Monday, December 10, 2007

For Derrida, metaphysical and ontological questions and choices boil down to a question of how we will come to value being and the movement of being

Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 10:16 am Gregory Desilet Posted: Tue Dec 04, 2007 12:34 am
Hello Michael–this post attempts a response to some of the questions you posed about Derrida in your post of Nov. 20th.
[Regarding question 1] Derrida did not like the word “indeterminacy” nor the kind of relativism it suggests. For example, he says, “I do not believe I have ever spoken of ‘indeterminacy,’ whether in regard to ‘meaning’ or anything else. Undecidability is something else again” (Limited Inc, p. 148). His distinction between indeterminacy and undecidability is an issue I discuss in detail in an afterword to John Macksoud’s Other Illusions–a book to be published next year by Purdue University Press (a version of it is also available in my book Cult of the Kill as chapter five). I know this probably seems like self-promotion but your question is a good one and the issue is difficult to sort out in a short space. In Derrida’s own explanations of the distinction he appears at times to contradict things he has said in other contexts. So commentary is useful in providing interpretation of the issue. As merely a suggestion of the line of reasoning Derrida offers–see the distinction as turning on the difference between what is indeterminate as vague and ill-defined and thereby an approximation (like an inkblot invoking different meanings) versus undecidability between (at least two) options (ways of reading, say, the “same” text) which are highly determined through provisionally defined contexts.
[regarding question2] Another very good question and a difficult issue to handle without lengthy give and take. One way I’ve found to think about this issue that helps me is to form an analogy between texts and images. Think of a text as like one of those Magic Eye stereo images where, looked at in one way, we see a two dimensional image and, looked at in another way, the “same” image transforms into a three dimensional image (sometimes revealing a different object). The “same” colors and lines or the “same” facts or words on a page are organized in different ways to reveal very different images or meanings. Derrida argues that every text has within it the capacity to generate such alternating, viable, and persuasive meanings. But this tension of alternatives does not reduce to an “anything goes” situation where any interpretation is as good as another (this because of the role of context–all of the give and take of which would be too complex to convincingly present here–but I do so in the above mentioned works). So, for Derrida, the pervasiveness of these “slidings” is all-inclusive (like a law)–no text escapes it. If, in a particular case, no “sliding” appears, Derrida would argue that the univocal quality of the text is due to the force of habitual ways of seeing (or trained incapacities). Our particular training as individuals predisposes us to see some texts as so monolithic in their meaning that we cannot easily see alternative readings. This is why Derrida produced so many “deconstructions” of classic texts to illustrate how to open them up to a latent alternative reading.
[regarding question 3] This is another interesting question and (sorry) also dealt with extensively in my above mentioned works. But to summarize, Derrida argues that the capacity for a text to be read in alternative (and convincing) ways is an essential aspect of every text. Every text, as part of its ability to even be a text within a language, necessarily contains a fault line (or lines) that divide it (and it’s “identity”) at the core. This division is not simply a possibility that falls on some texts and not others due to issues of ambiguity, bad construction, or happenstance in wording. Therefore, the criticism that Derrida conflates possibility with probability is, without, question a poor criticism involving a significant misunderstanding of deconstruction. One could perhaps argue that Derrida simply imagines that all texts are divided in the way he describes and that such division is not a “law” of texts. But this would require producing at least one instance that violates the law. Derrida would no doubt invite you to provide such an instance. So far, all who have proposed such “instances” have been turned back because the examples they have provided have failed the test. One particularly famous illustration of this occurred in the exchange in Glyph in the 1970s between Derrida and Searle.
I’ve attempted to address some of the issues you raise in your 4, 5, and 6 questions in another thread (”Wherein Bonnie Asks a Question”, I believe). But I grant that what I’ve said may seem very inadequate. These are complex questions and great issues to explore!
Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 10:26 am Gregory Desilet Posted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 8:41 am Post subject:
This post along with Michael Schwartz’s post bring me to think again about what Derrida offers that would recommend him to integral speculations. Answering that, I think, brings us to the issue of ethics that Michael raises. Why bother with Derrida? What is so crucial in what he offers or in the direction he takes? Here my intention is not so much to defend Derrida as to put what he is doing up to scrutiny and attempt to see with new eyes how the value in it may stand up (or not).
The quickest way to proceed here, I think, is to look at Derrida’s explanation for why he invented the term “differance.”
