to a friend on “spirituality beyond religion and reductive science”:
I am attempting to do so something like this in the book I have been researching for years but have just this week really figured out, thanks to some great researchers out there. The conceptual context you are familiar with–based on stuff we have talked about in the “alternative” science field; but the language I am focusing on comes from complexity theory. The three key books for me are Mae Wan Ho’s Rainbow and the Worm, Complexity and the Social Sciences by Byrne and Callaghan, and Fractal Time by Suzie Vrobel.
One of the key concepts is “phase’ which is used in complexity/systems thinking to talk about all emergent phenomenon, as in “phase space”. Reductive science has no way of conceiving of even normal emergent-higher complexity organization. While the complexity turn in theory, of which I think both post-modern philosophy and post-classical physics/ quantum theory were both discovering though not understanding, is able to understand even what normally are considered “spiritual” forces, beings, the soul, etc. through looking at those resonant connections that depend on the very “real” power that ordered systems have to create their own space/time. These aspects are measurable, but not without a coherent relationship between subject and object. All “higher” order emerges or more properly, incarnates, as the subject of a reciprocal relationship with the object, which is merely the repressed denominator, which is its carrier wave. The carrier wave is always the conjugation of certain waves in the right proportions that allow for a complex system to develop as a vehicle for the higher order process to animate.
A detailed theory of physics and chemistry was worked out decades ago using this logic of conjugate opposites called Reciprocal Systems Theory developed by Dewey Larson and extended by others using the Steiner tradition’s Projective geometry in what they call RS2. The language they use is what Corey Goode uses when he speaks of time/space as opposed to space/time(Goode says the secret space program uses the RA material as a primer which was written by a Larson enthusiast), which is one of the basic reciprocal distinctions. But the relationship between different systems is what requires the concept of phase and in my mind serves as the missing link between all sciences and systems of reality and it is what mainstream science already uses when studying open systems. And even in reductive physics the phase wave is the imaginary component that is right there in the equations but they tend to ignore because they are closing the system.
This is difficult stuff to summarize here, but I think I am writing a book that will make it seem poetic, intuitive and meaningful. And it isn’t to say physics terms should replace religious terms but I think we are fast approaching an age where these things are becoming known in more concrete technical ways that can put religion, gods, aliens in a context that makes sense to contemporary people.
Spring 2015 (to “X”)
This all sounds very interesting. I am afraid I know very little about astrology, but I plan on learning much more in the coming years. I have Dane Rudhyar’s collected works on my kindle. But I am a bit daunted by the complexity. I also want to learn acupuncture with similar trepidation. All of which is a backdrop to my more central concerns of developing theory for esoteric science. There is much to learn and more being discovered everyday.
Right now I am reading Robert Lawlor’s latest book, Geometry at the End of Time, which I am very excited about, and also a book by Charles Muses on Chronotopology. I was introduced to Muses’ work recently by a Sundance customer who was his student and roommate in the 70’s and who has extended his work on hypernumbers. I am pretty far from being able to understand hypernumbers or even some of the biophysics stuff from Mae Wan Ho and Dan Winter that forms the primary material I am translating into my field of critical theory. All of which is to say, I feel a bit overwhelmed but excited to be living in this time. Getting back into science and mathematics is a bit challenging but it is where all the philosophical gold seems to be. I would certainly appreciate meeting up with you. My girlfriend Christina especially would appreciate it. She much learns better from people than books and she really wants to learn astrology.
As I am reading Lawlor’s book, which is all about the yuga system, I am wondering more about the relationship of the yugas to the zodiac, the vedic system to the western system, sidereal to tropical, etc. So I will be diving into that soon. Up till now I have been more focused on understanding and situating ideas within evolutionary and historical developments in consciousness and culture and have been less impressed by the cyclical theories that have been so contradictory and conflicting. It has made more sense up until now to look at more broad trends in the changes of man’s conception of time than specific correlations through a single frame. Spengler is interesting to me because of the historical detail but when I tried reading more explicitly astrological books before I found Rudhyar, it seemed too narrow. I tried reading Cosmos and Psyche a number of years ago and found it to be too much like a list of correspondences that misses the richness of someone like Spengler. Rudhyar is already proving my assumptions about astrology wrong, and maybe I will give Tarnas another try once I am a little more familiar with the astrological lens. I loved his book on philosophy. Maybe I just wasn’t ready.
It helps me to see things in a larger framework before I get too into someone’s particular theory. I recently read Joscelyn Godwin’s book on Atlantis and the Cycles of Time, which is an exhaustive account of the history of theories on ages. It is quite clear in the book how much a product of their times all these theories have been. Compared to the endless speculation on historic ages, the shorter timescales of astrology are probably on much firmer ground.
Thanks Melody for sharing your thoughts and sending me that lecture. I enjoyed hearing an astrologer’s take on complexity. She did a good job. She had several good points and despite a few minor over-simplifications, I thought she and you are on the right track. I also believe complexity theory is a sign of an new cosmology. And I think it has interesting links with post-modernism in that post-modernism deconstructs the metaphysics that would otherwise distort acausal complexity into deterministic chaos. I part ways with deterministic models of chaos at pretty foundational levels and I even have some major problems with the post-structural complexity of Deleuze and Paul Cillier. Though I want to read Paul’s book soon. It does look worth reading. There is much to learn from everyone tackling these issues. Wolfram is certainly interesting. Here is that review I mentioned http://www.dpedtech.com/WolframReview.pdf
from this website:http://www.dpedtech.com/OPpapers.htm
The reviewer Douglass A. White calls his approach “observer physics” which is a term I like. He is way over my head mathematically in many of his papers, but he is building off of Miles Mathis who has helped me a lot lately learn some of the foundational issues with mathematics. There are some other people using Mathis and combining him with Dewey Larson’s reciprocal systems theory: http://rs2theory.org/
Being less mathematically inclined, I draw more from Mae Wan Ho and Dan Winter who are more concretely fleshing out the physics. Also I really love Susie Vrobel’s book Fractal Time. She is leading a whole fractal institute and interdisciplinary culture in Europe and they call their approach “endo-physics”. Physics of the inside. They have connections to Notalle, the main theorist of fractal space-time, and Mohammed ElNaschie, the infamous theorist of fractal cosmology. Vrobel’s book has summary articles by both these men in the back of her book and Mae Wan Ho uses them in the third edition of her main book, Rainbow and the Worm, both of which, together have become my bible.
These are the pioneers along with many other people involved with those I mentioned. Mae Wan Ho covers many of them in her books. Dan Winter is connected to a lot of interesting people working in the more New Age camp. Though he is a terrible writer, occultist Vincent Bridges summarizes his key points well. Check it out:
1. The universe is made of one substance. The compressibility of this universal medium stores form and memory in wave shape. Einstein’s famous equation E = MC2 shows that energy and mass are the same thing, in different forms. 2. The universe has one wave shape, the sine wave. This principle of frequency signatures called “Fourier”
means that even the most complex shape is a simple sum of sine waves of different lengths. 3. The universe can be described as a geometry of
pressure. Geometry produces symmetry, which allows waves proceeding from opposite directions to meet each other and stand (to phase and phase-lock.) Standing waves give the illusion of stability, segregation of momentum, and make possible the birth of matter. Pressure occurs where waves meet. Ratio is sacred; scale is profane. If the geometry of replication is embraced in a seed of any scale,it is ratio that has the power. Size is unimportant where information is concerned, since information can travel to any scale via the wave guide, and be manifested. The universe is a hologram; even the tiniest part contains information about the whole. 4. Focus is the only medium that creates, in a universe made of waves. Focus creates a pathway, or gravity, for waves to meet. According to the “Attractor” theory in mathematics,focus converges the harmonics (waves which fit into each other) into nests which stand, called matter. 5. Shape is the only thing the universe has to conserve. Naming, and memory, ring out only from differences in shape, not substance. 6. The only way to conserve shape along a path is to maintain the ratio of length, area and volume (a nest of ratios.) 7. The best pathway
to maintain a nest of ratios is the golden mean (Phi). Phi squared and Phi cubed are represented by the ratcheted dodecahedron (DNA). This pathway enables information (shape) to be moved without loss of momentum (mind). The closer a material comes to forming this shape and path, the greater its conductivity. Think of superconductivity that is super-coherence of resonance or wave shape. 8. Coherence at any level is coherence at every level. An orderly relation between wave lengths establishes a connection between frequencies and fields, which cannot persist unless it resonates to ALL frequencies and fields. This harmonic cascade (Jacob’s Ladder) establishes the connectedness called holography, and also ecstasy. 9. DNA is a four-dimensional dodecahedron, in the sense that adding one spin to three dimensions adds a harmonic and a nest for memory. (The pressure envelopes of the little bubbles of light which make up the matter of the gene are enfolded or enveloped with another harmonic, with each successive axis of spin, or symmetry.) The DNA double-helix keeps a set of wavelengths evenly spaced on a path through time and space, thus conserving the wave shape.
10. Light, when folded back on itself, comes to know itself. The spiral-within-a-spiral-within-a-spiral creates genetic material at all levels. Light causes an extra axis of spin, which superimposes a harmonic of frequencies upon a nest of frequencies in an envelope of pressure we call light as matter. This creates extra mind, because the universal mind meets itself at every wave intersection. So the denser the intersections, or nodes, the greater the self-knowingness, or sense of identity.
Thus identity in the cell (immunity) and coherence are the same thing, metabolically and emotionally.
While that may sound far out, I think it is a good distillation of what more serious scientists are finding out. Mae Wan’s work with water is talking about the same stuff in more technical terms. Dan Winter is a new age electrical engineer that is good at making metaphors, but him and his pals are busy designing technology on this stuff. My work is bringing critical philosophy to bear on this stuff. I respect the post-modern attempts, but as I mentioned they have certain drawbacks. Deleuze’s theories of morphogenesis are antithetical to the key metaphors of organism and coherence. Post-modernism can’t help but see any kind of hierarchy or causality as being repressive. But I have to say I think Jung and archetypes are a dead end in the other direction. Tarnas and Swimme follow Bohm and Jung too strongly in looking for arche-structures that have been outdated by post-modern epistemology or what my favorite critic of classical and neo-classical science Arkady Plotnitsky calls “anti-epistemolgy”.
Charles Muses speaks of “resonant causality” which is closer to what I speak of. Whatever metaphors you want to use, I think what is important is to understand that context is infinite and any model depends on analogical abstractions into dualistic/digital codes that track the symmetry breaks. In Mae Wan’s terms, incoherence creates time and entropy, and in Vrobel’s terms, nesting into greater coherence increases temporal depth (qualitative time)and reduces temporal length (linear quantitative time). At any rate, one of the key things to visualize is how systems don’t cause anything as much they organize patterns that determine how waves meet. There are seemingly continuous, causal connections as well as discontinuous breaks because there is no ontological system as such. Systems create their own “being” as ontological ground by determining the phase of waves and connecting with other influences in novel ways through their constructive interference. So if one were in some multidimensional space one could follow the connections as they twist through time, space and infinite dimensions. It still wouldn’t really be causal because there are no real “initial conditions”, which is obviously dependent on a very limited context and linear time. But it could seem continuous. Stuck in linear time, or just “one level of description” as Vrobel calls un-nested time, one would see many “acausal” breaks in symmetry which could then by “synchronistically” correlated. But I think recent advances in quantum physics are pointing to what is really going on. Its all about coherence, or the break in coherence that determines quantum effects. Things seem causally connected and correlated when they are in phase, but phase is relative.
Simultaneity is relative. Mae Wan Ho is right to make quantum coherence the central principle. It is the magic of phase correlation that each oscillator appears independent, though one can construct any world of correlations out of them. Everything is caused by everything. But really there is only one thing, so nothing is really happening.
I am really looking forward to reading Complexity and Post-Modernism. I ordered it yesterday but I have been looking through the sample text on amazon and am very impressed. I had assumed he would be following Deleuze or Latour which has been the trend in post-structural complexity theory, or otherwise following suit with network ontology. Instead it looks like he is relying more on Derrida and Connectionism, which I think open us up to the kinds of phase conjugate dynamics that I suggested to you in my last message. Derridean quasi-transcendence and the distributed information of the neural networks of connectionism I think are important precursors to the non-local dynamics of true consciousness, that is, phase conjugation. It looks like he even gets into cellular automatons, and Shannon’s information theory. If you ever want to read some excellent popular style books on this stuff, I highly suggest Jeremy Campbell’s books from the 80’s. “Grammatical Man:Information Entropy Language and Life” is the best book on information theory around, and the two books after that “Winston’s Churchill’s Afternoon Nap” and “The Improbable Machine” are on Chronobiology and Connectionist theories of AI respectively.
Also, I just wanted to clarify my hasty comments on Jung and archetypes. After so many years of reading alternative theory books, I admit I am a bit short tempered when I ever smell the touch of Jungian archetypes or Bohmian implicate order. I read too many bad boring books before I figured out why they seemed so wrong to me. Now I have much more appreciation, but I can do so with a measured critical context for the way that lineage of thought goes about things. I ended up reading alternative books even while still in college where I was told structural typologies were dead yet in the conservative atmosphere at the U of Illinois, they never told me about post-structuralism. Bored with the mere celebration of difference that had become cultural studies in the late 90’s (before it had become the almost insane commitment to identity politics it is today), I started reading Joseph Campbell after being told my anthropological hero Claude Levi-Strauss was no longer taken seriously. I wanted to study the universal structures. I got corralled in “perennial philosophy” and all that goes along with it which has become the New Age. It wasn’t until I found post-structuralism that I was able to get the critical tools from the Nietzschean post-modernists and the more historically situated traditions of Hegel and Marx, to reconnect with the universal without falling into the traditionalist trap. And when it comes to science, I think the neo-classical determinism of Bohm is even more of a dead end. I think there is a greater danger in literalizing the Gods and archetypes into scientific “objective” structures and implicate orders than there were in traditional accounts of the transcendental.
But like I said, I am critical of post-modernism for many of the reasons those in the New Age are. I don’t think Tarnas’s treatment of it in his philosophy book showed much of an understanding, but his critiques are right on. Marxists have had similar things to say about the reification of difference in post-modernism since before there were any post-labels on all the hyper-critical deconstructions of traditions in post-war theory. Deleuze who, to his credit, tries to move past all the language games into a real engagement with complexity theory and even attempts an ontology, I think ends up in a dead end himself. In following the post-modern logic, which leftist critic Fredric Jameson rightly calls the cultural logic of late capitalism, Deleuze ends up fetishizing difference, creativity, immanence, and destruction of any ordered system beyond the network logic of simple emergent correlation. It is in short, materialism, albeit a virtual materialism so reflective of the astral/etheric matrices of late capitalist digital media.
My point being, I think these differences are important. On one hand, you have a New Age longing for traditional structures and archetypes to help order and “re-enchant” the cosmos as Tarnas and Swimme are fond of saying. But what you get with them is an attempt to merely “heal” the classical/romantic divide and create a religion out of science. Swimme turns the obviously self-reflexive big-bang theory and makes it a nice traditional myth for the new science religion. I am all for creating coherence, but if it is not understood to be a process of mediation than your holism is just another foundationalism with metaphysical violence on the horizon.
On the other hand, you have post-modernism, which has become so stubbornly anti-metaphysics, anti-archetype, or in Deleuze’s case even anti-organism, that any stable structures are impossible. And we desperately need stable structures if we are to confront the immense global problems emerging on the horizon this century. But I don’t think the eco-science religion that Swimme and Tarnas teach at CIIS is up to the task. For once I agree with Ken Wilber. Though his hierarchical systems theory is frightening. In both cases, you have the same New Age obsession with structural typology. Maps are a dangerous substitute for communication.
But I am not putting down traditions. I am very interested in history, myth and symbolism. Astrology is fascinating, and I agree with Rudhyar that it can help form a language for a new culture. But he was very clear that this could easily slide into what Spenglar considered the degenerate cycle of romanticism that embraces decontextualized ideas from old or foreign cultures, ossifying into new cults as the larger culture loses legitimacy and meaning. The promise of organized knowledge has always been spoiled by the naturalizing of its structures. What post-modern science and theory have done for us is make us aware how contingent all meaning is.
Using traditional symbols, building historical context is helpful and important, just as cataloging the stars and our genome has been. But the stars, like our genome are meaningless outside a context. To say this implies absolute immanence, I think is an overstatement. Derrida, my favorite post-structuralist, makes the point of saying that there is no way to avoid metaphysics, and while absolute transcendence may be an illusion, some kind of quasi-transcendence is crucial. I go from there and say, knowledge depends on building a coherent context with each other and our world. We create structure (mind) and use it to mediate the always changing phase differences. The kind of knowledge we need, the kind that occultists have symbolized since the beginning, is what science is now rediscovering: how to create constructive interference. Because there is no objective structures, no implicit order to represent. Every cause, every model, is a bid for power, and only through the right relations and mediation can we find that golden mean and connect with larger and larger systems of creative power. Maps are meaningless. Language, reality, meaning is co-created.
