Derrida Construct Aware? Redux

Warning: Nerd Alert. Heavy integral theorizing ahead.  Read at your own mental peril.

A while back (June of last year to be precise) I wrote a short piece commenting on an article by Gary Hampson in Integral Review. Gary just recently commented on the original post, along with some questions for me.

Gary’s original article is available here in pdf from. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click the link next to his name.

My original post from last year is here. Gary’s comment is at the bottom of that post.

I’m going to take a bigger view and hope that in doing so I cover the questions Gary has asked.  Much more after the jump:

Gary’s article is wide ranging and very sharp.  He argues for a reevaluation (actually as he says more properly a “reviewing”, i.e. a re-cognizing) of postmodernism from the perspective of integral. This includes a number of sub-elements: e.g. reviewing of postformal cognition. On the main points of that effort, I think his work is a real significant contribution to integral thought. Two thumbs up for my money.

What this means is via this process of reviewing, green/postmodernity is redeemed in a sense. It is healed and made usable for the integralist. The often jarring disjunction between green/yellow seen in the integral community is (dis)solved by going turquoise/indigo, in which case green is not frightening but simply limited play/tool.

I would also recommend his problematizing of the notion in Wilber’s writings of the mean green meme (see Appendix A in Gary’s article).

One way to square this circle between the two is to say that what Ken is doing is trying to push people from green (postmodernism) to teal-turquoise (integral, post-postmodernism) hence the amplified rhetoric. What Gary has done/is doing is re-translating down the Spiral. That is, he is safely and stably within the integral frame and is re-interpreting (“re-viewing” in the mind and heart) the place of green (postmodernity) from within the integral world. So for those who have already achieved such a shift in consciousness, Gary’s work is to be preferred. It’s like memory–the more we remember a story one way, it eventually did happen that way, whether or not it “really did” or not.

All that said, there is one minor disagreement over a sub-point in the article (in larger agreement of the overall arc & thrust of the thing). This minor disagreement involves Derrida and his placement/categorization within Wilber’s and Cook-G.’s developmental schemes.

A tentative (very tentative) speculation of mine is that Gary has confused his (proper/correct) re-interpretation of Derrida-in-integral with Derrida as Derrida is. If that makes sense. I think what he has done is very useful but should not be confused for anything other than a very heterodox (even heretical) read of Derrida.  So long as that is kept in mind, I think it’s great. Because it is that way if we re-member that way.

And before I get further afield I want to say that my overall view of colors/levels and such is that they are only at best first approximations.  i.e. We have to have a common descriptive language I suppose but what is of real value is the actual spaces (“locations” in Wilber’s wording) of these writers.  i.e. Following their paths, exploring the worlds, mindsets they uncover.  Otherwise colors are meangingless and at their worst distract from real quests for knowledge. 

So anyway, with my quasi-agnostic position on the value of colors laid out, let me get into them. 

To give a comparison (this from Integral Spirituality p. 69, see image above) of the two lists and how they match up (remember for Spiral equivalents, amber=blue, teal=yellow, magenta=purple):

Wilber= Cook-G.
Indigo = Ego Aware
Turquoise= Construct Aware
Teal = Autonomous
Green =Individualistic
Orange = Conscientious
Amber = Self-protective
Red = Impulsive
Magenta= Symbiotic

So according to this schema, if Gary is right, Derrida is turquoise. As Gary agrees (p.133 of his text) C-G sees the green meme as equivalent to her individualistic. This is where Wilber would traditionally place Derrida and I am in agreement with that basic proposition. [But with a slight twist I’ll get to in a second.] At most like Foucault, Derrida may have been intuiting the beginning of teal, but never fully stabilized there seems to me.  Flow without open-ended chaotic structure/integration.

Returning to Wilber’s image above, notice in the cognitive line a few descriptors/qualifiers of the levels. For green KW has Pluralistic Mind which reads “meta-systematic”. Teal is Low-Vision Logic qualified as paradigmatic. Turquoise (which is the construct aware equivalent) is Higher Vision Logic qualified as cross-paradigmatic.

Looking at that I think can help clarify some of the ground I think. So green by this reading is certainly post-formal. (Formal being equivalent to orange/modernist). It is not however vision-logic. Yet still meta-systematic, which I think Derrida is and something Gary is getting at but misinterprets as construct aware.

There is a meta-system to be sure in Derrida’s writings, which I summarize below. But it is a meta-system that serves the end goal of plurality (here I read Derrida in light of the influence of Emmanuel Levinas), hence green.

Much of the confusion I think stems from the use of the word relativist by Wilber, Gary, myself & others. I actually prefer the term pluralist. Pluralist means just that–plurality of voices, opinions, views. It is not paradigmatic however insofar as there is no integration. Now integration may be a crock and the pluralists may be right that this is just the reformulation of normativity, exclusivity, and uniformity (i.e re-entrenching orange modernity). I think that’s incorrect, but that is always out there as a possibility I suppose.

