Thursday, November 23, 2006

What is the object of deconstruction? Derrida and Universality

A while back I posted some quotes on philsophy and universality. These had been promted by reading James Smith's book on Derrida. Here are some belated thoughts on Derrida and universality.
There is an interesting, and perhaps not unequivocal relationship between Derrida’s earlier and later work with respect to the philosophical problematics of individuality/particularity and universality. It is of cause fashionable to talk of later and earlier periods in a philosopher’s thought, obvious examples being Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and Derrida has not escaped such division in his corpus. There often follows, after the early/late thesis has established itself, a defence of the unity within the development of the given philosophers thought. James Smith’s Jacque Derrida Live Theory presents such a defence using the theme of “the Other” as the interpretive key to the continuity at the heart of Derrida’s work. Nevertheless I will use Smiths exposition as a starting point for exploring the Derrida’s relation to the issue of universality in Philosophy which suggests, at the very least, an intriguing shift.

Derrida’s early critiques of Husserl and logocentrism focuses on the way that philosophy has historically excluded materiality in favour of the spiritual/rational. In particular when dealing with language philosophy has conceived it in terms of writing (as material) in opposition to speech which is thought of as more spiritual. Derrida challenges this by showing how what is excluded or denigrated in philosophical discourse - materiality in the form here of language and history - is actually a necessary condition for what philosophy elevated, purity given here as geometrical thought. So in his introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry Derrida writes:

“Whether geometry can be spoken about is not, the extrinsic and accidental possibility of a fall into the body of speech or of a slip into a historical movement … The paradox is that, without the apparent fall back into language and thereby into history, a fall which would alienate the ideal purity of sense, sense would remain an empirical formation imprisoned as fact in a psychological subjectivity – in the inventors head. Historical incarnation sets free the transcendental, instead of binding it (IHOG, 77)” (quoted in Smith p.24)

In other words pure universality (absolute ideal objectivity) is deconstructed on the basis of a materiality which reasserts itself within a philosophical system that seeks to exclude it, and does so “as the very condition of possibility of what philosophy want” viz. pure objectivity (Smith p.25).

Later Smith discusses Derrida’s turn to issues of ethics, justice, hospitality and religion. Here Derrida turns deconstruction in the opposite direction criticising current particular configurations (i.e. “the fall back … into history”) of justice, hospitality, and so on, in the name of a pure, unconditional, undeconstructible justice, hospitality etc. This gives Derrida’s ethics a Kantian feel to it in its formalism. So Derrida talks of ‘the formality of a structural messianism’ that is without messianism, “an idea of justice – which we distinguish from law or right or even human rights – and an idea of democracy – which we distinguish from its current concept and from its determined predicates today” (Spectres of Marx 59 quoted in Smith p.86). “This critique” that Derrida’s project of deconstruction is now engaged in “belongs to the movement of an experience open to the absolute future of what is coming, that is to say, a necessarily indeterminate, abstract, desert-like experience that is confided, exposed, given up to its waiting for the other and for the event” (SM, 90 quoted pp.87-88).

This suggests an important shift, paradoxical perhaps. Where at first Derrida seems to target ideas of purity, of absolutes beyond any materiality, because their condition of possibility involves determinate materiality, later it is this determinate materiality that becomes the focus of deconstruction because there is always the future to come. If it could be said that early Derrida held that “purity is always deconstructible,” Derrida’s later claim is that “content … is always deconstructible” (SM, 90 quoted p.87)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method

I have been meaning to post something on Vollenhoven's "Consequent Problem-Historical Method" for a long time. Since this post by Gideon Strauss to be exact. One of the things that has delayed this is I wanted to take seriously the criticism that Vollenhoven's method is a mere "pigeon-holing" exercise. I could just quote Seerveld, one of Vollenhoven's students who has creatively employed his method. He writes:
"The objection to Vollenhoven's "pigeon-holing" complex philosophies misunderstands his problem-historical methodology, which is deeply concessive toward all manner of thinkers from a radically christian standpoint: every slanted philosophy, from whatever "bad" neighbourhood it operates, is wrestling with God's world and cannot help but uncover matters God's children may also need to notice and realign within our own servant (not "master"!) narrative being written" ("Christian Aesthetic Bread for the World" Philosophia Reformata 2001 no.2)
I think Seerveld makes a good point, but it will only make sense when we see more analysis like his own "Pedagogical Strength" article and less like Vollenhoven's elaborate charts, meaningless to all but a few experts. I doubt the following will do much to amend this situation, but I post it anyway.
Those who would see Vollenhoven’s method as ripe for re-evaluation face the difficulty of several overlapping complexities. First and most obvious is the 80 odd conceptions and 60 odd time-currents. Secondly is that both types and time-currents, not being a priori, undergo modification and sometimes, thought not always, connected with this is that Vollenhoven's interpretation of individual thinkers also undergoes revision.

Just a cursory glance at the Schematische Kaarten (2000) raises a number of such issues: different versions of the same chart, names crossed out, names with question marks next to them, names in brackets etc. This means that the various Vollenhoven material now available do not all match up (especially the Runner translation). Bril has helpfully annotated the Kort Overzich (1956) and other material in the Vollenhoven translations to highlight these changes.

