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 III: The Postmodern Mind – And Its Future
The third dialogue gives an outline of the postmodern mind and of its inner, “borderline” spiritual potential. What are the individual and collective forms of this potential - and what are its evolutionary characteristics? What may be the future of the postmodern mind – departing from its own characteristics and abilites? Is a positive perspective possible?
I: RESUMING THE CORE PROCESS: DECONSTRUCTION LEADS TO THE “PRODUCTIVE VOID”
Question: Your perspective about what was postmodernity reacting to, what the philosophical stance was, what the main postmodern thinkers were doing in their late works, and what you were saying about their “inbuilt” limitations?
RB: We talked about postmodern consciousness, is that right? And I was saying that postmodern thinking is primarily, but not only about deconstructing your own self. It is, in its ontological core process, also about reaching something like a “productive void” of your rational, mental consciousness - through the process of deconstruction. A “productive void”, which may be, from my point of view, a sort of necessary, kathartic “borderline” before reaching any real, trustable “subjective-objective” - or “rational spiritual” - experience.
RB: So if you want to say it in these words, the unconscious postmodern maxime, from a “neo-essential” or “neo-realistic” viewpoint, in the epoch from 1979-2001 was, and partially still is until today: Deconstruct everything you “ego” thought it would be. And question everything you felt to be. Than you may discover that your normal “I” is just an illusion, a construct by cultural, social, educational, parental and historical factors. A true “I” does not exist; your normal self is just a construct, an illusion. As Jacques Derrida put it: “What is an I or a Self? I don't know. I have never seen one.” (Jacques Derrida and Safaa Fathy, Derrida is elsewhere, 1999). Of course, the irony in Derridas words, which he did not notice, is, that in these words the sentence is hidden: “I say to you, there is no I”. If you ask Derrida: Who says that?, he has to answer: “I”. So this is, logically speaking, a paradoxical sentence, an impossible sentence. You cannot say: “I am convinced that there is no such thing like an 'I'”. Who says that? An “I”, obviously. So this is a sentence that continuously “suspends” or destroys itself – just as the postmodern “I” wants, for complex reasons, mainly for the purposes of equality and radical liberation, suspend or destroy itself continuously by deconstruction. Suspend and destroy itself consequently, radically, totally. Until full deconstruction is done.
Question: Yes. And then, nothing “substantial” remains. Everything is “suspended”, in the double sense of the word: “elevated” and “annihilated” at the same time, as you said with Hegel. That seems to be the postmodern condition of the self. The core condition of the postmodern subject.
RB: Yes, exactly. Nothing substantial remains – if not the act that does this universal deconstruction. Who is it? The act itself, the acting as active doing, done by somebody, who cannot be entirely the illusionary self, but must be also, at the same time, the observer of that illusionary self. Because obviously, there must be, logically speaking, an instance in the postmodern self that observes all that. If not, this self could not speak and rationalize about all this. That invisible “observer” or “meta-self”, this “pure, pre-objective and pre-subjective life-stream of directed attention and cognition which senses itself, but cannot objectivize itself in no form and no way” (Georg Kuehlewind: The Logos-Structure of the World. Language as Model of Reality, Lindisfarne Books 1996; cf. Georg Kuehlewind, Stages of Consciousness. Meditations on the Boundaries of the Soul, Lindisfarne Books 2001) seems to be the last frontier of deconstruction. It increasingly surfaces as the last, invincible stronghold of “essence” in the postmodern world. The observer is the one, who does the deconstruction – who can and must, as it seems, deconstruct the illusionary ego. That is, what the logic of our lifes teaches us.
Question: But who is the observer?
RB: The observer must be – you. Who else? Who else could observe your normal “I” synchronically from the inside, so to speak, to deconstruct it? Only you can do it. Only you can observe your ego as it happens as an illusion. But then, the question arises: Who is it then, who does the observing? What is its difference compared to the normal ego? And, most important: If all this is true, what is “me” as a whole?
Question: Yes, exactly that is the question of the postmodern, “fragmented” subject.
RB: I must be, as my own clear logic teaches me, something like a double being, a double “I”: a normal ego that is an illusion, but also a secret witness that becomes aware of this illusion. There must be, behind the normal ego or “I”, another “I”, which I cannot deconstruct.
II: THE RESULT: THE EMERGING OF THE TWO “I”'s
RB: Because I cannot make an object out of it. I can try to do that, but I will just become aware that the one who does this trying is the one who would be the one to reach. I become aware that the one who does this trying is the one from which everything else depends. Everything, in the strictest sense of the word. Every sensorial perception, every concept, and every state of ego and “I” I can ever be or imagine. The whole world. But this one cannot deconstruct itself, because he or her is the one who is trying to do the deconstruction. Therefore, that “I” (or witness) must be something like a last, pre-egoistic, pre-conceptual and pre-objective basis for everything else – an “individual, i.e. non-divisible self” or a “permanent origin in itself” (Jean Gebser: The Ever Present Origin, Reprint Edition, Ohio University Press 1986). This “permanent origin” or “pure pre-conceptual life-stream of attention” (Georg Kuehlewind), or, if you want to call it that way, “last meta-conscious basis of postmodern emancipation and every day life” (cf. Roy Bhaskar: The Philosophy of Meta-Reality, SAGE Publications 2002) seems to be the essence you wake up with in the morning. It is the first think that appears in the morning, then you awake. It seems to produce every concept, every perception, as well as the pictures and illusions of the normal ego which then become a self-reflected mask or “persona”. It is the witness which does the deconstruction of the normal ego. Deconstruction obviously does not happen “from alone”. Somebody has to do it. And this somebody can be only your “other” or “pre-objective” “I”: the “I” behind the normal “I”, the “I” which is able to observe even the illusionary “I” from the standpoint of “the other” (Lévinas), and to deconstruct it from the standpoint of “the other”. Who is it? And what remains, if the normal ego and its world, its beliefs and its reality eventually have been completely deconstructed? That's what a normal human being, a contemporary subject who takes postmodernity seriously, must ask, sooner or later, without any chance to avoid these questions. And then, an answer, for a rationally self-aware, contemporarily enlightend (aufgeklärt) subject must be found through and out of deconstruction, not avoiding it.
Question: Yes, that's what you said. Isn't all that a kind of paradox situation of the postmodern “I”? Kind of a structural, fundamental inner schizophrenia - as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari pointed out in “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” (1983-1987, 2 volumes), or more recently Judith Butler in “Undoing Gender” (2004)? And - where does this situation lead?
