INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Matthew Dallman is a composer, philosopher, & blogger. He has released three albums of original compositions, and published many essays that deal with integral art. His
website is www.matthewdallman.com. Source: www.polysemy.org. Reposted with permission
The Humanities As
The Integral Tradition
On the tradition and task of
imaginative fullness after the theory wars
The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.
— Neil Postman
Writing in the introduction to Plato: The Collected Dialogues, Huntington Cairns wrote, "[Plato's Dialogues] have been attached as politically aristocratic and as philosophically mystical. However," he continued, "few serious and fair students of the dialogues have ever denied their suggestivenesss and the extent to which they stimulate thought." As a general principle, the capacities of suggestiveness and thought stimulation at profound levels are made available to the motivated learner through any of the works studied in the Humanities. Of course, that which forms the core curriculum of the Humanities are often called the Canon. What the Canon actually is, as well as what makes it up, are subjects of some controversy. It used to be, in older times when materials such as paper were scarce, that the word "canon" was written on those religious texts that were to be preserved. These were held as the standards or models of thought (the word "canon" shares its history with what we call the "ruler", or measuring stick). Remembering this, it is no surprise that much of the controversy about the canon has to do with critiques of just who gets to decide what is canonical, and under what authority. Thus the rise of the belief held by more than some that great works of art or thought are only "great" because the Church, the authors of famous survey books, traditionalist professors, or self-appointed taste-makers have said so, arbitrarily. The entire "dead white males" critique comes from this controversy, as an example of the wider project of multiculturalism that seeks to increase exposure to non-Western cultures.
If we define the Western Canon the great works in theology, the arts, history, philosophy, as well as the study of languages, from, say, Homer to Joyce, the question inevitably arises about what to do with the Canon. Or more specifically, what should artists do with the Canon? Should they ignore these works, and the study of languages, and set out for entirely new sources of inspiration, critical thought, and layered/discreet insights into the human condition? After all (leaving languages aside for the moment), the Canon does change, with works more recent than Joyce as potential members (and, it bears important note, increasing non-Western works as they become more and more available, and vice versa, directionally West to East). Certainly some American professors and critics have sought to alter the Canon, or even completely reorganize it. And it can be seen that some apparently hold the view that there is not just one canon, but many, depending on particular subject matter. And some people don't think there needs to be a canon, or canons, at all. Some find the whole notion just too problematic.
Because it would take numerous articles, or even a book, to address the conflicting views of the canon, let me cut to the chase: What if we were to adopt the definition of the Canon proposed by Camille Paglia? Which is, essentially, that the Canon is loosely made up of those works of art and thought that have demonstrably influenced artists across the ages, and up to the near-recent time? If we were to adopt such a definition, then we could leave aside any objections of authority and leave the matter up to, simply, a matter of inspiration, and the organic and non-systematic operations of creativity through our most inspired and gifted individuals and groups. It wouldn't be up to critics, or professors, or survey-book authors. It would be, rather, up to no one in particular. Instead, whether a work itself can be seen to have inspired creativity that was expressed in works of art is the main criteria. Scholars could undertake the investigations of who and what influenced artists, when the influence is not readily apparent (as for example, it is quite apparent that The Bible has been profoundly influential to artists, and further proof of that really isn't necessary). Providing the information by way of scholarly articles, plus what is evident in the public sphere, and — wha la! — we have Canon by, essentially, cultural autopoiesis, the automatic regeneration fueled by inspiration, that mysterious dynamic.
It is important to realize that if you look at various lists of members of the Canon and investigate the ideas raised throughout the classic works of thought, you can start to understand why one of the founders of the famous "Great Books" initiative at the University of Chicago, Mortimer Adler, said that these works comprise a "great conversation" through the ages. The works talk to one another. Ideas are exchanged, elaborated, elongated, and reframed, all the time. It is also important to understand how these works were taught in "classical education", which was the general practice for over 2000 years. Only the last 50-75 years have seen a moving away from the classical education approach (of the Trivium as primary education) and towards a style that began in Prussia as a way to occupy children so that parents could work outside of the home, and children would be taught skills that would ostensibly help them succeed in the industrial age.