I haven’t read her or Maturana or Varela. Though I did recently read Bateson after going through much of William Irwin Thompson’s work and realizing Bateson was clued into the importance of symmetry breaking. They all have interesting versions of the same thing, but I am not a big fan of Buddhism so I have stayed away from Varela and Thompson’s son Evan. Maybe I will give Maurana a shot. I am sure there are insights there. Just as there are in Buddhism. I just think the future is along a different path–that there is only so far we can go along a network model. I gravitate more to the esoteric side of those people (like Lawlor and others that were part of Thompson’s Lindisfarne) just as I do with spiritual figures for I think esoteric science has the way forward. Buddhism and systems theory both tend to naturalize and objectify their models rather than underscoring the the power dynamics and ethical issues of framing/modeling/ and the creative force itself. One can see the downslide towards “re-enchanting” a cosmos by making subjectivity just an effect of natural systems. And right now we desperately need to decide what kind of world we are going to create and understand how we can harmonize systems. This is the wisdom the west has been trying to formalize since Pythagorous and the pre-socratics. The science of creation.
I spent the last couple days getting better acquainted with astrology. Reading Rudhyar and Tarnas. Cosmos and Psyche really is an admirable work. Tarnas really grasps that there is something on the other side of post-modernism, but I still think he retreats into romanticism, despite his efforts to the contrary. I remember sending him an email a few years ago suggesting he check out Paul Laviolette’s Genesis of the Cosmos. Paul is one of the new aether theorists that takes a system theory approach to fundamental physics. In addition to his fully fleshed-out cosmology, he reads mythology and astrology into fundamental stages in sub-quantum processes. I thought Tarnas might like him, but I never got a response.
I actually like the word archetype. Much better than Plato’s “forms”. My favorite spiritual thinker Sri Aurobindo uses the phrase “real-ideas” to connote they are concrete powers not abstract forms, but it doesn’t have the nice ring of archetype. What I have a problem with is the way they are understood in western metaphysics. Tarnas devotes considerable space in Cosmos and Psyche struggling to unhinge the word from its problematic associations. But again, despite his many astute hedges and qualifications, he ends up characterizing them in ways that are very open to deconstruction.
I think Cillier’s book will help you understand what I mean. Derrida’s deconstruction isn’t anti-metaphysical as Tarnas might claim. Tarnas recognizes the insights of post-modernism but I don’t think he really understand the more nuanced metaphysics that emerges out of post-structuralism and deconstruction. If I had to quickly characterize the difference at issue, I would say for Derrida, there is an arch-process that logically precedes any structure. Laviolette similarly in his cosmology critiques Bohm’s implicate order in similar terms. Though being a scientist, he is less hip to the subtleties of metaphysics and completely falls into a reification of his abstract categories of processual staging. I still think he is a genius, but his model is idiosyncratic as all models are.
The new cosmology should definitely have astrology and meta-patterns of time and space, but they need to be understood as our creative interface with other systems and signs. Everything is an analogy of everything else, traced through symmetry breaks into new contexts. What the new ether science is exploring is how contexts (systems) are created in the first place. Tom Bearden calls the scalar technology built on this “causal engineering”. One can interfere waves at a distance and cause people to exhibit any “astral” pattern you want. There are not only scalar or “torsion” healing devices but Bearden argues scalar weaponry that has been used for decades by the intelligence communities. The esoteric tradition even has some pretty far out theories about planetary bodies themselves (read Gurdjieff and you will never look at the moon the same way again). The more ascetic forms of Eastern mysticism bow out of the astral power game that fuels the causal economy, but following Aurobindo’s in depth critique of this austere attitude from within the Eastern tradition, I think this is the wrong move. And I don’t like it when the west follows suit. Whether Enki, Prometheus or an alien gave us the fire, I think we are destined to use our knowledge to grow our DNA out of this astral matrix and into the larger systems of creative power.
Sorry if I was being vague. These things require a lot of context and explanation. Which is why I am writing a book! Though I enjoy the practice and challenge of writing a more succinct explanation, especially in dialog with someone already familiar with some of this stuff. So thank you.
I think calling what I am arguing against “a network model” was perhaps a misleading short hand way of talking about a lot of different models at once. I also don’t see Buddhism or Eastern philosophy as one thing and don’t mean to simply dismiss whole cultures and their contributions. I am not interested in merely listing my likes and dislikes or putting up a flag in one school of thought or another. I have spent my life thinking and reading everything I can find and have naturally come to many opinions. For the sake of brevity I tend to make sweeping judgments, but I think everything has value, even if it is just a critical value. But there is only so much time, so I often make judgments on material without reading everything. All the more so the more I learn and can spot certain patterns and influences. But I try to understand the things I disagree with.
I do think Buddhism is fascinating. The differences between schools and vehicles and the way it spread and melded with the cultures it came to, makes for interesting contemplation. I admit though I never found it very attractive. I remember telling a college professor in a pretty cool class I was taking on Buddhism that life isn’t all suffering and him telling me flat out in his German accent while we smoked cigarettes after class that life was most assuredly and essentially, suffering. I thought I was a shaman at the time and was taking way too much LSD. I was probably pretty annoying to this guy who was fluent in every major Buddhist-culture language and was obviously miserable in academia. I didn’t like, like many arrogant passionate men do not, being told I was merely a cog in a karmic machine. Though I have always enjoyed learning about Buddhism.
And I loved the vipassana retreat. Free meditation camp
And I eventually came to understand the more esoteric currents in Buddhism that transcend the simpler strains that grew out of an ascetic reaction to the vedic priesthood.
But I still to this day think much of the development in Asia comes off like so many patches on an essentially ascetic, monastic, and solitary discipline that at its heart is not compatible with broader social theory. Therein lies an important point. What are we debating when we compare theories? If it was purely a matter of taste then it would hardly be worth our time to debate ideas if they were only there as solitary frames for a spiritual practice. Aurobindo’s convincing critique of the ascetic turn in vedic philosophy applies to Buddhism too, which he considered an even more ascetic form than vedanta. I do not agree with Spengler and other Western critics that Buddhism is essentially nihilistic. It influenced Shopenhauer’s nihilism and it it certainly has its nihilistic strains and tendencies, but I think as part of the “axial age” transformation, its negation of its cultural matrix had its liberating potential, its power of generality and individualism that allowed it to spread and help grow the rational powers of Asian cultures. I especially respect Tantric Buddhism which has more in common with the Tantra traditions of southern India and the shamanistic and esoteric lineages of the region that predated the coming of Buddhism. In a strange way it was the Buddha’s social egalitarianism that made it progressive, just as other axial developments eventually allowed Christianity to bring progressive ideas into the middle-east matrix. There too, as Nietzsche never tired of pointing out. there was a nihilistic change, that nevertheless I think was an important development. Christ’s death might not have been the cosmic event that Steiner makes it out to be, but I follow Jane Robert’s Seth in feeling that the Christian drama was merely a materialization of an important “axial” point in history, where the old pagan order was forever left behind. Even atheist philosophers like Zizek see this as an important event that made later egalitarian politics possible. Zizek is a brutal critic of Buddhism and New Age paganism because they both miss the radical opening that the death of God and a natural order opens up for us. I would more say that both Buddhism and Judeo-Christianity were fledgling steps humanity was taking towards shifting our focus from the Gods and a natural order to social responsibility and an order that depends on us.
It is now curious to see Buddhism joined with ecology and other neo-pagan styles of thought in an attempt to bridge the gap and recapture a lost order, but I see it as a dead end for the following reason. It merely formalizes the assumptions and mistakes of these mythologies, that while they may have been more ecological in ancient times are precisely what is wrong now- namely, “living in the moment”, “going with the flow”, or in some sense always attaining harmony and coherence through what Aurobindo called “cutting the knot” of karma. There are definitely trends in Buddhism that buck the original lower vehicle tradition and advocate social responsibility, dialectical thinking and the like, but without a more radical creative ontology, the best they can do is advocate for “compassion” in some non-dual framework. It is all well and good to start admitting that the world matters and that it is not just an illusion, but part of reality, but it is another to say how we are going to organize these illusions if we are going to have a more pleasant stay here in this non-illusion illusion. Buddhism not only falls short here, but it has fallen into deep error, with simple things like simple Thach nit whatshisface simply getting pissy when the politics of his country got not so simple, to Zen monks being passionate advocates of the Japanese invasion of China in WW2, or just Ken Wilber’s attempt to make system theory Buddhism work as a hierarchical ranking of rightful rule.
Ken couldn’t take post-modernism because it questions all hierarchies and he wants a dependable system. Tarnas too, like all of us, wants a dependable order, but whereas Tarnas looks to a neo-pagan model, a natural order, Wilber tried to settle for an evolving construct. But when people pointed out that any model has its biases that should be evaluated, and that his had some very questionable ones, he told everyone to suck his dick, stopped writing or even making public appearences to what had become a cult of his personality. What neither of them get is that while some post-modernists can come off as extreme relativists, the real insight of 20th century thought, and really everything in Nietzsche’s wake, is that models are not value-free representations or even harmless partial constructs for personal spiritual enjoyment. The hair splitting of philosophy actually holds lives and worlds in its grasp. Not so much in professional philosopher’s grasp as in the metaphysical choices we all make. So rather than having us talk as if you and I are two people discussing our idiosyncratic preferences, which is how cultural capitalism has rendered our discursive power, let us speak with the moral weight that haunts a post-modern discourse like deconstruction (which is ironic because it is held up as being the quintessential relativistic paradigm). Let us speak aware that we are negotiating what kind of world we want to create and what kinds of world we can expect from our metaphysical choices.
So calling something “esoteric science” isn’t really my preferred term. I was merely referencing a tradition. Steiner loved that term but given how aware he was of the vast diversity of interpretation in Theosophical circles, I find it a bit insincere that he made his ideas out to be objective scientific discoveries. He was well aware that a mystic was “an artist in the realm of ideas”. He should have stuck with that. And while I may argue for judging ideas based on their moral or practical consequences, following deconstruction I don’t presume that these things can ever be known, which then precludes any kind of program or trenchant methodology. We cannot become any more utilitarian than we already are in this Americanised global market culture. The Frankfurt school had it right to criticize “instrumental reason”. We cannot be focused on ends. We cannot frame everything as objects and means, no matter how lofty the ends. What I meant more was esoteric interpretations of science. A tradition which has long held reality to be a construct that is created and manipulated by powerful beings. Now we are becoming those beings and we need to understand the larger cosmic game we have long just been pawns in. Biology is a phase conjugate dielectric. It is the most advanced technology in the cosmos. Space and time aren’t the primary reality, but they aren’t mere illusions. Merely admitting it is nondual get us nowhere. Yes form is emptiness, but how so? Space time structure generates consciousness too, but what consciousness generates space-time? I understand the appeal of self generation. But what is the Self? It seems clear to me the answer depends on what level or scale we want to zoom in on. What esoteric researchers like Laviolette or Joseph P Farrell are finding is that yes matter self generates out of the ether, seeds do indeed grow naturally, or shall we say are planted by a more lofty intelligence, but there are many other beings out there that are adept at growing and harvesting their own worlds. Whether one buys into esotericism or not, the fact remains that questions of design and power in life are becoming crucial, whether its aliens or just Monsanto we are dealing with.
To me it is obvious where this leaves us. Everything falls right out of Nietzsche, which is to say, out of the death of God and the whole development of rational thought and civilization. Things are uncertain. They are always changing. There is no order that exists outside the mind. Take it away and all you have is the spirit without relation. There is a greater truth of creative relation, which in principle Aurobindo calls Supermind, but all mind is a broken symmetry group of this infinity. The truth can be known in Supermind because all is in harmony. Everything is in phase, so you know all the beats. We all have a piece of that creative truth. He calls it the psychic being. Rather than cut the knot of karma as in lower Buddhism, the psychic being unties the knot and works to bring all closer to harmony. In Tibetan Buddhism they make a similar distinction: the foe destroyer follows one line of reasoning into emptiness. The true Buddha follows all lines into omniscience. But Aurobindo develops this further to a Nietzschean level. Omniscience is omniscience because it is omnipotent. But absolute power over another is impossible unless all is one and coherent. If one wants to get past Derrida’a undecidable dilemma, an act with true knowledge, one needs to have the power to create the world. Though the Tibetan tradition itself has done little to effect the world in any exoteric sense, they did have a hand in creating Theosophy which has done so much to revive spiritualism in the west. Blavatsky was little more than a tool for Tibetan sages, and who knows how they may have influenced all of us on some subtle plane.
In any case, the actual culture of Buddhism is pretty sparse on the worldly details, and esoteric elitism is hardly what we want to go back to. Being ruled by wise sages is hardly what we want to go back to, if it ever really existed in the exalted state like the right wing traditionalists like Guenon and Evola claim. Whether we are truly fallen like they claim, or this cycle is a progression like Aurobindo, Yukteswar and Steiner claim, I think it depends, like everything on your point of view. There are certainly cycles. There are certainly progressions. Everything is developing, but in many directions and always through the medium of other developments.
I said before that process precedes structure. But what goes through process if not structure? What entities are there to develop if structure is only an effect of process, Being of Becoming? We have gotten to the point where we question the old assumptions about Being preceding becoming, what Derrida calls Ontotheology, Phallogocentrism,etc. But how do the two relate? I have always like Taoism, and I think the I Ching is helpful here. The Creative Process (Yang) is logically higher than the receptive form or structure (yin), but they are both equiprimordial. The whole problem of time as process that is relative needs to now be understood with quantum concepts of coherence to understand that form or structure, that is entities themselves are also relative, they are themselves a product of overlapping developments that take on different forms depending on perspective. Just as what is simultaneous is not necessarily so in a different frame, also what is one entity might by another or two or nothing, if the phase relations are shifted. Which is far out, but it all falls out of post-modernism: Meaning and reality are context dependent, and context is infinite. Derrida is at pains to show that things are never “in context”, as much as in different contexts. There is no proper context, no natural order, and when we say there is we cease looking at other contexts, other ways of ranking relations. While this leads Derrida into indecision, I think it should lead us to to cooperate and build knowledge/power to put things in harmonious coherent contexts.
Post-modernism often slides towards a rehash of liberalism, but I think we need a new left. I think we need to create knowledge communities and design our ecosystems with sustainable models. There is no nature if there ever was one. The age of biopolitics is on us, and rather than following Foucault and Deleuze off into anarchic liberalism, recreating our bodies outside of all laws, we desperately need to modify how we understand laws. Like the neural networks in Connectionist computer modeling that I think Cillier’s book covers, intelligence is all about modelling in feedback with the environment. To design a healthy ecosystem, we need to follow Mae Wan Ho’s lead and talk about designing interlocking cycles with models to mediate and organize difference like an organism. This requires large scale coherence and local freedom generated not out of subservience to a set order, which given the current political environment, New Age ecology is set up to fulfill, but out of collective cooperation and political organization.
In short eco- theory has become a conservative force, and along with NGOs, it has become a clean up operation for Capital, desperately trying to shore up and preserve local ecosystems and freedoms instead of building a collective movement. But this falls out of seeing human subjectivity as something that needs to be cleansed and put back in some natural order. In contrast I advocate building a more coherent subjectivity and healthy coherent ecosystems will fall out of that. If we really trust nature we have to trust ourselves. Too many people want to cleanse themselves and humanity instead of growing into a more complex organized state. The best hope I see is in the scientists and engineers who are learning how to formalize what the pagans and esotericists have been encoding in myth all along. That there is a way to create order out of chaos, to join and constructively interfere different systems so that they produce new effects that spread globally to reorganize and create a more harmonically inclusive system; one able to contain more and more worlds and beings as more and more phase relations are allowed to pass through and converge in the system. As coherence increases, all worlds become one and we have what Aurobindo considered to be the goal of all development, to reach the Supramental plane where everything is in phase, where Being and Becoming are fused into an infinite creative dance, a dance we are all portions of even though we have broken into more isolated incoherent experiments that generate and reflect new worlds and beings.
No pressure to write back in any certain time period. This is heavy stuff. I never expect people to answer right back and I can only hope and appreciate if they actually take the time to think about something I have said. There is no greater compliment and joy. I will always write back when I have the time and inspiration to say what I want to say. You had so many thoughts and questions I could address though, that we might have to meet up in person to explore them all.
I did want to address why I used “network model” to refer to various theories I disagreed with. As I said it was a poor choice of words. But it it gave a nice visual of the way certain kinds of systems theory and Buddhism and even post-modernism create an ontology of material and semiotic systems all linked together in a web of relations that even in the anti-essentialist versions of post-modernism(like actor network theory), easily slide into a belief they are modelling an objective reality, however incomplete — a belief that can repress ambiguity into a kind of liberal panopticism, with all the political implications such a notion brings up.
While most of these approaches are aware of the problems of representation, reductionism, and hierarchy, when they respond by merely mapping relations, even if these maps are considered provisional constructs, they misunderstand the incommensurable gaps of quantum physics as merely indeterminism, free will, emergent properties, or deterministic chaos, rather than boundaries of incoherence in an essential creative act of world making.
I originally had equated Deleuze as an example of post modern versions of this because he has a type of vitalism that in its efforts to subvert all entrenched hierarchy uses many metaphors and images that favorably contrast lateral networks with the demonized vertical organization of the State and the organism. In his main work of complexity theory A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze with Guattari emphasizes the rhizome over the plant as an image of free association over constrained signification. Another hierarchy of course. One Ken Wilber never tired of pointing out about post-modernism, which gave him the excuse to construct his own.
Wilber’s solution was much more problematic though because of his basically Buddhist approach. For Deleuze at least was always using ideas to break open, connect and subvert any structure that would aim to damn up flows of creativity. Like his friend Foucault, he was very sensitive about any kind of panoptical totality, but in the end I think he had to fall back on the necessity of metaphysics, of some kind of program, or at least pragmatic rules to keep from sliding into complete anarchy. He was not afraid to be a metaphysician and made many connections with traditional metaphysical thinkers like Spinoza and Leibnitz. He saw something liberating in complexity theory, relativity and Riemannian geometry, where there is no global panoptical phase space, but local euclidiean spaces connected rhizomatically without any unified totalized perspective.