“Could not this (active) movement of (the production of) differance without origin be called simply, and without neographism, differentiation? Such a word, among other confusions, would have left open the possibility of an organic, original, and homogeneous unity that eventually would come to be divided, to receive difference as an event (Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, p. 13).”
Such an “event,” Derrida argues, would be of the nature of an “intrusion” into an already pre-existing “whole”; he did not want to invite the possibility of this interpretation because he believed it to be at the root of all previous metaphysical schemes and their corresponding ontologies (or cosmologies). These schemes implicitly or explicitly advance the notion of an original purity that “falls” into differentiation, creating a dualism of “origin” and “derivation” in which the purity of the origin (and nostalgia for the origin) dominates (as a value) in this oppositional tension. This sets up a fixed hierarchy of valuation in which the lesser term is permanently subordinated and, by comparison, permanently devalued. As a foundational image, this way of seeing oppositional tension becomes the model for all oppositions (and dialectic). It also becomes the primary model for conflict and initiates a way of structuring conflict that promotes an exclusionary form of violence (because of the presumed “naturalness” and fixity of the hierarchy). History has shown the kind of actual violence this view can promote in human culture (as Derrida would argue).
For Derrida, the “one” must already be “two” in order to preclude the radical kind of metaphysical dualism that arises from the belief in an undifferentiated origin (and a subsequent intrusion or division into differences that then become “less than” and “other than” the origin). For Derrida, metaphysical and ontological questions and choices boil down to a question of how we will come to value being and the movement of being. Any “given” or fixed devaluation of a portion of or manifestation of being (as in the opposition pure/impure) strikes him as arbitrary and in that sense perhaps “unethical”–or certainly unjustified (and unjustifiable). This is a quick gloss that I must leave at this point and will try to expand upon later.
Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 10:33 am Gregory Desilet Posted: Mon Nov 26, 2007 9:49 pm Post subject:
Above Bonnie says:
“That is why I try to focus on view as degrees of freedom, and not any particular direction of action, behavior, judgment, or outcome or transcendental ideal like the Good.”
Does that make sense?
Yes it does. Ontological positions such as those I’ve called “transcendent” (in the “Wherein Bonnie asks a Question” thread) place “freedom” above “justice” in a hierarchy of values. “Direction of action, behavior, judgment” becomes more important in ontologies, such as that underlying deconstruction, wherein another value, Derrida calls it “justice,” is privileged.
In the early years of deconstruction Derrida was accused of devising a philosophical position that could not be separated from the radical relativism leading to the notion that “one interpretation is as good as another.” On the ethical plane this reads as “one action is as good as another.” But Derrida did not believe deconstruction entailed any such view. In his later years he expended considerable energy illustrating why deconstruction does not devolve into authorizing the radical “freedom” of an endless “play of signifiers” without direction or concern for direction. For Derrida, the equi-primordial balance between the oppositional pair “sameness/difference” entailed an essential position for the “other” of difference such that respect for the “other” is ontologically grounded and thereby also ethically grounded.
Previous ontologies, such as those corresponding to traditional metaphysics of presence, provided no ontological grounding for an ethic that included valuation of the “other.” The restoration of balance in acknowledging the essential role of both sameness and difference, self and other, at the ontological level, at the level of being, provided an exceptional new ground for an ethic according value and respect to the “other.” Derrida calls the value which grounds this ontological choice “justice.” And, as a grounding value, it is “rock bottom” or “undeconstructible”–which is Derrida’s way of saying that to “deconstruct” this justice would be to choose, privilege, or place at the top, another value in the hierarchy of values.
To value freedom over justice involves us in complications regarding the quality of human community with respect to the role of “violence” in that community. Placing justice at the top of the hierarchy helps to apply the kind of brake to freedom that is needed in order to maintain more cooperative, less violent, community (by altering the “logic” that authorizes tendencies toward “anything goes” and also tendencies to alienate and scapegoat the “other”).
Restoring value to the other (while not raising the other to highest value–as Derrida thinks Levinas did) deconstruction, in its balanced ontology, does not lead to endorsing the degree of communitarianism that underlies the pressure toward conformism found in many Asian cultures. The value of “justice” in respect for the play of sameness and difference in self and other instills a balance that also precludes undue pressure toward conformity while preserving “play” in the tension between individual and community.
Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 10:38 am bonnittaroy Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 12:16 pm Post subject: Question of Derrida
I am going to pose my question in a sort of reductive way to get the ball rolling (or else I will project my own solutions into the question!) —
I am wondering if Derrida considers that same/difference to be
** an aspect of “reality” — a kind of ground of existence, as it were (however lightly held notion) or
** an aspect of being - our existential condition as it emerges from the substrate of “reality” which includes but exceeds that condition/aspect or
** an aspect of the cognizing (perspective-making, interpreting) mind.
If you could answer the relative merits of these three with respect to your(derrida)’s position, and then go on to clarify outside of the more reductive(constrained) scenario I have outlined, that would be great.
Gregory DesiletPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 9:24 pm Post subject:
The question Bonnie raises here, as I’m sure she’s aware, is a VERY thorny philosophical question. It could perhaps be rephrased as: Is Derrida a Realist or an Idealist (or Nominalist)–or somewhere in between? What does he think about “the real”?
Some things I try to keep in mind when thinking about Derrida in relation to such questions:
1) he believes that something(s) is undeconstructible (in particular he has named “justice”–in some very broad understanding of the term)
2) alterity (the “other”) is irreducible
3) all oppositional tensions may be seen as a consequence of differance (differing and differal); separated by difference but not discrete, separate essences.
Like a Buddha, Derrida does not submit to the “logic” of oppositions as “either/or”; instead he approaches them more like “both/and” as well as “neither/nor.” Therefore, as might be expected, when it comes to the issue of dichotomies like Realism/Idealism, self/other, interior/exterior, real/construct, real/being, Derrida displaces the opposition and puts it in the space of an additional “logic,” a supplemental logic. This supplemental logic resembles the exasperating difficulty of the both/and, particle/wave difficulty in physics. For Derrida, the “real” and the “construct” penetrate each other all the way down. There is no instance of an apprehension of the “real” that is not tainted by the “construct.” And vice versa. And we can never sort out with certainty the degree of the mix of the real or the construct. At given points in time and through well-defined contexts we can form judgments about the nature of the mix, but we can never achieve certainty at any point in time in “measuring” the mix of the two in order to factor out what is genuinely “real.”
Therefore, it could not be said that Derrida subscribes to a version of basic Realism. It would appear that for Derrida “differance” is co-originary with any notion of “the real,” “being,” “the construct,” or anything whatever that might be apprehended in any way. In this sense, differance is not a “concept” of something for which it is relevant to decide what its ontological status may be.
That’s the long answer (and a guess at what Derrida would say–and thus far I agree with him). But following this citation of your question is a short answer.
Quote:I am wondering if Derrida considers that same/difference to be
** an aspect of “reality” — a kind of ground of existence, as it were (however lightly held notion) or
** an aspect of being - our existential condition as it emerges from the substrate of “reality” which includes but exceeds that condition/aspect or
** an aspect of the cognizing (perspective-making, interpreting) mind.
Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 10:47 am bonnittaroy Posted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 11:16 am Post subject: Question of States
Here is a question. With respect to the distinctions that can be made between Wilberian cognitive stages and states of consiousness– how would that distinction be made from a post-modern (a la Derrida) view?
Gregory DesiletPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2007 8:21 pm
In response to this question I could only venture a guess. Let’s begin with levels or stages of consciousness. I feel fairly certain that Derrida would have trouble with the way in which Wilber views the rainbow of consciousness. Contrary to what some have argued, Derrida is not opposed to applications of heirarchical organization. For Derrida, hierarchy is everywhere a natural phenomenon of life. So he would not oppose the rainbow or “evolution” of consciousness on hierarchical grounds. But Derrida always wants to understand hierarchy in more complex ways. In this sense he does not advocate viewing hierarchies as universally stable–life (and also deconstruction) is always in the process of destablizing hierarchies. All hierarchies are natural and all hierarchies are temporary and contingent and their current organization is always relative to current contextualizations (and what is meant by “current” could be one year, one decade, one century and so on).
So I believe Derrida would not want to buy into the notion of a rainbow of consciousness whereby some levels are intrinsically and universally “higher” (in the sense of “transcending and including”) than others. What appears “higher” and more inclusive in one context may not appear so in another–or might move down an “evolutionary” line that will ultimately be judged less fruitful than another.
