Process and the Derailing of Reality 1

For a long time now I have wanted to write an essay about Eric Voegelin’s relationship with process philosophy. What is process philosophy/theology/thought? It’s the name for a retrojective philosophical lineage, often seen to include the Stoics, Spinoza, F.W.J. Schelling, William James, Henry Bergson, A.N. Whitehead and the “schizo” materialism of Gilles Deleuze. Process thought emphasises verbs over nouns – relations, dynamics, becomings, modes, events and flows rather than static “things”. In many ways it is the philosophical mode of thinking for our age par excellence. Perhaps it is even a little too appropriate. In our high-speed world not very much seems to last long and everything seems to be part of complex ecological, communicational and economic systems far from equilibrium. At very least I would like to see what one might be able to do with Voegelin’s ideas to talk about such things.

Early in Anamnesis, Voegelin states that after much thought he had come to believe that the “process-theological attempt and its expansion, a metaphysics that interprets the transcendental system of the world as the immanent process of a divine substance, [to be] the only meaningful systematic philosophy”.[1] Here he specifically meant Schelling’s Potenzlehre outlined in The Ages of the World, but, as this essay will discuss, his debts to process thought go much further.

Nonetheless, Voegelin’s ideas are very different from a great deal of what we would call “process thought” today, which outside of the remnants of Hartshornean process theology, is generally materialistic and immanentist to an obsessive degree. This is epitomised by the recent boom in continental philosophical “speculative realisms” and “new materialisms”, largely sired from French post-structuralist Gilles Deleuze (and the occasional dippy interpretation of Heidegger that now assigns Dasein to every entity imaginable). I have written about these phenomena before for VoegelinView here, and had very little positive to say about them. Mind you I don’t have much to say about current Christian process theology either: it’s “post-modern theology” at its least offensive, as is outlined here in detail by a theologian. For the most part the question of process today seems stuck between a kitschy, inoffensive theological wateriness on one hand and the sort of anti-humanist edgelord ideologies of Deleuzian “Accelerationists” on the other. Something should be done about this.

In what I have said about “new materialism” before, I think I was perhaps a little harsh to Schelling and Whitehead, largely because of the ways in which they tend to be read today – with all the of the religious and transcendental aspects deliberately erased. Nonetheless, as I increasingly realise that Voegelin had strong debts to Bergson, Whitehead, Schelling and William James, who are all now going through a revival at the hands of “new materialist” thinkers, I am compelled to ask: what if Voegelin too is a kind of “speculative realist”, but of a very different sort? He often spoke very frankly of “reality” as something far larger than what is generally understood – as something that could not be approached without taking transcendental spiritual aspects into account. What Voegelin found valuable in these “process” thinkers tended to be the opposite of the chaotic, immanentist, base materialism found in them today. They have nothing to say about the spirit and an awful lot to say about chaos and systems. Voegelin, in comparison, hasn’t an awful lot to say about cosmology and the living and non-living entities with which we share the world and how they affect our politics and symbolisations of order. I think we need to try to mediate this situation.

To what degree was Voegelin a process philosopher? It often seems hard to categorise him using standard philosophical phyla because he was using bits and pieces of various modern thinkers to try to come at the sort of mystical experiences 19th and 20th century European philosophy had very little interest in. Was he a phenomenologist? Certainly Voegelin’s philosophy centred itself upon attempting to recover the consciousness and experiences of the great philosophoi and religious thinkers, to the point that his project may well appear somewhat subjectivist. But, as Renaud Fabbri aptly points out, Voegelin certainly does not seem to have had any love for Kant and his children. He considered Husserl’s “nondiscussable ultimatum” of the rejection of traditional symbolic systems in favour of subjective “appearance” to be a “bankruptcy of philosophy” and a “symptom of spiritual nihilism”.[2] Instead Voegelin sought to move beyond the limits of mere phenomenological intentionality to how pre-intentional religious experience comes to be conveyed and converted into analogical and anagogical symbolic systems: “a mythical symbol is a finite symbol supposed to provide ‘transparence’ for a transfinite process.”[3] With this move we see a turn towards the question of consciousness as a part of ongoing cosmic process, most strongly outlined as follows:

“The experience of consciousness is the experience of a process – the only process which we know “from within”. Because of this its property, the process of consciousness becomes the model of the process as such, the only experiential model to serve as the orientation point of the conceptual apparatus through which we must also grasp the processes that transcend consciousness.”[4]

