Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Integral Kosmopolitan: CFP

Another Integral Theory Confeference is coming up next year.  ITC 2013 will be July 18-21 in San Francisco.  The theme will be “Connecting the Integral Kosmopolitan.”  The call for papers was recently issued.  A pdf of the cfp can be found HERE.  The deadline for proposals (workshops or paper presentations) is August 15, 2012 (the deadline for poster presentation is November 15).

I went to the 2008 and 2010 Integral Theory Conferences, and I enjoyed them a lot more than I enjoy the usual academic conference.  Although the conferences are generally oriented around Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, they are very open to alternative approaches to integral.  The workshops, papers, and posters at these conference explicate, apply, and criticize Wilberian work while also engaging other “integral” thinkers (Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser), critical realists (Roy Bhaskar), complexity theorists (Edgar Morin), poststructuralists (Gilles Deleuze), process philosophers (Whitehead, Teilhard, Bergson), transpersonal/spiritual psychologists (Roger Walsh), and so much more.  

The keynotes for ITC 2013 include Roy Bhaskar and Edgar Morin.  Those two alone make the event worth attending.  I’m definitely going, and I’m also planning on proposing a presentation.  Since the theme is Kosmopolitanism (spelled with a K because that’s how Integral theorists spell “Kosmos”), I might present something on Morin’s planetary realism.  I’m also attempted to do a history of cosmopolitanism, particularly focusing on its post-Kantian and posthumanist mutations in Derrida, Stengers, Latour, and Haraway.  Hmmmm……scratching my head. 


Picasso on Fakes

I heard the following story from Haj Ross, a friend and teacher.  I don’t know it’s origin…it might be a fake.

Picasso is painting in his studio, when an art dealer comes to see him.

The dealer says, “Monsieur Picasso, I have just bought this painting, which was said to be a genuine original. But just to be sure, and in order not to perpetrate any fraud, I have brought to you for authentication.”

Picasso casts a brief glance at it and says, “It’s a fake.”

This is a great loss for the dealer, for he is an honest man. But he carries on, and in four months, he returns with another painting.

Picasso glances at it too, and then says, “It’s also a fake.”

“But cher maître!” expostulates the dealer. “When I visited you last summer at your atelier in Cape d’Antibes, I saw you working on this very canvas. How can you now tell me that it is fake?’

Picasso shrugs. “I often paint fakes.”

Occupy Romanticism

Jeffrey Robinson composed an interesting paper for a conference on poetry and revolution.  Robinson presents his radical view of Romanticism by connecting it to the Occupy movement.  Hence the title, “Occupy Romanticism” (posted on Jerome Rothenberg’s blog).

A Romantic poetics of democracy thus “occupies” the traditional domains of poetry and its sentences.
Just as the Occupy Movement having recently called for the need to “Occupy Language,” demonstrates how quickly its participants are associating the misuse of language by those in power, so earlier generations found the need to question inherited genres, forms, and language in oppressive structures of control.

[…] “to occupy” means: to introduce the new or unfamiliar, to defamiliarize by means of contiguity, what sits next to what, the previously known and often canonical, to develop poet by poet a sense of an ongoing radical Romantic poetics, and to define this Romanticism as one that spreads horizontally across geographies and vertically across decades and so-called historical periods.



Style: More Object-Oriented Linguistics

I’ve argued before that, in contrast to Ferdinand de Saussure’s principle of the arbitrariness of the sign (l’arbitraire du signe), linguistic signs are integral units that have their own meanings or virtual capacities.  In other words, it isn’t just an accident that “s” is used as a suffix to pluralize words.  There is a pluralizing capacity latent in the “s” itself.  This isn’t to say that “s” takes on the sames meanings in different languages or cultural contexts.  Yes, language is culturally relative, but that relativity isn’t arbitrary.  The meanings “s” does take on are local manifestations of the virtual capacities or singularities of “s” itself.  Let’s leave the “s” suffix and look at a different example.

Consider st-: it is the assonance that begins English words like style, stand, still, stay, strap, string, etc.  It isn’t considered a full-fledged morpheme, since it doesn’t seem to have it’s own consistent meaning (unlike a suffix like “-ed,” which has a meaning: making verbs past tense).  Yet a closer look shows that the consanant cluster is an integral unit harboring virtual capacities.  John Lawler has done some amazing research on st-, which he published in an essay, “Style Stands Still,” available on his website along with many other related pieces of research.

