An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

powered by TinyLetter
Today is:
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Daniel Gustav AndersonDaniel Gustav Anderson is presently a graduate student in Cultural Studies at George Mason University. His interests include critical theory, ecology, and European and South Asian traditions of dialectical thinking. He is the author of "Of Syntheses and Surprises: Toward a Critical Integral Theory", "Such a Body We Must Create: New Theses on Integral Micropolitics" and "Sweet Science:” A Proposal for Integral Macropolitics", which have been published in Integral Review.

Problems and Opportunities in Integral Cultural Criticism

Departing from Spheres of Awareness

Daniel Gustav Anderson

Lough, James and Patricia Herron, eds. Spheres of Awareness: A Wilberian Integral Approach to Literature, Philosophy, Psychology, and Art. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2009. Print.

Spheres of Awareness

Lough and Herron's volume takes up an issue that is of central importance to integral thinking: the cultural and the literary. It is an uneven effort. The problems in Spheres of Awareness, however, indicate potential directions for productive work in the future. How so?

Spheres of Awareness proposes a Wilberian approach to cultural phenomena, emphasizing literature and philosophy. But the volume's editors never touch the question of why this is warranted. Why Ken Wilber, why literature? It is true, as the editors suggest in the introduction, that Ken Wilber values literary and philosophic objects and discourses, and that this may matter to some readers because Wilber values Depth in opposition to the presumed but not demonstrated surface-only or “external” emphasis of contemporary discourse in the humanities. To the editors' mind, then, Wilber's values are superior to those of the straw-man versions of critical theorists they construct. This does not adequately address the issue of whether or not Wilber's approach is warranted, and if so, how.

Nor does it touch the question of how or in what way such a consideration of literature and philosophy specifically is warranted. Why literature? What can literature and philosophy, and the act of critical reading, teach us about ourselves and our situation among others? To be clear, my own conviction is that literature and philosophy are of primary importance; this is why literary and philosophical examples penetrate my own thinking to such an extent. These are vital, breathing archives, with real power to change minds and lives. Unfortunately, the Spheres of Awareness volume does not provide a systematic framework for understanding the role of such literature for integral practice, or even mapping out just what a literary object is today.

This means that the overall project is rudderless from its first principles, even though many of the essays offer useful insights. As an integral whole the book is without a center of gravity, without a trajectory. Several problems follow from this. I will touch on three of them briefly.

  • One: the straw-man treatment of critical theory I alluded to above leads the editors and authors to ignore forms of scholarship, forms of engaged critique that do, in fact, value “depth,” transformation, consciousness, and subjective experience. These would include the dialectic of consciousness and conditions in the Birmingham tradition of Cultural Studies, the critical utopianism of the Frankfurt School and associated thinkers (e.g. Ernst Bloch), and the “organic intellectual” of Gramscian practice, among others. One might except Linda E. Olds' essay in Spheres of Awareness, on Carl Jung, from this criticism if one is willing to regard Jung as a critical thinker.
  • Two: There is no systematic attempt here to account for the limitations of and problems in Wilberian theory from its premises, such as those presented in the work of Jeff Meyerhoff, Frank Visser, David Lane and (less significantly) the present author. Such an account would have made the work critical. Such an account would have made a rigorous attempt to work through those problems possible, and would consequently have represented a valuable advance in our understanding. It should be noted that Brian Hines' probing and well-presented essay on Wilber's use of Plotinus is an instance where Spheres of Awareness moves in this direction, to the credit of the whole. In passing here, I find it curious that a volume on Wilber and literature would have so little to say about Wilber's literary practice overall. One wonders how would a Wilberian cultural critic account for a text with literary pretension such as Boomeritis.
  • Three: Perhaps because it is unclear to the editors what problem the project attempts to address, it is difficult to identify the conceptual threads that should hold the essays in this volume together. This is an especially important consideration for a project in integral studies, where wholes and relations among parts and different scales count for something. Yes, all of the essays have something to say about Ken Wilber, and about literature, but what if the project had offered an integral (integrated and systematic!) approach to a specified problem?