Even the Bergsonian “flow” of consciousness has a “limit” and “vanishing point” for Voegelin – the egological “I” disappearing either into the body or into the ground of being,[5] the old darkness below and darkness above of the Neo-Platonic mystical traditions. Transcendence seemingly cannot be a datum of consciousness. On the other hand, for someone like Gilles Deleuze, who also attempted to push and transcend the “flow” of conscious experience to its limits, empirical sense data instead take on a life of their own at the expense of the “I”.[6] I’m  sure that Voegelin would have considered this process thought and its worship of schizophrenic aestheticism thoroughly nihilistic and subhuman – the darkness of the sophist disintegrating into non-being as opposed to the transcendental darkness of the philosopher due to excess light.[7] But Voegelin has far stronger debts to process thought than merely the consideration of consciousness as the “flow” of reality experienced from the inside. Consider the following quotation from Anamnesis:

“The being of immanence which we call “world” contains no problem of arche (except possibly in the sense of what transcends the world) but only one of indefinite progression. If we ask whether the “world” has a beginning in time or not, we have loaded the question by hypostatizing the order of being into a being thing inasmuch as we have forgotten that “being” and “world” do not exist but rather are relations of order with respect to the cosmos in which we still are living.”[8]

I do not think that one can read this “hypostatizing” and not feel that there are very strong hints of William James’ “vicious abstractionism” at work, or Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” – the nasty habit of transforming speculative concepts into “things” at the expense of the ongoing organismic “flow” of reality. [9] There is plenty of other material like this squirrelled away in Voegelin’s works, but rarely, if ever, is it developed into anything “systematic”. Voegelin was most certainly opposed to systematic metaphysics, but because of this it is sometimes hard to gain an overall grasp of his passage of thought, and whether certain ideas were simply uttered off the cuff and never returned to. Let’s see what we can do with what we have and what we might add by returning to the opportunities he found and passed over in other process thinkers.

Let us begin with what is obvious. Voegelin is a truly bizarre thinker for one major reason. He attempted to show that Plato and Aristotle, often tarred as “essentialist” and opposed to process thought, were in fact speculative theorists of flowing divine experience and tension between man and a pre-intentional Beyond transcending the immanent world of symbols and entities we are embedded in. They are spiritual thinkers. I have always thought of Plato especially as a very mystical thinker whose myths illustrate the power but also the limits of the dialectic. But for a great deal of people this seems hard to stomach. Somehow it still seems a lot easier for most to celebrate or demonise him as a cold, mathematical “rationalist”, if not as a fascist.

I learned my Plato from Guenonians, so it does not seem strange to me that he is a mystic thinker to be included beside Shankara and others. Thus I am a little lost when I come upon someone like Slavoj  Žižek insisting that the “New Age” desire to find a mysticism in Plato, the “first Enlightener”, is an act of inventing a deliberate “obscene secret” that does nothing more than reflect post-modern lifestyle guruism.[10] For sure, I have met many people like this before, and as a young man once got myself into a rather nasty argument with Peter Kingsley. But perhaps Žižek should be mindful that this “New Age” irrationalism and its transformation into neo-liberal consumer lifestlylism and identity marketing, was a product of the 60’s. The onus falls far more harshly on his own Freud-Marx camp than anywhere else. Some days one can almost get Žižek to say it – that the ’68ers with their Marcuse, Reich, Brown and friends, and their attempts to “liberate” desire and creativity failed miserably. What Norman O. Brown and others in the 60s did to William Blake by making him nothing but a base sexo-leftist irrationalist is especially unforgivable, so I would say. [11]

For all this stuffing about balance was not restored between Ourizen, Los and the other Zoas. The dumb old “one dimensional man” Patriarch of modernity perished, but both reason and creativity were significantly harmed by this and reduced to nothing but instruments of the culture industry and the forced imperative to be “creative” for the sake of viral marketing, publish or perish and internet “content”. “It is forbidden to forbid” became a control mechanism to enforce the lowest sort of slavery to base desire. The “hollow men” today are simply meek managers mouthing diversity and inclusion, smiling as they reassure us that they have discovered happiness and that no other imagining of the world but that of the perpetual present is possible. Seeing a Plato who realised the limits of reason, is not seeing an irrationalist “hippy” Plato that I would gladly be rid of myself. It is seeing a great thinker in whom dialectical reason is a vital symbol and process in the search for illumination.

