Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Roland Benedikter is a Member of the Institute for the History of Ideas and Research on Democracy, Innsbruck, Austria. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. See his Official Homepage with independent international voices about his work. Based on a Guest Lecture for Students of The Graduate Institute, Milford, Connecticut, USA, done by phone from the International 25year Conference of The Alternative Nobel Prices / The Right Livelihood Awards in Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg - Milford, 06/11/2005.
A dialogue in five parts
Part II: Perspectives of the proto-spirituality of late postmodernity
This Paper poses, in the form of a dialogue, the question: How could the pre- or proto-spiritual tendencies in the late works of some of the main postmodern thinkers form a basis for the development of a rational, “empirical” essentialism for the global civil society? Decisive for the answer to this question seem to be two points:
- First, the concept of “the productive void” that stays at the center of most of the late postmodern consciousness paradigms. The “productive void” is a dimension, that can be discovered only after deconstruction is fully and radically done. It shows some tendencies to unveil the “witness” dimension of thinking. The “witness” seems to be a dimension that is located not primarily in the intellect, but in the realm of the will of the subject.
- Second, the cultural battle between the - mainly regressive - spirituality of the global “renaissance of religions” after 1989-91 on the one hand, and the - mainly progressive - rational spirituality of late postmodernity at the other hand. Which of those two tendencies will gain the supremacy in defining the spiritual dimension of the global civil society in the coming years?
Eventually, the following conversation offers some outlines for the development of a genuinely contemporary spirituality, which is compatible with rational enlightenment and “mature” modernity. Such a spirituality must try to depart from the deconstructive, mainly negative and proto-spiritual bases of late postmodernity, to make one step further – thus “essentializing” our nominalistic culture integrating and moving beyond, not battling and going back behind the achievements of postmodernity into pre-modern and mythical forms of consciousness and social patterns (like some tendencies in the current framework of the world wide renaissance of religions seem intended to do).
PERSPECTIVE 1: THE PERSONAL AND CULTURAL “EROTIZATION OF THE WILL” (JEAN FRANCOIS LYOTARD)
Question: We talked about the rise of a “proto”- or “borderline”-spirituality in the late works of some leading postmodern thinkers like Jean Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. Why do you think that this “movement towards essence” or “pre-spiritualization” of late postmodernism is more important than the move towards the global resurgence of religion, as you said in the beginning? Why do you feel it is more critical and more important especially for the Western-European civilisation?
RB: For me, this is the most important, the crucial point regarding the whole of the postmodern period from 1979-2001: from Jean Francois Lyotards “The postmodern condition” (1979) to September 11, 2001, and to Roger Rosenblatt's famous, outstandingly bitter an aggressive article “The age of irony comes to an end. No longer will we fail to take things seriously” appeared in Time Magazine, two weeks after the terrorist attacks. This little, but heavily debated article was, in my viewpoint, a first, even if pre-scientific and certainly not philosophically consistent, but symptomatic indication of the beginning of the end of radical postmodern constructivism, as we knew it until then - and of the beginning of a new, “subjective-objective” epoch of “post-postmodernity”, that will have to re-integrate appropriately, and in a rational, empirical and intersubjective way, nominalism with realism into a new, progressive paradigmatic framework for Western-European societies.
Question: In which sense? What do you mean by that?
RB: Most of the leading postmodern thinkers we talked of, have died – Michel Foucault in 1984, Felix Guattari in 1992, Gilles Deleuze in 1995, Jean Francois Lyotard in 1998, Jacques Derrida and Susan Sontag in 2004. The question is, what will happen now, after the “first generation of postmodernity” has left the scene. What will happen with the postmodern mind they helped to design – but mainly negatively, not positively? And what will happen with the proto-spirituality they left us as their uncompleted, unfulfilled, and in many ways inconsistent heritage?
Question: Yes. What will happen?
RB: As a fully aware, “enlightend” citizen of today, you seem to have only two possibilities regarding the consequent development of a “rational-essential” dimension in your concrete thinking, feeling and acting - and in the even deeper realm of your will, of your intentions -: Either you go back into the security of the group feeling of traditional religions, as many progressives and liberals have done here in Europe since the pope John Paul II. died (april 2005). We saw that even leading postmodernist thinkers like Jacques Derrida, Helene Cixous or Jean Francois Lyotard had, at least partially in their late works, some temptations to follow that path. Or you move one step forward, going consciously and radically - but rationally observing - through your intensely personal despair, going consciously through the deconstruction of your normal ego, to find something that has to be gained by the means of a direct, personal experience of the “productive void”. Something new, to a certain extend, and in any case something that divides its origins here and now with the origins of your pain. Today, there is a big movement here in Europe from experience based, rational avant-garde-spirituality back into traditional religions, confessions and institutions — where you have to believe, and to enter into a hierarchical structure, which gives you someone who knows more than you, and lets you participate in his achievements. The archbishop maybe, or somebody else who is spiritually higher evolved than you, who therefore has the right for a higher position in the social hierarchy of confessional religion. Somebody, who becomes your access, your necessary medium to the truth. Because in the viewpoint of traditional religions, in most cases you seem far too poor as a person - and as a conscious and moral being - to gain access by yourself.
I instead think that the new, inclusive and integrative paradigm we need now could rather come from a rationally evolved, truly enlightend subjective mind..
RB: The turn to traditional religion may be helpful for many people, and I'm not against it. Not at all. But if we ask ourself, what could be some progressive step for the whole of the globalized culture today, in a macro-dimension, then I don't think that it will be exclusively the regression into traditional religion, into belief systems, what will bring us nearer to a subjective-objective, to a rational-essential paradigm. Because the problem with those systems is, that in most cases you have to subordinate rationality under faith (even if pope John Paul II. called, in many occasions, for a new integration of both, for example in his philosophically magnificent encyclica “Fides et ratio”, 1998, “Veritatis splendor”, 1993, and “Redemptor hominis”, 1979). I instead think that the new, inclusive and integrative paradigm we need now could rather come from a rationally evolved, truly enlightend subjective mind. And the most evolved rational mind that we probably have so far - the mind that begins to know about its own ontological act, about its own activity beyond the ego, the “thinking that begins to think itself and to discover what lies in its shadow” (Foucault) - seems to be a certain potential of the deconstructive postmodern mind. This potential seems to be located not primarily in the intellect, but in the realm of the will. That is very important. Jean Francois Lyotard called the place, where the strongest innovative potential in postmodern culture could be found, “the progressive, universal erotization of the will” (Epitaph Of The Intellectual, 1984). And I think, with that philosophical metaphor he grasped indeed an important movement of consciousness development in the personal and in the cultural sphere of European-Western societies. A movement of transformation and progress that is not, like the renaissance of religions, collective and belief-oriented, but primarily oriented towards the consciousness of the subject. And therefore it is, even if often in strange ways, like in the late works of Lyotard or Derrida, half-, proto- or pre-gnostic, if you want to put it in these terms.
Question: Yes. But what exactly does Lyotard mean with the “erotization of the will”? And what is the progressive spiritual potential of it?
RB: After the self-aware intellect has done the deconstruction, and after the “productive void” has been reached, it is the will which must take over the farther steps. The self-aware intellect for itself can produce the “productive void”; but he, as such, cannot go beyond that point. At least this is, what postmodernity of the first generation has indirectly, and in some regard definitely, proven us. The “witness” as “the other” of the intellectual mind – his possibly synchronic double - is connected to a certain dimension of the will. Having entered the “productive void”, you can only proceed, when you include the quality of will – when you transfer your center of gravity from the intellect to the will.
Question: To any kind of will?
RB: No. Not to any kind of will. But to an “observing, judging and thinking” will (Arthur Zajonc, Robert McDermott, Rudolf Steiner, Herbert Witzenmann).
Question: What exactly does that mean? What is such a will?
RB: The most important feature of such a will is that it is self-aware, self-observing in the very moment it is “happening”. The self-awareness is transferred from the intellect to the will. That is decisive. It goes beyond the discourse, into the realm of the transformation of the will into something synchronically self-conscious. The will has to be transformed into a new organon of consciousness, into a kind of body for the “witness”, so to say. That is the next thing to do. That is the way, how postmodern proto-spirituality can move the next step forward, I think.
Question: How can I understand this, looking into the concrete reality of my own consciousness, of my own will?
