Derrida and Siva: An Abhinavaguptan look at the transcendental signified.
More exactly, my hope is to offer a basic analysis and evaluation of Derrida's metaphysics by comparing his postulations concerning "a transcendental signified," history, language, and the possibilities of understanding, to postulations that were conceived beyond the parameters of his Western metaphysical tradition, as he himself defines that tradition's genesis in ancient Greece and maturation in Europe. I propose that Abhinavagupta, a Saivite philosopher who lived and taught in the Kashmir region of India from 993 to 1015 A.D., anticipates Derrida's fundamental postulations but at the same time limits and qualifies the deconstructive argument through a metaphysical epistemology that the West, by and large, has yet to come to grips with or even notice. Though deconstruction as a critique and interpretive practice has purportedly discomposed the epistemology of the West (not a bad thing in itself), Abhinavagupta's postulations suggest that, deconstruction should be understood as only locally relevant and ultimately as self-defeating -- a de-liberative, as opposed to a liberative, attitude. Deconstruction as a metaphysics requires devotion that, in turn, requires devotees; interpreters, who, to use Abhinavagupta's own words, "deliberate but are unable to reach a successful conclusion" (Abhinavagupta [A.G. henceforth] 271). Consider, for example, Spivak, who describes her devotion in this way: "By inaugurating the open-ended indefiniteness of textuality -- by thus placing in the abyss' (mettre en abime), as the French expression would literally have it -- [`deconstruction'] shows us the lure of the abyss as freedom. The fall into the abyss of deconstruction inspires us with as much pleasure as fear. We are intoxicated with the prospect of never hitting bottom" (Spivak lxxvii).
In part, deconstruction theory arose out of Derrida's analysis of the work of Edmund Husserl and Claude Levi-Strauss, two thinkers who, in their respective fields of phenomenology and structuralism, asserted that literal language could be used to define and articulate objective scientific truth. it is worth considering his discussion of these authors -- specially what is valuable in this discussion -- before going on to Abhinavagupta.
In "Genesis and Structure" and "Phenomenology," (1959) Derrida summarized the evolution of Husserl's thought and revealed the insoluble complications Husserl found himself struggling with as he tried to provide the conceptual basis for an objective scientific language. Basically, Husserl hoped to be able to use literal language to define phenomenal objects in an absolute sense so they might be understood in and of themselves as discrete objects. This process of absolute definition which he called "eidetic reduction" would distill the objective identity of a phenomenological object and reveal its unique "essence" "as such." If "eidetic reduction" worked, science would be able to refer to phenomenological objects as absolute determinations instead of objects defined in terms of relationships to other things. Science would be able to prove absolutely that it knew exactly what it was "talking" about. However, Husserl was compelled to face the reality that phenomenological objects are somehow created and appear to human perception in time. That a phenomenological object had a temporal identity posed a problem to eidetic reduction, that Husserl could not come to grips with, for he realized that the object could not be constituted solely in an atemporal "eternal" sense but that the reduction must also conform to the flow of time and change accordingly. Furthermore, he had to account for the presence of the viewer who was doing the reduction, for the viewer was also in a state of flux. Not only that, he had to explain how a single viewer, under these conditions, could be considered to be objective, that is, capable of thinking in a mode that could transcend their own finite and subjective perspective. Husserl had to explain how a phenomenological object could be constituted discretely as opposed to relatively and how such a constitution, if it was possible at all, would address the issue of objectivity when the problem of time and the viewer's perspective was considered. By referring to Husserl's own words, Derrida effectively illustrated how Husserl reverted to metaphysical terms to explain away, or at least forestall so he could continue to write about, these problems.
Derrida argued that at points of theoretical crisis when these problems might have been solved by a scientific and objective means, Husserl remained metaphysical. Husserl established continuity in his theories -- continuity that transcended theoretical problems -- by referring to "an Idea in the Kantian sense, that is the irruption of the infinite into consciousness, which permits the unification of the temporal flux of consciousness just as it unifies the object and the world by anticipation, and despite an irreducible incompleteness" (W&D 162). In confronting the problems of time and subjectivity, Husserl theorized that consciousness is always consciousness of something,' a theory that Derrida refers to as "transcendental intentionality" (162). According to Derrida, "transcendental intentionality" is "described ... as an original structure, an archi-structure (Ur-Struktur) with four poles and two correlations: the noetic-noematic [mindspirit-thoughtmeaning] correlation or structure and the morphe-hyle [form-matter] correlation or structure" (162). Derrida proceeds to explain how these oppositional relationships, or "structures," serve to define what each "pole" signifies, but also how these terms themselves are rooted in metaphysics and are more hypothetical than substantial. Their hypothetical nature makes them less suitable for rigorous scientific theorization than Husserl himself realized, argues Derrida. The "noema," for instance, "is neither of the world nor of consciousness" Derrida calls the theoretical points where Husserl might have solved the problems scientifically, but instead reverted to metaphysics, "openings." The "opening" is where rational, scientific thought can no longer proceed to construe and where, to keep the construal going, a metaphysical and transcendental thought which has been inherited from the past appears as a bridge of thought to overpass the theoretical dilemma: "This nothing [e.g., the noema] is what permits the transcendental reduction, (164). The "opening" however, subverted Husserl's scientific effort according to Derrida, for "the transcendentality of the opening is simultaneously the origin and the undoing, the condition of possibility and a certain impossibility of every structure and of any systematic structuralism" (163). The "opening" allowed Husserl to explain away his structural and temporal dilemmas, though not in objective and scientific terms. At the same time, the opening,, being the point where rational explanation ends, is the point where rationalist criticism of Husserl's theories would commence. The "opening" cannot be defended on purely rationalistic, objectivistic, scientific grounds nor can it be proven on those grounds. In Derrida's future work, this idea of the "opening" would become the basis for the deconstructive gesture.