Voegelin  saw a Plato of “erotic reason”, one who desires ongoing luminous experience of that which is hyperouranion (beyond the heavens). For this Voegelin was especially dependent upon the philosopher’s use of the words metaxy (between) and epekeina (beyond). So too the terms helkein (to pull) and zetein (to search), which he uses to describe the life of the philosopher given over to theoria (speculative existence), a metalepsis/methexis (participation) in Being. [12] Reflecting on these Voegelin came to the idea of centring experience upon the relation between two poles – that of man and that of the Beyond, and how the experience of the latter was pre-intentional and anti-foundational, an It-Reality, which could only be analogically communicated through recourse to creative use of one’s available cultural symbols. [13] As Greek philosophy develops as a series of symbolisations of divine experience, the symbols used come to be unpacked from a “compacted” state and are more clearly defined.

The notion of “two poles” was most likely borrowed from A.N. Whitehead’s similar construction of a physical and mental pole in human beings, “inseparable in their origination”. So too does Whitehead’s God have a “primal” pole from before the world and experience of it, and an “actual” pole that develops as God “grows” with the world and is affected by it.[14] The problem of course is that such a view is always likely to be misunderstood and hypostatised into two “things” – man and God as each divided into two. Voegelin seems to have taken up this Whiteheadian position because if one thing is clear about the history of Platonism and Christianity, it is that they have tended towards irreconcilable dualisms of transcendent and immanent God, of perfect spirit and lowly matter, such as Gnosticism, that have had some pretty nasty consequences. Thus, one might wonder if by speaking of the metaxy/In-Between, when Plato never uses this term into a substantive, that Voegelin may be in danger of hoisting himself on his own petard: of drawing attention to it as a “thing” that exists between man and the beyond (which itself should not be treated as some thing or “land”). He is talking about relation, and sad to say, it is too easy to concretise action into nouns because our languages seem biased towards this. Perhaps even gerunds like “metaxying” or “betweening” would have been a slightly better choice, though they do seem a little ridiculous.

But the fact is that Voegelin is only using Plato and Aristotle as guides to try to make a metalanguage to rediscover the source and nature of their mythopoesis and experiences. If anything, Voegelin’s conceptions seem closer to the experiences of mediaeval Dionysiac thought and its synderesis (the part of the soul that comes into contact with an indescribable God), like the Cloud of Unknowing, which he initially considered Gnostic before changing his mind. [15] I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt. We are compelled to play symbolic language games such as that of the Via Negativa (God is not this, not that, does not exist) as anagogical ladders to express the successful history of the seeking and conscious movement in the tension of reality. One climbs the symbolic ladder only to discard it, and then one has to rebuild it to try to analogically and anagogically convey a reality which cannot be directly conveyed . From Taoism to the Sufis one of the most recurrent features of luminous experience is of recourse either to allegory and paradox to explain it, or simply silence. Even Whitehead believed that “no language can be anything but eliptical” in describing process and reality. I think I’m with Voegelin on this.

Voegelin most cogently illustrates his processual conception of Plato and Aristotle and their use of the terms psyche and nous as a series of symbolised “levels” going both up and down in flows on a little chart on page 114 of Anamnesis (see below). This is very interesting because as I learned my Plato from Neo-Platonists and Guenonians, the idea of reality as series of flowing, emanated sediments like the looking at coffee in a glass cup has always stuck with me. Like this strange coffee analogy, to Voegelin nous and psyche are experiential symbols of course, and should not be hypostatised – turned into absolute “things”. They are tools for thinking a flowing reality which has steadily been closed off by “philosophers” (who of all people should know better!) over the past thousand years (especially in the West). This is not due to any natural evolutionary phenomenon, or the inherent decline of things as we find in Guénon, but seemingly because of the inherent entropy that comes with symbolisations of order which become dead dogma over time.


In relation to this, one of the most important things Voegelin took from Henri Bergson was the concept of “l’âme ouverte” (the open soul) from his late Two Sources of Morality and Religion. [16] Bergson speaks of the openness and love for reality which accompanied early religious experience and philosophy, and how this came to be closed over into dogmatic priesthoods and moral systems. It is too true that the mystic and philosopher have always had an uneasy relationship with authority, but if we look around today in the “marketplace of ideas” and its communicational “global village” (two gratuitous misreadings of  “l’âme ouverte” belonging to Karl Popper and Marshall McLuhan respectively), [17] it would seem indeed that we are not only very low on mystics and saints, but also even original “secular” thinkers in general. At some point everyone seems to have got stuck in the middle of the 20th c. and what it found outre, rebellious, cool and “spiritual” and then in dotage simply stopped there. There is not much more “conservative” and closed than what remains of “post-modern” literature, art, theology and philosophy. If ever there was a time needing a bit of a shakeup and rereading of its old myths and the creation of a few new ones, just as Plato undertook, now would seem highly appropriate.

