Just as contingency, symbiosis, synergy, punctuated equilibrium, complexity can help to open up an understanding of physical evolution in a direction which prioritizes plurality and co-existence and distances itself from the singlular necessity of an algorithmic Darwinism, cultural processes perhaps need to be brought into the orbit of explanation systems which provide alternatives to evolutionary progressivisms, whether of social Darwinism with its theories of econimic competition and eugenics or of selfish cultural genes (memes).
In this domain also, historical contingency (historicity instead of historicism) can be invoked but, if one is to bring this in relation to Sri Aurobindo's teleology and theory of collective progress, some special selective filters may be necessary if we are not to reduce contingency to accident. The notion, introduced in your previous segment, of contingency as play, lila, was undoubtedly very stimulating and reminded me of a sentence by Sri Aurobindo (I have forgotten the source and would be grateful for its reference) to the effect that the divine determinism is rooted not in past time but in perpetual time. A determinism rooted in perpetual time is a paradox, one may also read it as a determinism rooted in present time, understanding present as eternal presence. This is identical with contingency or immediacy of play, deteminism as perfect collective improvization, lila (aka jazz).
The other dimension that I have pondered on in this explanation is the element of group soul or nation soul that he invokes (analogous to the effect of psychic being on human evolution). This invisible action on visible history is again outside the scope of physical descriptions, though it must leave its traces in the visible, unless we deliberately eschew its possibility for fear of a false subjectivism. This fear is very real and cannot be over-estimated and still very much with us in spite of two World Wars and the Lord of the Nations.
But looking back at the cultural history of a people is to discover extraordinary moments when the contingent has offered opportunities for the emergence of a message and individual creativity has modulated itself to the opportunity. If one is fair minded about such cultural moments in the historical archive and not invested in ideological historicism, some intuition of continuities and ruptures of a being with a nameless yet distinct identity seems to emerge. The seemingly accidental cultural choices of a people under similar contingent pressures can provide a description of invisible agency without banalizing it with a name. In my own explorations into cultural history, I have found this to be of continuing and abiding interest. DB Reply
by Debashish on Wed 25 Mar 2009 03:49 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
I have referenced the work of Dipesh Chakrabarty. According to him, cultural history conditions experience. Contingency offers a palimpsest of ontological possibilties which the creative agent evokes and which instrumentalize the creative agent in the negotiations of culture.
In my own work as a cultural historian, I have identified a number of agents in the "field of cultural production" (Bourdieu's phrase). These include the sponsor/patron, the user (if the cultural message is coded into a materially or socially utilitarian medium), agents of cultural tradition, agents of ideology and creative agents. Of these, the agents of cultural tradition and of ideology canonize and transmit forms of taste, perception and ontic possibility which represent continuities.
However, none of these are without contestation. Struggles of power among each of these agents (and within their variants) mark every cultural product. What is of interest is not merely to see what persists but what and how it is ruptured, modified, transformed or substituted. As with the individual, purusha takes up mental-vital-physical prakritis with their characteritsics and expressions but breaks and replaces them from life to life. In each life, one may speak of a development of persistent characteritstics over a certain period of time, but from life to life (or even within a life), to talk of such development may be irrelevant.
I see the ruptures of India, for example the destructions of Islam or of modernity to be as much the life of the nation soul as its iconic persistences. All prakritic development and change continues to co-exist in the ontological possibilties of any time. Purusha's evolution is less visible than these; it voices its specific questions and its movement towards integral answers only sporadically and as works of experiment, always in the making. DB Reply
by Debashish on Wed 25 Mar 2009 04:18 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
The gradation between prakriti and purusha should also be more carefully resolved if one is to study progress/evolution in a cultural sense. Prakritic expressions such as tastes, traits, forms and practices have subtler realties behind them such as ideologemes and philosophemes which have greater lasting and mutating power through cultural change, transformation or hybridity. Persistent ideologemes and philosophemes withn a habitus should also not be taken for granted but can yield fruitful hypotheses in studying the invisible orientations of creative choice in acts of cultural contingency. What these may say about purusha and its evolution can hardly be definitively stated in any case, but can provide a "sixth sense" for swabhava. DB Reply