Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism

Whatever you may think of Slavoj Žižek (people seem to either love him or hate him) his points about western Buddhism’s complicity in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system are not easily dismissed. Might he be right in his contention that Buddhism, as it is practiced in the West, “is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism”? Certainly, I have seen no Buddhist response to his claims that even approaches the intelligence and care which Žižek brings to the matter.

In addition to the issue of Buddhism’s role in inuring people to a destructive form of capitalism, I hope we will all give sustained thought to the issue of fetishism. I mean here the imbuing onto objects a power and potency that they do not possess. Would Buddhism, as yet one of countless offspring of western “spirituality,” be the multi-billion dollar enterprise that I suspect it is if not for western Buddhists’ propensity to fetishize–to some extent, at least–its practices, teachers, texts, and ritual paraphernalia? Can we give it some serious thought? I, for my part, will revisit this topic from time to time. Here is Žižek’s piece.

From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism

Slavoj Žižek

The ultimate postmodern irony of today is the strange exchange between Europe and Asia: at the very moment when “European” technology and capitalism are triumphing worldwide at the level of the “economic infrastructure, the Judeo-Christian legacy is threatened at the level of “ideological superstructure” in the European space itself by New Age “Asiatic” thought, which, in its different guises ranging from “Western Buddhism” to different “Taos,” is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.1 Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. One should mention here the well-known concept of “future shock” that describes how people are no longer psychologically able to cope with the dazzling rhythm of technological development and the social changes that accompany it. Things simply move too fast, and before one can accustom oneself to an invention, it has already been supplanted by a new one, so that one more and more lacks the most elementary “cognitive mapping.” The recourse to Taoism or Buddhism offers a way out of this predicament that definitely works better than the desperate escape into old traditions. Instead of trying to cope with the accelerating rhythm of techno-logical progress and social changes, one should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination.

One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being. One is almost tempted to resuscitate the old infamous Marxist cliché of religion as the “opium of the people,” as the imaginary supplement to terrestrial misery. The “Western Buddhist” meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.2

“Western Buddhism” thus fits perfectly the fetishist mode of ideology in our allegedly “post-ideological” era, as opposed to its traditional symptomal mode in which the ideological lie which structures our perception of reality is threatened by symptoms qua “returns of the repressed,” cracks in the fabric of the ideological lie. The fetish is effectively a kind of symptom in reverse. That is to say, the symptom is the exception which disturbs the surface of the false appearance, the point at which the repressed Other Scene erupts, while the fetish is the embodiment of the Lie which enables us to sustain the unbearable truth. Let us take the case of the death of a beloved person. In the case of a symptom, I “repress” this death and try not to think about it, but the repressed trauma returns in the symptom. In the case of a fetish, on the contrary, I “rationally” fully accept this death, and yet I cling to the fetish, to some feature that embodies for me the disavowal of this death. In this sense, a fetish can play a very constructive role in allowing us to cope with the harsh reality. Fetishists are not dreamers lost in their private worlds. They are thorough “realists” capable of accepting the way things effectively are, given that they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to cancel the full impact of reality. In Nevil Shute’s melodramatic World War II novel Requiem for a WREN, the heroine survives her lover’s death without any visible traumas. She goes on with her life and is even able to talk rationally about her lover’s death because she still has the dog that was the lover’s favored pet. When, some time after, the dog is accidentally run over by a truck, she collapses and her entire world disintegrates.3

Sometimes, the line between fetish and symptom is almost indiscernible. An object can function as the symptom (of a repressed desire) and almost simultaneously as a fetish (embodying the belief which we officially renounce). A leftover of the dead person, a piece of his/her clothes, can function both as a fetish (insofar as the dead person magically continues to live in it) and as a symptom (functioning as the disturbing detail that brings to mind his/her death). Is this ambiguous tension not homologous to that between the phobic and the fetishist object? The structural role is in both cases the same: If this exceptional element is disturbed, the whole system collapses. Not only does the subject’s false universe collapse if he is forced to confront the meaning of his symptom; the opposite also holds, insofar as the subject’s “rational” acceptance of the way things are dissolves when his fetish is taken away from him.