Let us, before moving on, consider that the scope of Husserl's effort and its stymying had little if any effect upon the so-called sciences of the twentieth century. Phenomenology's failure to realize what it set out to do did not cause Western science to backtrack, side-step or even dally in its own "progress" towards the realization of many of its fascinating and constructive, as well as destructive, projects. in fact, there has been in logophallophonocentric history no century more explicitly, outrageously and flauntingly productive in scientific terms, structures and events than the one we, our parents and our grandparents, have nearly just lived through. As a practical and common-sense consideration, then, because it is a decades-delayed echoing of Husserl's failure written in French rather than German, Derrida's academic exercise must be understood as being far more marginal in its cogency to the sciences than Husserl's truly heroic metaphysical work. As Husserl's failure to create an objective scientific language did not even come close to stopping, for example, the atom bomb from being imagined, invented, mass-produced and used, Derrida's criticism, too, will probably have no effect in cleaning up the messes that have been created as a result.
Within the new context of structuralism, Derrida retained the idea of the "opening," but gave it the synonym "rupture" a rhetorical modification that surely accompanied an increase in self-confidence. Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" (1966) assessed Claude Levi-Strauss's claim that structural anthropology was a proper science because it was based on the "science" of linguistics, and that the literal language used in his analyses of myth was used in an objective way to arrive at absolute determinations. Because Levi-Strauss's himself was rather arrogant in his declaration that structural anthropology would articulate an historically unprecedented scientific understanding of human behaviors and creations, he was especially suited for the same type of criticism that Derrida had formulated out of his study of Husserl. Levi-Strauss's methodology involved the assumption that literal language contained universal codes that dictated what was possible to be thought. These codes, he argued, were revealed by a series of binary oppositions contained in literal language. His was an inductive method that believed if the basic laws involved in the construction of the codes could be defined, these laws would apply to all of human creation and behavior, no matter what culture or time period. However, Derrida revealed that the methodology chosen by Levi-Strauss "consists in conserving all these old concepts within the domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used" (W&D 284). (Ironically, Derrida's own work, as he admits, fits this description.) The parallel between Derrida's criticism of Husserl's resuscitation of ideas of an archaic idealism and its usage in this later criticism of Levi-Strauss's conservation of "old concepts" is clear enough. As Husserl's scientific work had become metaphysical as a result of his return to Kantianisms, analogously, Levi-Strauss's "ethnographic bricolage [the ad hoc use of old concepts] deliberately assumes its mythopoetic function" (287). In the same way that the issue of temporality formed an important basis of his critique of Husserl, Derrida saw that in the work of Levi-Strauss it must be recognized that the respect for structurality, for the internal originality of the structure, compels a neutralization of time and history" (291). Hence, Levi-Strauss's discourse was denied its scientific status.
The "structure" refered to throughout the article was "that structure of structures, [literal] language" (291). According to Derrida, "the entire history of the concept of structure, before the rupture of which we are speaking, must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations for the center" (279). As an introduction to his critique of Levi-Strauss, he set forth his general history of language which outlined in uncertain terms the idea that literal language is abstract and that its users must believe that it refers to something concrete. in other words, he tried to show that literal language is a metaphysical object unsuited in its very nature for scientific usages: "I have said that faults menacing a discourse which continues, as with Levi-Stauss in particular, to consider itself scientific"(288). In the beginning of history, literal langauge was conceived of in a way that Derrida leaves unsketched. The next stage was "when the structurality of structure had to begin to be thought, that is to say, repeated"(280). In less recondite terms, the referential nature of literal language involving the separation of the signifier and the signified seems to have become apparent to its users when it was used by them.
Henceforth, it became necessary to think both the law which somehow
governed the desire for the center fie. the signified] in the constitution of
structure [i.e. literal language] and the process of signification which
displacements and its substitutions for this law of die central
presence -- but a
central presence which was never itself, which has always already been
exiled outside of itself into its substitute. The substitute does not
itself for anything that has somehow existed before it(280).