The other reason for this closure Voegelin speaks of is because of the inherent fissures we find in both Platonism and later Christianity as received “systems”, on which Voegelin had a great deal to say of course with his Gnostic thesis. Platonism is troubled by the “egophanic revolt” of the Renaissance, which attempted to bring back the Ancient world without its gods, and, as a result, ended in the worship of the self and man as “a kind of god”. [18] The cataclysmic “end of history” nature of the Christian message was always going to lead towards attempts to force the millennium and Gnostic attempts to claim elite soterical knowledge to overcome a fallen world of suffering. Voegelin even came to believe that the Gospel of John and its gap between the God of creation and the God of history already paves the way for “Gnostic” thinkers like Hegel. [19]  In many ways it might be tempting to read Voegelin as an “obituary writer” of the Sophia Perennis, as Peter Sloterdijk has said. [20] 

But even if Voegelin may not have given some obvious political “way out” of modernity without restraint (for how could such a thing avoid the symbols of millenarian salvation when for so long we have been up to our necks in them?), and some have even called him a “quietist”, at very least he attempted to try to recover the sort of experiences that gave rise to philosophy and the great religions in the first place. More than ever philosophy seems to need a bit of a reboot. Especially as it seems to be increasingly passing beyond what remains of humanism and its “political religions”, into a post-humanism more concerned with decentring human beings to grant agency to the processes of information technology, ecosystems and the market. These “three oikoi” of ecology, economy and global communicative ecumene are perfectly attractive subjects for talk about process and flows, but more than anything the “new materialist” keenness for such subjects smacks of a need to abandon and resentfully punish man the “measure of all things”, after so many failed political projects. As I have said elsewhere, Marxist thinkers such as Badiou, Negri and Žižek  now seem to realise the importance of the Christian narrative for the sake of millenarian politics. Without it political “materialisms” simply end up in anti-humanist defeatism and the will to sink into the Nirvana of matter. Either philosophy will return to the theologico-political question, or it will not return at all.

Process Platonism.

But more than anything, Voegelin’s “process Plato” is fascinating for one major reason.  There has been a rather naff habit over the past century to apply A. N. Whitehead’s process thought to just about every tradition outside the West, from the Hindus, to the Chinese to the Aztecs. [21] This has been largely deployed to show that everyone else “goes with the flow”, but that the West is the odd one out: diseased by clunky “essentialism” and the desire to control reality, from Plato to Newton to the cybernetician. Only at the last minute does the West come to realise that it has been wrong – that there is no essential Being, only flowing organismic Becoming. What is amusing about this is that Whitehead was obsessed with Plato, and more than anything one might claim that he was a kind of Neo-Neo-Platonist, just as he himself famously said that all Western philosophy was but a footnote to the Greek thinker.

But what makes Whitehead so Platonic? In his book Adventures in Ideas, Whitehead bases the entire text around seven major concepts inherited from Plato. The two most important of these, I would say, are the Forms and the mysterious “receptacle” of the Timaeus. [22]  If anything, Whitehead is what Plato looks like after absorbing the two “wounds” of the Copernican Revolution (wherein Plato takes the form of Giordano Bruno) and then Darwinism.[23] The Sphere of the cosmic One implodes into maniness and the terror of infinite space; then “natural economy” took on a life of its own and become evolution. We today may indeed seem far more like Lucretius with his infinite evolutionist cosmos than like Plato. But perhaps the biggest “wound” of all was one that did not occur in antiquity: that of the turn from Euclidian geometry to the equation and “functional mathematics” – the calculus, algebra and the algorithm, infomatics and non-Euclidean space. This is a mathematics of dynamics, infinity, rates of change, acceleration and becoming, the “Faustian” mathematic, as Oswald Spengler called it. [24] It is the mathematic of those who desire to enter not into the proportion of things, but into the very flow and emergence of them in order to control them. It’s proven exceptionally good at this, to the point that the very Earth may well be straining under the implications of its industrial and post-industrial application.