RB: Right. Let me first say: This kind of schizophrenia, this structural paradox of the “two 'I''s” emerging rationally and almost inevitably from postmodern deconstruction, may be, that is my thesis, the most evolved form of rationality and enlightenment (Aufklärung) we currently posses. It leads almost inevitably to a certain kind of borderline synchronicity – of the ego with “the other” in myself. And even if this “other” (whom you may call the witness, or better: a borderline form of the witness) is, in most cases, not fully conscious for the postmodern subject, it starts to be there. Its presence slowly seems to become a reality – the more as deconstruction proceeds as universal method of conduct and self-awareness in postmodern culture. All that, of course, can be something horrible, it can cause a split or a distorsion. And in fact, what we see is that schizophrenia has become, in the last decades, one of the most “popular” diseases in the European-Western world - as, by the way, Rudolf Steiner predicted it for the end of the 20th century as part of the general evolution of consciousness through the splitting up of the consciousness of the subject (cf. a.o. Rudolf Steiner, Collected works Nr. 10, 13 and 300c, Dornach 1955/56-2005). But despite all this negative outcome, which is undoubtedly there on a very broad scale, all that can, in the whole, maybe also be something productive - some kind of strong evolutionary impulse. Because out of this situation may come, and I would say: almost with necessity, something like a borderline spirituality, as I called it. There is no chance to avoid this kind of “post-egoistic”, mainly negative and at the same time empirical, “post-belief” or “post-metaphysical” spirituality, if you take deconstruction seriously. If you take deconstruction seriously, you will, sooner or later, encounter the other – maybe in distorted forms, maybe as a deeply kathartic experience, maybe as something that frightens or even shocks you and you want turn off your eyes. But you cannot avoid it in the long run. No chance.
Question: But is this true also for, let's say, some very materialistic or (de)constructivistic postmodern theories? Some postmodern theories which are currently dominating cultural theory and academic self-understanding on a broad scale? Do they really produce something like a “double I” with borderline qualities?
RB: Well, the answer may be, at least as far as I can currently see: Yes, increasingly yes. Even if not consciously. You should always remember: Yes, the “two I's” are increasingly produced by postmodern culture, but still not consciously. It's a little bit like the famous advertising sentence of Nike: Postmodernists (and their academic paedagogics) “just do it”; but they don't know exactly what they are doing. They do it out of a strong impulse of equality and liberation, and they generally just wanna see what will be the outcome. That is what most postmodernists would call “a proceeding that is not speculative, but empirical”.
RB: They are just doing it with their students, with their pupils, and they can state with full right that they are making them more conscious of their so far unconscious bindings, restrictive auto-definitions, internalized norms and so on. That is what they do, indeed. And this is an emancipative impulse, a very strong, a very deep and a very precious one, of course. This impulse is, from my point of view, the necessary prerequisite for every enlightenment that earns its name in our postmodern era; you cannot go back behind this proceeding anymore, never, if you don't wanna fall back into a state of mind that is uncritical or even pre-modern. But this proceeding may produce something more than it intends.
Question: What do you mean by that?
RB: Take, for example, one of the leading thinkers you mentioned, someone so totally “anti-essential” and radically “deconstructivistic” like Judith Butler of the University of California at Berkely, a very productive stronghold of postmodern theory in the USA (and a very good university, by the way, where my wife studied with the Indian feminist Bharathi Mukherjee). Butler does a kind of radical empirical deconstruction of the classic humanistic “temple of personal identity” (Lex Bos, Jürgen Habermas); and she is widely recognized as a world wide leading “master thinker” (Jacques Lacan, The Four Discourses In The European-Western World / The Four Core Concepts Of Psychoanalysis, in: Seminaire XX / Encore, 2001; Jacques Lacan, Science and Truth, in: Writings II, 2004; cf. Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works of Jacques Lacan, Free Association Books London 1986, chapter 10) in that. In her recent book “Undoing Gender”, Routledge 2004, she is, as she says, focusing the process “on the question of what it might mean to undo restrictively normative conceptions of sexual and gendered life.” But the real question coming out of the proceeding of “undoing” (which is, of course, only another name for “deconstructing”), as she herself discovers and points out, is: What remains, when you succeed with this deconstruction, let's assume, totally? What will be then, after the “undoing” is done, with the being you liberated from all its cultural, social and physical “covers”, “sleeves” or “spoils”, so to say?
RB: This being will remain there as a pre-sexual, pre-gendered and, in many ways, also pre-personal “I”, not tied to nothing, in a kind of state of “suspension” or “pending” to the void - consisting of “pure directed attention” (Kuehlewind) or pre-subjective “pure substance of mankind” (Bhaskar), which has been freed of every sleeve and spoil, so to say. There may be, if you allow me to say it in a somewhat extreme form, no man and woman anymore, but only “pure mankind”, pure “humanity” as an ontological “occurrence” (Heidegger). That is what Butler unconsciously tries to produce: A world where only pre-subjective (and, of course, pre-objective) men live and encounter each other on the basis of equality, not “men” and “woman” with all the restrictive rules connected to those notions. What remains without any cultural, social, and even physical spoils, which have all been demasked by postmodern thought as social constructs that constitute the subject in unlimited rich and complex forms of norming, and therefore have been “undone”, may be a pure activity of being - and of self-consciously being in a sort of pre-subjectivized state. And if you are very lucky, maybe there will remain even a kind of awareness of the pre-subjective and pre-personal “beeingness” (Ken Wilber, Discourses and Teachings at Naropa Institute Boulder, 2004), of whom my ego is just a temporary kind of condensation in this time and this space and in this culture and in this gender and so on. There may eventually even remain the awareness of a “permanent origin in itself” that is a pure “becoming”, or a deeply inspirational state of consciousness. And that is something truly spiritual or essential, if you consider it as a whole.
Question: Yes. I know that feeling.
RB: Butler is doing, in the end, something very spiritual: she is “de-clothing” the human being of its veils in which he or her incarnates as a subject. Even if she is increasingly conscious that these veils are, at least to a certain extend, also inevitable for living as a concrete person in a concrete society on earth – for the existence of a “origin in itself” in the form of “personhood”. And thus, she is trying to make man “naked”, to unveil the pure mankind in every person who lives necessarily under normative and therefore restrictive rules. If you do the “undoing”, there is nothing normed what remains - only the pure attention of the human being as such in its primordial form as “happening”, between beings whose gender is “suspended” at the one hand, and “intersubjective reality” at the other hand. When everything else is “undone”, then there stands a being that may be a “double 'I””: a gendered (“clothed”) and a not gendered (“unclothed” or naked) being at the same time. That is, from my point of view, what Butler tries to achieve: the awareness of such a “double” being, and such a general atmosphere in culture. She tries to evoke a culture which lives synchronically at two different levels at the same time. A culture in which consciousness has permanently doubled, so to say.