In a way, Deleuze, having absorbed the lessons of post-modern critiques of metaphysics and totalizing narratives, realized there was no escaping metaphysics and so was looking for an ontology of difference and a virtual model of phase space that wouldn’t ossify all relations into a single framework.
Wilber on the other hand completely missed the point of post-modernism
and fell back on a single map of perspectival space. People link him with Aurobindo and Gebser because he used the word “integral”, but anyone who actually reads either of these geniuses knows Wilber misses the point of what they meant by the term.
Wilber is much more in the Buddhist tradition, especially No Boundary and other early work. He eventually came to realize his essentially Zen attitude was incompatible with his approach, but he remained a Shankara-esque thinker to the end (assuming he is done which seems like a fair assumption at this point).
My joke when it comes to Buddhism is that Buddhists say personality is an illusion because they don’t actually have much of one. Which is mean and unfair but it gets peoples attention. What is more true is that Buddhism is attractive to people who feel oppressed by their mind. They tend to want a spiritual simplicity, an understandable temptation in such a complex world. Wilber was initially a Zen guy, which is why his early models were all about transcendence. He says he always had the Zen-esque assumption that concepts were bad and so philosophy is just there to help us transcend it, (which one could argue is the same for the world itself in Buddhism, its just there to be transcended). He later realized that ideas and the world may have a purpose, so they should be more than just supplements for private spiritual practice. But because he still retained that ascetic two truths doctrine, despite the non-dual veneer, his accounting of the world had to be linear and hierachical, since he could not accept the greater truth of how consciousness creates the world, since he took offense to its implications on his wife’s death and his chronic illness. Suffering had to have some greater abstract purpose rather than having personal meaning which he called New Age bullshit.
In contrast to his earlier ascetic model, his later work has everything evolving towards a singular divine purpose, in pseudo-Hegelian fashion. He admits his model is relative, but to him that just means it is about the relative world, in contrast to the absolute world, which of course are said to be really one. He still retains the assumption that the world is a means to an end, whether it be to enlightenment or evolution of consciousness. The result is the same: a lot of people doing ascetic meditation and tacking on a belief structure that privileges a single solid framework, a mind that can turn off and escape itself, but cannot really open the heart to the psychic and occult dimensions of cosmic activity- which is the most interesting and important aspect of the universe. I find peering into other layers of reality with a poetic/philosophical vision to be much more interesting than samadhi, which Aurobindo called falling asleep in the infinite. I would fall asleep too if there weren’t infinite beings and stories and connections going on right behind the veil. We are all really free anyway.
Granted transcendence is important. It is our true ground. Enlightenment is crucial if we don’t want to get lost in occultism. Aurobindo considered it the necessary first step. But he points out that most people never even reach full enlightenment, let alone start the spiritual transformation process, all of which are a precursor to anything supramental, because they have a soul, a personality that has no interest in cutting its ties to the world.
So for Aurobindo, establishing a path where the enlightenment can be reached through transformation of the personality in what he called the psychic change, is a better option for people, since most people don’t want to let go of the world, and those that do reach enlightenment in meditation seldom then want to come back and transform the lower personality once they have access to emptiness.
I think of this in biophysical terms now. Coherence can be achieved through
reduction to a singular awareness, but that coherence (enlightenment) depends on that awareness not engaging with relations, or at least reducing them to a single uniform substance. This is a natural result of focusing on form. Here is Derrida: “Form fascinates when no longer has the force to understand force from within itself. That is, to create.” And the mistake often gets made that that silence is primary and the violence of force and form is merely a shadow, because without resonating the creative soul and its dance with difference, it appears that way. But in reality it is itself an effect of coherence. Here is Derrida again: “Peace is found only in a certain silence that is determined and protected by the violence of speech”. In a book called Derrida and Indian Philosophy, the author echoes Derrida’s insistence that deconstruction not be understood as negative theology. The author connects Derrida with Aurobindo and contrasts him with the negative theology of Nagarguna. Derrida critique of “presence” and “purity” are important to consider with Eastern thought, which is why Aurobindo focus on a positive purity through a harmony of interlocking powers and systems is key to a larger spiritual world.
Attaining a dynamic worldly coherence requires quantum coherence, a phase discipline over the whole range of relations, an impossible task that is never complete, because there is always change, but which can reach an infinite limit in supramental consciousness. Aurobindo saw yoga as an extension of his early political work because there is only so much coherence one can achieve as long as we live in an incoherent world and society. To evolve this world to greater coherence was the secret yoga of nature and the desire of every soul.
Contrary to Wilber though, and closer to what might be considered a kind of post-modern Hegelianism, Aurobindo didn’t see this as some transcend and include non-dualism, but a restructuring of the the world and the natural being to make it a more perfect instrument of the spirit. Debashish Banerji, who was my teacher for a while, wrote a book putting Aurobindo and integral yoga in post-modern context. To me this is all about shifting from a view that sees both the methodological approach of science and the traditional view of spirituality as offering serious limitations.
Early on in Cillier’s book, he makes a great point: “we can do with technology what we cannot do with science”. Which I would reframe: we cannot capture the world in any symbolic or methodological system. We can understand that our models operate on our consciousness and so we can build networks of knowledge and communities of discursive exchange with a mind to negotiating and deciding what kind of world we want to create.
As Heidegger pointed out, science is the new religion and technology is the central issue of the post-metaphysical age. Those that cling to or revert to traditional metaphysics can certainly have nice enlightenment experiences. But as Aurobindo pointed out, without the psychic change, their nature, what he calls our “instrumental” being remains an instrument for forces of the ignorance, and although their mind and body can receive some light and peace from the internal coherence of liberation, they cannot become the potent powers of the divine without a tantra — which is basically the Indian word for technology. It has its asuric and its divine forms. (Dan Winter is fond of saying if your alien comes to you in metal ships, he is from the wrong side of the tracks). And we are all in danger of falling into the asuric technological forces, what Steiner termed Ahrimanic. But the way through is not to mimic science in the sense that Wilber and the New Age do: creating a methodological and instrumental approach to spirituality, where everything is merely a means to an end that has been categorically figured and decided, ready for implementation by the capitalist consumer.
What is central to a better approach is the very sacrifice, the very renunciation your Buddhist personality mentioned–the offering up of our self as means, as instrument to a Divine life. As Steiner and Aurobindo both emphasized: we are all here for a unique purpose. We are all here to model, to interpret, to become a creative iteration of the divine personality in ways that are like no other being. We all have unique gifts. I realize many people are helped by Buddhism. Its strength is also its weakness. Its simplicity allows for anyone to take it up and make it their own. I critique it harshly because it has become merely a tool for personal experiences, and what little social philosophy it has is so vague as to be compatible with anything. Suzuki- the famous Zen teacher- was calling the Japanese invasion of China in WW2 an act of “compassion”. CEO’s practice Zen while they compassionately privatize the collective commons, all with the best intentions, at peace with the world that is really “empty” of any lasting value.
Right now we need more emphasis on sustainable systems not on the transitory nature of everything. And certainly not a spiritual practice that makes an already anti-intellectual, liberation obsessed western population feel more justified in dismissing the communal discursive activity that really determines our world and the possibilities for changing it.
Granted Aurobindo can be verbose, which is why I usually recommend Seth Speaks as a better introduction to the esoteric tradition. Jane Roberts was ignorant of this tradition (on a conscious level), but became its most in depth and readable voice in our times. Suffice it so say, esoteric thought might seem like so much muddled Theosophy, but it is the decayed tradition of an essentially techno-tantric approach to knowledge. To the extent that we can reclaim knowledge from the black magic of a science that perpetuates a system of signs controlled by an elite, and make it a creative spiritual discipline, I think we should understand the historical context of science, of western tantra — of a tradition going back to prehistory when culture and language were seen as the vehicle for manifesting the gods, the forces which would control our fate.
This is of course where astrology came from as well. As modern science took over for the esoteric traditions, we came to see all forces as impersonal; and now as we try to reclaim the knowledge of spiritual forces and beings, we merely anthropomorphize forces by referring to them as “archetypes” yet still retain the image of an objective field of forces, where personality is merely an emergent effect, a strange attractor in phase space which may have a “character” but is really just a flux in a void. The truth is that we are all one being that grows and changes, as an idea grows and changes, as Seth has put it. The void of potentiality is not more fundamental than being, it is what is left when one withdraws the power of creation from substance, which nonetheless has a supporting form. But the creative consciousness is fundamental, and form is its eternal historical body that births it and receives its seed. The ideas we choose, or more accurately, the ideas that are created out of the the ever changing flux of relationships, are not just maps or models of some relative reality that is a mere form of a consciousness that prefers its pure solitude. They are the reality itself, the overflowing expression of bliss that is the universe: satchitananda, the triple aspect of reality that pours outs its being into what Aurobindo terms creative knowledge/force, the fourth aspect and intermediary between the divine trinity and the trinity of ignorance of mind life and body. Of course as Harold Bloom once said, theology is usually bad poetry, but all great poetry is theology. Aurobindo’s real work is Savitri, one example of the the ultimate technology, the music and poetry of language and its dance with being that can create worlds, set order to the infinite, and build a society where, as the Vedic Rishi singers described, no tune is repressed, but all are sacrificed to the evolving narrative/song of what Mae Wan Ho might call quantum jazz.
I don’t want to get stuck talking about Buddhism, or turn you off with my inappropriate jokes about it. I just want to clarify that I think it has done more good for the world than just about every other religion, or at least, less bad, which is impressive given its extensive influence. And there are so many great souls who have been influenced by it, that I realize my comments might have seemed out of proportion. But again, I think those souls with more passion and interest in the world are the ones most confused by Buddhist attitudes towards the soul (and its nature: the mind and passions). Trungpa and Alan Watts come to mind, who both struggled with alcoholism. Watts, after his years as a Christian minister, I think still found some guilt in relation to his nature that Zen did not help transform. Buddhism has little to guide people in transforming their nature and evaluating the character of forces. The I Ching is much more helpful in this regard, but honestly it can feel repressive at times. After years of neurotic consultation with it, I barely ever use it these days. I always know what it is going to say anyway and I find it better to learn my own lessons. I no longer feel like I need to avoid mistakes at all costs, since they are the way I learn. Consequently I make less mistakes. Though I owe much to Taoism and especially Carol K Anthony’s I Ching. They definitely helped me through rough times.
But despite the Taoist influence on Asian Buddhism, I think it retains a disconnect between the spirit and nature. The image of the Yin Yang gets distorted and replaced through the lens of Buddhism with an image of mere formal equivalence. Theosophical thinkers used to say that the Western mind needed a Tantra– that ascetic thought was inappropriate for our active intellects. Though I think their attempts to blend Eastern and Western thought was muddled by contradictions. Steiner was much more coherent and productive of so many lines of thought and culture with his own Theosophy shorn of the Eastern influences. So much of what is hopeful in current counter culture, he anticipated or directly founded. Though I think he could have benefited from the aniconic power of Eastern thought. He takes his images too literally; and in all those lectures there is nothing on sex, which has contributed to much speculation on his sexual orientation.
Rudhyar takes the Goethean-Spenglerian image of every culture as a plant with a growth cycle and instead of talking about decay as Spengler did, seeing every formalism as a degeneration of creative thought, he spoke of the seeds that every culture plants in future generations. Spengler thought the Buddha signified the decay of Indian culture, but in Rudhyar’s light, he was reducing it down to a more formal structure that could be exported and sprout new life… which it did.
Aurobindo and the Mother I think take the seeds of both East and West and created a planetary, sexually balanced, modern spiritual body of work, but their main work wasn’t visible. It was the path they hewed in the collective psyche for a transformed and integrated human being and most importantly, spiritual relationships (for what is an integrated person besides one in harmony with his relations). Though reading Aurobindo truly saved my soul from being at war with my self. And I think more people should read him, for it is exactly his way of evaluating active forces and pushing the boundaries of manifestation, that excites the Western soul and can make for much more rapid progress, since the intellect and passions are used together with the will instead of the will be used to separate the intellect from the passions. This was NIezsche’s vision that he knew he could not fulfill. And everything since him has been struggling to find the path to a critical creativity, a soul that answers to the spirit.
Western artists have been starving for a new vision that is both critical and creative, that unites the masculine and feminine, but have not gotten past the last man of Nietszche’s twilight of the idols, and despite Deleuze’s attempts at a new ontology that can really make the transition to the ubermensch, one artists and thinkers have tried to make work, it has yet to emerge from the morphogenetic stew of incipient forms and abstractions. And the images that have been produced are either pop culture reactionary forms, or high-art and scifi tragic narratives of decline and collapse.
(I highly recommend John David Ebert’s work on this subject)
An artist these days must be a critic if he is to truly be a global visionary for a new culture. Ashberry is a great poet and art critic, but he is little more than another post-modern intellectual, as Derrida is also an artist of sorts trapped in a philosopher, or Deleuze the artist-scientist. Post modernism collapses the boundaries, it tries to deconstruct and construct forms at the same time but it cannot find a new vision. The three most popular figures that have tried to move beyond it while embracing its insights, Wilber, Deleuze, and Zizek all fail. WIlber is popular with spiritual folk and has little more than a intellectualized return to religion. Zizek is popular with activists and has little more than a post-post modern psychoanalysis and a post-marxist class struggle. Deleuze is popular with intellectuals and is little more than a intellectualized mirror of counter cultural obsessions with personal expression. Out of all of them Zizek at least has a cogent critique of the problem.
Aurobindo was a critic and his analysis of Western literature(The Future Poetry and many of his letters) serves as an example to me of what a spiritual critique looks like. I have extended his style of characterizing the consciousness dynamics behind poetry to music. Music was the beginning of western science and esotericism, though poetry was almost always involved as well. In fact science was music, was poetry. It was all about harmonizing cultural forces and steering the ship of community. This became corrupted into a managerial philosophy by Plato as online critic Drew Hempel erratically argues. The great musicologist that recently died, Ernest McClain however sees Plato firmly within the Pythagorean tradition, which of course was an axial age formalizing of the Orphic tradition, seeded by Egyptian and Near East occult science. All ancient cultures were involved in the game of tuning theory, McClain argues in his earlier book.
He builds off of Antonio deNicolas’s work dictating how the Vedic seers would alter the tune to balance the male and female aspects of number, which whenever it is formalized, sacrifices some aspect since not all (pure)intervals can be used in a single tuning. They made that sacrifice a holy act that needed to be revisited and repeated, since if it was taken for granted, then repression and formalized hierarchy ensued. While McClain seemed to celebrate Plato and the standardized repression of equal temperament (that was only later fully theorized in explicit form, something the Greeks couldn’t do, or wouldn’t do within their philosophy of harmonics that doesn’t so much fear irrationals as it is often said, as much as they didnt want to subject them to quantification), many esoteric thinkers saw this as the beginning of repression.
Aurobindo, likewise saw the axial formalization period in India as a repression of this more fluid dynamic of ancient vedic culture. The Buddha did as many did in this time; he reacted by striking a new note for individualism and freedom. It was the right thing to do at the time. But the ideal is a culture that can improvise on its themes and not have to die just to get a new start. The formalization and individualism the axial prophets set off now can be a base for us to build more stable cultures while we simultaneously critique them from within. The technology that is being discovered and discussed by Dan Winter and Mae Wan Ho amazes me everyday. It makes sense out of astrology, alchemy, and all the things that esotericism encoded in myth. The astral plane is returning, and we need more than a return to myth if we are to understand it. The myths tell us something new in light of the science. The game isn’t just tuning theory. It is a science with deadly applications as Joseph P Farrell explores amusingly. More than ever we need an immanent critique.
Autumn 2014 (letters to “Y”)
I feel like my vision is starting to fill out concerning the problems and opportunities in Western culture, the process of civilization, and the desire for universality, and I would appreciate any thoughts or feedback you might have on any of this. I am very much a metaphysical thinker but I think there needs to be more productive dialog between the mystical and rational if we are ever going to have a sustainable civilization. I know you are more of a rational marxist and logician, but I think these distinctions are just interesting contrasts and I am sure any thoughts you have time to share I would find helpful, assuming they are not at the level of your book, which was quite beyond my comprehension.
Here are some contemporary thinkers I am engaging with that you might find interesting. John David Ebert is a great resource for media studies. I like his take on the cycles of culture, though he follows Oswald Spengler too strongly in seeing civilization as the decadent commercialization and formalization of culture and so is more starkly critical of technology and pessimistic about contemporary civilization, putting his hope in a new cycle of culture(here is a link to one of his best video series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwC2NmfExW4).
Whereas I am more strongly influenced by the more radical spiritualists like Sri Aurobindo and Dane Rudyhar who believed in a possible evolution of culture and consciousness. Like Rudhyar, I think Spengler’s insights are brilliant but there is great potential as well as danger in the formalization of culture through science and philosophy that need not be uniform or repressive of difference (though I don’t think contemporary Hegelian Marxists like Zizek go far enough in their radicalizing of traditional dialectics).