RB: Look at your mind here and now, now and here. And observe that you are looking at your mind here and now, now and here. See how your thinking is concentrated totally on the empirical fact of its own act: of what it is doing with its own, with it's most individual capacities. Staying a while at doing this, you will notice that it is not the ego who is thinking; it is not you normal self that produces the thoughts. But it is something else that thinks in your subjective ego - something “objective”, if you want. This exactly is the “witness”. If you discover it, than you start to do the necessary next step: from the late proto-spirituality of the first generation of postmodernity towards a “post-postmodernity” of the second generation.
Question: But does our still deeply “deconstructive” postmodern mind want to do this step from the intellect into the will – and from the normal will into the self-aware, self-observing, “subjective-objective” will? And: Is it able to do that step?
RB: If it wants it or not, that seems not the main question to me. It must, and therefore it will proceed - at least, if it wants to avoid to totally disintegrate itself by its own hands. Some day, which is maybe not too far ahead, the postmodern mind may reach the border of total auto-deconstruction, not only as a personal, but also as a cultural achievement. Then it will be forced to discover an “objective” dimension which lives in the subjective void. It will have to take the step forward into the perceiving will. A step that must be at the same time rational, subjectively controllable and “essential”. If you observe, what is secretely already happening with the “deconstructed” subject in our postmodern culture, and with that culture as a whole, you can see: There is already a broad “erotization of the will” (Lyotard) at work. You see it in the mass media, in advertising, in popular culture. And you can see it in most of the average lifestyles of the “postmodern” citizens of the European-Western world. It is, in large parts, a world of the will – individually, and culturally. It is the world that has been anticipated by Friedrich Nietzsche in its negative (consciousness-diminuishing) aspects, and by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in its positive (consciousness-growing) potentials. The “erotization of the will” begins to penetrate every moment and every space in our late or “mature” postmodern societies.
RB: This “erotization” could indirectly pave the way for the coming transformation of the will into an organon of observation and into an instrument of judgement. If this could, step by step, really occur, and it is absolutely not sure if it will occur, than, I think, something really “inaudible” (Lyotard) will happen: a “silent presence” (Lyotard) of the “witness” which then could become a conscious reality to many. That would lead to the rise of a synchronicity in culture.
Question: What is that?
RB: It would be a cultural atmosphere where, generally speaking, culture is “thinking” or “producing thougths” as it is now, but it would be, at the same time, far more self-observing, self-perceiving not primarily with its thoughts, but with its whole “will” than it does now. It would be, so to say, a kind of “doubling” of cultural reality, of the “general feeling” in culture. It would be a rise in self-consciousness at a deeper level than “cultural products” can reach.
PERSPECTIVE 2: THE PSYCHO-PHILOSOPHICAL “HEGELIANIZATION OF KANT” (JACQUES LACAN, SLAVOJ ZIZEK)
Question: Ok. I can see that.
RB: It is something that, after all, Hegel predicted for our time, for “mature” modernity. Even if he predicted it in a completely different form as it happens today. Hegel misunderstood many things. And he couldn't see, from his historical point of view, that the rising of the objective “I” would happen not against, but, at the contrary, departing from and out of the void of the postmodern subject. And that means: Starting from the radically “deconstructed” ego – not from the radically strengthened “I” as he conceived it. He could not imagine, that it could (and would) happen this way. But what happens in postmodern culture (with its borderline-spirituality) today, is, in a certain sense, something similar to the core process of transformation, that Hegel intended. But it is happening in a different way. It is happening not through thoughts, that become reality, as Hegel assumed, but it is happening in the realm of the “erotization of the will”. In the realm of the individual will, which pre-linguistic intuitions in the will sphere slowly start to become thoughts – on a broad scale in our postmodern culture. It happens exactly as the “erotization of the will”, as Jean Francois Lyotard called it in his late work, to characterize the core process of our epoch.
Question: Interesting. But does that mean that the evolution of consciousness will happen “from alone” – if you simply follow the mainstream of postmodern culture today? What about its nihilistic and materialistic aspects?
RB: No. Nothing happens “from alone”. Postmodernity will move towards nothing, if our consciousness cannot inspire the will to move forward – if it cannot make it more self-aware. Everything depends on the quality of consciousness of the will.
Question: Yes, exactly.
RB: But the postmodern mind, at least in the form the first generation of postmodern thinkers described it and thus gave it to us, still seems to have the difficulty that it doesn't fully understand what its own act of synchronistic self-observation does eventually mean. It still has no positive concept of the “witness”. It still owns only the negative, deconstructive and intellectual concept of “the productive void”, which was developed by the first generation of postmodern thinkers. Therefore, the postmodern mind currently seems to have, in most cases, still the predominant feeling that it must, first of all, destroy (or “deconstruct”) everything that is not pure activity of thinking.
Question: Yes. But does all that mean that the borderline-status of the postmodern mind after 9-11 is, in some way, potentially closer to Hegel than to Kant? At least regarding the direction, it has to take? Everybody tells us that the Postmodernists, especially the “Core European” Postmodernists, are Kantianians. That is one main reason why they were - and are - rejected by important parts of the public discourse in the Anglo-American world, even of the intellectual public discourse.
RB: Yes. I just remember the obituaries after the death of Jacques Derrida in the USA. The “New York Times”, traditionally favourable to progressive, left-wing and intellectual thinking, published it under the title: “Jacques Derrida, abstruse theorist, dies at 74” (October 10, 2004). The “Los Angeles Times”, oriented much more towards the Democrats than the Republicans (who of course reject postmodern thinking almost completely) wrote: “Derrida – Intellectual who founded controversial deconstruction movement, dies”, saying that he had rather failed than succeded in his goal to rationally emancipating European-Western societies. To underscore this judgement, the author pointed at the world wide renaissance of religions taking place also in the anglo-saxon world with George W. Bush and Tony Blair as major testimonies. Something similar is true for Gilles Deleuze, Jean Francois Lyotard and Susan Sontag. The Postmodernists died alone. And there was no “De mortuis nihil nisi bene”.
Question: They were obituaries even worse than those you cited.
RB: Yes. In fact, the postmodern thinkers of the first generation did not reach the “big public”. Neither in Europe, nor in the anglo-saxon world. And while dominating the cultural and intellectual paradigm in “Core Europe” for decades, they reached only parts of the public intellectual discourse in the USA. This is, indeed, at least partially due to the fact that the majority of them, like Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze, were – and remained – Kantianians until the end. Also in their last, in their “proto-realistic” or “proto-spiritual” years. They were, if you want to put it in such terms, “semi-spiritual Kantianians”.
Question: How is that possible?
RB: Here is another paradox. They were not only Arabic-Jewish, as we said for Derrida or Cixous, but also Kantianian. Remember the most important philosophical work of the late Jean Francois Lyotard. It is called “Kantianian Lectures. Lessons On The Analytic Of The Sublime” (Stanford University Press, 1994). Being Arabic-Jewish and Kantianian, they had, so to say, to reject twice the idea that there may be a possibility of reaching the “thing in itself”, the “essence”, with a personal, conscious consciousness. They said to themselves: Maybe there is something like an “essence” of the world; but in any case, you cannot represent it accurately in your rational consciousness. You cannot reach its objective realm - not as an “incarnated”, thinking subject. There is no objectivity for the subject – not an objectivity that we could call rational. This hidden conviction of many “proto-spiritual” Postmodernists hindered them to integrate their own experiments with “the other” fully in their thinking. It hindered them to go beyond the borderline. On the other side it was, for example, the main reason, why one of the most important - and most systematic - female thinkers of 20th century, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), the founder of “Objectivism” and the intellectual mother of Alan Greenspan and many others, rejected the appearance of postmodern thought in the US after 1979 so violently.
Question: Why they were pre- or proto-spiritual than at all, in their late works?
The transformation of the late postmodern mind can be some kind of transformation from Kant into Hegel.