III: THE PRODUCTIVE PARADOX IN THE DEEP SILENCE OF THE POSTMODERN DAIMON
Question: Yes. I can see all that, and it is really happening, here and now. I perceive all that in my concrete life environment, in my personal and relational contexts, and in myself too. But the question remains, to me: Why all this? Why does, as you said before, more or less everybody of us want to liberate her- or himself of all “incarnation veils”? Ok, there is the emancipative aspect, the social aspect, the cultural aspect. But can that be all? Mustn't there be some deeper motivation for a proceeding of such radical and universal dimensions and consequences as this? Don't misunderstand me, please: I think everything you say is right. But I feel that there is something that we still miss in our analisis of the postmodern mind.
RB: Yes, you are right. There is something deeper, something that lies behind all this – something that lies at the very core of deconstruction. It is, what I would call the productive paradox in the deepest silence of the inner daimon – or genius – of late postmodernity.
Question: What is it?
RB: To find the deeper motivations for deconstruction, why it is done by our whole culture with such a vigour, with such a force of trying which may be sometimes come to the edge to brutality and desperation, we cannot speculate. We should rather look at what experience tells us. Our own experience, here and now. Remember: Everything important, in the end, is here and now, right at this moment - and it is simple, even and because it is deep.
RB: So what is the daimon or genius of Postmodernity? What is the productive paradox that constitutes it, as I said?
Question: Yes, what is it?
RB: To answer that question, look at what your own experience tells you - when you look at your own, everyday ego and the driving forces behind it. And more than that: Look at how you look at your ego. It's like when Derrida says: I watch tv and I watch myself watch tv. That would be fulfilled deconstruction. Now, be your ego, and watch trough it into the world - and watch how you watch the world through your ego.
Question: Sounds difficult. Ok. I'll try it.
RB: First, in your naïve everyday life, you simply have your ego, and you are your ego, and that is just ok. You “just do it”, like Nike, the greek goddess of battle and victory. In everyday life, you struggle for survive and victory identifying with your ego. The ego, that's simply you – that may be your feeling towards it, when you just have to function and to be successful in what you are doing. Everybody of us postmodern subjects is his or her ego, during most part of the day. But if you look closer at your ego, if you once start observing it from the outside, if you stay with it closely for a longer time, if you become slowly aware that this ego may be really, and completely, you: than you will not be satisfied with all that anymore. At the contrary: You will no longer stand it at all. Nobody of us is, concerning her or his daimon or genius, any longer able to be satisfied with her or his ego in the long run. That is impossible, because our individual capacities of awareness, but also the overall consciousness of our culture move forward.
Question: Yes. I agree.
RB: Now, if you try to look, and to feel, how you observe your ego in that basically insatisfied state of mind, you may notice: You don't want to be this ego any longer. Look at how your position towards your ego is shifting: it becomes always more a hate-love relationship. And it becomes, the older you grow, much more a hate than a love relationship. At least for an average, self-critical postmodern subject. You don't want to be your ego any longer; but you increasingly want to deconstruct your ego. You want, that is part of that hate-love-relationship, to play with it. But sometimes you want simply to get rid of it. And you want it always more often. That's not only a strange, paradox instinct between gaming and hating, when you are a normal postmodern citizen in the European-western world. It is, at the same time, the basic, productive paradox in the deepest silence of the postmodern daimon as a whole, I think.
Question: Yes, exactly. You enjoy your ego and you wanna live it as fully as possible; but at the same time you wanna get rid of it, you wanna get beyond it.
RB: Why? Because most of us seem to be increasingly tired of our normal egos, of our habits, of this kind of life in constructed, virtual, abstract, intellectualistic, illusionary spaces. Many of us increasingly feel all that as a “distorted larva of reality” (Malraux, Lyotard). Many of us increasingly feel that “true life is somewhere else” (Arthur Rimbaud) - not here in my normal self. And at the same time, they feel that something else is near – something they cannot describe, nor think, nor feel in an appropriate way. Something that tortures us, but is also our hope. Something that has to come - but never comes, “because my ego is there where 'it' wants to be, but this 'it' cannot build on anything if not on my ego” (Malraux, Lyotard). To put it in two words: Something pardox. I repeat: That has become, in the postmodern epoch from 1979-2001, something like an average feeling of many of the medium, educated, middle class citizens of today, in the post-9-11 European and Western world.
Question: Yes. I feel all that it, too. I feel it exactly as you describe it.
RB: And I myself, I feel it, too. What we feel, is, in the last instance, the daimon or genius of postmodernity itself. To put it in other words: We feel a deeply ambivalent impulse that drives our whole culture forward, in an often paradox and schizophrenic way. We feel it as an evolutionary impulse, which hurts us in the same instant it is somewhat healing us.
RB: Out of the schizophrenia of continuous self-observance of the postmodern ego comes a kind of consciousness that starts to become aware that there is an other “I” behind the normal “I”. That there is an “I” behind the deconstruction. An “I” that does the observation, but cannot be observed. Many of us begin to feel that, because we have no other choice. No other choice than despair – despair about our egos, about our habits, about our self-centered lives, about the truth that life, for the normal self, remains always an illusion, a cultural and social construct, and therefore unfulfilling, in the last instance.
Question: I know that feeling, yes. It seems to grow at the same speed of the growing of my self-awarness, of my intellectual capacities, of my rational enlightenment, if I dare to speak of such a thing.
RB: Let me, at this point, say something more personal or even private about this characteristic state of mind of postmodernity, please, to clarify it further.
Question: You are very, very welcome.
RB: Well, what I have to say at this point is personal. But it could be important because it made me discover an aspect of contemporary culture which may not be strictly personal, but seems to have a certain symptomatic value. The women I loved most in my life strangely said all unisono more or less the same thing: “I cannot love enough”. And they wanted to say: “I cannot love enough with my ego. I cannot come close enough to the other and to the world because of my ego. And that is why I am not satisfied. Never. Because I cannot love enough.”
Question: That may be the core or symptom phrase of postmodern culture as a whole.
RB: Yes. That may be the core sentence of the postmodern subject as such and in general. At least of the postmodern subject which becomes conscious of its basic “double I” structure – which begins to cultivate a certain antipathy against its ego, and begins unconsciously to miss a more continuous and conscious presence of the witness. To miss the witness, means, to miss ones own capacity to love, to enter things and to conjunct with them. “I cannot love enough”, means: I cannot enter that formless intensity of my pre-ego that creates my ego and all things and contents and everything which is something. I am not able to do that as I feel it would be possible, be necessary – at least, if I want to give my life the sense it could have, and it has to have, if I don't wanna fail with it. I am too much an ego for being the intensity I long for. All this is condensed in the sentence: I cannot love enough. Almost unnecessary to mention, these women were the woman that were able to love most. They were the “best lovers” I ever encountered.