With Whitehead we have something thoroughly “Baroque”, an alternative Leibniz, a last Cambridge Platonism that never was. Whitehead certainly rebelled against the “climate of opinion” of his age (as did Voegelin who utilised this term in Anamnesis p. 113). Whitehead did this by latching on to the emerging currents of quantum physics and relativity, today we live in a very Whiteheadian world, where “speculative realists” can drone on and on about how Whitehead like Deleuze was really a prophet of chaos theory and complexity and so on. Here one might recall Voegelin’s rather Whiteheadian essay on scientism in which he talks about the “climate of opinion” which caused certain of Leibniz’s ideas to be ignored or not even understood at all until the theory of relativity came along. [25] 

One wonders what ideas might well turn out to find their own “climate” someday, after the “chaosmos” of complexity is found wanting or loses its sheen. For now, however, it would look like we are soundly stuck in “Whitehead World” and the informational paradigm of “systems thinking”. We must engage with process, multiplicity, complexity and infomatics, however boorish and jaded they are as symbols to think with, whether we like it or not. For certain one should be able to realise the simple fact that it has been under post-war ecosystems ecology that more damage has been done to the world than ever before. Trying to embed human beings as but part of ecological systems hasn’t done much but produced a kind of disconnected background noise of a cosmology, a cute backdrop. The problem today is not that under those with power the world is too heavy and solid like lead as it was in Whitehead’s time, but perhaps that Gnostic libido dominandi is wielded through dispersed networks and information that creep into and derail the ecological networks and social systems of cultures. The world has become too fast to grab hold of – all that is solid melts into air.

Voegelin, in comparison, is very quiet about Plato’s Forms. Perhaps like Leo Strauss he thought the concept was so ridiculous that Plato could not have taken it seriously (after all in the Parmenides he does let the whole theory get knocked down by the famous “third man” argument). [26] But just as there is a kind of cosmic elephant in the room in Voegelin’s ideas – the absence of adequate consideration of Plato, Aristotle and other thinker’s cosmological theories – it seems far more likely that Voegelin simply believed that the Forms, like the Ptolemaic cosmology, was no longer tenable in our age. In a late paper, for instance, he claims that although the “closed cosmologies” of Aristotle and Aquinas are now impossible for us, their moral and spiritual dimensions are still worth salvaging. [27] Like Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt, it seems that Voegelin’s emphasis on rereading the classical tradition for his own time was the recovery of the political. After the disasters of Nazism and Communism this was understandably the most important thing for many mid-century thinkers. Nonetheless, Whitehead certainly did not shy away from the Forms or Plato’s centralising of geometry and mathematics as a key to the truth of things. In fact he attempted to re-adapt them for the nascent organismic and quantum mechanical cosmology of his day.

Much has been said about the link between Plato’s Forms and Whitehead’s “eternal objects” – those entities which could potentially exist but may or may not be actualised into material reality as “events” – with a little help from Whitehead’s God. The main difference is that the eternal objects are particulars rather than universals and they come in two sorts: objective ones, which are a logical deduction of a sort about the possibility of all existent phenomena. The others are subjective ones – those things felt and experienced by entities already actualised – a certain sort of red glow to something, or the fall of a leaf in a certain manner perhaps. [28] But it seems rather clear that the “eternal objects” have come by way of Leibniz’s monads, but in a far weaker form than the rationalist selection of monads and programming of them for the best of all possible worlds, planned out from the beginning.

Whitehead’s God, in comparison, can only really try to suggest which ones should get through; he “persuades”. It is as though he is just one more entity in the cosmos, affecting and being affected by process, trying weakly to encourage humans to love one another to little effect. It is this less-than-omnipotent quality of the deity which seems to make Whiteheadian “process theology” highly amenable to the sort of spineless niceness that a great deal of “post-modern theology” is filled with, whether processive or otherwise. “Process theology”, unsurprisingly, has strong historical affinities with American “pragmatism” and its imperative that all is contingent – some weird accident of cosmic chance and history, so we just might as well try to get along. There is no “grand plan”, no “order in history”; Christ wasn’t unique: he was just a guy who lived in harmony with an organismic cosmos that is all about creativity and love. In the end there is just the immortality of a cosmos that will keep on being creative forever with no explanation as to why it came into being in the first place. At least the Deleuzians seems honest in their anti-humanist worship of “positive” creativity for its own sake. [29]

One of the things that often seems to be assumed about Plato’s Forms is that they seem to coldly exist in some other world in limited number, absolutely distinct from one another.  Poor parochial old Plato could never have known about the Forms of “TVness” and “plasticness”, let alone “wheelbarrowness” (there were no wheelbarrows in ancient Greece). But Plato was not so foolish. If one looks at Plato’s Sophist the interlocutors speak of the koinonia (community, interdependence) of the Forms. So too is Being here accredited with giving forth movement due to its possession of a soul, and comes to be “nothing else but power” (dynamis). This may sound very alien to the Plato of Phaedo and Timaeus. The path of the Sophist seems to be the one that Whitehead went down. For Whitehead Being becomes potentiality, for without it there could be no becoming/actuality and the cosmos is organismic. And indeed, Plato’s theory of Forms is troubled by the question of interrelation:

