Category Archives: integral

Becoming Inaccessible: A Touch of Castaneda

Becoming integral is a way of life.  It is the light touch cultivated in the art of becoming inaccessible…

I think often of Carlos Castaneda.

“The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible,” he [Don Juan] said.  “In the case of that blond girl it would’ve meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly.  Not the way you did.  You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom.  True?”
            I did not answer.  I felt I did not have to.  He was right.
“To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly.  You don’t eat five quail; you eat one.  You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit.  You don’t expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory.  You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.”
—Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1991), p. 69. 

“But don’t overdo it,” he went on.  “The touch of warrior-travelers is very light, although it is cultivated.  The hand of a warrior-traveler begins as a heavy, gripping, iron hand but becomes like the hand of a ghost, a hand made of gossamer.  Warrior-travelers leave no marks, no tracks.  That’s the challenge of warrior-travelers.”
—Castaneda, Active Side of Infinity (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 146.


Integrating Deconstruction

It’s easy to use a philosopher’s concepts and stylistic strategies without actually confronting some of the serious challenges that the philosopher is engaging.  A case in point: Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, in its extremely comprehensive treatment of various perspectives, discourses, and ways of knowing, often picks up on important conceptual and stylistic elements of philosophers without fully engaging those philosophers’ problems.  Wilber’s treatment of Derrida is a fine example.

Wilber attempts to integrate Derrida into this Integral framework, yet fails to come to terms with the deconstruction of the transcendental signified.  Gregory Desilet discusses this problem of the transcendental signified in an essay on “Misunderstanding Derrida and Postmodernism” (on http://www.integralworld.net/desilet.html ), where he shows how Wilber has simply misread and misquoted Derrida on this issue.  In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000, p. 629) Wilber refers to an interview of Derrida’s (in Positions), arguing that Derrida therein accepts “genuine transcendental signifieds” on the grounds that translation is not possible without them.  The problem is simply that Wilber improperly interpolates when he cites this interview.  When Derrida says “no translation would be possible without it,” the “it” to which he is referring should not be understood as “the transcendental signified.”  Rather, the “it” refers to the “difference” between signifier and signified.

That this opposition or difference cannot be radical or absolute does not prevent it from functioning, and even from being indispensable within certain limits—very wide limits. For example, no translation would be possible without it. (Derrida, Positions, 2004, p. 19)

This is not to say that there is nothing undeconstructible for Derrida, but what is undeconstructible is not a transcendental signified—not a pure or absolute transcendence that is free from shifting contexts and sliding chains of signifiers.  It is quasi-transcendental.

Not a stable or substantial foundation, a quasi-transcendental condition is insufficient and disordering.  Quite different from a sufficient and empowering transcendental, it is always deferring in further temporal unfolding, constituting horizons of possibility by transgressing them.  Although Wilber claims that Derrida posits a transcendental signified necessary for translations, a transcendental signified actually closes the door and translation, cleaning up the slippage and deferral that keep translation in transit.  There’s no getting around the groundless play of events.  There is no transcendental signified, no first or final frame of reference, no ground, not even Nonduality or some kind of groundless ground.  Moreover, this doesn’t mean that Derrida is a nihilist.

Perhaps it’s worth remembering that Derrida, in his autobiography, says that “the constancy of God in my life is called by other names” (Derrida, “Circumfession,” 1993, p. 155).  He says that while also declaring his atheism.  God is a name, and it but one name among many for the impossible effects of an event (l’événement), which names a coming (la venue), the arrival of a newcomer (arrivant), a stranger to come (à venir).  If what happens is reduced to its position in a rigid program or a homogenized order where no surprises occur, then the event is reduced to an economy of the same—a systematic order that precludes the differences that would accompany the arrival of what is coming.

An event occurs when the future (l’avenir) breaks through the economy of the same, opening the rigid order of the system to the absolute surprise of what is to come (à-venir).  This absolute surprise is something for which no anticipation, expectation, or horizon of waiting is available, because this surprise is precisely the e-vent, the coming-out of that which is wholly other than any program or order.  It is impossible to prepare for this coming, to let in the other, because preparation would assimilate the alterity of the other into one’s own horizon of expectations.  It is impossible, and it is precisely the task of deconstruction to somehow prepare a way for the impossible to happen.

Deconstruction is a process of preparing for events through the invention of the other, an evocative and provocative invention.  It is the invention of messianic justice—an impossible justice that comes with the arrival of the other, an arrival that is undeconstructible and irreducible to any particular messianisms or particular religions.  In a sense, Wilber was right to say in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000, p. 562) that the deconstruction of presence “has almost nothing to do with mystical Presence,” but only because deconstruction is more messianic than mystical.  In any case, that “almost nothing” poses a much more serious challenge than Wilber has taken up.


Liberation in the 21st Century

Last month, from July 8-12, the first conference on African and African Diasporan Women in Religion and Theology was held in Legon, Ghana at Trinity Theological Seminary’s Talitha Qumi Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture, founded and directed by Mercy Amba Oduyoye.  Rosetta Ross has written a helpful summary of the event.