Question: I understand perfectly what you describe. Perfectly. The same basic feeling may be true for some males.
RB: Right. And what is all that? What does the daimon or genius of postmodernity want to teach us? Where does its basic, structural unsatisfaction point to? And where does this daimon want to arrive with our inner and outer biographies?
Question: Does it want to show us the “I” which is not always present, but which does observe all this: these feelings, this inability to love enough with the ego, this unsatisfactory life of the normal self? Does the paradoxical structure of the postmodern daimon simply teach us to become more aware of our basic structure as “double beings” or “two 'I's in one”?
RB: Maybe. Maybe, yes. It is kind of a productive paradox, in any case. The central question of all that is and still remains, that's for sure: What is the “I” that does the deconstruction, but, for most of us today, is more like a strange, compelling feeling, a felling of absence, but also a feeling of activity, of something that can provide you, in the same time you walk the road and think this and that, some “time out of mind” (Bob Dylan, 1999)?
Question: Yes, what is it? That is one of my big questions. I am always so distracted, so “absent” from real life. As my friends are, if you scrap a little bit on the surface of their lives. They are not here. Not really. But where are they? In the prisons of the world and ego constructions done by their own postmodern minds?
RB: We have to come clear in our minds to understand it. We have to use the “jewel of discrimination” (Viveka-chudamani, Shankara, or Jnana-Yoga, according to Vivekananda, or “pure thinking” according to Rudolf Steiner). When I try to understand all this: the inner situation of the normal postmodern being, when I clear my mind, it becomes more transparent. Because there is no other possibility, empirically and rationally thinking and speaking, than...
RB: … than the possibility that we all have a “normal” and a “higher” I at the same time. And that means: That the universe is a paradoxical structure in itself, which concentrates its very structural predisposition in the structural constitution of the individual, singular “I” – of every singular “I” that exists. That seems to be, what the daimon of postmodernity tries to show us - using the method of deconstruction (and thus negatively “doubling”) of the normal self. It tries to show us, by logical proceedings, that there must be, not accidentally, but structurally, not as a kind of sickness, but as normal basis of human consciousness, at least a twofold “I” for a men who becomes aware of his or her mind. This seems to be part of the essence of the postmodern genius, of its dynamic structure, so to say.
IV: THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF POSTMODERNITY - A FORWARD MOVING POTENTIAL OF CRITICALLY ENLIGHTEND CONSCIOUSNESS
RB: Let's put aside all the negative aspects of postmodernity, for one moment. We know them, and there are more of these negative aspects than we can mention in a whole day. But let's take here, as an artificial experiment, instead only the positive, potentially forward moving aspects. If we do that, than I would say: Through postmodernity, you learn to observe and to know your illusionary self, more or less. And you learn, even if so far in most cases only negatively, to pose the question: What is the “observing” self behind the ego? What is the self that does the deconstruction of the normal self, until nothing remains, if not the act of deconstruction, of “pure directed attention” itself? As it seems, the genius of postmodernity, using the “productive void” of deconstruction, wants to let us feel, even if only negatively: The “I” behind the normal ego must be something like a pure act of consciousness, or pure, flowing attention. Pure activity that lies behind everything what seemed to be something.
RB: It is a kind of pure intensity, to put it in the central term of Jean Francois Lyotards words (cf. Jean Francois Lyotard: Discourse, Figure, Harvard University Press, forthcoming; Jean Francois Lyotard: Postmodernity explained to Children, Sydney: Power Publications 1992; Jean Francois Lyotard: Postmodern fables, University of Minnesota Press 1997). This “pure intensity” is the hidden goal of the so called, broad “erotization of the will” (Lyotard) initiated and cultivated by postmodern culture. Lyotard called it, in the late works he wrote in the 1990tis, the “pre-formal unity of pure intensity (or the inspirated here and now), the sublime (or the majestic) and the act (or occurrence)”. It is obvious that this unity cannot be a specific content of thought, but only a formless, qualitative act - or a pre-conceptual happening of the self-conscious sublime (an “Ereignis”, as the late Heidegger called it). It is, if you want to put it in aesthetic terms, a pre-formal inspiration, rather than any new (mythical or ideological) imaginary. At the center of postmodernity lies an increased awareness of a pure activity, which creates every content – and, so, every thing in the world, including my normal “I” and my egoistic consciousness of every day life. The daimon of postmodernity senses that there is a level of creativity from which everything else depends; and it wants to get in touch with this level – without really knowing what he wants or searches for. He senses that there is an “other, a pre- or archaic first paradigm from which every known paradigm depends and descends. And only the discovery of this paradigm would be the discovery of a new paradigm” (Georg Kuehlewind). And he senses that the discovery of this paradigm would be the only really new paradigm to discover today.
Question: Yes, all that may be logical. I can follow this reasoning. And I understand it, if not immediately in my feelings or in the impulses of what I want, at least in my logical thinking. It is logical. And I understand it as logical, purely logical and rational reasoning.
RB: Very good. And then, it may be also logical that this act itself has no name. It simply cannot be named, by no means, for the main postmodern thinkers. Its creations have names. But it itself must remain nameless. Everything depends on it. It is nothing specific; it simply is. It does the deconstruction. And it creates. It creates everything – very concept, every perception, every “anything”. This pure attention: that may be yourself, your real self – more than everything else you initially thought. Because everything else, with which you identified, was, in the end, just a construct, that came out of that pure intensity or “pure stream of attention”.
Question: Yes, right.
RB: Therefore, because of this intuition, even if this intuition in their works is, in most cases, not fully self-conscious and therefore not been made clear explicitly, but remains very often something half- or even sub-conscious, the main postmodernist thinkers like Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault or Deleuze, in their late works, seem to insist always in one point: You have to destroy your illusions - rationally and consequently. Than, everything else may happen, if you are lucky enough. You cannot control that “everything else” of the happening of the act – but you can control the rational “deconstruction” of your illusions. That is, what you can do rationally, with full awareness of what you are doing. So do it! I teach you how. That is, what today's historical and cultural moment in the Western-European world wants from you. That is our historic challenge – nothing else. It is deconstruction – as a rational method of moving beyond the ego and the illusions of the normal “I” and the everyday world.
Question: Yes. Very interesting. I know all that, but now you give words to my inner experience. Even if this words seem to be just the beginning.