In other words, to make literal language work, literal language users had to believe in "the law" which became, in Derrida's opinion, the Western way of thinking, of making meaning; "The law" was the same thing as thought: "it became necessary to think ... the law of the central presence." "The law" equated the signified (i.e., "center") being referred to, to the signifier (i.e., "structure") used to make the reference. The belief in the "displacement" which substituted a word (i.e., structure") for an object (i.e., "center") was, co-evally, the act of making meaning or knowing about something, the process of signification." Due to the law ... and the process of signification" the "central presence ... was never itself" -- at least when it was transformed into "its substitute" which was literal language. According to Derrida's literal language, unlike the "central presence," did not substitute itself for anything; hence, literal language became osmosized into the Western mind as both the accepted way, and predeterminant, of thought, despite the drastic difference or void between the signifier and the signified. In anticipation of what Abhinavagupta will posit, it is important to note that Derrida's concept of "the law ... and the process of signification" conflates literal language and thought in an absolute and unsubtle sense. He seems to have inherited this idea directly from Levi-Strauss's structuralist idea that 1) "myth is language" (Levi-Strauss quoted in Richter 870) and 2) "The true constituent units of a myth are not the isolated relations but bundles of such relations [i.e., structures], and it is only as bundles that these relations can be put to use and combined so as to produce a meaning"(872). It can be seen, as Patrick Hogan has argued, that "Derrida's notion of logocentrism encompasses both the belief in semantic presence [i.e., the central presence, is not in the word] and the belief in perceptual presence [i.e., that our perception of the world is always organized by our linguistic system']" (Hogan 56-7). Literal language, "that structure of structures," in Derrida's history of "the law," became thought -- thinking -- itself.
Henceforth, it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no center, that
the center could not be thought in the form of a present-being, that the
center had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a
nonlocus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into play
Then, according to Derrida, the "rupture" occurred.
This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the
moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything [?] became
discourse ... that is to say a system in which the central signified, the
or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of
differences. The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain
and interplay of signification infinitely (280).
Concluding this part of his discussion, Derrida explained that this rupture "is no doubt part of the totality of an era, our own, but still it has already begun to proclaim itself and begun to work" (280). He gave credit to those authors in whose discourses this occurrence has most nearly maintained its most radical formulation:" Nietzsche, for his "critique of metaphysics, the critique of the concepts of Being and truth, for which were substituted the concepts of play, interpretation and sign;" Freud, for his "critique of self-presence, that is, the critique of self-consciousness, of die subject, of self-identity and of self-proximity or self-possession;" and, Heidegger, for his "destruction of metaphysics, of onto-theology, of the determination of Being as presence" (280). Then, after mustering an aura of authority and unstoppability by mere mention of these "critiques," Derrida, self-pronounced heir to all they had begun, proclaimed that "there is no transcendental or privileged signified and ... the domain or the interplay of signification has, henceforth, no limit" (281).
However it may be respected by some as a premier work of scholarship, Derrida's history of "the law, is inadequate and unjustifiably absolutist. Though the logocentric presence/absence signifier/signified postulation allow Derrida to say that "language bears within it the necessity of its own critique" (284), and from that "certitude" proceed with his deconstructive gesture, this postulation cannot explain the history of literal language, nor come close to locating its purported "rupture" as a historical event, even vaguely. What really, would occur "if one erase[d] the radical difference between the signifier and signified"?(281) Why, it would be a miracle. The erasure would mean that, simultaneous with use of literal language in the act of oral or written utterance, the signified "presence" that the signifier refers to would actually be born as a phenomenal and material totality out of that utterance. If I said "skyscraper," the signified, a skyscraper, would automatically appear in all of its enormity. This would truly be a singular feat -- and would have caused me immense difficulties in writing this paper -- but neither the Bible, the Greek myths or any other body of ancient metaphysical lore, or modem scientific or humanistic discourse for that matter, mentions the occurrence of such a miracle. Had such a miracle occurred, surely the ancients would have mentioned it -- they loved such happenings. If this is the case -- it cannot be shown that the ancients, the medievals or the modems in Western civilization have ever claimed to erase the radical difference between the signifier and signified" -- then, how could Derrida's "rupture" have ever occured as a historical incident, even in the blurriest of senses?
It is far plausible to assume that this so-called "rupture" has been a perpetual condition, not only within the epistemology of the West, as Derrida would have it, but, of all epistemologies in the universe that have used literal language to represent themselves; this "rupture" has always attended the use of literal language and those who have used this vehicle of expression have always been aware of the "radical difference" between signifier and signified and have always accepted and accounted for it as a psychological and hermeneutical fact. Needless to say, this "radical difference" has not kept the universe from being understood, nor people, Derrida included, from understanding what others were speaking or writing about. What is a "rupture" if it has no beginning or end? A horizon? An ocean? Empty space? Or, just a thought, thought up by somebody? Derrida's history is vague and his vocabulary recondite; both help to cover a void of reasoning.