So, when we are bombarded by claims that in our post-ideological cynical era nobody believes in the proclaimed ideals, when we encounter a person who claims he is cured of any beliefs and accepts social reality the way it really is, one should always counter such claims with the question “OK, but where is the fetish that enables you to (pretend to) accept reality ‘the way it is’?” “Western Buddhism” is such a fetish. It enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always with-draw. In a further specification, one should note that the fetish can function in two opposite ways: either its role remains unconscious—as in the case of Shute’s heroine who was unaware of the fetish-role of the dog—or you think that the fetish is that which really matters, as in the case of a Western Buddhist unaware that the “truth” of his existence is in fact the social involvement which he tends to dismiss as a mere game.

Nowhere is this fetishist logic more evident than apropos of Tibet, one of the central references of the post-Christian “spiritual” imaginary. Today, Tibet more and more plays the role of such a fantasmatic Thing, of a jewel which, when one approaches it too much, turns into the excremental object. It is a commonplace to claim that the fascination exerted by Tibet on the Western imagination, especially on the broad public in the US, provides an exemplary case of the “colonization of the imaginary.” It reduces the actual Tibet to a screen for the projection of Western ideological fantasies. Indeed, the very inconsistency of this image of Tibet, with its direct coincidences of opposites, seems to bear witness to its fantasmatic status. Tibetans are portrayed as people leading the simple life of spiritual satisfaction, fully accepting their fate, liberated from the excessive cravings of the Westerner who is always searching for more, and as a bunch of filthy, cheating, cruel, sexually promiscuous primitives. Lhasa itself becomes a version of Franz Kafka’s Castle: sublime and majestic when first seen from afar, but then changing into the “paradise of filth,” a gigantic pile of shit, as soon as one actually enters the city. Potala, the central palace towering over Lhasa, is a kind of heavenly residence on earth, magically floating in the air and a labyrinth of stale seedy rooms and corridors full of monks engaged in obscure magic rituals, including sexual perversions. The social order is presented as the model of organic harmony and as the tyranny of the cruel corrupted theocracy keeping ordinary people ignorant. The Tibetan Buddhism itself is simultaneously hailed as the most spiritual of all religions, the last shelter of ancient Wisdom, and as the utmost primitive superstition, relying on praying wheels and similar cheap magic tricks. This oscillation between jewel and shit is not the oscillation between the idealized ethereal fantasy and raw reality: in such an oscillation, both extremes are fantasmatic, i.e. the fantasmatic space is the very space of this immediate passage from one extreme to the other.

The first antidote against this topos of the raped jewel, of the isolated place of people who just wanted to be left alone but were repeatedly penetrated by foreigners, is to remind ourselves that Tibet was already in itself an antagonistic, split society, not an organic Whole whose harmony was disturbed only by external intruders. Tibetan unity and independence were themselves imposed from the outside. Tibet emerged as a unified country in the ninth century when it established a “patron-priest” relationship with the Mongols. The Mongols protected the Tibetans, who in turn pro-vided spiritual guidance to Mongolia. (The very name “Dalai Lama” is of Mongol origins and was conferred on Tibetan religious leader by the Mongols.) Events took the same turn in the 17th century when the Fifth Lama, the greatest of them all, established the Tibet we know today—again, through benevolent foreign patronage—and started the construction of Potala. What followed was the long tradition of factional struggles, in which, as a rule, the winners won by inviting foreigners (Mongols, Chinese) to intervene. This story culminates in the recent partial shift of the Chinese strategy. Rather than use sheer military coercion, the Chinese now rely on ethnic and economic colonization, rapidly transforming Lhasa into a Chinese version of the capitalist Wild West with karaoke bars intermingled with the Disney-like “Buddhist theme parks” for Western tourists. In short, what the media image of the brutal Chinese soldiers and policemen terrorizing the Buddhist monks conceals is the much more effective, American-style socioeconomic transformation. In a decade or two, the Tibetans will be reduced to the status of the Native Americans in the United States.

The second antidote is therefore the opposite one: to denounce the split nature of the Western image of Tibet as a “reflexive determination” of the split attitude of the West itself, combining violent penetration and respectful sacralization. Colonel Francis Younghusband, who in 1904 led the English regiment of 1,200 men that reached Lhasa and forced trade agreements on the Tibetans, and was a true precursor of the late Chinese invasion. He mercilessly ordered the machine gun slaughter of hundreds of Tibetan soldiers armed only with swords and lances and thus forced his way to Lhasa. However, this same person experienced in his last day in Lhasa a true epiphany: “Never again could I think of evil, or ever again be at enmity with any man. All nature and all humanity were bathed in a rosy glowing radiancy; and life for the future seemed nought but buoyancy and light.”4 The same went for his commander-in-chief, the infamous Lord Curzon, who justified Younghusband’s expedition thus: “The Tibetans are a weak and cowardly people, their very pusillanimity rendering them readily submissive to any powerful military authority who entering their country should forthwith give a sharp lesson and a wholesome dread of offending.”5 Yet this same Curzon, who insisted how “nothing can or will be done with the Tibetans until they are frightened,” declared in a speech at an Old Etonian banquet: “The East is a university in which the scholar never takes his degree. It is a temple where the suppliant adores but never catches sight of the object of his devotion. It is a journey the goal of which is always in sight but is never attained.”6