RB: Yes. Of course.
Question: So the core maxime of Postmodernity seems to be: “Deconstruct” your illusions of what you are, and what the world is: the process of history and the culture and society you live in. Then, in the end, you will see: “You” are nothing, if not a product of circumstances – but “you” are also, at the same time, a pure, active, rationally self-aware stream of consciousness.
RB: Exactly. A pure “here and now” – not your past, not your future, but only the world creating present in this very instant. Don't' believe it – experience it through deconstruction of your normal “I”. And you will see it very clearly: With your normal ego, you live in a dream of past and future, and in a dream of an “I” which is not real, which is not objective. And you will see that there is neither an objective ego nor an objective world, but both are a contextual and social construct. Your ego is the basic illusionary construct on which most other things build up. That's what the world is. So wake up and see, how things are just a complex construct, from every angle, not less and not more than that. Nothing is objective. Nothing is simply “real”.
Question: Nothing is, what it seems or supposes to be.
RB: Yes. Everything is created, by someone, by something. And the creator must be this strange feeling of “I” behind my ego. A feeling which is always there, somewhere, but I cannot understand or express or explain it clearly. It is a feeling of absence rather than of presence, even if I know that it is always here in me, in the neighbourhood of my ego. It is a feeling of unsatisfaction rather then of joy, for most of us. It is a challenging feeling. A kind of “Unruhe”, as Heidegger put it (productive restlessness or “peacelessness”). It is a productive paradox, to put it in one word.
RB: That “paradox” may be the basic feeling of most postmodern subjects. It is a latent, or even “secret” feeling of the kind: “There are two 'I's living synchronically in me, an ego and a witness or a higher self. And I am the sum of them as intensive present here and now”. And this is, at least potentially, a deeply spiritual feeling – because it is paradoxical.
Question: But at the same time, in its thoughts which usually do not care about those feelings, the postmodern subject is rationally convinced that everything is only a construct. Everything is cultural, everything is social, and therefore everything is political. That is, what the postmodern subject must think, if it follows mainstream culture today. So the question arises: Which ego which has the right to do the constructs that dominate our culture and our minds, the minds of all the other egos, if the whole world is only a construct anyway? The whole question of postmodernity becomes a much more political than a cognitive question. Not truth may be important (since it does not exist anyway), but equality and rightfulness.
RB: Yes. Postmodernity is not mainly interested and “discovering” the truth, but in making people more sensitive towards the extremely complex everyday questions of justice. And these questions of justice are related closely to questions of language (cf. Jean Francois Lyotards main work, “my philosophical book”: “Le differend. Phrases in dispute, University of Minnesota Press 1988). Postmodern thinking is much more interested in justice, and that means: in ethics, than in truth (cf. M. Garber and Rebecca L. Walkowitz: The Turn to Ethics. Routledge 2000; and A. Peperzak: Ethics as First Philosophy. The Significance of Emmanuel Levinas for Philosophy, Literature and Religion. Routledge 1995). It is convinced that there is no truth, at least no truth as classical humanism conceived it, no truth for the human mind - but that, realistically speaking, there are constructive “political” power interests behind everything. These are much more important, for postmodernistis, regarding the practice of the subject between creation and manipulation. They speak and create through languages, through different and complex languages which must pass through “incarnated” egos. Everything is language. There is no world outside the language. There is no meta-language, as Jean Francois Lyotard put it. There is no outside of the world created by the consciousness of humans and their interactive networks, my friend.
Question: Right. That's, more or less, what they thought me in university.
RB: And that has its advantages. It produces very good, very important things. Which one? You become a (self-)critical, awaken citizen, for example; and you become sensitive against every form of injustice. But when everything is just a “political” construct - what about the witness beyond the ego? There remains a void, something, that cannot and should not be expressed by postmodern means.
Question: And this too is a paradox.
RB: Yes. That double paradox is what mainstream postmodernism postmodern philosophy taught us in the epoch of its highest reign, from about 1979 to about 2001. From Jean-Francois Lyotard's book “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge” (University of Minnesota Press 1985, First edition 1979) until Roger Rosenblatt's Time Magazine column “The Age of Irony Comes to an End. No longer will we fail to take things seriously” (Time Magazine, 09-20-2001), a bitter and angry response to 9-11. These two texts, in my view, are both important symptoms of deeper developments in the time in which they appeared. They mark, in my opinion, the beginning and the beginning end of an intellectual and cultural epoch.
Question: Yes. I agree.
RB: And indeed: The years from 1979 to 2001 were the years of postmodernity. More precisely: The years of the first generation of postmodern thinking and culture. Why can we call it, with full right, a more or less fulfilled, but also at least partially concluded “cultural epoch”, if we look back at those years from today's viewpoint? Why can we, despite all its immense problems and failures, call it a “positive” epoch? Well: To do all that what postmodern thinkers suppose has to be done: To deconstruct your normal ego, to discover the cultural and social mental constructions that create your own normal consciousness, and to discover that this consciousness, as far as it is the consciousness of an ego, is not free, not completely intentional as you supposed at first glance, that this consciousness it is, instead, a highly complex, enigmatic collective construct, something created which is not, what it may seem at first glance: All this may be the necessary first step to reach an enlightend (aufgeklärt) state of mind which would be profoundly self-critical, and therefore progressive in a sustainable way. A way that could include avantgardistic, evolutionary potentials. (Cf. Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in Dialogue: Laying the Tracks for a Moving Train. Revelation, Right View, and the Challenge of Conscious Evolution. In: In: What Is Enlightenment, Issue 31: Spirituality vs. Religion. Where Do You Stand?, December 2005 – February 2006).
Question: A way to free you rationally from your illusions by deconstruction, and to make the first, proto-rational steps into the spiritual realm departing from the “productive void”?
RB: Yes, exactly. Doing this, and doing it with all your energies and in full awareness, may allow you, in some cases, to reach the outlines of a real spiritual experience. An experience of the “productive void” and the “double I” being borne almost necessarily out of deconstruction.
Question: But when we think about all that what Postmodernity does: Does then postmodern enlightend (aufgeklärt) philosophy and education not be anything else than psychoanalysis brought to its extremes in thinking?
