Levinas and AQAL Integral

I can’t and won’t do a summary of Levinas’ brilliant difficult crazy (in a good way) Totality and Infinity. If you want such, here. All I will say is that totality is the world of events, facts, theories, science, politics, business.  The world of violence, the world of compromise, the world where everything is turned into a One.  This includes mysticism btw.  Where the many, the parts are placed and rubbed away in the machine.  All of which is necessary and yet brutal as hell.

Infinity is the repose the transcendence of this Unicity by the face of the Other.  By enjoyment in the daily activities of life.  In habitation, the feminine, the use and enjoyment of implements, food, and again the encounter with the truly Other.  Who comes to us below from on high as Levinas would say.  Infinity is peace and pluralism (according to Levinas).

What I’d like to do though is compare Levinas with AQAL integral thought. The Lower Left Quadrant, the intersubjective in Wilber’s philosophy owees its existence most profoundly to two thinkers:  Heidegger and Habermas.

The intersubjective in Heidegger was the clearing within which beings arose and communicated.  It was a historical turn to phenomenology (away from the mentalist idealism of Husserl).  It was a great and enduring insight but flawed in numerous ways.  Not the least Heidegger’s embrace of Nazism.

Habermas retains Heidegger’s intersubjective but sees it rather as the domain of communicative intersubjective reason and therefore a new grounding for the modern project taking into account (and yet not being limited by) the critiques of postmodernity concerning monological early modern philosophy (as in Adam Smith, Locke, Hume, Descartes).

Now I don’t want to diminish any of those accomplishments, particularly Habermas’ (and Wilber’s), especially in an American context which struggles to understand the phenomenological and the intersubjective both, over relying on the individualist anglo-american strain (along with pragmatism) as well as scientistic thought and religious fundamentalism and euphoric individualist experiential lines.

That said Levinas stands in deep criticism of both Heidegger and Habermas from the intersubjective but as a phenomenon of affect and relationship rather than communication (Habermas) or practices (Heidegger).  For Levinas this intersubjective, what he calls the philosophy of the neuter, still reduces distinctly unique individuals into a large whole.  The return of Totality in other words.  With Heidegger especially we see the results of the reduction of the many to the one in politics (Fascism).  Levinas as a Jew was particularly disturbed by his own reliance (in his earlier philosophy especially) on Heidegger.

Levinas also stands in anti-mystical strain of Judaism, promoting the distinction, dualism, and relationship of philosophy to the oneness of mysticism, whether classical (e.g. Neoplatonism) or more recent (i.e. Hegelianism).  Totality includes Spirit or History or the classless society redeeming all of history through an end to history.  Infinity stands opposed to all these machinations.

In that sense Levinas has a valid criticism of integral thought and AQAL in particular.  It is part of Totality to the degree it focuses particularly on maps, theories, convergences, etc.  Even the intersubjective of AQAL is still for Levinas insufficient in the regard of the encounter with the Other.

Levinas book is a great work of philosophy.  It’s a contemplation of being of life.  I see life differently, feel differently, am differently molded and aware (not unlike the experience of reading Being and Time by Heidegger).  This is phenomenology at its best.  Existentialism at its best.  It is totally impractical as a philosophy which is its greatest gift to leave the world of practical, to leave it unredeemed, unintegrated for a time, to rot elsewheres.  To not enter into some special absorptive mystical state (though that has its place no doubt) or continually focus on consciousness to the neglect of affect and bodily perception.

When Levinas has to be push through the grinder of Totality (which of course he must eventually) he turns out in AQAL terms green.  The cover of the book is helpfully that color.  His emphasis on radical pluralism, fear of integration as tyranny, nonviolence, the Other, all this is green pluralism.  Better politically at pointing out what is currently missing and wrong then offering any solution.

But the work isn’t imo best understood in that light.  It is better seen as a movement, as I said before, to drop from all that totality and enter a different sphere and way of life for a time.  Most primally in relation with the Other.  Without all the distinctions, necessary though they are, without too much drama, subplots, and the like.  Without having to fix or be fixed.

It confirms my general sense that Western thought is much subtler when it comes to the dualistic world.

On the other hand, my long held feeling concerning Wilber’s work is that the primary most fundamental most profound element in all of it is true but partial.  That everyone is true, everyone is partial.  As a way of life, a kind of MO.  That being said my excursions into the un-integral (mercifully) of Levinas is in this spirit.  Perspectives in Wilber-5 are the reason behind true/partial and the AQAL system is simply a certain configuration of data streams and mapping of the arising of worlds.

A both/and on this one is not to use this work to only criticize Wilber as overly Hegelian, totalistic, hegemonic, doing violence to the Other, overly mental.  That’s too easy and not particularly helpful and has already been done.  Rather it would to retain an integral sense and yet a non-integral sense simultaneously.  Each with their own spheres, own times and places.  A remembrance of the Other, the Many, the plural, the different even in the midst of our (necessary) work of Totality.

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Published in: on June 13, 2008 at 11:29 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] sermon follows my meditations on the work of Emmanuel Levinas; the Biblical text for my reflections is Exodus 1:8-2:10 (see below). The text of my sermon for […]


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