For Derrida, we would need to remain more flexible in our evaluations than is implied in the idea of a rainbow of consciousness with its “built in” scale of evaluations based on some notion of evolutionary progress. For example, if that notion is from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric there may be a sense in which this entire progression is still too “ethnocentric” from a vantage point that has simply escaped “our” awareness to date; or it may be that the progression is not ethnocentric enough (i.e., not well calibrated to the variety of human existence on this planet). While Wilber does make some concessions to temporality and contingency, he seems to backtrack from the consequences of these admissions to promote a notion of enlightenment whereby at any given point in time we can be certain that we have attained the “highest” levels of awareness (enlightenment). I think Derrida would argue that we 1) ought never to be so presumptuous and 2) that if we were to be so presumptuous it would only impose a false destination standing in the way of the journey (which is perhaps more like the “true” destination).
Given this possible “deconstruction” of “stages” or levels, it follows that Derrida would also be very cautious and skeptical about the classification and evaluation of certain “states” of consciousness. For someone who critiqued every expression of the “metaphysics of presence” as also the “metaphysics of consciousness” I would think he would see every form of presence and/or consciousness as thoroughly divided and thereby always open to the task of deconstruction and problematics of undecidability (inviting serial recontextualizations). In sum, systems of classification, and Wilber is enamored with developmental classification schemes, are always a prime target for deconstructive analysis. However, that should not cause us to abandon them completely. We just need to look at them with more contingent and contextualized flexibility.
This flexibility referred to above should not be confused with Wilber’s flexibility evident in the admission that it does not matter how many stages we number or what we name them. Wilber’s developmental progression itself (the way in which this particular way of seeing progression is understood and valued) should remain open to recontextualization along with its particular understanding of “enlightenment.” Recontextualization differs from the process of “transcending and including” in that it is less transcendental and “essentialist.” As you transcend and include, you move toward greater “essentialization.” “Transcend and include” is a formula for creating versions of “essentialism” (or appropriation). Derrida would argue that as you “transcend” you also, necessarily, exclude (the same applies to “evolution”). And thereby transcendence is always “partial” (a “quasi-transcendence”). While this “exclusion” is a practical entailment of life (in Derrida’s view), it does not thereby need to be negatively “idealized” (negative dialectics) in the sense that whatever is excluded in any given “awareness” is thereby worthy of exclusion.
Edward Berge Says: December 9th, 2007 at 2:38 pm Gregory DesiletPosted: Sun Dec 09, 2007 8:32 pm Post subject: Destructive Deconstruction
In response to Gary’s question here:
“Destructive deconstruction
“Would anyone care example a text which identifies itself as undertaking deconstruction—but which partakes in, shall we say, undue destruction, rather than engaging in Derridean delicacy?”
The list here could be quite long, but here are three that come readily to mind for me at the moment.
1) Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection
2) Michael Ryan in Marxism and Deconstruction: A Critical Articulation
3) Pierre Schlag in Laying Down the Law (and assorted law review essays)
In the preface of Of Grammatology Spivak describes deconstruction this way:
“The method is “reversal and displacement. It is not enough simply to neutralize the binary oppositions of metaphysics. We must recognize that, within the familiar philosophical oppositions, there is always a violent hierarchy… To deconstruct the opposition is first… to overthrow the hierarchy… But in the next phase of deconstruction, this reversal must be displaced, the winning term put under erasure. The critic must make room for the irruptive emergence of a new concept, a concept that no longer allows itself to be understood in terms of the previous regime [or system of oppositions].”
In the texts above (IMO) the deconstruction goes only as far as the reversal. In the first case Kristeva gives too much weight (and a negative weight at that) to death and all the symbols and words associated with death and decay (abjection). She does not displace the opposition life/death in any way that brings about a new regime of the tension such that death, decay, and abjection can also be understood as “life,” as life-giving.
In the second case, Ryan reverses the tension hierarchy/equality to accomplish what he views as a thorough deconstruction of hierarchy, claiming that by extrapolating from Derrida’s work “difference without hierarchy” would be an important ingredient of a “good Marxist society.” Derrida said that he could not understand how anyone could arrive at such a conclusion from his work or from a “deconstructive” process. Again, Ryan does little more than reverse an oppositional weighting.
In the third case, Schlag deconstructs the “self” as the “relatively autonomous self” as constructed by legal theorists and lawmakers. Again he reverses the weighting on self in the self/other tension, stripping the self (or the subject) of all practical agency. In my view, the net effect of his deconstructions-run-amok are destructive in the context of legal textual studies, primarily because he focuses almost exclusively on the “reversal” at the expense of the “displacement” part of the process. And this may be how deconstruction appears to become “nihilistic.” 7:17 AM

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