RB: This is right, at least to a certain extend. It is psychoanalysis “of the second generation” (Jacques Lacan, brought into an educational form, into the form of a leading cultural paradigm of institutional higher education in European-Western civilisation (Jean Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, Felix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze, Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous). From my point of view, postmodern thinking is, in many ways, psychoanalysis with slightly different methods and means in a non-therapeutic: in an educational context. But the goal is similar, the basic idea is similar, some of the central proceedings are similar (deconstruction, for example, is a similar proceeding like Sigmund Freud's “Remembering, Repeating, Re-Working”, even if Derrida applied it also to Freud himself; cf. Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams, Barnes and Noble 1994; and Jean Francois Lyotard: Dérive à partir de Marx et Freud. Collection Débats, Galilée 1994; Jacques Derrida: Positions, University of Chicago Press 1981; Jacques Derrida: The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and beyond, University of Chicago Press 1987; Jacques Derrida: Resistances of Psychoanalysis, Stanford University Press 1998). And a sort of basic behaviouristic materialism is common to both. This is very important to understand the worth and the main purposes of postmodernism, but also its inbuilt limits.
V: THE PROBLEM: POSTMODERN PROTO-SPIRITUALITY AND ITS INBUILT LIMITS. 4 CORE ASPECTS
RB: Summing up, we can say that postmodern critical consciousness in the late works of Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze and most of the main thinkers in Europe, in the end, and seen from a spiritual viewpoint, could been described as a form of negative approach - or a deconstructive prerequisite - to a genuine spiritual experience. But the main representatives of the “first generation of postmodernism” were not able to understand fully what the spiritual experience itself may be in positive words. They just could evoke it negatively. That seems to be the border line they never crossed. Jacques Derrida was one who was conscious of that fact and outlined it very clearly by himself (cf. Jacques Derrida: Acts of Religion. Routledge 2001. Cf. Yvonne Sherwood: Derrida and Religion. Other Testaments. Routledge 2004; John D. Caputo: The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion. The Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Indiana University Press 1997. Cf. John D. Caputo: On Religion (Thinking in Action). Routledge 2001.
Question: Do you want to explain once again why they only approached it negatively, and where that came from? That seems to be an all decisive point to me, since it may be the core question for us of how to proceed after their deaths.
RB: There are complex reasons for that. We talked about that earlier, and maybe I can resume the main reasons here. I would mention at least three main aspects.
RB: The first aspect is that postmodernists were not ready to give spirituality a positive shape. That is due to their own intellectual logic. According to their predominantly nominalistic concept of rationality, the realm of “essences” or philosophical realism cannot and should not be entered positively. All the main postmodernist thinkers 1979-2001 were, to a certain extend, part of analytical philosophy. They wanted to see how things interact; they were interested in how reality is produced, how the collective machine of “reality production” functions. They were much less interested in the question, what truth may be, and how mankind and world “really” are in their “deeper” dimensions. But, in most cases unvoluntarily, unveiling the mechanisms of consciousness that create reality, and “deconstructing” the mind of the creator of this reality, they came necessarily near a borderline to something else, to something that they increasingly discovered in their late works. It is something that Jean Francois Lyotard called the “inaudible presence of the void” or the “Not-I”. Jacques Derrida called it the “absolute secret, which is bigger than my self, which must be protected from language, and to which I have no access.” What did he want to say with these words? He wanted to say: There is a dimension which is bigger than my rational consciousness, and to this dimension, I have no access with my normal ego. But he didn't say that there is no access at all. He just limited himself to say that with the rational, intellectual, linguistic mind he was not able to gain access. Period. That means clear thinking and auto-critical consciousness, to me. But at the other hand, he felt increasingly as a “Maran”, as we know – as a Spanish Jew who practices his religion in the secret of his privacy. He was deeply involved in what “spirit” may be, and what were the “productive mechanisms” of spirit as such. He critizised Heideggers political and existencial misuse of “spirit” at the one hand, and he critizised Freuds pathological and behaviouristic misuse of “spirit” at the other hand. He tried to understand what “spirit” may be from the outer perspective at first hand, but increasingly also from the inner perspective. (Cf. Geoffrey Bennington: Spirit's Spirit Spirits Spirit. In: David Wood, ed.: Of Derrida, Heidegger and Spirit. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993, pp. 82-92. Cf. Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida: Jacques Derrida. Religion and Postmodernism Series, University Of Chicago Press 1999.)
Question: But why do they came to such “borderline” interests of research only in their late works?
RB: Again, there are different reasons for that. Most of the main postmodern thinkers, before entering their late period of personal development, were strongly under the influence of the experiences of the 20th century: of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism, later also of Maoist and Red Khmer dictatorships. They thought: Our experience in 20th century that did almost destroy mankind shows us especially one thing: Any time you try to describe positively the “essence” or “vital sphere” (Kuehlewind) of the idea, every time you try to describe the realm of philosophical realism positively, then you're always in danger to fall into absolutistic dreams, into ideologies of a “total truth”. Into ideologies of truth which are conceived always in absolutistic means: in means of a total wisdom, which is not beyond my ego, but is inherent in it, is graspable by it. And the so conceived ideologies suggest you the illusion that your ego could have the right to use total power and total control over other people, which probably do not have the same access to this absolute truth. That may lead you ego to think, that it could be the master over life or death – not only for its own, but also for others. And with full right, a right that derives from its priviledged access to truth. In other words: A right that seems to belong to the ego by the will of the idea itself – may it be the idea of progress of mankind, of spiritual truth or of God. Call it as you like it. In any case, the concept that there could be a possibility of direct conjunction between the ego and the sphere of the truth produces harm for the other. Therefore, you have not only to avoid the thinking in terms of truth, but you also have to battle those who try it.
Question: Yes. That was a very strong European feeling in the decades from 1979 to 2001. Maybe a little bit less in the USA, where religion is on the rise not only since 1989-91, but since the death of the Kennedy's (1963/1968) and the successive gaining of a “cultural overhand” by the “republican turn” since then.
RB: Exactly. It is much more European than American. But the American Academic Sphere, with only a few exceptions, integrated it in its “politically correctness” and made as well an universal paradigm of rationality and critical consciousness out of it. (Cf., for example: Tom Cohen (ed.), Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader. Cambridge University Press 2002).
RB: So this is one main, basic reason why postmodernists did never sustainably cross the border line of the “productive void” produced by deconstruction. It is one main reason why they never tried to transform their predominantly negative, in many cases more literary than philosophical evocation of spirituality, which I tried to describe in our first dialogue, into a more positive, more systemic and more active building-up of spirituality. This is especially due to the fact, that some of them were themselves, at least for certain periods of their lives, active or even militant in radically “truth”-oriented, ideological groups. In groups, which were strongly “absolutistic” truth-oriented. For example Jean Francois Lyotard in the times of his membership in the militant group “Socialisme ou barbarie” (1948-1963), a radical leftist circle of intellectuals which fought publicly for a kind of postmodern communism during the North African colonial wars done by Post-World-War-II-France with rare brutality. The same as for Lyotard is true, for example, also for Luis Althusser, and for many others. When those thinkers, like Lyotard, turned away from that groups, and saw that those “absolutistic” ideas of justice, truth and brotherhood did not improve life, but did the contrary, they were deeply shocked by their own behaviour. They were brandmarked forever with the failure of what they first thought, with the necessary failure of every ideology. And so they became radically anti-ideological, and they thought that this would mean also: to be radically anti-“essential” and anti-“realistic”. In the end, assuming this position which became then their main position from 1979 to 2001, they were just trying to learn from their mistakes.