This must be known far and wide: classical education has always been a developmental approach. The trivium template is meant to teach children "how to think" and acknowledges development through its three stages: grammar, logic, rhetoric — each which we now define as particular subjects, but traditionally were, in order, to absorb facts, critically think through arguments, and then express oneself, in a study were each stage was a several-year endeavor with any number of subjects within each. The trivium culminated in the creation by the student of a thesis, which was defended in front of a skeptical group of elders (the thesis and defense have, of course, lived on in current usage in the academy). And the trivium template then gave way to the Quadrivium, which were the sciences of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, all seen as advanced subjects. The Canon is meant to be a central part of one's study through life, especially starting in the rhetoric phase, for its works store cultural insights and persuasions not to be swallowed whole or naively, but following Cairns, as highly suggestive thought stimulation, that bear the fruits of depth and profundity through one's maturity.
If the desire is to renew cultural imagination, if the desire is to learn from those that have come before us, if the desire is to know what has occupied, and even flummoxed, great minds from the beginning of recorded history, if the desire is to restore awareness of theological, philosophical, aesthetic, linguistic, historical, and classical truths across the ages, if the desire is to find democratic ways to expand consciousness, deconstruct boundaries of time and space, learn archetypal forms of expression, and to foster fullness in mysterious ways, I simply don't see any way around the simple path in front of us: make the Canonical works of the Humanities your daily bread, part of your sadhana, or practice of artistry. (For more on artistry practice, see The Artist's Breath.) For doing so connects your artistry practice with immersion in the full spectrum of ideas and archetypal forms. It is a study whereby this full-spectrum, along with your unique human experiences, form the content that animates what flows through your art, and so, simply, without anything but study, hard work, and courage, your artistry practice takes lineage in the integral tradition, and can contribute to it.
THE RISE OF THEORY
But this is no easy task, if you look at recent cultural forces. The last 100 or so years has seen the rise of attempts that seek to undercut the attempt to study the works of the Humanities, or "human condition" on their own terms, as works with such a potent unity (alone as well as in concert with other works) that slow absorption or contemplative meditation is essential. Rather than that uncomplicated situation that requires only you, great works, and a community of learners (still found, for example, in the University of Chicago's Basic Program of Liberal Arts for Adults, and other places), the last 100 years, beginning in large part with the Frankfurt School, going through the French School, and now the Wilberian school, have sought to insert "theory" into the mix in a fundamental way. What is theory? In my view, "theory" is defined as speculations using primary sources of the Humanities Canon as raw material for conceptual and scientific structuring of the society and individual. Or in other words, "theory" is mental technology, or a "lens". The implication goes, just as you need glasses to correct defective eye sight, so too do you need theory to correct defective mental perception.
This means you need phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstruction, French feminism, critical theory, Marxism, semiotics, and more in order to correct defective mental perception. You can't see/think clearly without these technologies. Let me be clear — I question the privilege given in contemporary study of the Humanities to these technologies known as "theory". I question their importance, fundamentally. I question why we ought bother, when the Canon (as a living tradition of inspired reflections on the full spectrum of human condition) provides sustainability throughout life and across the generations, and as primary education, imaginative fuel to pursuits in the sciences, trades, or whatever vocation one chooses. Don't the poor, defenseless works of the Canon plant enough seeds on their own if given a fair chance?
In his Literary Theory treatise, Terry Eagleton famously wrote that people who think there is no need for theory are simply operating via a lesser one, and acceptance of this as truth is implicit in any and all "theory", no matter the name. I happen to find Eagleton's assertion to be famously wrong. It fatally suffers from the slippery slope to meaningless, for if all thinking is a form of theorizing, then "theory" means nothing special besides, well, thinking. Of course, we all have our biases, but having bias is hardly synonymous with thinking exclusively via a theory of some sort. I will admit, though, that the battle against the Eagleton way of thinking is difficult. Approached the wrong way, Humanities study seems difficult, no fun, or even irrelevent. Thus the rise of theory, as a short cut around the hard stuff.