I am laying these problems out for two fundamental reasons. First, because this material matters, and not only for its own sake. It is not enough to merely assume that culture matters. It is necessary to account for this assumption in order to make a premise of it. One way to do it: Cultural objects bring the facts of personal and social being to consciousness with great power and pleasure, and the best of them go further and propose ways and means toward transforming both personal and social being. From this premise, it becomes obvious why cultural matters are of primary importance to any integral project, and why attempts to come to grips with them should be taken very seriously.

For these reasons, Spheres of Awareness can offer a springboard into future work insofar as the problems I describe above are taken up and worked through dialectically in new work. Second, this volume's lacunae are worth airing they may be representative of work of this kind. What does Spheres of Awareness tell us about the state of Wilberian literary criticism as a whole? That such criticism has yet to identify its object, its methods, or its rationale in a concrete and systematic way. There is much work left to do and has been since Mary Ellen Pitts first proposed a Wilberian hermeneutics (1990). Thanks to this more recent volume, the tasks that remain are much easier to delineate. This means it will be possible in the future to think in this space and produce work that is more rigorous and more integral than that which is worked out on Wilberian lines.

Spheres of Awareness, then, is to be appreciated as an opening to a conversation that must continue, in a way that is dialectical and not adversarial. I have included below an extensive bibliography that will be of use to scholars who would like to take up the challenge this text offers. This bibliography emphasizes the spaces in between those mapped out in the Lough & Herron text with an eye toward the problems identified above (beyond those texts readily available at IntegralWorld).


Abbagnano, Nicola. Critical Existentialism. Trans. Nino Langiulli. New York: Anchor Books, 1969. Print.

Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998. Print.

Aglietta, Michel. A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The U.S. Experience. Second Ed. New York: Verso Classics, 2000. Print.

Allende, Salvador. Chile's Road to Socialism. Trans. J Darling. London: Penguin Books, 1973. Print.

—. Salvador Allende Reader: Chile's Voice of Democracy. Ed. James D. Cockcroft. New York: Ocean Press, 2000. Print.

Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. London: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Print.

Anderson, Daniel Gustav. “'Such a Body We Must Create': New Theses on Integral Micropolitics.” The Integral Review 4.2 (2008): 4-70. Print.

—. “'Sweet Science': A Proposal for Integral Macropolitics.” The Integral Review 6.1 (2010): 10-62. Print.

Anderson, Perry. Arguments Within English Marxism. London: NLB, 1980. Print.

—. Considerations on Western Marxism. London: NLB, 1976. Print.

—. Lineages of the Absolutist State. New York: Verso, 1979. Print.

Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House, 1941. Print.

Axelos, Kostas. Alienation, Praxis, and Techne in the Thought of Karl Marx. Trans. Ronald Bruzina. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1976. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland & Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999. Print.

Benton, Ted. Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights, and Social Justice. New York: Verso, 1993. Print.

—. “Natural Science and Cultural Struggle: Engels and Philosophy and the Natural Sciences.” Issues in Marxist Philosophy: Volume II, Materialism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1979. 101-142. Print.

Benton, Ted, ed. The Greening of Marxism. New York: Guilford Press, 1996. Print.

Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997. Print.

Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. Print.

—. The Spirit of Utopia. Trans. Anthony Nassar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. Print.

—. Traces. Trans. Anthony A. Nassar. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006. Print.

van Boxsel, Matthijs. The Encyclopedia of Stupidity. Trans. Arnold Pomerans & Erica Pomerans. London: Reaktion Books, 2003. Print.

Brown, Charles S, and Ted Toadvine, eds. Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003. Print.

Brown, Douglas M. Towards a Radical Democracy: The Political Economy of the Budapest School. London: Allen & Unwin, 1988. Print.

Buck-Morss, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. Print.

Burkett, Paul. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. Print.

—. Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy. Boston, MA: Brill, 2006. Print.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004. Print.

Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. On Ideology. London: Hutchison, 1978. Print.