Question: Right. Great.
RB: A second reason for the incapacity to include realistic and nominalistic proceedings may be that most of the main postmodern thinkers of the first generation were simply not able to handle “essential”, “realistic” or “spiritual” experiences (which they obviously had, at least negatively, as we can clearly see from their late writings). Why? Because nobody taught them how to handle them. The paradigmatic European-Western approach of philosophy towards borderline consciousness phaenomena after World War II, especially in academic culture, was completely against every scientific approach to such phaenomena - for different reasons. The most important reason is the one mentioned above: the catastrophic experience with the pseudo-spiritualities of the 20th century. How to handle, and how to develop your spiritual experiences and desires, when they are banned from the social communications sphere, and if have to be dealt with exclusively in the sphere of the private? To talk about “essence” or philosophical realism could ruin your academic carreer. And so, when things became serious, most of those philosophers choosed the safe way, and they retired from the public question to a private question. But this revealed itself as a very ambivalent choice, because, as we saw symptomatically on September 11, 2001, if the enlightend rationality of the most evolved societies of the world leaves alone the renaissance of religion in most other parts of the world, religion could increasingly become irrational or even anti-rational. We have seen, that it is one of the most important responsibilities of postmodern rationality to occupy itself not exclusively, but also of religion, essence, realism, spirituality. We have seen that it is one of the most important responsibilities that the most evolved rationality we have today, and that actually is Postmodernity, must try to integrate nominalism and realism in an appropriate, new way to build an integrative paradigm for the coming world society that is being born right now. If Postmodernity does not, the comeout could be a new battle between irrational, not self-aware, uni-dimensional religion and rational, self aware, uni-dimensional secularism, which both miss their complementarity. And exactly that could lead to new catastrophic results on a world wide scale.
Question: Yes. In the last years and months, we already saw the first global signs of this battle. Let's think, for example, on the battle between parts of the Muslim religious world against the free press of Europe in the so called “Dispute about the cartoons on the prophet Mohammad” in a conservative Danish newspaper in January 2006; let's think at the difficulties with democratization and stability in Iraq, which are in large parts due to religious questions and to the cultural problems closely related to them; and let's think on the increasing problems of the Western-European world with Iran, which appear to be not only political, but, maybe even more than that, religious and cultural problems at a more “basic” level. At the level of incompatibility between uni-dimensional secularism at the one hand an uni-dimensional, irrational “spirituality” at the other hand.
RB: Exactly. Actually, there currently are some attempts to make secular and spiritual paradigms join on a rational, self-critical basis. (Cf. Jeremiah Hackett and Jerald Wallulis: Philosophy of Religion for a New Century: Essays in Honor of Eugene Thomas Long. Studies in Philosophy and Religion. Springer 2004; Patrick Maxwell and Deane-Peter Baker: Explorations in Contemporary Continental Philosophy of Religion. Value Inquiry Book Series 143. Rodopi 2003; Hent de Vries: Philosophy and the Turn to Religion. The Johns Hopkins University Press 1999). But these attempts are, in most cases, still week, isolated and not satisfying. And they will remain such, as long as a second generation of postmodern thinkers – and with that I mean: we! – do not enter the issue with a systematic effort to create a new philosophical and cultural paradigm which could merge realism and nominalism in a contemporary form: on the basis of the achievements of Postmodernity, but at the same time going beyond them.
Question: I agree. That is absolutely necessary. And we have absolutely not to blame someone for the non-achievements so far on this wide and difficult field. That will not lead us forward. We have to resume what the first generation of postmodernity achieved, and to take the best of it to move forward. But then, we have to do it. We have to move the philosophical and cultural paradigm one step forward, building on those achievements. But we should have, at the same time, no illusions: This is a big, a very big challenge. And many will be needed to face such a challenge. It is not a question of a few “strange people”.
RB: Yes, undoubtedly. We will have to create networks, with all people of good will on a rational basis.
Question: Yes. The important work is still to do.
RB: And even if it is done, the challenge may result too big anyway. But that's to see.
RB: But let's turn, for a moment, to our main question: Why the postmodern thinkers of the first generation encountered such difficulties in dealing with “essentialist” issues. That may be a good point to start with to create the new paradigm which is so urgently needed now.
RB: The feeling of those thinkers was: We are alone with these issues. These are private issues. And their question was: How can we act rationally in front of realms of consciousness and experience, which overwhelm you anyway? How to deal with them, in a systemic, orderly, conscious way that has some prospect to lead you somewhere, when you're totally on your own - and if you don't even know if you can trust your own experiences? That was, for example, the question of Jean Francois Lyotard when he wrote “The soundproof room”. A very painful question, by the way.
Question: Yeah. We can probably only weekly imagine what he went through.
RB: The question of these thinkers was: How can you know, by your personal capacities and memories, if all those borderline experiences are not only personal projections or simply illusions of a mind that has fear to die – what they, in fact, in many cases may have been? In the postmodern age from 1979-2001, everybody talked about justice and equality in rights. But only a few people talked about freedom in truth-searching. Academic life was dominated by the idea of bringing equality from politics into educational life; not by the idea of making evolve truth in a freedom-oriented society. Academic life was, and still is in big parts of the social sciences and the humanities, generally about political correctness, not about truth. (See, for example: David Ray Griffin: Sacred Interconnections. Postmodern Spirituality, Political Economy and Art. SUNY - State University of New York Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought, New York 1990).
RB: It stated: Everybody has the same right to have its own truth, and to articulate it; the right to articulate your own personal truth is much more important, than the question if your personal truth is “objectively” true or not; since there is no such thing like objectivity, because everything is a construct, there is a little need to think about truth. Instead, we should focus on equality between different viewpoints. And we must focus on helping the people who don't have a language to articulate themselves - to develop a language for their own. We must help them to speak up and to bring themselves into the social context trough an articulation which should not be one borroughed from other people, but must come from themselves. A language which should be made for their needs and by themselves. These are the important issues of today, not truth. That is what Jean Francois Lyotards says, more or less, in his most important book, “my philosophical book”, “Le differend. Phrases in dispute” (1982). So then, when it finally came to the last truth questions, to truth and spirit, inevitably with the closing in of death and all the “final” questions related to it, the question remained unresolved: What can I do with those borderline experiences and with my “essential” needs? The main postmodern thinkers were not prepared to answer that questions. Because their lives had not prepared them appropriately for it.