RB: There is a precise reason for that. At the same time, while having a strong affinity to Kant and his boundaries of knowledge, some of the most influent postmodern thinkers were always tied at the phaenomenological movement in philosophical history. Lyotard and Derrida both began their intellectual lifes as followers of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the father of “transcendental rationality”. Therefore, they were tied to a “hegelianized” Kant, and eventually, even if in a complex way, to Hegel himself, the founder of the modern phaenomenological tradition. And even if they suppressed this second stream for large periods of their lifes, it was always there. There was Kant, but there was always also Hegel in the background. There was the critical observation of the subjective thinking of the mind, but there was always also the objective “perceiving of the will” in the background - waiting for its resurgence via “erotization”. It is no accident that leading postmodern thinkers like the late Jacques Lacan or, recently, Slavoj Zizek tried to merge the kantianian tradition of critical judgement with the objectivity concepts of individuality, history and spirit of Hegelianism (using the psychoanalytical tradition of Sigmund Freud, 1856-1939, as the operating instrument for the analisis of “the will”). And indeed, I think that is one possible path to follow for the future of postmodernism. The transformation of the late postmodern mind can be some kind of transformation from Kant into Hegel. That insight appears clearely in the “proto-spiritual” late works of some main postmodern thinkers. Think of the “Seminar XX - Encore” by Jacques Lacan, 1972-73, for example; think of the Hegel-Book by Slavoj Zizek, “Tarrying With The Negative: Kant, Hegel And The Critique of Ideology”, Duke University Press, 1993. Think especially of those two newer books of Zizek which so strongly shocked his left-wing-radical-pluralist-anti-substantialist followers: “The Fragile Absolute or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For”, Verso 2000, and “Did Somebody Say Totalitarism? Five Essays on the (Mis)Use of A Notion”, Verso 2001. Here, some of the transformation of Kant to Hegel starts – and not longer only implicitly, but explicitly. Even if this transformation is, in these works, not even half done, to me, it remains a valid experimental perspective. But the “Hegelianization of Kant” has to be fully done by the new generation: by us. And then, Kant will be a new Kant, and, equally important, Hegel will be a new Hegel. It will not be the “Hegelian” Hegel, whom we have known until now.
Question: What do you mean by that?
RB: There is a big renewal, a big return of Hegel, the philosopher, in Europe today. And if you want to put it in these terms, what today is occurring in our Western-European culture, in the cultures where democracy is the social form, and what will occur in the coming years probably also in important parts of our academic culture, is a step beyond Kant. It is a move beyond the widely unquestioned cognitive paradigm for the last 200 years, into some kind of new “Kantianian Hegelianism”. Consciously or unconsciously: this step began, as a mainstream movement, after 9-11. It is happening right now, even if many of us are not fully conscious of it.
Question: Will it reach the conscious dimension in the coming years?
RB: I don't know. Many fear that if this occurs, European culture, which in its social forms and in its common thinking is completely based on Kant, will not remain the same on the middle and on the long run. Europe could lose its unique model of social democracy, of welfare state, of secular pluriculturalism. Well, that could indeed happen. Because in the end, it is Kant behind all those great European achievements we are proud of (and, by the way, we are right to be proud of them, I think). I don't know, what will happen if Kant is transformed into something else. I can just affirm that it is happening already. And that transformation has to do a lot with the rise of the borderline-spirituality of late postmodernism, that we have tried to describe.
Question: So why is Hegel so important to understand the borderline-spirituality of postmodernity, and to further evolve it? Can we sum up that point one more time, please?
RB: Because Hegel said: The most important step in man's life is the step when man discovers that not he himself is thinking his thoughts - but the cosmic order is thinking its thoughts in him. Of course, at this genuine point there are many, many illusions and dangers. But Hegel was right in one point. Hegel wants us to understand how it feels if your perception of your own thinking is transformed into something objective - but without losing your intellectual, your critical, your enlightened (aufgeklärt) subjective mind. If it doubles, so to say, in an ego who thinks, and in a witness who observes this thinking synchronically. Then, everything will be radically transformed, until the transformation, which began in your thinking, reaches the realm of your will, the deepest dimension of the “objective” matrix in mankind, as all philosophical or “scientific” gnostic traditions teach us. Late postmodern thinking re-discovers that point, in some way. And it is right: the goal is not the transformation of your intellectual thinking, even if this is the most important thing happening right now in our academies; the goal is the transformation of your will into the new organon of thinking - the “erotization of the will”. The transformation of your will into your new organ of measuring, observing, thinking, and judging, as the Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of “Anthroposophy”, of the so-called Waldorf Schools and the most important neo-“essential” successor of Hegel in the 20th century, called it. That is the core process of transformation. On this core process will depend many things, in the coming years. It is the process on which the rise of an empirical, modern, individualistic and cross-cultural, with other words: of an “essential”, a nominalistic-realistic philosophy for the global civil society will have to rely on decisively.
Question: It has to rely on the transformation of the will?
RB: Exactly. The global civil society is concerned primarily with doing, transforming the world to the better, not with “thinking” in the academic or philosophical fashion. That means: Civil society already tries, in every second, to think with the will. Therefore, her natural work is the work with the will. She has to rely on that work. And if the will, thus already practically – even if in most cases still unconsciously - working on itself, starts to pay more actively attention to itself, it can discover “what lies in its shadow” (Foucault). It can break through from the subjective to the objective in itself. It can become an “objective” organon for “individual moral intuitions”, in which the subjective-objective character of future “meta-modern” thinking would be fully realized (cf. Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy Of Freedom, London 1964 - the “bible of nietzschean, meta-modern, positive philosophical anarchism”, as some contemporary thinkers like Lorenzo Ravagli, Arthur Zajonc or Robert McDermott call it).
RB: If you give birth to an “individual moral intuition” in the strict sense of the word, your thoughts remain subjective and empirical - but at the same they reach, with a certain part of their “perception”, beyond the subjective ego: into the realm of an “essential” objectivity of the true, the beautiful and the good in the kósmos, into the realm of the basic laws which make the kósmos endure, as Platon said. A true “individual moral intuition” is not the same as the pseudo-moral intuition of Freud's superego or “Überich”, neither conceptually nor ontologically, and has therefore to be differentiated from it, as Erich Fromm showed most clearly (cf. Erich Fromm: Beyond Illusions. The importance of Marx and Freud, Munich 1989). It means “subjective-objective” par excellence. Your will dimension then perceives objective ideas in the world, if you want to put it in such terms. Doing that, you then cannot simply continue to do what you “subjectively” want, but you have to follow the “objective” logic and the “objective” will of the true, the beautiful and the good. You are not longer free to do what you want, you cannot any longer simply follow Paul Feyerabends provocative slogan “anything goes” (which he meant, by the way, in a playing and deconstructive, not in a programmatic way. Feyerabend, in his last years, was neo-platonic in many ways; he thought of himself as a “New Greek” and went never tired of underscoring that the Greek world with its gods, half-gods, titans and geniuses was “much more alive and much richer” than the secular world of today. Cf. Paul Feyerabend and Rüdiger Safranski, Dear God - What Is A Men?, Cologne 2001). Instead, you have to follow the “objective” laws of moral truth which transcendent your normal ego – and you have to follow those laws in yourself, and often enough against the “normal will” of your ego. And, as all that would be not enough, you have to do all that not by exterior force, but by using you free will from a higher viewpoint to be found only in yourself – to integrate the “necessity with the free choice” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). The conjunction of both in the free, personal act of an “I” that integrates its subjective wantings with the objective will of the whole – that act contains the “absolute secret” (Derrida) of the kósmos, according to Goethe, the German Idealism and their followers in 20th and 21first century. That conjunction exactly would be the birth of an objective “I” (the “other self” of Derrida and of his most important teachers, Lévinas and Husserl) in your subjective ego – and, what is most important: not as an intellectual speculation, but as a concrete personal act: as an “Ereignis”, an occurrence, as the late Jean Francois Lyotard calls it with the late Martin Heidegger, but also with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Rudolf Steiner.
Question: Yes. It is something really big. Even if it seems so personal and, thus, often of so little importance to the world. It is something spiritual to do concretely, here and now.
Question: And this transformation of the will, this conjunction between its subjective and objective sides, would be, from your point of view, more adequate, more concrete, and in any case more avant-garde than the worldwide “renaissance of traditional religions” and their belief systems we currently witness, wouldn't it?
RB: Yes, exactly. It would be, in my view, a kind of consciousness, and also a kind of feeling, that is nearer to the present. It is nearer to the “natural” desire of progression of the state of mind (and of the state of will) of today's “mature” postmodern subject. But it is also nearer to the ongoing process of globalization and its specific, trans-cultural needs. Because everbody can practice it, independently of her or his culture and religion. It is not a nova religio, but a “structural phaenomenology” in the strict sense of the term: In the sense of a systemic broadening and integration of cognition paradigms from subjective at the one hand and objective at the other hand into a third position, that I would call, with the German Post-WWII-Philosopher Herbert Witzenmann, “subjective-objective” (cf. Herbert Witzenmann, Structural Phaenomenology. A New Integrative Philosophical-Scientific Approach, Dornach 1986). If we move to this direction, departing from the productive void, the void that postmodernism has actively - and in a certain sense voluntarily - produced, then, in my point of view, this might be a more empirical and thus more modern approach to spirituality than the approach of traditional religion. I appreciate traditional religions, especially their long time experience in spiritual phaenomenology. But today some of them tend, in a variety of cases, to lead us back into something that is not individualistic, not self-conscious about its own acts in the realms of thinking and of the will, into something that is not or only half-empirical. Into something that feels more like a mythical group security, like a feeling of belonging to a group of people that believe in the same things. Traditional belief in most cases produces some kind of experience. But in many cases traditional religions, in the Western-European hemisphere, still insist on an experience not centered in an individual, original act of self-transformation. They insist, in many cases, on acts of belief, which “remain without thinking” (Martin Heidegger).
