Publications dates of essays (month/year) can be found in the Reading Room.
Roland Benedikter is a Member of the Institute for the History of Ideas and Research on Democracy, Innsbruck, Austria. e-mail: email@example.com. 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 V: Can Only A God Save Us? Postmodern
I: THE RISE OF A PROTO-SPIRITUALITY IN LATE POSTMODERN PHILOSOPHY AND THE PRODUCTIVE CRISIS OF THE TRADITIONAL HUMANITIES
Question: Ok. All what we said so far, is very clear, and inspiring, too. But of course, it produces new questions. Many new questions. And all these questions may, as an impulse of “fluidification” (cf. Cf. Zygmunt Bauman: Liquid Modernity. Polity Press 2000), produce a crisis not only of what we conceived as “modern”, but also of what we conceived academically as “postmodern philosophy” so far. And it may further produce a crisis of traditional humanities in general. Because if it is correct what we said about the rising of a “proto-spirituality” in late postmodern philosophy, then their currently paradigmatic auto-image may be only partially correct.
RB: Of course, yes. Real thinking is always “underway”; and what it finds, produces always new, hopefully more exciting questions. That is not only the core feeling of postmodernity as such: to be permanently “underway”, to be “on the road”, maybe forever. But it is also a core proceeding of the Human Sciences in general, I think, at least if they try to conceive themselves as truly postmodern sciences. (Cf. Michel Foucault: The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Sciences. Vintage, Reissue edition 1994). Some indeed have argued that not producing mainly answers, but “deconstructive” questions, as late postmodern philosophy was - and still is - used to do, may result in a “crisis” of humanities, at least in the traditional European historical framework. Well, if this “deconstructive” philosophy really produces such a crisis, it must be a healthy crisis. And indeed, it has been a very productive crisis, if we overview what late postmodern philosophy has, with all is weaknesses and failures, brought as deeply “purifying”, auto-critical impulse into traditional humanities and into the academic scene in the last three decades. And if the discovery of a “proto-spirituality” in late postmodern philosophy will now lead to a crisis in the paradigmatic academic understanding of “postmodernity” itself, be it welcome! This producing of always new questions by, but also towards postmodern thinking seems very healthy and forward oriented to me. That is was our dialogue wanted, as you remember, when we started: producing questions, forward looking questions, experimental questions about the future of Postmodernity. Questions which may not producing definite answers or all too clear roads to follow, but have some power to move things forward.
Question: Yes. So you may let me, all in the spirit of this truly adventurous enterprise, start our final dialogue with one question that I feel as being very important regarding the basic transformation of current culture, please. Maybe this question can be the start of a summing up of what we tried to describe in these dialogues as “borderline” phaenomena in current culture, and what the future of postmodern proto-spirituality may be.
RB: You are welcome.
Question: So let me start with this: If there are certain similarities or parallels between the tendencies of the “doubled I” and the “synchronistic consciousness” (and its core proceeding of inspiration) in late postmodern philosophy with some Eastern approaches like the one of Ramana Maharshi, as you said, then my question is: Are there examples of postmodern thinkers having evolved a more conscious way of exploring the “essential”, “realistic” or spiritual reality and consciousness accessible from the borderline of the postmodern “productive void” reached by the means of deconstruction? In other words: Have there been postmodernists that became truly “essential” or spiritual, beyond the borderline? Thinkers who can show us the way into the future of a more balanced: into a truly “subjective-objective”, into a truly nominalistic and realistic world view? That would be, from my point of view, the decisive question, if we want to present a rational, progressive alternative to the current pre-rational and mythological, mainly conservative global turn to religion.
RB: Indeed, this may be one decisive question for the coming years. And the answer is, as far as I know: No. There were no such postmodern thinkers of the first generation 1979-2001 which really realized a truly subjective-objective world view or a consequently balanced, nominalistic-realistic philosophy for the age of globalization – to use as a paradigmatic, rational-spiritual bridge between the so-called “first”, European-Western world with its postmodern culture at the one hand and the so-called “second, third and fourth” worlds with their mainly religious or half-religious cultures at the other hand.
Question: No one of the first generation of postmodern thinkers?
RB: Not that I know. We have seen the proto-spiritual tendencies rising in the last years of their lives. But despite these tendencies, the leading postmodern philosophers did not reach the level of such a new, integrative thinking we tried to outline earlier. Not even in their late, in their proto-spiritual works. Definitely not. They remained “borderline walkers”. Or, to speak with Andrei Tarkowski, by far the most important “postmodern” spiritual filmmaker of the 20th century: They remained, for their whole lifes, “stalkers” into a land of wishes and dreams, which were, at the same time, not reachable for them in full reality. (Cf. Andrei Tarkowski: Stalker. Mosfilm, Soviet Union 1978/1979. 163 min.).
Question: I know that film. Hmm. So what have we got to do?
RB: It's up to us. It's exactly like the “wish machine” in “Stalker” – or, to return back to the starting words of our first dialogue, like the “desire machine” which postmodern life basically is. It's up to us to use that machine for good purposes, for bad means, or to use it not at all. Even to destroy (or to “deconstruct”) it. To half deconstruct it, to totally deconstruct it – who knows?
Question: It's up to us? That's all? The destiny, the future of Postmodernity – and you just have to say: It's up to us? Well, that's not a lot, to be completely honest with you.
RB: I know what you mean. You know, maybe we have to wait for some younger people, for some people of a possible “second generation” of postmodern philosophy, which may try to create systemically that integrative thinking we talked of as a core necessity for the coming years? And in fact, there seem to be some young academics which, step by step, increasingly seem to lose their fears to try it at least. (Cf., for example, Markus Molz, Hilde Weckmann, Wendelin Kuepers, Antonella Verdiani and others: Founding European Integral Academy. A Project Outline. Strasbourg 2006, still unpublished; cf. Mark Edwards, Graduate School of Management, University of Western Australia: On the interpretation of sacred writings from an integral theory perspective, forthcoming; and cf. the contributors in Roland Benedikter: Postmaterialism. A Book Series In 7 Volumes. Volume 1: Introduction Into Postmaterialist Thinking Of The Second Generation; Volume 2: Men In Post-Capitalist Culture; Volume 3: Labour; Volume 4: Nature; Volume 5: Capital; Volume 6: Globalization; Volume 7: Perspectives Of Postmaterialist Thinking Of The Second Generation. Vienna 2001-2005. www.passagen.at/autoren/benedikter.html). Unfortunately, most of those young new thinkers remain single combatants against their times – like, for the rest, Nietzsche was a “combatant against its time” in his epoch (cf. Rudolf Steiner, who wrote the very first book about Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the fathers of Postmodernity: Rudolf Steiner: Friedrich Nietzsche – A Combatant Against His Times, 1895. In: Collected Works No. 5, Dornach 1999). For me, those young thinkers are the true followers of Nietzsche – because they are trying to go one step farther than postmodern Zeitgeist.
Question: Well, than everything it's on its way, isn't it? Just wait that the world will be a better place. The young ones will do it. The young ones – what a bitter irony in our “young crazy” postmodern society, which worships “the youth” as its only ideal! That is sort of a postmodern “paradox” too, isn't it?
RB: I understand your bitterness. It is my bitterness, too. It is the bitterness of many of us.
Question: Well. Of most of us, I would say. Bitterness is the other side of naïve postmodern “wisdom & youth everything at once fascination” – which, by the way, may be due to its inspiratory (or “permanent origin out of itself”) principle.
RB: Ok. But let me say one thing: As far as I understand it, this bitterness has no meaning, in the end. It is useless, in my view. Not only philosophically, but ontologically, you know? You are waiting for answers, you see? Again. Like the traditional humanists. Like me. Like we all. Unconsciously. And consciously as well, of course. There is nothing wrong with that. But do you think that falling back into irony can help us? I am not sure. Regarding the future of postmodern proto-spirituality, there are a lot of problems, of course.
Question: I'm sorry. You are right. Let's start with the problems, ok. If there is nothing else to start with, as it seems. Let's start with the problems. Life is made out of problems, isn't it?
RB: Indeed, my friend. One of those problems is that if you study today, five years after 9-11-2001, at a traditionally accredited, renowned university in the European-Western hemisphere, people teaching there usually have prevalently receptioned the early and middle works of postmodern philosophers (timeframe: end of the 1960tis – midst of the 1990tis). But they are still ignoring most of the late works of those main postmodern thinkers we talked of (timeframe: late 1990tis until 2004). They ignore those “proto-spiritual” works, because, in most cases, they don't even know them in an appropriate way. But also, because they don't want to know them at all.
RB. Because in the case of knowing them they would have to expand their horizons - and to expand their teaching goals. The “epigons” of the first generation of postmodernity, who dominate our universities still until today, would usually still say: “You should only approach the borderline of the 'doubling I' by the means of deconstruction. Reach the productive void of everything, including your normal ego: the place where only your consciousness and your active observation of your own consciousness are left and nothing else. The place, where you're entering a sort of borderline consciousness and of borderline 'I'. That is how far you can go – but not beyond that point. Going further is forbidden, because it may lead us into extreme danger.”
Question: Yes, exactly.