What was and is absolutely foreign to Tibet is this Western logic of desire to penetrate the inaccessible object beyond a limit, through a great ordeal and against natural obstacles and vigilant patrols. In his travelogue To Lhasa in Disguise, published in 1924, William McGovern “raised the tantalizing question: What provokes a man to risk so much on such an arduous, dangerous, and unnecessary journey to a place that is so manifestly unappealing when he at last gets there?” To the Tibetans, at least, such a useless trek seemed nonsensical. McGovern wrote of his efforts to explain his motives to an incredulous Tibetan official in Lhasa: “It was impossible to get him to understand the pleasures of undertaking an adventure and dangerous journey. Had I talked about anthropological research he would have thought me mad.”7

The lesson to our followers of Tibetan Wisdom is thus that if we want to be Tibetans, we should forget about Tibet and do it here. Therein resides the ultimate paradox: The more Europeans try to penetrate the “true” Tibet, the more the very form of their endeavor undermines their goal. We should appreciate the full scope of this paradox, especially with regard to “Eurocentrism.” The Tibetans were extremely self-centered: “To them, Tibet was the center of the world, the heart of civilization.”8 What characterizes European civilization, on the contrary, is precisely its ex-centered character—the notion that the ultimate pillarof Wisdom, the secret agalma, the spiritual treasure, the lost object-cause of desire, which we in the West long ago betrayed, could be recuperated out there in the forbidden exotic place. Colonization was never simply the imposition of Western values, the assimilation of the Oriental and other Others to European Sameness; it was always also the search for the lost spiritual innocence of our own civilization. This story begins at the very dawn of Western civilization, in Ancient Greece. For the Greeks, Egypt was such a mythic place of lost ancient wisdom.

And the same holds today in our own societies. The difference between the authentic fundamentalists and the perverted Moral Majority fundamentalists is that the first (like the Amish in the United States) get along very well with their American neighbors since they are simply centered on their own world and not bothered by what goes on out there among “them,” while the Moral Majority fundamentalist is always haunted by the ambiguous attitude of horror/envy with regard to the unspeakable pleasures in which the sinners engage. The reference to Envy as one of the seven deadly sins can thus serve as a perfect instrument enabling us to distinguish authentic fundamentalism from its Moral Majority mockery: authentic fundamentalists do not envy their neighbors their different jouissance.9 Envy is grounded in what one is tempted to call the “transcen-dental illusion” of desire, strictly correlative to the Kantian transcendental illusion: a natural “propensity” in the human being to (mis)perceive the object which gives body to the primordial lack as the object which is lacking, which was lost (and, consequently, possessed prior to this loss); this illusion sustains the longing to regain the lost object, as if this object has a positive substantial identity independently of its being lost.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is a simple and radical one: Moral Majority fundamentalists and tolerant multiculturalists are two sides of the same coin: they both share a fascination with the Other. In the Moral Majority, this fascination displays the envious hatred of the Other’s excessive jouissance, while the multiculturalist tolerance of the Other’s Otherness is also more twisted than it may appear—it is sustained by a secret desire for the Other to remain “other,” not to become too much like us. In contrast to both these positions, the only truly tolerant attitude towards the Other is that of the authentic radical fundamentalist. ­

