Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Emphasis on the mental and spiritual evolution of life on earth

Survival of the fittest religion 30 Oct, 2007, 0040 hrs IST, Mukul Sharma, economictimes.indiatimes.com
In the west, religion’s running battle with science is well known. In the beginning the natural sciences — astronomy in particular — was its chief foe since that study of the heavens soon began to threaten the established view of humanity’s pivotal role in the universe by way of earth being the centre of all creation. So when the Copernican revolution proved things otherwise, philosopher scientists like Giordano Bruno had to burn at the stake for positing a heliocentric universe. Even a famous astronomer and physicist like Galileo had to publicly recant similar views held by him and undergo house arrest during the last years of his life.
Later, after Darwin happened, religion trained its fire on the life sciences and zoology for its new found belief in natural selection and the theory of evolution. For contrary to the established view of humanity’s divine origin, the Origin of Species proposed a common ancestor for both apes and human beings. o great was this antagonism that early in the last century pitched battles were fought in American courts for teaching evolution in schools. That war is still not over and is, in fact, turning insidiously vicious with religiosity using the tools of technology to set its sights on Darwin. It insists that along with evolution, intelligent design and “scientific creationism” too be taught in American schools. Of course we know where this is coming from: an all too literal interpretation of the relevant scriptures. For instance if Bishop Ussher’s Biblical chronology is to be believed then the earth was created on the night preceding October 23, 4004 BC — a flat contraction of geological data.
In the east, on the other hand, and as far as Hinduism and Buddhism for example are concerned, the faith versus science face-off is a non-starter. Buddhism doesn’t even have a creation myth, believing the universe to be billions of years old and, in any case, the Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, constantly arising, becoming, changing and fading. How evolutionary can you get? As far as Hinduism is concerned, its emphasis is on the mental and spiritual evolution of life on earth — on the development of the subtle body rather than the gross one. Also, not only does Hinduism not reject evolution, it takes it further by consciously and willingly directing the process through the exercise of intelligence and choice. Thus it looks at evolution in a wider perspective for the continuing development of humanity.

What Da shows is really revolutionary

I’ve been re-reading through some of the early works of Adi Da (then Free John). Particularly The Enlightenment of the Whole Body (whole text here).
One of the main key arguments of the text is that enlightenment is bodily. Not simply awakening consciousness, but Conscious Light–body, breath, attention, and emotion released/surrendered to God. This notion of the body enlightened accords with Da’s assertion that the way of Sacrifice not inward realization nor outward habitual activity, is the true posture of the awakened heart-mind.
Now Da also does something very interesting in the text, which I believe points (half-way) to post-metaphysics. Da, as some readers know, employs a notion of 7 Stages of Life (from birth to Transcendental Sacrificial Love Bliss Awakening….the 7th stage having two phases, sahaj samadhi and bhava samadhi). This notion of the 7 Stages of Life was the prime influence on Wilbers 2-4 and the notion that the psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual states (incorrectly) are stages on top of the chain that runs from archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral. First thing then to do is recall that the four states are possible at any stage of development.
With that correction in mind, I’m still going to use Da’s language….
The 5th Stage of Life in Da is the Subtle-Illuminative path. The path of Ascended Light to the Matrix up and out of the head (seen in paintings of saints with halos of light encircling the skull). Now in the traditions, such visions associated with this tradition–visions of heaven, mystical union with a Deity Form, subtle sounds/colors, etc.–were considered to be intuitions/experiences of actually existing other realms. You actually, as it were, went to heaven and united with Jesus.
What Da shows, and what I think is really revolutionary, in this work, is that there is no other place. Those experiences are modifications of latent powers within the human body-mind. Now from the Absolute perspective what that means is such activity is just a very advanced form of seeking, motivated by suffering/unhappiness, looking for some final release or condition to end suffering outside of oneself.
But the key point I want to emphasize here is that these experiences are simply working the human body-mind in a certain fashion and these experiences are reflex mechanisms of latent powers within the brain and nervous system.
This bodily-mediation (and “naturalistic” turn) is half of the quadrants, half of the understanding on the way to post-metaphysical spirituality and spiritual practice. In the quadrants view, that is the right-side of the quadrants (more individual upper right than lower collective right), but bodily nonetheless.
Again in post-metaphysics it does not mean there are not other realms—heaven, hell, purgatory, reincarnation, whatever. It means that because all of our experiences, even so-called mystical ones, are bodily mediated and our bodies are earthly (though transcendentally possible, transcendent within this realm however), then we can’t make any determination one way or the other about such other realms. We can appeal to Revelations I suppose as long as one admits it has to be taken on faith. Alternatively, there are “suggestive” (though by no means conclusive) pieces of evidence from individuals claiming to have experiences of life after physical death (again those experiences mediated, if true, by a subtler form of body).
This realization of full bodily enlightenment, is why Touch is the sense most connected to enlightenment (not sight as is traditionally the case).
But this is only half-way to true post-metaphysics because it seems to me Da is unaware of a second step the understanding of the Lower Left (though elsewhere he basically outlines the quadrants and the phrase include and transcend is his, but he doesn’t seem to have it in relation to spiritual experiences).
In other words, he seems to assume not that the experiences (of light say) are universal constructs outside of the human. Bodily mediated no doubt, but not investigated as to the possible content of those experiences being shaped by the religious-social context of the individual. Christians have visions of Jesus. Jews do not have visions of Krishna. The common forms of the 5th Stage Ascended Light Mysticism Da describes are a product of his Siddha Yoga Indian Spiritual training. There are certainly similarities in other traditions, but the content is not the same.
Once we get that all experience, mystical or mundane, are consciously, socially and bodily conditioned/mediated, then we I think are really onto something profound. Does not mean there are not layers/gradations of mediated experience, just that all are. And transcendence must sacrificial awakened life within this world, in this body and in cultures of awakening (a point Da does make forcefully elsewhere).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daya Krishna was a trailblazer in juxtaposing Indian and Western philosophies

The Hindu National Eminent thinker Daya Krishna passes away
Even two decades after his retirement, philosophers flocked to his residence
JAIPUR: Eminent thinker and former pro Vice-Chancellor of Rajasthan University Daya Krishna died on Friday. He was 84. Author and philosopher of high repute, Professor Krishna was a trailblazer in juxtaposing Indian and Western philosophies and opening up new vistas of thought.
Professor Krishna gave a new direction as the head, Department of Philosophy, Rajasthan University and continued his intellectual pursuits till the last.
Professor Krishna, who edited the Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research for over three decades, was among his students at the time of death at his C-Scheme residence here. He leaves two daughters. His wife Francine, who was Reader in English in the Rajasthan University, died about eight years ago.
As editor of JICPR, Professor Krishna introduced variety and freshness in the journal making it participatory. He raised fundamental questions on classical texts and carried out a series of dialogue between the Indian and Western approaches to philosophy.
“He was a person without complexes. Very open-minded, critical and always looking for new ideas. We were looking for a publisher for his work on the Rig Veda when he died,” said his colleague, Professor Rajendra Swaroop Bhatnagar.
Professor Krishna was working on an unfinished manuscript on mathematics lately. Even two decades after his retirement, philosophers, researchers and students from within the country and abroad continued to flock to his residence.
Professor Krishna has authored more than a dozen books including, “The Nature of Philosophy”, “Contemporary Philosophical Problem: Some Classical Indian Perspectives”, “Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective” and, more recently, “Bharatiya Evam Paschatya Darshaniya Paramparaein” (The traditions of Indian and Western philosophies).
www.hindu.com/2007/10/07/ Special Correspondent

Consensual knowledge of an universal subjectivity or subjective science

A Subjective Science? Re: "The Soul and Its journey" - by Nolini Kanta Gupta
by Debashish on Wed 19 Oct 2005 01:05 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Nolini's account is taken from both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's knowledge and experience of this matter. But I believe it is also his own knowledge and experience since he was quite advanced in his knowledge of the inner workings of consciousness. So it seems to be consensual knowledge in Aurobindonian terms. This is the kind of subjective objectivity or universality I was referring to as the basis of a subjective science. Nolini is one of the few people who has scouted out this terrain. His writing is not just a study of tradition or a repetition of what Mother or Sri Aurobindo have said but an attempt at accuracy of articulation of what he has verified through inner knowledge or experience. A growing body of personal articulations of this kind could constitute the consensual knowledge of an universal subjectivity or subjective science bridging the life of the external senses with the truths of invisible realities. 11:10 AM