RB: That means: The space beyond that “heightened attention” or “increased aesthetic sensitivity” (Loytard) is seen, by most of the academic research and teaching professionals of today, not only as radically ambivalent - which it is, actually, as we know, by its very nature, because there is no simple “good” and “evil” in that space anymore. But it is seen by them also as profoundly dangerous, and, third, as useless for the further concrete emancipation of society. That is what most traditional universities try to teach us in the “spirit” of the first generation of postmodernity. They lead young people to the borderline point of spatial self- and world-observation we described; but nobody teaches those people then how to go beyond and how to confront the realm beyond that point in an appropriate way. By “appropriate” I mean a way which could turn into something philosophically sustainable, into something that could truly balance subjectivity and spiritual objectivity as a rational system of practical experience and thinking. Nobody teaches you how to move in the realm beyond the borderline. We could call that the “blind spot” of postmodernity regarding empirical phaenomenological research. (Cf. Wendelin Kuepers: Phenomenology of Embodied Implicit and Narrative Knowing, In: Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 9, No 6, 113-133; Wendelin Kuepers: The Relevance of Advanced Phenomenology for Integral Research - or why Phenomenology is more and different than an “upper left” or “Zone1” Affair. In: Integral Review. An Integral, Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal for New Thought, Research and Practice, Issue 3, 2006, forthcoming).
Question: I agree. That is one of the main problems in the humanities we face today. We have a very evolved, permanent auto-critique of the subject, which is extremely important and useful; but we have almost no phaenomenology of “essential” experience and ontology so far. There is an inbalance between the institutionalization of those two dimensions which are both necessary and cannot be missed. Because only together they can form the new, integrative paradigm we talked of earlier for the post-9-11 epoch of globalization. We need both, but we still miss the second.
RB: Yes. That one-sidedness maybe is one real, one deeper reason for the so-called “decline of humanities”. Because everybody, especially younger people, are starting to feel that the humanities cannot remain what they were from 1979 to 2001. Their emancipative impulse has evolved in the meantime, and after 9-11 it must be conceived in a broader sense now. The so far postmodern humanities of the first generation have to evolve, too, like everything else. If they remain one-sidedly in their attitude like it probably made sense during the first generation of postmodernism, they will lose more and more credits. They are already losing a lot of credits, as we saw since Roger Rosenblatt's bitter post-9-11-attack on the established humanities: “The Age of Irony Comes to an End. No longer will we fail to take things seriously” (Time Magazine, 09-20-2001).
Question: Which is deeply depressing. Because it seems to me, that we need the humanities now at least like, let's say, in the 1970s or 1980s - or even more than then. Because in the age of a “clash of cultures” they become, at least potentially, key sciences for the future of global dialogue and peace. And exactly at this point of their history, they have become such one-sided disciplines.
RB: Yes, that's what I feel. In the meantime, there are many people of the age of 30 to 50 that went through postmodern philosophy and became highly self-aware and self-critical - agnostics. They usually would say: “Okay, everything is just a construction of my mind. And my mind is a construction by its contexts. Everything is just interdependence between mind, language and context; there is no meta-language, there is no 'essence' behind the words, and there is no understanding out of the context; therefore everything is pluralism and opinion; there is no truth. And if this is the world and my self in it, than I don't want to go on with the search for integration any more. I don't want to bother about what all this is 'really' about, because there obviously is no 'really'. I don't want to care about some 'sense of life', because I even have no 'I'; my 'I' itself is just a social and cultural construct. So what?” Obviously, being simply agnostic this “deconstructive” way does not help a lot to deal with the new global problems which have more or less all to do with religion, spirituality and the “essence” of the different world cultures, which's historical core if always formed by a system of religion, as we know. (Cf., for example: Charles Taylor: Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited. Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series, Harvard University Press 2003; Charles Taylor: The Disenchantment of the World. Princeton University Press 1999).
Question: Right. In that sense, postmodern thinking of the first generation, which was the most important outcome of the universal politization of the 1960tis, today ironically tends to exclude you from the global issues we have to face now. It tends to isolate you in yourself. Not only, because you don't understand many current cultural, political and social core phaenomena all related to questions of culture, spirit, religion, “essence” in a very broad sense. But also because there seems to be nothing “substantial” to care about at that point. (Cf. Tom Cohen, ed.: Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader. Cambridge University Press 2002).
RB: Yes, that's one possible outcome of the “deconstructed” borderline consciousness on which the first generation of postmodernity leaves you. Leaves you alone with. Some of us may just say: “Okay, I am finished with all that inquiry. I do something else. Because if there is no truth, if there is no final meaning — the whole thing is senseless, in the end, and so I'm leaving. I finally have lost my illusions about myself and the world. I became critical and self-critical. I accomplished deconstruction. Now, I want to succeed in material life, I want to become wealthy, for example. And nothing else.” As legitimate and completely honourable that is from one viewpoint, as sad it may appear from another viewpoint.
II: POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY, THE POSTMODERN DOUBLING OF THE “I” BY DECONSTRUCTION AND THE INCREASE OF SYMPTOMS OF SCHIZOPHRENIA IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE
Question: It's interesting because so much of postmodern thought has also explored this desire of “something more”. The desire of “more value” as pointed out by Marx. (Cf., for example: Jean Francois Lyotard: Dérive à partir de Marx et Freud. Collection Débats, Galilée 1994; Jacques Derrida: Specters of Marx. The state of the debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, Routledge 1994). And also it has been deeply concerned with pleasure. (Cf. for example: Jacques Lacan: Seminar XX – Encore, 1972-73. In: Writings, W.W. Norton & Co., New York 1998). Why? Because in that border line state of the postmodern mind, in the neighbourhood of despair, “more value” and pleasure seem to be like the only sort of sense and gratification. Being some of the few things that you can in some way grab onto. That is why pleasure has become a huge phenomenon which is driving so much of what postmodern spirituality is in the US, but increasingly also in Europe.
RB: Driving in which sense?
Question: Driving the interpretation of spirituality as: Experience pleasure, bliss.
RB: Yes. Feeling good. Feeling better.
Question: It also strikes me that this borderline place of the most evolved postmodern consciousness that you're talking about actually seems to be somewhat on the fringes to insanity. When the “I” “doubles”, as we said: Is this “I” then not in the permanent danger to fall into a kind of schizophrenia? I'm wondering if maybe that immense quest for Prozac and all of that isn't somehow related to that. Because so many people are, most of them unconsciously, in that borderline state, but they don't know where to go. And they do feel that sort of despair you're describing, when you come to the borderline of the (auto)“deconstructed” mind. That really seems to lead, and not only in one or two cases, towards some sort of insanity.
RB: Yes, I agree. That's life how it is today, at its highest and, exactly at the same time, at its most dangerous level. It is kind of a “suspense of mind”, which in our epoch of the “universal erotization of the will”, as Lyotard called it, goes hand in hand with a “suspense (or suspension) of the heart and the soul”. Certainly, schizophrenia and insanity are growing in our society; and that may indeed have to do with the postmodern deconstruction process which leads to the “doubled I”.
RB: But here, you have to be aware at one point, which is decisive. This insanity is not produced by postmodern thinkers or by postmodern philosophy. The insanity is produced by postmodern civilization. A philosophy is always just a reflection of what is already happening in the deeper ontological realms of broad cultural evolution. Every philosophy is just a symptom. A philosophy is just a symptom of what is happening culturally, socially, spirituality in the deeper dimensions of civilization and of the world. A good philosopher is not, is never an original thinker, who “invents” some incredible new thoughts. But he's a very good mirror of what is already happening. He puts into language what everybody else just feels.
Question: That's great.
RB: So the postmodern borderline insanity is not produced by postmodernism thinking. On the contrary, this insanity is mirrored by postmodernism, and so it may have some chance to understand itself.
Question: That's great.
RB: The other question was pleasure. Do you think that, on the long run, you could really find some kind of personal reward, not to speak of finding a truly spiritual dimension, in “normal” pleasure or “more value” of life intensity?
RB: Okay. I don't believe it either, concerning myself. But at the same time, we should not forget that, in the end, many things come out of pleasure. Without pleasure, there is no cognition, as Jacques Lacan said. There is something right in that phrase. Think at Tantra Yoga, for example, the beginning of everything in human encounter. It is related to pleasure, and to a certain kind of “more value” of intensity.
Question: Many things come out of pleasure?
RB: In some of the oldest Eastern traditions, many things are related to Tantra, or to a very strong physical human encounter. Or, if you put in Lyotard's terms, to a very physical “erotization of the will”. The origins of the Veda, the whole Indian culture show us that what origins in Tantra is a certain basic psycho-sexual experience that is part of a spiritual dimension. This psycho-sexual experience is related to pleasure and “more value of intensity”, too. But if you observe how helplessly we poor postmodern subjects, including me and maybe also you, try to experience pleasure, I sometimes doubt if our children will ever find something spiritual in our concept of “inner more value” or pleasure.
RB: Postmodern pleasure seems to be more like an escape into an intensity that never gives you what it promises. And with that, we are closing the circle of our reflections. We are returning at the point were we started in the first dialogue. Remember? We talked of postmodern proto-spirituality as a kind of unfulfilled – and maybe structurally unfullfillable – desire which may be characteristic for our times.
Question: Well, I think unfullfillment is such an omnipresent reality in today's European-Western postmodern society because we seem to have lost almost any “objective” framework for all kinds of judgment, in particular for all the judgment on the meaning of life, and for the spiritual judgment in general. The only remaining framework for an average postmodern subject seems to be the personal subjective identity which is constituted by my personal thoughts and feelings. Everything is basically related to this subjective context, interpreted in this context, because everything else is neglected. And that is the reason why the postmodern subject is so vulnerable. It is fragile, because everything depends on it's thoughts and feeling. But those thoughts and feelings, identifying with the ego, seem to have nothing to rely on themselves. That is the deeper reason for the increase of schizophrenia and insanity in postmodern societies, I guess.
RB: Yes. There may be some truth in what you are saying. This may be certainly the case for many of us. But the kind of permanent unfullfillment which dominates our every day life is also, in some way, potentially important. Because unfullfillment can lead us to a really important, to a really life changing borderline of existential, but also of spiritual dimensions. As Buddha said: “Life is unfulfilling. Normal life doesn't give you a sense. It doesn't give you fullfillment.” The postmodern state of mind, this unfulfilled state of living in the realm of materialistic pleasure concepts and of living at the borderline of egoistic consciousness, which we are trying to describe here, leads, in most cases, just to the experience of life as unfulfilling.