But this rather speaks to the importance of how the great works of the Humanities are presented, taught, and explored. (For suggestions, see the UChicago Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, which is still influential around the country.) Besides that, we have time-tested platforms, or broad techniques, for thought and the search for truth that require no theory, map, or framework whatsoever. The Scholarly Method (for research/writing), the Socratic Method (for serious discussions), and group discussion are not theoretical but practical, are not philosophical but palpable, are not abstract but direct, allowing both the curiosity and obligation of the thinking individual to emerge. Theory, of any kind, necessarily "brackets" or, if you like, "focuses" one's attention in a certain place, at the loss or purposeful ignorance of anything else, including original context. There are justifiable reasons to use the approach of theory in the sciences (beit hard, sociological, cultural, etc.). By use of theory, of whatever design, in the sciences, one is able to organize and classify for whatever purposes one has.
It is certainly less justifiable, however, in the area of human imagination and cultural achievement that is the Humanities. The way the Basic Program handles the intrusion of "theory" into its close-reading group discussions is only to allow a theory if the student can a) reframe it in their own words, and b) prepare to defend and justify their belief as actually arising from the text or work of art. And, besides, how can one assess the validity of a theory on, say, a Plato dialogue, if one does not first give the dialogue an opportunity to unfold in its own terms, which is precisely what "close-reading" does? That approach at least allows theory some kind of place, beit it a significantly diminished role than it currently has. So perhaps the use of theory in this way is justifiable; but still, I'm not sure. I think theory itself still presents unneeded obstacles.
DERRIDA AND THE HUMANITIES
Let me explain why. If you look at the rise of theory long enough, many roads inevitably lead to Derrida. To say that he is a controversial figure is an enormous understatement. He is the father of deconstruction. To explain what this is, allow me to cite my friend CJ Smith's 2-step summary of deconstruction Smith sees value in Derrida, and to his credit he clarified up front that the value he sees is not in literary criticism (where Derrida, unfortunately has most acclaim in America) but philosophy, specifically Continental philosophy (i.e., of Europe). For Smith, Derrida's methodology is this:
Step 1: Read the entire Western canon, just as it is. You will notice a basic trend towards Dialogue over Grammar, Presence over Absence, Masculine over Feminine, Reason over Insanity, etc. etc.
Step 2: Re-read the corpus this time seeing how the "underside", the neglected element, is that which makes the supposed superior element possible. If there was no woman, there would be no man. No earth, then no heaven. No grammar, then no spoken word.
There are several problems with this. For starters, an essay that demonstrates Smith's path of thinking to reach these two-steps would be appreciated, and I think called for given that Derrida has become so controversial. Another is that while Smith moved Derrida and his theory to the realm of philosophy, I don't see how that actually changes anything. Philosophy is, after all, part of the Humanities, along with the arts, the study of languages, theology, history, and the classics. It is easy to see how each are tied together, through the exchanges between seminal creative people in each through history of ideas and art. I and many others rightly fight the splitting apart of the strands of the Humanities, because splitting them apart does not allow their true partnership in the human condition to be comprehended. Does Smith realize that the Derridian strategy he suggests does not actually participate in the Humanities in good faith, but rather seek to treat the entire field as an object, for the purposes of deconstruction? It is not clear to me that he does, but it is clear to me that following this Derrida method in fact removes one from the Humanities in any way that honors its status as the study of the various pinnacles of human cultural achievement through the ages. It puts you in the realm of science, detective work, testing a hypothesis with the scientific method, which is valid but very different than the manner which which the works of the Humanities reveal truths and questions.
