Thursday, August 31, 2006

Follow up on Structuralism

Wanted to go back for a moment to some of the post-structuralists.

A simple (though not simplistic) definition of structuralism is: structuralism=linguistic Kantianism.

Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason put an end to pre-critical rationalism, whether of the Cartesian realist kind and the Lockean empiricist model. Both of which saw the mind as uncritically (purely) just observing data--whether outside in the external world or inside.

Kant turned the mind back on itself and "dug up" (to use Freud's metaphor) the very underlying structures of the mind---what Kant called the categories--and how those structures shape the reality we perceive. Or better the structures/phenomena always go together; they are mutually influencing.

The key practice is to bracket the question of whether the inner processes of the mind point to the thing as it is in itself (noumena), and rather simply chart the progression of structures/phenomena over time. [That was the added insight of a Hegel over Kant].

Structuralism took the same basic move but started not with the human mental architecture but with language. Which through all modern philosophy had been treated pre-critically. Language was just assumed to describe things as they actually are, just as previously philosophy had assumed the mind saw things as they truly are.

To see language as itself a category that shapes the mind. Linguistic Kantianism.

And not just language of course, but also material technological and economic processes (Marx), the unconscious (Freud), society (Frankfurt School), legal/medical/penal systems (Foucault).

But language being probably the first and most important. When those movements went too far, by referring all causality solely to such outside structures and how they had overtaken the inner agency of the ego, they proclaimed the "death of man" (end of humanism). We need not to take the insights to that extreme, to see their importance.

Post-structuralism, a la Hegel to Kant, saw initial structuralism as pre-genetic, with no sense of historical development. So chart the (linguistic) structures/phenomena over time, bracketing this whole set of questions around whether they describe the thing as it really is.

The most (in)famous name associated with this movement is of course Derrida. Derrida's original work was On Grammatology. He discusssed the Western philosophical heritage as one plagued by "logocentrism".

By logocentrism he did not mean--as many later misinterpreters would have it--that Western thought is too hung up on "reason" (Logos as Reason, Capital R). Logocentrism is rather the uncritical assumption of the spoken word (dia-logos: think Plato) over the written word. Over grammar (grammatology). Grammar is a structure.

That initial insight became the basis for his later larger critique of Western philosophical heritage and its emphasis on "presence" (spoken word, inner thought) over "absence" (written wrod/grammar/structure).

But to get to that point, look at his methodology. Deconstruction Derrida states involves two steps.

Step 1: Read the entire Western canon, just as it is. You will notice a basic trend towards Dialogue over Grammar, Presence over Absence, Masculine over Feminine, Reason over Insanity, etc. etc.

Step 2: Re-read the corpus this time seeing how the "underside", the neglected element, is that which makes the supposed superior element possible. If there was no woman, there would be no man. No earth, then no heaven. No grammar, then no spoken word.

That moves "deconstructs" the uncritical assumption of these traditional hierarchies.

Now when Derrida was brought over to the US, he met the analytic-literary traditions of North America. The analytical philosophical school just ignored him of course. The literary establishment (esp. Yale) saw his work as literary-art criticism.

Whereas Derrida always has been and will be a Continental Thinker. In the line of Kant, Heidegger, Marx, etc. To me, since I read him from within the Continental frame, he is a philosopher, social theorist, a political thinker first and foremost.

It is true that he had a middle period where he wrote literary works, e.g. Glas. But they are still literary examples (performative experiments) of his own philosophical-linguistic injunction set. So weird stuff happens in Glas, people live in the sewers, launch fecal matter, there's people with appendages. But all of that is just symbolic metaphor for the necessity (and ignorance/deletion) of absence, detritus, excrement. Of the forgotten and neglected.

But Derrida's later writings, which I am more attuned to, are all political in nature. Deeply influenced by Marx.

As an example in his dialogue with Habermas on 9/11, he talks about how all the cameras in the world were pointed on the Towers falling and yet no one saw the event (because there is always absence, mistranslation, never the thing in itself). We assumed the dominant narrative of this as a Post Cold War phenomena and forget as a result, that bin Laden and the jihadist ideology grew in the fields of Afghanistan fighting the Soviets.

He also noted that Marx (as absence) was the future of political thought. In a way with the neoconservative embrace of democratic Marxism as the prime mover of American foreign policy, he was in fact on target.

But in America he was never read that way. He was read for literary-cultural criticism.

And worse his actual injunction was never followed.

Recall that Derrida's injunction is to first read the entire corpus as is. That those who claimed to follow in his path in the US Humanities did not do this, is proved by the swing in the other direction to a return to the Canon (e.g. Paglia).

Derrida's deconstructive results were taught without the first step in the injunction, often without even the second. They were just launched on students to either be believed or not, as some kind of fundamentalism. If those who claimed to follow the program, had actually followed the program, then you wouldn't have had this mess.

The mess is of course the signifier of deconstruction, which is only truly located (signified) after a modernist (post-modernist) reading of the canon, is translated downwards into a pre-canon nihilism and narcissistic display of arro gant ignorance (so called Boomeritis). As seen in defective feminism, pc movement, Bush is the Real Terrorist propaganda,

But to then say we should just return to the Humanities/Canon as such and through the whole pm/deconst. model overboard is the same mistake in reverse. It can in a good way re-connect to the Canon, some semblance of sanity, but it will still fundamentally be pre-critical. It will just inevitably fall back into many of the negative assumptions that forced the pm reaction in the first place.