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sri Aurobindo describes “three dynamic images” through which one makes contact with “supreme Reality”

The beautiful, the true, and the good — these are the fundamental values that have been recognized since antiquity as the intrinsic qualities from which all values are essentially derived. Just as a million shades of color can be mixed from three primaries, so too can a million shades of quality be traced back to these primary values.
The first writer to associate the beautiful, the true, and the good together, and to exalt these three as primary was the famous Greek philosopher Plato. And since Plato in the 4th century B.C., this triad of terms has continued to impress itself upon the minds of thinkers down through the centuries. This is not to say that all the proponents of beauty, truth, and goodness have been followers of Plato; some have discovered the significance of this triad through decidedly non-philosophical methods. But whether they are arrived at through intuitive inspiration or rational deduction, these three terms keep showing up in the writing of a wide variety of notable luminaries, including thinkers as diverse as Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Mohandas Gandhi. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica acknowledges the significance of this ubiquitous trio, stating that:
Truth, goodness, and beauty form a triad of terms which have been discussed together throughout the tradition of Western thought. They have been called “transcendental” on the ground that everything which is, is in some measure or manner subject to denomination as true or false, good or evil, beautiful, or ugly.
In addition to philosophers, scientists, and politicians, many mystics and spiritual teachers have also championed the idea of these three essential “windows on the divine.” This list includes Rudolph Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, Thich Nhat Hanh, and even Osho Rajneesh. For example, Sri Aurobindo describes what he calls “three dynamic images” through which one makes contact with “supreme Reality.” These are:
  • The way of the intellect, or of knowledge — the way of truth;
  • The way of the heart, or of emotion — the way of beauty; and
  • The way of the will, or of action — the way of goodness.

Aurobindo comments further that “these three ways, combined and followed concurrently, have a most powerful effect.” [1]

The triad of beauty, truth, and goodness has also garnered considerable attention from the founders of integral philosophy itself. Alfred North Whitehead devotes a significant portion of his book Adventures of Ideas to the discussion of the primary values, which he calls the “eternal forms.” Likewise does Ken Wilber acknowledge the priority of the beautiful, the true, and the good by connecting them with the three main “cultural value spheres” of art, science, and morals, which he further equates with the subjective, objective, and intersubjective domains of evolution, respectively.
Now, of course, the idea of any kind of “primary values” drives deconstructionist postmodern academics crazy. For them, values are arbitrary interpretations imposed by establishment power structures, so the proposition that there are three fundamental values is the height of idealistic pretense. After all, beauty, truth, and goodness are just conceptual categories, just abstract words that point to nebulous ideals that perhaps everyone can agree about, that is, until you actually get specific. There is certainly no “hard proof” that all human values can be captured and expansively described using these three concepts. But there is a remarkable degree of “consensus evidence” about the special significance of beauty, truth, and goodness...
Steve McIntosh is the author of Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (Paragon House 2007). He was an original member of the Integral Institute think tank, and has taught integral philosophy to a wide variety of audiences. An honors graduate of the University of Virginia Law School and the University of Southern California Business School, today McIntosh is president of Now & Zen, Inc., and director of The Project for Integral World Federation.

Chalmers went one step further claiming that consciousness cannot be explained by any known scientific theory

Kasturirangan, Rajesh. Consciousness across Cultures: A Response to Bina Gupta's CIT: Consciousness Philosophy East and West - Volume 57, Number 4, October 2007, pp. 567-575 University of Hawai'i Press
Rajesh Kasturirangan Fellow, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
In recent years, consciousness has reemerged from the nether world of scientific and philosophical investigation and is now seen by many researchers as the last great unsolved scientific problem. There are several reasons for this shift in the status of consciousness studies. For one, neuroscience and the philosophy of mind are occupying the scientific and philosophical center stages, respectively. Furthermore, there has been a spate of books on consciousness by eminent scientists and philosophers.
To my mind, the current wave of texts on consciousness started with three pioneering books: Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind (Penrose 1989), Francis Crick’s The Astonishing Hypothesis (Crick 1994), and David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind (Chalmers 1996), each representing a radically different perspective on consciousness. Crick’s book was the most conservative of the three (despite its title): he claimed that consciousness is entirely a biological phenomenon identical with (as yet unknown) brain processes. Roger Penrose argued that the phenomenon of consciousness is tied to the foundations of physics in general and quantum mechanics in particular. David Chalmers went one step further, claiming that consciousness cannot be explained by any known scientific theory and that consciousness is a fundamental...
1790_57-4_06 533..576 they of the Advaitic or Aurobindian persuasion, I think that these systems are un-likely to be useful to the modern scientist when taken as a whole. ... Project MUSE ® Search Journals About MUSE

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thanks, now we know where Agamben stole "the naked life" from!

Trinketization John Hutnyk experiment 24-Oct-2007
Spivak - critique of postcolonial reason
Gayatri Spivak is visiting Goldsmiths – public lecture 8 November Great Hall 5 pm – so some of us have returned to reread her Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Such a great, difficult, suggestive book. These are some subjective comments and reading notes on the Philosophy chapter. The first part is on Immanuel Kant.
1. Kant
Although this is at best an inverse aside (p.6), I think it is a generous if necessary move to note that the native informant is taken seriously in ethnography, where ethnography as sanctioned methodology of the discipline of anthropology produces texts unlike those Spivak addresses in this chapter. Kant, Hegel and Marx are not ethnography, yet even this methodological precept, emergent only just in Spivak’s text, popping up in the footnotes on occasion, threatening to be taken seriously itself, is not without its problems, well rehearsed elsewhere (the native informant in ethnography does not, for example, get credit for co-authorship, there are issues of authority, perhaps intellectual property, and questions of surveillance and voyeurism not far away). So, this might serve as a ‘deconstructive lever’ to open up Spivak’s discussion.
Her strategy seems to me to be consistent – whether the topic is Kant or Hegel, or even more clearly in the next chapter with Bronte, she shows she knows ‘the’ debates around a particular author or field with a quick sketch, then she shows she knows the critical angles on these debates and that these could be fruitful, but are often not without problems, but then, rather than detailing or extending these, she takes some moment or oblique angle on the text – say in Jane Eyre, after a quick survey of the standard repertoire, tracking of the comprador figures, we then see her opening up the text with attention to Bertha Mason, the creole Jamaican… In Kant, Hegel and Marx, in chapter one, we see something similar. As the book declares at the beginning, the recoding of the native informant by the postcolonial subject is the narrative frame, in this first chapter we are identifying the first figure in key texts of philosophy – proper names Kant, Hegel, Marx (the three wise men). The perspective of the native informant is the figure Spivak tracks through the heteronomy of the determinant, becoming reflexive in Kant, in the move of Spirit from unconsciousness to consciousness in Hegel and through the modes of production narrative and value in Marx.
In Spivak’s first section the text of Kant is mined for asides that indicate this (im)possible perspective of the native informant. Two characterisations are crucial, mention of the raw man (dem rohen Menschen) on page 13 and the Neuhollanders (and inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego) on page 26.
The Raw Man is the one who is terrified by what for the cultured, cooked, programmed, tuned, reasoning man is the sublime. The uneducated, and alien, natural, and outside raw being over against the cultured, receptive, moral person for whom desire is subject to reason, and freedom is a coherent choice to deploy ideas and imagination over mere sensibility. A supra-sensuousness that gives a greater freedom (though this itself is a supplementary and even ‘faked’, sensibility, since all truths are tropes).
To expose the workings of this figure of the native informant in Kant requires a ‘mistaken’ reading, but we get the point that Kant is insulting a large portion of humanity here. Thus, deconstruction can help reading in this task even as for Kant the raw man or the Neuhollander is not part of his text proper, and barely even an aside (it appears in brackets). To read up on the Neuhollander however is too huge a task (fn p28-9), and while Spivak gets a few details slightly wrong, she indicates the parameters of where a deconstructive reading might inform itself better than Kant – Neuhollanders are Aboriginal (not aborigine) Australians and these are differentiated, (though Warlpiri are not Koorie and there are further heterogeneities that deserve attention, especially regarding urban and outback Aboriginal politics – fns p27-8).
So, this justification seems acceptable –to reprimand Kant for not knowing or caring for the specificity of life for Neuhollander does not mean we are also not just as ignorant. An effort to change this would be beyond the scope of the book – the task of reading a way well enough into the scene of Australia, colonial invasion, local differentiation, history of war-extermination-smoothing the dying pillow, right through to ongoing Howard Government interventions of unprecedented paternalism (police interventions not unlike the old Protection Society routines) is a huge task indeed. So much resides there, where, in a long and almost longing for time paragraph, she writes ‘I cannot write that other book that bubbles up in the cauldron of Kant’s contempt’ (p28n).
The imperial mission in philosophy comes across as the task of helping all men move from fear of the abyss (terror of nature) to appreciation of the sublime, through culture, programme, the ‘cooked’. Receptivity to ideas is the program of humanity (through culture). The plan is hierarchical and civilisational – polytheism equals a bad demonology, Christian monotheism comes closer to philosophy (p31). Something here returns to a point made in a certain interview in an earlier book – The Postcolonial Critic – where many gods are less good than few gods and the one god is best of all – leaving the raw man, Aboriginal and other animist or such like cosmologies outside of the text-civilizational path completely. And so ‘sanctioned inattention’ (p30) to the itinerary of the native informant on the path to postcoloniality via discussions of ethics and ethnicity allow this (im)possible perspective of the native informant to be both frozen and erased (foreclosure) and, we will see, into this space steps the self-appointed metropostcolonial, marketing culture from the home over there in that place now home over here (choes of that old 1970s we were here because you were there intended).
That the native informant is both needed by the narrative of imperial aid, and by its continued privilege is clear (the south is not in the north, but is needed to maintain the North’s privilege, it is both excluded and included, and so (im)possible, we may say). That this today impacts upon neo-colonial post-Soviet, UN and IMF programmed globalisation, finance capitalism and the feminization of exploitative labour is another of Spivak’s key points. That these concerns should be first articulated through a reading of key founding texts of western modernity – Kant, Hegel, Marx – is genius.
The ‘dredging’ operation here is an effortto broach the mainstream education that permits a ‘sanctioned ignorance’ (p2) that learns to ignore the ways these key texts reveal the flotsam of their prejudice, and often loose their moorings. A counter narrative that makes visible the foreclosure of the subject without access to the position of narrator (p9) is her corrective intervention – an attempt to destabilise productively (p15). This relies upon deconstruction in two steps
1) to show that truths are tropes, and
2) to show how the corrective to this obliges a further lie (p18-9).
In Kant, this is where God is smuggled in – moral inner determination, or reason, requires a moral author of the world, a purpose and a programme require an intelligent design – a god. (p23). The tropes here are aporia that in Kant must be ignored in order to read how theory as the analysis of the sublime is already normed by the practice of having to assume a moral being. These are then displaced in the correctives by that smuggled god. And the imperialism that lets this pass unnoticed (p34) – sanctioned ignorance – and this is both geographical and hierarchical and named in those two casual asides about the raw uncultured man quaking in terror before nature and the ‘natural’ Neuhollanders. That civil society is then mapped onto the reason that was built on both the social mission of imperialism and the cultured taming of desire by reason is the opening of a possible rereading that might displace some of our ignorance.
2. Hegel
The section on Hegel is more a section on the Gita. It requires some homework with a difficult script which is much overlain with versionings, from the television serialisations and oleographs of popular culture in India today, to the chantings of Iskon in the streets of every major western metropolis and their sometimes very good vegetarian restaurants through to inanities like the pop band Kula Shaker’s exoticist Krishna consumptionism. Similarly, some effort is needed to move beyond simple received versions of caste, and several necessary texts should be consulted, especially 'Hindus of the Himalayas' by Berreman, and 'Imagining India' by Inden.
But because this needs a bit of work, only just not even started here, I'll leave it for tomorrow. Got to go to the anti-war teach in (here) just now...Posted by John Hutnyk at 11:16 AM Labels: ,