Along with theory, science itself has infringed upon the Humanities. A tell-tale sign of this are the terms "experiment", or "injunction" (the latter being common to Wilberism, and synonymous with the former). One cannot, as Smith suggests of Derrida, perform the experiment/injunction to "Read the entire Western canon, just as it is." Who has actually done so, I mean each and every work, in the vast caves of symbol systems that make up the Humanities Canon? No one, not in its entirety, or "just as it is". The work the Humanities enacts never ceases; the friendship with the Canon never ends. The works are too vast, and our perceptual filters too ever-present. And the Canon does change, although slowly. And in America, as well, where we have no high art tradition to speak of, to first read the entire canon (which is laughably impossible) and then find the "underside" in this French deconstructionism misses the real import of what deconstruction, if it is used at all, ought do: deconstruct boundaries of sense and perception, in the service of expanded consciousness, which is exactly what the best examples of fine and popular art do, when we approach them without the shield of an "-ism", a "theory" but rather allow ourself to be immersed in our sensual perception and then witness our curiousity find whatever connections emerge in our consciousness. America has offered Hollywood films and jazz; how silly to enact Derrida's deconstruction injunction upon either, because in their best forms, both do that already as part of their aesthetic experience, the "work" that these art forms bring forth in consciousness.
I think it borders on vile to suggest that ignoring Derrida, Foucault, or any theorist, and rather diving deep into the Humanities with the goal-less goal of erudition and love is "pre-perspectival" or "pre-critical", as Smith suggests — vile, that is, to aesthetic experience as imaginative mimesis. Nothing should ever substitute for close reading of texts on their own terms (or, for non-written works, beit paintings, music, scultptures, dances, etc., nothing should substitute for "close-examination"). Nothing should ever substitute for having the pleasure of a very motivated and enthusiastic teacher who draws new ideas and questions out of you, that you never thought of but somehow remember. Nothing should ever substitute from having your own opinions, biases, assumptions, and perspectives sounding consonant or dissonant with those of others, or realizing over time the underlying harmony. Such is the music evoked in a living tradition.
WHAT THEORY DOES
As I said, along with the emergence of "theory for its own sake" has come science and its categories and classifications used to separate out the Humanities according to increasing number of details, dwindling in actual importance to learning. This has led, for example, to the hair-splitting and false taxonomies that classify the history of art. It has further led to an unknitting of the arts from one another. Taxonomies are really theories, themselves. Somehow, people have swallowed whole the belief that literature, music, sculpture, painting, architecture, and the rest are best dissociated. To be fair, many artists over the last 150 years in the West have decided not to seek the truths of, for example, The Bible, or Plato, or other sources of thought that tend to bind artistry together. Rather, other sources have been used that for them apparently hold truth. These other sources include French and Frankfurt schools of theory, as well as their progeny. I mean, how many artists consciously or unconsciously base their "political art" on the political analyses of Noam Chomsky? Far too many to count.
To discuss the merits of any of these requires something far longer than this article. I simply mean here to point out that to use any theory by definition requires one to subordinate the importance of taking the gestures, ideas, words, markings, utterances, proportions, forms, images, metaphors, and implications forwards by works of the Canon on their own terms, and non-systematically allowing your imagination to organically make connections the arise from the internal logic of a particular work or piece as well as from one to another. This is the "great conversation" between thinkers and artists across time and space and epochs.
For Camille Paglia, the Canon is a living tradition, and I completely agree. I would further add that if we artists have any hope of adding to the Canon with our own artwork, then I suggest that a useful notion is offering to audiences the experience of fullness evoked by our art. This is in line with how Marshall McLuhan referred to "integral", namely: "The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own times. He is the man of integral awareness." That, along with the impulse towards fullness, comprises the working definition of "integral" I feel most applicable to contemporary artistry. This is, in part, how to understand how artists as diverse as Plato, Hildegard von Bingen, Rumi, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Coltrane, and so many more are all of the integral tradition, no matter time and place of their earthly life.
If any kind of "re-knitting" of not only the arts, but all the Humanities, back together in a cultural resonant manner is at all important, then treating the Humanities as "an injunction" or an experiment — or simply as an "it" — doesn't help in the slightest. Rather than engaging original sources of thought and creativity, in a close examination of the human condition — or paideia, the process of fullness-based education in the human condition — theory of any kind fashionable removes these object and their ideas from the center of human imagination, and in their place insert "lens" which may be well-intentioned but, each every time, substitutes hard thought and contemplation with fashionable sloganeering ("dead white males"), sound-byte reductions ("it's all about power"), or restrictions on thought and speech (everything "politically correct"). I might add that the open secret of great works of the Humanities is that they anticipate all theory about them, to be sure, in a subtle fashion, nearly undetectible. One not so subtle example are the first sentences of Herodotus' classic work, History, from the 5th century BC, which anticipates theories about it that come 2500 years later. I'll leave the reader to investigate that for him or herself.