Though perhaps a striking rhetorical device for an enfant terrible to use in establishing himself as a presence who wanted others to imagine him as having a trailblazing historic destiny and demiurgical raison d'etre in razing his elders, Derrida's "rupture" was, and is, certainly not "the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity" (293) tearing down the epistemological structure of the West he would have it to be. This "rupture" was Magilla Gorilla in the pet shop window waiting to be loved and petted and fed and cared for by Derrida in his future work -- for without those things given to it by its owner, it would be nothing. Hence, Derrida's points about the "radical difference between signifier and signified" and the consequential "rupture" amount not to an episteme-smashing discovery; they amount to an over-verbalized, subjective interpretation of the pre-existent conditions that allow his own miraculously un-deconstructed utterance to construct itself. Derrida's dread, yet tacit, adoption of the "problems" he pretends to confute, and his confessed inability to move beyond those "problems" reveals, in a qualitative sense, his metaphysics to be a mind-state of joy-wilting ressentiment(1) spot-welded to an emotional attitude of leering disdain and a boring routine of pseudo-subversive rhetorical gesticulations that inherently involve untransporting, self-multilating intellectual flagellation. His "interpretation of interpretation" "tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology -- in other words, throughout his entire history [savor this generalization -- has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and end of the game" (292). The important word here is "tries." Deconstruction cannot, by its own definition of epistemical history, be a pioneering movement in the epistemology of the West because it assesses a pre-condition of a discourse that has already occurred and thrived in spite of, and thanks to, that pre-condition; hence, "deconstruction" can never look or go forward, but only dig backwards into the past with all the elegance and arete of a grave-robber who, throbbing with jouissance, destroys the treasures of the grave he robs -- to prove that they can be destroyed. Far from being progressive, as Derrida's history of "the law" would plead, deconstruction, considered purely on its own terms, is a static metaphysical construct. Derrida's dreary metaphysics will never prove, either, that "the absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and interplay of signification infinitely" (280).
In contrast, then, to this absolutist oath of deconstruction, a universalistic generalization meant to proscribe the hermeneutical possibilities of all uses of literal language, let me freeplayfully offer to you Abhinavagupta's metaphysical postulation that we are the "transcendental signified," the holy presence that Derrida says is absent. For texts cannot read themselves and literal language cannot think; literal language, if well used, merely points a direction for thought, but only consciousness can do the trekking; literal language can suggest a destination, but only consciousness can arrive there -- even in a deconstructive reading. As Foucault correctly argued, the meanings we derive from a text are "only a projection ... of the operations that we force texts to undergo, the connections that we make, the traits that we establish as pertinent, the continuities that we recognize, or the exclusions that we practice" (Foucault quoted in Richter 983). Derrida's metaphysics of deconstruction, then, leads to aporias only because he assumes in his "law" that literal language thinks for us, and because he carefully excludes in his theories the presence of a "transcendental signified" who would use, in the act of understanding, literal language, not as an end unto itself, but merely as a pointer of direction. "Comprehension is innate" (A.G.74) says Abhinavagupta matter-of-factly. Though Derrida, so he can construct his metaphysics of deconstruction, has to separate literal language from the "transcendental signified" who would use that language, Abhinavagupta would have thought this ridiculous, for "Any experience without its relation to an experient is meaningless" (60). Hence, any use of literal language without its relation to a language-user will, for all intents and purposes, be meaningless, be aporias.
Had he not lived one thousand years ago in Kashmir, Abhinavagupta might have restated Derrida's postulation concerning the transcendental signified m this way. The presence of the transcendental signified, which is the human self who is the entire universe, determines and fixes the domain and interplay of signification according to his/her own particular hermeneutical purposes while in the realm of phenomenological appearances. As we shall see, Abhinavagupta indicates that as long as we are present in an act of reading or writing, listening or speaking, perceiving and understanding, we end the interplay of signification whenever we feel like it -- for to do otherwise is to deliberate but never reach a successful conclusion. And what's the point in intentional misunderstanding? Please, instead of answering this, imagine Abhinavagupta bowing to Derrida for, as he put it, "There are those who only make a fuss regarding the discernment of the universe. I only bow my head in respect to appease them" (272). Let's move on now to a metaphysics that gives credit to the potential of the human spirit, a metaphysics of rapture, of beautiful and cleansed perception, of outrageously and joyously expanding consciousness as sublime as the Himalayas, towering above, yet generously encradling a cozy little valley for, the breadth of deconstruction and its dysfunctional, fractional propositions concerning human thought, experience and phenomenality.
As expressed in his Paratrisika-Vivarana, Abhinavagupta's metaphysical epistemology of kauliki siddhi is intended to enable "the achievement of identity of the individual consciousness, of the empirical I with the perfect I-consciousness of Siva which comes about in this very physical body" (6). Stated in Western terms, kauliki siddhi is the awareness that the human is God, or, in respect to Derrida's metaphysics, the "transcendental signified." Siva as creator, sustainer and destroyer of the universe, is roughly equivalent in powers, though not in style, to the God of the Bible and Quran. Siva is known to the human in his anuttara, or divine consciousness and reality (literally, that which has no beyond or no Other), via four distinct stages of self-consciousness. In what follows regarding these stages of paravac, pasyanti madhyama, and vaikhari, it must be remembered that Abhinavagupta is describing, simultaneously, Siva and a single human consciousness like yours or mine, for, in the Tantric school of Kashmiri Saivism, all knowledge of Siva, who is the universe, is knowledge of the human self and the world that self finds itself in. Abhinavagupta's assertion is similar in intention, but not in explication, to the assertion that begat Western philosophy: Socrates's injunction to Know thyself., To know one's self would be to know the universe, the self being the matrix of all knowledge.