While post-modern theory (see Arkady Plotnitsky: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~plotnits/publications.htm) tries to formalize this radical opening through a utilitarian undecidability(Derrida, Godel) and complimentarity(Bohr), I think there is a whole counter culture of researchers that are already laying the ground for a network of new ideas that are coming out of alternative science, which is itself a recontextualizing of ancient and esoteric mystical (phenomenological) science and metaphysics. The new science has been progressing outside traditional channels ever since it was scooped up into the black ops programs during ww2 and barred from mainstream public development(see Joseph P. Farrell and Paul Laviolette).
Unfortunately, too many of these new theorists are engineers and scientists and get caught up in their own personal theories (Tom Bearden, Paul Laviolette, Bill Tiller, Richard Hoagland), and consequently there isn’t enough discussion around what exactly is a torsion wave or scalar wave, etc, outside of everyone’s pet theories. There are people like Dan Winter who are doing good work and have a flair for integration but are way too far out to make any headway in the culture at large. There are people like Suzie Vrobel and her fractal research institute that are doing some cool work with observer physics or what they call “endo-physics”, but it also is rather insular and idiosyncratic, though with more acceptability than the new “ether” theorists.
Peter Wilberg is a philosopher with a similar point of view as me. Like me, he is attempting to integrate western critical theory and radical spirituality, science and metaphysics. I like his view of Marx as a spiritual visionary, which I find a refreshing break from all the academic debates around the dialectic:http://peterwilberg.blogspot.com/
Mae Wan Ho is the scientist I mentioned to you who is doing the most to organize and formalize a science based on “quantum coherence” with all the critical perspectives of current biology and physics that fall out of that concept:
This guy Douglass A White is a very nice, little-known man I found on the internet who is also trying to integrate science and metaphysics through phenomenological concepts and critiques of number theory. I especially recommend his “Great Velocity Equation” and “Superluminal Phase-Wave Civilization” papers, though I am still struggling through the rather simple math.:
Anyway I hope you are well and you find something of interest here. Thanks again for your recommendations and time.
I had never heard of Charles Muses before but he reminds me of Arthur Young and it looks like they knew each other. What do you think of Young? My first search on amazon for Muses for some reason brought up the book Stargate Cosnpiracy which -if you haven’t heard of it- accuses a lot of esoteric thinkers like Young as being involved with the intelligence community and possible attempts to create a new techno-astral religion. I agree with you about neo-primitivsts, but most of the techno-critics I read are not against science just critical of the the way we are doing it, and as regards the esoteric science thinkers, the potential of a new trans-humanist religion is cause for concern.
I am reading David Noble’s book right now called the Religion of Technology. I have never been fond of the political tone of much conspiracy theory but I have long been fascinated by the occult and recognize its less than savory aspects. Though most of what the conspiracy right reacts against is hardly as dark as they make it out to be. Still even as I sympathize with the esoteric science tradition, their fascination with techno-transcendence sometimes worries me, especially as I look around and see the trajectory of our civilization. While I definitely am more of a progressive optimist, I can see the problems with most of the developmental schemes playing out in liberal politics and New Age religion, so the value of certain traditionalist thinkers like Guenon, Spengler, and in some aspects, Heidegger, seems relevant despite their limitations.
Spengler for one was very fond of mathematics and science, he just despised its culturally-derived form-language being turned into a naturalized and petrified framework. He thought mathematics should be poetic and creative and that a culture where philosophers lost touch with mathematics was reaching the stage where creativity is lost and thinkers become merely engineers and critics. Like
Heidegger he thought science was too important to be left to the technologists.
I have never read McLuhan but have learned a lot about him from John David Ebert and his friend William Irwin Thompson, who, like Logan, studied with him and later extended some of his ideas. I think I will have to read Logan, and definitely Muses — I mean chronotopology is what I am all about! I would be very interested to hear about your experience with him and how you came to be involved with this stuff. We should definitely get some dinner sometime soon.
But to make my point..
Thompson sees a developmental scheme in McLuhan that along with his friend Ralph Abraham he develops into a theory of mathematically defined ages of consciousness. All this is very interesting, and compared to the average New Ager like Ken WIlber who perverts Aurobindo, or Jose Arguilles who has turned his friend Rudyhar’s ideas into a joke, I shouldn’t complain too much about Thompson. In fact Thompson is anything but a wide eyed believer in progress, and often comes off as a real bitter jerk. As of putting as that is, he was the first person I read to point to the astral-matrix-like dimensions of the internet. A far cry from the techno-ascensionist rhetoric of the Burning man culture or the Omego-point like narratives of Teilhard de Chardin and his progeny in the trans-humanist circles.
Still, it seems like most of these guys, even when they are critical of certain developments have a hard time thinking outside the box of linear development itself. I don’t think it is a matter of New Age science narratives not playing out as was promised in pop-culture books like the Celestine Prophecy. Quite the contrary. The narrative is playing out all too faithfully to the structure of occult science dreams– right into the astral ascension of the masses into the pure energy of instantaneous vital expression in holographic utopia.
We are witnessing this mass migration into the astral realm and it is cause enough for me to agree with certain techno-critics that science is a religion with an apocalyptic teleology. So I see spirituality and science as desperately needing the tools of critical theory and post-structuralism. Post-classical theory is often hung up on its own metaphysics, whether it be called deconstruction or complimentarity, but one thing you cannot call it is linear or reductionist, though it definitely is acausal. But of course that doesn’t stop most physicists from ignoring the radical aspects of post-classical physics and using a statistical determinism, much as deconstruction ends up meaning relativism to most theoretically shallow commentators on post modern theory.
I agree that even at its most radical, post-classical theory leaves much to be desired. It shows the limits of causal schemes and the trap of the traditional dialectic, but it does not have the proper metaphysical depth to take us beyond them into the true source of continuity and process. For that one needs phenomenology, needs to understand the mechanics of consciousness, which are always a subset or organismic coherence.
For that reason I have never been a big fan of Bohm, or Krishnamurti for that matter. Krishnamurti was always a reluctant messiah and ended up a walking contradiction, poor bastard. Leadbeater should have left him alone when he saw him playing on the streets, he probably would have been better off. Certainly Theosophy would have been better off.
I am much more impressed with deBroglie and I have been trying hard lately to really grasp the implications of his time-frequency uncertainty. I think it points to a more general uncertainty that we see not only in quantum physics but harmonic analysis–one that points back to consciousness, phenomenology and observer physics.
Obviously Bohm was hip to this possibility but everything I have seen by him seems like an attempt to shore up classical causality through non-local determinism, which to me makes strange bedfellows. I suppose after reading countless books on Bohm and Jung in my youth and watching what the counter culture has done with these attempts to make the mystical conform to deterministic models, it was easy to run for the post-modern critics who at least were able to take the critical edges of Freud and Bohr and open up a space for something new, something beyond the classical subject and the causal structure.
I like what Peter Wilberg has tried to do with Heidegger and his critique of causality, but even he is still too conservative for me. There is too much uncritical posturing of “pure” consciousness in Wilberg which echoes what Derrida deconstructed in Heidegger, namely that he has an entrenched preference for tradition over novelty, communication over creativity, “pure” over the heterogeneous and all the dangerous implications. Though Wilberg is pretty hip to the abuses of this logic, especially in medicine which is one of my primary fields of theoretical application. I realize Derrida is problematic for many people and I can see why, but he developed the most rigorous critique of language and metaphysics possible. While deconstruction is no complete metaphysics it is a powerful point of view and a necessary one for dealing with metaphysics in an age of linguistic confusion.
The same goes for complimentarity, which is similarly incomplete but pregnant with possibility. Both complimentarity and deconstruction mark the end of the road for realism, determinism, and causality as defined by a neutral observer. We create the world… so one can try and formalize consciousness into a metaphysical paradigm as neo-classicists and new age science religion try to do, or admit that consciousness is not some “pure” awareness, non-local deterministic factor, or transcendent object. What the classical view gets us is a trajectory towards further subjective codification or to put it simply as Foucault did, subjectivation as subjugation. As much as I admire Bohm, Jung, Joseph Campbell, I think they and the counter culture they helped create fit too nicely with the naive subjectivity of late-capitalist consumerism ideology. Krishnamurti, nice guy that he was, was the worst. He always reminds me of that skit in Monty Python’s life Of Brian, where Brian, tired of being followed says to the masses convinced he is a savior: “You are all individuals!” to which they parrot “We are all individuals!” in perfect unison.
In contrast I think there are people in the academy like Peter Sloterdijk who are trying to build off post-modernism and connect with the mystery traditions, recasting the layers of being into a post-post modern sphere-ology. But I think what he, Zizek, and Deleuze (the three most influential academic philosophers right now) are/were reaching for– a new metaphysics grounded not in tradition but in the radical openness that post-modern society makes possible isn’t going to be found without a radical shift to a subjectively grounded topology.
Zizek and Deleuze are materialists and Sloterdijk is a great cultural critic but he can’t fathom the dynamics of subjective construction outside a self layered around selves in metaphors that mirror capitalist consumption. I like to reach back to Whitehead and Bergson and the impulse to create a new philosophy of life and creativity. Physics isn’t the ground. Even Einstein didn’t want to return to classic causality, he just didn’t want to embrace a utilitarianism. He wanted truth and I respect that. But that is what the study of the material medium produces:knowledge of a tool, a utility. The truth isn’t a structure, it is a structuring force, a power as Aurobindo characterizes it. And that power arises through phase harmony, quantum coherence, (which is what consciousness really is as detailed by my favorite spiritual books, the Seth books).
deBroglie was on to the truth, Einstein and Bohm sensed it was there, but they couldn’t go any further than linking their intuition to a pilot-wave. Einstein didn’t much like that answer, and neither did Bohm really in the end. But now I think we are seeing what they sensed but couldn’t understand–since no one told them what a fractal was, as Dan Winter likes to joke.
People like Frank Znidarsnik or Juliana Brooks are making sense out of the quantum, not as particle that needs a pilot wave but as phase resonance, or impedance matching of “light” with “sound” or the harmonic interaction of information/light with the pressure/phase waves that form the temporal context and determine the meaning of all information. Nottalle has shown that relativity when extended to analyzing the scale of reference frames shows a fractal, continuous but non-differentiable fabric to the field. This is what Mae Wan Ho likes to call organismic space-time, following Whitehead.
Dan Winter and other New Age electric engineers have been teaching and creating all kinds of useful applications of fractal cosmology understood as a simple translation of ancient hermetic “as above so below” principles applied to electric fields. Charge flows unimpeded by heterodyning between frequencies when the phases are correlated and nested fractally, recursively. It isn’t a matter of tapping the void as Bearden seems to imply. Such a thing is very difficult to achieve with normal electrical technology since phases are always in flux. Life on the other hand is what Winter calls a phase-conjugate dialectric. And of course the more adept we are at navigating the art/science of phase conjugation, the more charge we attract and therefore the more we can rise out of the phase mismatched world of seemingly causal forces and relative speeds and times that are felt in comparison to the light of phase harmony.
Haha. Thanks for the detailed response. And thanks for questioning my hyperbole. When I laud Derrida’s critique of metaphysics, I do not mean to single it out at some some ontologically singular event of supreme rigor or “full” development. Such a thing is precisely what Derrida’a work exposes the limits of. His work is anything but complete, just as complimentarity is anything but complete, and I share yours and Einstein’s dissatisfaction with quantum physics. Post-classical theory is by nature quite dissatisfying because it merely exposes limits to certain assumptions. To go beyond those limits we need new ways of thinking and perceiving.
Yet I do think post-modernism serves as an end point to a line of development. Spengler would no doubt place post-modern theory alongside similar skeptical trends in previous cultures, points where the organizing metaphors that had served the culture where questioned and challenged. Unlike Spengler, I don’t see this as a bad thing, a sign of unequivocal decay which is bound to come if one sees cultures as autonomous organisms. I definitely think there are larger cycles at work, so I wouldn’t merely equate deconstruction for instance, as another repetition of universal structural trends. Post modernism is a breakdown not just of Western European cultural values but a crises in the structure of thinking that undergirds culture and civilization itself. The East had had its share of deconstructive logic, but these truths never really bothered them that much. That truth was a relative convention was part of their traditions. And even when it was formalized, it merely fulfilled the underlying disconnect between the relative and absolute that the East has always struggled with. It allowed their conventions to continue while the philosophers looked to transcendence.
Deconstruction is more radical than Buddhist dialectics though. It points not to emptiness but to sensitivity to context. Not to a loss of faith in language and thinking when the mind realizes they cannot contain reality, but to an understanding of their power to shape reality.
When I say deconstruction goes to the limits of the mind, of language and metaphysics, I really mean it shows they cannot do what Western metaphysics has long assumed they could do: represent… unequivocally point to things. But to me this merely points to the way forward: to a science of creation.
In any case, it sounds like you have lead an interesting life and have done some significant work. I wish I could understand it! But I will catch up. So far, I get the gist of what you are saying here and I like what I hear. Lets get dinner Friday, yes, that sounds good. You like Sushi? Maybe you can breakdown some of this hyper-number stuff for me.
In the meantime, let me say I understand quantum mechanics is linear and this fits with my overall characterization of post-classical theory defining the limits of linear, causal thinking. Many see its linearity as preventing a more fully causal theory. I disagree. I agree there are many hidden variables and non-local influences, but these are not mechanical forces. I do not think mechanical causal forces are fundamental, because they are just metaphors, merely an approximation that works with mediums that are devoid of life, at or near equilibrium. I think what post-classical theory shows is the limits of fundamentalism and foundationalism.
Thermodynamics can model “emergent” properties but that doesn’t mean it less or more fundamental. More complex models and systems can be built off theories serving as foundations, which require constants and causes to work. But all this has limits and loses relevance with complex systems far from equilibrium.
Thompson would argue chaos theory is a symbol of the new mentality capable of modeling life, Gebser, living before chaos theory, was pretty fond of general relativity for similar reasons: Non-linear causal systems are very powerful and attractive metaphors for dynamical systems and powerful models for predicting complex entities like life and consciousness. So-called complexity theory seems to have become the the natural outgrowth of such efforts. And I admit there is much to be learned here, but all these things remind me of modeling a possibility space that is still determined by a mentality rooted in determinism, no matter how non-linear.
If we want to map a possibility space that isn’t just an abstract mathematical
phase space, but a real changing living cosmos of qualitative principles and their organizing power, then we need a phenomenological science. And by that I mean including the observer, not as a neutral perspectival entity in a field of motion and causation, but a field of meaning that gives rise to the field of motion not through causation but through resonance and systems of superposed coherence.
These things were integral to the occult way of doing theory and science, but now in biophysics we are able to understand what they meant. Mystical phenomenon have always been “co-experiencable”, but repeatable and measurable, not in the modern scientific sense. Astrology attempts to model astral phenomenon with determinism, though Rudhyar tried to make it more interpretive. But it is more than variable time that confounds spatial modeling. (And Smolin’s book seemed to be just a small step in that direction. I liked his exploration of network logic, something that complexity and information theory has been exploring in depth).
By drilling down to the foundations people like Derrida and Bohr found there were no self-same entities, simple causes, forces in a literal sense, but they gave us no new metaphors. Now we are seeing new metaphors that may dispense with the need for such classical concepts. As to whether the work of the people I mentioned was “co-experiencable” I am not sure I follow your meaning exactly. Mae Wan Ho interprets quantum biology, from which many of the new metaphors I have hope for are derived. Same with Dan Winter, though he is a New Ager and Mae Wan is an esteemed scientist. There are many things to measure and test and experience in this field, but it all can be experienced and interpreted differently depending on the meaning of the person experiencing it.
I think non-linear mathematics could hold many keys of understanding and can help us understand how effects propagate. I hope to learn more. But to the question why? What we call “cause” has been much reduced by our literalizing of metaphor than say even from Aristotle’s time when so much of our concept of causality was formalized.
2010-2013 letters to “Z”
How have you been? What have you been up to? Thanks so much for your last email. It helped me come to terms with my use of the negative. Reading Deleuze’s book on Nietzsche tended to make me a bit too radical in my embrace of an anti-dialectic. Thanks for helping me steady that quivering relation between Hegel and Nietzsche, between my own desire to overcome and my desire to multiply in relation.
It opened the door for me to explore the more metaphysical thinkers I can’t help but be drawn to.
I have always felt-since I encountered it- that deconstruction was at best a necessary supplement to a more synthetic metaphysical vision. I enjoy reading books by those who use it and extend its reach. You seem to do that quite well (I might have to read your latest book, it looks quite interesting). However I still can’t get through any of Derrida’s actual books. The rhythm seems too halting, too pensive. Thank God people like you can tease out the movements for the rest of us.
I would have written sooner but I took a detour through some books on ancient occultism and new science that I would be hesitant to share with serious academics. I can’t help but be fascinated with some of the early(as in ancient and the new speculative attempts at what should be a new paradigm soon) efforts to theorize what is going on in the interstices of consciousness and “matter”.
I am drawn particularly to the less well known and in my opinion more authentic theories that derive all physical phenomenon from a layered vision of the universe, of sets of scales of force/matter unification, of a continuum of densities in what used to be called the ether when it was considered as a neutral medium, but what is now termed in some circles a “super-fluid vacuum” for various reasons. This line of thought seems to be on the right track, linking phenomenon on all scales through a vertical symmetry that structures the freedom on any particular level of focus.
I find the incompleteness of quantum theory to be naturally correlated with deconstruction. I might not go as far as Zizek in equating Derrida/Levinas with just a post-modern iteration of Judaism, but it is a useful comparison. For instance have you seen the Cohen Brother’s film from last year A Serious Man? I don’t think the link between Judaism and quantum physics is accidental. The film seems to point to the anxieties of our time, living in uncertainty, anxiety about what the Other wants from me. I have been reading and listening to lectures of Zizek a lot lately and am finding him an effective tool to connecting my young contemporaries with theory. While I may not always agree with him, agreeing with him is usually besides the point.