The way the "re-knitting" can happen is by fully living our everyday lives, with everyday concerns, fully engaged with our friends, our family, our spouse/partner, our children, our neighbors, our city, and, importantly, with our imagination constantly in touch with the works of the Humanities. Doing so includes a built-in intellectual methodology to comprehend deeper purpose. Let me start my explanation by saying that I agree with R.G. Collingwood's broad definition of philosophy: it is both the study of something as well as what we think about that something. It is a pretty simple and straightforward definition, to its credit. I hold it as an important "first principle".
Let's piece this apart and apply it here. The living of one's life fully is the study of "something" (or the human condition as it manifests in every individual) — that is the first part of Collingwood's definition. The second part comes via Humanities (study plus interaction), because, broadly defined, the Canon anchors "what we think about the human condition", using beyond-everyday-language expression of emotion, thought, and intuition. Thus the living of regular lives plus study of the Humanities together form a philosophical metholodogy. This is not all that novel of a proposal, which is to its credit: rather, seeing one's education through life in this way puts you in good company, with like-minded souls who seek or have sought to better understand their place in the world as best we know it.
WILBERIAN THEORY AND AN "-ISM"-FREE INTEGRAL
Which takes me to Wilberism and the nature of integral. For those unfamiliar, Wilberism is the use of a psychological theory known as AQAL. Another name for this framework is "Integral theory" (capitalization his), using an "Integral Operating System". I cannot explore validity here (elsewhere, I begin to). But stepping back to look at what Wilber's framework is clearly shows it to be a "theory", of the same general construction as the others I've cited here. Namely, it is a lens. To actually use it in any way requires that between you and whatever you are investigating, it must go there, as a filter, to "bracket" away what isn't necessary, "focus" on something particular, or whatever.
Wilber's work comprises an "-ism", formally speaking. And what is that? Whatever specific example of an "-ism" you want to choose, you will find a "theory" that has taken certain principles, systemized them in some way, and then applied outside of the context it was originally conceived or birthed by its creator or creators. People use "Marxism" to discuss far more than economic issues. People use "deconstructionism" to discuss far more than the contrictions of French high culture and language. People use "Wilberism" to discuss far more than theoretical psychology, but lots of fields or domains of intellectual discipline.
The problem is that if study of the Humanities amounts to anything, it amounts to clarity of thought and imaginative awareness given ongoing absorption of "the great conversation". This is spiritual (not moral), and this can't be systematic as an educational strategy. Truths bedevil us all. The absolutes required to make any system an actual system workable in the sciences violate the central principle required to truly learn from Humanities study — that of emptying your cup, or, abandoning preconceptions about great works of art or thought. For example, Plato, in his dialogue Meno suggests that only the state of perplexity, demonstrated by "I don't know" can even begin to lead one to finding truths, and even then, truths are provisional. Over half the battle of authentic study is to allow the works to speak on their own terms, without the crutch of any outside source of theory. In other words, without the need of any "-ism". Actually absorbing the works of the Canon, is work enough; adding theory to them either makes it unneccesarily harder, or acts as an obscuring force that adds fog without useful benefit.
Anyone paying attention to Wilber knows that Wilber has long proposed tacking on his AQAL theory to each and every discipline of human endeavor. He uses "integral" (even though I don't think it is warranted) so that, for example, ecology becomes "Integral Ecology", medicine becomes "Integral Medicine", science becomes "Integral Science", business becomes, "Integral Business" (all capitalization his). But let's remember what AQAL is: a psychological theory. So, in Wilber's view, all fields, in order to become "Integral" (capitalization his), have to have added to it his psychological theory, have to be psychologized, so to speak. Plenty of well-informed and intelligent people have joined with Wilber, essentially agreeing with this strategy, agreeing that their fields need this psychological theory attached to it.