PERSPECTIVE 3: THE POSTMODERN INSPIRATION AND ITS POTENTIALLY HIGHEST ACHIEVEMENT: THE “FLUID” AWARENESS OF THE “HERE AND NOW” (WIM WENDERS, PETER HANDKE)
Question: But this step forward seems, if it is only centered in individual transformation acts, to lead into a sort of monadology or total isolation of the inner life of the postmodern individual. This individual will then walk on the edge between his normal, “nominalistic” consciousness and the “objective” realm of the “essential” – and it will walk there completely alone. I am not sure if this could be a good idea, if you watch what disorders and illusions can come out of that – and come out already on a broad scale in our postmodern proto-spiritual, and at the same time deeply narcissistic culture, by the way. In order to be effective in a globalizing world, don't you think that there is going to be some way in which there's a new “coming together”, that is not based on belief, but based on a sort of empirical, on a kind of experiential or an empirical relationship with the intersubjective realm of any true spiritual dimension? Of course, such a “coming together” would have to be rationally legitimated. It cannot be an irrational mass-event, because then it could easily become something contra-productive.
RB: Yes. I completely agree with you. This kind of “coming together” is getting, as far as I can see, already more and more important for the success of the whole enterprise of global civil society we are speaking of. The point is that if you concretely do the postmodern deconstruction of yourself we spoke of, and all the - mainly negative - rational proto-spiritual deconstruction connected to it alone, if you do it only on your own, you may always reach only the “edge of the void”. But not really get into the “subjective-objective” realm. Not to speak of the illusions you will inevitably get into, if you are left alone with yourself. You may, in most cases, reach only the point where you see that everything you thought was your real self, reveals itself, in fact, as an illusion. In that state of mind, then, everything will be “aufgehoben”, if we speak with Hegel, exactly in the double, in the productively ambivalent sense of the word: annihilated (aufgehoben), and at the same time lifted up (aufgehoben) to a perspective that you didn't even imagine before. In “normal life”, you thought your psyche, your character, your ego were build on firm grounds, were something you could rely on. When they fall apart (and, believe me, they will fall apart, sooner or later, in the postmodern world, and in the postmodern mind which is reflecting that world, which is a product of it in the strict sense of the word), something else will be your new center: something like a “suspension”, a “pending”, a “productive void”. You are not there, and you observe that you are not there, at the same time! When every content is deconstructed to pieces, is destroyed, and when therefore “no thing” is left, something will be freed: pure processuality and pure, pre-linguistic and pre-mental consciousness of processuality. Pre-linguistic in all three Aristotelian basis faculties of men: pre-linguistic in thinking pre-linguistic in feeling, pre-linguistic in wanting (or purely ontologic, being-constituted, “synchronically multi-nervous”, like leading Italian neuro-scientist and psycho-therapist Edoardo Boncinelli expresses it). Then, everything, really everything, is just at the crucial point to happening; everything is “pending” in the whole sense of the term! There is an incredible tension, and a never before imaginable openness of tension. There is an intensity and sublimity - and a consciousness of pure happening of the moment, that is incomparable with every other intense moment you passed in your “normal ego” life. There is, in other words, pure Eros. Eros takes over, Eros reigns. The “erotization of the will” reigns (Jean Francois Lyotard).
RB: And Pathos, the brother of Eros, retires for this sacred moment - just to be the most beautiful, silent observer in the shadow, in the background. The one who lies in the shadow of thinking, in the genius or daimon of the deepest silence of myself, of my moral will or destiny – but is, now, aware of himself! He has direct contact to himself! He awakens, he becomes aware – and he is in the full splendor of thaumazein, of wondering, of the state of mind, which the Greeks called the origin of every true philosophy. Pathos, then, is like a silent observer, a “knowing witness” of the glorious fury of pure Eros. And he feels like an unique ontological unity of wondering (in the realm of thinking, that has been enriched and transformed by Eros), compassion (in the realm of feeling, that has been enriched and transformed by Eros) and morality (in the realm of the will, that has been enriched and transformed by Eros). This unity then is – myself. A pure, pre-conceptual life-stream! Everything is – an inspiration, at that point of the “productive void”! The moment, the second here and now is not ending. It is, really, endless. Time transforms into space, and space into time. And in that state of mind of “pure fluidity”, you could swear that every idea ever conceived is there, in the one idea emerging here and now in your consciousness, in the very presence of the moment. Not fully visible yet, not concluded, but the full life-stream of new emergence, of original surfacing of the so far “un-thought” here and now. When you think one idea, in that idea every other idea possible in the kósmos is contained. It is present as a pure potential in every instant. It is the pure “here and now”. It is the pure happening. And in this happening, everything is happening. It is the presence of everything in just one moment – as a potential of pure inspiration, of pure “becoming”. And that causes a feeling of extreme “elevation”, or “happiness”, in a certain way. As Jacques Derrida put it, in one of his late interviews, opposing himself to Richard Rorty: “Yes, indeed, I am sentimental and deeply in search of happiness.” (Cf. J. Derrida, Deconstruction and Pragmatism, Routledge 1996). But it is not the “normal happiness” of the “normal ego”. It is a happiness of the “true moment here and now”, as the Austrian poet (and closest artistic friend of German Filmmaker Wim Wenders) Peter Handke (*1942) expressed it in its incomparable text “A moment of true feeling” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1977). There, the main hero Gregor Keuschnig (“Gregor” like the Gregor in Franz Kafka's “Metamorphosis”, 1915), says: “What words cannot perform as concepts, they can as ideas.” These are very important words - for the whole of our European-Western culture. These words of a true postmodern poet are sacred, in a certain way, to me. Because they resume, how Plato is still alive in Postmodernity. They recall Platon, but they are the postmodern mind. That's a double being, and that's what I am. That's realistic. The moment of true feeling is the “absolutely intense” moment of inspiration of the postmodern mind, caused by the “productive void” inducted by deconstruction. The moment of true feeling is the moment of the postmodern subject, who begins to move beyond – and who wonders about all that, at the same time. The subject, who is, silent in its heart, and mostly un- or pre-consciously, thankful for all that. Deeply thankful for the liberation of all contents, of all rules, of all things, which inspiration, or pure Eros, is - as he reigns in postmodern culture.
Question: I know that feeling, yeah. I know it!
RB: I know that you know it, my friend! Every postmodern individual comes to know it, sooner or later. It is inevitable. Because it is there, in our culture, in our “deconstructive” state of mind, for everybody of us. It is a sign of the times. It is the happening of an “ideal” reality through the productive void of inspiration, of a “time out of mind” (Bob Dylan) - and you sense it, you know it at the same moment it is happening. You observe all that, in a great silence, from a certain point of consciousness in your will. But it is not “you”, who knows and observes it. It is “YOU”. Who is it? And the silent question of the “never ending dialogue of your soul with herself” (Platon) is: “Who is it? Who is it?”, as Peter Falk says in Wim Wenders', *1945, “The sky above Berlin, 1987; cf. Wim Wenders, “Faraway – so close!”, 1993. Because Wenders has always been a genius on his own right, capturating with his films the “true moment” of the postmodern inspiration, especially this film is explicelitly about the state of mind of inspiration. The typical state of mind of postmodernity, beyond imagination, beyond pictures which seem to rule our world. But in the deeper realms of our culture, they don't do reign any longer, if you take a look at what is working pre- or meta-consciously in the collective unconscious. Inspiration or Eros has taken over – and Imagination or Pathos is retiring into an “observing position” – into a witness position. That is, what I notice in myself, at least.
Question: Well…: wow! All that seems to be an outstanding potential of transformation of the postmodern mind. That's a lot. That's incredible. But indeed, that exactly is the feeling of my highest spiritual experiences! Not less, not more. So far, at least...
PERSPECTIVE 4: THE WALKING ON THE EDGE OF THE LONELY POSTMODERN INDIVIDUAL - AND THE NEW “COMING TOGETHER” (ANDREW COHEN, CLAUS OTTO SCHARMER)
RB: That is a lot, indeed. It can be overwhelming. And it is a probe of great, incomparable courage, at the same time. If you have the heart, the soul and the will (!), to take it on you: to stand firmly in the state of the “productive void”, you are really a being of outstanding qualities.
