Against Binaries

One of the greatest understandings I ever had of salvation came from Nagarjuna . Nagarjuna says, “as long as you are capable of distinguishing between Moksha and Samsara, you are in Samsara.” Salvation is a situation where you know that the thin line of separation that existed between things have evaporated. Salvation is possible, perhaps only when we ease all the binaries that are binding us. Fall of humanity must be defined as a fall into two possibilities of one reality. We are always confronted with an either/or. Is there a way to embrace all the possibilities of a reality ? At least is there a way to not be in binary?
What are the stifling binaries we are confronting every day? These are the monstrous dualism we see around: Body/mind, man/woman, young/old, self/other, pure/impure, part/whole, Being/being. These are the categories that prevent us from achieving the wholeness we destined to achieve. The value of sacraments lie in abolishing the binaries: Baptism makes everyone children, marriage makes man and woman of one body. Philosopher Julia Kristeva appreciates this sacramentality of religion. She recommends, In Strangers To Ourselves, that “we surmount the theocratic dualisms of pure and impure, Saved and damned, native and stranger; for she argues, such dualisms lead to sacrificial scapegoating and war. The big work of our civilisation is to fight this hatred – without God.”
Our identities become a slavery when they confine us to a category diametrically oppose to another category. It is something Susan Sontag, a hugely influential writer, senses. She writes, ” The young-old polarisation and the male-female polarisation are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people.” This polarisation denies us two ways of perceiving and feeling and constrain us to single cottages of existence stitched with safety pins. When our fluid existence is intransigently flattened into a label, it becomes a violence to another mode of living. Sontag resist this stereotyping because of its inherent violence, ” the values associated with youth and with masculinity are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you are old and what you can do when you are young is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man ”
when the word continues to divide itself along racial lines, nationality, religion and culture , we have to grasp the fact they are inventions made to exclude others. Binaries are exclusions. Sontag turns against this exclusive nature of binaries, ” For people to understand themselves in this way seems to be very destructive, and also very culpabilizing. These stereotypes of thought versus feeling, heart versus head, male versus female were invented at a time when people were convinced that the world was going in a certain direction – that is toward technocracy, rationalisation, science, and so on – but they were all invented as a defence against Romantic values.”
Derrida attacks the insidious predicament of binaries. As a poststructuralist, Derrida condemns the belief that all the binaries are natural. Derrida’s Point is that they are imposed and they are the reasons of hierarchies. Light is before dark and right is before left because they are inherent in a given structure of a given culture is the idea that light is better than dark and right is better than left. This is absurd and this is a human construct. Derrida thinks that by destroying the hierarchy, we can erase the line between the binary oppositions.
In his essay “The Restricted to General Economy” he emphasizes that a “master” cannot exist without a “slave” and that in some sense because a slave is no longer bound by the responsibility to maintain life like a “master” he is actually a “master” while the “master” becomes a “slave” to those things that maintain life! He goes even further by showing that these binary oppositions are absurd because you would never understand master without slave, white without black, light without dark, etc.
Derrida uses ‘deconstruction’ to expose the wrongful preconceptions and contradictions buried in our use of language. Smith defines deconstruction as “a deeply affirmative mode of critique attentive to the way in which texts, structures and institutions marginalise and exclude ‘the other’, with a view to reconstructing and reconstituting institutions and practices to be more just”. Along with deconstruction Derrida uses another concept,’ presence ‘ which means “what is most real, true or important is what is most Present.”Most language will speak of generic human as “he” For Derrida, this Signifies that the language has horribly fallen into the trap of believing that there is certain ‘ideal’ that must be followed. In this case, masculinity would be the Ideal over against femininity. This is absurd according to him. There is no concept of “he” if not for the equal and opposite “she.” Therefore , masculine pronoun as the ideal pronoun signifies a mistaken concept of “presence.”
According to Laruelle The Real which is also the One is an instance which is beyond the dichotomy of Matter and Idea, beyond the dichotomy of Body and Mind. Laruelle renounces the philosophy of Hegel which progresses on the confrontation between thesis and antithesis. Laruelle knows that nothing good will ever come from confronting its own anteriority.
By seeking to destroy binaries and dualisms, we don’t annul the difference that exists between man and woman or body and mind. Dual is acceptable because it provides an avenue for thinking about two-ness without resorting to relationship. What is not acceptable is a binarical nelahonship which glorifies one at the expense of the other. According to Laruelle twoness is overcome by oneness; the transcendental is overcome by immanence.
Hardt and Negri sensed the calamity that lurks through a unity that is created by the working of binaries,” The old three part dialectical, which would make a unity of two conflicting subjectivities will no longer work. Its claims of unity and integration at this point are just false promises.” Mao’s One becomes two is also deplored by Deleuze as ” the most classical and well rejected, oldest, and wearist kind of thought.”
When we speak against binaries, we are speaking against the grand narratives that have fixed things forever and have sculpted the formation of two. All these fixations have done a lot of harm, they have made us forget the flux we are in. they have denied us the changing propositions that we need to acquire. Even God changes, He/she laughs away her tears.
How can we be a whole? or more than a whole? This prose poem by Anne Carson may be of help:
“It was a blue winter evening, the cold bit like a wire. Isaiah laid his forehead on the ground. God arrived. Why do the righteous suffer? said Isaiah. Bellings of cold washed down the Branch. Notice whenever God addresses Isaiah in a feminine singular verb something dazzling is about to happen. Isaiah, what do you know about women? asked God. Down Isaiah’s nostrils bounced woman words: Blush. Stink. Wife. Fig. Sorceress— God nodded. Isaiah goes home and get some sleep, said God. Isaiah went home, slept, woke again. Isaiah felt sensation below the neck, it was a silk and bitter sensation. Isaiah looked down. It was milk forcing the nipples open. Isaiah was more than whole. I am not with you I am in you, said the muffled white voice of God. Isaiah sank to a kneeling position.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s