RB: And a third reason for the difficulties of late Postmodernists with “realistic” or “essential” issues is the following. When those leading postmodernists became more and more aware of the necessity I mentioned: to form a new, broader and more integrative paradigm, and when they grew old and approached dead, they were searching for a kind of anchor on which rely their desire to go one step further beyond the achievements they had made until then - if possible, and if rationally legitimable. Now, many of the leading postmodernists were of Jewish-Arabic roots, or were strongly influenced by them, even if they refused most of the strictly spiritual implications of these traditions. But when they grow old, they tended, at least in part, to turn back to those roots, as it seems quite natural to me.
Question: Yes. To me too. It's kind of a natural instinct to search for your deeper roots when life is ending.
RB: You can take Levinas, you can take Lyotard, you can take Derrida, you can take Cixous. All these leading thinkers, in their late works, are going back, even if in a certain half-hearted or unfulfilled way, to their understanding of their Jewish-Arabic roots. They are going back, in the first place, from the kind of “Arabic” nominalism which dominated their lives as academic thinkers, to some aspects of the Jewish religion as they understood (and understand) it. And, to be quite honest with you, in most cases they don't seem to understand a lot of it, since they were, a life long, against religion.
RB: Again: Derrida, for example, saw himself in his late years as “Maran”, as the defender of “the absolute secret”. And he said literally: The postmodern mind must be the defender of the absolute secret, and it must be the one who teaches how to respect this secret, and how it is not compatible to language. For him, the Jewish religion consisted not in exploring spiritual experiences, but at the contrary, in withstanding the temptation to do that exploration - and to remain consciously outside of it. At the same time, he defended, as a kind of mentor, the worth and the ontological value of Jewish traditions. He defended its beauty and its historical importance, but without being himself “so full of hybris” to try to enter the spiritual realm by himself, by his own means and with his own ends.
Question: Yes, you can perceive that clearly in his late works. It is a kind of deep, deep respect and humility.
RB: Yes, exactly. And Derrida is an example for the basic attitude practiced also by other late postmodern thinkers. (Cf. Helene Cixous: Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint. Columbia University Press 2004). So summing up, we can say there is a sort of “negative theology” in the late works of late postmodernists, which is much more an implicit theology, rather than an explicit theology. The reason for that is not that many leading postmodernist thinkers of the first generation were of Jewish religion and Arabic-French roots. The reason is rather their restricted understanding of their Jewish roots. According to many of them, the Jewish religion says you should not make a positive image. You should not construct a positive image of the sacred. Indeed, that's right. But that does not mean that religion has no reality or “living essence”. But since Postmodernists were basically nominalists, they always had their struggles and problems with that point, and they limited themselves to the aspect of non-positivity towards any direct access to the sacred (Cf. Steven Kepnes: Reasoning After Revelation: Dialogues in Postmodern Jewish Philosophy. Radical Traditions, Westview Press 1998. Cf. T. Wright: Twilight of Jewish Philosophy: Emmanuel Levinas' Ethical Hermeneutics. Routledge 2001).
Question: Right. Which is why God has no name for example.
RB: Yes. And you should not make a picture of him. You should not try, in any case, to evoke his name positively. According to Derrida, you have something similar like this sacred tabu also in Islam, and also in the old testament of the bible (Cf. Yvonne Sherwood, ed.: Derrida's Bible: Reading a Page of Scripture with a Little Help from Derrida. Palgrave Macmillan 2004). And you have it, eventually, in the core of the whole “abrahamitic complex” of the three religions whose origins are in the middle east. (Cf. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon: Augustine And Postmodernism: Confession And Circumfession. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Indiana University Press 2005). That is what not only Derrida believed, but what many Postmodernists believed. That is, how they tended to interprete their Arabic-Jewish origins. And how they tried to handle them, to work with them, when they grew old. They tried simply to make compatible what they said in their former lives with the new frontiers appearing in their last years. And that was – and is, actually - really not simple. At the contrary.
RB: These three reasons, from my personal point of view, are closely intertwined in the late works of the leading postmodern thinkers we mentioned. And they are intertwined in an often ambivalent or even contradictory way. Most important of all: They are intertwined also privately in those thinkers as single persons, who were, everybody more or less for himself, dealing and struggling with those core aspects of the “doubled I” we talked of as the necessary, central outcome of postmodern deconstruction. Everybody for himself, alone. Which makes it not easier, if you look at the size of the problem they were dealing with.
RB: And in fact, they did not find any “solution”. Not even the borderline of a “solution”, I would say. But please, don't misunderstand me if I say that. All those three reasons do not mean that the main postmodernist thinkers were not approaching any spiritual dimension. At the contrary: they were – even if it was mainly a semi-spiritual, or borderline-spiritual dimension. They were seriously in that, because at a certain point of their lives, they simply could not avoid that dimension. But they approached this dimension in an unfinished, and often enough in a distorted way.
Question: Yes. This borderline-spiritual dimension surfaces almost necessarily in our “deconstructive” time, and you can hardly avoid it.
RB: Exactly. Having done the radical deconstruction of everything, including your ego, which comes out of the full application of the most evolved critical and self-critical rationality, if you wanna make a step further, you must go in any case to a point where you touch the “productive void”, as we said. And then, you just have two possibilities. The first possibility is, that you go ahead and cross the border line to direct spiritual experience (of exactly which kind, we will have to clarify a little bit later), and you enter into a real spiritual dimension that is always linked to paying the price of kátharsis, of purification and of loss of illusions. It means that you have to price the “pain of thinking” as Jean François Lyotard put it. It means that you accept the pain of thinking: the total self-deconstruction of your ego to reach the borderline of the “productive void”. The second possibility is, that you don't accept this pain, and that you retire into your normal ego. But that means also, that, in most cases and on the long run, you will go back into desperation.
RB: Because as a consequently self-critical postmodern subject, you cannot live any more only with a rationality which has deconstructed everything - even its own “essential” presumptions (like the absolute worth of thinking itself and of enlightenment, but also, for example, of human rights as a necessarily “essential” assumption), and thus has come to a natural borderline of its own “substantial” activity. As a postmodern mind at the highest point of its possibilities, you have only the two possibilities I mentioned. These are, in my opinion, the two only ways that are left for truly enlightend postmodernists, after September 11, 2001 - after “the age of irony has come to an end” (Roger Rosenblatt).