Friday, October 14, 2005


It strikes me that people are often very quick to declare a relationship of opposition. Now if you believe that the world is structured in terms of opposition or oppositional forces (order/chaos, good/evil, male/female etc) then that might not seem to be of any note whatsoever. However, from an undualistic understanding of experience the idea of opposition can sort of dissolve into an unsubstantiable discursive assertion rather than a declaration of some eternal truth. It is often the case that a rhetorical assertion of opposition is more adequately understood as the identification of difference. The opposition part, for me at least, tends to emerge as a discursive overdetermination of the conditions of happening.

Why am I going on about this? I have been reading Jeffrey Gray's The Psychology of Fear and Stress, a fairly psychologically-orthodox popular text from 1971. It's an interesting read, but it's the following paragraph that stood up and waved to me ... [written in the context of a brief mention of Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals]

Darwin's second principle is that of antithesis, according to which two behavioural dispositions opposite in kind (e.g. agressive and friendly) are expressed in ways which are also the opposite of each other. A very common example, found among fish, birds, and mammals (including Man) is the opposition between a direct stare ... and an averted gaze .... (p.31)

It is is no way "natural", necessary, or inevitable that agressiveness and friendliness be set up as opposites. Different conditions do not opposition make. Neither is it terribly adequate to speak of the difference between a direct stare and an averted gaze as opposites. The "opposition" would rather seem to come from the discursive engagement of the writer, within, of course, communities of discourse in which such ideas often go unchallenged.

I've had a number of people in the last few years say to me that the dynamics of the world can be reduced to Marx's thesis-antithesis-synthesis formula. Understood within my theoretical work on the dynamics of enclosure, opposition or thesis-antithesis-synthesis emerge from the discursive deployment of strategies of closure (the discursive "elimination" of variables) and separation (the discursive "equation" of difference as "separateness") together. As I understand what goes on, the deployment of closure and separation in making sense of experience tends to grossly misrepresent the character of what actually happens.

Thinking that the world is naturally structured in terms of opposition is not, in my opinion, likely to lead to fruitful analysis of how we might more helpfully or more appropriately participate in the everyday transformation of our lives. Identifying that experience and expectation tend to often be discursively structured in terms of opposition leads to opportunities for us to, first, identify how opposition is asserted, and, second, to dissolve the oppositional relationship within our own thinking and proceed on the basis of a more fluid and gentle analysis that asks, 'okay, so if opposition isn't a necessary aspect of this situation, how might I understand what is actually going on?'.

Nonduality: Wikipedia

Flax, J. 1992. "The End of Innocence" in J. Butler and J.W. Scott Feminists Theorize the Political New York: Routledge.

The Embodied Mind

Pragmatist Philosophy and Action Research

Pragmatism: A Reader

Buddhism Without Beliefs