To go back a little to the types/currents complexity. 80times60=4800, the Schematische Kaarten has about 1,600 thinkers charted. So if we are to get anywhere in understanding the CPHM we have to start to simplify. There seems to be two options. The first is to follow Wolters "grid" example which gives equal weight to the three main problems (Myth/non-myth, monism/dualism, Universal/individual) and so gives us 18 conceptions. However Vollenhoven seems to order things differently, giving us a second option. A philosophers conception concerning the "vertical structure of the kingdoms" is approached according to four problems, to quote:

[1] In the first place one must consider whether someone has approached the intended structure via myth, or whether one has considered structure (while rejecting myth as a source of philosophy) in a cosmogonic-cosmological or purely cosmological way. [2] Fur­thermore there is the question of dualism and monism. In other words, one can think that everything is based on the eternal correlation of the transcendent and the non-transcendent, such that any unity must be explained in connection to these two categories with the result that unity is derivative. Alternatively, one can postulate that everything is at bottom a unity and consequently that any difference must be ascribed to divergence. [3] In the third place there is the problem of the vertical relationship, in dualism between the transcendent and the non-transcendent, and in monism between the higher and lower species of the original unity. [4] Finally we must determine the site within which a dualist posits the boundary between the transcendent and the non-transcendent, and in which the monist posits the single origin of everything. ("conservatism and progressiveness in Philosophy" 1959)

What we can notice is that the third "dimension" of the box is missing and is replaced by further refinement of problems arising out of the monism-dualism problematic. However this is not quite true as the issue of partial-universalism comes back, with a vengeance, in purely cosmological dualism in its attempts to solve the third problem of relating the higher and the lower. Working down these four problems then gives us, if I have worked it out correctly, 27 main types.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bob Goudzwaard and Climate Change

WYSOCS are putting on a day conference featuring Bob Goudzwaard and Sir John Houghton called Climate Change and Global Economy Bob Goudzwaard has developed a critique of goal-orientated action. In an interview with Bruce Wearne he says:
“As a Christian I worry about extreme goal-orientation dominating our lives, as if our self-set goals produce ‘meaning’ for our lives. Meaning does not originate from self-chosen goals, but from walking on God-given ways, like the way of love, peace, justice and stewardship.”
“… all too easily we assume that self-generated growth is the way ahead. But if we see ourselves as ‘the people of the way’ we see themselves as sent on our way - in our Western liberal culture we are told that we need to send ourselves, to keep on extending ourselves further and further, pushing the limits of our comfort zones. Such growth is idolatrous. ‘People of the Way’, on the other hand, implies a relativity of all self-set targets, and that includes the targets of growth and development. It is God who has sent us on His way”
Bob Goudzwaard spoke on Uprooting Poverty this time last year at WYSOCS where he outlined a proposal based on The Way and The Spirit. Andrew Basden has written a short review here where he summarizes thus:
“Goals have become our nemesis. We would do better to substitute for our goal-oriented solutions (so much change by 2015 A.D.) a step-by-step orientation to "The Way". Each step would be a re-alignment to the norms of justice and care in obedience to God. We shall find horizons open out as we do so. Today we are powerless to change this evil system - but the Holy Spirit, who comes to convict and heal, does occasionally destroy whole systems that enslave (e.g. Apartheid). Let us pray, and cast ourselves on God's salvation.”
I am sorry not to be able to attend what is sure to be an excellent event. If you are able to get there do.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Danielson: a Family Movie

'Danielson: a Family Movie' is being shown at Grace Church Hackney on Sunday 26th November, 8pm (Doors 7.30pm). Free Entry (with a whip round for the director). According to the flyer it is
a documentary about unbridled creativity vs. accessibility, Christian faith vs. popular culture, underground music vs. survival, and family vs. individuality. The film follows Daniel Smith, an eccentric musician and visual artist, as he leads his four siblings and best friend to indie-rock stardom, mentoring the then unknown Sufjan Stevens along the way. The Danielson Family performs in white nurse costumes to symbolize the healing power of the Good News, a recurring subject matter. Though tepidly received by the Christian music world, they are widely embraced by the mainstream independent music community. Highly recommended viewing for anyone interested/involved in music or art business, even if you’ve never heard of Danielson.
There is a review of the film here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Blessings and Humour

I guess we reformationals are not well known for our vivacious good humour, but there was plenty of laughs in Leeds and this photo gives a sense of how much we genuinely enjoyed our time together. Two of my favourite moments came from very dead pan, and self-effacing response by Steve Bishop to a question about his presentation, and Gareth Jones' magical realist account of his spiritual journey from mountain top epiphany in Wales to Dooyeweerdian philosophy in Manchester.
As to the title, I've used this as an occassional alternative to the more traditional "God Bless" at the end of an e mail. I was told Bob Goudzwaard often uses it and I think its wonderful. We reformationals need to be all about blessings and humour.