In his most perfect identity revealing anuttara, that of the paravac, stage of consciousness, Siva is androgynous, "non-dual [and] identical with the supreme consciousness. [Paravac] is present in all experients always in her integral nature of knowership and doership uniformly in all states i.e., even at the [three other] levels of pasyanti, madhyama and vaikhari" (8). At this stage, there is absolutely no thought of difference such as 'this' (a particular entity or individual), 'thus' (a particular form), here, (particular space), [or] 'now' (particular time)" (9). Though Siva dissembles into other guises in the other stages, as paravac, the supreme and transcendental speech,, (Pandit 108), he/she infuses and animates them all. Hence, Derrida's opinion that "the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences" (W&D 280) becomes negligible due to the consistency of paravac.
In the madhyama and vaikhari stages, "the experience of the highest consciousness [is] characterized by will power (i.e. of paravac) ... [which is to say] characterized by jnana sakti (cognitive power)" (A.G. 14). Here, consciousness is in the predictament of uttara, or limited awareness of annutara, wherein the self "speaking in a limited way (about Reality), e.g., 'It is like that, it is like that,' limits Reality in these ways" (21). At the pasyanti, stage of "beholding speech" (Pandit 103), there is but the germ of difference" (A.G. 16); the madhyama stage of "speech containing a word image" (Pandit 103) "is that stage of expression in which diversity has commenced in a subtle form" (A.G. 64); and, at the vaikhari stage of "gross speech" (Pandit 103) appears "complete diversity" (A.G. 64).
At the pasyanti stage, Siva becomes dualistic, separating into himself and Devi, his female counterpart. Devi is Sakti, the energy that enables the transformations of consciousness that lead to kauliki siddhi (authentic self-awareness and, hence, anuttara. Devi, as parasakti (a subtler form of jnana sakti), is the power of thought to unify and fix meaning out of a multiplicity of perceptions: "In the sphere of differentiation i.e., at the level of man where differentiation prevails, she (pasyanti) is known as buddhi (intellect) which in its subtle all-pervasive condition is always the innate universal consciousness of Siva" (66). It is because of Devi, then, that Abhinavagupta can say that Comprehension is innate" (74). Symbolic of the paradoxical state of simultaneous unity and duality of pasyanti consciousness, Siva and Devi are manifested to self-consciousness in the deliciously creative act of sexual intercourse. This image, while representing within the context of Tantrism a sacred practice of consciousness-raising, represents, at the very least, Abhinavagupta's epistemological point that consciousness is not merely logocentric as Derrida would have it, but arises from and is dependent upon an interpenetrating network of somatic activity. Knowledge begins as she asks him questions and he gives answers in a transcendental dialectic that is simultaneously the source of self-consciousness. Socrates never imagined the dialectic could be this good @and one can only imagine the consequences of deconstructive aporias):
So the inner content i.e., question-answer which appears in the
consciousness of the highest Lord in an undifferentated way [at paravac]
because of its being die highest truth, is thought of in the pasyanti stage in
an indeterminate form with a desire to put it in apportionment of letter,
word, and sentence; it is posited with a sense of separateness in the
madhyama stage in a determinate form; it is finally expressed in the form of
question and answer in the vaikhari stage in gross speech consisting of
mayiya letter, word, and sentence (15).
There are two things to keep in mind when considering this hierarchy of consciousness and literal language, says Abhinavagupta. First: it is not a hierarchy because paravac and parasakti infuse all of the stages. The self's residence at one stage or the other is considered to be dependent upon a self-conscious act of will, that is, of sakti. As creators of their own universes, humans can have it any way they want; one's view of the universe -- and one self -- is a state of mind, no more and no less. Through sakti the self can freely move from relative stages without losing awareness of paravac. Paravac cannot be deconstructed because it contains no oppositions, openings or ruptures. Pasyanti is also immune to deconstruction because it is the coincidence of opposites, wherein the opposites are recognized as being different yet united. Second: the stages of madhyama and vaikhari are inherently rife with confusion and contradiction due to "maya," the disorienting, relativistic multiplicity of phenomena, determinations and cause and effect processes that appear there. Within them, deconstruction works, enhancing the general delusiveness characterizing those stages; however, at these stages one can make "right judgement" through jnana sakti (cognitive power). One can, while at the vaikhati stage, refer information received through "mayiya," that is, through "gross speech consisting of letter, word, and sentence," (48), to the pasyanti or paravac stages with jnana sakti to establish semantic cohesion in spite of "the radical difference between the signifier and signified."