The event was brimming with diversity while also aiming to forge commonalities and build upon shared African heritages, although conference organizers are hoping for an even more diverse representation of women from African and in the diaspora at future conferences.  Along with inspiring integrations of indigenous, Christian, and Islamic traditions, one of the interesting things about this conference is that it is carrying forward the legacy of liberation theology.

After emerging in the mid-twentieth century, liberation theology spread out of its initial patriarchal contexts as women scholars and activists sought liberation not only from classism and poverty (i.e., the preferential option for the poor) but also from sexism and racism, thus birthing feminist and womanist liberation movements as well as black liberation theology.  However, liberation theology has since become rather passé.  Its rhetoric needs updating if it is going to exist in the twenty-first century.

The furor that emerged during the 2008 US presidential campaign over black liberation theology and the recent echo of that uproar during the current campaign only highlights the unlikeliness of a convening of a meeting rooted in mid-twentieth century ideals.

The good news is that those outdated ideals are changing.  As this conference in Ghana shows, young scholars and activists are taking up the task of renewing and rejuvenating liberation theology, articulating tactics and concepts that can facilitate liberation in the complex contexts of our emerging planetary civilization.

The participation of the youth is “a source of possibility for the future of a liberationist agenda in religious practices and discourses. Although the mid-twentieth century spirit of social solidarity seems nearly passé, hope exists in efforts that seek to take up ideals of a better future for everyone.”  In other words, hope exists for what Leonardo Boff calls “integral liberation,” a transversal approach to liberation that attends to personal, social, and environmental struggles as they are situated in a globalized world.


Integral Ecologist as Spiritual Guide

Thomas Berry began speaking of an “integral ecology” in the mid-1990s.  For the most part, his understanding of integral ecology was expressed in lectures and conversations, not published texts.  One exception to this is his essay on “An Ecologically Sensitive Spirituality” (1996).  Here’s a very fragmented excerpt from the essay, which was finally published a few years ago in a wonderful collection, The Sacred Universe (Columbia UP, 2009).

We need an ecological spirituality with an integral ecologist as spiritual guide. […]  The integral ecologist can now be considered a normative guide for our times.  The integral ecologist would understand the numinous aspect of a universe emergent from the beginning. […]  The integral ecologist is the spokesperson for the planet in both its numinous and its physical meaning […].  In the integral ecologist, our scientific understanding of the universe becomes a wisdom tradition. [pp. 135-135].

Also in the mid-90s, the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff began speaking and writing about integral ecology, seemingly independently of Berry.  Like Berry, Boff emphasizes the cosmological breadth and spiritual depth of integral ecology.  This cosmological and spiritual focus is also found in Ken Wilber, who developed his “all-quadrant all-level” (AQAL) model of Integral theory in the mid-90s and began applying it to ecology and environmental ethics, setting the stage for Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Michael Zimmerman to write their gigantic AQAL-based work, Integral Ecology (2009).

This doesn’t mean that integral ecology is a synonym for eco-spirituality.  Rather, integral ecology can refer to any approach to ecology that integrates spirituality (whatever “spirituality” is) with scientific knowledge of the universe.  Such integration can go in a lot of directions, from new age holism to new feminist materialism…and everything in between.


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. 

 


Integral Dabbling

The word “integral” connotes wholeness or completeness, like an integer.  What interests me is that, etymologically, integral also means un-touched.  The prefix “in” has a negative force (like “un-“ or “non-“), and “teg” comes from the Latin tangere (“to touch”).

An integral philosophy would be a philosophy of untouched unity or untouched units.  How, then, can we philosophize about that which exceeds the limits of our touching, grasping, and reaching.  Theorizing the untouched is a way of paradoxically touching the untouched.  Jean-Luc Nancy has a lot to say about touching, including the way touch makes contact with that which is intact, untouched.  If you touch too much, then the intact is no longer intact.  If you touch too little, then you haven’t made contact.  The question is how to touch with tact, making contact in such a way that a connection is made without assimilating the intact core of the other.  It’s important to note that I am not referring to human touch exclusively, but to all kinds of contact, human, nonhuman, and otherwise.  I’ll have a lot to say about this in the future, as the name of this blog indicates.  For now, I want to talk about a kind of light touch, dabbling.

Dabbling touches without penetrating the depths.  The dictionary definition of dabbling describes it as an act of moving one’s hands or feet around in water.  In other words, it is an act of getting partially wet.  It also refers to movement in shallow water (ducks that feed in shallow water dabble therein).    

From this basic definition comes the extended definition of dabbling as any kind of partial involvement in something.  Like dabbing or daubing, dabbling is a partial touch, a slight and light touch.  That partial involvement connotes superficiality in some cases, as if one is “merely” dabbling and not “really” doing it, like a hobby as opposed to a career.  However, dabbling is not necessarily superficial.  It might be a very effective way to forge connections with the untouched cores of things.  Perhaps touching things any deeper would just slow down the process of making and breaking connections.  Even worse, it could do violence to the one touching or to the one touched, or to both of them.

What is this effective kind of dabbling?  Integral dabbling.  I think Jean-Luc Nancy practices integral dabbling, but it is not to be found only among philosophers.  I think you can also find integral dabbling in pop culture.  I’ll post more later on a pop analysis of integral dabbling.


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