I recently turned thirty and in my current job I seem to more and more take on the role of guide. I have been learning a lot about health and am helping people shift from the old model of disease so powerfully promoted by drug companies to a new model emerging from the alternative health community I have been working in for years. I suppose there are still bad guys, but instead of the bad guys being actual beings like bacteria and viruses, or vital nutrients like fats and cholesterol, they are the rancid vegetable oils and refined sugars of the modern diet. Still the over-all frame work has moved from focus on what is good/what is bad to what foods contain the right balance of nutrients and bacteria to balance the inner ecosystem and the community at large. Still… sensitivity to Otherness doesn’t seem to be the problem of some paradigmatic people who come to our store. In fact they are often too sensitive: chemically sensitive, sensitive to all the impurities in the modern diet and modern environment; so much so that they come to our store looking for purity. What I find myself doing is not trying to make people less sensitive of course, but to help organize their sensitivity, to make their affectivity a positive capacity for difference, rather than a passive receptivity to the Other. I find Deleuze to point towards this more fluid positive conception of difference, but somehow he seems to fall short of connecting the self and other in any way other than in blocks of mutual becoming.
Its tough balancing the openness to the Other with the demands of a greater collective vision, but I find myself drawn to Zizek’s take on our culture. While he tends to chide deconstruction, it seems more of his challenge to his friends (like Judith Butler), than a rejection of its insights. Even in his Hegelianism he seems to include Deleuze’s rejection of the dialectic, or rather dismisses Deleuze’s Hegel as not the real Hegel. In any case, the gap, the rupture, difference seems to be an integral part of his more synthetic vision. Where as with Derrida it becomes the central metaphor, and with Deleuze it tends to become reified in an absolute difference. (I have started to understand Deleuze’s notion of absolute difference and its reference to the virtual and like many of his dualities, they are temporary constructs made to make a point… still the overall trajectory and political implications seem limited).
Im not sure if its Zizek’s low brow humor, pop culture references, or if it is related to his over all vision, but I find him to be more accessible and relevant to our contemporary situation than the strictly post-modern thinkers. Living in the Northwest is an interesting experience. We have a lot of what is called”hipster” culture. Zizek is considered by some to be the natural philosopher of hipster culture. People use the term ironically and disparagingly, but I can’t help but be implicated in the attitudes and issues that confront youth culture today. As I find myself getting older and having a bit more distance from youth culture, it becomes easier to see its points of genesis and potentials for growth and evolution. While I think Zizek and possible others who embrace both the irreducible differences along with versions of the dialectic in visions of new possible orders are going to be more and more relevant to the political mapping of the future, I think we need a new spirituality that Zizek in his materialism cannot provide.
Which brings me to the book I just finished that prompted this email. Its called Avatar Bodies: A Tantra for Posthumanism by Ann Weinstone(Prof of new media and literature at Northwestern). If you ever get a chance, I would love to hear your take on it. Drawing from Derrida, Deleuze and the traditions of Tantra, she weaves together a fine book from real emails, imagined correspondence, and very poetic theoretical musings. Using the terms of deconstruction she leaps across the divide of différance and connects the mind and soul. Even if you think she fails, its at least an admirable performance. The final chapters are all about email, particularly between those that have never met as a practice for what she calls the Avatar Body. And so I remembered I had to write you.
Thanks again for your time. Hope I am not rambling too much. Just wanted to give you a taste of a few of the things I am working with (on?). Not sure what concerns or interests you and what doesn’t. Your chapter on Physics and language theory is still a great starting point for me when thinking about these uncertain areas of New Physics. Deconstruction, particularly your clear vision of its import, seems to be the honest ground I come back to, the pause that connects all theory with its effects. But ever since I read your writing I felt compelled to make that pause a beat in a rhythm of oscillation. Granted Deconstruction is also about oscillation, but the rhythms seem too hesitant to risk the greater violence of proactive change. In Ann’s book the metaphor of a continued oscillation is kept central, but the speed is allowed to increase beyond normal boundaries of discrete forces. I see a similar thing in the occult sciences as well. A continuum of speeds of oscillation. The higher levels are not amorphous. The vibration is just so rapid, the action becomes more non-local and entangled, and the medium more dense accordingly. But thats getting far out… Here are some quotes from Avatar Bodies.
Indian Tantra points both deconstruction and posthumanism toward a thinking of the self as a zone of relationality, a zone of expression or immanent emnations. These are not self-possessed expressions; they come and go, expand and contract, mutate, modulate, travel.
In the most general and profound sense, Tantra is a set of techniques for local sensitization to nonlocal reality, conceived as a fabric, a weaving, a Tantra in which every thread touches every other thread. The bound person, one who is not sensitized to his or her relational participation in cosmic reality, is relatively powerless because he is particularized or individualized. A more adept person is aware of having a shared body that by the very nature of its being manifest must contain differentiation and therefore multiplicity in some sense….the higher the shared reality, the less the constraint.
Post-deconstruction could be a nomination which inaugurates a letting go of the ideological work that we have called upon an Other-as-such to perform in favor of a more pervasive notion of iterability, one in which there are gradations of quasi-presences and quasi-absences that are never identical to themselves, disallowing the “as such” and its disciplinary distinctions even with respect to the categories “self” and “other”.
The alternative is not the forgetting of difference or of différance, but a change in syntax that intensifies and continues the work of deconstruction. The syntax of deconstruction has been that of the interruption, the space, the rupture, of the fort/da. This is a syntax that breaks into an interior but preserves a more definitive exterior even as that exterior lies within: it is a syntax of effraction, or burglary. The preceding discussion suggests that the intrinsic undecidability of distinction and indistinction constitutes relationship as such. This requires a syntax that trembles all the way down, a syntax of vibration, of the break that pulses so rapidly it blurs, a syntax of stretching and oscillation.
My addition to this Greg, is that in order for deconstruction to be continuous, the oscillations of the undecidable must not get stuck in any of its constitutive moments. But it also must be capable of varying its speed or resonating on many levels if it is to do the work of a synthetic discipline. Like quantum physics, deconstruction seems to be aimed at the infinitesimal, a natural consequence of the use of analytic powers. In both the most ancient occult theories and the modern disciplines based on them (of which Aurobindo seems to be singular in his authenticity), transformation only comes through a balance of the synthetic powers of ascending consciousness with the descending powers of analytical discipline. To them, anxiety is overcome not by closing the gap into the purely synthetic and metaphysical, but by becoming the gap itself. When the pulsations and oscillations of undecidability become rapid enough, when we go up and down and back and forth so fast that the gap closes not to cover up the wound of affect but to become one with affect by becoming one with its source, and so becoming spontaneously adjusted to the consequences of our actions. This may sound like blasphemy to you, but when I watch videos of Derrida, he seem so razor sharp, but hesitant and calculating. Zizek looks like a nervous wreck, but he seems like he is doing what Derrida talks about. Being spontaneous, if there is such a thing. No doubt he penetrates deeper than Zizek but Zizek synthesizes and takes apart in a smooth motion that carries us somewhere. He seems to be deploying whole fields of subject/ object relations where as Derrida seems to shift with the perspectives he is using. Who would be the better ruler? Zizek would probably slide from State discipline to State terror on occasion and Derrida would ponder each decision into paralysis. Who knows… But the point is that language should not act to protect us from affect which Zizek might do to some extent, or make our wounding the primary ethical act as Derrida follows Levinas at some points, but shift our focus to the realm of “pure” affect/effect, away from the subjects and objects of affect/effect.
Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss) is one of the main names of the Divine in Tantra and a preferred term for Aurobindo. Its active component he writes as simple consciousness/force. The true mysticism of which Tantra was a return to, was not to rise out of affect and context but to rise out of attachment to the movements of the mind so that the play of direct affect can be embraced as an immediate reality. Ann Wiestone says it like this:
“Making an impression, a mark, invites every part of the body/text to open to deforming influence, to a baroque plethora of transindividual imprints that flood the prophylactic gap between self and everything else. Mantra for a postdeconstructive avatar: You are my body, too…”
Have you ever used the I Ching (Chinese Book of Changes)? It is one of the oldest and yet certainly the most context embedded book known to man. I have used it so much over the last decade, I know what it is going to say before I even toss the coins. It has trained me to be very reflective and honestly so about each of my choices, in every moment. It can certainly make one feel at the mercy of forces beyond control. But if one follows the conscious path for long is there not a greater structure that one may begin to sense that makes the forces and changes possible. Its not a stepping out of context to see objectively, but a vision of whatever is undeconstructable in each new iteration. Never a certainty but a faith in the game stemming from knowledge of the open but determinate laws of all change. Not Essences or essential forms but essential contradictions, the questions that structure all our attempts at stable answers and radical re- inscriptions. Not faith in the Other, but justice as opportunity. We reach the point where rupture is no longer a strategic intervention in the dynamics of power but the very ground of our being. From The Great Treatise on The I Ching:
“In the Book of Changes a distinction is made between
three kinds of change: nonchange, cyclic change, and
sequent change. Non change is the background, as it
were, against which change is made possible. For in
regard to any change there must be some fixed point to
which the change can be referred, otherwise there can
be no definite order and everything is dissolved in
chaotic movement. This point of reference must be
established, and this always requires a choice and a
decision. It makes possible a system of coordinates
into which everything else can be fitted. Consequently
at the beginning of the world, as at the beginning of
thought, there is the decision, the fixing of the
point of reference. Theoretically any point of
reference is possible, but experience teaches that at
the dawn of consciousness one stands already inclosed
within definite, prepotent systems of relationships.
The problem then is to choose one’s point of reference
so that it coincides with the point of reference for
cosmic events. For only then can the world created by
one’s decision escape being dashed to pieces against
prepotent systems of relationships with which it would
otherwise come into conflict. Obviously the premise
for such a decision is the belief that in the last
analysis the world is a system of homogeneous
relationships–that it is a cosmos, not a chaos. This
belief is the foundation of Chinese philosophy, as of
all philosophy. The ultimate frame of reference for
all that changes is the non-changing.”
There’s definitely something of the shock and awe strategy in Tarantino’s films, and I remember your insights in this regard from your book, you called it whiplash… But I wondered if his latest inspired any thoughts on melodramatic cinema since the film seemed to be somewhat about its effects; about how identity, specifically heroes and villains, is formed by the way stories are told.
The characters in Inglorious Bastards are preoccupied with how they are being dramatized. The story seems to be structured as a strange meta-reflexive melodrama, in that it draws critical attention not only to the way we are led into sympathy with certain characters and disgust with others but also seems to ironically point to how this has been most often done in the history of film (war films, often involving Nazis), and how the impact of the film industry has structured popular readings of history (the Jew’s revenge).
But maybe I read more into his films then I should. I have always liked his films; he certainly seems to share my love for movies and despite the celebration of violence his films seem to revel in, I think what sticks with people is the interesting characters and dialog. I would say that Harvey Keitel’s last line in Pulp FIction sums up Tarantino’s film morality. While it doesn’t follow the tragic mode (of getting one to feel sympathy with the thrown-ness of both sides of any conflict), nor the cheap morality of melodrama, I think he wants us to sympathize with the self-aestheticizing plights of the post-modern subject enmeshed in the irredeemable violence of a culture raised on melodrama. Keitel’s line “just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you have character” seems indicative of Tarantino’s desire to make us aware of our preoccupation with our personal character aesthetics in a world of moral relativity and the blurred lines between fiction, art and real life. While I don’t think he’s making any positive moral statement, nor is his highlighting the problems of our culture in any helpful critical light, he does seem to dramatize what life in our strange culture is like in an interesting way. In terms of Keitel’s line, perhaps he wants us to recognize the difference between being a character (someone Keitel says has no respect), and having character, which given the moral thrust of his films, seems to mean something like respect for one’s enemy. I think you called it “honor among thieves” in your book, and I understand your concerns with its trivialization of violence, and I won’t waste your time arguing for more creative readings of every melodrama I happen to like. The Matrix is tempting, at least taking the whole trilogy, for the same reasons I brought up Inglorious Bastards. Is there not reflexive elements to these melodramas? Is not Tarantino’s films and the Matrix films great examples of the post-modern, in that they highlight our predicament as agents in a system, or actors in a melodrama, who’s moral choices are sometimes limited to how we think about the violence we are forced to participate in? And how we define ourselves in the Matrix, how we create our character and identity has taken the place of the political struggle in our era of post-political cultural capitalism?
The Matrix sequels seem to at least attempt a deconstruction of the melodrama of the first, searching for a balance or some kind of Hegelian synthesis, but always questioning the structure of that initial opposition, an ending with a direct statement about fundamental relatedness. It seems to me that there are various ways of making a melodrama reflexive. In a media environment where melodrama is the unavoidable stage that is forced upon us, and given our intense longing at this stage in culture for some radical changes, I admire the Matrix’s attempt at exploring the possibilities and problems with radical change. What it lacks in character complexity, it makes up for in exploring the complexities and double binds of social change and revolutionary narratives. It fueled much more thought for me than the realism and tragedy of The Baader Meinhof Complex, which I am guessing you saw and probably liked (I liked it okay).
Inglorious Bastards’ made me think about how important the media war is at this point, the branding of people as Nazis in particular, . Your concern with Tarantino’s trivialization of violence is understandable, and some attack him for being just what everyone seems to despise in post-modernism, i.e. moral relativity. Yet with all the evoking of the holocaust in today’s media, and this Tea Party thing making today’s populism looking more and more like pre-Nazi Wiemar Germany, a little consciousness of the narrative construction of history could save us from taking our ideologies for more than an attempt to be the heroes in a very complex and convoluted moral landscape.
Thanks for the book suggestion. I have been reading books on Bohr and Einstein lately, exploring Physics’ encounter with consciousness and it’s relation to Whitehead and Plotinus. But most of these books are written by physicists and are too simplistic in there interpretations. Scientists make poor theorists it seems. I’m about a fourth of the way through Plotnitsky’s book and I like it very much already. It is much easier for me to follow the metaphors of someone who is used to thinking in metaphors and not trying to use them to express the profundity of a rather simple basic metaphorical take on rather detailed physical experiments. I like this approach of encountering science at its fundamental metaphoricity. But what really interests me are these deep structural assessments of conceptual systems. I like the metaphor of a conceptual economy and I look forward to seeing what he does with it.
Since I have an interest in alternative physics, which tends to make use of a lot of geometry and metaphor to reframe our ideas of energy and matter, I am hoping to get a better foundation in the metaphorical and geometric structure of conceptual systems in order to give a more solid structure to what is a rather rich but questionable field of ideas. In any case, I have more hope for an integration of the sciences and humanities along these lines of thought, then I do for anything coming out of the universities. I think there is a great future in applying critical concepts from the humanities to the rather awkward theories of scientists. Although I can’t help but feel there is more potential in the more elegant geometries of the platonic solids and patterns of vibration and codetermination in a unified field than in the complementarity of awkward dualities with no mediating metaphors, and clunky concepts like dark matter, big bang, and other logical absurdities that give us something from nothing, or in any way render the conceptual fabric with metaphors and abstractions taken to stand for distinct objective realities. In his errors, Einstein had a point, even if he couldn’t see outside of determinism. Quantum physics is incomplete. Not because it cant account for all the data, or because there is a more deterministic theory possible. But because there is a whole universe of synthetic structures that can produce more powerful encounters with what is obviously a fundamentally differential reality. The true unified field will assuredly not ever be a final theory, but nonetheless it should be a real consequence of a simultaneous accounting for the contexts of both subjects and objects in both the largest and smallest scales. Complementarity is definitely a grounding deconstructive metaphor, but what we essentially relate need not be any of the metaphors we are used to, and with any luck we can use various general economies to frame a growth in knowledge that will take us into the heart of the universe for centuries and maybe eons to come. Assuming we don’t let this culture war destroy us.
I have been meaning to write you ever since the shooting surrounding the Batman movie in your neck of the woods made me ponder our conversations. After seeing the most recent Batman film and now that I have seen Django Unchained, I don’t think I will try to defend either films. Both Nolan and Tarantino seem to have lost any reflexivity present in their previous melodramas and have given into just the reflex of melodrama- to paraphrase your books.
It has been quite a while in the qualitative time of my life since we last conversed. The past couple years have been good to me. I have formed a great relationship with a woman. We have been living and working together the past couple years, and I really think some of the ideas you exposed me too have helped most in that arena. Actually I think I was reading D.H. Lawrence when I met her- after watching the movie of Women in Love that you suggested. Lawrence has a way of making marriage and monogamy sound not so bad.
I think getting into deconstruction was an important transition for me at a difficult time when I was questioning a lot of my defenses and opening up to uncertainty. It helped me embrace and find meaning in my anxiety and finally, ironically, become decisive and at ease. It has lent a formal and rhetorical integrity to my thinking and relating that continues to serve me. Yet I still am very much a spiritual thinker however much I may agree with your critiques of its language and much of its use. Post-modernism seems at its core a critique of power and entrenched hierarchy, which I still feel is best deployed by understanding power and hierarchy through more favorable hierarchies not just their destabilization. Deconstructive discourse seems to be too much within the realm of liberal theory’s framing of freedom as surface rights rather than creative opportunity and innovation, which demands something be kept stable long enough to order change coherently.