Even when Deconstruction is done properly, by the actual injunction, the actual perspective taken, it is still deeply incomplete. All it properly does is crucify the naive assumptions of the Western mind. It does not ressurect.

I see Derrida in that sense, like Marcusse, who properly deconstructed both soviet and fascist totalitarianisms and democractic bourgeoise oppression, but had nothing else to put in its place--hence the New Left's idealization of the primal, egocentric bs.

To read Derrida and not fall prety to that sin, is to sit in the Empty Tomb, prior to the Resurrection (partial, of your mind). Just sit in the death. He did saw that the neglected, the dead and forogotten, our ancestors, were the true progenitors.

Only Habermas arose from the ashes of a Marcusse, Derrida, and Foucault. Only he saw a way forward. [Gebser correctly identified the evolution of these worldviews, but did not have a mechanism whereby they so developed, and therefore no real injunction to help aid them along].

That way is communicative reason. Habermas retains reason--which is the true insight of modernity over myth, dogmatism, and pm irrationality--but through communication--the true postmodern insight, that the ego arises in a whirl of influences and we need each other to navigate these waters.

Derrida and postmodernity read through this lens, is then seen as a mental cleanse (or enema if you like, to be Derridian). It is a great gift to have the mind wiped clean of its naive assumptions about so much. About a static world, a static inner world. But only if it unburdens us to move forward.

So as to the canon question, I argue it should be read in a Habermas style. From his perspective, which then is large enough to envelop the critical insights of the others and the canon qua canon, without falling into those camp's archetypal errors. And yes I think one can call that second-tier, yellow, as long as one remembers that only if you take the perspective, do the practice, and feel into the space, and that "yellow" is just a marker (probably not a very good one frankly) of that worldspace. Of an actual point of view. Those markers are like a YahooMap! They get to you in the right general vicinity but they never 100% of themselves get you to the correct address. It requires some more creativity and direction asking, intuition to actually locate it.

Given that this Habermas formula won't happen, and we are left with the choice of the lesser of two evils, then yes I would say do the traditional canon thing.

Communicative Reason opens up the We, the real future. Heidegger had moments of almost intuiting the mysticism of being-in-the-world together and evolving. Almost it seems to me. Maybe glimpses, but he never really followed them up. Habermas is more the intellectual, the describer and aritculator of the phenomenon, but himeslf not a shamanic-like figure performing this communal contemplation. Our selves in union. Neither the onslaught of the collective, nor the isolation of the monad.

Transparency as Habermas always stresses is the core of communication.

Our lives as a practice of transparency in relation. Not simply resting in some spiritual state, but the yoga of transparency. On all levels, in all dimensions of our being. The making transparent all the perspectives, the locations of all perspectives in the Kosmos, and the means whereby those perspectives are disclosed.

Whatever post-metaphysical spirituality may or may not be, it is, at is core, I believe, this and this alone: the yoga of transparency.


At 1:08 PM, Blogger MD said...

Small comment: You should probably read Paglia's works before, ehem, doing your "locating" thing. Bad form, CJ.

To wit: "Lacan and Derrida are meaningless unless you already in your head the austere, sonorous, classical French sentences that they are twisting and wringing like a washcloth."

"We didn't need Derrida -- we had Jimi Hendrix."

"Psychaldelia's deconstructions, unlike Derrida's, destroyed the safe and known for one purpose: expanded vision."

You have some studying to do, my friend.

Larger comment, re:
But to then say we should just return to the Humanities/Canon as such and through the whole pm/deconst. model overboard is the same mistake in reverse. It can in a good way re-connect to the Canon, some semblance of sanity, but it will still fundamentally be pre-critical. It will just inevitably fall back into many of the negative assumptions that forced the pm reaction in the first place.

Oh pulease. Pre-critical? Reading, studying, reconciling, returning to over time, exploring, learning, integrating. Oh yeah, the very definition of pre-critical. That, or disgustingly patronizing. Your choice.

Also, your "pm" has its own historicity, of which you seem blind. Postmodernism. Is. Nothing. Again, to the books, soldier.


At 1:13 AM, Blogger timbomb said...

Matthew, I have to say, for you to accuse Chris of being patronising is pretty funny. Are you just annoyed that someone is coming close to appropriating your preferred rhetorical voice?

Chris makes it pretty clear that he's writing from within his own experience, from his own perspective, about his own experience.

Most of your replies seem to me to strongly imply that he's an idiot. I don't have a problem with you disagreeing with his point of view. I don't have any problem with you disagreeing with Wilber's (or Gebser's or Aurobindo's or Chris's) attempts to describe how an integral perspective might seem. I don't have a problem with you having found tremendous value in the humanities (or even in the Humanities, since I've noticed you prefer to capitalise it).

But you write in a way that leaves me with the perception that anyone who doesn't follow the path you've taken and who hasn't drawn the same conclusions you've drawn is basically a fool who could stand some correcting.

Undoubtedly, that's not how you intend it (or perhaps it is...) but it's how it reads to me.

You don't suppose there might be some space to acknowledge you're writing from within your own experience, from your own perspective, with a little more humility and a bit more respect for the other guy's position?

At 6:52 AM, Blogger MD said...

No, didn't not mean that at all. I've said numerous times in other places that Chris's voice is important; one of the few in the integral community who write extended thoughts with such grace. If anything like how Tim took what I wrote relates to how Chris took it, then I'm sorry. I could have said what I wanted to say without the snark and I should have.


At 9:56 AM, Blogger MD said...

I'll also say I appreciate your bringing of Habermas into the subject of how to read the Canon. Definitely an interesting perspective to consider.



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