanent, actual fact. An object is transcendent as a process of decision, or “as a capacity for determination”; but it is immanent as an already realized fact, or “as a realized determinant” of other objects (239).
Similarly, Whitehead gives an aestheticized account of ethics. He never provides a Kantian, categorical basis for moral duty; nor does he ever mount a Nietzschean attack upon conventional morality. Instead, he insists that fact and value cannot be cleanly separated. They are always intimately entwined, since value is intrinsic to existence: “everything has some value for itself, for others, and for the whole” (1938/1968, 111).

I loved it but I didn’t trust it. Yet, in What is Philosophy?, I found an answer, for Deleuze and Guattari argue that philosophy is nothing more than the creation and critique, the invention, of concepts. And here, concepts precede, in their own way, any investigation of the world. Moreover, they made the strangest claim of all: concepts are not simply about something, they are something. For D&G, concepts are not ideas in the head, but are real things, real actors, real events, in the world.

Theory, in Nagarjuna’s view, was the enemy of all forms of legitimate practice, social, ethical and religious. Theory must be undone through the demonstration that its Buddhist metaphysical conclusions and the Brahminical reasoning processes which lead to them are counterfeit, of no real value to genuinely human pursuits. But in order to demonstrate such a commitment, doubt had to be methodical, just as the philosophy it was meant to undermine was methodical...
In his revolutionary tract of The Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, Nagarjuna abjectly throws this elementary distinction between samsara and nirvana out the door, and does so in the very name of the Buddha. “There is not the slightest distinction,” he declares in the work, “between samsara and nirvana. The limit of the one is the limit of the other.” Now how can such a thing be posited, that is, the identity ofsamsara and nirvana, without totally undermining the theoretical basis and practical goals of Buddhism as such? For if there is no difference between the world of suffering and the attainment of peace, then what sort of work is a Buddhist to do as one who seeks to end suffering? Nagarjuna counters by reminding the Buddhist philosophers that, just as Gautama Sakyamuni had rejected both metaphysical and empirical substantialism through the teaching of “no-soul” (anatman) and causal interdependence (pratityasamputpada), so Scholastic Buddhism had to remain faithful to this non-substantialist stance through a rejection of the causal theories which necessitated notions of fixed nature (svabhava), theories which metaphysically reified the difference between samsara and nirvana. This later rejection could be based on Nagarjuna’s newly coined notion of the “emptiness,” “zeroness” or “voidness” (sunyata) of all things. 

Sri Aurobindo points out that the Inconscience carries within itself a type of Knowledge by Identity, but it is dark and functions as an automatic perfection of the action of energy…
We need only gaze at the perfect ordering and incredibly precise action of atoms and energy, creating and forming material forms, of solar systems, galaxies and the universe with an order and mathematical sequencing that clearly is a work of involved knowledge; not to speak of the diversity of life and the web of life, the inter-relations between all the beings that live together in one eco-sphere and bio-sphere here in this microcosm we call the earth, to see that there is clearly an action of involved knowledge at work here, not “self-aware” in the sense of what we describe in the superconscient planes of awareness, but clearly under strict control of a master intelligence.

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