Question: No matter if you are a woman or a men.
RB: You are outstanding, at least compared to the narcissistic egos of postmodern lifestyle - which in most cases identify with the representations of their thoughts, with the pictures of themselves, and believe that this is something concrete you can trust. Being in the middle of the productive void, you will laugh about them, and about yourself, the same way, as Nietzsche's Zarathustra laughes - about everything. (Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche, Also spoke Zarathustra, 1883).
Question: Yes. Laughing not as a form of judgement, but as an “artistic” expression of truth.
RB: Exactly. That is the best, positively speaking, what the postmodern mind can reach by its core method of “deconstruction”. That is the highest point. The productive void and the free inspiration produced by it. An altered awareness of the “here and now”. That is something immense. But I fear there usually is nothing more beyond that point. We have to see it realistically - in its whole splendour, but also in its inbuilt limits. It seems, realistically speaking, hard, even impossible, for a postmodern mind to undertake the next necessary step: to cross the borderline of the “beautiful and terrific void” completely alone. This is especially true in our epoch of deep, unconscious narcissism, where you always think you are good at spiritual experience, but in reality you just follow your projections of what you want to experience. In most cases, this will produce nothing else then some kind of different return of your old illusions of yourself.
Question: Uh, huh.
RB: All this is especially true for the postmodern subject and its specific psychology. The postmodern subject is, in most cases, not prepared to go, in a critical productive way, beyond its unconsciously emerging borderline-spirituality. Not to go there alone. Because, getting nearer to the decisive point, its old rationality makes it, in most cases unconsciously, always return to his old ego. The postmodern subject is, by its nature, a walker on the edge. Life, also spiritual life, remains bigger than it. It cannot reach neither real life nor spiritual life fully. Never. It seems like a spell. The postmodern subject cannot reach the realm of objectivity, neither the objectivity of the world nor the objectivity of spirit, because everything seems to be only a construct of its own mind. That is the secret impression (deeply Kantianian, and Kant was right with observing this, he was deeply realistic in this) that the postmodern subject cultivates of the world, but also regarding the possibilities of his own, emerging “subjective-objective” spirituality. Regarding its own faculties to handle practical, concrete spiritual life, to handle its own transformation. Never being able to cross the borderline to reach “real life” (Arthur Rimbaud) as well as of the “reality of ideas” (Peter Handke), in the long run, creates inevitably frustration. As the band REM sings in one famous song, “Life is bigger”: That seems to be the main feeling, and at the same time the main problem of the postmodern self. Of a self, that in most cases is, at the present state, nothing else than some kind of return of the “self-conscious monad” of Leibniz, but in a more radical, in a more consistent and in a more isolated form than Leibniz could ever imagine. And this self-observing monade feels that it has difficulties to reach reality, to reach the core of the things. Why? Because it must feel everything only as a construct of its own consciousness. And this consciousness seems to remain always unfinished. Why? Because it is only subjective; and therefore it must remain always only the “half world”; it must remain unfulfilled.
Question: Yes. We all experience that problem, that borderline. That unsatisfaction with our spiritual life.
RB: We have to admit it. That may be the first step, the step that Socrates taught us. But if you have other people — if you try to exercise the raising of objective thinking out of your subjective void, as we talked of earlier, looking into the eyes of an Other Self (Jacques Lacan, Emmanuel Levinas, Martin Buber, Rudolf Steiner), then you may have an effect of help. This effect should not be underestimated.
Question: In which sense?
RB: If you try to do the crossing of the borderline looking into the eyes of the “radical abyss of the Other” (Levinas): of the only thing in the world that can never fully become an object for your ego - because this Other Self is some sort of final, invincible resistance to your tendencies of objectivation, because it is in itself the infinite abyss of an “I”, like you are -, than your illusions may be corrected in some way. Because, in the end, the Other Self withstands the desire of your ego to “integrate” it through projections. Therefore, the encounter with the Other Self lets your ego always return to itself. It destroys your projections continuously. It forces your ego to look at itself, to become more self-conscious of what it emanates. Then you may have some better chance to succeed. But also, because the Other Self helps you to bring you own “Other Self” at the surface.
Question: Why is this?
RB: The presence of the radically “Other” Self destroys the illusion of your consciousness of being the “constructive” creator of the whole world. Therefore, the possible spiritual core experience of the postmodern mind - the observation of the raising of the objective “I” in the normal ego – can become stronger and, in many cases, clearer in the presence of the Other. It can become more transparent, more conscious. The presence of the other brings you normal self always in a crisis. Looking into the eyes of another person, really looking into them, means to lose your own, normal self at least for a moment. Trying to lose your normal self, in order to find your “other” self, can therefore be more “objective”, if you do it together with others. The whole effort can be corrected by the mere presence of the Other Self. The others are your helpers, your indirect guiding forces into the “beyond”, into the sacred.
RB: And, what is maybe even more important, the presence of the other self makes your experience more sustainable. It anchors it in a different way than if you do it alone.
Question: Yes. Together, it is a stronger experience, longer lasting.
RB: Now, the most important point of the “coming together” is that these different aspects work together. They are complementary to each other. That is the experience of all great spiritual traditions. Just to mention one example: It is one core experience in Christianity, when Jesus Christ says: “Where two or three of you shall come together, I will be among them.” That means that the “coming together”, the doing cross-border experiences together, can produce a different quality of the whole. As far as I can see, that is precisely the point at which new thinkers, such as, for example, Andrew Cohen with his “enlightenment” trough synchronic group contemplation by active mutual attention or Claus-Otto Scharmer with his rational spiritual technique of using dialogue group processes for “presencing” the - economic, social, personal - future in a genuinely subjective-objective way, are aiming. Their attempt is to integrate individual experience and group experience in a modern way. They want to produce, strengthen und correct self-critical individual spiritual experience with the help of the group. When Cohen, for example, says that we have to develop a consciousness where we become aware that the cosmic consciousness is evolving in us, not only we ourselves, than this is something very similar to what Hegel and others said. And when Claus Otto Scharmer says, that in group dialogues something “objective” can emerge that transcendents every single idea and is more than the sum of all single ideas, an invisible force in the room that announces the future in a powerful way and that everybody present perceives as “more than himself and more as the whole”, than he expresses something similar again. In the end, all the movements of the philosophia perennis, the “eternal friendship towards wisdom” in every part of the traditions lead to the same point. It is something where also postmoderity unconsciously must lead to, if it wants it or not. Because the alternative to this point of “discovery of the objective realm in the subjective realm” is, and can only be, despair. Because the only alternative for the postmodern mind is, as we have seen, to think that everything is just an illusion, that nothing is anything. What most postmodernists are still not able to do, is to bring both these things: individuality and objectivity together, and to let them live at the same time. Postmodernists like Jacques Derrida, Jean Francois Lyotard, Helene Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, even Jürgen Habermas and Paul Feyerabend, seem to be fixed on reaching the outskirts of the borderline, in some way— they can reach those outskirts, but not stay at the borderline, and they cannot go sustainably beyond that line. But exactly this is and remains the most important aspect, the all decisive thing to do now. We must do both things: remain with both feet rationally on earth, and go “rationally” beyond, at the same time. We must make of both dimensions one conscious reality. Now. Because we badly need a “subjective-objective” paradigm. For ourselves, but also for our culture, and for the other cultures, for the globalized world - if we want to overcome the profound global cultural battle between the “renaissance of religions” and the secular-constructivistic postmodern rationality. The “coming together” could be, in my view, a secure, rational way beyond postmodernity, without losing its achievements of synchronic-critical self-observation and deconstruction. It would be “Post-Postmodernity”, if you want to designate it with such a stuttering and helpless term.
Question: But why are Postmodernists unable to do that by themselves? It would just be the next step - following their own logic. It would be the most logical thing in the world, wouldn't it?
RB: Yes, right. But they're not breaking through, because their ideology, their thoughts are forcing them back into the one-dimensional “constructive” logic every time they try it. You can see that especially in the “semi-spiritual” late works of Lyotard and Derrida. They are not able to cross the borderline in a conscious form. And, maybe most importantly, they are not able to do it together. When they try to make conscious their crossing, they instantly fall back into old, solipsistic, “monadic” rationality.
Question: It is kind of a negative circle.
RB: They want to break through, unconsciously. But when they want to understand what they are doing they are instantly falling back into one-dimensional rationality. So, in the end, they seem not able to make one real step out of the circle.
