For me, reality was a shared dream that I wanted to analyze and improve if possible. I was exploring psychedelic drugs at the time and adopted the anthropologist’s fascination with the occult. None of the philosophy classes I took were looking at language, so I drifted ever further to mystical philosophy, especially Sri Aurobindo. I also really enjoyed what I could understand of Whitehead. He kept me thinking about science and my hope that it could be imbued with creative values. I once asked a visiting professor in a philosophy of science class if he thought that maybe we were creating reality as much as discovering it with our pursuit of knowledge. The haughty old physicist laughed at me. Fair enough. It is a hard line to cross, and even more difficult to draw; especially within an institution where learning is the main idea. Learning can be a great idea but I never got rid of that haunting feeling, similar to Derrida’s comments on school sickness, a kind of deep mistrust of authority and any static agreement that I am not taking part in. Knowledge without creativity seemed not only boring but wrong. I did a year of substitute teaching at some tough public schools which made me even more skeptical of the ways development is conceived and how easily we label pathology when people aren’t being passive receivers of socialization.
I understand that there are places in academia that are more conducive to these kind of ideas. However, I am less interested in laboring away at one area in detail than I am with bringing your kind of critical focus to the frontiers of our connection with the infinite(i.e. psychic/ spiritual transformations), where visions and ideas abound, yet relevant distinctions and descriptions are harder to find. As critical as I am of most of what is pejoratively categorized as “New Age”, I tend to be drawn to the open minded creative spirit of the meaning making process; something the New Age has at heart. The ideas in Jane Roberts’ Seth Books for example are so rich and full of potential for illuminating meaning in every aspect of life, it is hard for me to resist mentioning them. This interest in mystical entities is enough to bar me from most intellectual communities. Yet I think an extension of meaningful context beyond the narrow focus of our true/false logic will become a necessity, since even the everyday banalities of life are becoming irreducibly complex, as they become more and more contaminated by other times, places and information demanding a new context. Well if it isn’t a necessity, there at least is becoming a greater opportunity for understanding how and why infinity is in a grain of sand, or perhaps even how every event in life is also happening in a context that produces meaning between people unacquainted on the surface, through unlimited yet structured realms of possibilities, and stretching out into many pasts, futures, and “alien” worlds of our imagination.
Anyway, thanks for being interested. If you ever feel inclined, I would be very interested to hear your beliefs or experiences related to ways we can speak of different types of “quasi-transcendence”, and possibilities for your type of metaphysical orientation helping make sense of discoveries in science and consciousness that may demand a rethinking of how we order relations between entities. I feel we can come to know and manipulate time and space as we displace notions of beginnings and endings as effects of a non-linear causal efficacy(i.e. Aurobindo’s Supermind and other notions of higher consciousness not as a more objective subject but a more effective field of force). Some of the more far out ideas of the New Age seem compatible with yours, does that bother you? Does it interest you? What inspired you to write those essays on Ken WIlber, which brought you here to this letter? Would it be possible or desirable to develop integrative communities and philosophies without resorting to fixed meaning and relations? At any rate I appreciate you letting me rant. I hope that when knowledge communities do reach that ground in rhetoric, it will open the doors to a greater connection in society between spiritual knowledge and worldly power. Only time will tell. But it is our story to tell.
“We must still ask: how are established values attributed? It is always a result of a combat, a struggle, whatever form this takes- the will to power is engaged in combat, precisely because the combat determines those who will profit from current values. It is characteristic of established values to be brought into play in a struggle but it is characteristic of the struggle to be always referred to established values: whether it is struggle for power, struggle for recognition or struggle for life- the schema is always the same. One cannot over emphasise the extent to which the notions of struggle, war, rivalry or even comparison are foreign to Nietzsche and to his conception of the will to power. It is not that he denies the existence of struggle: but he does not see it as in any way creative of values. At least, the only values that it creates are those of the triumphant slave. Struggle is not the principle or motor of hierarchy but the means by which the slave reverses hierarchy.”(Nietzsche And Philosophy p82)
How is this transvaluation accomplished? How can we criticize a system or person’s values in a productive fashion; how do we frame its limitations in way that avoids imposing abstractions but also avoids just helping it along its path in an uncritical way. From a strictly formal point of view, there always seems to be a gap there. If someone asks me for advice, I seem to always want to avoid imposing my own values too much, but just helping them be themselves, helping them realize the values they already have seems naive and critically debilitating.