Fixed signification, or subjective judgement, in the realm of maya and at the paravac and pasyanti stages, happens when information is carried by jnana sakti to the hrt which "is the supreme conscious base of all objective [or socially shared] experiences like [the color] blue etc. and all subjective experiences like pleasure etc., and also of the empirical experients conditioned by the body, prana [breath] and buddhi [intellect]" (61). It is in the hrt that the transcendental signified fixes the domain and interplay of signification ad pleasurum. To recall the Upanishadic metaphor, the hrt is the still point at the center of the spinning circle of maya, hrt is the self-identity conceiving itself, growing, and understanding amidst all change. Everybody has a hrt, according to Abhinavagupta, and everybody refers information to its, at once multitudinous and unitary, transcendental presence. Clearly then, if we are to draw our comparison, Derrida's metaphysics of deconstruction is a metaphysics without hrt.
Reverting to Western terms, jnana sakti, the self-willed reference of lingual information from the vaikhari stage to the pasyanti stage of consciousness, would represent the referring of information from the page of a book to a somatic network of experiential memories. jnana sakti, is a hermeneutic process wherein meaning is created out of this lingual information, not because the literal language has autonomous meaning, but because that meaning is conceived by an intercourse of the signifying words with the thing that they refer to, the transcendental signified or reader. Again, on a common sense level, words refer to life and nothing else and can only be understood in reference to a self that, in turn, thinks about them. Literal language can be said, in a loose sense, to contain thoughts, but literal language is not capable of thinking without the participation of the self that thinks. Abhinavagupta affirms that information is understood in reference to one's self: "the citta or mind though variegated by innumerable sub-conscious impressions exists for another (i.e., the purusa or Self) by reason of its acting in collaboration with another i.e. because of interdependently joint causation" (35). This creation of meaning requires the transformation of that lingual information through jnana sakti the energy of willful self-consciousness. This transformation is effected by referring highly differentiated lingual information to another sort of information, the information of purusa, which resides as the "I" in another less-differentiated stage of consciousness. Abhinavagupta puts it this way: "The prameya (literal object) has to surrender itself to pramana (knowledge) of jnana sakti to be known and pramana has to surrender itself to pramata (the knower) for its final fulfillment" (76). This final fulfillment, understanding i.e., fixed signification, is the absorption of the literal information into the self of the knower.
According to Abhinavagupta this hermeneutic transformation of literal language into existential meaning confers bliss upon the experient, which in turn heightens the attraction of the experient towards more and greater self-awareness. The action of jnana sakti in bringing about the complete awareness of annutara is "full of the feel of manifestation, of which the essence is the unsurpassable I-consciousness, full of stirring joy brought about by the union of Siva and Sakti" (15); in other words, the reconciliation of opposites, of text and reader, of knowledge and knower, of sentence-thought and interpreter-thought, comes about as the question and answer interpenetrate to give birth to understanding. Hence, the action of jnana sakti is creation itself, the simultaneous creation of the universe and the self, as these are same in anuttara. In mystical terms, jnana sakti the enabler of the hermeneutic fusion of horizons, is the grace of Devi guiding the wanderer who, as Siva, begins to understand their Self in the mirror of an ever expanding universe, until that mirror disappears and anuttara occurs. "The kauliki siddhi," says Abhinavagupta, "comes when the fragment returns to the whole, the perfect I-onsciousness" (35).
However, this hermeneutic transformation of literal language into existential meaning is not accounted for in Derrida's "law." Recall his statement that "The substitute [literal language] does not substitute itself for anything that has somehow pre-existed it" (W&D 280). Abhinavagupta, as we know, argues that in the hermeneutic process "the surrogate," literal language, substitutes itself for something that has pre-existed it, the purusa or self. To do anything less is to remain at the vaikhari stage. For Derrida, 1) literal language proscribes the potential of thought, and 2) differance, the temporal deferral of wholistic meaning while particular word meanings are sorted out in the act of reading, makes fixed semantic meaning impossible. However, methodological adherence to these two theories simultaneously consigns the deconstructive interpretation to the vaikhari stage; for deconstruction does not account for jnana sakti, the power of cognition that would allow an interpretation to transcend the infinitely differential aporias. Derrida's two theories, then, can be thought of as defining, in modern western terms, the basic epistemological conditions of the vaikhari stage. It is especially interesting, then, to find that Abhinavagupta accounts for the predictament of differance: "Being deprived of his glory by kala [letters], he (the individual) becomes a victim of the group of powers arising from the multitude of words and thus he is known as the bound one" (A.G. 41). Kala also means "time" so that Abhinavagupta's sentence can be understood as referring to the perception of words in time: differance. Hence, while both thinkers agree that the serial perception of words in time can lead to non-understanding, only Abhinavagupta offers a way of understanding deconstruction and the aporias it axiomatically leads to as being a delusion of maya, of a particular stage of consciousness. He says, "If the real nature of saktis is not realized then concealing the wondrous play of the divine Consciousness which remains without any differentiation in the midst of differentiations, they [saktis] bring about a state of pasus (limited experients) by worldly snare, by means of the multitude of various kinds of letters, by means of the ghoratori saktis who carry on their sports in the form of various kinds of concepts by entering them in the form of fear arising from doubt," (40). This "fear arising from doubt" is expressed by Derrida, in the form of the conclusion to the Exergue, which forms the preface to Of Grammatology:
The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a form of monstrosity For what future world and for that within it will have to put into question the value of sign, word, and writing, for that which guides our future anterior, there is as yet no exergue (Derrida 5).