Question: Yes. You can try to live in the highest pleasure and to go on every rave party, to bungee jump every day, to go into sexual ecstasy as often as possible and to take Prozac as long as you like it: After a certain period of time, you will experience that this life doesn't fullfill you. You must sooner or later discover, and this discovery may be painful, that this kind of pleasure is no answer to what you initially really wanted from pleasure.
RB: Exactly. “Simple” pleasure is not fulfilling — not this kind of pleasure. This is another borderline where postmodern civilization leads us today, almost everybody of us. And our children too. This is another borderline of consciousness where we seem to have only two possibilities: To go back into despair or to go one step beyond.
Question: Go back into despair or go one step beyond. Sounds cruel. Is there nothing else? Some half-way in between? You know, sounds like a machine of unstoppable forward moving, and who doesn't go with the machine, will be sacrified by it. Is that postmodern evolution?
RB: Yes, such a machine is called “evolution”. Also in the spiritual sense, of course. That's how things are, as far as I can see. Postmodern culture is part of that “productive machine”. Also regarding your desire for pleasure, for fulfilment, for joy and for the “primitive” borderline experiences cultivated by contemporary culture you mentioned (rave parties, bungee jumping, divinisation of sex etc).
III: PHAENOMENOLOGY, THE “ETHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL TURN” OF LATE DECONSTRUCTION AND THE FUTURE: HOW CAN WE RENEW THE METHODOLOGY OF DECONSTRUCTION IN A MORE BALANCED WAY?
Question: Let's, one last time, return back to the beginnings, back to the basics. What was the original motivation for the move toward universal deconstruction in postmodern philosophy? And more generally, in the postmodern mind after 1968, after 1979 - mainly until September 11, 2001. What was that core proceeding of deconstruction motivated by?
RB: The core motivation for deconstruction? Well, to put it just in a few words, from my viewpoint, there were two basic reasons. Do you wanna hear them?
Question: Yes, please.
RB: Ok. First, there were the disillusions and disappointments connected to the historical post-1968 development. Take, for example, as a core symptom the singer and poet Bob Dylan (Robert Allen Zimmerman). Maybe not his songs, but much more his whole life after 1968 is an outcry about these disillusions. There was, despite all the emancipative achievements in society that were undoubtedly many and very important ones, a strange, strong, and growing feeling from the midst of the 1970s, to dismantle, de-build and “deconstruct” everything that was true in 1968. And to see where the reasons were why some dreams and hopes eventually didn't become reality.
Question: Yes. And second?
RB: Second, people realized that, as a result of the late 1968 marxistic and capitalistic re-ideologization of the basic humanistic inspiration which stood at the origin of the revolutionary impulse, in the midst of the 1970tis there were too many wrong “concepts of universal truth” around: too many wrong ideologies and fixed systems. This second reason was maybe felt more in Europe, a little bit less in the USA. The people like Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Lacan and the female movements started in a rebellion against wrong concepts of truth, wrong ideologies which had, actively or unconsciously, supposed to be the ultimate truth or perspective for societal and individual development. And they appeared of slowly suffocating societal life, to bring it into false oppositions and dialectics between wrong alternatives. And so the first generation of postmodern thinkers said, and that was their main starting point: “What has been conceived by those ideologies as a 'concept for the whole to integrate all fragments' must be re-fragmented. What has been constructed must be de-constructed. These ideologies built a house, and they built it badly; now we have to destroy it to open a new sight and a new space. And then maybe, maybe afterwards someone can build a new, a better one. But we are just the people which have to destroy the wrong concepts which are occupying every space of free development now. We have to destroy the old house. And thus, we do the best for society to do now.”
Question: Right. They were the wracking crew.
RB: The first generation of postmodernity thought: We are first of all destroyers, not builders of something new. It may be the responsibility of our followers to build a new house. Maybe the next generation will build something new, or maybe not; but we, in any case, have to deconstruct the wrong concepts and to open up the field radically, by going to “destroy”, “disseminate” und pluralize the roots (cf. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Rhizome. Paris 1976). That is the necessary first step. And they made this step more or less consequently, mainly from 1979 until 2001.
Question: Right. And we must not forget that many of those wrong ideological concepts had classical, traditional fundaments in European-Western philosophy.
RB: Exactly. Foremost in Marxism and in Liberalism. And the first strategy of many of the thinkers we talked of was to start deconstruction by renewing the phaenomenological tradition, a tradition of pre-ideological “touching” the things, as many of them interpreted it at their beginnings. (Cf., for example Jacques Derrida: Le Toucher - Jean Luc Nancy, Galilée 1998; Paul Ricoeur: History and Truth. Evanston: Northwestern University Press 1965). The starting point for many was in the Phaeonomenology of Edmund Husserl, the philosophical father of Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber, Max Scheler and others, which had some attitude of revolutionary and anti-academic impulse in it. Many of the still young thinkers of postmodernity felt it as “the” main revolutionary tendency in 20th century philosophy. Now, one fact is very important to understand the whole basic attitude and also the very ambivalent characteristics of the late proto-spiritual tendency of the first generation of postmodern thinkers: the fact that Husserl had deeply spiritual implications, but was also Kantianian. His kind of Phaenomenology was already in its very basic structure a paradox: because it was oriented towards the description of the “pure essence” of things at the one hand, and at the same time it said with Kant that these things are not directly accessible for the human mind. Remember, that the core proceeding of Husserls approach is the so-called “phaenomenological reduction”: You first have to stay back from all concepts and of your normal mind processes, you first have to learn how to “think not”, so to say, if you want to come to know things in an appropriate way. Does that not sound like an early form of “deconstruction”? Here already, you have a certain kind of “ambivalent suspense” between “essentialist” and nominalistic methodologies of cognition also connected to some echoes of the Jewish religious tradition. (Cf. the first works of Jean Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. For example Jacques Derrida: Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. University of Nebraska Press, Reprint edition 1989; Jacques Derrida: “Speech and Phenomena”, and other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. Evanston: Northwestern University Press 1973; Jacques Derrida and Martin Hobson: The Problem of Genesis in Husserl's Philosophy. University Of Chicago Press 2003).
Question: And the postmodern thinkers, in their beginnings, connected to that tradition of Husserl's Phaenomenology – which may be one source for the so-called “ethical and theological turn” of late deconstruction, especially in Jean Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida? (Cf. Leonard Lawlor: Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology. Indiana University Press 2002).
RB: Exactly. Especially in the strong relationship of the beginnings of some main postmodern philosophers to Husserl's conception of Phaenonomenology you may have most of the basic ingredients for the deep ambivalence of postmodernity towards “essential” issues, but also for their continuous, “negative” fascination by them. Because this deep ambivalence between Kantianian privacy of spiritual experience and experiential newland-gaining of a rationality which has be broadened by “reduction” stays at the core of all further proceedings of deconstruction. (Cf. Wendelin Kuepers: The Relevance of Advanced Phenomenology for Integral Research - or why Phenomenology is more and different than an “upper left” or “Zone1” Affair. In: Integral Review. An Integral, Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal for New Thought, Research and Practice, Issue 3, 2006, forthcoming).
RB: Now, if we observe what some critiques have called he “ethical and theological turn” of late deconstruction, which we tried to analyse a little bit deeper in our earlier dialogues, this may be one deeper stream of continuity that has to be taken in consideration examining the specific characteristics, problems and chances of late postmodernity.
RB: If you then add the problems of Derrida with defending his close friend Paul de Man after it was discovered that de Man had written essays in a pro-Nazi newspaper during the German occupation of Belgium, including some that were anti-semitic; and if you add the so-called Heidegger controversy of 1987, when Derrida came to defend Heidegger from his critics against similar accuses, than you have a good picture of the complex origins, but also some hints how to read the historical transformation of deconstruction (which has so far not yet been researched appropriately, by the way – but this would be a very important issue to research, a crucial one for the coming years, I think). As some observers wrote, many have considered the subsequent “ethical or theological turn in deconstruction” as seeking to specifically address the critique leveled at Derrida for this defense. Derrida turned more and more to ethical and theological questions, strengthening especially his philosophical proximity to Emmanuel Lévinas, “the philosopher I now, and for a long time, admire most”, as he said in his last interviews. And doing this, he was, and that also is absolutely characteristic for late, proto-spiritual postmodern philosophy in general, “permanently in war with myself” (Cf. Jacques Derrida: Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War. University of Chicago Press 1988; cf. Jacques Derrida, “Je Suis En Guerre Contre Moi Meme”, in: Le Monde, Mardi, 12 octobre 2004, pp. VI-VII; Cf. Ken Wilber's critical remarks to the Le Man Controversy and its general indications for the analysis of postmodernity in: Ken Wilber: Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. Shambhala Publishing, Boston 1995).
IV: DEEP AMBIVALENCE AND SOCIO-EVOLUTIONARY PRODUCTIVITY
Question: So there was a “religious or spiritual turn” in late deconstruction. And as far as I understand from what you are saying, this turn was produced at the one hand by the development of the intellectual debate in the historic process of the times, but at the other hand it was also there, as kind of an inbuilt structural ambivalence in deconstruction itself, from the very first beginning?
RB: Exactly. That's what I wanted to say. All this needs further research, of course. We are at the very beginnings of that research, at this moment.
Question: Yes. But if there was this “inbuilt” spiritual or religious aspect in deconstruction from the very beginnings: How can we move on with all that?