1  See Peter Sloterdijk, Eurotaoismus (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989).
2  In a strictly homologous way, the opposition between globalization and the survival of local traditions is false. Globalization directly resuscitates local traditions, it literally thrives on them, which is why the true opposite to globalization are not local traditions, but universality. See chapter 4 of Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject (London: Verso Books, 1999).
3  In the classic literature, one should mention Emile Zola’s Germinal, in which the attachment to a rabbit helps the Russian revolutionary Souvarine to survive. When the rabbit is slaughtered and eaten by mistake, he explodes in an outburst of violent rage.
4  Quoted from Orville Schell, Virtual Tibet (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2000), p. 202.
5  Ibid., p. 191.
6  Ibid.
7  Ibid., p. 230.
8  William McGovern, quoted in Schell, ibid., p. 230. ­
9  Is not the obvious thing for an analyst to root Envy in the infamous penis envy? Rather than succumbing to this temptation, one should emphasize that envy is ultimately the envy of the Other’s jouissance. My affluent business-oriented colleagues always marvel at how much work I put into theory and, comparatively, how little I earn; although their marvel is usually expressed in the terms of aggressive scorn (“How stupid you are to deal with theory!”), what obviously lurks behind is envy: the idea that, since I am not doing it for money (or power), and since they do not understand the reason I am doing it, there must be some strange jouissance, some satisfaction in theory accessible only to me and out of reach to them.

Slavoj Žižek is a philosopher and a researcher at Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut in Vienna. He is the author of many books, including The Fragile Absolute and The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime.

Original source is here.

32 responses to “Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism”

  1. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    I have seen many Buddhist responses to Zizek’s critique of “Western Buddhism” as a fetishistic sop to capitalism. But none of them really addresses the issues raised by Zizek. Rather, they berate him for his vague usage of “Western Buddhism,” for his poor understanding of Buddhism generally, his ignorance of Nagarjuna, etc., but never really address the issues. Western Buddhists know well enough about what is being captured by the term “Western Buddhism” to begin a serious dialogue about the issues Zizek raises.

  2. Brad Avatar

    Whenever I flip through the glossy pages of the major Buddhist magazines and begin lusting after all the luxurious Buddhist paraphernalia I can’t help but think Zizek was onto something. On the other hand, what better option beyond finding some form of “inner peace” does Zizek propose in the face of the overwhelming and thoroughly disempowering consensus reality that late capitalism has forced upon the world? Perhaps the best option is to simultaneously seek nirvana and understand that there is no nirvana, and there can never really be nirvana in this world; to understand that “Buddhism” itself has limits and is “dukkha.” Embrace the contradictions and, unlike most “Western Buddhists”, *know* that there indeed are contradictions?

  3. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    Thank you for your comment, Brad. I wonder what might, if permitted, arise out of this intersection of “Zizek was onto something” and “what better option.” I imagine it would be something more, or at least different, from a mere coupling of the two as they are. How would, for instance, the very notion of–and practices of and reality of–“inner peace” be modulated via our awareness of fetishization and complicity in capitalism’s gorging?

    I would also want to explore the possibilities of, as you suggest, simultaneously seeking nirvana and understanding that there is no nirvana. Would the “knowing” somehow derail the “seeking”? It seems that the knowing stands outside of traditional claims while the seeking stands within. What if you abstained from any such decision? If so, might not a new opportunity open up? This opening up as a result of the non-decision concerning any given postulate’s value or warrant is what I consider the “speculative” aspect of my project. Would this non-decision be different from “embracing contradictions”? I think so.

    Thanks again for your input. I appreciate your taking the time and trouble.

  4. curt dilger Avatar

    Hey Glenn

    Thanks for the zizek

    Lots of things to discuss here:

    The fantasmatic love/hate relationship to Tibet/fetish/place is great and reminds me of Rimbaud’s quote:
    “Life is elsewhere”, like we are in the wrong place and envy the part of us that knows this and still abides there somehow. Then we oscillate back to a retreat. When we suffer in our travels, we imagine this safe place nursed in our chanting hearts. All love of the exotic seems to emerge from this envy of place, but it is only a place in the wistful soul’s imagination. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is great in this regard also.

    zizek is always so compelling no matter what he says I’m afraid he could get me to agree with him when I’m not so sure

    When he says this:
    “…the only truly tolerant attitude towards the Other is that of the authentic radical fundamentalist.” ¬

    I think, ‘well we authentic radical fundamentalists don’t seem to just spontaneously emerge. The early 1800’s was in a fever of cults and sects. Culturally, we have been industrialized, homogenized, and geographically destabilized Perhaps in this environment of dwindling discourse and civilization we may find some form of organic organization at a communal scale like the amish or the long gone shakers.
    Makes me think of this:

    cool book and a charming suggestion for another world, a bazaar of boiling cults.