But to me that strategy misses something huge — namely, the power of the imagination and the "great conversation" that has been the beating heart of the Humanities for 2000 years, and still beats today, somehow surviving the wars that theory inflicts upon it.The proper study of the Humanities can offer anyone and everyone, as a primary education through high school and the university level, self-renewing rewards that last a lifetime. I'm talking profound questions of love, nature, the body, consciousness, tragedy, good, evil, war, peace, death, morality, virtue, beauty, sex, violence, torment, and so on. There is much historical precedence for the strategy whereby the Humanities form part 1 of an education, and part 2 is whatever vocation one chooses to support their livelihood. I suggest that it is only by ignoring or reducing the importance of immersion in part 1 (which is the precise effect of theory), that part 2 then needs some kind of supplemental theory such as Wilber's, to in effect "add back" some kind of subjective, even profound imaginative capacity.
But even then, Wilberian charts are acknowledged to be "empty signifiers", "content-free" illustrations — which are fancy ways of saying that, still, there is nothing tangible offered by this "vocation + Wilberian theory" (Integral Ecology, etc.) that is directly food for the mind in any way similar to how proper Humanities study would readily provide, if it weren't ignored or marginalized. In other words, I don't see a good justification for adding an "-ism" such as Wilberism (a meta-theory, that incorporate the Frankfurt and French theory schools into it), or even any theory, to fields such as medicine, law, ecology, or any of the sciences, when a renewal of what is essentially the time-tested, 2000 year old strategy of classical education would work just fine. Let one's vocations be limited endeavors, "-ism"-free. Prior to that, have one's primary education be made full by the "great conversation" of ideas and imagination of the Canon. To me, that would solve the problem of "lack of imagination" of "grasp of profound truths" in the sciences, and society in general, in a far more sustainable, fundamental, renewable fashion than any theory would.
Which means we don't need our thought to be about "-isms" but rather rigorously anchored "the great conversation" across the ages. Why seek "-ism"-free thought? The simple answer is that "-isms" get in the way of creativity and creative emergence. Any "-ism" becomes one by the inflation of a person's consistent line of thought into a systematic model of some kind. Rather, an "-ism"-free approach means we keep all truths provisionally, that we expect fluidity and adaptability, that we bow mightily to traditional wisdom, evidence as it unfolds, and our keen sense of observation, which we train. Of course, this means an expansive space. Free to let our imagination run where it might without predetermined guide. But isn't that what we want?
I can't imagine that what will sustain the Humanities through and past the onslaught of "theory/-isms" is the kind of constrictive "philosophy" of the Derrida variety. I think most of what passes for "philosophy" these days is already dead, on the vine, especially in America, the land of big spaces, no high culture to speak of, and a deeply ingrained Puritanical streak that battles emergence of aesthetic emergence via artists. The Scholarly Method has replaced much of the practice of philosophy, except in those cases where the practioner has shown a mastery of the history of philosophy, and sees it as a living tradition connected to its sister strands within the Humanities, and leverages insights from those to inform whatever new directions of philosophy he or she explores.
This is why the practice of "bracketing" common to both Wilberian thought and French though is so infernal: it violates the central tenet that everything in the Humanities is of a piece. Bracketing is the practice of ignoring what doesn't jive with your theory. Doing just that disqualifies it from being something to use in the understanding of the human condition, which is fundamentally inclusive, chthonic, and chaotic. The "mind" is already in the body. The "mind-body" problem only occurs when you bracket one from the other, something that erudite thinkers in the North American tradition, such as Norman O Brown who drew together Blake, Freud, and the Bible on this question, have been demonstrating for a hundred years. European philosophy has lost the palpable connection with both the arts and regular life, thus are effectually dead. The fashionable French theory of the 70s and 80s (and still, sadly, today) not only has no feel for the arts, but neither has a feel for nature, the human body, sexuality, nuanced archetype, or women. I continually cite Dewey, McLuhan, and Paglia (along with Brown) as writers who love the arts, and are immersed in the Humanities, and speak in everyday language, though not simplistically or without reward of close reading. Scholarship is the new philosophy; it adopts a healthy and broad scientific attitude to be fallible, limited, and in touch with evidence and everyday reality. Philosophy without both must rely solely on poetic word play and becomes "philosophy fiction", which isn't philosophy at all but rather is a sub-genre of literature that appeals to comic-book and sci-fi lovers. Such work cannot be argued against much as fiction cannot be argued against. It is simply to be believed, or not. You buy it, or you don't. Thus it is more than a small admission that Wilber, according to himself, is a "storyteller". In fact, it is rather telling of how he regards his own work. People forget that Wilber, in his own books, says he cites evidence "as if it were true", and then bases complicated theory and pronouncements about, well, everything on those.