RB: Remember one thing: The starting point of postmodern philosophy was not only about “reducing” (Husserl), “deconstructing” (Derrida) or even “destroying” (Heidegger) all kinds of hidden and open ideology to get in touch with things in a “different” manner. It was also about a certain critical view point on the world, about a deeply subjective or even “monadic” attitude of thinking and of being in the world. It was a certain aesthetic or inner sensitivity of the “isolated subject” that has driven postmodernism from the late 1980s until September 11th, 2001. It has driven this subject into a frenetic activity of deconstructing everything, which became, not as a personal attitude, but as a cultural paradigm, one-sidedly nominalistic. Doing the frenetic deconstruction connected to a even more frenetic construction and innovation complex of contemporary culture, deconstruction misunderstood itself as anti-spiritual (which until today is its “academically correct” interpretation, and this is absolutely against the intentions and approaches of the late Derrida and Loytard). Deconstruction became in most cases not only secular, but also anti-spiritual - until some of the symbols of its frenetically progressive approach have been “deconstructed” by history. To be even more clear with you: From my point of view, the terror attacks of 9-11 did not cause, but they marked the beginning of the end of the first generation of postmodernity. Not of postmodernity as a whole, of course, because we have to keep all the great postmodern achievements. But of the beginning end of their so far nominalistic one-sidedness.
Question: Yes, we pointed that out before. I think this is one of the most important aspects regarding the shift in contemporary thinking, isn't it?
RB: Definitely. Columnist Roger Rosenblatt from Time magazine pointed it out already the week after 9/11, identifying the then academically correct postmodern deconstruction with a kind of “double game” or ironic attitude towards a world made only of subjective constructs: “The Age of Irony Comes to an End. No longer will we fail to take things seriously” (Time Magazine, 09-20-2001). And he was right, even if we still have not fully realized what all that means and where it will eventually lead us. Again: 9/11 was not the cause, but it was a symptom or symbol of an already ongoing symptomatic turning point for the postmodernizers. We still have to find out to what extent that turning point may be productive or innovative. Because in such philosophical-historical processes you need always a certain period of time: like when you catch a virus it is not that in that very moment you will become sick. There must pass two or three hours, two or three days, and after that you become sick. And so it is with the deeper symptoms of the times. So it is with 9/11 — we're still only in the period when things start to transform. But in my point of view, it is certain that postmodern thinking, after 9/11, is not the same as before. And 9-11 helped us to see that there was already a change ongoing, which we hadn't seen before as clear as necessary. It is a “theological turn” in late postmodernity which coincides with the “global renaissance of religion”. Both occure since the beginning of the 1990tis. With 9-11, we came to realize that. Not less, not more.
Question: Right. Well, deconstruction on that day became pretty real.
RB: Yes, it became real as the “deconstruction” of the World Trade Center, one of the symbols of world wide Economic Liberalism and of the Power of “Post-Historical Capitalism” (Cf. Francis Fukuyama: The End Of History And The Last Man, 1989/1992. Reprint edition 2006), but undoubtedly also a hidden symbol of frenetic postmodern innovation by the dialectics between construction and deconstruction. One of the main symbols, so to say, of the secular-rational socio-cultural state of the European-Western world in general. (Cf. Ken Wilber: The Deconstruction Of The World Trade Center. An Excerpt Of The Novel “Boomeritis”, 2002, In: http://wilber.shambhala.com).
Question: It's interesting because I remember a colleague of mine years ago was in France, the homeland of Postmodernity of the first philosophical generation we talked of. He went to some lecture. The professor, a leading postmodernist, was basically saying that everything is only discourse, language and construct of language - and nothing else. And my friend said more or less the same thing that Rosenblatt was pointing out: “Oh, come on. What about Hiroshima? Was that a language construction, too? Or was it real?” And this professor answered: “Well, some discourses are more powerful than others.” Which is classic “bad postmodernism”, in my eyes.
RB: Yes, this was – and actually is - bad postmodernism. You saw the same problem with the discussion about the war in Iraq. Postmodern thinkers handled the whole problem as a problem of reality creating, a problem of media information, a problem of language and of rational thinking which creates the problem. These thinkers, in most cases, were shockingly helpless in front of the question, what the war in Iraq was as reality. (Cf., as only two examples: Susan Sontag; Les demons de l'Amerique, in : Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris 20.03.2003; cf. Slavoj Zizek; The Iraq War: Where is the True Danger? In: Lacan online, http://www.lacan.com/iraq.htm, 13.03.2003).
Question: The same is true, for example, for Jacques Derrida's life long problems with human rights.
RB: Yes, of course. If you have no explicit, balanced nominalistic-“essential” position towards the “essence” of man, you cannot find a single argument for the existence of human rights, which are based by their very nature on an assumption of “essence” or an “ontological” concept. When Derrida said there were no justifications for exporting the idea of human rights into the world, because they were, according to him, mainly a cultural invention or a societal construct of European-Western civilisation, some regimes in the world, not only the Chinese, paradoxically started do discover Derrida as “one of the greatest living philosophers of the world”. Derrida did the cause of Human Rights no favour with his typically hesitating late theories about the possibilities of ethics and theology compatibles with deconstruction. Those theories were, like his whole late thinking, always exactly at the borderline between the negative rise of some “essential” perspective, and the sudden retiring of his own timid advances towards those perspectives. It is exactly this half- or borderline-position which can produce some contra-productive, in some cases even dangerous effects on the global political field, as it has been with the postmodern dealing with the problem of global human rights. I think exactly this one-sided, hesitating and, in exactly this point, sometimes indeed irrational or only “academically correct” attitude is the kind of postmodernism which has to be overcome, by some better and more balanced, more realistic, more inclusive paradigms in the coming years. Which we, of course, are only starting to develop on a broader scale, even if there are some pioneers which pave the way for some decades now.
Question: I agree. There is, as far as I feel, an increasing sense of superficiality in postmodernism.
RB: Yes. This is especially felt by the younger generation of students, intellectuals and public opinionists after the attacks of 9-11. Before 9-11, it was easily possible to say that everything equals everything, everything is relative. That was the main “intellectually correct” attitude in most academic and public debates for an “enlightend” subject at the full height of its times. After 9-11, things have changed somewhat. And they will change further.
Question: It seems that we postmodern subjects need deep ambivalence, even chaos, to be socially and intellectually productive in a more balanced way then usual. It seems that when something really serious happens, like 9-11, we postmodern subjects suddenly start to say: “Oh, maybe not everything is relative, and maybe not everything equals everything. Maybe some things do actually strike deeper than others.” We were like childs who discovered a new truth completely unknown until then.
Question: Exactly this is the point where I have the biggest problem with thinking on the future, with dealing productively with the “deep ambivalence” of postmodern thinking of the first generation. My problem is to reconcile two basic directions of late postmodern thinking.
- At the one hand, we have a certain sense of depth in postmodernity. Because as we saw, late postmodern thinking tries at least negatively to come to an understanding of the “witness” or the higher self by using the method of deconstruction of the normal ego. That seems like a “negative” spiritual proceeding to me to approach the borderline of going beyond the ego.
- But at the other hand of the basic postmodern proceeding, and at the very same time, we have this second attitude: “Okay, if everything is just a construct, than everything is relative and everything is meaningless.” This second attitude of the postmodern subject is also permanently there. It is even kind of inbuilt in the first attitude of “doubling the I”; and it is causing the increasing feeling of superficiality in our culture we talked of. This second attitude seems to be the contrary of depth in my eyes.
I'm just struggling to reconcile those two positions which seem both to be equally present in late postmodern thinking. Its kind of a paradox between a “proto-essential” or “proto-realistic” attitude at the one hand and a “nominalistic” attitude of a relativistic and even nihilistic character at the other hand. My question is: How to put both sides of Postmodernity together, if we wanna proceed towards the future departing from its achievements? That sometimes seems to much of a “deep ambivalence” to me. Is that not impossible?
RB: Yes, I can see your problems with the “deep” ambivalences which seem to be not only characteristic for, but are also coming out of the very core of postmodern thinking. Remember Jacques Derridas last words: “I am permanently in war with myself”. Ok, that is what postmodern philosophy is in its basic structre, nothing else. Both attitudes are coming out of that kind of thinking, at equal rights. And they come out of it at the same time, as you noticed. That is the deep ambivalence of inbuilt paradox of postmodernity as a whole. And, what is important: Not only of postmodern philosophy, but also of postmodern culture in general. Because here, in this culture which believes to have already moved “beyond good and evil”, everything is deeply ambivalent. Everything has to appear in a sort of rising twilight or productive paradoxal constellation, if it wants to be truly contemporary.
Question: Yes. But at the other hand, this ambivalence seems to have its borderlines, too. Remember that we said that, from a certain point of view, postmodern philosophy is part of the analytical tradition. And remember that it is exactly postmodern constructivism or deconstructivism, that first of all says: Everything is a product of interests, and everything thus has a cause that we must discover. It is very cause-effect-oriented, in the end. And therefore not really so revolutionary as one might think at first glance. It is part of a certain tradition of cause-effect analysis, and it departs not from the cause, but from the effect, to search for the cause by deconstruction.
RB: Very good. That's absolutely correct. As postmodern subjects, we normally think that we are thinking or producing our own thoughts in this very moment. But that is not true, says Jacques Derrida. Your parents and your experiences and the history and the cultural situation is producing your thoughts, “using you” to produce this or that thought. So everything that you think ultimately is not yours, it is an illusion. Because it has its causes outside of your self, even it is appearing as a conscious or unconscious phaenomenon in your self. Everything has a cause which is not what it seems at first glance, which has therefore to be investigated.
