Monday, December 10, 2007

Levinas was the greatest ethical thinker of the later 20th century

Let’s start with some excellent questions Michael Schwartz asked:
(1) Might Derrida be an “indeterminist” in the sense articulated, with great depth, in Lonergan’s tomb Insight? Lonergan’s treatise on human cognition, its stages and the like, is difficult to summarize effectively, especially as I am currently in the middle of deep study of this text. Basically, Lonergan sees a complex non-systematic (but by no means arbitrary) ground of being as replacing an earlier determinist view of this ground; where this non-systematic ground sustains authentically systematic schemas and all sorts of novelty, and all in a dance of possibilities, probabilities, and concrete actualities. (This nuanced, fleshed out view, by the way, is in some ways close to Wilber’s post-metaphysics, or so I sense.) Lonergan contrasts this fleshed out view of a post-determinist view of cognition with a thinner indeterminist view that mainly negates the determinist view. It is not so much that the indeterminist view is necessarily relativistic, but that it is weak or thin in accounting for matters like development, systematicity , and more. Is such the case with Derrida?
(2) The deconstruction of binary oppositions, their sliding into each other disrupting categorical tidiness and semantic determinism (while doing so beyond a simple one-step negation or slippage), is interesting, of course, as it must turn on the empirical evidence supplied in the reading of specific texts. The question remains: how prevalent are such binary slidings? What degree is there is such sliding throughout a given body of text? Paul de Man, I believe in the opening of his book Allegories of Reading (but I could be forgetting), said something to the effect that deconstruction is not claiming that terms like “night” and “day” in their ordinary usage always already slide into each other making clear use of the terms impossible. Given this view, how pervasive then are such slidings of these oppositions?, and in general how forceful are they?
(3) A related question is raised in an extraordinary footnote, number 65, in Charles Spinosa’s contribution “Derrida and Heidegger: Iterability and Ereignis” to Heidegger: A Critical Reader, 1992, pp. 296-297. The gist of the note is that Derrida focuses on the margins of texts to discover the breakdown situations (in the Heideggerian sense) in linguistic practice that are the exception and not the norm in our everyday interactions and dealings, with Derrida going on to read these breakdowns in the margins back into linguistic practice as a whole and therefore as the norm for linguistic practice. (In this is so, in light of Lonergan’s view, it would entail a failure to differentiate a number of distinct cognitive activities while conflating those of possibility and probability.)
(4) Why are we here right now interested in Derrida within integral circles? Is it his challenge to formalist thinking as too deterministic from an integral perspective? How about the related thread here on Wilber as being more formalist than one might gather? On the latter theme let me suggest that there is a current gap between integral theory and the integral use of that theory – that Wilber’s version of the theory seems to me to be thoroughly and profoundly second tier (and third tier at that); but the collective habits of using AQAL, of enacting the perspectives and methods, are not yet fully post-formal — readily and understandably prompting one to question if the theory itself is post-formal enough. (Here too let us not be confused by the AQAL graph as image – as images are only a heuristic device that point us into more complex cognitive operations where the image is left behind — again, Lonergan is excellent on this distinction and on the use of images thereof.)
(5) In other words, what is the value of Derrida’s practice for integral practice? Are our exchanges here only about Derrida and deconstruction; for they do not seem to readily perform deconstruction, that is, our language games do not seem to be those that Derrida performs. How valuable is Derrida’s language game then in the end for integralism? – I am thinking here of Rorty’s remarks in the collection Deconstruction and Pragmatism that, within his instrumental view of language, his looking for a vocabulary that is helpful with this or that ethical or political task – which goes to the heart of Derrida’s later work (see below) – does not in the end find Derrida’s language practices very helpful. Here too I recall an essay by two graduate students published in the journal Critical Theory (during the 1980s) on the vacuity and impotence of Derrida’s language (from those days, in any case) for actual political thinking and action – an essay forceful enough to prompt Derrida to respond to two students, but in my recollection without clearly countering their charge. Again, I am raising these issues and pointing to these earlier discussions in light of presenting questions about Derrida.