By revealing the stage of vaikhari without ever having encountered Abhinavagupta's construct, Derrida should receive due credit for providing us with an interpretive method that reveals the quality of consciousness of that stage. From Abhinavagupta's perspective, deconstruction might perform a heuristic function in detailing those ways of thingking that would make a person fearful of things s/he need not fear, while eliminating the possibility of liberation into authentic self-awareness, kauliki siddhi.
Is it possible that Derrida's ultra-textualism, his microscopic attention to linguistic nuance, of linguistic structure and perception as over-valued things-in-themselves, distorts the literal text in the way an electron-microscope makes an ant's head unrecognizable as an ant's head, and makes it instead look like the gigantic canyon systems of southern Utah? Perhaps. This type of transformative mis-appearance would be, in Abhinavagupta's construct, symptomatic of maya,. Abhinavagupta might not think this a bad thing in itself, but, without jnana sakti to enable the seeing of the ant's head as the ant's while also seeing it as a canyon, he would consider it a delusion of maya. Sounding in his own way very Socratic, Abhivavagupta admonished, "maya-ic ignorance is the root of all ill" (A.G. 63).
Abhinavagupta, then, presents us with a hermeneutical theory that regards literal language as being suited for a particular type of comprehension -- one type of comprehension among many comprehensions that collaborate to create consciousness. Unlike Plato's theory of logos, which predicated semantic fixity, the cohesion of the signifier to the signified, upon a mysterious correspondence between an immaterial world of Ideas which we cannot directly experience, on one hand, and our own experiental world of phenomenal appearance on the other, Abhinavagupta's theory of anuttara disallows at the stage of paravac, and qualifies at the pasyanti madhyama and vaikhari, stages, Plato's separation -- the same separation that Husserl inherited and tried to rework as "transcendental intentionality." This same separation Derrida has inherited and, coveting it, has installed it as the modus operandi of deconstruction: "the sign itself cannot surpass this opposition between the sensible and intelligible" (W&D 281). Furthermore, where Plato was unable to explain the correspondence of logos and literal language except as an abrupt transcendental leap of the signified into the signifier, allowing as a consequence Derrida's "deconstructive" thesis of the "radical difference between the signifier and signified," Abhinavagupta presents the cohesion of signifier and signified as being related to a graduation of related stages of consciousness, wherein each stage accounts for the permutation of a "transcendental signified" into the realm of literal language.
The difference in their theories might be accounted for in this way: whereas Plato considers the correspondence of signifier to signified to be determined in a strictly intellectual sense on a single plane of consciousness, Abhinavagupta considers this correspondence to involve the far more subtle interrelationships of the intellect and the body as per the conditions existing within the four relative stages of consciousness. For Plato, the Idea is immaterial and absolute; for Abhinavagupta it is immaterial and material, absolute and relative, with these vagaries dependent upon the relative stage of consciousness the signifier/signified relationship is viewed from/by the "transcendental signified." For Plato, recognition of logos is recognition of something "divine" that the "mundane" somatic human is not; in Abhinavagupta's concept of anuttara such a recognition involves, at the pasyanti stage, the awareness that logos is the somatic human: "The deteminate knowledge (adbyavasdya) in the form `this is a jar' transcends the limitation of name and form of the jar and is a form of the jnana sakti of the highest sovereign (Siva) and shines as the Self (i.e. as one with the self) and not apart as an object denoted by the word `this'" (A.G. 56). In short, whereas Plato's theory of Ideas is not able to, Abhinavagupta's theory of jnana sakti controverts, or at the very least sets conditions upon, Derrida's metaphysical presumption that `differential/deconstructable language equals thought,' that it is necessary "to think ... the law ... of central presence" (W&D 280) -- because we are that center.
Enlarging the scope of our comparison, it is worth enriching our introduction to Abhinavagupta's expansive view by noting that the Saivite system offers a non-western explication of the idea of a God who constructs the universe and ourselves through pneuma or a vitalizing breath and sound. Whereas the three great monotheistic traditions of consider God to have created our universe by speaking a "Word" and then, after having said that "Word" to have traveled an impossible God-versus-human distance from our universe, S'iva's "Word" "abam" still creates, sustains and destroys our universe in the present moment -- "aham" is the present moment. "Aham" means "I am," both as S'iva and as the particular human, and "is always to be understood as the life and soul of all experients" (A.G. 62). "Aham" as a mantra (prayer) forms the basis of Ahbinavagupta's Hatha yoga @spiritual discipline) and is intoned by the Saivite towards realizing kauliki siddhi authentic self-awareness). Furthermore, "aham", the great sound of being, is broken down into subtler constituent syllables, tattvas, and each of these syllables is regarded as the vitalizing sound, or vibration, of a particular organ of the body, and, a category of existence. Since the human body is considered to be the universe by Abhinavagupta, the intoning and concentration upon these syllables allows the adept to explore the universe, not in a spaceship, but as a unity with the universe-creating pneuma. "Aham," in fact, is equated with paravac, the most authentic state of consciousness, which makes it the source of spoken, and thus literal language. Again, and in another way, Abhinavagupta does what Plato did not persuasively do -- explain how the signifier is the signified.