    The other part of this whole thing is the word Envy. The Freudians do not own this word, nor do the Christians, though they both enjoy discussing the topic. Thorstein Veblen seems to know a lot about envy too, and I highly recommend him:

    He constantly uses the word ‘invidious’ and it is central to his analysis of western culture. Envy is the engine of our disconsolate machine, thriving on neither jewels nor shit, fetishes nor phobias. The machine stops:

  5. Tobes Avatar

    I think there are two issues we need to separate here:
    Firstly, that Zizek is using a Lacanian epistemological framework to problematise Buddhism; he presupposes that a western engagement to Buddhism is necessarily ideological on Lacanian grounds. This is why, as Glenn pointed out, Buddhists tend to critique Zizek as not having a well considered understanding of Buddhism, Nagarjuna etc. They are right to do so, because Zizek makes no concession to the possibility that western Buddhists might have well founded epistemological positions ~ from their perspective, they might indeed consider Lacan to be suspect. In this case, a genuinely philosophical encounter is warranted, which surely requires sufficient understandings of both Lacan and various Buddhisms.

    Secondly, on a more anthropological-sociological level, Zizek is making an interesting claim, which I think is well worth consideration. I read this as less about the commodification of Buddhism in the west, than it is about de-politicisation: Buddhist practice as quietist retreat away from political life. Meditation as ‘managing the symptoms’ of capitalist life, rather than genuinely transforming subjective or social conditions.

    I think we can draw much from Zizek’s sociological insight, whilst being aware of the limitations of crudely imposing a Lacanian framework on Buddhist practice, and therefore reducing everything in western Buddhism to the logic of the symbolic and the real. This to me, is more ideologically dogmatic than what a lot of western Buddhists are doing and thinking.

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    Thanks for your comment, Tobes. I, for one, would like to see the outcome of such a “genuinely philosophical encounter” between Lacan and people committed to various Buddhisms. And I would like to see it done in a way that is accessible to everyday, albeit thinking and intelligent, practitioners of Buddhism. I am not sure which aspects of the Lacanian framework Zizek had in mind in his critique of Buddhism,but I wonder if it was Lacan’s thinking on anxiety and desire that animated much of Zizek’s critique, rather than the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real. That is one reason why I included Anna McLellan’s article “LACAN’ S ENCOUNTER WITH BUDDHISM IN THE SEMINAR ON ANXIETY” on this blog.

    I agree with you that Zizek is most concerned about the de-politicization that occurs among practitioners of western Buddhism and meditation. I wonder how his claim about that could be quantified. I suspect that one could gather a great deal of anecdotal evidence for his claim. I wonder how prominently movements such as engaged Buddhism would play in such an analysis. (Would politicized Buddhism be the exception that proves the rule?) Indeed, much of the rhetoric of contemporary western meditation emphasizes meditation’s role in, as you say, “managing the symptoms” of contemporary, capitalist life.

    The “speculative” aspect of my project here involves using foreign frameworks to give thought to “Buddhism.” The very act of doing so, in my view, serves to accomplish one of the prerequisites for such speculation, namely, the devitalization of Buddhism’s network of postulation. Some foreign frameworks, of course, insist on their own mighty force of truth – such as, I think, Lacan’s does. In my own practice, facing frameworks face-to-face in this manner, serves to sap the charge of each framework’s force. Hence, speculative thought is given a place.

    Desire, for Lacan, is bound up with the lost object, object a: that something of the primordial experiencing of the infant to his body that becomes separated, detached and reemerges in the world as object a, the cause of desire. (Lacan is reframing Freud’ s position that anxiety has to do with object loss. Lacan’ s position is that anxiety is not the signal of a lack, but the very absence of this lack). Desire is given structure in phantasy; and implicit in the functioning of the phantasy is the break with the relation to its object, which is thus effaced and disappears. Desire is an illusion founded on the displacement of the lost object a.

    Lacan says: “At the root of all knowledge the totality of corporeal presence is engaged, because something has been separated from our knowledge of ourselves, something that is marked by desire”. For Lacan, desire, as McLellan says, “is bound up with the lost object, object a: that something of the primordial experiencing of the infant to his body that becomes separated, detached and reemerges in the world as object a, the cause of desire. (Lacan is reframing Freud’ s position that anxiety has to do with object loss. Lacan’ s position is that anxiety is not the signal of a lack, but the very absence of this lack). Desire is given structure in phantasy; and implicit in the functioning of the phantasy is the break with the relation to its object, which is thus effaced and disappears. Desire is an illusion founded on the displacement of the lost object a. These comments strike me as fertilizer for enriching Buddhists notions and rhetorical uses of desire, body, lack. Anna McLellan’s following comments and questions, too, represent excellent examples of speculative opportunity.