In an analysis of the word “style,” Lawler found that the essential meaning of the sounds of a sign accords with the essential meaning of that which it signifies:

there is a great deal of semantic and ontological coherence between the senses of many English words (prototypically monosyllabic words), on the one hand, and the assonances (initial consonant clusters) and rimes (nucleus vowels plus coda compounds) (p. 11).

Thus, the meanings and beings signified by English words are often coherent with the capacities at work in the sounds signifying them.  Lawler demonstrates this “phonosemantic” coherence through an analysis of the assonance/rime structure of numerous English monosyllables.  Look at “style.”  The English word “style” has many senses.  It can refer to a stylus, a manner of speaking or writing, or a manner of being in general.  Of course, different dictionaries offer varying definitions, and Lawler discusses many of these variations. 

The word “style” bears much the same sense as its etymological predecessor, the Latin stilus.  “Style,” in this sense, generally refers to some sort of sticklike and/or sharp object, such as an engraving tool or part of a plant or animal.  However, the difference between the Latin i and the English y is not a meaningless historical transformation.  The spelling of “style” with a y points to a relationship with the Latin stulos (or stylos), which comes from the Greek word stulos (“column”).  Although a column and a stylus are both functionally different, and although they have differing physical qualities, they are similar in their virtual being.  For a column to be a column, and for a stylus to be a stylus, they must both be “rigid objects of one salient dimension, with their ends distinguished by contact with two-dimensional objects”, whether these ends are the capitals of a column or the surfaces upon which a stylus works (p. 7). It is evident from this that stilus and stulos merged and have become indistinguishable in the English word “style.”

To find the limits of the phonological and semantic/ontological coherence in the etymological roots of the English word “style,” Lawler gathered the major PIE roots clustered around the roots for “style”, which turned out to be PIE roots beginning with st-.  All of the PIE roots beginning with st– cohere around the same general images of one-dimensionality, verticality, rigid stability, and stillness (note that it is somewhat difficult to define st– words without employing other st– words).  More remarkable is that this coherence among PIE roots is still applicable to their counterparts in Modern English.  Some combination of one-dimensionality, verticality, rigidity, and stillness is at work in each of the following monosyllabic English words noted by Lawler: stab, staff, stake, stave, steep, stem, step, stick, stiff, stilt, stub.  Each of these words harbors capacties to signify some action or thing that is one-dimensional: a stab, a step, and all the rest are actions or things that occupy or move along a single salient axis.  The various beings and semantic definitions implied by these st– words tend to gravitate around their virtual capacities.

According to Lawler, the percentage of words that have the assonance st– that share the phonosemantic coherence noted above is roughly 70%.  (Note: Lawler has found that the phonosemantic coherence of rimes has a much smaller percentage of occurrences, somewhere between 70% and 30%.  Lawler hypothesizes that this may be due to the larger number of rimes than assonances.)  This does not demonstrate the absolute essentiality of this meaning of st-, nor does it demonstrate the opposite.  In short, the coherence of sound and meaning found in this assonance (and many other assonances not mentioned here) cannot be dismissed as mere chance or historical accident.  Moreover, like I mentioned above, this assonance cannot be considered as an ordinary morpheme, “since 100% of the occurrences of a morpheme have its meaning” (p. 13). 

Lawler proposes that these assonances function as either classifiers or adjectival/adverbial modifiers: they identify the words to which they are affixed as belonging to certain semantic/ontological classes (i.e., regimes of attraction); thus members of the st- class radiate out from singularities of inherent st- capacities, some words clustering closer to the essential center, and other words clustering more toward the periphery.  The rime is then treated as something like a predicate, bearing in mind that neither assonance nor rime belongs to any syntactic category proper.  In sum, various definitions (local manifestations) of st– words all radiate around its virtual power of standing.

Keep your mind in hell, and despair not

It’s a phrase I heard from Simon Critchley, who heard it from Gillian Rose, who heard it from Staretz Silouan, who heard it from God: “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not.”

It’s good advice.  God telling you to keep your mind in hell  is a little like God telling you to pray as Meister Eckhart did: “I pray God to rid me of God.”  Theism and atheism both seem like insufficient responses to these injunctions.  I’d rather keep my appointment with disappointment.  Maybe Whitney Bauman is right: we need a “viable agnostic theology.”

We Have Never Been Disenchanted

There are some great essays in The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age, edited by Josh Landy and Michael Saler (Stanford UP, 2009).  Overall, these essays are better than most of the usual fare on the topic of enchantment. 