“one form or idea extending entirely through many individuals each of which lies apart, and of many forms differing from one another but included in one greater form, and again of one form evolved by the union of many wholes…”[30]

To claim that the Forms do not interact, as atomists maintained about the basic constituents of reality, is mocked by Plato as self-defeating because they cannot avoid the language of interaction: “by itself, from the rest” etc.[31] One might say that it is at this juncture, in considering the problems, hierarchies and “system” of the Forms where Platonism presents not merely one of his many puzzles that is likely impossible to solve, just like the one/many and being/non-being, but a symbolic starting point from which the thinker can begin to consider the operations of the world and ascend beyond dialectic to that which lies beyond the world: the terrifying brightness of being so intense that it becomes another darkness. The question of emergence is the trigger to transcendental experience we might say. The Forms are supposed to be problematic. The world is supposed to be a puzzle with a piece missing.

I want to consider this possibility of the importance of emergence in relation to Luminosity now in detail. The fact is that Whitehead’s consideration of Plato’s concept of the “receptacle” in the Timaeus is even more important than the Forms replaced by a bank of possible “eternal objects”. The “receptacle” or khora is one of the strangest things in all Plato. Whitehead calls it the nexus: the ground where occasions and events emerge. This “thing” is called by many names and analogies in Plato himself: a man modelling geometric shapes out of gold and then moulding the material into other ones; like a mother or even nurse/foster-mother of entities in the world of becoming that are fathered by the Forms; like a scentless base liquid perfume makers use for carrying other scents; as an indestructible space (khora) where entities come into being that cannot be detected by the senses; like a receptacle or sieve for separating out grain in its use to separate primordial chaos into the four elements.[32] It is the mysterious “third thing” – a necessary tool of resolution to explain how the Forms could be actualised into physical becoming. Whitehead may have claimed that it was “unscholarly” to associate modern concepts like spacetime with Plato’s khora, but he also firmly seemed to have believed that science was coming closest to the concept for the first time since Plato.[33]

As the iatromantic Timaeus points out in the dialogue, just after mentioning the inability of the senses to detect the khora, we are told that it can only be approached through “logismo notho” (bastard reasoning). Voegelin, in one of the few nods to Plato’s cosmological thought notices this, [34] but does very little with it. More than anything the “receptacle” is not only the ground of emergence, it is also the ground of speculative thought about reality. We can only make comparisons and analogies to try to think where it all comes from.  It is a groundless ground, as Schelling would call the basis of reality (we’ll be looking at Schelling next post). Jacques Derrida  had much to say about the khora/receptacle from an anti-foundationalist standpoint. It is nowhere, but everywhere – the ultimately deferred non-entity that troubles our conceptions of space, location and emergence and the very way we try to symbolise reality, from Plato down to the present:

“But if khora is a receptacle, if it/she gives place to all the stories, ontologic or mythic, that can be recounted on the subject of what she receives and even of what she resembles bur which in fact takes place in her, khora herself, so to speak, doe not become the object of any talk, whether true or fabled. A secret without secret remains forever impenetrable…”[35]

So does this “receptacle” or khora even exist if it is neither Being nor Becoming? Derrida asks, recalling Plato’s Beyond that was so important to Voegelin: “And yet why does not Plato say that khora is epekeina tes ousias? Why is that so difficult to say and to think?” I think that Derrida was getting close to something here. John Sallis notes that epekeina tes ousias is only ever used to talk about the Good. In an ongoing discussion with Derrida, he posited that in Plato’s Myth of the Cave, when the prisoner ascends to the sunlit world, which is called a khora (place), may well echo the Receptacle of the Timaeus. Derrida thought that this was stretching things a bit far, but Sallis seems to have come to considering whether the khora is in fact what gives the Good its place epekeina tes ousias.[36] So too, in the few words he had to say about the khora, did Heidegger seem to realise that something was up: “Plato means to say: beings and Being are in different places. Particular beings and Being are differently located. Thus, when Plato gives thought to the different location of beings and Being, he is asking for the totally different place of Being, as against the place of beings.” Richard T. Livingston takes this up and asks whether:

“Plato’s khôra may provide an opening for what Heidegger refers to in “The Onto‐Theo‐Logical Constitution of Metaphysics” as the “step back”—namely, the step back out of metaphysics, or the movement beyond onto‐theological thinking into the horizon of the difference qua difference. The ontological difference refers to at least two concepts: (1) the (relatively straightforward) difference between Being and beings; (2) difference in itself and as such. On my reading, Heidegger’s ‘step back’ primarily involves thinking the latter.”[37]

The khora is a ground for producing puzzles. It draws us closely to the question of why things do not seem to exactly fit together into some neat symbolisation and “same”, but instead plagues us with “difference”. As Whitehead says, the khora “imposes a common relationship” on all things, but it does not tell us what that relationship is [my emphasis][38] Therefore, an opening and doubt about commonality itself is provoked. I am going to go out on a limb here and propose something a bit different that has been provoked by these queries. What if, from a Voegelinian perspective, the khora is in fact a vital part to the metaxy in Plato? And what if it is by considering it and the problem of emergence and those entities around us (including ourselves) that one begins to awaken the quest for luminescence that transcends Being and Becoming?