I would like to expound on this if you don’t mind. If you have time to read this or give feedback, it would be appreciated. But no pressure. I have tried not to be too repetitive, but some of the ideas are far out so I wanted to express them from a few different angles and contexts. It is just helpful to write to you, not only because you have been so helpful and generous, but also you seem to position yourself as a critic of spiritual culture who is not convinced of its message, but is open to it, awaiting a good argument. For me, the good argument is not really important to convince anybody of anything, but to establish more universal structures that can bring our society’s play of difference into a harmonious frame. I do not want to win an argument and end the conversation, but I do think synthesis is the ideal ground when it is constantly renewed and agreed upon as a basis within which we play a harmonious exploration of life and awareness. Ideally, boundaries should change and flow with meaning and need not be a formality and only becomes central when the tune is lost.
My spiritual experiences have been the most real events of my life, so I need not convince myself or anyone of anything. But they do motivate me to bring myself and the culture around me into harmony with the deeper music of the universe. While differance and complimentarity might be the substance of the creative, they depend on continuity and coherence to be truly set free. I think this kind of sentiment is at the heart of esoteric thinking, and I do not think Western theory has grasped it properly. I have found other thinkers with similar inclinations like William Irwin Thompson and Antonio de Nicolas who have have studied ancient texts with critical philosophy and come to similar conclusions. De Nicolas’s book on the Vedas inspired a generation of esoteric enthusiasts to see the “sacrifice” of spiritual metaphysics in a way more similar to the movements of “differance” than anything Ken Wilber has come up with. But whereas deconstruction seems to ultimately believe power corrupts so should be limited, or determined just or not by its structure, true spiritual metaphysics aims to guide us into a just harmony.
I have been reading the alternative science literature I was just starting to discuss with you when we last spoke. At times I was reading Plotnitsky’s work along side the many books that are trying to theorize all the anomalies in the current scientific paradigm that tend to demand a new concept of an ether as a non-local field that generates all space-time structure, and responds to conditioning through morphic resonance with the spin coherence of analogs in local space-time, especially consciousness itself. While some of the literature is less than rigorous, the science/ technology of seeding the field by both mechanical and “spiritual” means in my opinion is not only the future, but it was also our ancient past.
Developing criteria for judgment in this field has become an obsession for me. One reason is my job, where I work selling supplements to people. I am lucky to work in an environment that encourages us to research and debate and give as much in depth help to the sick people that come in as we can manage in a retail environment. The alternative health field is full of conflicting claims and it has been quite an interesting intellectual exercise to find truth in a field where the lies of the corporate establishment are countered with endlessly proliferating products and therapies relying on various theories of subtle energy and causality. At my job I tend to focus on nutrition and biochemistry, using herbs and nutrient-dense diets in the tradition of Weston A. Price, and work more psychological angles into the conversations if possible. The healing process always seems to be about becoming more aware of the relationships between one’s self, others and environment. Yet people are so used to medicalizing all of their problems, that these more subtle relationships tend to get quantified into some kind of “energy” medicine. I am interested in developing the healing arts away from the medical model and towards questions of meaning and relationship. The mistake tends to be confusing awareness and the “qualia” coherency it invokes with some type of deterministic “quanta” or energy. Of course compared to mainstream medicine which continues to horrify me the more I learn the bigger picture, it is easy to see why there is such interest in the alternatives. At their best they are a movement back to a meaning that is responsible yet relational; that trusts and recognizes the coherent intelligence in living systems, and an awareness of how much the scapegoat metaphysics of modern medicine and the fetishized products of corporate science and agriculture are destroying our physical substance.
So I enjoyed reading your e-book a while back, but when it crossed over from your critiques of spiritual metaphysics into what seemed a dismissal of the actual phenomenological experiences that metaphysics has always attempted to describe, it made me ponder how we could agree so much and yet have fundamentally different ways of seeing the world. While I agreed with your critiques of the New Agers and New Atheists, it seems quite presumptuous to conclude that such a vast range of experience that we call spiritual is simple wish fulfillment because it is often described in terms we may not agree with. Your argument sometimes seemed to amount to saying something doesn’t exist simply because it’s identity partakes in its other. You can say the same thing about anything. Why is timelessness or Spirit or any other phenomenological description invalid simply because it can be situated more relationally by deconstruction? Green is green because blue is blue but if someone in a blue world said green doesn’t exist because it would have to have blue in it, we would think it reductive. More advanced spiritual systems and the new ether sciences are all about time as a variable, not as an independent entity that can be present or absent but a function of the dynamics of a fundamental phenomenological field of awareness. Like all things time is a quality of awareness that can become objectified and quantified as a linear process but has other dimensions that are different enough to seem wholly other and defined as such even if they have a relation to our more common experiences of time.
Your epilogue I think anticipates many of the attitudes and conceptions that figure heavily in the kind of spiritual thought I tend to study: occult science as a means of creating and affecting awareness or coherent field patterns, not some injunctive science that delivers preformed religious experiences as Ken Wilber promotes. The occult sciences are older than history, but only recently are we discovering many of their physical aspects and testing them scientifically. One heavily theorized and misunderstood body of research is the Russian physicist Kozyrev’s “torsion” physics where he describes conditioning the medium as causal engineering. Russian scientists are finding a different technology that is less mechanical manipulation and control of effects through a linear causal chain, and more of an imparting of organization to the complex and normally indeterminate forces that drive so much of the effects in higher-order systems. This does not imply a higher degree of determinism in micro-physical effects or a violation of quantum limits. It does change the rate of flow of time. It does not change the text, but more importantly it changes its meaning.
In trying to bring some philosophical clarity to this field I have read other writers grappling with these issues. Most writers seem to prefer Heidegger and Deleuze to Derrida when supplementing or translating spiritual metaphysics and esoteric science. One writer I have found a lot in common with is a man named Peter Wilberg. He makes a good case for interpreting Heidegger in ways that are useful to generate a lot of substantive critiques of current scientific, medical and psycho-spiritual ideology. I still find Derrida’s terms to be a more helpful context and I keep in mind yours and Derrida’s critique of Heidegger. Deleuzian ontology I really can’t get into despite everyone else in my thought vicinity seeing him as the perfect fit for post-modern mystics. I liked his book on Nietzsche but it seems like people just see in him what they want to see. I think he seems to expound spiritual ideas but he puts them in a context of virtual materiality instead of figures and qualities of awareness and so misses all the meaning that comes from grounding order in awareness as mystics do. Not to mention his fetishizing of difference, novelty and creativity seems to substitute endless production for meaningful connections in a bizarre mirroring of the capitalist system he supposedly critiques.
These kind of Marxist critiques of Deleuze point to some of the crucial weaknesses in post-modernism. I have spent some time reading radical theory, especially David Harvey and getting into anything exploring how we structure space and time, even in materialist terms. Harvey’s critique of post-modernism is interesting. He makes a great case for the need of layered systemic critiques and meta-narratives. Even though people tend to see Marxism as a materialism, what I get from him- filtered through Harvey and Peter Wilberg as well- is not that man is a product of material conditions by nature- but as a condition he can be liberated from. Not into some abstract void but into an ordering of his material conditions in ways that are spiritual by dint of a society guided by higher modes of awareness and harmony, not simply structures open to difference.
With all the problems in physics pointing to a direct interaction of consciousness with what post-modern science and theory at its furthest reaches can only define as a virtual and stochastic medium, the need of a more radical theory of substance should seem obvious. Mystics have always looked to theory as practical psychology, not just as a socialization tool (which it often devolved to admittedly) but an analogical guide aimed at the ontological transformation of the individual and his consequently powerful effect on the world with or without any direct change in social structure. The best social structures and deconstructive laws in the world would only provide a suggestive framework for the far more direct action of whatever the leading culture may be. Of course we need more than leaders. The best thinkers today seem to be at least attempting to theorize how that extraordinary change can be made a more socially broad and institutionally progressive phenomenon.
Of course making mysticism a pseudo-science like Ken Wilber does is going in the wrong direction. Peter Wilberg -despite his preference for turning Heidegger into an even more metaphysical philosopher than he would have appreciated- seems to have the right idea in grounding both science and psyche in a phenomenological science- grounded in “qualia” as sensual qualities of awareness. I have a few problems with his style but over all I think he avoids Husserl’s problems and think I can defend his type of thinking to the critiques of deconstruction. Sometimes it seems to me as if academic philosophy falls into Kantian agnosticism when it confronts the limits of objective knowledge. I read a handful or more of Plotnitsky’s articles after I finished his book on Complementarity and it was frustrating how much of a Kantian he seemed. He really turned me off Deleuze the way he takes all that intricate Deleuzean topology and makes it a cultural shadow of some unknowable chaos. Deleuze still seems to me- especially through Plotnitsky- to be mapping the wrong territory, detailing the shadows in Plato’s cave so well it almost seems like we can see the light. But if we just come right out and say what is really going on here- that the territory is awareness, that everything is patterns of awareness and they are conditioned from beyond merely cultural forces, then we finally can do some real critical work with real consequences. We can find meaning in material phenomenon as objective manifestations of more fundamental qualitative relationships and do the spiritual work to become more aware of these relationships. Instead of all these topologies of formal space that Plotnitsky does we can continue the work of the ancient thinkers doing topologies of qualitative space- that is, grounding formal qualities in the qualities of awareness.
Doing so allows us go deeper with our critique of the metaphorical economy of our society. Deconstruction can then go beyond being a limiting ethical factor. Deleuze and Plotnitsky’s economies become more than just liberating spatial frameworks. We can make much more meaningful connections. For instance you make an analogy in one of your books to emphasize immunity rather than germ warfare. An ethical limiting factor that is on the right track. But the whole functional economy of disease comes into focus if one takes the deconstructive insights further. One may acknowledge co-factors more easily with a greater appreciation for context. There is so much to challenge in modern science that goes beyond appreciation for relational context. There is a symphony of meaningful connections that need to be made and can be made when we learn to ground theory in awareness and understand the hierarchies it creates and the organization that flows from it. Emphasizing immunity or any limit brings to mind the stalemate of the undecidable that so characterizes deconstruction.
AIDS for instance is quite clearly a disease that results from a lack of immunity. But what really is at work is someone’s microbial environment has been destroyed (a truth that Peter Duesberg and others have defended for decades against such hostility, and that is finally becoming more accepted by researchers). While going after microbes can keep the afflicted person alive but further undermines their microbial ecosystem, and boosting their “immune system” can help, what cures them is re-establishing a harmony of microbes within them that makes terms like “immune system” seem archaic. That inner microbial environment is a materialization of qualities in the subject’s relational awareness. Even if the “cause” was over exposure to too many “others”, and a subsequent abuse of increasingly destructive anti-microbials, these are manifestations of relational disharmony, a real flattening of many lines of “defense” that metaphors of mere balance in oppositional tensions do not account for. It isn’t as if boundaries need to be properly maintained merely on the level of self/ other. The organism has to be organized properly so that things that belong at a certain level don’t get out of control. Cancer, microbes, cholesterol all serve important functions and are part of the substance of what we consider our self.
It is not as if we just need a boundary judge to keep proper proportions of self/other in check, or even in a dynamic tension of exchange. We need an organized, integrated awareness that does less deciding on the undecidable and more ordering of the unordered. That ordering process only works well if there is the proper knowledge, awareness and functional coherency of the organism. If one has to rationally weigh each possibility from each factor before every decision, then anxiety and indecision are naturally going to be the result since possibilities are endless and endlessly indeterminable. If on the contrary we impose unexamined preferences to fend off uncertainty, a certain ordered rigidity creates its own health problems. Healthy systems however, examine their preferences against the standards of harmony, a different criteria than balanced oscillation or conservative order. It becomes less about proportion, and more about being guided by a knowledge of each factor’s place within the psychic economy of the organism. One does not need to pick apart each piece and let it have its say, but rather finds the proper place of each factor, not within a “natural” order but an order that is created through an evolving knowledge of the power structure of the relational environment.
As deconstruction helps us point out, disease isn’t a mere “presence” of some pathogen. But neither is it about immunity, really. Things like polio, bird flu, swine flu, mad cow, are now being seen as possibly due to toxic exposure, and the great epidemics ended not through vaccines but sanitation and relational harmony. We live in a sick society, where people get sick to help us wake up to the toxicity of our environment. The body can handle toxins and is made of microbes. It gets sick as an expression of its relational environment- the ecosystem of qualitative relations that is healed not by isolating a cause or balancing a collection of them, but by embodying the meaning of our sickness and letting the AWARENESS that flows from the order of the whole organism, heal the whole inner and outer relational environment.
My point is deconstruction can point to lack of balance in accounting but what we need is to consider questions of harmony that take us past core boundary issues and require layered substantive critiques of consciousness and the way the world is ordered by it. And yet that emphasis on organization is actually what is meant in the fledgling new age therapies and ancient metaphysics, even if they end up reducing causal force to some meta-structure termed life-force or consciousness.
I think we see such a bias towards “logo-centrism” in the traditions because they evolved out of a more ancient pragmatic discipline of self-determination and ruler-ship whose aim was to teach adepts and technicians how to structure the universe with an analogical science that tempers the disparate fields of the cosmos into something akin to “equal temperament” in music. If laymen mistook it for religion, that was often by design. It was created by and for an elite class and was transmitted using metaphor to guide their negotiation and manipulation of the “field”. They weren’t teaching literal truth even if the masses took it that way. But to divide the metaphorical “esoteric” from the literal mundane as so many mystic apologists do is to miss the point. It is not about simple injunctions and subjective experience as Wilber suggests. It isn’t a simple direct magical influence through affirmation as many New Agers promote. It is a “sympathetic magic”: invoking resonance and creating structure through the medium of consciousness and its power of non-local influence. People mistakenly call it a subtle energy field but it is not a passive carrier of information but the medium of mediation from which energy and matter arise as analogues and meaningful symbols not of some transcendent “reality”, nor just some other symbols in a sliding chain, but of consciousness, which is power. All things are analogically connected.
The studies of the direct physical effects of consciousness are now showing that Reality is not a quantum-physical phenomenon which splits the base of existence into complementary causes, that the mind then “constructs” into meaning. These quantum effects are merely the limits of our objectification. What we see in quantum physics is a by-product of what we have already partially domesticated into our sphere of awareness; indeterminate quantities awaiting qualitative deployment as our captured strata of symbolic substance. But what Plotnitsky seems to do is domesticate this to a complementarity that emphasizes the break and loss of autonomous structure over the continuum of organizational fields. This he must do to retain his materialism.
What the ancient occult scientists did with their phenomenological science is emphasize that loss as a “sacrifice” that was controlled as a means to create a complete and coherent ordering of the universe. The “purity” of complementary but incomplete systems or tones of meaning is sacrificed for a complete tone series of relative coherency. As in tempering an instrument. This sacrifice was a sublimation of difference and an acknowledgment of the need for a voluntary sacrifice of the many to the one in order to create a unified substance of understanding. They knew without that sacrifice, the world was ruled by conflict and chaos. But originally this wasn’t a foundational transcendent that one obeyed, but rather created again and again. The creative and the coherent, was privileged over the receptive and the different. They weren’t repressive of difference and chaos, they were receptive to it. As the ancient Chinese sages knew, the receptive, while equiprimordial with the creative, was ordered below it logically. When a novel force was confronted it was not repressed, but neither was it given equal power on its own terms. It was understood to be a contest for coherency. The wise rulers knew harmony demanded not a conformity to tradition but a continuity with it (like Alexander in Egypt). When different creative forms are in coherent harmony we are receptive to form as a continuous substance of spirit mediating relations between the more coherent and therefore more creative entities. We can then stop arguing over what key to play in and start harmonizing over the full range provided by a tempered field.
I won’t go into too much detail about it unless you are interested, but mainly I think that esoteric spirituality and science used metaphysical analogies to protect against abuses of power since their terms were often more for an elite ruling class trained in its use and interpretation than components in a general social philosophy. Many levels of knowledge were often encoded into myth as an analogical key to perpsectival meaning rather than an objective map of uniform reality. Plato may seem onto-theological to us, but if he was continuing in the Pythagorian tradition, he was speaking in code to a select audience about the principles of harmony(see Ernest McClain’s work). Of course around Plato’s time there was obviously a tension between the old occult world which had fallen into stagnation and corruption and a more rational and individual age that was on the rise in enough major cultural centers that some have termed it the axial age. I tend to see this philosophical spirit as a reaction to the religious dogma which was itself a degraded relic of what in far more ancient times was akin to a subjective science of a more enlightened and unified culture.
Esoteric science and the belief in its antiquity, often as a social engineering tool, has been the obsession of so many of the brightest minds and certainly many of the powerful throughout Western history. I think a good case has been made by several researchers that many of this great science’s secrets have been found and developed and my concern is that it does get the more democratic framing that post-structuralist theory lends to substantive ideas. Even without some of the more far out speculative technologies (UFOs, scalar weaponry, alchemy), a technological elite with a power over the substance of life seems inevitable. With the instability in the geo-political scene and the accumulating crises in capitalism, the people with the power to provide seemingly unlimited clean energy, social stability, and a host of technologies that seem other-worldly and divine are going to be treated like gods by many and attacked as the devil by others. At the very least, the crises of complexity and competing claims on the organization and ideology of the emerging global order are going to create a situation ripe for exploitation by those with a vision that offers something that brings peace and order to the chaos and an understanding of mankind and his place in the universe. As Slavoj Zizek often points out, the New Age culture is becoming the mainstream in the West and its various ideologies and memes seem perfectly designed for a less-than-ideal world order. On the horizon approaches a world with many similarities to the one our ancients mythologized, where an elite rules over the masses with God-like power and technology, directing the evolution of our very substance. The economy of ideas I see coming from the academy seems to not adequately answer this challenge.