But granting that something like this C-G/Wilber view is correct, then no I don’t think Derrida (deconstruction more generally) is either paradigmatic or cross-paradigmatic. That is neither autonomous nor construct aware in C-G’s schema.

A number of Gary’s questions to my post directly or indirectly deal with this notion of relativism. What I said in the original post was:

I think the problem stems from this idea that green is relativist. And relativist is taken to mean that the person can not make any judgments or believes in no better/worse. No one can actually do that. There is plenty of vertigo in postmodernism and a difficulty in some to make clear distinctions, but eventually pushed people come down on a side.

In other words, if relativism is taken to mean that everything is relative, this is clearly a performative self-contradiction; it’s an absolute statement. Eventually people will value something over something else. But what they may value is say plurality over unicity.

And promoting plurality is itself a fairly unified position.  So moving the debate onto that terrain shows that it is never plurality versus unity but rather different combinations of unity and plurality.  Orange (having a 3rd person point of view cognitively) tends to see the other but mostly as either to be subsumed into one’s own system or a threat.  Green on the other hand sees the other (at its best) th plural as having its own value and own right to exist on its own terms.  (Except usually for the other that is Western modernity but that’s a whole other story).   

And Derrida is no different in this regard.

Derrida is described a post-structuralist. Structuralism as my old philosophy professor (who taught me the subject) used to say was “Linguistic Kantianism.”

By that he meant the following. [This is a little bit a detour but I’ll come back to the main boulevard shortly, I promise].

The cribs notes version of Kant is summarized thusly: no perception without conception. Meaning the mind never sees anything “bare”. Every sense (percept) is in fact always already an interpretation (conception). The structures of the mind that Kant articulated shape our vision of the world. They (con)struct our reality.

Structuralism as Linguistic Kantianism then means the following. Language is parallel here to the mind in Kant. There is never linguistic perception without linguistic conception. i.e. There is never simply describing something as it is. Language is not a clear window into the thing as it is (just as with Kant neither is the mind).

The structures in this case however lie not in the mind (as for Kant) but rather in language itself. Often in grammar (Derrida’s first book is on the subject). Language then is a construction not a reflection. The structure of language (for structuralists) was what was really speaking whenever anything was said or written not authorial intention, the inner self, etc.

Hence structuralists proclaimed the end of the author, the end of the subject, the end of history and so on. It was the end of phenomenology (a la Husserl) and hermeneutics (a la Heidegger) both of which presumed this inner world either individually (phen.) or communally (herm.).

The structuralists came to see binary opposition at the core of these linguistic structures–which remember were the real bearer of truth not the subject. e.g. Male/Female. Being/Becoming.

Derrida critiques elements of structuralism but as a post-structuralist is entirely within that frame. He accepts the basic structuralist account/critique of interiority. What he will do–and rather brilliantly–is show that the binary opposites the structuralists detail develop historically. Structuralism tended to ahistoric (descriptive rather than historically understood).

Derrida shows that the signifier (the material element of discourse, i.e. words on a page, vocal chord vibrations) always slides back under the signified (the intended speech). One binary Derrida always points to, central to his thought is the absent/present. The absent for Derrida while treated in the history of Western thought as subsidiary is actually for him primary. One of his more famous and radical claims was that grammar precedes the speaking of a language. Because the signifier (grammar) always slides back under the signified (speaking). Because structures speak not people. The absent/forgotten (grammar) slides back and pushes out the present (intended speech).

Why I would say that this is not construct aware/cross-paradigmatic is Derrida does not detail (so far as I can tell and I’ve read a good deal of his writings) what would be in Wilber-5 the perspective, i.e. the prior move of accepting structuralism. Structuralism is in Wilber’s perspectives view is an outside (3rd person) view of the inside (1st person). KW’s work is structuralist (3rd person view of interior realities) as both he and Gary point out, but I would say it is construct aware because it describes itself as such. It points to its own perspectives and level–that is aware of its own construction.  As opposed to simply performing construction (Derrida) and realizing that there is construction.

And even deconstruction. I would argue the prior move (the taking of the perspective that reveals structuralism and that structuralism in turn reveals) is a moment of presence over absence undercutting Derrida’s total and absolute prioritizing of the absent. Pull this thread and Derrida unravels. But it’s worth following his unraveling. In fact, I would say that he is the master par excellence of the feeling and space of unraveling (but no integration). It’s just that at some point, you can’t live in that space forever. You have to eat and do things and make ethical choices. But it’s always a real space in the Kosmos and one worth checking into and back into periodically. 

All of which is definitely not to say he (Derrida) is not in many ways a brilliant thinker who brought forth some central insights of permanent value. I think he was and did. Its also undoubtedly true (as Gary describes) that Wilber comes from a line that goes Kant–>Foucault–>Habermas. Habermas held a higher opinion of Foucault’s work than Derrida’s and so does Wilber.