Typically, in most accounts, discussions of enchantment end up positing a very simplistic account of modernization.  This comes from Max Weber’s famous description of “the disenchantment of the world” (die Entzauberung der Welt), which adopts Friedrich Schiller’s term “disenchantment.”  Weber argued that processes of modern rationalization increasingly devalue and secularize the world, thus taking away all of its “magic” (Zauber).  Here’s the narrative: having lost our premodern enchantment to modern disenchantment, our task now is to re-enchant the world.  That’s simply not true!    

Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern was the first book I read that showed that we have never been disenchanted.  Then Lee Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, then Jane Bennett’s The Enchantment of Modern Life.  Latour, Bailey, and Bennett all argue that the supposed disenchantment of the world was always accompanied by a proliferation of enchantments.  If we were ever disenchanted, we were simultaneously undergoing re-enchantment.  This is the theme of the anthology edited by Landy and Saler.  We’ve always been re-enchanted!

My favorite part of the question of enchantment is the musical metaphor.  “Enchant” derives from the Latin incantare, which comes from cantare (“to sing”).  Whereas the German word “Entzauberung” suggests a loss of “magic” (Zauber), its translation in English as “disenchantment” suggests that chanting or singing is somehow involved, as if the disenchantment of the world occurred when there was no longer any singing in the world or, more likely, when the singing could no longer be heard.

I was pleased to find out that Michel Serres has an essay in Landy’s and Saler’s book, and he addresses the aural dimension of enchantment in his chapter, “Epilogue: What Hearing Knows.”  Basically, Serres invites us to experience the enchantment of the world by listening to “the world’s song”: “A keen ear and silence give us over to its enchantment.  Listen” (259). 

Serres remarks that some people don’t notice that enchantment.  Some, “never hearing the song of the world with their hardened ears, devoted to the human sciences and thus deafened by the noises of the collectivity, even believe that the universe is disenchanted” (272).  For Serres, this is just a failure of listening.  What if we listen better?  “Do we reach the song of enchantment of the things themselves?  Yes” (268).

If vibrations exist in every domain, a sort of universal acoustics, then music and language, both universal in some way, should be able to construct an epistemology founded on hearing at least as easily as the one that, beginning with Plato, we have founded on sight.  The universal acoustics would allow us, finally, to hear the world’s song and its enchantment. (271)

Multispecies Knots of Ethical Time

I just got the new issue of the journal Environmental Philosophy.  The theme for this issue is time and ecology (check out the table of contents).  I was excited to see a piece by Deborah Bird Rose, “Multispecies Knots of Ethical Time.”  It’s a delightful piece, and to make it even better, it’s available as a pdf HERE.

Rose discusses the ethical implications of the anthropogenic mass extinction of species currently underway.  She draws on James Hatley’s work on ethical time, which is basically a Levinasian approach to ethics.  Incidentally, Hatley has a piece in this issue as well, and he is likewise addressing the ethical impications of the mass extinction event. 

Emphasizing the biosocial dimensions of the Hatley/Levinas approach, Rose draws on her research on multispecies kinships, specifically in light of her research with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory of Australia.  She articulates a beautiful example of the coevolution of flying foxes and their preferred trees.  She also makes a compelling point about the practice of writing as an act of witness.  Some quotes:

My question is how we may encounter ethics in the world of multispecies differences and connectivities, which is to say—in the world of ecological death, gifts, and flows. (135)

If we were to hold ourselves open to the experience of nonhuman groups, we would see multispecies gifts in this system of sequence, synchrony, connectivity, and mutual benefit. We would see that every creature has a multispecies history—it came into being through its own forebears and through others. Each individual is both itself in the present, and the history of its forebears and mutualists. In the presence of myrtaceous trees we would see flying foxes; in the presence of flying foxes we would see dry sclerophyll woodlands and rainforests. We would see histories and futures—embodied knots of multispecies time.
      Within this wider world of multispecies knots, ethics may be understood as an interface—a site of encounter and nourishment. (136)

Writing is an act of witness; it is an effort not only to testify to the lives of others but to do so in ways that bring into our ken the entanglements that hold the lives of all of us within the skein of life. (139)

Life is not only about suffering, of course, and my focus has been on the exuberant joy of ethical time. Flying foxes and their co-evolved blossoms express life’s glorious desire, the call and response, the encounter, and the great patterns of life, death, sustenance and renewal that intersect across species and generations to form flows of life-giving life. If we choose silence in response to the unmaking of all this exuberance, we ourselves become deader than dead, for without an ethical sensibility we lose our capacity to be responsive to the dynamic exuberance of life. (139)