1 comments: Maria Technosux said...
she shows she knows ‘the’ debates around a particular author or field with a quick sketch, then she shows she knows the critical angles on these debates and that these could be fruitful, but are often not without problems, but then, rather than detailing or extending these, she takes some moment or oblique angle on the text ...In Kant, Hegel and Marx, in chapter one, we see something similar.
This (for lack of a better word) "literary" technique of critique might work well with Jane Ire (because that was intended as fiction, so people feel justified in engaging the what's jokingly referred to as The Rose Petals Discussion), but does it work well for the, you know, Big Dudes? "key texts of philosophy – proper names Kant, Hegel, Marx (the three wise men)"?Or could this be an outcome of the fact that everything that has to be said about these guys has already been stated ad infinitum, so now people have to resort to "tak[ing] some moment or oblique angle on the text" to say something we haven't said yet?
mention of the raw man (dem rohen Menschen) on page 13
Thanks, now we know where Agamben stole "the naked life" from! The naked life is Agamben reinventing the wheel of raw man for the people who haven't read this before, but this time without "insulting a large portion of humanity here", cos Agamben now claims that "a large portion of humanity here" are themselves "raw uncultured men" (or nude life, so you will). Tex.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It constructs, but does not create

CHAPTER XIV The Suprarational Beauty
RELIGION is the seeking after the spiritual, the suprarational and therefore in this sphere the intellectual reason may well be an insufficient help and find itself, not only at the end but from the beginning, out of its province and condemned to tread either diffidently or else with a stumbling presumptuousness in the realm of a power and a light higher than its own. But in the other spheres of human consciousness and human activity it may be thought that it has the right to the sovereign place, since these move on the lower plane of the rational and the finite or belong to that border-land where the rational and the infrarational meet and the impulses and the instincts of man stand in need above all of the light and the control of the reason. In its own sphere of finite knowledge, science, philosophy, the useful arts, its right, one would think, must be indisputable. But this does not turn out in the end to be true. Its province may be larger, its powers more ample, its action more justly self-confident, but in the end everywhere it finds itself standing between the two other powers of our being and fulfilling in greater or less degree the same function of an intermediary. On one side it is an enlightener - not always the chief enlightener - and the corrector of our life-impulses and first mental seekings, on the other it is only one minister of the veiled Spirit and a preparer of the paths for the coming of its rule.
This is especially evident in the two realms which in the ordinary scale of our powers stand nearest to the reason and on either side of it, the aesthetic and the ethical being, the search for Beauty and the search for Good. Man's seeking after beauty reaches its most intense and satisfying expression in the great creative arts, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, but in its full extension there is no activity of his nature or his life from which it need or ought to be excluded, - provided we under- stand beauty both in its widest and its truest sense. A complete and universal appreciation of beauty and the making entirely beautiful our whole life and being must surely be a necessary character of the perfect individual and the perfect society.
But In its origin this seeking for beauty is not rational; it springs from the roots of our life, it is an instinct and an impulse, an instinct of aesthetic satisfaction and an impulse of aesthetic creation and enjoyment. Starting from the infrarational parts of our being, this instinct and impulse begin with much imperfection and impurity and with great crudities both in creation and in appreciation. It is here that the reason comes in to distinguish, to enlighten, to correct, to point out the deficiencies and the crudities, to lay down laws of aesthetics and to purify our appreciation and our creation by improved taste and right knowledge. While we are thus striving to learn and correct ourselves, it may seem to be the true law-giver both for the artist and the admirer and, though not the creator of our aesthetic instinct and impulse, yet the creator in us of an aesthetic conscience and its vigilant judge and guide. That which was an obscure and erratic activity, it makes self-conscious and rationally discriminative in its work and enjoyment.
But again this is true only in restricted bounds or, if any- where entirely true, then only on a middle plane of our aesthetic seeking and activity. Where the greatest and most powerful creation of beauty is accomplished and its appreciation and enjoyment rise to the highest pitch, the rational is always surpassed and left behind. The creation of beauty in poetry and art does not fall within the sovereignty or even within the sphere of the reason. The intellect is not the poet, the artist, the creator within us; creation comes by a suprarational influx of light and power which must work always, if it is to do its best, by vision and inspiration. It may use the intellect for certain of its operations, but in proportion as it subjects itself to the intellect it loses in power and force of vision and diminishes the splendour and truth of the beauty it creates. The intellect may take hold of the influx, moderate and repress the divine enthusiasm of creation and force it to obey the prudence of its dictates, but in doing so it brings down the work to its own inferior level, and the lowering is in proportion to the intellectual interference. For by itself the intelligence can only achieve talent, though it may be a high and even, if sufficiently helped from above, "a surpassing talent. Genius, the true creator, is always suprarational in its nature and its instrumentation even when it seems to be doing the work of the reason; it is most itself, most exalted in its work, most sustained in the power, depth, height and beauty of its achievement when it is least touched by, least mixed with any control of the mere intellectuality and least often drops from its heights of vision and inspiration into reliance upon the always mechanical process of intellectual construction.
Art-creation which accepts the canons of the reason and works within the limits laid down by it, may be great, beautiful and powerful; for genius can preserve its power even when it labours in shackles and refuses to put forth all its resources; but when it proceeds by means of the intellect, it constructs, but does not create. -It may construct well and with a good and faultless workmanship, but its success is formal and not of the spirit, a success of technique and not the embodiment of the imperishable truth of ' beauty seized in its inner reality, its divine delight, its appeal to a supreme source of ecstasy, Ananda. Page-128 Location: Home > E-Library > Works Of Sri Aurobindo > Social And Political Thought Volume-15 > The Suprarational Beauty

