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Sunday, March 29, 2009


Problems with Ken Wilber's Metanarrative

Metanarratives – totalizing schemes or language games – are, like medieval first principles, frequently circular. The end, triumphantly, confirms the beginning, However, the circularity of Ken Wilber's integralism, even more so than the better-known version (in my field) by Pitirim A. Sorokin, is particularly vicous.

Wilber's model begins with the mythic premodern, continues with the modern and, then, the postmodern, and culminates in the integral. To Wilber, the integral incorporates, and explains, the previous stages. Here is Wilber:

Instead of attacking the paucity of the modern and postmodern worldviews—which is the standard move by spiritual and new-paradigm advocates—it is perhaps more adept to reformulate and reconstruct the premodern interpretations of Spirit in light of modern and postmodern developments, such that the enduring fundamentals of the premodern, modern, and postmodern forms of Spirit's own display can all be honored by trimming their absolutisms and acknowledging their true but partial natures (which is surely what Spirit does as it moves through its own manifestations in the premodern, modern, and postmodern world: just who did you think was authoring all that?).

Indeed, Wilber seemingly opposes all "absolutisms" except for his own. However, my difficulty with his approach, as a nominalist, is that he begins with two substantially realist stages (the premodern and the modern), moves on to a nominalist stage (the postmodern), and concludes with another realist stage (the integral). Consequently, while Wilber's framework may offer some appealing synergy for the new ager or transpersonalist, it is, to me, distinctly unsatisfying.


">"> At April 2, 2009 at 11:50 AM , Blogger ZenSociology said...

Part of the problem is the occidental prism/prison of language. Working to transcend that which has indexicality and that which is by definition 'noumenal' as opposed to phenomenal (to invoke the Kantian division) requires explanation within language. I enjoyed Wilbur's No Boundary for its thorough attempt to tap into that extra-linguistic aspect of somatic ontology.

Recent attempts by symbolic interactionists (i.e. Vannini and Waskul 2006) have tried to bridge this gap, though the challenge is working within the sociological tradition which fuses representation to language and decides that the representation is itself the beginning and end to consider.

The reason I am interested in the somatic mediation of the linguistic self is that there appears to be a dialectical, reflexive relation between the two. That way we can begin to formulate ways out of the 'true/partial' dichotomy, a problem seems to illuminate why we find the sayings and behaviours of the Zen master so vexing.

">"> At April 2, 2009 at 1:56 PM , Blogger Benjamin said...

The paradox is of course that language or significant symbols allow for the construction of society/culture/education and self. With the self as both object and subject we gain freedom from the bonds of nature. Yet, we are then trapped in a social web of meaning that is not always of our own making. This can often result in isolation and meaninglessness if we settle for a material world that avoids noumenal investigation. Spiritual practice such as mediation and prayer can help the self return to the ground of Being. A place that we slowly begin to recognize as a return to oneness and unity but without the baggage of the limited self. (experiencing that you are that drop returning to the ocean) Language is a tool to assist in the journey but like zen says,do not get trapped in the method, the finger points to the moon, don't loose yourself in the finger pointing because you will miss the real show. Once the self experiences the spirit, symbols are recognized for what they are, tools to point with but not to get lost with. Perhaps the struggle is not to be overly dogmatic with what ever frame of reference helps define your reality. We have made a fetish out of the phenomenal and made it void of Being. The spiritual experience points to a deep mystical symphony in the background, muted by all that has been reified, and only the soul can hear it. Here is the dialectic of noumena/phenomena--- Polish the mirror of the phenomenal heart so as to reflect the noumenal spirit.

--I will sign off with Habermas

"The human interest in autonomy and responsibility is not mere fancy, for it can be apprehended a priori. What raises us out of nature...is language. Through its structure, autonomy and responsibility are posited for us. Our first sentence expresses unequivocably the intention of universal unconstrained consensus." -Habermas


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