RB: But why are postmodernists saying all that? Why are they pointing out all that with such a furor mentis? Postmodern thinkers of the first generation say all that because they want to make you more aware of where you're unconscious, were your hidden ties dominated by your surrounding contexts are, which your normal ego ignores, and so on. And what the main postmodern thinkers were trying to do, in the end, is to free you from if not of everything, so from as many things as possible you thought you were. And there remains the “nothing of the ego”. That is a liberatory and emancipative impulse you longed for, but, realistically speaking, it is impossible to stand at the same time. (Cf. Judith Butler: Undoing Gender. Routledge 2004). The “living void” which they're producing by deconstructing everything you thought you were has one goal: that out of this void, maybe, like out of a kátharsis your real self or witness can emerge as a “second presence”. I think that is the core proto-spiritual methodology, and presumably the great, hidden or semi-conscious hope of the first generation of postmodern philosophy.
Question: Right. Great.
RB: Now, as you remember, all philosophia perennis all over the world of all times, including so different thinkers like Edmund Husserl and Ramana Maharshi, says always the same: You first have to destroy your normal ego, to approach your real Self. Postmodernists are trying to do something like that. And the price they're paying for it is that everything seems to be meaningless at first glance; because everything appears just as an effect of language, of culture, of history, of life styles and so on. Things probably are more complex than postmodern thinkers have been able to analyze. But the main postmodern thinkers we talked of wanted primarily to point out one indeed very important discovery: That your self is not what you normally identify with. And this is a very important perceiving of postmodernism, because they don't only have this intuition, but they also try to do it. If you go through all the theories and these philosophies, there's no any other chance than to “deconstruct” or to destroy your normal ego, and to go through the death of the ego; or to be more precise, to undergo the death of the subject. That is, very all the paths of postmodernity lead and converge, in the end. The death of the subject is their ultimate point of arrival.
Question: The death of the subject?
RB: Yes. I think the death of the subject is the most important achievement of postmodernism in the long run. Nietzsche, the father of “rhizomatic” thinking, predicted it; Postmodernity realized it to a certain extend. Both moved necessarily always in sort of a twilight, or in a borderline sphere of deep, even radical ambivalence, where the ego slowly begins to be accompanied by the witness. The further exploration of exactly this borderline or twilight zone, with all its dangers and hidden traps, seems quite necessary to me, if we want to make a step forward.
RB: Because the death of the subject is essentially correlated to the twilight of ambivalence - at least what concerns our historic moment of cultural and personal evolution. The very heart of going beyond the ego today is about first wandering through a sort of rising twilight. You cannot avoid going through the death of the ego and the synchronic emergence of the witness, and that means: going through a kind of deeply ambivalent and profoundly dangerous twilight, if you want to have any real, genuine spiritual experience on a self-conscious, rational, sustainable basis. That is, what my personal experience teaches me; and I can only speak of my personal standpoint towards those things here, of course.
Question: Well, but it is the same for me.
RB: Good. Therefore, I think that “deep deconstruction” which is, from my point of view, nothing else a method of “induction of the twilight”, may be some kind of basic experience for every contemporary subject who wants to have an “essential” or spiritual experience coming out of our time, and being in connection with the very moment of our time. With other words: Being rational and “essential” at the same time. First you have to pay the price to go through a real kátharsis: through the death of your normal ego. Then there will be some enlargement of consciousness. You can trust that proceeding, but, of course, only to a certain point. Postmodernity has discovered all that consequently. In these facts and dimensions, you have the deeper motivation for the “theological and ethical turn” of late deconstructivism, which still remains surprising to many. This turn has happened, because the unavoidable death of the postmodern subject by deconstruction leads necessarily to theological and ethical dimensions – even if, for the first generation of postmodernity, only implicitly, indirectly and in most cases negatively.
Question: Yes. Exactly. And in that, they may be symptoms for many of us. For our average state of consciousness, and for our basic problem situation of inner development.
RB: Yes. And exactly in the death of the subject, you may find the answer to your initial question regarding how to handle the “deep ambivalence” (cf. Zygmunt Bauman: Modernity and Ambivalence. Blackwell Publishers 1993; Zygmunt Bauman: Postmodern Ethics. Blackwell Publishers 1993) of the postmodern attitude: How to reconcile the proto-essential and the radically nominalistic attitudes that both characterize synchronically late postmodern philosophy.
Question: In which sense?
RB: Because both attitudes: The first one you mentioned, the deconstruction of the ego in search of the “heightened aesthetic attention” or the “productive void”, and the second one of the kind: “Everything is relative, and everything is equivalent, because everything is just a construct of my mind” have one thing in common. Both lead similarily to a sort of death of interest in my ego, in the world as a construct of my mind, and in my habits in general. And both attitudes produce, to some extent, the same: They both induce the death of the subject, even if in different ways and with different pains. And the reaction to exactly this, as it seems, unavoidable cultural and personal induction of the dead of the subject, is the “theological turn” of late deconstruction into a sort of closer investigation of the borderline, of the “productive void”. As it seems to be quite natural and necessary to me. It is an investigation never concluded by the main thinkers of the first generation of postmodernity.
V: WHERE DOES POSTMODERNITY EVENTUALLY LEAD US? THE EMERGING OF THE NEW BASIC FACULTIES OF INSPIRATION, IMAGINATION AND INTUITION IN THE POSTMODERN SUBJECT AND IN CONTEMPORARY CULTURE – AND THEIR FORWARD POTENTIAL BETWEEN NOMINALISM AND REALISM
Question: Great. All this gives me very inspiring and clear indications how to re-read the late works of the main postmodern thinkers we talked of. But there still remain many questions open. One of the most important of those questions is: What is the ultimate goal of this dead of the subject? Where does postmodernity eventually lead us with it? Could we conclude our dialogue with an outlook to that question, please? Or is this question still too big for us to be answered? Or, historically speaking, is it still too soon for it?
RB: I think nobody can answer this question, at the current moment of a immense plurality of unfolding new paradigms, in an appropriate way. Because we are still in the midst of an ongoing transition. Many directions are currently open. But what can be said, from my personal point of view, is this: The postmodern dead of the subject can lead us, first of all and, as I believe, most important and most rationally secure, into a state of inspiration. A state of inspiration of the postmodern individual as well as of the European-Western postmodern culture as a whole. To be more precise: Into a free inspiration, which begins, as it lays in its own nature, to reconcile the subjective and the objective dimensions of consciousness, as we tried to describe in our previous dialogue. Inspiration is nothing vague or speculative, but it is a precise state of mind which almost everybody of us knows at least sometimes.
Question: Yes. Everybody of us senses it sometimes: “Oh, everything is fluid today, I am a fountainhead of ideas which flow freely. It is as if my vital life powers would be stronger today, more intense. I feel somewhat “condensed” in my creative powers, and simoultaneously there is a heightened attention or observance for my own state of mind as well. I do not hang on old concepts and images, I do continuously produce new ones. Everything happens as something new. It's like I am more present, more “here and now”, and every moment does not simply pass, but “occurs” or “happens”. It's like I am more “awaken” than usual. I am enjoying this state, it is a pleasure. Oh, I know what it is: Today, I am inspired!” And the strange thing is: When I am inspired, it is impossible for me not to notice it! Inspiration is a state of mind that has the characteristics of self-awareness in a extraordinary quality. Every time you are inspired, you notice it: you observe it. At least, that it is with me.
RB. Good description! Inspiration consists in a heightened power of free, pre-conceptual production, a strengthened faculty of consciousness flow before every content. It consists in the strengthening of the thinking as act, not as content - as occurrence, not as form. And inspiration is always connected to self-awareness: When you are inspired, you always notice it. There is no other possibility. And that means: Inspiration is a free flow of consciousness before all thinking contents. It is a free flow, which is closely related to the feeling of the witness which observes the ego in a kind of “fluid” or “flowing” state. At the same time, inspiration dissolves or “deconstructs” fixed contents of thought or thinking patterns into a more fluid, into an open state. There is nothing fixed anymore, everything becomes movement. Nothing is form, everything is flux.
Question: Yes, exactly. Thank you for describing that state of mind so accurately, that's exactly my experience!
RB: If this is true, and if that corresponds, more or less, to your experience, than we have to say: Inspiration is exactly the state of mind which postmodern deconstruction wants to reach. But it is a concept not in the negative way, but it is a positive description of a state of mind which has to be considered a higher state than the normal mental state – even if this state of mind of inspiration conserves all the faculties of the egoistic mind, like rationality and full self-consciousness. It gains even a heightened self-consciousness, and not only in the mind, but especially in the realm which Jean Francois Lyotard so intensely evoked: In the realm of the “erotization of the will”. In a certain sense, inspiration is nothing else than a self-conscious “erotization of the will”, which goes well beyond every mind act. It is a heightened, intense self-observing consciousness in the realm of the will, which becomes pure, pre-conceptual presence. Therefore, inspiration can be considered “meta-rational” (or pre-conceptual) and rational at the same time. Inspiration is ego and witness at the same time, and not by means of the “pain of thinking”, but by a positive, heightened spirit. Inspiration usually is a joy, not a pain! For all these reasons, inspiration may be the state of consciousness to research deeper in the coming years, if we want to make a step forward – a congenial step in full harmony with the positive achievements of the postmodern thinking of the first generation.
Question: Yes. Exactly. Thus, it has all the qualities we talked of as the qualities for which late postmodern thinking was searching for. But it has them in a positive, not only in a negative, and in a direct, not only in an indirect way. Great! That is a concept we can work with positively, I think. And as it seems, with this concept of inspiration we can continue the work of the first generation of postmodernity, and expand it into a “nominalistic-realistic” or “rational-essential” or “logical-ontological” paradigm - without interrupting postmodernity and its achievements (cf. Geoffrey Bennington: Interrupting Derrida. Warwick Studies in European Philosophy, Routledge 2000). But also without remaining on its borderline blockage.