While reading the David Mikics book you recommended I came upon a quote from Derrida that when I read it, made me jump for joy: “Form fascinates when one no longer has the force to understand force from within itself. That is, to create.” Unfortunately Mr. Mikics didn’t heed that advice and seemed to completely misunderstand the force of Derrida’s oeuvre. I did enjoy reading it though, so thanks for the lead. But he seems to be the example of what I am trying to move away from. For most of my life I have felt like I am in hell with my judgment always coming out passionately bringing me into the circle of forces I am trying to overcome. What Mikics criticizes Derrida for is what he himself is doing. He misreads Derrida in order to make his own point. Of course we all do that, and that is the point. But do we transvalue in order to overcome the other person’s influence or to open up a more productive space of new values? Derrida at his best seems to only reverse hierarchy as a means to open up this kind of space, where Mikics only sees the slave’s revolt.
To attempt an answer to my questions, I would say this question of justice being a suspension of judgment, as Mikics frames it in his book, is an oversimplification. Like other concepts Derrida is accused of destroying and attacking, judgment seems to be merely resituated. Rather than proceeding to make decisions based on a given framework, Derrida seems to want what Nietzsche wants: a way of exercising judgment by changing the context in which the problem presents itself so as to open up a way through the unproductive undecidable impasses that are the native ground of each given uninterpreted perception. It is this compulsion to take the world as given that seduces us into passing a judgment on it, rather than deciding how we can best change it through the power of our interpretation. Hasn’t this always been philosophy’s function, stated as such or not?Perhaps Mikics is right in situating Derrida well within the tradition of skeptical philosophy. But in emphasizing the creative nature of our criticism, Derrida gives us the freedom to embrace influence as a power, and responsibility as a chance to be more than just passive commentators and reflectors of our world. We can be the leaders and dreamers of a new world. We can be heroes.
And it is in that spirit that I read films. To illustrate, here is part of a letter I never sent you back when we were discussing Batman:
I must disagree with your appraisal of The Dark Knight. I think it throws the whole melodramatic formula into question. While it may fail to resolve the emotional conflict of the characters, or offer a way this could have happened, it paints what I think is a realistic and very important portrait of what happens when we try use power to change things. It is such a good movie about everything I have learned from you that I am in awe that you wanted a emotional trauma film, when we have a beautiful power play.
None of the three main forces of character in the movie are pure moral qualities. We have Batman, Joker and Dent all representing different things, but I think it would be a bad misreading to say they are Good, Evil, and Both, respectively. I think all three characters are dealing with the same thing in different ways, and they are very dependent on each other. Far from the Joker being portrayed as pure evil, ignoring otherness to fuel his rage; he is seldom angry at all. We see Batman and Dent as the angry ones. They all want to change things. The mob wants things to stay the same. They want to resist a change in power. Before Batman and Dent, things were “corrupt” but stable. They provoked a conflict with the powers that be by their attempt at changing the structure of power more in favor with their principles. This caused those powers to give rise to the Joker who is not interested in power at all, or rather he is only interested in undermining it. He is not a function of the mafia powers that Batman was trying to neutralize, which he did by the way not through violence but by finding their weakness, their desire and dependence on money. The Joker acknowledges and embraces his dependence on Batman and does not want to destroy him, he wants to play. He wants to test power, he wants to push buttons, and show people that rules are the way the play of life is destroyed. He does not offer any positive solutions, and he acknowledges this, saying to Batman “you complete me”. Batman thinks Dent is his “other” and that he will complete him. He misjudges. He thinks Dent is the white Knight he dreams of being, or that he dreams Gotham needs. A pure law, incorrupt. The Joker spoils this by showing him how much an illusion this purity is, how much it depends on power, and therefore how unstable and subject to chance. In the end Gordon thinks the Joker has “won” that chaos cannot be defeated or controlled. But Batman understands in the end. Dent ends up as two face because he can’t understand the complexity, he only sees chance without a pure rational order and justice. Batman sees that he must be willing to embrace the whole spectrum, to be the right kind of power at the right time and not foolishly rage at what is beyond his control.