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Politics, Rancière argues, is the rare event that occurs when slaves cease to be subservient and forcibly partake in the aesthetic field

Politics, Rancière argues, is the rare event that occurs when slaves cease to be subservient. That is, when they forcibly partake in the aesthetic field that both constitutes and represses the occurrence of politics, and thus in the distribution of the sensible; when, in rejecting their essential place in the political commuity, that of the no-place with no voice, they make a claim on sensibility and freedom.*
Importantly, this claim to freedom is fundamentally different than that of a claim to wealth and/or nobility, and to their attendant administrative status. These assert particular qualities as proper and/or essential to those who lay the claim. In terms of Aristotle’s ideal community, such claims are just insofar as the wealthy and noble live up to the roles they are naturally and essentially capable of fulfilling in the community. A slave’s claim to freedom, however, is an immediate claim, devoid of any justification by way of their proportional, contributing quality. In such a claim, the slave insists that the correlation between social position/role and natural capacity is purely theatrical, and thus artificial to the core.
By exposing the duplicity at the heart of the political community, however, we should not mistake the slave’s egalitarian claim to freedom as any more an unmasking of truth than what takes place in Melville’s Masquerade. Indeed, for both, the claim to self-creativity exposes the masquerade as such in order that it might become a masquerade par excellence. That is to say, not the truth behind the masquerade, but the truth of the masquerade, i.e., its singularly and necessarily arbitrary nature. Inasmuch as they speak forth themselves as free, they do so only by knowingly speaking forth a lie. This is, in short, an appeal to the radical creativity ordinarily suppressed by the communal masquerade and role-play, but in no way put an end to the masquerade as such.
By reading Rancière through Melville’s Masquerade, I conclude that our political theologies can identify the emergence of subjective sovereignty and power as a kind of duplicity, where masks do not obscure or defer the revelation of a transcendent truth or ultimate kernel of self-identity, be it that of divine revelation, mystical silence, pantheistic All, or nihilistic void. By reading Melville’s Masquerade through Rancière, the masquerade becomes the political materialisation, or characterization, of truth, of justice, and of the self—such is the denial of essence for the sake of identity. When read together, we identify a re-attuned aesthetic awareness and begin our approach toward a political theology that thinks through the paradoxical, though essential and characteristic, freedom and bondage of self-characterization. Such a thinking is concerned less with the necessity of what is or must be than it is with the immanent possibilities our conceptual categories keep dormant (or worse, repress), and is thus marked by the attention paid to the unthought intensity and excess of self-characterization. In this we become aware of the infinite capacity for new, finite beginnings, and a materialistic/anthropological theology of “a new creation” takes shape.
*It is not merely an anecdotal convenience for one writing about Melville that on several occasions Rancière identifies those denied aesthetic sensibility–what he terms “the demos” (of democracy)–not as slaves but as sailors, and freedom as smelling of salt. Indeed, Rancière asserts that the political project of the classical philosopher, beginning with Plato, has been “an anti-maritime polemic,” in which only the mountains that surrounded Athens protected the city and its politics from the drunken disorder of democracy coming in from the sea: “The sea smells bad. This is not because of the mud, however. The sea smells of sailors, it smells of democracy” (On the Shores of Politics, 1-2). Posted by Brad Johnson itself.wordpress.com

Monday, October 22, 2007

By the blooming, buzzing confusion of literature and artistic creation

TOME RAIDER: Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
By DAVID L. GOLDING Crimson Staff Writer Published On Friday, October 19, 2007 3:21 PM
It is sadly common enough for students of literature who harbor a passion for philosophy to find their curiosity rebuffed by arrogant university departments. Obsessed with their private jargon games, these faculties dismiss other disciplines as dealing with “pseudo-problems” at best and, at worst, fanning the flames of irresponsible politics. But in the late Richard Rorty, we have a philosopher from the analytic tradition who became its Judas, who boldly addressed continental thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud, and Heidegger, and writers like Proust, Yeats, and Nabokov. Most controversially—and most refreshingly—he argued that academic philosophy had become sterile and irrelevant, and that the true function of philosophy, that of continually questioning and redefining the meaning of human life, was best served not by conferences and obscure dissertations but by the blooming, buzzing confusion of literature and artistic creation.
Irony is the essential theme in “Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,” the book in which Rorty makes his most ambitious foray into literature and aesthetics. Nietzsche and Heidegger are his heroes as ironists, historicists, and slayers of metaphysical chimeras, though Rorty takes them to task for exempting themselves from their own exuberant irony. Some historical or ontological apocalypse is always about to unfold for these German Dionysians, but Rorty insists incessantly on his own contingency. He wants us to believe that his words have no more truth than anyone else’s. He is merely changing the subject from two thousand years of dried-up metaphysics; he is talking about more useful and interesting things. Rorty locates the original sin of western philosophy in Plato’s concept of mimesis, the idea that our experience of the world is a more or less opaque manifestation of the real world—which can conveniently only be accessed by philosophers.
Rorty lauds the German Idealists and the Romantic poets for their rejection of external reality, but, in their fetishization and spiritualization of the Self, he sees mere Platonic claptrap. In Rorty’s view, humans and the world have no fixed essence or meaning. Instead, they are in perpetual flux, constantly dissolved and recreated by the language we use to make sense of our experience. Although Rorty extols the great ironist philosophers of the 19th and 20th centuries, he finds them deeply troubling and precarious, precisely because philosophy will always hear the siren song of Truth, the irrepressible desire to be universal. Thus we get Hegel’s “absolute,” Nietzsche’s “will to power,” and Heidegger’s “being.”
For this reason, Rorty believes that philosophy is done best in the context of the novel, because the novel seeks to express solely the contingent. Proust is his ideal, because Proust wanted to create his paradise out of contingency, out of his self alone, and wanted to define himself forever both to stave off oblivion and to prevent other people from defining him in words that were not his own. Rorty compares Nabokov, the author of aesthetic bliss who despised all vulgar political propaganda and “topical trash,” with Orwell, the earnest, morally courageous author of clumsy allegories. He bases his ideal of the “liberal ironist” on this opposition, confronting the unsettling truth that the Nietzschean ethic of self-creation and eternal struggle can often conflict with the liberal politics of J.S. Mill.
Rorty thinks we can have both by keeping the language systems separate. This stringent partition of human nature between public and private, however, comes off as callow. One would be very hard pressed to be an Übermensch over breakfast and a model democrat at the office. Only in a world in which language completely controlled human behavior would his “liberal ironist” paradigm become viable. And this, really, is the book’s serious failing. For no matter how piously Rorty professes his conversion, his mind is still steeped in the twentieth century analytic tradition in which nothing exists besides language, and everything else—God, the self, time, the world—is a diversion for undergraduates scratching their pimples.
Rorty thus misses a fundamental point: novelists do not flee from the lofty abstractions of philosophers to the microcosm of the contingent because they are forsaking the universal, but rather because they believe the contingent is the only true portal into the universal. They believe that the one humdrum Dublin day in the life of a middle-aged, Jewish cuckold who defecates, masturbates, feeds animals, attends a funeral, remembers his dead son, and kisses the ass of his adulterous wife can speak not just to one perverse character’s experience but to the experience of humanity as a whole, across all time and nationality.
As Stephen wanders along the beach in “Ulysses,” he asks himself, “What is the word known to all men?” To Rorty, the answer is that there is none. But the book’s theme, we know, answers the question for us. It is “love,” and it is both universal and contingent. Rorty’s book is an excellent analysis of literature as contingency, but he is still too much of an academic philosopher to understand the flip side of the literary coin. —Staff writer David L. Golding can be reached at dgolding@fas.harvard.edu