For instance – So much theory focuses on the limits of deterministic structure yet misses the power and freedom of analogical influence. Much of current physical theory takes time as constant and scalar and not as variable, or along with space in relativity, it is perceived as an effect perceived variably not as a generative force. In the many ether theories being developed, space and time are not effects of mass and motion but variable qualities of the medium that generates all structure, matter, energy. Motion and mass are effects of the relationships of forces that emerge from the qualitative medium. This medium carries influence analogically. What we perceive as irretrievable loss in entropy is just the gap of freedom. But that freedom isn’t unconditioned but pulls from its conditions of consciousness-its geneology of organizing force- through other times and dimensions of possibility and actuality not embodied and oscillating on the same space-time frame. Nothing is lost into nothing. Nothing comes randomly from nothing. I got the impression in your e-book that you wanted to emphasize entropy but is it not central to deconstruction to emphasize pruning AND productive movements? Is it not always a transformation? It is just awareness moving through and changing relationships. There is no center to truly formalize the accounting. We change the order as we experience it. Nothing is lost forever, because it lives through what is gained. The self lives on in the other just as the child lives on in the adult.
Post-modern theory misses much with its materialism and pretenses to democracy. It seems so schizoid (as Deleuze would admit and celebrate). It is modernity facing its shadow. Does not deconstruction expose the inevitability of metaphysics and lead us back into just one possible tone of emphasis? It has its strengths and weaknesses like any other metaphysics, as it acknowledges. But it seems to take a cliched view of that weakness as, like democracy itself, being the worst except all the others. It is a pessimistic attitude that, like Derrida, longs for someone to trust. It betrays the desire for dogma and certainty so typical of the wounded romantic. It works well in times of instability, when things could go many ways and helps negotiate the conflict that goes with that. But the true Divine play of difference cannot be approached with such trepidation and mistrust. The wound must not heal into blind trust, but into faith, not in dogma, but in meaning, not as an objective condition to be relied upon, but a sympathy of awareness to be built upon. No form can guarantee justice, but if people can just agree on a form, it can fade into its proper place as margin to the deeper more direct contact between beings.
The neutral attitude of Deconstruction with emphasis on formal equality of opportunity is just the sort of philosophy so exploited by Neo-liberalism. And in a time when we are so blinded by the shell of democracy that we fight over its shell instead of its substance, it could even be a regressive one. If we want to fulfill the values of the Enlightenment, we need to go all the way and that demands metaphysics and unity. Liberty and Justice/ “equality” are at odds without fraternity. The post-modern liberalism chose liberty over justice. Even our conception of justice conforms to our ideals of respect for surface form and its individual liberty. We now recognize the limits of identity politics and deterministic science, but can see no other option since we have scorned depth. We need to listen to the music in the void. It speaks in infinite tongues but it is tuned into a tonal palette by a leading culture of learned people. Our leading culture of materialist priests are leading us to disaster, and no democratic uprising is going to help without a reordering of what our place in the universe is.
Current science precludes any meaningful understanding of cosmology. Sure many are trying to extend our culture’s romanticism to the physical world, but it just repeats the same causal thinking. I think Heidegger’s critique of instrumental rationality is apt. The scapegoat structure is indeed a more extreme version of this, one Heidegger falls into somewhat, I agree. But deconstruction falls back into a calculative mode even as it critiques its extremes. Perhaps a more dialectical relationship between the strengths of deconstruction and hermeneutics/phenomenology would be helpful. The extremes of metaphysics are dangerous but the sanitized liberalism that is taking over the world is more difficult to criticize without seeing context- not as an infinitely extendable and therefore only quasi- determinative force- but as a symbolic effect of a depth dimension that is lost in the process of objectification. The scientific priesthood and their capitalist masters get to define the context of objective reality with their digital matrix of culture commodities within which we are free to indulge in powerless meaning and commodified relationships. The New Age seems to want to heal that divide between subject and object and re-enchant the world, but without more radical, critical thought, we just enchant and mythologize the disparate structures of a commodity nexus. Post-modern topology problematizes space with indeterminable chaos, but the answer is in understanding that infinity not as gaps in a surface structure but as transitions into an increasingly subjective space with its own topology, which when more coherently organized, orders the field of material relations. But to Deleuze, this subjective space is made to seem like an escape from power and coherent organization into virtual freedom and creative intensity. By contrast, occult science sees power flowing between vast gestalts of qualitative relationships, mediated and expressed through a medium that underlies the quantum reality studied by physicists.
Paul Lavoilette’s cosmology – similar to other ether theories – has mapped out that transitional sub-quantum space. Instead of causal singularities, we have a process of continuous creation and there is plenty of evidence that this is the way things really work. The ether foaming up matter and energy that sometimes grow into massive bodies and galaxies that are not big black hole-centered collections of burning down fireballs but radiating, energy generating and order-radiating system generators, where fusion is secondary to the generative energy involved in planets and stars and the super stars in galactic centers. It isn’t something from nothing like a higgs-boson, nor is it something winding down to nothing like entropic teleology. These empty bookends of modern cosmology are the vapid structure that sets the tone for the empty capitalist culture of meaning we try to fill up the voids with. The new theories are mathematical and metaphorical economies of how to engage and co-create order as it moves through time in its immortal dance through a medium that is non-linear and ever transforming- through the vehicles that evolve to channel and embody it, give it context and remember their part in creating it to begin with. The void is not a true void, it is the gap of freedom, the wound that begets birth. It’s infinite potential is never completely present in time or out of it, but it has texture that shifts and molds time and space with and as shifts of consciousness and perspective. It is the womb of the transcendent but it is not a frozen model of ideal forms. It is an infinite medium of models, ideas and beings; an economy of quality that is always being modified by the beings who interpret and redefine it.
So much of post-modern thought seems to take materialist principles for granted and does its best to take moral stances against the structures of man’s conditions and context. I find post-modern concerns helpful when dealing with structural and social conditions, but find it to be a necessary supplement not the central issue. Through context we find substance. Context is an essential supplement to substance and therefore is part of substance- its essential margins. Of course where context and substance differ should remain undecidable in theory. But something must be made background so that sense can be determined. Progress may be relative but it is impossible if we are always changing key. I don’t think this changes deconstruction. It just challenges its choices in emphasis. Since concentrations of power are always happening, even if we can agree this is something we want to destabilize, undermining any representation of hierarchy is not always good strategy for the ideals of its own emphasis. It seems like justice would be a better ideal that may be conservative or radical in different circumstances. For radical spiritualists, concentration of power and its margins should both be accounted for but not forced into a flat field of representation, no matter how much oscillation and temporary hierarchy is allowed. I still think deconstruction is a powerful philosophy that should be part of the game since even the most stable hierarchical representation becomes unjust when naturalized and its application unquestioned. But there are some serious layers of power going on that need to be understood in a way that is impossible if instability and the undecidable are the central motif and not the essential margins. Development becomes impossible. Without some kind of deconstruction of course, development becomes naturalized and divinized, as In Ken Wilber.
Reform and compromise can be part of ethical action but I do not think they should come before the ideal. An emphasis on pragmatics and negotiation is helpful in direct confrontations, but a higher order of influence comes from a position of mystic detachment, so long emphasized in the East and its cherished text the Gita. It emphasizes a different approach than merely answering the call of human suffering in the way Levinas and Derrida and so many advocates of the micro-political and post-modern emphasize. The face of the other may be the ethical imperative but I think the lessons of the more metaphysical thinkers need to be heeded. There is a deeper truth at stake than visible form. Their is a higher action that calls us than the merely ethical. There is a higher social ideal than neutral democracy. Spirituality and metaphysics at their best are practical psychologies that aim to lift us out of short sighted calculation of surface effects to deeper pragmatics concerning the development of consciousness. As social philosophy and foundational texts they desperately need critical perspectives to protect against their abuse.
But since no theory or action can guarantee or even predict its future applications, is the horizon of thought really a hesitating and calculative awareness of the impossibility of calculation? If we are really playing odds in an undecidable situation, wouldn’t it be better odds to embrace transcendent metaphysics and risk the abuses if indeed it can produce beings with better judgment? Why stop on the fairly obvious insight that we cannot script good judgment as a foundational proscription? We crave structures that can increase the odds of good decisions but in both social and individual evolution it is just that ethical trepidation that prevents the mistakes we need to grow and become beings capable of making good decisions without government and foundational texts. If deconstruction could guarantee justice that would be one thing. I am convinced it can increase the odds and it is a powerful addition to social discourse especially with so many institutions that we still need and depend on and will for some time. But because of the very limits of knowledge that deconstruction points out, this liberal attitude cannot know what its ultimate consequences are. It can, like neo-liberalism become the very opposite in essence to its rhetorical persona and outwardly perceived form. Is not so much of post-modern theory and its turn towards the language of libertarianism and away from development been an example of this? Would not the depth language of development framed with a context for its other as essential margin be more likely to provide justice than a central narrative of individual difference? Even a balance of different/same contributes to the flat topology that is so easily exploited by whoever can organize hierarchically since that organization is deemed too macro a narrative to be accounted for in any terms deeper than its representational context.
Conflict and its consequences makes context more central for a moment. But as you point out, like war, it does not accomplish anything except to bring us back to the central issue of determining meaning. Facing our limits teaches us about the periphery of an idea. It may force us to confront its other. But if we make conflict the center, even if it is to try and reform it, we lose the greater context which is defined by more than its material limits, and most by its purpose and origin, which are always in the souls of beings.
Meaning isn’t outside the text, but it isn’t within it either. It is formed between beings primarily as a text of awareness that is symbolized by more objective texts of all sorts from books to stars. Those texts may influence the “deeper” texts of awareness, but that doesn’t mean they are central. Power may accumulate in physical symbols. But the power always comes from a “higher” awareness than the medium that connects two beings. If it had equal power it would not serve its function well as substance. It would add and subtract too much. Of course their is no pure passive substance. Nor would that be ideal. But the polarity and hierarchy of the universe are what allows for activity.
If we want justice we would do well to emphasize greater harmony instead of just a free play of differance. In fact the “higher” principles of organization that mystics call Divine are in such harmony that the need for an “other” as food and symbolic substance, our world and its rules, becomes the margins of a more direct free play of awareness. A more integrated substance, that is, an instrument that is no longer an object played by a subject, but a harmonious transformation and flow of awareness, definitely changes the experience of time. When we are in the key of the Divine, we don’t need time to hear the gaps that clue us into differance; time becomes the development of an idea with out the need for a static backdrop (space) to which we reference to make sense. We don’t need Plato’s cave to watch the shadows to discern the forms of light. We can dance directly in the light, that is, in the space of awareness and the time it takes to traverse its tones as iterations of an evolving idea that exists forever and is known and depended upon but whose meaning is infinitely expanded with each resounding of the ages.
O.k., sure. I am also very curious what you have to say now on The Dark Knight. I just reread our exchanges where you seemed convinced by my appeal to its deeper themes. Although, nothing like mass murder to change one’s mind. I know it made me think again. What a sad, strange tragedy.
But while I think ultimately the Dark Knight trilogy fails in the end and fails rather disturbingly to follow through on its deeper themes, I do think its attempt to tackle some rather difficult dilemmas in contemporary society on a scale that transcends a character drama, are indicative of its symbolic power. In our previous exchange you seemed to equate this mythic level with characters that are mere forces of nature or pure ideas with a simple structure, and contrast that with human beings who are complex and capable of approaching and appreciating moral ambiguity.
I will wait to see what you send me before I go into too much detail, but I will just say now, since I have a few minutes, that what I will say about the Wire will be along the same lines of my analysis of the Dark Knight, although I think we will both agree that the Wire does not fall into melodrama. Both series attempt to tackle the heroic mythic questions that are the Holy Grail of Western literature and the alchemy of our psyche. The Kingdom has fallen into decay, how can the hero proceed? How can he bring the Light back to the Land?
I will no doubt attempt to argue for a move beyond the tragic discourse as the horizon of aesthetics and appreciate myth as the lifting of tragic character identification to a level of symbolic density that makes one see the longer game of real consciousness change and the bigger picture of the soul and society.
Tragic character dramas and tragic, deconstructive critiques may help us develop a capacity for compassion and perspective taking, but mythic art and critique should actually produce symbolic transformation into a new order of understanding of life and society. Granted myth has a history of being melodramatic, of failing to live up to its potential to give a greater depth of vision. But like the Wire, it can go beyond merely helping us develop greater appreciation for complexity and the context of character. It can help us see that context in a greater mystic vision and through tragic limitation, show us a better way. I might even say that what you call reflexive melodramas are incipient mythopoeia. For myth should not just show us limitation but a better way. As I said in my letter on metaphysics, the true mystic and mythic narratives were concerned with the sacrifice, with limitation and conflict, with the necessity of limitation, not as a nihilistic vision of impotence, but as the only means of progress. They taught to not just see the tragedy of violence, but as Krishna shows Arjuna and McNulty sees at the end of the Wire, there is a much bigger picture that cannot be changed with such sweeping melodramatic gestures but rather in doing our simple duties, you know, Krishna slaying his brothers or McNulty not using homeless people for his “greater” cause….
I think the Dark Knight (the second film) ended on promoting the lie in the name of justice, just as the Wire played with it, but could not recover into the mythic vision the Wire confidently moved towards throughout and found in the end, and instead in the third film fell into rather dark and cheap resolutions that were difficult for me to watch so soon after that tragedy. I am glad you are finding meaning in the madness and look forward to reading what you have.
Thanks for taking the time to share your work. I always enjoy reading your arguments and reflecting on their implications. Overall, I like the approach of this book, and it seems you have developed more fully your dramatic categories and where they stand in relation to the metaphysics you wish to argue for. I look forward to reading the rest of it.
I appreciate you including me. I am sure you are busy and I cannot imagine I am much help since most of my feedback is more metaphysical confrontation than what one wants to hear at the last stages of a book. Still, there might be a practical point or two you could glean from my reactions so I will try and make some sense of my impressions. I am sorry if that sense is less than clearly expressed, but I am still thinking through these themes, and I would need a book or two of my own to properly develop my ideas. As usual I am mostly in agreement with you along the lines you discuss but see the tragic and critical vision is best used not as a metaphysics in itself, but as part of a frame that constellates the limitations tragedy composes within a meaningful collective vision.
I suppose I was a bit surprised, given your last message acknowledging that myth was the metaphysical dimension of our narratives, that you relegated it to either light-hearted comedic or dangerous melodramatic categories. I understand you were trying to classify it as a specific structure, given Campbell’s generic descriptions, and therefore I can see the strategy. But I think your appellation amounts to saying that man’s most essential stories, the myths that confront the sacrifice inherent in community, are incapable of tragedy and higher aesthetics if they have a structural resolution.
Since we are doing a kind of structuralism here, I think it is good to remember the common theme that is developed in that literature, that it is not structural resolution in the cultural artifacts but ossification and literalism in its interpretive context that has so often spelled the demise of high culture; and that it has always been because of a shift in basic myths and structures of society not a structural feature of the narratives themselves. Some have even argued that the rationalist paradigm that argues conformity to a certain structure is always a sign of a breakdown in the vitality of a culture into spectacle, an over-emphasizing of Apollonian balance and order to manage the populace over a more musical resolution and dissolution of order in the Dionysian quality of collective ritual. We seem to be at that stage where art has become spectacle and we as critics naturally want to dampen its ill effects. But Dionysus needs his outlets, and if we cannot create a sacred culture and a harmonious ritual to fill that need, no amount or art films will stem the tide of increasing absorption in violent melodrama and media spectacles.
I think myth moves beyond tragedy or comedy, often into melodrama, but sometimes, when successful, into a meaningful performance of the unifying effect of great art. Myth is meta-fiction, and it can be dangerous when tragic violence is rendered as a necessity to community cohesion or the establishment of peace. But when sufficient attention is brought to the comedy or tragedy of man’s errors, not as a means to manufacture peace and harmony as in melodrama, but as an aesthetic vision that brings us into harmony, a metaphysics arises different than that of a tragic character drama where the message is one of moral ambiguity. While that ambiguity might have positive social effects, myth models those effects into the drama and becomes about the strange relationship between media, spectacle, war, social cohesion, tragedy, etc.
The Bhagavad Gita, the central of myth of Eastern culture, is a good example of this, where the central message is quite clear: The sacrifice should not be a means to an end, violence will not bring peace, but if one moves beyond the surface tragedy of it and sees the spiritual vision of life, that vision liberates one to selfless action, aware of the limitations of all partial motives and viewpoints.
I guess I don’t see how myth necessitates that it must have characters that are inhuman or simplistic metaphors as in mere allegory. There is a big difference between allegory and myth. I would argue myth is the opposite of allegory; it is successful when the characters become archetypes and gestalts of awareness, bringing all life into an aesthetic vision that can obviate the literalism and object-bound awareness that is the source of all suffering, and which often results even in tragedy if it does not move beyond identification to some kind of experience of integration in perspective.
In any case it seemed like a strange strategy to say that since there was a weak back story to the Joker character that you were justified in critiquing the Dark Knight on its merits as a character drama, while for No Country you ignored those same standards and applauded its more metaphysical/ philosophical dimensions. There is plenty to criticize in the Dark Knight – especially the third film-on its socio-philosophical dimensions; I was surprised you stuck to your traumatic childhood theme and even more surprised you put it with horror films based on qualities it shared more or less with No Country.