RB: Of course, there is something right also in that constant “returning back” at the starting point. Because the point is: You don't have to lose your “I” when you want to go beyond the border. Not a certain quality of the “I”. And you don't have to lose it, especially, when you try to do it by the means of a group. You do not have to fall into mass or in some kind of group trance, where the single “I” would disappear. This is and remains a big danger in every attempt to “break through” by the help of a group. This is the danger in what Rudolf Steiner called “the new collective rite of breaking through from below”. And I think what Andrew Cohen and most of the others who are really interested in the rise of a critical-progressive spirituality for today's globalized civil society, in a nova religio strictu sensu, are trying to do, is this: They try to preserve the holyness of the single “I”, but to form a community where those single “I”'s can help each other to break through, and to transform themselves. In my view, that indeed may be the most important point to do - but without re-making the mistakes that were made in Europe, as we know, in the 19th and 20th centuries by the big ideologies, which tried to merge people together into collective “I”'s, into a collective ego or self. That would be the worst thing to do, the biggest danger to fall back into. Because then you have the return of the mob. The anti-spiritual social form par excellence, dressed up as spiritual.
Question: Right. Then you have the unconscious melting of the single “I”'s into a kind of sick group consciousness – into a group consciousness that functions at the expenses of the single “I”.
RB: Yes, exactly. And that is the point where Andrew Cohen, and other representatives of a new, modern spiritual thinking, are, as far as I see, still misunderstood in Europe.
V: THE PRODUCTIVE DIALECTICS BETWEEN THE USA AND EUROPE IN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE RISE OF A RATIONAL SPIRITUALITY FOR THE GLOBAL CIVIL SOCIETY
Question: Uh huh. Interesting. Why, to be more precise?
RB: Because Europe is and remains skeptical of any form of transformation of postmodern individuality into something collective - and be it for the highest goals. Europe is sceptical against almost any form of consciousness collectivity, against almost any use of groups to reach goals of consciousness transformation. And Europe has, out of its recent history, its good, its very good reasons for that. It is the manipulatory use of groups by Nazism and communism, which led to the incomparable catastrophe of World War II and to the incomparable crime of the Holocaust. These reasons are and remain important. They should not, and cannot, be ignored or reduced. Not even in the possibly coming “Post-Postmodernity”. They must always remain present, in every form of spirituality that may rise out of the current postmodern-deconstructive consciousness. That, for me, is a conditio sine qua non for the coming decades.
Question: Right. I understand why.
RB: Most people in Europe who are going through the typical processes of transformation produced by postmodern society which I have described, would currently say (if they are open enough to talk frankly to you): “What to do to solve the cultural battle between the global 'renaissance of religions' and the self-observing, critical-constructive postmodern mind and its proto-spiritual heritage? Ok. We don't want to go back into traditional belief structures, back into the realm of mythological religions. On the other side, we don't want to be stucked at this borderline of semi-spirituality to which late postmodernity has lead us. We just want to go one step forward, if possible. But we don't know how. In any case, we don't want to do it by group processes. No way.” And so, trapped between Skylla and Charibdis, they still don't know what to do. Europeans are mistrusting Andrew Cohen and others which try a certain form of the collective way, because they feel: “It may be interesting what they do. And it may be a concrete possibility for individual and social evolution in the long run. But, as far as it concerns the needs of transformation of practical postmodern consciousness today, these people may be leading us into a new collective consciousness. And that could be very dangerous. Therefore – take a step back.” That's what many in Europe feel.
RB: I think this could be, maybe, a specific positive European sensitivity towards the possible forms of nova religio for the globalized civil society. Because Europe had totalitarianism, it had Nazism and Communism for decades. I think everybody can understand this kind of sensitivity which has its roots in the horrible, unprecedented crimes during the reign of those “universal” ideologies.
RB: So you can understand why I say the safest way for Western-European culture may be to go through the critical self-inquiry, to go through the critical self-deconstruction of the postmodern mind – to find a new “essence” possibly emerging of the “productive void”. The postmodern mind is a mind that is mistrusting everything, that is saying: “Everything is an illusion”. Maybe, a critical and rationally illuminated spirituality can emerge out of this. Out of the productive void, and the kátharsis necessarily connected to that void. A kátharsis, as I said, understood as the Eros-Pathos dialectics oriented critically not only towards the evolution of the psyche, but also towards the evolution of the personal daimon or genius, as Italian postmodern-Jungian psychoanalyst Aldo Carotenuto put it. We shouldn't, and we can't go back into a state of mind before that point of evolution. That's the European feeling, in any case. And maybe it is the hidden feeling of the majority of US-citizens, too.
VI: PERSPECTIVE 5: THE “PAIN OF THINKING” AND THE EVOLUTIONARY VALUE OF SUFFERING BETWEEN EROS AND PATHOS (EMMANUEL LÉVINAS, MARTIN BUBER, ALDO CAROTENUTO)
Question: Right. I'm very struck by what you're saying about Europe, and it makes perfect sense. Because I think here in the USA, for different reasons, the value is tipped in the other way. There's a greater and greater recognition, that we need a collective moral framework, and a new way to respond to things; that a collection of individuals at the basis of ego rather than something beyond will never be able to come together to create something that has power against this kind of unreflected return of old religious belief and fundamentalism.
RB: I absolutely agree. The problem is, that exactly those postmodern people who are extremely intelligent, but also extremely narcissistic and individualistic, think that they are the only progressive mind of today. It is true that they are incomparably important, but it is not true that they are the only ones to create progress.
Question: I understand what you're saying.
RB: The postmodern mind – look especially at Lyotard and Derrida - is always about the “pain of thinking”, as I tried to show. The “pain of thinking” means: the pain of a radical deconstruction, of a total annihilation of the normal ego. That hurts. The postmodern “pain of thinking” as the basic method of induction means, positively interpreting it: You first have to destroy this omnipresent egoistic narcissism of yours, and enter the productive void. Then maybe you are led somewhere. And, in a certain sense, this indeed is a practicable way. Remember: If something causes you pain, and be it your thinking as a postmodern deconstructivist, in most cases, you cannot be any longer only narcissistic. Something “objective” emerges out of every suffering. And be it the “pain of thinking”. That is, by the way, what “Time Magazine” Columnist Roger Rosenblatt wanted to say in his famous article critiquing the postmodern constructivist attitude after the terrorist attacks on 9-11: “The Age Of Irony Is Over. No Longer Will We Fail To Take Things Seriously.” He wanted to say: No longer will we fail to recognize that there is something “objective” in the world - that not everything is just a construct of our own subjective mind. Because it is this, what real suffering teaches us: Objectivity is a fact, also in the spiritual realm.
Question: Right, interesting.
RB: The “pain of thinking” means: You have to go beyond the surface-bound self-enjoyment of our mass culture of today - to find something that is worth living. To enter a void through which you can have an intuition of your higher, your true self, your daimon or genius. If you are consistent, and radical enough. And, of course, if you are strong enough. Postmodernism, in the end, is only for strong people, not for everybody. I'm sorry for that, but that's what it is. And that is especially true for postmodern borderline-spirituality.
Question: I would say it's fascinating. Because part of our practice here in the USA with Andrew Cohen is to reach the level of consciousness to recognize within oneself the human condition fully. The human condition as a “medium of transport” for the kósmos. And there is deep pain in that. You know there's a deep reckoning in that, and then a non-separation with all of human kind. But people critisize Andrew here, in the “feel good” nation, particularly for his intellectuality. Because many are looking for an emotional “feel good” experience of spirituality. That's what they recognize spirituality to be. And he's talking about the postmodern mind, the capacity that we have for rational self-reflection, using that to its full capacity, to be able then to transcend it. To transcend ourselves to, as he says, “get over ourselves.”
RB: Yes. That seems to be kind of the Jnana-Yoga tradition - the tradition which leads to the truth using the “sword of differentiation” of thinking -, but projected into the sphere of collectivity, and of the will. I think that is what a true nova religio for our time could be: remain a full, critical and self-aware and thinking “I” at the one hand, and gain an objective consciousness that “gets over myself” in addition to it at the other hand by collective means. A “double I”, as I said earlier. But it would be absolutely false to gain one aspect at the expense of the other. Postmodern spirituality does not mean to lose your critical, self-aware subjective basis; it means to connect it with something that is bigger than itself, but that in itself can be found in full transparency and rational awareness. This kind of “double” experience or connection is, in the end, nothing new. Look at the great artists, look at everyone who was, and actually is, illuminated. Each one of them had, and has, not one, but two consciousnesses, so to speak. You are objectively aware every second that you are just the very place of the cosmic evolution, but at the same time you are the normal subject that you have to be in everyday life. You need the normal subject to live in the normal world we have. But if you are illuminated, you live, in a certain sense, from two different levels at the same time, which together form one level. You are a “citizen of two worlds”, but you live those worlds as a differentiated unity, not as a schizophrenic kind of doubling. As far as I know, no one who has reached this state in his or her concrete consciousness, would say that it is just an easy, nice and very entertaining way, and so on. All that requires the “pain of thinking”, indeed. As, for example, Emmanuel Lévinas, Martin Buber or Aldo Carotenuto pointed out.