Maybe this seems like a stretch, but it is much more what the movie is about then their childhood trauma. Line after line of dialog confirms these themes, and no matter what the reasons that they choose one path or another, they are still choices the characters make on their own. They are not simple automatons of their childhood. Drama is more than just the “tragedy” of conflict. As you have helped me see, conflict is the stuff of life. We are all exploring ideas and life together by embodying certain roles and seeing how they work together or do not. I don’t think this makes characters less human. I think it is more sublime when characters can really embody an idea, then when they play out banal predictable formulas of human emotion. Characters learning to see things from each other’s point of view and the audience seeing multiple points of view is crucial to high drama. Which I think is more to your point than how fantastic or exaggerated a story is.
I think one a key idea is expressed in one of the great lines of the movie, but first I will explore the theme in terms of the character’s emotional motivations so it will seem more human to you that way. Rather than asking of a drama, How is conflict resolved?, The Dark Knight seems to ask, why do we want to resolve it? Bruce Wayne was hurt by the tragedy of life and wants to change the world and make it a better place so it won’t happen again to him or to others. Dent seemed pretty unscathed by life until tragedy touched him and his weakness was revealed. Unable to find meaning in tragedy, he only sees the senseless, the randomness, the cold hand of fate. He wanted to believe that one made your own luck, but he was naive and did not understand the contexts in which he did make his own luck. So when those limits were realized his only option was to enforce his new philosophy of life: random meaningless tragedy (why would he shoot the mobster’s driver?, and while he was in the car!)
The Joker has had a bad life it seems and yet he doesn’t seem to think it a tragedy. He gave the scars to himself, even if his Dad suggested it. He doesn’t blame “bad guys” for life’s tragedy like Batman, nor does he blame chance like TwoFace. He has no need to blame because he sees nothing wrong with tragedy. He invites it and forces others to deal with it. It isn’t that he represses the “other” so he can harm him. He doesn’t respect other’s point of view for sure, not to mention their right to live. He is certainly not to be admired. But this is the Joker’s film through and through, and not just because of the performance and it’s significance. The character is the shadow of all melodrama, as you call it. He is here to put into question all our desire to fix the problems of life, to end chaos once and for all, to establish a rule by which all pain would cease.
I think you are right that in a perfect world, the Joker would heal his pain, and therefore everybody else would too. There are certainly films that tackle the essential problems of individual suffering and find solutions that are admirable and are excellent models. They can be more entertaining in a different way, I completely agree. But one thing I learned from you that I always had a problem with before is knowing when to not be the hero. The image of the dialectic was so ingrained in my philosophical mind that when I read your book it turned my world upside down to feel that “difference is older than being”, or various other metaphors that helped me overcome my desire to always be the hero, always find harmony even when harmony was not possible. Batman cannot do this at first, however. He even employs questionable surveillance techniques to stop the Joker’s schemes. But the Joker is more than a man, just as Batman is. They are symbols, forces at work in our world. Batman foils what he thinks is his plan, the people on the boats don’t take the bait, and Batman thinks he won. But the Joker laughs. They are battling for the soul of Gotham he tells him, but both know they cannot kill the other. If the Joker was pure evil he would want to kill Batman but he says he does not. He obviously does not want pure chaos. He implies repeatedly he wants the truth as revealed through play. And then here in his final scene he says the line I mentioned as being so great, something like, “We are destined to do this forever, which is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” To me that line is deeper than any daddy drama. And it is not that one character or the other is one symbol or the other. They both have traits of each metaphor. Together it is the psychic metaphor for incommensurable difference, for a relation so primal that if dissolved would destroy all life and motion. At that point Dent as the acting soul of Gotham is playing out his confusion of this new complexity, somewhat akin to the Dionysian/ Apollonian split. When Batman finally sees the state of his white knight, he finally realizes his own responsibility in the drama. They had caused the chaos by trying to impose their order on the wild and corrupt Gotham. But of course they do not see this as in inherent mistake. Should we never try to take a stand? How could we not? Batman realizes he must become a Dark Knight. He must shift from being a hero acting out of pure principle without thought of consequence, to a wise warrior who can play any role and may hopefully guide Gotham out of the stalemate of opposing principles to a possible society where they exist in dynamic harmony.
The only way to stop the Joker’s carnage would be for society to evolve to a state where government and institutional power were replaced by a Divine anarchy. In the meantime, Gotham’s leader’s and Batman might have to find a way to let this drama play out in ways that are less violent. Perhaps if they healed their trauma as you suggest, they could enter a polite debate, but even then the same ideas are going to be involved so why not see them displayed in a dramatic nature? Why else make a movie? As you have shown me, their is violence inherent in all our wills to change the world. I admire a film that confronts that.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.