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Intellectual dishonesty

On Philosophy October 9, 2007 In Defense Of Metaphilosophy
Filed under: MetaphilosophyPeter @ 12:00 am
Recently I have been doing a great deal of metaphilosophy, philosophical reasoning about the foundations and method of philosophy itself. This is simply a manifestation of the intellectual path that all serious philosophers follow at some point. When everyone first comes to philosophy the problems of philosophy seem relatively easy to solve; most intelligent people, having encountered the problems in other contexts (usually scientific), and already have general ideas as to what the solutions to the problems are, ideas that all hang together and justify each other. As such a person answering philosophical questions is easy, because to defend any claim it is simply necessary to appeal to some of your other beliefs, which are often only a step or two away from justifying the claim. But this isn’t really doing philosophy, it is simply explaining what you believe.
To do philosophy requires the ability to set aside some of your pre-existing beliefs about the answers to philosophical questions, probably a good many of them, and instead attempt to reach an answer grounded only in an appeal to more generally acceptable (or at least “simpler”) beliefs. To create more robust arguments more beliefs are set aside, even beliefs that may be nearly universally shared, in order to demonstrate that the claim is true, not just implied by the consensus. Obviously this can be extended to more and more beliefs until we are left with what may appear to be no beliefs. In such a position we are like Descartes, trying to construct claims that simply must be true. But there is no reason to stop there. We can throw out even more presuppositions by setting aside our customary methods of investigation, such as intuition and deduction. In such a state we are left with nothing and thus cannot establish any claims.
Most people never take the process so far, but they lack compelling reasons for not doing so. Certainly they can’t know at any point that the principles that remain cannot be wrong or shouldn’t be questioned, because the claim that they don’t need to be set aside must follow from some principles (or be unjustified). And clearly no principles can legitimately justify themselves, otherwise we would have to accept every principle that included a clause claiming itself to be correct, and that is absurd. Stopping for practical reasons is also questionable. It may seem that at some point it no longer serves any purpose to set aside our presuppositions, as they may be so widely accepted that we never encounter problems in convincingly establishing our claims on the basis of them. However, the point of setting aside our beliefs was not to become better arguers (I would hope), it was to eliminate the possibility that we were in error and that our errors were blinding us from seeing that error. And the consensus is no guarantee of correctness. Nor is there a guarantee that someone won’t disagree with you, and may even change their mind on these fundamental (and possibly methodological) issues because they are committed to denying the conclusion, and may argue convincingly enough that what was thought to be a solid foundation is now called into doubt. And so if you wish to universally establish your claims you cannot take anything for granted.
One of the tasks of metaphilosophy is to solve this problem. A successful metaphilosophical theory describes the methods by which a philosophical investigation can proceed, as well as any acceptable principles that can be taken for granted. This stops the infinite and insoluble regress of tossing out all of our beliefs one by one by side stepping it completely; the metaphilosophical theory provides the foundation which every philosopher is supposed to accept, and thus allows us to make arguments for philosophical claims that, if made without error, are the closest we can get to the truth, and must be accepted by every philosopher. Of course the metaphilosophical theory itself cannot be extracted from thin air, and how it can be established might very well be considered the primary problem of metaphilosophy.
But not everyone accepts the validity of metaphilosophy. To me however the value of metaphilosophy seems obvious, even if we are unable to produce a metaphilosophical theory (and even if producing one is impossible in principle). Simply consider how the systematic study of the goals and methods of other disciplines helped them improve themselves, to define themselves more clearly, and to better distinguish good work from bad. Why should philosophy be the sole exception? Obviously there is some difficulty involved in a field studying itself, but that doesn’t make the problem impossible to solve, just trickier. However, the most powerful objections to metaphilosophy are simply philosophical mindsets that avoid the need for any metaphilosophical theory. To conclude I will discuss the three most popular ways of avoiding the problem and why they fail.
  • The first way to avoid the problem is to deny that it is philosophy’s role to produce true philosophical theories or claims. Instead, it is said, we are simply to illuminate the connections of ideas, and show that if certain claims are accepted then other claims follow. This fails in two ways. First it leaves the principles of inference, those by which we determine how one claim is connected to another, without justification.
  • Secondly, it makes philosophy a pointless enterprise. If some of the claims in the network of relationships uncovered can be established by some other discipline then there is no need for philosophy and we should just be engaging in that other discipline. But if the claims cannot be established by some other discipline then there is simply no point in detailing how some of them imply the others. Another way to avoid the need for a metaphilosophical theory is to produce intentionally obscure philosophy, philosophy that can be interpreted in a large number of ways (instead of just one). This avoids part of the problem, by producing claims that are acceptable to everyone simply because they are free to interpret them in ways that agree with their existing beliefs. But I cannot stomach this solution because I have some degree of intellectual honesty, and this solution amounts to pretending to produce philosophical claims while really doing nothing of the sort.
  • And finally we come to the third solution, which is simply to deny that there are right and wrong answers in philosophy, but that both sides are right and that the “Truth” (with a capital T) results from a synthesis of both sides.

Again, this approach seem unpalatable to me because it involves a level of intellectual dishonesty, on two levels.

  1. One level of intellectual dishonesty springs from the fact that while many might espouse this theory few actually live by it. Synthesis is fine and good until we come to the positions that those who endorse it care about, at which point suddenly one position on the issue is correct and the other wrong.
  2. The other, more serious, kind of intellectual dishonesty comes from the fact that the theory is not applied to itself. If we were being honest we would synthesize the theory itself with its denial, and that new theory with its denial, and so on. Whatever that supertask yields would be the appropriate philosophical paradigm to operate under. Since they can’t adopt that position proponents of synthesis should accept that other approaches, those that deny synthesis, have equal validity, at which point any outside observer will conclude that by endorsing its opposite synthesis has denied itself.

If Derrida can take a concept from Saussure and use it in a way that makes it his own

Tuesday, October 9, 2007 The Failure of Theory/Philosophy
In response to the recent discussion on Derrida, "differance," and literary theory, I would like to bring up a point of serious contention for me, and that is the language within theory/philosophy. To start off, I would like to quote a favorite author of mine on the topic. His name is Terry Goodkind, and I'm sure some of you have heard of him (he writes fantasy mainly). I have changed some of the wording to make it a bit clearer on how I see this to be relevant.
"When you read about [theory or philosophy] it’s crucially important to keep in mind that those who try to make it so complex as to be impenetrable to the “lay mind” have a motive for clouding their views: those views won’t stand up to the light of reason...Some [theorists or philosophers] use big words [or abstract concepts] to try to make their beliefs sound scholarly and important or, worse, to hide the fact that their beliefs don’t make any sense. [One should not] ever allow such people to bully you with their attempts to make philosophy impossibly complex, or intimidate you into accepting what they say."
Bearing this in mind, why is it that some theorists or philosophers are quite clear and succinct in their explanation, where others fail so miserably? Derrida in my opinion is arguably one of the most confusing theorists to read, and yet so much of post-structuralist thought stems from his ideas of differance, and Saussure's signifier and signified. The purpose of language is to be understood and to communicate one's ideas. If your thesis isn't clear in a paper, or your professor does not understand what you are talking about, your grade suffers. If a politician stands up in a debate or conference, and, like Kerry, "bungles" a joke or a concept, serious negative response can, and likely will, follow. Where do theorists fit in with this? It seems to me that somehow they escape the necessity for clarity in writing. Why?
I think perhaps Goodkind may be on to something, when he suggests that theorists and philosophers can't make themselves clear and use complex concepts to hide what will not hold up. I don't know that it is necessarily true that a theorist would do this deliberately (at least I would hope not!), but I do think there is a reason behind this obfuscation. It may suggest that the theorist himself does not fully understand the concept he is supposed to be enlightened with! If he is not able to explain it clearly, what is the point in suggesting it at all? I would much rather have a theorist admit that it is difficult to explain such a concept, and then concede that the best way he can think of to explain it is by some example. Instead, you have some theorists/philosophers who continue on in their discussion as though it were the most clear and apparent thing in the world. This cavalier attitude allows the theorist/philosopher an "untouchable" status--if one does not understand the concept, then one must be unenlightened or unable to understand it--and almost puts the blame on the reader, instead of the writer, for failing to comprehend the theory.
"Well, that's all great and everything, Steve, but what are you suggesting?"
I'd say that the best way to continue exploring theory and criticism is to just go with what you understand, or the parts that we understand. If we are unable to grasp a concept purported by a theorist/philosopher, the blame is most honestly placed at the feet of the "expressor", not the reader. I think of it this way--if subscribers to a particular school have a hard time explaining a topic advocated by the founder, it probably wasn't that clear or well explained. We can only do our best, take what we can get from it, and then move on to the next bit. After all, if Derrida can take a concept from Saussure and use it in a way that makes it his own, we can do the same with what we do understand. Posted by Steve at 6:26 AM