RB: On the other hand, I have to say one final thing concerning the possibly productive dialectics between Europe and the US in regard to the rise of a globalized, rational civil society spirituality. As a European, I appreciate the fact that the progressive US spirituality which comes out of postmodernity as interpreted by the United States society is not like the European one. The “pain of thinking”, in my view, is much more an European concept than an American one. Europeans, in my view, are far too often – sad. Especially if it comes to the possibilities of “subjective-objective” thinking and acting. They speak of the “pain of thinking” as necessary for everything else, and that is no accident. Europeans think that Americans tend, in some cases, towards too much entertainment and to much “feel good experience” in spirituality. That may be right. But Europeans themselves tend to see too many things negatively, and their thinking usually is very complicated. That is due to their historical disillusions. It seems to be one main reason why they have more difficulties than the US-citizens to bring their thinking from the “nominalistic” and linguistic intellect into the “realistic” and pre-linguistic will sphere. At the other side, the Americans are very good in thinking with the will; but they cultivate, at the same time, a lot more illusions, or, as Jacques Lacan called them, “imaginary phantasms” in the will sphere.
Question: Yes. I agree with that, absolutely.
RB: Many of the contemporary leading European postmodern thinkers, even artists, appear to me as a kind of “offended romantics”. The paradox is, that they feel offended by today's postmodern culture. And they repeat it endlessly, that they have been offended by the same thing they wanted, but which didn't become a reality as they imagined it. If you know one book of this kind, you know all the others as well. Look, for example, at Michel Houllebecq, the current French postmodern romancier star. He only knows to say: “Everything is horrible, oh my God! And the worst is, that there is not even a God, anyway!” Ok, you can say all that. But maybe that is not enough for today's needs and – even if secretly -rising new abilities and sensitivities. And it isn't even true. Most of the European postmodernists are not able to say how it could be better. They can just say: “Everything is so bad”. So what? I want you to discuss with me how to go on positively, in order that things become better. That's what a normal person would ask. But most leading European Cultural Leaders don't have to offer too much on that point. So what I want to say is that the main stream Europeans are not a better example of how to make progress than the main stream Americans. I like the Europeans, and I like the Americans. Europeans deconstruct, and they make a whole lifestyle out of deconstruction. Americans “just do it.” They are much more will-based in their thinking. Both sides have their strengths and weaknesses. Both can be stronger, if they find a true complementary relationship not only politically, but also culturally. This relationship should be based on a productive dialectics, not on just saying: “We are friends”.
RB: Americans simply say: “I have this idea, and so I do it.” And when they do it, the moment may be pre-mature. And the Europeans: “I have an idea, but should I do it, should I not, should I do it?” And when they finally start to think to really do it, the moment may be over. Who of the two has more Eros, and who has more Pathos? That is not easy to decide. In any case: If they do it together, maybe it can be something more balanced and longer lasting.
Question: It's fascinating because there are a lot of Europeans living here in the USA, and I know they feel a lot of, just on a social level, a lot of liberation in being able of explore, or do things directly. It's like: “Okay, let's make something happen.” There's not all this kind of momentum around being stuck. I lived in Italy for a year, and I know that it was fascinating. But the social networks are so intertwined, there seems not to exist the freedom to be able to strike fully out on your own. You need your father to approve, your family has to be connected, and so on!
RB: Exactly. But in the US, the social systems are regulated much more by social hierarchy status and by money. That is true also for “spirituality” and its circles. You have to see that, too.
Question: Yes, I do.
RB: That's why cultural complementarity between the US and Europe could play a very influent part in the feeling, in the first auto-experience of a truly post-postmodern, rational civil society spirituality for the coming decades.
VII: THE FUTURE: A SECOND GENERATION OF POSTMODERNISTS IS NEEDED NOW – A “SUBJECTIVE-OBJECTIVE” AND “NOMINALISTIC-REALISTIC” GENERATION (KEN WILBER, RICHARD TARNAS, JOHANNES HEINRICHS)
Question: Allow me one final question. It is some kind of personal, if you don't mind.
RB: You are welcome.
Question: How did you personally come to recognize, that the breakthrough through the postmodern mind may be possible? How did you come to recognize this sort of other dimension beyond the postmodern mind? How did all this become something that you have dedicated time and energy for years to explore and recognize it?
RB: I followed those people that are usually called the leading thinkers of our time, which were, in the last decades, the postmodern thinkers. And I tried to understand them, as well as I could. I especially tried to understand, what the driving force behind them was. I felt that this driving force had to do something with the driving force behind myself. Philosophers are nothing else than symptoms of a deeper movement in society. Of a movement in more or less everybody who lives in a certain kind of society and in a certain historical situation. I live in postmodern society, as you do. So I have simply followed those thinkers for the last twenty years, and I have seen some evolution, some transformation in their minds and their behaviour. I spoke with some of them personally. And I saw the profound changes in their lives, especially in the years before they died.
RB: Now, as we speak, almost everybody of the first generation of postmodern philosophy is dead. Their time is over, or it is ending. And the only chance we have now is to produce a new, a second generation of postmodernism, that will go beyond the limitations of the first. We must do this without losing the achievements, the many, very important achievements of the first generation. Not the only, but one of the most important chances that we will have in the coming years will be to rationally reach something that I would call a subjective-objective mind. That means: a mind that is in full possess of the subjective critical consciousness that you have as a postmodern person for your own thinking act - a consciousness which is, to a more or less elevated level, conscious of its own limitations and of its psychic structure. And at the same time a mind which unifies that subjective conscience with something objective in it: which is able to discover the objective realm of the self in its “I”. We must work on hard on the emergence of such a subjective-objective mind, with all our energies.
RB: As postmodern subjects, we only have this chance. There is no other way to go, in my opinion.
RB: We cannot go back into an old “objectivity” of spirit - into a mythological, confessional religion of belief. But we cannot continue with old “subjectivity” of the intellect alone as well – with postmodern desire. Because if you continue this desire without discovering the objective sphere in your own subjectivity, you will become, at least if you take the whole thing seriously, somebody who will destroy himself and the others. Because you will be, at one point or at the other in your life, completely desperated. Fear and desperation will come out of the void of the postmodern mind, if we don't break through to the discovery that if there is nothing that can be identified by one-dimensional rationality as your true self, then it may equally be true that there is something that is effective in and through this self. And that is nothing else than the “objective idea” living in the realm of your will.
Question: Did your recognition of this come through personal spiritual experience?
RB: Yes. All this is kind of my personal way into the spiritual realm. Deconstruction of the “normal I”, productive void, and then the trial to cross the borderline into the “other I”. What I have described to you was in some kind my own development, and the development of many of my intellectual friends. Maybe it is something only for the “abstract” intellectuals. I don't know. In any case, my own development was that I was a young intellectual who tried to analyze the meanings of society, of postmodern culture I lived in, and of myself, with all the problems, chances and beauties of everybody. And the first thing I discovered, was, that the leading philosophical thinkers of the times were not what they seemed at first glance.
Question: What do you mean by that?
RB: Reading them for some time, I had a very strong intuition. I felt that they were in some kind different than they were presented by most of their academic epigons. They were more complex. There was more in them: something, that they themselves were obviously not able to articulate adequately. Something else, that comes out of different interests, of some kind of hidden desire or intuition. And so I wanted to know where their thinking could really lead, not only intellectually or as a word game. I entered this postmodern deconstruction mechanism that leads you, in the end, to recognize that nothing is what it seems. To recognize that the world is “maya” (Illusion). But nothing more. Then, if you practise this mechanism of deconstruction on yourself consistently, the way will narrow with every step, for some time. At some point there will be only two possibilities left: either you will become completely desperated and fall into a void of yourself without ground. Or you break through to the objective thinking that may emerge, or may become visible out of that void, in your inspiration and in how you “feel” your thoughts.