RB: Exactly. And don't forget one aspect of primary importance in trying to do this: Inspiration is pre- and meta-ideological by its very nature – but it is precise and productive. It is self-aware, but it is spiritual. It has all the prerequisites, I think, to become the leading concept for a post-postmodern paradigm. And in fact, people already today are looking for nothing else than inspiration. They increasingly want inspiration, not fixed truths, fixed images or “concluded” contents. They want inspiration - be it in the form of the eros (which is pure inspiration in the realm of the will, of course), be it in the form of adrenaline in extreme sports, be it in the form of Red Bull drinks or tons of caffeine and so on.
RB: Inspiration, in my opinion, for all these reasons can and will become the first positive rational-spiritual core faculty of the postmodern subject, which has gone trough deconstruction fully – of a subject which, at the point of total self-deconstruction until the last dimension of its human possibilities, necessarily re-discovers the objective realm in the subjective void: The witness as “friendly compagnon” of the ego, which is always synchronically there. Because inspiration lives from the pure flux and flow of the productive void in the form of self-observation; it is, to a certain extend, nothing else than that void in a self-observed status. That is the main point, for me. The whole postmodern achievement in the field of proto-spirituality is concentrated in the concept of inspiration. And it is concentrated in it in a progressive direction, with the possibility of further positive evolution.
Question: Yes. But will that continue to be so, and will the faculty of inspiration evolve continually?
RB. I hope so. And I see all the preconditions for it. Inspiration, from my point of view, is the practical perspective of personal empowerment and faculty building which can develop further the proto-spiritual tendencies of late postmodern thinking, without losing their rational, deconstructive bases and achievements. It can sum up the achievements of phaenomenology and ontology as well as the criteria of critizism of the late 20th century in a harmonic way and move them forward together - if it is researched, understood and practised in an appropriate way. And thus it could become the field on which the further progress of postmodern thinking can auto-critically happen - congenially with its past, and continuing this past by explicitly appreciating and acknowledging it.
Question: Yes. That is extremely fascinating. I think we are on a good trail with that concept of inspiration, if we wanna deal with what the future of “postmodern borderline-spirituality” could be.
RB: Well, all this is so far only in the state of an experiment, of an avant-garde, of a research. But indeed I am convinced that in the lead research concept of inspiration, there may be a potential for the conjunction between phaenomenology and ontology at the one hand and (self-)critical rationality and synchronic self-awareness at the other hand. And therefore, there may be some potential to move late postmodern thinking into a more conscious nominalistic-realistic state, in a more balanced nominalistic-realistic paradigm.
Question: Are there approaches to inspiration which are already recognized and of a quality we could work with, let's say, also in didactics?
RB: Only a few, so far. And they still are not seen systemically under this viewpoint. The two poets and thinkers who maybe gave us the best phaenomenological description of inspiration as “free”, open, rational, meta-ideological and spiritual core state of a possible postmodern consciousness of the future, may be the poet of “A moment of true feeling” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1977), Peter Handke (*1942). Handke is, in my view, one of the most important European poets and writers of the 20th century, at least for my generation. We read every book from him for 20 years now, and we were deeply influenced by him, more than by most of the academic philosophies. I think he should receive the Nobel Price for Literature well ahead from most other poets. And the other one is the author of the “Philosophy Of Freedom”, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He was the founder of Anthroposophy and of the radically democratic political movement of “Social Threefolding”, which currently plays such an eminent role in globalization (cf. Ibrahim Abouleish and Nicanor Perlas, of whom we talked in our first dialogue). Their works can help you to understand, as an experience but also as a cognitive philosophy in the strict sense, what inspiration is. The best work of Steiner on this topic probably is: Rudolf Steiner: The Levels Of Higher Cognition: Imagination – Inspiration – Intuition. Collected Works No. 12, Dornach 1986; but also his “Truth And Science. A Cognitive Theory” (Collected Works No. 3, Dornach 1992). With re-studying these works, we may progressively understand better, where the void of postmodern deconstruction can positively lead us. And we must not forget: The works for the future, for continuing postmodernity in the 21st century, have still to be written, of course.
Question: Yes. But please, just try to answer this question already here and now: Where can inspiration lead us? We talked a lot of the distorted forms of half- or proto-spirituality of late postmodernity in our dialogues, and of the problems and failures of postmodern thinking in approaching the borderline and trying to go beyond it in a rational way. With the concept of inspiration, there seems to be some hope for a positive concept of all that. So let me ask you: What could a healthy postmodern spirituality be, at least overlooking the coming years?
RB: A healthy postmodern spirituality would be one which conceives itself as the research and work with inspiration, in the strictly philosophical and even “scientific” sense of the concept we outlined. Such a work could possibly lead us, in its best and most productive aspects, into an experimental and heuristic exploration of inspiration from its inner side. There a still a lot of discoveries to me made, I think.
Question: What kind of discoveries?
VI: THE CONCEPT OF INSPIRATION RELOADED
RB: Again: As a first step, simply ask yourself what happens if you feel inspired.
RB: When I feel inspired, I don't think “this” or “that”. I don't think any thought which has a precise shape or is already fixed or “finished”. I don't think any thoughts of the past. Instead, I am producing new qualities of thinking, in every moment. And everything is here and now, is present. Inspiration feels like a future which turns permanently into the present, so to say. It's a continuous emergence of thinking as a pure act, not the repeating of already concluded contents of thought by associations, as the egoistic mind is used to do. There are no associations in the state of inspiration; it is more like an “organic” flux and flow, a self-creation of something that wants to come into happening, using the “vital powers” of my pre-conceptual awareness, so to say.
Question: Yes. That is the “subjective-objective” part in it.
RB: Exactly. And again: The decisive aspect is that when being inspired, you always be self-aware that you are inspired – that you have “more energy”, for example, more concentration as usual. In that state, you always be aware that something is happening, a new experience of understanding is preparing itself. It feels like a very powerful self-awareness in the reign of the will, as I said. It feels like you are “fully present”, not only dreaming in fixed concepts of the past as usual. Something creative happens in your mind. This creative force is, as you deeply feel, yourself as a “happening” here and now, but it is also, in every instant, “more” than yourself.
Question: Yes. Absolutely.
RB: At the same time, and this is the necessary condition to let inspiration happen, you feel temporarily free from your normal egoistic plans, programs and impulses. You feel free from your usual ego feeling, at least to a certain extend. And you feel free from your normal thoughts, which are always tied to “something” which has its roots in the past, which is already fixed and finished, which has already form. Inspiration means, that you are temporarily “released” of all this, not absolutely, of course, but to a certain extend. Then, your consciousness seems to enter in a more concentrated, in a higher self-awareness of its pre-conceptual “living-state”. It enters in a state of self-awareness of its pre-linguistic flux and flow, of its pre-formal creative stream. This may be a potentially higher self-awareness of the “beeingness” of consciousness. Of the “living beeingness” - with accent on “living” -, which creates every form, but is not itself a form, because it cannot become an object of thought. It feels like something which just is. It feels like pure transformation – but a transformation that is not chaotic, but has a strictly “objective” order. It seems to be your pre-egoistic self, which does – and ultimately is – this inspired state of mind.
Question: Yes, exactly.
RB: Inspiration is a pure flow of attention and heightened sensitivity. A flow which occurs in the midst of nothingness – in the midst of a temporarily totally deconstructed ego, and in the midst of temporarily completely deconstructed contents of thinking. It is a kind of “living, productive emptiness” of your consciousness, that is self-aware of what it produces at the very moment it produces it. This consciousness is, qualitatively speaking, probably a higher state of concentration, because it is temporarily freer from the illusions of association, form and selfishness - not absolutely, but to a certain extend.
RB: And again, the crucial point is: Inspiration is a higher state of self-awareness. You always know it, when you are inspired. You have no choice: You always notice it. And that means: You always observe yourself maybe not mentally, but more by means of the sensitivity of the will, when you are inspired. At least to a certain extend.
Question: Yes, that's right. But why, and how do I notice it?
RB: You notice it, because inspiration is a basically “freer” state of mind where you attention is directed more on itself, on the “fountainhead” energy which is consciousness as pure activity or creative flow, than on the egoistic state of mind, which is concentrated on contents of thoughts and identifies with them. The normal, formal or “linguistic” state of mind is always tied to something else than itself. Therefore, it is usually not aware of the “empty” stream of consciousness which lays behind and before it, which cannot be objectivized, but creates it, and every object and every form. Inspiration is the awareness of a pre-conceptual and pre-linguistic stream of consciousness which precedes every conceptual and linguistic mind process. That stream is “the fountainhead”. (Cf. Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead. Plume, Centennial Edition 2005).
Question: All right.
RB: And it is important to see, that both states of mind: The linguistic-egocentric and the pre-linguistic-inspirational, are rational states of mind. Why? Because they are aware of themselves, even if in deeply different ways: The first one more in a language form, the second more in a kind of self-awareness of the will. But both are forms of rationality. The first one is the rationality we usually know and which still seems to dominate large parts of our culture. The second rationality is a still new kind of rationality, a more enlarged rationality which does not lose any of the big advantages and values of the first, but adds something to them. And exactly that adding could result important for some developments in the coming years. Especially, what concerns the concrete potentials of development of rational alternatives of spirituality to the global “turn to religion”.
Question: Ok. I agree.
RB: If we try to summarize, than I would say: The concept of inspiration currently describes best, as far as I can see, a state of mind which comes out of a “productive void”. A state of mind which is freer from the bindings on associations, and which has its focus or “heightened sensitivity” directed not mainly towards the contents of thinking, but towards the act of thinking itself (on the “Ereignis”, as Martin Heidegger put it, “the occurrence” or “the happening”). It is a state of mind that is self-observing.
Question: Very interesting and innovative. And this state of mind is the hidden, the unconscious goal of some of the main works of late postmodern thinkers?
RB: As far as I can say, yes. At least, this is, what I would perceive in the last, in the proto-spiritual works of Jean Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida, a little bit less maybe in the ones of Paul Feyerabend and Susan Sontag. Inspiration is the concrete goal of postmodern consciousness today, even if it is hidden under many masks and burdens. Most of the strings of the philosophia perennis since the 12th century know inspiration as one of the possibilities to observe and judge spiritually without losing rational self-awareness. You may call this a pre- and post-formal way of thinking. It can be both. If it is pre or post depends on the circumstances.
RB: Now, the most important aspect of all this is, to resume it for a last time, that inspiration allows you to re-discover the objective realm of the spirit in your subjective “I”.
RB: To put it just in a few words: If you are in the state of inspiration, new concepts are generated out of the productive void. But it will not be long that you discover: It is not your own normal egoistic “I” which creates them alone. Because this “I” has, at least partially, disappeared. When you are inspired, it can happen, that something subjective-objective is occurring in your mind at the same time. And, again: You feel it. You feel that you are not alone, when you are truly inspired. There is something which helps you, which guides your intuitions. As we said in one of our previous dialogues, it may be the famous “Geist” or “spirit-mind” (as I would translate the term “Geist”) which Hegel underscored so much, when he said that the goal of rational spiritual enlightenment is the discovery that not I myself are producing and thinking my thoughts, but the order of the cosmos is producing my thoughts and thinking through me. (Cf. Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit. Oxford University Press, USA 1979).
VII: THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE “FLUID” POSTMODERN MIND: INSPIRATION OR IMAGINATION?
Question: Does that mean: If we take it positively, postmodernity is a path to inspiration by deconstruction?
RB: Yes, exactly.
Question: I think that many of us feel that this may be one productive way to find the next step forward. But it is so hard to speak about all that. It is, to put it with Lyotard's and Derrida's words, so “different”. There is a big difference in speaking about linguistic forms of thinking, and in trying to speak about pre- or post-linguistic forms of thinking. Our whole philosophical language, especially in English, is made almost exclusively only for the first procedure. I am still not able to do that. Not in a way that I would feel comfortable with.
RB: I know. It's the same for me. But I think we just have to make the experiences, and to reflect them accurately. Then, the rest may follow.
Question: Yes. But it will still remain difficult. To make of this “inspired” or “subjective-objective” kind of thinking a discourse, or a form of systematic argumentation, will be one of the biggest tasks in the coming years. And there will be some interests and forces against it, as it is obvious and quite understandable.
RB: Yes. Of course, it is still difficult for us to speak about this still somewhat strange, and for many reasons unknown, quality of subjective-objective thinking that is the inspired state of mind. But this kind of subjective-objective thinking could possibly become an important part of the future of thinking in our culture as a whole. It will be necessary to balance the increasing power and influence of traditional, mythological religion by a more rational and experience based form of spirituality. In the coming decades, there probably will be only few things that we need so much as a second, more integrative generation of postmodernism, and as a new kind of a more balanced and enlarged, a rational and meta-rational enlightenment. And to handle the big problems of environment, of social issues and of new political orders, which are increasing their speed of change almost every day that passes, we will need urgently a systemic step from the so far diachronic to a more synchronic enlightenment. That is, what we need for the era of globalization. And the core concept of that synchronic enlightenment, in which the future of postmodernity lays, could be, for now, the concept of inspiration. It is a descriptive, heuristic and experimental, not a normative concept, of course.
RB: Few have tried to speak about all that what we tried to outline in our dialogues until today, because, as you say, it is and remains really difficult. Even if you have a direct experience of deconstruction, of the productive void and of inspiration (like most of us have).
RB: Among those who tried to speak about all that in a more strictly philosophical-scientific way was Herbert Witzenmann (1905-1988), the German philosopher and theorist. Witzenmann was one of the most inclusive and prolific German philosophers after WWII, even if he has remained still almost unknown in the anglo-american world. And he could become, at least in parts of his work, one of the most “inspiring” thinkers for laying the bases for a new, progressive, subjective-objective paradigm for the 21st century. Witzenmann's main works are “Intuition And Observation” (2 volumes, Stuttgart 1986) and “Structural Phaenomenology” (Dornach 1983). In these works, he describes the cognitive presupposals for a subjective-objective world view, and he comes very near to what we tried to understand by “inspiration”. And there are a few others who try to develop an appropriate language for a “balanced” discourse about new, “rational” spirituality, like K. Helmut Reich, for example. (Cf. K. Helmut Reich: Developing the Horizons of the Mind: Relational and Contextual Reasoning and the Resolution of Cognitive Conflict. Cambridge University Press 2002). But concerning the possibly inclusive paradigm as a whole, which would be the logical following of the first generation of postmodern thinking, we have to say that it is just emerging in some younger contemporary avantgardists. We mentioned some of them in our dialogues.
Question: Will they possibly lead us into what we have tried to call postmodernism of the second generation or “post-postmodernism”?
RB. Again: Don't put your hope on others. We are the ones who have to do it, and to find an appropriate discourse to speak about these issues. We are the ones who have to work these issues out and to develop a paradigm which could be more inclusive and complete than its predecessor. Even if this predecessor made great, really incredible achievements which we shall never lose again.
Question: All that sounds progressive. It sounds positive, in the end. If the “good” parts of postmodernity lead us into something like a conscious state of inspiration, this must be something positive. It must lead us forward - individually and culturally. Mustn't it?
RB: Yes and no. It is both. It certainly is, in some aspects, progressive. But we should not forget that the borderline spirituality of the first generation of postmodernity is and remains also deeply ambivalent and in part even potentially dangerous, as we have seen. It is marked by a “deep ambivalence”, like everything in the postmodern epoch. The path of all that remains as open, as it remains insecure.
Question: Why? Could you give us a last, more concrete example for that?
RB: Yes. I put it in only one core motive. Is that ok?
Question: Yes. Go!
RB: Observing the potentials of the present situation, I would say that there are mainly two possible ways how postmodernity can and may concretely evolve in the coming years and decades. As you know, Herbert Witzenmann founded his whole work of cognitive and scientific theory on the “Philosophy of Freedom. Principles of a Modern World View” by Rudolf Steiner, which we mentioned already. Steiner, among other achievements also the founder of Waldorf Paedagogics, was maybe the scholar who gave the most precise descriptive system of inspiration we have until today. It is no accident that it was Steiner, who first wrote a book on Friedrich Nietzsche, the “grandfather” of Postmodernity, in 1894: “Nietzsche – a combatant against his times”. This book was already, and far ahead of its times, about the origins of some main characteristics of postmodern consciousness.
Question: Yes, we mentioned that.
RB: Now, the core motive for the future of postmodernity I want to underscore here, the concluding point I want to make, is the following. Steiner was, as it seems, one of the few leading European thinkers to be interested in radical individuality, and therefore in Nietzsche, at the end of 19th century. He was philosophically a radical anarchist and politically a radical democrat. He foresaw many of the developments which we later called “postmodernity”. And he had an overall positive standpoint towards those developments. He was spiritually progress oriented, and I am sure that he would further develop his theory of inspiration, if he would live today, to find an innovative and at the same time congenial approach to the future of postmodern thinking.
RB: But Steiner strictly warnes us very often in his writings about the possibly eminent “subjective-objective” state of mind, which he predicted for the beginning of the 21st century, and about inspiration. He warned: You will sooner or later discover the importance of inspiration. And you will try to get into that state of mind not, as usually, by accident, but by your active intention. And that means: Methodologically, by the use of different techniques and instruments.
Question: Yes. That is quite natural. You wanna control your entering and leaving inspiration by yourself. Of course.
RB: And here, he warned us: If you try to do that, please be aware! You should not go directly into inspiration. But you should pass trough imagination. That means. Before trying to reach and explore inspiration, try first to reach the state of mind of imagination.
Question: Why? What dangers should be there which must be avoided?
RB: Well, Steiner believed: A rational, )post)modern subject should always try to go into the realm of inspiration by rational means. And that, according to him, includes two systemic steps: First imagination, second inspiration. First learn how to think appropriately in inner, subjective-objective images, which are the core of which the world is made. (Cf. similarly Benedetto Croce: Guide to Aesthetics Hackett Publishers 1995; cf. Jack D'Amico, Dain A. Trafton, and Massimo Verdicchio: The Legacy of Benedetto Croce: Contemporary Critical Views. Toronto Italian Studies 1999).
RB: That means: First undergo a true kátharsis, which is the only way to “deconstruct” your illusions properly, by creating inner images of the good, the true and the beautiful. And only if you have created these images in a subjective-objective way, you can proceed safely into the realm of inspiration - by cancelling even those images, and remaining only with the pure pre-formal energies which created those images, and with nothing else. Than you will be able to think safely and rationally in a pre-linguistic, pre-imaginary and pre-formal “subjective-objective” way. If you try instead to go directly into the inspiration state of thinking, you may possibly fall into new, even more dangerous illusions, than the egoistic and linguistic illusions could be. You will, for example, have the illusion that every thought you think is valuable and great, even if in reality it is not. Being inspired does not mean being infallible; therefore, you first have to learn how to behave precisely in the realm of the subjective-objective. The best school, according to Steiner, to learn precise rational thinking in the realm of the subjective-objective, is to exercise imagination. For example, making a picture of the sky in the morning, and then imagining how the weather may be in the afternoon. You form a judgement out of that imagination. And in the afternoon you control, if it was true or not. With time passing, your imagination will become always more precise. And in the end, you will know with a high percentage of success out of pure observation of the sky in the morning, how the weather will be in the afternoon. Steiner called that “the empirical exercise of practical imagination”. That was the method Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Steiner spiritual father, used to exercise his faculties of imagination. And only having learned that, you should proceed. Only then, it may be safe enough.