The indeterminable space where baldness begins and hairiness ends

Vagueness, and the philosophy behind it
Zoe Young Issue date: 10/10/07 Home > Features
If we were to meet a bald man named Harry who had very few, if any, hairs on his head, we would be right to call him bald, the professors explain. If we then met a man with a full head of hair - let's call him Really Hairy Harry - we would be right in saying that he had hair.
Vagueness is the margin between Bald Harry and Really Hairy Harry, the indeterminable space where baldness begins and hairiness ends. How many hairs do we have to yank from Really Hairy Harry's head before we can say that he's going bald? Well, that's a bit vague. Explaining this "naughty paradox" is the mission of professors Crispin Wright and Stephen Schiffer, two men who are also concerned with just how many definite concepts go into understanding the confusing philosophy of vagueness. The professors are leading a seven-week graduate class entitled "The Philosophy of Language: Theories of Vagueness."
Wright and Schiffer are at the front of their field regarding vagueness and their expertise is very attractive to the philosophy community. Of the 20 to 30 members of the class, a third of them are professors who hail from NYU or neighboring Ivy League schools. "We always worry about the level of actual student participation," Schiffer said. The class discussion is very intense - a heated dispute will erupt over something as trivial as whether a dash is necessary after a P in a diagram. But not surprisingly, no one argues as much as Wright and Schiffer, whose expert shouting matches set a high standard.
"Philosophy is about argumentation," Schiffer said. Wright added: "It's for [those] with an intellectual affliction." By teaching the class together, the professors have the benefit of building their own divergent perspectives into the curriculum. But on a very lucky day, they might agree. "Our ideas differ at the root, but they have the same conclusion," Wright said. "Stephen thinks he knows that the views we discuss are false.""And Crispin thinks you can't assume that Harry is bald," Schiffer said. Zoe Young is a contributing writer. E-mail her at features@nyunews.com

Late Husserlian concept of freedom is ‘hazy’

Alexei Says: October 15, 2007 at 11:40 am Interesting discussion, as always, Sinthome. I’m tempted to respond in (late) Husserlian terms:
  • Isn’t ‘freedom’ a theme or horizon in and through which we establish, and re-activate the sense of our world?
  • that is, isn’t the concept of freedom something that’s necessarily ‘hazy,’ since it is not a determinate object (in the sense of Gegenstand), but precisely that guiding ideal, that Telos, which is always being re-negotiated and transformed by our engagements with a world via the development of thinking?
  • Isn’t it expressed in the cultural object we have produced?
  • And, since a Telos arises out of a given cultural formation (an objektivitaet), which is itself the product of previous performances, Might the problematic of ‘Freedom,’ not mark the very problematization of intentionality itself — i.e., that what was intended and what was actualized are not identical, and hence require further effort to distill the spontaneous potentials that ‘inhere’ within the sediment of history, within the world for us?
larvalsubjects Says: October 15, 2007 at 12:27 pm Not only were you tempted to respond in late Husserlian fashion, but I think you did respond in late Husserlian fashion! I think one of the traps of this question lies in conceiving freedom as an eternally abiding attribute of beings such as ourselves, rather than as a situated product of situations, as you describe here.

Husserl has solved one half of the problem

From: rimina mohapatra riminamohapatra@gmail.com Date: 23-Aug-2007 21:10 Subject: Wednesday Seminar: September 5, 2007 To: seminar_in_charge_du@yahoo.com
My paper is titled:
'Confronting the Problem of Correspondence in Edmund Husserl's Idea of Phenomenology'
The two central problems of knowledge that Husserl deals with in the Idea of Phenomenology — that of transcendence and of correspondence — can be fundamentally restated in terms of the distinction between the two types of immanence and transcendence. Further, this mode of distinction has a role to play in retaining the two discrete types of problem with knowledge. As long as Husserl retains the distinction between the two [which in fact has helped him solve one half of the problem: that of transcendence], the problem of correspondence seems, on the face, persistently unresolved and also resolute. How do the two problems relate? The solution to one is entwined with the intractable problem of the other. Rimina Mohapatra

Deleuze, Badiou, Henry, Laruelle

from Nick at the accursed share
Following John Mullarkey’s Post-Continental Philosophy, we can describe Deleuze, Badiou, Henry and Laruelle as thinkers of immanence. To this list we could add Žižek, who, like Badiou, seeks to discern the gaps within immanence. The problem faced by all these thinkers, on a political level, is how to determine the possibility of true revolution without, however, falling into what Daniel Bensaid has called “the miracle of the event” (TA 94). Potentials

Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Patočka, Nancy

I think a careful reading of the phenomenologists of embodiment (Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Patočka) would show that their conceptions of the body are praxiological in key respects, are neither subjective nor objective, and tend to be existential. But where they would recognize a distinction between the body as object and the body as it is lived, Nancy has a distinction between the existence of the body and the body. Is Nancy's formulation simple and elegant, or is it a kind of metaphysical trickery? If we want to appreciate its elegance we need to be mindful of all that Nancy has said about existence. That's a dizzying prospect. Here's a start: once existence neither precedes nor follows essence, but precisely "lies in," that is constitutes essence, then,

"Freedom can no longer be either 'essential' or 'existential,' but is implicated in the chiasmus of these concepts: we have to consider what makes existence, which is in its essence abandonded to a freedom, free for this abandonment, offered to it and available in it" (p. 9).

Nancy's topic is freedom, and to mind the chiasmus of existence and essence we can't ignore this; however, the idea of the persistence of the existence of the body as a free force strikes me as similar to a concept of the soul, an existential soul, but precisely a soul. And though I am unsure of exactly what Nancy thinks about the soul, I wonder whether his ontological materialism is a materialism solely of living organisms who maintain a transcendental relationship to "dead" matter, or, indeed, whether it is a materialism only of those who are born. Nancy says, cryptically, that "all existence is new, in its birth and in its death to the world" (p. 11). What does death matter to an existence that is always and forever new?
Does an ontological materialism for which "dead" matter ceases to matter warrant being called a materialism? It is a kind of dynamism, which may be implied in materialism but doesn't itself necessarily imply materialism. It is significant, I think, that Nancy chooses to come down on the side of materialism, and that he sees exteriority and resistance as material properties. I ask myself whether Maine de Biran was a materialist, and the question seems unduly limiting. For all I can tell, Nancy's ontological materialism could also be a materialism of the soul.
I remind you, dear reader, that I am agnostic about animism and other doctrines of the soul, and ignorant of theology, though of course I have some curiousities. So, sticking with Nancy's terms, I am being asked to believe in freedom and to believe in its chiasmatic relation to existence and essence, concepts which might also require some belief. The question for me though is not quite one of belief, but of what kind of commitment I should have to freedom even though I don't fully understand it. What kind of commitment does an ontological materialism call for?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Zizek is one hundred eighty degrees wrong about Hegel's "the Absolute"

