Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, April 8, 2011

One good Turn deserves another

Before The Speculative Turn (2010)-- around two years before-- there was The Participatory Turn (2008), a book which argues (according to its page in SUNY press' website) that we can "take seriously religious experience, spirituality, and mysticism, without reducing them to either cultural-linguistic by-products or simply asserting their validity as a dogmatic fact." As the word "participation" might tip you off, this is more or less my project too (all my philosophical forays--and that is all they are, border-skirmishes--have their roots in either cultural or spiritual motives). The two books make an interesting pair, and as the earlier one has not made a big splash, as far as I have seen (despite some good reviews, including one in Tikkun), I thought I would examine it a little by way of comparing the Participatory and the Speculative Turns. If the later book wears its revolutionary claims on its sleeve, or at least on its jacket ("This anthology assembles authors, of several generations and numerous nationalities, who will be at the center of debate in continental philosophy for decades to come"), the earlier book is a trifle on the modest side. ("Do we really need another 'turn'?" the introduction opens.) Editors Jorge Ferrer and Jacob Sherman write:
...we do not think of the participatory turn as a radical break with either the past nor the present, but rather as an attempt to name, articulate and strengthen an emerging academic ethos....this articulation is neither a return to previous epistemological structures not a drastic rupture from them, but rather reflects the ongoing project of a creative fusion of past, present and perhaps future horizons that integrates certain traditional religious claims with modern standards of critical inquiry.
This smacks of not wanting to put on airs, but the essays included (you can read a modified version of Ferrer's here), while no more unified by a single program than are those of the more recent "speculative" anthology, are every bit as implicitly far-reaching. What they share is precisely a commitment to "take seriously religious experience:" they neither reduce it to something else (something that would be best investigated by, say, anthropology or sociology) nor do they unify it all under a single heading, some ur-religious mysterium tremendum et fascinans. For Ferrer and Sherman, religion is irreducibly plural. Like the editors and authors of The Speculative Turn, Ferrer and Sherman reject both linguistic reductionism and the Kantian premises which made it possible, and so re-open the question of the status of truth. They trace the equation, by which every metaphysical claim reduces to (nothing but) discourse, back to a neo-Kantian framework that regards the issue of any supernatural source of religion to require either suspension (since what is in question is a noumenon, hence inaccessible) or denial. This dismissal of all contemplative traditions' claims that unconditioned facts of reality are experiencable, amounts de facto (argue Ferrer and Sherman) to metaphysical perspective as ethnocentric as it is materialistic.

The Kantian impasse is at work, they argue, in the tug-of-war between perennialists and constructivists with regards to mystical experience. The former argue that mystical experience is one, that it involves some kernel that is common to all religious encounters, and that this experience is then translated, as it were, according to the cultural accouterments of the mystic's particular context. The latter respond that all experience is linguistically or culturally mediated; talk of a "common core" outside of culture is simply meaningless. Not merely the interpretation of experience, but the very experience itself, must be filtered via the mystic's cultural and personal lenses. Both these parties are found by Ferrer and Sherman to be ensnared by Kantian premises: to wit, the assumption that a dualism must obtain between an unconditioned reality and a human framework of interpretation. To the contrary, they argue, no religious event is purely objective or subjective, neither a discovery nor an invention; it is ontologically co-arising, hence "participatory."

Is this, then, a response to that by-now baneful word "correlationism," which is also traced to Kant's door? Not entirely. Though there is no reference to Meillassoux in the book, it would be possible to read The Participatory Turn as a pre-emptive blow on behalf of a kind of correlationism, the kind that claims a metaphysical or ontological status for the correlation itself. (I have some sympathies with this move, though, so I may be projecting.) Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that the keynote address at today's symposium "Here Comes Everything: an introduction to Speculative Realism" at the California Institute of Integral Studies is given by Jacob Sherman, and called "Participatory Realism: Two Cheers for Meillassoux." I wish I could be there. It seems the two Turns have been toward each other. Their confluence should be interesting.


  1. Jake's talk, along with that of the other panel members, should be available online in the next few days.

  2. That's very good news. Do you know--will it be on the CIIS site or elsewhere (e.g., yr excellent blog / youtube channel)?
    Welcome & thanks for reading.

  3. Bryan, regarding the 'participatory' as 'ontologically co-arising' Robert Miner, in his book "Truth in the Making" said of his 'Radical Orthodoxy' movement that it "is not afraid to consider seriously proposals that knowing is most adequately described in relation to making. It is not bewitched by the fear that human making is inevitably arbitrary."


  4. Joe, thanks for this. Despite my interest in RadOx, I have not yet read Miner's book (though I know him as a Vico translator). However I note that he traces the notion of a constructive account of knowing back much further than Kant, which simply must be done if an account of participation is to be plausible. Barfield also does this, and in The Participatory Turn, Sherman's essay is all about tracing the roots of this position. As you know, I think it demonstrably (as such things go) goes back to the beginning of humankind. If I were a real philosopher and not a decatante, I would perhaps try to demonstrate how it "must" be so. I'll have a look at Miner's book.

  5. Video is still on the way (hopefully), but for now, here is the audio of the presentations from the Speculative Realism Panel: http://footnotes2plato.com/2011/04/14/audio-from-here-comes-everything-speculative-realism-panel-ciis/