RB. That is what Steiner gave us methodologically to make the best use of the rising “synchronic” awareness which begins to dominate our epoch of late postmodernism. Steiner called the art of imagination which must precede the art of inspiration “Goetheanism”. (Cf. Zajonc, Arthur: Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind, Oxford University Press, USA 1995; Zajonc, Arthur: The New Physics and Cosmology Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, Oxford University Press, USA 2004.)
Question: Sounds wise.
RB: Yes, that's what it seems. But in today's postmodern culture, at the contrary, many efforts are made by different cultural techniques, to go directly into inspiration, without exercising imagination. Look, for example, at what we mentioned as “unconscious semi-inspiratory techniques” today: risky sports, rave music, bungee-jumping, sex as an instrument for experiencing a fast and superficial blizz.
Question: Yes. Our culture is, at least in some popular parts, a culture of extremes, which tries to “cancel” temporarily the normal, egoistic self by the use of ecstatic and risky techniques.
RB: Cancel it with which purpose?
Question: With the purpose to enter a state similar to “free” inspiration, in any case: A state of heightened life energies which seem to be something like inspiration, and which seem to set you temporarily in a different “I”.
RB: Yes. Today's postmodern culture does exactly what Steiner would have characterized as dangerous, because it tries to bring the subject directly into the realm of real – i.e. ontological – inspiration. It does so to bring you there as a materialist, untransformed in you ego: and so, in most cases, you don't make the experience, or you must profoundly misunderstand what you experience is about. Departing from the “productive void”, our cultural moment of transition tries to go directly into inspiration - without first passing by imagination, by inner images that arise only out of a real kátharsis.
RB: That may be one main reason why most of the “postmodern spirituality”, to call it such, so far remains always, and not incidentally, but structurally, a borderline spirituality - which, in the end, cannot reach, what it desires. As we said in the beginning.
Question: And even if it reaches something, in most cases it falls back into the old. And it remains unfulfilled.
RB: Yes. That is, as it appears to me, an important aspect of the “postmodern condition” 1979-2001 - seen from a “balanced neo-essential” or “nominalistic-realistic” viewpoint of the 21st century. It has to do with the unproper use of the desire for inspiration.
VIII: CAN ONLY A GOD SAVE US? POSTMODERN PROTO-SPIRITUALITY AND THE CURRENT TURN TO RELIGION
Question: Let's conclude our dialogue with an outlook, which at the same time may bring us back at our starting point. We are living in the epoch of a hidden world wide cultural battle between two enormous philosophical and spiritual forces. It is the hidden cultural battle between the world wide renaissance of religion at the one hand and the proto-spirituality of late European-Western postmodernity at the other hand.
RB. Yes. That seems to be indeed, as we said, the most important ongoing process in the deeper dimensions of current world history at the cultural level. And it is interesting, that it is not any longer mainly a battle between confessional religions and “enlightened” European-Western philosophy, as some thought after 9-11. At the contrary: It was never only such a battle. It is rather a general battle between those who believe that “only a god can save us” (Cf. Martin Heidegger: Only a God Can Save Us. Der Spiegel Interview 1967/1976. In: Martin Heidegger: Philosophical and Political Writings, ed. Manfred Stassen. Continuum International Publishing Group 2003) at the one hand; and those who think that there can be a rational spiritual alternative to the “global turn of religion” at the other hand. That alternative may be not only a decisive strategical political and cultural goal for a good development on a world wide scale. But it seems also necessary for avoiding the “clash of cultures” of which so much has been spoken in these years – but without including so far the positive building up of a rational spirituality which could become a bridge between confessional religions and secular rationalism. It is interesting that currently you will find avant-garde philosophers of the most different kind on both sides of the battle. There is no longer a clear distinction between religion and its former “ancilla theologiae”: philosophy any more.
Question: Yes. Religion and rational philosophy seem, at least in part, currently melting to new forms of a “rising twilight”. And that is something that worries many. (Cf. Jean-Luc Marion: God Without Being: Hors-Texte. Religion and Postmodernism Series. University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition 1995). But that melting was, in a certain sense and in first experimental forms, already the case in late postmodern philosophy, if I understood you well?
RB: Yes, exactly.
Question: But if the situation is this: What will happen with postmodern proto-spirituality then, in the coming years? And with postmodern philosophy as a whole, in these times of a global “turn to religion”? Will they be absorbed by a new blossom of religious-philosophical thought? Or will they simply be attacked further by conservative or even atavistic forms of a growing religious fanaticism? And to go even one step further: Is all that any longer a philosophical question? Or lays the future of postmodernity already in others than in philosopher's hands?
RB: That is difficult to say, at this moment of development. And maybe that is not the main point. I am not convinced that there will be some kind like a final outcome of the long debate about the “end of philosophy”. And I am not convinced that there is a sense in “end debates” generally. These debates have increased after 9-11, but the brought almost no productive results. (Cf. Giovanna Borradori, Juergen Habermas, and Jacques Derrida: Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Juergen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. University Of Chicago Press 2003). The question today is not a question of “end” or of a shrinking sovereignty of academic philosophy in front of the growing power of religion. The question today is rather: Is it possible to imagine a “rational spirituality” of post-metaphysical, critical-empirical and positive, constructive dimensions, which could possibly create a new, more balanced paradigm for the emerging global civil society in the coming decades, departing actively from the progressive proto-spiritual achievements in the late works of those leading postmodern thinkers we talked of? Or must we turn back to traditional religions, if we want to find an “essential” paradigm which can give us balance in times of increasing instabilities? Can only a God save us, as Martin Heidegger put it in his Der Spiegel testament (1967/1976)? Or is a forward oriented, “rational inspiration” the way to proceed, as the “deconstructive” proto-spirituality of late postmodern philosophy (1989/91-2001) seems, even if still timidly, to indicate us?
RB: In other words: Can there be a rational alternative of spiritual thinking and behaving to the global turn to religion? This is without any doubt one of the most important issues of our time in the middle and long perspective. Many have recognized that, in the meantime. (Cf., among others: Hent de Vries: Philosophy and the Turn to Religion. The Johns Hopkins University Press 1999; John D. Caputo, ed.: God, the Gift, and Postmodernism. Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion. Indiana University Press 1999; Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in Dialogue: Beyond Individuality. Exploring the Future of Religion. In: What Is Enlightenment, Issue 23: Future. Spring–Summer 2003).
Question: Yes, this is one of the most important issues of our time, and of the first decade of the 21st century in general. Without any doubt.
RB: So were could we find an experimental or heuristic trace, a sign or an evidence - with “sustainable” and “deep” avant-garde value – which could help us to answer this core question, which seems to be a core question not only for the future of postmodernity, but for the future of the world culture as a whole? I think this trace could be found exactly in the “rising twilight” or “deep ambivalence” of the thinking of late postmodernists. But it can be found also in the “twilight” parts or “deep ambivalence” of some other leading avant-garde thinkers of the 20th century, which were not strictly postmodern.
Question: Could you give an example for that point, please?
RB: Yes, of course. Let's take Martin Heidegger, for example, because we mentioned him. We quoted him as saying: “Only a god can save us.” Well, I think a trace for the future may lay exactly in investigating the “rising twilight” or “deep ambivalence” included in that phrase. The trace of the future may lay in the question: What exactly did Heidegger mean by using the term: Only “a” god can save us?
Question: Yes. What does it mean, if Heidegger says: Only “a” god? This is a very strange term. What is that: “A” god? Using this term is ambivalent.
RB: You are completely on the right track, my friend.
Question: Thank you.
RB: Indeed: This term must be obviously a “productive paradox”, since “god” is by definition all and everything. And therefore we can logically only speak of “the” god, but not of “a” god. What should “a” god be? Did Heidegger mean, in his deeply ambivalent and not seldom “abyssal” speaking: One of the old, pagan gods of pre-christianity? Or did he rather mean the single, “inspired” mind of the post-postmodern subject, which's experience of its “I” has been “doubled” by deconstruction – and which is thus starting to become “subjective-objective”? Is “a” god an ambivalent evocation of the objective realm – in ourselves? Does it mean that every postmodern subject has to find its “witness” by deconstructing its ego? That would be a trace congenial, to a certain extend, to the “integral” and “proto-integral” movements in Europe since the 19th century. (Cf. Roland Benedikter, ed.: A Global History of Integral Thought in the 19th and 20th Century. Forthcoming).
Question: Somewhat surprising for a “rebel thinker” like Heidegger. It would mean that Heidegger wants to say: “A” god is the higher self in me. It would ultimately mean, that he wanted to say: Proceed with postmodern deconstruction and the “doubling of the I”, and find the witness. Then, the inspiration to do the right things and to find a solution will be near. Is it possible that Heidegger wanted to say that?
RB: Maybe. The term “a” god is, that is for sure, a conscious paradox, since Heidegger was, for his whole life, a kind of fox between the doves of academic philosophers. In any case, that is a very experimental interpretation of Heidegger. But it is possible, at least.
Question: Yes. It could be that in this and in similar “rising twilights” in the thinking of the 20th century we possess already some trace or some indication of how to proceed.
Question: We all possess much more wisdom, than we know or are able to express. Despite and because we currently are deeply “deconstructive” beings.
Question: So is that research for the “other self” in myself by deconstruction the way to build a bridge between confessional religion and secular rationality? Is this the possible source for the rise of a truly – and rationally - integrative paradigm for the global civil society? And is this the future of “postmodern spirituality”?
RB: Maybe. Maybe at the current point we should not call all that, what we have so far, “postmodern spirituality” at all. Maybe we should call it a prelude to a new spiritual realism for the global civil society, coming out of postmodernism. Maybe we should call it a pre-eminent spirituality or a proto-spirituality emerging rationally under the conditions of late postmodernity. Not less, not more.