Slowly moving through the preface to For they know not what they do. Continuing to be disappointed with how badly Zizek mishandles Hegel. From page xliv:
Hegel has nothing to do with such a pseudo-Hegelian vision (espoused by some conservative Hegelians like Bradley and McTaggart) of society as an organic harmonious Whole, within which each member asserts his or her "equality" with others through performing his or her particular duty, occupying his or her particular place, and thus contributing to the harmony of the Whole. For Hegel, on the contrary, the "transcendent world of formlessness" (in short: the Absolute) is at war with itself; this means that (self-)destructive formlessness (absolute, self-negating negativity) must appear as such in the realm of finite reality. The point of Hegel's notion of the revolutionary Terror [in the Phenomenology] is precisely that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom.
We correct: Bradley (and the British Idealists generally) were not bad readers of Hegel when it came to political philosophy. (Robert Stern's paper on the British Idealists and the "concrete universal" is excellent, here.)
Hegel was very much concerned, from his student days up through his mature System, with the possibility of life in a society as a harmonious existence, of being reconciled to the world and to one's life in it. Early-on, this takes the form of a Romantic idolization of Greek life as a sort of naturliche Harmonie; by the point of his Jena writings, Hegel had already become critical of this tendency in the thought of his contemporaries. (Holderlin, who had been Schelling & Hegel's roommate at the seminary in Tubingen, is a fine example of this tendency; the Greece of Holderlin's Griechenland is a heap of Romantic claptrap.) Hegel came to the conclusion that the sort of thoughtlessly harmonious existence the Greek citizen was held to have had with his city was impossible after the inward turn of Christianity, the rise of civil society, the dawn of the Enlightenment, republican ideas in politics, etc. -- natural harmony was incompatible with the idea that "man is and ought to be free".
If a modern man was to be reconciled to his world, then it could only be through a moralische Harmonie, a harmony which was not merely given but which was comprehended in thought; a man had to not merely be an harmonious part of his society, but had to recognize this harmony, had to comprehend his own existence (including what is most "inward" and private for him, such as his feelings & religious sentiments) as being integrated with the whole of life. The bulk of Hegel's criticisms of his contemporary society make the complaint that it does not make sufficient allowance for this reconciliation to become possible; the life of private individuals is too abstract from the affairs of the state (or the church, or various other social organizations), or else the state (or the church, or various other social organizations) does not make sufficient allowance for the free self-determination of individual actors to do as they judge best. Hegel does not think that moralische Harmonie is impossible; on the contrary, the possibility of this harmony is the highest achievement of modern civilization (and its philosophical handmaiden, Hegel's System, is directed towards helping this Harmonie come about more fully). This is the "end of History": with modernity Spirit knows its world as its own product, comprehends what is given to it as always already implicitly Spirit, as capable of being rationally comprehended, and the social world of "Objective Spirit" is a place where Spirit can feel "at home with itself in its other", where the individual peculiarities of a particular subject are recognized as determinations of the "universal" of society, and not something over and against it.
Zizek is one hundred eighty degrees wrong about Hegel's "the Absolute": it is not a nihil, a "transcendent world of formlessness", or any other ding-an-sich-like transcendence. Hegel's Absolute is not the Schellingian "night in which all cows are black"; the Absolute is the most contentful thing there is. The Absolute is a concrete universal; it has its being, its truth, only in the particular determinations ("moments") which make up Hegel's system -- those which make up the triad of Logic, Nature, and Spirit. The Absolute is not "at war with itself"; the Absolute particularizes itself in the asunderness of nature and returns to unity with itself in the reconciliation of asunderness with unity. To put it in religious terms, the Father begets the Son, and they are united in the Spirit of charity which proceeds from both; God creates a "fallen" world of disorder, enters into it in His only Son, and the world is reconciled to God through the life of the Spirit; the sinful individual, separated from God, becomes an adopted child of God in the community of the Spirit. The Absolute does not wage war in the divine comedy.The "absolute, self-negating negativity" of the Terror is a moment of history, just as the Fall of Adam is a moment in the Christian story of salvation-history.
For Hegel, the Terror is an exemplar of the "abstract universal": in "absolute freedom" one refuses to recognize any "given" content as adequate to the universal, to Reason, --thus the purely formal "Supreme Being" of the French Revolution, and its trumpeting of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" while the actual state was rank tyranny of the lowest sort. The "point" of Hegel's reference to the Terror is not "that it is a necessary moment in the deployment of freedom" (for this would apply to everything Hegel includes in his System), but that the Terror shows what happens when the drive for the Universal in human life takes a utopian form, trying to build everything up anew out of pure thought rather than recognizing and cultivating what is already rational in human life. The Terror of "absolute freedom" occurs in the Phenomenology at the close of the section on the Enlightenment, which is also the section on Pietism -- on faith and reason, so to speak. The Terror is just the flip-side of theocracy; in theocracy subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is what is given from On High; in the Terror subjectivity has no voice because the only source of value is abstract "Reason". It was thus prescient of the French revolutionaries to build a temple to the idol of Reason, for this is what they viewed it as: a god to replace the unreasonable Christian one... Posted by Daniel at 10:08 PM Labels: , , 2 comments:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just one long sentence of 16 lines loaded with far-reaching occult connotations

Book of Fate—Narad shares identity with the dumb spirit
by RY Deshpande on Tue 16 Oct 2007 05:17 PM PDT Permanent Link
[Based on a talk given at Savitri Bhavan on 13 April 2006—Part III. A good deal of material presented here has been drawn from my book Narad’s Arrival at Madra.]
Let us go back to the passage describing Narad undergoing the spiritual-material transition while he is on his way to the earth. He is employing the Sankhya process to effect this difficult transition. In its unfolding it looks swift, and is dense, just one long sentence of 16 lines loaded with far-reaching occult connotations. The passage runs as follows:

Below him circling burned the myriad suns:
He bore the ripples of the etheric sea;
A primal Air brought the first joy of touch;
A secret Spirit drew its mighty breath,
Contracting and expanding this huge world
In its formidable circuit through the Void;
The secret might of the creative fire
Displayed its triple power to build and form,
Its infinitesimal wave-sparks’ weaving dance,
Its nebulous units grounding shape and mass,
Magic foundation and pattern of a world,
Its radiance bursting into the light of stars;
He felt a sap of life, a sap of death;
Into solid Matter's dense communion
Plunging and its obscure oneness of forms
He shared with a dumb Spirit identity.

We have here the five classical elements appearing in rapid succession: Ether-Air-Fire- Water- Earth, or in their Sanskrit names Akash-Vayu-Agni-Apas-Prithvi. These are the well-known five ancient irreducibles of Matter, panchamahābhūtas, the Five Great Elements, fundamental elements, but not to be confused with what modern chemistry understands as elements. There are quite a few Vedic descriptions associated with these five elements, and they show that their character is more of the subtle kind than the gross. The five qualities related with these five great elements are, respectively: Sound-Contact-Form-Fluidity-Solidness, in Sanskrit Shabda-Sparsha-Roopa-Rasa-Gandha.

We might read this Vedic description of the elements along with the description we have in the Puranas. Thus in the Vishnu Purana, Vishnu is depicted in five luminous forms, each form corresponding to one of the five elements. Their names are: Vasudeva-Sankarshana- Pradyumna-Aniruddha-Narayana, related to Akash-Vayu-Agni-Apas-Prithvi. The associated objects Vishnu carries in his hands are: Conch-Discus-Mace-Lotus-Globe, Shankha-Chakra- Gada-Padma-Prithvi. The first four are in the four hands of the Cosmic Godhead and the fifth, Prithvi or Earth, or Globe, is between his two feet.

With these five elements of Matter there is also the Greek association, linking them with the five Platonic solids: Ether = Dodecahedron; Air = Octahedron; Fire = Tetrahedron; Water = Icosahedron; Earth = Cube.

There exists an extensive study with respect to these five elements in spiritual, occult, religious, and many secular disciplines. But let me take just one example, from Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book III. It belongs to the story of creation as given in it, the story narrated by a deep theological mind. In it Uriel narrates to Satan how, at the command of the Creator, arose out of Confusion the great World-Order:

I saw when at his Word the formless Mass,
This world’s material mould, came to a heap:
Confusion heard his voice, and wilde uproar
Stood rul’d, stood vast infinitude confin’d;
Till at his second bidding darkness fled,
Light shon, and order from disorder sprung:
Swift to their several Quarters hasted then
The cumbrous Elements, Earth, Flood, Aire, Fire,
And this Ethereal quintessence of Heav’n
Flew upward, spirited with various forms,
That rowld orbicular, and turned to Starrs
Numberless, as thou seest, and how they move;
Each had his place appointed, each his course,
The rest in circuit walles this Universe.

Well, this is a fine poetic account of the Sankhya metaphysics, but what about the process by which the material creation came into existence, process which can give us a handle to grapple the issue of materialisation itself? But here is Narad who knows it, the mechanism, even as he adapts it for his present purpose, to visit Aswapati in a gross physical body. Materialisation of the spiritual is a mystery to us yet we can get some idea of it from what Sri Aurobindo has explained in a number of contexts. He has given the details in quite a few places, in Essays on the Gita, The Life Divine, in his writings on the Upanishads, in the Letters, and in fact in Savitri on several occasions. But let us read what he has written in his commentary on the Kena Upanishad. He writes:
…vibration of conscious being is presented to itself by various forms of sense which answer to the successive operations of movement in its assumption of form. For first we have intensity of vibration creating regular rhythm which is the basis or constituent of all creative formation; secondly, contact or intermiscence of the movements of conscious being which constitute the rhythm; thirdly, definition of the grouping of movements which are in contact, their shape; fourthly, the constant welling up of the essential force to support in its continuity the movement that has been thus defined; fifthly, the actual enforcement and compression of the force in its own movement which maintains the form that has been assumed. In Matter these five constituent operations are said by the Sankhyas to represent themselves as five elemental conditions of substance, the etheric, atmospheric, igneous, liquid and solid; and the rhythm of vibration is seen by them as Shabda, sound, the basis of hearing, the intermiscence as contact, the basis of touch, the definition as shape, the basis of sight, the upflow of force as Rasa, sap, the basis of taste, and the discharge of the atomic compression as Gandha, odour, the basis of smell. It is true that this is only predicated of pure or subtle Matter; the physical matter of our world being a mixed operation of force, these five elemental states are not found there separately except in a very modified form.