Cohen, G. A. Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.

Colletti, Lucio. From Rousseau to Lenin; Studies in Ideology and Society. Trans. John Merrington & Judith White. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973. Print.

—. Marxism and Hegel. Trans. Lawrence Garner. London: NLB, 1973. Print.

Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London: Verso, 2006. Print.

Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books, 1995. Print.

Dews, Peter. Logics of Disintegration: Post-Structuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory. New York: Verso, 1987. Print.

Eagleton, Terry. Ideology: An Introduction. New York: Verso, 1991. Print.

Engels, Friedrich. Dialectics of Nature. Trans. Clemens Dutt. New York: International Publishers, 1940. Print.

Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. Print.

Foster, John Bellamy. Ecology against Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002. Print.

—. Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. Trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1976. Print.

Frow, John. Cultural Studies and Cultural Value. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1995. Print.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.

Gramsci, Antonio. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Ed. Quintin Hoare & Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Print.

—. The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings, 1916-1935. Ed. David Forgacs. New York: New York University Press, 2000. Print.

Hartigan, John. Odd Tribes: Toward a Cultural Analysis of White People. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. Print.

Harvey, David. Spaces of Hope. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000. Print.

—. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989. Print.

—. The Limits to Capital. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Print.

—. The New Imperialism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London: Methuen, 1979. Print.

Hershock, Peter D. Buddhism in the Public Sphere: Reorienting Global Interdependence. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

—. “Family Matters: Dramatic Interdependence and the Intimate Realization of Buddhist Liberation.” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 7 (2000): 86-104. Print.

—. Liberating Intimacy: Enlightenment and Social Virtuosity in Ch'an Buddhism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996. Print.

Hookham, S. K. The Buddha Within: Tathagatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991. Print.

Horkheimer, Max. “Traditional and Critical Theory.” Critical Theory: Selected Essays. Ed & trans by. Matthew J O'Connell. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1982. 188-243. Print.

Hudson, Wayne. The Marxist Philosophy of Ernst Bloch. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982. Print.

Illouz, Eva. Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1997. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. “Cognitive Mapping.” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Ed. Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 347-357. Print.

—. “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture.” Social Text 1 (1979): 130-148. Print.

—. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981. Print.

Johnson, Richard. “Reading for the Best Marx: history-writing and historical abstraction.” Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics. London: Hutchison, 1982. Print.

King, Sallie B. Being Benevolence: The Social Ethics of Engaged Buddhism. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. Print.

Knabb, Ken. “Strong Lessons for Engaged Buddhists.” Bureau of Public Secrets. 1993. Web. 13 Sept. 2010.

Kosik, Karel. Dialectics of the Concrete: A Study on Problems of Man and World. Trans. Karel Kovanda & James Schmidt. Boston, MA: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1976. Print.

Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. 2nd ed. London: Verso, 2001. Print.

Lefebvre, Henri. Dialectical Materialism. Trans. John Sturrock. London: Jonathan Cape, 1968. Print.

—. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1991. Print.

Lem, Stanislaw. Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ed. Franz Rottensteiner. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1986. Print.

Lenin, V.I. “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism.” V.I. Lenin, Selected Works. New York: International Publishers, 1967. 677-777. Print.

—. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism: Critical Comments on a Reactionary Philosophy. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962. Print.

Linebaugh, Peter, and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2000. Print.

Lopez, Donald S. Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.

Lukacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness; Studies in Marxist Dialectics. Trans. Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971. Print.

—. Ontology of Social Being. Trans. David Fernbach. 3 vols. London: Merlin Press, 1978. Print.

—. The Young Hegel. Trans. Rodney Livingstone. London: Merlin Press, 1975. Print.

Luke, Timothy W. Capitalism, Democracy, and Ecology: Departing from Marx. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Print.

Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital. Trans. Agnes Schwarzschild. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Mandel, Ernst. Late Capitalism. Trans. Joris De Bres. London: NLB, 1975. Print.

Marcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1969. Print.

Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). Trans. Martin Nicolaus. New York: Penguin Books, 1973. Print.

—. “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts.” Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Ed. Lawrence H. Simon. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994. 56-97. Print.

—. “The German Ideology.” Karl Marx: Selected Writings. Ed. Lawrence H. Simon. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994. 103-156. Print.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Adventures of the Dialectic. Trans. Joseph Bein. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973. Print.

—. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Mollgaard, Eske. “Slavoj Zizek's Critique of Western Buddhism.” Contemporary Buddhism 9.2 (2008): 167-180. Print.

Morris, David J. We must make haste—slowly: the process of revolution in Chile. New York: Vintage Books, 1973. Print.

Morton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. Print.

Nizan, Paul. The Watchdogs; Philosophers of the Established Order. Trans. Paul Fittingoff. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. Print.

O'Connor, James. Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998. Print.

Paci, Enzo. The Function of the Sciences and the Meaning of Man. Trans. Paul Piccone & James E. Hansen. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1972. Print.

Pannekoek, Anton. Marxism and Darwinism. Trans. Nathan Weiser. Chicago, IL: C. H. Kerr & Company, 1912. Print.

Parsons, Howard L. Marx and Engels on Ecology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977. Print.

Pepper, David. Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Pitts, Mary Ellen. “The Holographic Paradigm: A New Model for the Study of Literature and Science.” Modern Language Studies 20.4 (1990): 80-89. Print.

Polanyi, Karl. The Great Transformation. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1957. Print.

Roach, Joseph R. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. Print.

Ross, Andrew. Strange Weather: Culture, Science, and Technology in the Age of Limits. New York: Verso, 1991. Print.

Roy, Bonnitta. “A Process Model of Integral Theory.” Integral Review 3 (2006): 118-152. Print.

Schmidt, Alfred. The Concept of Nature in Marx. Trans. Ben Fowkes. London: NLB, 1971. Print.

Schwarz, Bill. “'The People' In History: The Communist Party Historians' Group.” Making Histories: Studies in History-Writing and Politics. London: Hutchison, 1982. 44-95. Print.

Schweickart, David. After Capitalism. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002. Print.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. Print.

Shantideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara. Trans. Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2003. Print.

Smith, Paul. Millennial Dreams: Contemporary Culture and Capital in the North. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

Soper, Kate. “Marxism, Materialism and Biology.” Issues in Marxist Philosophy: Volume II, Materialism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1979. 61-99. Print.

—. On Human Needs: Open and Closed Theories in a Marxist Perspective. Sussex, UK: Harvester Press, 1981. Print.

Suvin, Darko. Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1988. Print.

Therborn, Goran. Science, Class, and Society: Or the Formation of Sociology and Historical Materialism. London: NLB, 1976. Print.

Thompson, E.P. The Poverty of Theory. London: Merlin Press, 1995. Print.

Timpanaro, Sebastiano. On Materialism. Trans. Lawrence Garner. London: NLB, 1975. Print.

Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Ed. John Baker & Marvin Casper. Boston: Shambhala, 1987. Print.

Victoria, Brian Daizen. Zen at War. New York: Weatherhill, 1997. Print.

Voloshinov, V.N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Trans. Ladislav Matejka & I.R. Titunik. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973. Print.

West, Cornel. Prophesy Deliverance!: an Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1982. Print.

Wilber, Ken. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala, 2000. Print.

—. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Revised Edition. Boston: Shambhala, 2000. Print.

—. The Spectrum of Consciousness. Wheaton, Ill: Theosophical Publishing. House, 1977. Print.

—. Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution. Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1981. Print.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. Print.

—. The Country and the City. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1973. Print.

Ziporyn, Brook. Being and Ambiguity: Philosophical Experiments with Tiantai Buddhism. Chicago: Open Court, 2004. Print.

Zizek, Slavoj. “From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism.” Cabinet Magazine Spring 2001. Web. 13 Sept. 2010.

—. On Belief. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

—. The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

Comment Form is loading comments...