THE TASK OF ARTISTS
What faces those of us in this fight to restore the Humanities to the center of common imagination (which may mean outside of formal universities for the coming decades), is to renew our connection with the classic Humanities, as a living tradition, immediate to our lives right now. It means we make central to our practice the study of great works of thought and art. Of the many, many upsides to this choice, we automatically qualify our artwork for consideration as "classic", because "classic art" is that which deals with timeless human truths and questions. Artists will undoubtedly start to discern the subtle but unmistakable archetypes that permeate Canonical objects across the ages. Rather than an "object" to be put under a lens, the Humanities comprise a vast subject, which rewards open-minded perception, return visits, mulling, and daring connections of interdisciplinary thought. There no where to go that counts except into the Humanities. Anything else, via any theory of any kind, is a way to obscure the Humanities, not embrace it as a subject to identify with and co-discover.
Or in an everyday term, the Humanities are to be treated like we treat our friends. Some are very close, some are less close but might grow dear, some are long-lost or distant; many you have not yet met and might never. You rely on your friends to introduce you to others. Just as it would be fantastically counterproductive to think about the underlying structures of your various friendships in any systematic way, it is fantastically counterproductive to do so with the works of the Humanities. But to do so is exactly the import of Derrida and the rest. That which makes up this Canon have an immediacy no matter when perceived. It is not a list of things decided by theorists or faddish professors. Regular people over the ages who are commited to the love of learning "decide" on what is in the Canon through the allowing of their curiousity and imagination to run wild in these works, and to find that which allows the run to be wild. There is scientific basis for this: Abigail Housen's work is aesthetic response characterizes the deepest capacity as just that: being able to treat artworks like friends, over many years and countless encounters. There is a timeless, flowing conversation going on between our greatest thinkers and artists, over the ages, over the epochs. Patient study of it reserves a seat next to this vast, mighty river, for you to swim in whenever you are ready.
Let me end by responding to the notion that the Wilberian version of "integral" (which I hold to be a false use of integral) considers its theory as one of perspectives; and that the theory itself is one perspectives that leads to or opens up others. I honor people who hold this view, of course. But that the Wilberian regards AQAL theory as a perspective, and I regard integral as a living tradition, waiting patient for artists to tap back into, that goes back to ancient Greek and Roman thought, and has produced the greatest minds in the Western arc of history, and that is tragically masked under the counterproductive forces of "theory", probably says a lot about their aims as well as mine, in some way or another. But be those as they may, fighting in the invasion of "theory" on the Humanities is an important part of what its preservers are called to do. I am happy to fight the good fight. A living tradition that brings together the greatest cultural achievements by creative humans, and comprise the sturdy foundation of creative thought applied to any field or endeavor, whether inside or outside the Humanities, deserves no less. If John Dewey is right, and in each of the great works of art are rooted in everyday experience that emerge through several factors as a unity of profound experience, then let our own experiences as working artists swim in the integral tradition, and let our creative works respond to the waves that call forth the timeless dilemmas of human condition, no matter our technological acuity. Let us be humble to our Humanities tradition, so that our works can boldly unify old and new, as living intuition that, when properly rooted, never actually dies. And let it not be theory, but the creative works of the Humanities and especially the arts, that are truly metaphysical.