(6) Finally, I still miss sensitivity to Derrida’s larger body of writings, and their “ethical turn” in the later 1980s — I refer here to my contribution on this topic from a Zaadz thread on “Is Ken right about Derrida?”: Quote:
“Rather than offer an answer to the thread’s question directly (let me say in passing that I think that the drift of Ken’s views of Derrida are not wrong), I want to point to Derrida’s writings themselves – since without his texts as a touchstone we risk becoming abstract in our claims – and especially to his writings starting c1990 when he began to make assertions that startled many of his earlier American deconstructionist followers, claims (more complex than I am expounding) like the one that: justice is undeconstructable.
“What is apparent in these texts is a kind of “ethical turn” – one inspired by Derrida’s friend and, in many ways, silent mentor: Emmanuel Levinas (Derrida delivered the eulogy at Levinas’s funeral, for which see the brief and beautiful opening essay in Adieu; and to be sure his reputation in Parisian intellectual circles began with “Violence and Metaphysics,” his 1964 review essay of Levinas’s first magnus opus, Totality and Infinity).
“In my opinion Levinas was the greatest recent philosopher of the Infinite Thou: God in the 2nd person (cf. the 1-2-3 of Spirit practice) breaking into the order of beings, always already calling us to responsibility for the Other. Said too bluntly, his work is a deep and radical reframing of Buber’s view of the I-Thou (the latter about which Ken speaks with so much brilliance and luminosity, I must add).
“Derrida, in his later writings, is often Levinasian, or Levinas-inspired. He explores “the Good beyond Being” (a Platonic phrase often cited by Levinas) through themes like “welcoming,” “hospitality,” “mourning,” and “the messianic’ as these themes are analyzed as complexly constituting the ethical relation to the Other.”
Our deliberations in these discussions of postmodernism’s importance for integralism are mostly centered on dialectics and cognitive schemas (all supremely valuable) – and too postmodernism had much to say about ethics, and did so in often creative ways: the ethical background of Rorty’s pragmatism as a sensitivity to human suffering; Levinas who for many was the greatest ethical thinker of the later 20th century; the later work of Derrida with its Levinasian soundings; Lyotard’s notion of the “differend”; Foucault’s notion of “ethics” and the care for the self and others; the ethical motivations of Deleuze and Guattari on capitalism, as explicated by Foucault in his introduction to the English translation of Capitalism and Schizophrenia; Habermas’s communicative ethics; and not to mention all the discourses of working to de-marginalize marginalized voices and perspectives, e.g., feminism, post-colonialism, etc. (however much resentiment often lingers in the shadowed background of these discourses).
And then Wilber’s “post-postmodern” version of integral theory is, in the end, presented as a skillful means, a “method” of compassion in the Mahayana sense, hence a tool in the hands of Agape. So might I ask: ethics anyone? (My favorite current book on this topic is Robert Gibbs’s Why Ethics?) Light, Michael Schwartz Augusta, GA

1 comment:

  1. Here is a profound ethical statement.

    "Love IS the moment to moment Enactment, or Self-Radiation of The Intrinsically Self-Evident Principle of Prior Unity.

    Love IS Non-exclusiveness--or Perfect Indivisibility and Perfect Inclusiveness.

    Love IS The Inherent, and, thus, moment to moment Transcending of ego-"I"--or separate and separative "self", or the inherently divisive "self"-dramatization of "point of view".

    Love IS The Inherent and The active Relinquishment of the separation and "objectification" of "self" and "other".

    Love IS The Boundless Self-Radiance--or egoless Self-Magnification of The Root-Current of the heart (Which IS The Self-Energy of Reality Itself).

    Love IS The Universal Self-Radiance of the all-and-All Including and all-and-All Transcending Self-Nature, Self-Condition, and Self-State That IS Reality Itself.

    Therefore, in the plane of human "world", love IS the Intrinsically Self-Evident--or By-Reality-Itself-Revealed-- "self"-Discipline of Cooperation, Tolerance, and Peace."