RB: And in fact, one or two of my colleagues who fell into the first possibility, which is one of two necessary results of the consequent individual practicing of postmodernity, fell into despair. They were postmodernists, but not survivers. I called them always the postmodern players, because many of them were just narcissistic intellectuals that played with ideas and felt good. But they were so intelligent and sensitive at the same time. They didn't have an idea of what dangers were there, once you enter postmodern ground, once you enter it really and with your whole heart. My friends just tried to do it seriously, with a pure heart. And when they discovered that “everything was nothing”, that everything was maya, but nothing else, even their own mind, they fell into despair. They couldn't want to wait any longer to end that situation.
RB: And so I felt one duty: to discover not in my mind, but in my own, personal, real experience, what all this was about. That means: In the experience in the sphere of my will – the sphere where my genius or daimon is rooted, who reaches far beyond my psyche, my personality or my character. It is the sphere which you usually reach trough an ontological unity of wondering, compassion and moral intuition. The will is the sphere where your true individual moral intuitions are rooted. That's the sphere where usually the concrete crossing of the postmodern borderline happens, for a person who lives in today's culture of the universal “erotization of the will” (Lyotard). I had so see if live had a sense, and that means: If there was something objective that comes through myself into the world. Something that may evolve in, and into, the world. So I tried to go one step further than my friends did. If this objective sphere was there, it could use me, so to say, to go ahead. If so, this objective sphere would be the friend oreven the concentrate of the kósmos, it would be the cosmos itself in myself, I thought. And if I could unify with it, without losing myself, I would break through the postmodern desperation, a desperation caused by the universal breakdown of illusions, a desperation which overwhelmed many. Many of the best minds. Not only in late life, but sometimes much, much earlier.
VIII: ONE CORE PROBLEM: GLOBAL TERROR, POSTMODERNITY'S SOULLESSNESS AND THE OPENING UP OF PANDORA'S BOX
Question: Right. One final aspect?
Question: There's a man named Marc Jerkins Myer, who's written a book called “Terror in the mind of God”. Basically, one of the points he makes very powerfully when he interviews some religious fundamentalists who are violent toward modernism and postmodernism, is that from their perspective postmodernity is soulless. Postmodernity, the state of mind and the cultural paradigm of the “first”, of the socially most evolved European-Western world today, is soulless. That paradox (the combination of the highest social evolution with soullessness) is true, according to the fundamentalists - be there of Muslim, Hindu or Christian origins -, regarding the European's version as well as the American version of spirituality, which is the ultimate “feel good” version. And because of that, because postmodernity is soulless, we are, from their viewpoint, consciously or unconsciously tapping into giving license to a sort of opening up Pandora's box of our most primitive desires.
RB: Yes, I understand. Opening up our most challenging level of desire – the level of the kako-daimon in us, as the Greeks called it, opposed to the eu-daimon. People who are, in the framework of the global “renaissance of religions”, religious feel, as it seems, offended by that. It seems that the experience of religious fundamentalists regarding postmodern lifestyles is as if they were deranged, out of control. Because our over-evolved intellect serves, in the end, from their point of view, just as a bad legitimation for releasing our most primitive desires.
Question: Well, observing, for example, how we treat our elder people… We treat them like if they were nothing. We treat them if they were trash. Fundamentalists, in my opinion, are right to say that we are wrong with that.
RB. Of course, they are right in this. But they are not right because they are fundamentalists. Ageing is one of the greatest – and most profound - mysteries ever. In a men who is aging, there is, in the deepest silence of the most profound sphere of the will of his most individual daimon or genius, a conjunction of Eros and Pathos. It is a sort of unio mystica of Eros and Pathos, of inspiration and imagination. The suffering, Pathos, in ageing is winning the overhand; but Eros is not retiring absolutely from the scene, but he slips slowly into Pathos, with his whole power of caressing and touching, retiring into the reign of Pathos. Eros and Pathos merge, when you grow old. Slowly and silently; and out of that surfaces the dignity of the aging men. That are concepts we need to understand the inner processes of ageing better. But unfortunately, we have thrown over board these concepts – which already the Greeks gave us to think more precisely, to observe with greater activity and humility, what really occurs in kósmos through the passion of mankind.
Question: So, fundamentalists, if they say that postmodern society is soulless…
RB: …they capture one part, one aspect of the truth.
Question: Can you say something about—
RB: In a sense, they're right.
Question: Why don't you say a little more about that final aspect?
RB: First of all: One who is a fundamentalist today has fallen back into the deepest darkness of the will. He cannot see with his will; but instead it is his will, which acts for him blindly. These are people that have fallen back into the confessional mythological side; and they have become aggressive against the world of the secular, intellectual amd “deconstructive” postmodern world. This is the worst possibility to take a step beyond the postmodern world. It is not a step beyond, but a step back into the medieval world. This is not the solution. At the contrary.
RB: But those people, at the same time, could be right in one single point. We live in a society that has tried to make out of individual liberty the most important, the major point of culture, of society, of our imaginary of what a men is and should be. And that intuition is right, and it remains right. It is the basis for our free, democratic societies. But we did concretize that intuition in many cases simply in a way that interpreted the main goal as liberating your subjective wishes and desires. Nothing more. And of course, it is right: this kind of liberation must be the first point in a modern society. It must be the starting point. And as a starting point, it is necessary and helpful. You must first liberate individualism, and maybe also egoism. But, after that necessary start, that interpretation of the main goal, in Western-European societies, has remained unchanged in large parts, even after the revolution of the 1960is. Today, it has taken a cultural form that liberates, in many cases, the narcissistic forces and desires that are indeed primitive. The desire to become rich or to live endlessly, to live in total freedom all your power or sexual desires, or, as the most important hidden desire of the average subject in our society: “I can do everything I want in an endless time frame. I'm completely free for everything I want, for endless times at every place in every world. And nothing will change in that point, never.”
RB: But that means, if you really see what it is: “I stand for everything, and so I stand for nothing.” The postmodern subject, in its hidden sphere, thinks with his will: “Okay, I stand for nothing, I am nothing, but I could, but I could stand for everything, I still can become everything. And that possibility will last. I have all the possibilities at every second for an endless horizon of time. Actually, I am not anything. That hurts, to a certain extend. But the future gives me consolation. My future is a never ending potential. It is endless, and endlessly it can change. I could endlessly become someone that stands for something.” Well, that is, from my point of view, what almost every postmodern subject, in its hidden dimension, wants to feel. Even if he or her may not be fully conscious of such “thoughtful feelings”. It is the typical modern feeling of innovation without a specific goal. Innovation as a goal in itself. And the desire for the never ending potential for innovation, as the “open core” of everything.
RB: Now, if fundamentalists criticize this practice of life, which is not even a vision, but more something like a “true misunderstanding”, then they may be right, in a certain sense. Because this postmodern feeling of never ending possibilities of the ego, of productive suspension and of the endless power of “the future”, bought for the price of your real self, is something that may be necessary as a temporary stage of development. But it cannot be the definitive stage of development. Neither of culture, nor of the “I”. That is, what fundamentalists feel, and where they are right. At the same time, these people are completely wrong when they criticize this stage of development simply as “evil” or as something that should be oppressed. Because this postmodern stage of development is much higher evolved, and it leaves a “problem quality” on a much higher level than the stage and the problems which the fundamentalists could find in their own confessional, mythological group oriented spirituality.
Question: Yes, I completely agree. What does that mean, summing up?
RB: Summing up, it means: Postmodernity can be the pre-stage for a higher, more evolved form of spirituality than the global “renaissance of religions” can and will probably be able to give us. Postmodernity can be the pre-stage for a rational, empirical spirituality made for the enlightened, consciously self-observing and nominalistic-realistic civil society of the coming decades. It can be the pre-stage for the merging of Platonism and Aristotelism, which, in my view, is now paradigmatically necessary for the coming stages of globalization – in the epoch after 9-11, in the epoch of the cultural battle between the global renaissance of religion and the secular self-critical thinking of postmodernity, in the epoch of transhumanism and of the “re-invention of the men by the men” (Peter Sloterdijk). We need a subjective-objective spiritual realism based with both feeds on earth, on empirical research, not on belief systems. At least, the proto-spirituality of late postmodernity may be one possibility to move towards the goal of such a new, more balanced “nominalistic-realistic” cultural paradigm. But the proto-spirituality of late postmodernity is not itself the final form we eventually need. That's for sure. Postmodernity must, paradigmatically speaking, balancing and enlarge itself, and it must begin with that balancing now. In doing the balancing, Postmodernity must proceed beyond what it is today, not going back behind its “deconstructive” achievements. And we all, in the European-Western world, should actively contribute to such a transformation: looking ahead with hope, not looking back with sentimentality.