Rather than choosing between Foucault or Derrida, I would say they were simply dealing with very different things. Both I believe had intimations of a post-pluralist mindset but never made it. Both interestingly ended their lives in dialogue with Habermas (teal thinker par excellence), which I think is highly pertinent and telling. Derrida at the end of the day (and this was my point that no one is a pure relativist) basically had to sign on to Habermas’ political writings on the role of the EU (paradigmatic politics relative to that context).

Both Foucault and Derrida I would say reached dead ends. Brilliant dead ends and the journey they got to those dead ends is worth the recapitulation. Also according to my understanding of what Gary has done, their respective works can be re-imagined in an integral frame.  For Wilber’s re-view of Foucault through integral, see here

And deconstruction can then work as Gary argues along with construction as complementary not contradictory. But only I would say after it has gone through the grinder of integral.  Derrida’s promotion of the absent/grammar/the underside could be and should be held within all the higher stages, but we must be cognizant we are placing it/interpreting it in such a way. Left on its own, as it were, it does not (imo) reveal a construct aware space.


Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 11:06 am  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you, Chris. You seem quite clear on this. I especially appreciate your pointing out that finding some hierarchy here or there in Derrida doesn’t necessarily mean he’s integral. It seems obvious now that I see it, but it wasn’t so obvious at first.

    At any rate, I think it’s great how you frame postmodernism as something for integral to use but that sooner or later there has to be integration, value judgments, cross-paridigmatic thinking, and Derrida doesn’t offer any. I would like to know, however–because I am not a student of Derrida and have read very little of his work–just what he offers that your average pluralist does not. What makes Derrida unique? How might integral use Derrida? How do you use Derrida? Could you give an example or two? Also, if there are any particularly useful books or articles by Derrida I would appreciate knowing what they are. I don’t have much time to spend on him (the shorter they are the better), but I feel there may be something important there, and I would like to understand it better.

    I would also like to comment on the Mean Green Meme issue. Hampton relies on Todovic’s study for his critique of the idea, but I believe the methodology Todovic uses is quite flawed. She uses a test where subjects accept or reject certain statements, check boxes next to statements that are “most like me” or “least like me” or that “I strongly agree with” or “strongly disagree with,” and finally a sentence completion test. This is problematic for a couple of reasons if we are investigating the MGM.

    Todovic brings attention to one of them on page 8, without seeing the implications of it on her study: “What he [Graves] noticed about Green is that individuals don’t want to admit to having negative feelings about others.” But the test depends on the individual making such an admission. And I think we all know that we like to “shine” in these tests, whether they are anonymous or not, and more likely to give our highest response rather than our lowest response. After all, it’s a test! But furthermore, part of the idea is that Green isn’t aware of these attacks; it’s a blindspot; it’s a shadow, if you will (Green values, Red shadow), so a test like this would never uncover it.

    It would take a long-term study where people were observed in real-life or near-real-life situations. Rather than questioning one individual at a time (and just for a few hours at the most, it seems) and depending on the subjects’ openness and awareness of themselves, qualified researchers would have to observe a group of such people interacting over a long period of time. At least that’s one possibility. But a sentence-completion test or anything like it will not uncover shadow because shadow by definition is what a person is not aware of and also probably doesn’t want to admit.

    Todovic also suggests that MGM proponents are really blue (Amber)/Orange wanting to feel elite rather than Yellow (Teal). She says she has data to support this, that Orange will strongly reject Green, while only 7% of Yellow will reject Green, so she concludes Wilber and co. must be Blue/Orange. But there are at least a couple of problems with this: Her test was looking for systems “highly rejecting” Green meme, and of course Yellow would not “highly reject” Green since it has just passed through it and understands it (if it highly rejected at Yellow (Teal), which often happens I think, then it would be Red shadow, the Terrifying Teal Meme). Blue and Orange would reject Green strongly because they can’t make heads or tails of it. If Yellow is healthy, it will be integrating Green, not rejecting it, so 7% of Yellow highly rejecting Green would make sense.

    Todovic also tries to paint Wilber and co. as Blue or Orange by saying that MGM proponents confess to a mission to uplift Green and that we don’t find people with missions in Green/Yellow. In Green perhaps not, but in Yellow sure, and in third-tier (with the Boddhisatva vow/saintly commitment and such)even more so. At any rate, it seems like a defense of Green rather than an integral critique of the MGM.



  2. If you haven’t read Todovic’s study, you will find it here (the first item in the search):,DGUS:2006-25,DGUS:en&q=Spiraldynamics%2eorg%2fdocuments%2fMGM%5fhyp%2epdf++

  3. […] Reply to D. Marshall David left a long and very thoughtful comment to a post from a few days ago on Derrida.  Go check out the comment. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: