Thursday, April 12, 2007

Final Reply to Matthew (a)

At the outset I find it interesting that at the same time I am writing an essay criticizing Derrida and deconstruction (in response to Gregory Desilet's article), that I am here arguing for its partial truths contra Matthew. As only one sub-species of the larger postmodern tent that is.

What I have been about from the beginning is as many perspectives as possible. I prioritize--based on my own judgments--such perspectives but I want as many as possible. Hence I can not, for all our other agreements (and there are many) accept assertions like the following by MD (in comment section):

Furthermore, so-called "postmodernism" attempts to take credit for developing the practice of questioning assumptions (i.e., deconstruction) and that is absurd; in but one example, Socrates rather excelled, most agree, in deconstructing assumptions. All postmodern "innovations" are present in ancient Greek thought, and plenty of other places.
A couple of thoughts. No one is denying Socrates' brilliance, certainly not me. I take issue with the reading of deconstuctionism as "questioning assumptions" and nothing more.

So to make clear I am here discussing deconstructionism as done by Derrida. Not all postmodernism of which deconstructionism is only one variety, not even accepted by all the others. Foucault for instance called Derrida (rightly) a literary terrorist and aligned himself with the Kantian heritage. But that for later.

Deconstructionism as "questioning assumptions". While there certainly is assumption questioning going on in deconstruction (as well as Socrates), that is not the whole of the story--for either one. In fact I would argue not even close to the central theme of deconstructionism.

Deconstructionism is profoundly centered in linguistic studies. Derrida's first major work was "On Grammatology."

It is not just questioning any old assumptions it is part of a investigation of language itself by which any opinions and assumptions are expressed. It has argued as a fact (not opinion) that language has inherent indeterminacy within it. That argument may be wrong, but it is certainly not treated as mere opinion within the literature itself. No doubt philosophers and people from Socrates and before to Derrida knew misunderstanding due to language was possible and that language was a tricky beast, to put it mildly.

But I find there is a degree to which it is more present in Derrida. In terms of specificity, in terms of his argument to division in the heart of being-in-the-world itself.

Take Plato, since we are on the subject of Socrates. Derrida's argument was that the underside creates and defines the above ground. Hence for Derrida ancient Greek philosophy was "logocentric", which contrary to popular opinion (by many bad postmodernists even) logocentricism is not being too rationally-centered but over-emphasizing the spoken word over the written word. Or more specifically the assuming of the content & meaning of speaking over the structure/grammar of the language.

Plato wrote dialogues. And the Dialogue form assumes people can understand one another. It presupposes such an equivalence. For Derrida this is the metaphysics of presence.

Language, to me, is like math (emphasis on like--technically language is like and unlike math, we'll see why in a sec). A mathematical theory (following Godel) can either be complete or coherent but not both. Just as you can determine an electron's velocity or its position but not both simultaneously (Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle).

I believe the same basic phenomena works in language. I think that because I think that is a basic property of existence, of the Kosmos at least as it is currently experienced/understood by humans. [holons: whole/parts, coherent/incomplete].

In other words, works of art, our speaking, this very post is either complete or coherent but not both. And likely a degree of either: certainly incomplete and likely at best only somewhat coherent.

If it is coherent than it is incomplete. If it is complete than incoherent. And usually some combination of the two: complete/incomplete & coherent/incoherent. [relative truth].

Btw, this hasn't stopped neither math nor physics from making strong claims and finding truth (all of which I believe in) just not absolute ones.

Deconstructionism has the ability to spot the gaps in language. That is not the same as "questioning assumptions" and to me is much more than a species of opinion. Nor is that so vague as to meaning nothing. What deconstructionism can not do is anything more than spot such gaps. This is why it leads to literary terrorism. It can blow texts up and nothing else. [An example of me practicing deconstruction in a moment in order to ground this claim].

This is why, as much as it may seem otherwise, I agree with Matthew that deconstructionism per se/en toto leads to bad art, degraded culture, and nihilism. What I don't say is that therefore the entire thing is irrelevant. It's worth following the deconstruction train, feeling its rhythms, seeing the terrain. Ideally, I think it makes us more humble as thinkers--I can't speak for artists though I would assume the same.

Derrida and anyone who takes his work as primary make the same mistake in reverse as those he properly criticizes. They absolutize absence, grammar, mourning, the Other which is only the same disease in reverse: the disease recall was only identifying with the Same, logos, present, truth, living, etc.

So following Nagarjuna I state that there is relative and absolute truth. The relative world exists on the principle of polarity. The poles dependently co-arise: i.e. they depend for one another on their existence. For there to be flowers there must be weeds and vice versa as Matthew's garden image points out. Derrida rightly stressed I feel that the Western philosophical tradition did not give proper time, attention, and respect to one side of the pole: the absent, dead, maimed, feminine, irrational, emotional, aboriginal, structural, etc. [Others before Derrida like the Romantics made similar cries no doubt].

That the Western tradition did so philosophically is related to the pain and violence inflicted on such groups. The outer and inner themselves dependently co-arise, with a deep resonance about them. That does not mean I am saying people shouldn't study that great Western tradition/canon, but they should never been unaware of the historical consequences of that tradition either. Some of it good, plenty evil.

In other words, deconstructing Matthew's analogy, he can not destroy all the weeds because the weeds are the very thing that make flowers possible in the first place. If he kills the weeds, the flowers will no longer be flowers and may become in the minds of many themselves a weed.

The prostitute is always the secret best friend of the preacher, because the preacher would be out of job without her.

While that may seem a silly play on words, I assure the reader it is quite serious when you take weeds and flowers and apply that to human beings. The idea that weeds should be fought at all times is quite dangerous when say applied to a civilian population housing an insurgency (think Vietnam carpet-bombing). [For the record, I am not accusing Matt or anybody else of promoting genocide. I am simply stating that ideas always have political ramifications. Ideas for me are not reducible to their political consequences but they are never separate from them either. That is a Marxian position, which is very modernist btw.]

I follow, as best as possible, the words of Christ: the weeds and the wheat must grow together until the final harvest.

This is not to say weeds shouldn't be dealt with: floral, human, or otherwise. It is to remember a sense of humor. Humor as the sign of freedom from the trauma of the polar play (when taken as final). Only humans define what a weed is. A weed only exists when humans have determined beforehand they want to grow certain flowers or crops. By nature's point of view there are no weeds. A weed does not define itself as a weed. It is an expedient human construct that is helpful in making pro/con decisions in life, which is necessary, but they are not absolute.

When one confuses the Absolute for the Relative, then the dark underside relative truths must be "bludgeoned."

Rather I argue like the Nondual text the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord--Krishna): Remember the Lord and fight.

Not don't fight and sit and pray all day and let the world be overrun. Not simply fight and demonize.

Remember the Lord and fight. In other words, "Remember the Oneness as the play of the Poles (Ultimately) and then fight for the good (Relatively)." But never convince yourself of your own righteousness for all of our judgments are always flawed, some less than others, as well as our execution. [This post as proof of the preceding sentence].

It is worth asking, do the weeds teach us nothing? This is a point I've picked up from Derrida. Even if only they teach us that the ground is perhaps unhealthy or that something has been upset to allow a "foreign weed" in. If there are not weeds, there are not flowers. Hence, without letting grow wild, they should at least be respected and appreciated for the job they do achieve.

That is why I am not a postmodernist but can accept part of the postmodern teaching--and yes accept that the term loaded for sure has some relevance.

Deconstruction outside of the Double Deconstruction of the Nondual-Dialectic does lead to all the evils and stupidities mentioned by Matthew.

But what Matthew has not I believe shown is that in this Double-Deconstruction---that leads into Emptiness/Godhead not Nihilism--deconstruction, little d, has no value whatsoever.

The problem, as I see it, is Matthew reading every instance of postmodern as inherently meaning better than modern. While that is certainly the case I would say for many who are self-described postmodernists, that is not my position. And anyone who reads through this blog will have a damn hard time finding me saying something as simplistic as that.

Though Matthew doesn't come out and say it specifically, seems to me he is often insinuating I'm in the same camp as the stereotypical Lyotardian, American left-wingnut boomer humanities professor. I am not--for God's sakes I've linked to David Horowitz on occasion. Not to mention I quoted a "premodern" text (Gita) as more important and wiser than a postmodern one.

This is why in my rebuttals I continue to stress my own more Habermasian roots. I promote modernity generally (hence my support for Barnett, not exactly a postmodernist he) but I believe some forms of postmodernism made proper criticisms of the way in which modernity was sourced during the 18-mid20th century. Like Habermas I think to talk about progress (which to my mind is a modern notion last time I checked, not postmodern) in a dialectical fashion. And that reason must be grounded philosophically in the intersubjective, which for me leads to perspectives. As many as possible and then working from the ones that are already in existence, seeking to find creative solutions that engage but are not limited to such already in existence perspectives.

That is not postmodernism but it includes a postmodern (what I take to be postmodern anway) element. [But I'm not married to the idea that has to be a postmodern insight]. Namely that truth is contextual and that contexts are endless. Hence in our own differing ways, both Matthew and I are advocating the unending conversation.

It is true (as Matthew has pointed out) that given my reading of the evidence and my best guess I accept a vertically developmental, evolutionary context within and without as one of these contexts. Not the only context, but as a very important one. He does not relative to the interior.

The enemy, as it were, (my secret friend on the other side perhaps?) is wholeness/finality. For me everything whole is a part of the next "wholer" moment. Deconstruction has been a tool, emphasis on a, to help crumble such totality and perfection, er rather false perfection in my book, at times bordering on idolatry. In my own thinking as much often more so as in anything I read from others.


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