What we should acknowledge is that the story of Socrates’ philosophical journey, as he recounts while awaiting his execution in the Phaedo, is one which began with “an extraordinary passion for that branch of learning which is called natural science; I thought it would be marvellous to know the reasons for which each thing comes and continues and ceases to be.”[39] The question of emergence and becoming is at the root of the philosophical quest. However, as Socrates continues, he did not find atomism and other materialisms satisfying. He describes how he came upon the ideas of Anaxagoras as his theory of a material world ruled by Nous (intellect). This led Socrates to thinking that “therefore if anyone wished to discover the reason why any given thing came, continued or ceased to be, he must find out how it was best for that thing to be, or to act, or to be acted upon in any way.”[40]

Yet the young Socrates soon fell out with this explanation too because it seemed to him that it never managed to explain how causation by Nous and causation by material elements worked together. In the end Socrates came up with the Forms, so we are told, and maintained this idea until his death (even if the young Socrates’ Theory of Forms had been knocked down by Parmenides, so we might recall). Nonetheless, it is the search for the reason behind why things emerge, endure and perish that is seen to characterise the Socratic life from start to finish, and however much this might be an issue for the “Socratic Problem” (ie. Plato’s own path of thought), I do not think we should ignore this. In fact I think we should centralise it. I think I’m also going to say this: the khora is a necessary part of the metaxic journey. It is that which exists between emergent entities and the Beyond. Thus for those emergent entities with Nous, such as man, it is only by pondering the purpose of things coming and going that he can turn to ask for the nature of things at work behind it all. In the next part of this essay we will consider this idea, its nuances and repercussions in greater detail.

[1] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, trans. Gierhart Niemeyer, University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London, [1978] 1990, pp. 26-7.

[2] Ibid, p. 35.

[3] Ibid, p. 21.

[4] Ibid. p. 21

[5] Ibid, pp. 18-19.

[6] Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense, trans. Constantin V. Boundas et al, Bloomsbury, London, 2015.

[7] Plato, Sophist, 254a.

[8] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 85.

[9] William James, The Meaning of Truth, Harvard University Press, New York, [1909] 1979, pp. 135-6; A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Free Press, New York, [1925] 1997, p. 52.

[10] Slavoj Žižek, “The Abyss of Freedom,” in Slavoj Žižek and F.W. Schelling, The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World, trans. Judith Norman, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1997, pp. 4-5.

[11] See esp. Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CN, 1959, esp. pp. 310-11 on mysticism, Freud and the “resurrection of the body” taken entirely in the sense of a millenarian sexual liberation. Note that Whitehead is also named here as an ally in this fight against the “climate of opinion.” Man this stuff is sad. See also this old hippy classic, full of Blake and Rousseau: Theodor Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends, Doubleday, London and New York, 1972.

[12] See esp. Voegelin, Anamnesis, pp. 103-9, 148-59. Yet Voegelin says in Order of History Vol 3, p. 276  that Aristotle was guilty of an “intellectual thinning out” of the experience of transcendence that Heraclitus, Parmenides and Plato had all articulated.

[13] See esp. Eric Voegelin, Order and History Vol 5: In Search of Order, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2000.

[14] A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality,  Free Press, New York, [1927] 1978, pp. 248, 344.

[15] See: Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin: Philosopher of History, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, 1983, pp. 28-9. Cf. Eric Voegelin, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin Vol. 21: History of Political Ideas Vol. III: The Later Middle Ages, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, p. 177.

[16] Henry Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, trans. R. Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Bereton, Anchor Books, New York, 1954, esp. pp. 52ff. Cf. Eugene Webb, Eric Voegelin, pp. 147-8;  Eric Voegelin, Collected Works Vol 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1990, p. 273.

[17] See: K. R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol 1: Plato, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, [1945] 1966, notes to introduction p. 202. Cf. Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, [1966] 2002, pp. 7-8. Note here that McLuhan here is talking about Popper and thinks that through television that the “open society” will be “closed” into one big community. On Voegelin’s recognition of Popper’s abuse of the term see: Peter Emberly and Barry Cooper, Faith and Political Philosophy: The Correspondence Between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934-1964, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2004.