The point I want to make is that the Platonic "distance" or "rupture" between an immaterial logos and a phenomenal reality mirrors, and is reinforced by, the monotheistic construct of a "distant" God, who as logos-pneuma once spoke the creative "Word" which animated only the initial, and not continual, creation of the universe. Both the Platonic and monotheistic constructs serve to set the conceptual basis of Derrida's signifier/signified opposition. While Plato philosophically explained the presence of logos in history as an inexplicable leap from the divine into the mundane, the monotheistic faiths have had more trouble in theologically explaining where and how God is active in Western history. This, in turn, has created an aura of skepticism and "distance" and has caused these faiths to conjure up eschatologies that imply that God will show up again at the end of the world: even Nietszche's "God is dead" thesis is predicated upon this "distance." This monothesistic construct relates that between the once-present God of genesis and the future present God of apocalypse lies the absent-or-dead God "rupture" of history. By being a part of the western metaphysical tradition through his role as critic emphasizing the epistemological problems attendant within it, Derrida ineluctably recapitulates the "distance" construct in his deconstruction when he argues that the transcendental signified, is absent from literal language and, according to his theory of "the law," from thought. Deriving his problem of opposites from the Platonic-cum-monotheistic construct, Derrida posits that thought cannot reach the "transcendental signified" God: God is not in thought because literal language is thought and literal language cannot contain the "presence" of a transcendental signified." In this way, Derrida's history of "the law" is a mythopoetic retelling of "the fall of Eden" in modern linguistic terms. First, Derrida leaves unsketched the way in which literal language was conceived; it is unsketched because he inherits Western metaphysics, inability to define its conception (except, perhaps, as the present of an absent God). Then his history of "the law" repeats "the fall from Eden" motif; he says that the "rupture [occurredl when the structurality of structure had to begin to be thought" and "from then on it became necessary to think ... the law" (280); "the law," as a linguistic version of original sin, enacts the "rupture" of the signifier and signified, which, in turn, separates the human from the "transcendental signified." Because, in effect, it reenacts the separation of God and human, Derrida's law is a translation of the myth of the "fall" into post-structualist terms. As would be expected then, Derrida proclaims that we are now living in the fallen world of the "rupture" where no transcendence can take place. Existing itself within the "rupture," his own critical work appears to be a sort of jeremaid; being anti-humanist, it certainly tries to accuse and reveal human shortcomings. Finally, Derrida's "monstrous future" is recognizable as a version of the Judeo-Christian construct of apocalyse. The linguistic presence/absence signifier/signified opposition that Derrida is so fond of is also generated by this same Platonic-cum-monotheistic cultural construct of "distance" and, obviously, Derrida does not deconstruct these oppositions, but re-constructs them so that deconstruction can exist as such. How can Derrida say that he is destroying the hierarchical oppositions of Western metaphysics? He is reemploying them while admitting he can't transcend them. In short, he is, to use Abhinavagupta's term, "bound" to a particular state of self-awareness; his exploration of this state might not be without value, but its value is highly limited, operating primarily to show us what, it is not -- absolute.
Abhinavagupta with his the of Aham, jnana sakti, and the four stages of consciousness, shows us that the deconstructive problems of "distance" and "rupture" are cultural constructs that, if approached as he suggests, appear no longer to be problems. Abhinavagupta offers, in contrast to Derrida, a manner of knowing that bridges the dread "rupture." He symbolizes this bridging as the loving embrace of Devi and S'iva, of question and answer, of word-thought and interpreter-thought, of sensible and intelligible: "In conclusion it is said that [the process of understanding via jnana sakti] connotes the union of S'iva and Sakti where there is no division of question and answer, which is the state of awareness of the essential Self. Beginning from a consideration of this [internal state] up to the external state in which there are infinite, innumerable cases of manifestation and absorption -- all this is indeed summarized [i.e., made whole] in annutara, the transcendent Reality [which has no beyond or no Other]. This is the conclusion (of the dialogue of S'iva and Devi) from the point of view of intuitive gnosis .... This [loving embrace of Siva and Devi] is ever-present in everybody. May there be good to all!" (269-270).
(1) "The ressentiment which these lowly-placed persons feel toward everything held in honor is constantly gambled upon: that one represents this doctrine as a counterdoctrine in opposition to the wisdom of the world, to the power of the world, them to it. It ... promises blessedness, advantage, privilege to the most insignificant..., it fills poor little heads with an insane conceit."
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|Title Annotation:||Jacques Derrida|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1996|
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