The Joker does seem to be a more seductive character than Chirgurh, but to say that violence should be seen as a mere force if it is to be dealt with on a collective/ mythic level and the attractiveness of chaos not acknowledged for fear of its misrepresentation, I cannot agree. But I grant that in the case of TDK, the Joker was made more attractive than the plot was able to compensate for.
I realize you have specific aims that necessitate certain selections and your categories make sense as far as they go, but they seem to lead you to some conclusions that seem incongruous. If you stuck to the broader interpretation of myth you could make more broad and deep comments on various media attempts to answer philosophical questions. Critiquing the Dark Knight on this level I think would be more effective, but that might require complicating your categories and the whole thrust of the book. I will just say that I think The Dark Knight was trying to do what the Matrix trilogy was doing, which I have more respect for. I think the Dark Knight failed to make the sacrifice a properly symbolic and philosophical gesture and so you might have some point in eluding to its more character driven style obviating some of its mythic dimensions. But I think this was a failure to sustain what was the underlying tension of ideas and a collapse into film stereotypes, more than it was a failed
attempt at tragedy or character complexity.
The Matrix, on the other hand, started with a standard antagonistic structure in the first film and attempted to undermine that structure in the sequels, which I think succeeded on some levels, depending on how one reads the self- sacrifice at the end. But perhaps it failed precisely because it lacked the character depth to make it credible in this fashion, and the philosophical depth of the sequels merely confused the only people that were giving it a chance in the first place. Self-sacrifice seems a cheap way to solve the paradox, and I am reminded of your analysis of Burke in your first book. It usually is a sign that myth has become allegory and tragedy a melodrama.
The Dark Knight was trying in a similar vein to confront our appetite for heroism, and similar to Watchman, tries to question that impulse and put it in dialog with its shadow. Both films frame the sacrifice and the lie as questionable compromises but ultimately fail to offer alternatives beyond the dark resignation to a violent world with uncertain morality. I suppose I wanted you to explore that dimension of TDK more than comparing it to horror or character psycho-dramas. The whole super hero trend seems part of the trend of pop culture replacing high art because of the collapse of traditional myths and meta-narratives that are a necessary prerequisite for tragedy to give catharsis. Without that ground of mythic and mystical communion to connect with, tragedy becomes, as Nietzche points out, a nihilism. And at this point in our culture tragedy only pacifies the intellect, while the emotional part of our psyche reaches for the nearest Dionysian fix. We long for that union, and we will continue to embrace melodrama and reactionary structures as long as we are missing mythic symbols to connect us with a meaningful way of understanding and creating a dance of chaos and order, Apollo and Dionysus.
TDK is just one attempt to answer mythic questions similar to No Country for Old Men, but I think it fails not because it should have been about trauma, or about the tragic limitations of law and order, but because it was unable to integrate those themes without sacrificing what I think could have been and was at times a synagonal conflict structure.
I think literature that aspires to myth needs to have integration and a tentative passage from chaos to harmony. Sacrifice becomes necessary which can be rendered tragically but if if it is seen as one side sacrificed to another rather than a sacrifice of exclusivity and dominance itself to a greater harmony, then it falls into melodrama and dangerous messages of violence. A mythic symbiotic integration is not easy to accomplish, but the effects are more powerful than the tragedy that merely mourns the difficulty and uncertainty.
I agree TDK may be more likely to inspire violence that No Country for Old Men, and I agree No Country is a much better film, but TDK, in attempting to model heroism beyond its tragic and vain dimensions, and in its attempts to explore the socio-economics of crime and law, make it part of a culture-wide attempt at knowledge and justice that No Country stops short of. People will still crave justice, maybe even more so after seeing the horrors depicted in No Country. They just might feel like there is nothing they can do until they see the next melodrama and it subtly suggests to their psyche that justice is possible; or if it isn’t, society should be destroyed, which is becoming the new popular myth if you haven’t noticed. Look how many end of the world movies came out the past year or two. The Joker is a convenient scapegoat , but for a society that sees no justice is possible, characters like him are quite attractive. Meaningless chance and chaos go hand in hand.
Both TDK and No Country deal with similar questions of law enforcement, the limitations of order, and the role of chance and chaos in violence and suffering. The Dark Knight films are quite clearly attempts by the creators to tackle larger social questions and philosophical themes. To say that because the Joker has a back story he must be part of a character drama seemed like a convenient way to protect No Country from a critique that could be applied equally to it. And I don’t think we ever settled this point years back in our Dark Knight dialog, but I still think you should watch the movie and see that the Joker makes TWO separate references to how he got his scars in the film. Neither one of these I would call a flashback, which is what you called it. And neither one is plausible since they can’t both be true. In fact, he seems to be making a mockery of trauma-induced theories of his motivation. The movie makes a point of showing the limitations of Batman’s attempt to understand him and neutralize him. Alfred tells a story that illustrates that some people aren’t driven by rational things. This is not to say that there aren’t reasons for the Joker’s actions, reasons that could be addressed in a character drama. But what makes a drama more mythic is not the presence or absence of character complexity. In fact the best stories have both good characters and broader themes the characters explore as relationships of ideas.
In fact what stands out in this coupling of universal and particular is that what is at stake is not just these characters but society as a whole, not in an allegorical sense, which would be the case if they were mere universal archetypes, but as an embodied vision of the truth that individuals are made out of society. The particular character’s fate is besides the point because it is not a symbol for a universal. It is the relations between the characters that are the Real and are what constitutes society as the formative matrix of character and drama. It is the community that is the main character, like the chorus in classic tragedy. Those collective myths are the background of the action and the spiritual protagonist that must go through changes not by virtue of personal changes in the characters but by the change in the community that produces them and is altered by their conflict.
If the chorus and the myth become just silly stories or abstractions then we lose high drama and mythic art, we lose order as a communal compromise with an always uncertain and evolving demand for justice, and we get the chaotic culture of our times, where repressive order and chaotic freedom go to war over who can fill the gap in meaning we only find as part of a communion with the evolving substrata of the universal.
The Wire for instance is quite clearly in this category. The individual characters may die or be saved only to be replaced by similar structural iterations. This fact is played to a great effect that points to a more complex symbolic relationship between comedy and tragedy, myth and melodrama. Comedy and tragedy seem to be negative messages of limitation, while melodrama and myth seem to be the positive messages of suggestive action that are often overlaid. The Wire seems to use comedy and tragedy, character and trans-personal / mythic scales of narrative complexity to make a melodramatic message unlikely. It functions like sophisticated myths are supposed to, giving us a vision where limitation becomes transcendence, even if the vision is always possibly inscribed back into dogma and melodrama. But what the Wire has as a more mythic narrative and No Country does not as a more limited tragedy, is that it models characters learning not that justice is futile, but that it is found in sacrificing their vanity not into moral ambiguity or that enduring American myth of a self reliant justice of “natural order”, but into the selfless humble actions that come from a metaphysical vision that transforms a complex causal web of dependence and limitation into a power of justice that depends on our character and our surrender to that vision of interdependence that is lost whenever we refuse to dance with Dionysus or try to make him serve an instrumental reason. The Wild West can’t be tamed by any cowboy or vigilante, nor any critic- only through a society ready to take responsibility for its part in creating its violent symptoms and healing that need for unity through the fabric of relations that is our everyday spiritual drama.
I am glad I was some help and I am glad you liked John David Ebert’s take on Cronenberg. He seems like an interesting counterpoint to you along the lines I was suggesting in my last letter. I stumbled on him looking for help interpreting D&G’s A Thousand Plateaus. He has some good youtube lectures on movies and philosophers. His more in-depth readings are available on Google play, which seems like maybe a good marketing idea for us non-institutional intellectuals. Writing a book seems so overwhelming to me without much of an audience and market. Which is tough for philosophical material in this electronic media culture. What makes it worthwhile to you? I have dreams of writing one as part of starting an alternative education and media group someday- if my brother can ever get the financing together.
You wanted to know my opinion on the distinction between subtle and more readily available interpretations? I suppose I find it strange since what you are talking about in your work is a more subtle effect of suggestion to the viewer that might play out in later conflicts and I am more interested in the mythic meaning they take away. One can frame the distinction different ways I am sure, but my point is more to say that I think it is problematic.
In the Dark Knight for instance, my original interpretation we discussed years ago was perhaps a less likely reading than a more literal reading might be, but any philosophical reading would be, including yours. I believe Nolan’s Batman films are pretty clearly an attempt to argue for a heroism of self-sacrifice and a justice of compromise. The first film was very much about how even if the law was corrupt, chaos and murder were not justified to bring justice and how symbols could be used to change the justice of the system. The second and third films questioned the limits of those premises, only to reinforce them in rather cliched ways. I don’ think we need a voice over to say there is a suggested frame in these movies and my original interpretation is just a philosopher’s riff on how those themes are played out in the second film, just as yours is. We both are describing what we think the themes suggest to someone based on more subtle details in the text and their reference to things outside the text in culture at large. My more recent point was less a particular reading than an argument for reading melodramatic violence as part of a larger economy of meaning that necessitates a mythic reading of popular film as a cultural response to the questions left unanswered by the post-modern myths of our day.
“Violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful. The less identity, the more violence.” — Marshall McLuhan
I saw this quote the other day, a variation on the one J.D. Ebert included in his review of Cosmopolis, and it made me think about our differences in emphasis. You seem to see the post-modern destabilization of subjectivity as something with possible reactionary consequences, but which ultimately is a good thing because the potential for a violence justified by metaphysics is lessened when violence loses its meaning. But what I loved in Cosmopolis was how they spent the last scene just trying to find reasons for violence. It highlights how the post-modern world, the death of God, the destabilization of the subject, only increases the potential for irrational violence and the violence of searching for meaning.
To me, the violent search for meaning cannot be defused through tragic catharsis, only forestalled. Myth however can make tragedy part of a meaningful order. What we see in so much violent melodrama is an attempt to make mythic meaning. And perhaps this impulse is better suited to the creative fields than the religious ones, since there is less potential for dogmatic ossification. So for me, to merely take an ethical stance against melodrama is not unjustified, but it is a bit abstractly moralistic, since the problem is not solved through post-modern metaphysics or tragic drama but through a shift to new myths and a new consciousness. McLuhan held out that possibility, and William Irwin Thompson has read into McLuhan’s media epochs a theory of consciousness evolution, not in the Ken Wilber sense of linear progression, but more in line with Gebser and Aurobindo, acknowledging the losses in culture and the dark ages of disorientation that preceded each new leap in consciousness.
In No Country for Old Men you seem to argue that the post-modern mythology it presents is less likely to inspire violence but I don’t think that is clear. The Batman movies are more likely to serve as a psychological support for excusing institutional violence and reactionary politics, at least in its ostensible message. Admittedly the bad guys are more interesting characters and make revolutionary terror quite attractive too. But these are both reactions to a post-modern world where order and chaos are often opposed and incommensurable. I don’t think there is any escape from the fact that we live in a violent world in troubled times. To oppose certain media because of its structure may be the more accessible part of your approach, but it is the subtle reasons this media exists that must be understood if we want to actually solve the problems it is a symptom of.
Well I wouldn’t call the science and worldview struggling to emerge out of complexity and fractal theory a position. It is more of a philosophy of organism and sustainable organization with its roots in German vitalism and ancient esotericism. Academic theory has played around with a philosophy of organism but I think it has been more of what Spengler calls a pseudomorphosis. So far the academics, perhaps because they are so schooled in Western culture, seem to express this philosophy in reaction to our culture’s preoccupation with questions of authority and freedom. Our mechanistic authoritarian science has made it difficult to understand the principles of coherent organization which are demanded by any study of process, biological or otherwise. I do think a science of sustainable organization, theories of creative process, morphogenesis, etc. are such an important part of life, that their various attempts seem to be an attempt at universal metaphysics. But the impulse to universality and sustainability need not be complicit with hegemonic control. Our conceptual oppositions are incompatible with a science of mediation, never seeing past the rather limited notions of compromise between its opposed notions of subject and object, whole and part, etc.
Rather than letting quantum physics guide us into what some of the German fractal people call “endo-physics”, a science of subject/object interference dynamics, we retreat into an abstract phase space that reduces the subject to an object and flattens the temporal context of nested rhythms, into a spatialized dimension in a vector field. I think we need to go the other way around. See space as a function of time, a product of phase mismatches that create a continuum. Post modern science, while trying to free us from totalizing causal schemes, obfuscates the science that can create fields that organize interference into wave guides for the ideal of harmonic inclusiveness.
Deleuze and post-modernism seem to have been a reaction against authority, a vitalistic urge to free us from systems of authority. Consequently, when Deleuze picks up the thread of vitalism he does so as an anti-organismic philosophy, assuming that the organism is the source of the blockage to vital flow. But this impulse for uninterrupted distribution is a question of organization, not a flow that is being blocked by some repressive other.
I have much more respect for Derrida, who seems to recognize the aporia, although he does not see through it. Derrida seems to confront the question of the negative head on (at least you highlight this aspect which I have found to be of central importance), but his solution seems to be a hesitant and careful but unavoidable destructive interference and preference for fluid hierarchy. Deleuze seems caught up in avoiding interference, struggle, dialectic, etc., and attempts an escape that takes him into a bizarre parody of everything he avoids and attacks until he has no choice but to jump out a window, the only line of flight being into the abstract phase space that science has taken for the real. I do however think his impulses are correct in that there is a phase space of sorts that allows for perfect distribution, but it is not a “smooth” space with no interference or hierarchy. It is the impulse of all systems to understand their inherent process of order and approach a perfection of that order as an asymptote of perfect coherence.
I would love to write a proper analysis of this stuff, but not being an academic, I am more concerned with the practical demands of living in a culture where everyday people need a way of understanding a very confused world. Sustainable development in its many forms seems to be on everyone’s minds on every level of society and being. Coherence, specifically quantum coherence, has become I believe, the important concept for the future. In quantum coherence, everything is in phase conjugation, everything is a factor of everything else; all processes are in superposition, none are subject to the tyranny of any “one”, or any concept of the whole. The whole is a limit that is never reached, because there are always changes; but when everything is in almost perfect phase coherence, those changes are transmitted instantaneously. Not to say system coherence is a totalizing attractor. Phase coherence is not phase locking, or entrainment. Quantum coherence is true coherence, where all systems are in sync, from the tiniest fastest rhythm to the largest most cosmic cycle. But every step out of equilibrium changes the whole -which is infinite -in an adjustment that is never perfect and creates the material world that precipitates/involutes out of the field to store then reintegrate(evolve) the lost information.
To the extent that things are out of phase, we get the production of entropy, and the more material concepts of organism, energy storage, phase delay which is linear time, etc. The things Deleuze attacks: the State, the organism, striated space, arise as attempts to overcome these limitations through dissipative systems. They are not the cause of any blockage but merely an effect of material systems trying to redistribute resources that were stored as a by product of phase delay and destructive interference. The evolution of material forms is an attempt to recapture this stored energy and build organisms capable of overcoming entropy. This entropy is no enemy either, but something that only approaches an infinitesimal limit in coherent systems.
Coherent beings are coupled to dissipative structures (organisms in Deleuze’s sense) to the extent that they need to compensate for that lost energy. But so much of the stratification of living systems is a way to capture that missed opportunity and recycle the resources through the nested cycles of life. The hegemonic structures that supposedly are sucking the excess out of “creative production” that Deleuze so hates are nature’s way of making a harmony of disharmony. The source of the “problem” is in the lack of coherence that always couples itself to a dissipative process. The hierarchy of exploitation that so bothers the post-modern mind is a valid concern. But the answer lies in coherent organization, not subsuming the enemy as in traditional western metaphysics, not escaping its field and scrambling its code from the outside as in Deleuze; and while some amount of destructive interference is necessary in this world, Derrida misses the character of what the most desirable interference would be. Everyone can sing their own song if there is a coherent field to guide us into harmony. It isn’t a single system that resists improvisation. It isn’t some new age dream of absolute transcendence, which I might add is closer to what Deleuze does than what I am suggesting. Both dreams are dangerously in line with the current trend towards absorption into the astral plane of unfettered desire that is becoming so hegemonic with capitalist culture and the new media.
There is a path through structure that builds symmetry out of asymmetry with the golden mean. It is not just metaphysics, it is what is emerging out of all the latest physics and biology, especially where they meet. Until we build culture on sustainable wave dynamics, human civilization will be locked into organismic cycles of growth and decay. Post modernism is just this period’s critical phase, taking apart the patterns that no longer serve us. Deleuze I think was trying to transition into a sustainable ontology and I admire his ambition. But trying to disentangle creativity from power is pointless. At least Foucault knew power flows from everywhere, and so turned from any repressive hypothesis and towards cultivation. Deleuze, despite his qualifying of every dualism and essentialism he created, fell back on a belief in dionysus over apollo, the unconscious over the ego/superego, and therefore destroyed any possibility of a balanced approach to culture and society, let alone the subject, which only escapes subjectivation through engagement with the organisms that define it, and breaks free from those only through an ever more refined coherence with the light of what Gebser called “the ever present origin”.
We need to escape from this oedipal drama, stop going back and forth between rebelling against nobodaddy’s harsh rhythms and trying to escape into mother space. We need to grow up and become the gods nature is designed to produce