[18] Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London, 2011, pp. 67-8.

[19] idem, Order in History Vol IV: The Ecumenic Age, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1999, p. 63f.

[20] Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital, trans. Wieland Hoban, Polity, Cambridge UK, 2016, p. 283 n.4.

[21] See: Radhakrishnan, The Idealist View of Life, Unwin Books, London, [1932] 1975, pp. 259-65;  Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China Vol 2, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, [1956] 1996, esp. pp. 291, 458; James Maffie, Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion, University Press of Colorado, Boulder, 2014.

[22] A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, Free Press, London, [1933] 1961.

[23] If from here we must proceed to Freud’s “third wound” – that of the unconscious, perhaps we would be compelled to say that Plato has become Gilles Deleuze, but I might sooner prefer to say F.W. Schelling who was theorising a process theology that involved the unconscious long before Freud was around. We will come to Schelling later.

[24] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West Vol 1, Alfred A. Knopf, New York [1918] 1922, esp. pp. 66-75, 86.

[25} Eric Voegelin, “The Origins of Scientism,” Social Research, 15.1.4, 1948, pp. 473-83.

[26] Leo Strauss, The City and Man, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1964, p. 51.

[27] Eric Voegelin, “On Debate and Existence,” in Collected Works Volume 12: Published Essays 1966-1985, ed. Ellis Sandoz, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1990, p. 40.

[28] See: A.N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, pp. 22-4, 40-44.

[29] On Whitehead and Pragmatism see: Nancy Frankenberry, “Contingency all the Way Down: Whitehead among the Pragmatists,” in Thinking with Whitehead and the American Pragmatists: Experience and Reality, ed. Brian G. Henning et al, Lexington Books, Lanham and London, 2015, pp. 97-116. From a “speculative realist” on Whitehead and James see: Brian Massumi, Semblance and Event, MIT Press, Cambridge and London, 2013, esp. pp. 29-37.

Whitehead’s God in Process and Reality, pp. 340-8 is a puzzling entity, a He full of care and love but at once transcends and is transcended by the world. He seems more of a kind of deist principle than anything – something to help organise things, affecting and being affected by the world, yet primordial. Roland Faber has tried to claim that this God does not exist, but in-sists –   between the immanent and transcendent: Roland Faber, “De-ontologizing God: Levinas, Deleuze and Whitehead,” in Process and Difference: Between Cosmological and Poststructural Postmodernisms, ed. Kathernine Keller and Anne Daniell, State University Press of New York, Albany NY, 2002, pp. 209-34.  It seems that someone like Deleuze could come up with a somewhat similar system of multiplicity, becoming and emergence to Whitehead, but do away with this God. Or, at very least, reduce him to a totally immanent Dark Precursor or Difference in Itself at work in reality. It seems rather pointless to try to argue whether Deleuze, in doing away with God by collapsing him into immanent reality like Spinoza, was a pantheist or atheist, though many have: Christopher Ben Simpson, Deleuze and Theology, Bloomsbury, London, 2012. Cf. Daniel Colucciello Barber, Deleuze and the Naming of God: Post-Secularism and the Future of Immanence, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2014. Also see: Peter Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Verso, New York and London, 2006 which seems to have started the trend. As I have said here, the problem is that of the Enlightenment’s obsession with immanentising divine Providence into an oikonomia of autopoetic systems, which we see aptly in Spinoza. This can only end in things like “accelerationism” – the falling back to magic to attempt to enchant the economic systems to cough out cargo-cult goodies.

[30] Plato, Sophist, 253d.

[31] Plato, Sophist, 252c.

[32] Plato, Timaeus, 50-53.

[33]  See: A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, esp. pp 150, 159

[34]  Eric Voegelin, Plato, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1966, p. 201.

[35] Jacques Derrida, “Khora” in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1995, p. 117.

[36] John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1999. On this discussion see: Yunko Theresa Mikuriya, A History of Light: The Idea of Photography, Bloomsbury, London and Oxford, 2017, p. 27.

[37]  Richard T. Livingston, “Khoragraphical Connections: From Being to Event in Heidegger and Whitehead,” April 12, 2014, 65th Annual Meeting of the Metaphysical Society of America, Draft. Cf. Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking?, trans. Fred D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray, Harper and Row, New York and London, 1968, p. 227.

[38] A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 150.

[39] Plato, Phaedo, 96b.

[40] Ibid, 97d.


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