In an interview with Pavitra, dated 8 May 1926, Sri Aurobindo explains as follows:
In the West the higher minds are not turned towards spiritual truth but towards material science. The scope of science is very narrow: it touches only the most exterior part of the physical plane. And even there, what does science really know? It studies the functioning of the laws, edificates theories ever renewed and each time held up as the last word of truth! We had recently the atomic theory, now comes the electronic!

According to the experience of ancients Yogis, sensible matter was made out of five elements, bhūtāni: Prithvi, Apas, Agni (Tejas), Vayu, Akasha.

Agni is threefold:
  • ordinary fire, Jala Agni,
  • electric fire, Vaidyuta Agni,
  • solar fire, Saura Agni.

Science only entered upon the first and the second of these fires. The fact that the atom is alike the solar system could it lead it to the knowledge of the third. Beyond Agni is Vayu of which science knows nothing. It is the support of all contact and exchange, the cause of gravitation and of the fields (magnetic and electric). By it, the action of Agni, the formal element, builder of forms, is made possible. And beyond Vayu is the ether, Akasha. But these constitute only the grossest part of the physical plane. Immediately behind is the physical-vital, the element of life buried in matter. J. C. Bose is contacting this element in his experiment. Beyond is the mind of matter. This mind has a far different form than the human mind, still it is a manifestation of the same principle of organisation. And deep below there are two more hidden layers… That is the occult knowledge concerning the physical plane only. Science is far behind this knowledge… Apas is the element that makes life possible—the desire which is the source of life—Agni is the element which renders form possible and Prithvi is the compacting element which concretises.

But how does Narad work out the spiritual to material alchemy? He does it by exercising his spiritual will. We have to understand that there can be different agents entering into the play. There can be mental will, vital, or even physical will. There can be the will of the being of knowledge, of the spiritual self; it could be a free soul’s will. Each has its characteristic form, with each will; each has its own functional role, its own modus operandi. The Avatar uses his supreme Will and comes here by projecting his higher Prakriti into the lower. A free being can prepare a form or body using his spiritual will. Narad is one such. But in all the cases the five great elements, panchamahābhūtas, are the basic ingredients of the bodily existence. There is replication of the grand process by which the Spirit becomes Matter, attains communion with it. Narad’s godly form, daivīrūpam, has now become the form of man, manuşyarūpam. This is the form in which he makes his entry into the palace hall.

I think, we may quickly look here into another aspect, the aspect related to the Mother’s work. She made an important discovery which she disclosed on 1 July 1970. She told that it is the psychic being which will materialise itself and become the supramental being. It is the psychic being which survives death. So, if it materialises itself, it means the abolition of death. The Mother’s new body was aimed at that. Perhaps that is the process. Now it is the New Body which will do whatever is to be done. It is not an inert lump of matter; it is charged with luminous dynamism of the Divine. It is going to exert pressure upon the material in the evolutionary process.

There are other aspects also, aspects of the Chakras or the centres of occult energy in the subtle-physical body. Man is presently endowed with seven Chakras only. But two Chakras below the feet and three above his head have yet to get formed and become operative. This is what the Mother was told by Théon. It was her experience too. For these Chakras to come into operation, it is necessary to do another type of occult-spiritual yoga-tapasya. It is only then that the physical can respond to the working of the higher consciousness-force. This indeed became the main thrust of the Mother’s yoga-tapasya during the last fifteen years or so of her work.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Verstand for Hegel involves division and distinction

2007.10.06 Philosophy of Mind
G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, W. Wallace and A. V. Miller (trans.), Michael Inwood (introduction and commentary), Oxford University Press, 2007, 680pp., $160.00 (hbk), ISBN 019929951X. Reviewed by Sebastian Rand, Georgia State University
Michael Inwood's major revision of the Wallace and Miller translation of Hegel's Philosophy of Mind is a welcome addition to the English-language Hegel library. It comes at a crucial moment, when Hegel is being reconsidered by many philosophers in the English-speaking world, and this particular Hegelian text ought to be -- and now can be -- central to that reconsideration. While there are some questionable choices made in the translation itself, it is a definite and significant step forward. Inwood has also added an extensive commentary (longer by a third than Hegel's own text) which is informative and often helpful.
The Philosophy of Mind is the final part of Hegel's Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline. In the last century or so of Hegel scholarship, the Encyclopedia has played a relatively minor role, despite the fact that it lays out the mature form of Hegel's system as that system was taught by Hegel himself (he wrote the Encyclopedia as the basis for his lectures). It has been largely overshadowed by other texts: the Phenomenology of Spirit and the Science of Logic dominated 20th-century discussion of Hegel, while the Philosophy of Right has recently attracted a good deal of attention.
The roots of this canonical situation can be found in the content of the Encyclopedia itself. It is divided into three parts: the Logic, the Philosophy of Nature, and the Philosophy of Mind. The first is essentially a short version of the material presented in great detail in the Science of Logic; the Encyclopedia Logic has thus played second fiddle to the Science of Logic. The Philosophy of Nature is normally taken to present a misguided attempt to deduce the laws and structure of nature from a priori principles; this part of Hegel's system has been widely (and wrongly) scorned since his death...
The most important effect of such changes is that we now have an edition of the Philosophy of Mind in English that allows us to follow closely the twists and turns of Hegel's thought in relation to some of the central questions animating current Hegel scholarship, as well as many of the central questions making Hegel interesting to contemporary philosophers in both the analytic and continental traditions.
  • What are we saying when we ascribe to someone a free will?
  • What is the connection between our embodiedness and our mindedness?
  • Must we, indeed can we, understand our embodiedness -- and perhaps also our mindedness -- only in natural-scientific terms?
  • Is a purely descriptive philosophy of mind possible, or even desirable?
  • To what extent is Hegel a Kantian, to what extent a "post-Kantian," and
  • to what extent is he attempting to reanimate rationalist metaphysics?

The Encyclopedia in general gets much of its importance from being the unified presentation of material that is indeed also presented in an isolated fashion elsewhere, and the Philosophy of Mind is the part of the Encyclopedia that includes the systematic answers to such questions. Without a clear view of, e.g., Hegel's understanding of "subjective spirit," its relation to what Kant called "practical philosophy" (subsumed by Hegel under "objective spirit"), and its relation to our status as natural beings, his answers to these questions simply cannot be understood; but such a clear view cannot be gained by means of the previously available translations of the Philosophy of Mind. Thus Inwood's edition is welcome and timely.
That said, there are some curious choices made by Inwood in the translation as a whole -- choices which he does not clearly and forcefully justify. For instance, Inwood warns us in a footnote to his "Introduction" (p. xi note 8) that he will be translating the German "Verstand" as "intellect," though it is normally translated in the Idealist context as "understanding." He gives three reasons for this choice:

  • first, the use of "intellect" for "Verstand" allows the use of "intellectual" for "verstandig," whereas, presumably, no such closely related adjective exists for "understanding;"
  • second, Verstand for Hegel involves division and distinction, whereas "understanding" in English connotes agreement and sympathy;
  • third, the Kantian (and hence Hegelian) distinction between Verstand and Vernunft is meant to mirror the medieval distinction between intellectus and ratio.

Such are the advantages of "intellect" as a translation for "Verstand." Here are some of the disadvantages, none of which are mentioned by Inwood: we lose the connection with other good translations of Hegel, and with the standard translations of Kant, which consistently use "understanding" for "Verstand;" we lose the engagement between the German use of "Verstand" and the English use of "understanding" in Locke, Hume, and others, as well as related terms in other languages (e.g., Leibniz's "entendement"), all of which can plausibly be said to be in play in the Idealist context; we lose the specific impact of Hegel's use of "Intelligenz," since it no longer stands out for its rootedness in the Latin "intellectus;" and we lose the connection between "understanding" and the verb "to understand" (which Inwood does use for "verstehen," but also occasionally for "erkennen"). The disadvantages in this case appear to outweigh the advantages; it is unfortunate that Inwood does not address these issues directly.