    At the end of Seminar X, Lacan shifts Freud’ s formula, ‘ inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety’ to ‘ desire, omnipotence and anxiety’ , suggesting a position for omnipotence, the dissolution of the position of the other, as a solution to the problem of angst. Nirvana is the extinguishing of desire, the obliteration of self; the dream without a dreamer, the nothing. We wonder, can Buddha’ s description of the experience of Enlightenment be understood in the context of the structure of the human psyche. And if so, can this structure be articulated by way of the Borromean knot? Or are we caught up in a myth much like our own Christian myth? Can there be a dissolution of the Borromean psychic structure, and would this be madness, the madness of Omnipotence, or can there be a return? Can there be a suturing of the unknotted Borromean with a fourth that makes of the Buddha, like Joyce, a sinthome. If so, is this sinthome [symptom] found not “ in the writing of a name” , but “ in the writing of a Law” beyond the law of the father; a True Law or Dharma. For we see that the Buddha desired nothing less than the original and failed promise of the father: Omnipotence.

  7. Tobes Avatar

    Yes, well I respect the intent behind the “speculative” aspect of your project. Comparative philosophy is often crude and is occasionally appalling…but it does contain immensely fertile possibilities. It always has the potential to lift thinkers or practitioners stuck within a particular language game out of their framework, and into a genuinely open encounter. At the very least, interesting things can happen.

    I have to admit that I have a certain…what’s the correct psychoanalytic term….’resistance’ to Lacan, probably because I spent too long engaged with Deleuze & Guattari’s critique in Anti-Oedipus. I suppose I buy their Spinozist/Nietzschean logic of productive desire; desire as an animating force, rather than a Lacanian lack.

    However, I still agree that Lacan can be tremendously useful for Buddhist’s; possibly very destructive, in a healthy way, by exposing the hidden or sublimated reasons for practice. What’s behind the desire to become a Buddhist in the west in the first instance? There’s almost always psychoanalytic skeletons in that closet! What are you running from? What are you hoping for? What kinds of pleasures do you secretly get? What kind of belief structures have you constructed?

    Actually some of my friends who are avowedly post-structuralist (i.e. they only know Buddhism via my occasional reference to it) read Trungpa’s Myth of Freedom and found it very Lacanian; at least his account of desire, illusion, self-deception.

    So yes, an encounter is long overdue.

  8. Lee Avatar

    Why this deification of Lacan, who was a patent charlatan, and who never subjected any of his psycholanalytic drivel to any kind of testing? The hatred of ‘scientism’ by continental philosophy is precisely because it undermines their claims to be able to speak with any kind of authority at all. Fashionable academic wank-speak

  9. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Setting aside the nonsense about “deification” and “charlatanism”, what do you mean by “testing”?

    Most continental philosophers I am familiar with are quite in favor of science–what they despise is the shockingly stupid anglo-american methodolatry, the ridiculous worship of a method, in place of real science. Are you suggesting that if we cannot test something with the same method we use to test a new fertilizer on crops, it must therefor not be true and is just “drivel”? That is a common assertion of reactionary ideologues, but surely nobody capable of thought believes that the “experimental method” (read “naive empiricist positivism”) is the last word in epistemology.

  10. Lee Avatar

    No, what I’m saying is that Lacan appropriated a range of ideas (from mathematics in particular) that he demonstrably didn’t understand, and was clearly talking nonsense. The fact that it is impenetrably written waffle leads the easily impressionable to assume that the fact they don’t understand it must mean that he was a superior intellect, rather than because he was talking out of his arse.

    I would imagine that if you are a minor professor somewhere or other, the easiest way to get yourself noticed is by trying to be as controversial as possible and offend some bland dimwits by slaughtering their sacred cows and indulging in the same kind of intellectual posturing you use to cow uppity undergrads who are bored by your leftist crap. Let me know how it works out for ya

  11. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Lee, Have you ever considered that since so many thousands of highly intelligent people have understood Lacan, and found his ideas important and worth discussing, that perhaps you are the one who’s talking out of your ass? Your argument against Lacan is that you are stupid, and so nobody should take seriously anything you are incapable of understanding? Let me know how that works out for ya …

  12. Lee Avatar

    Really? Wow, you’re pretty good with those rhetorical strategies aren’t ya? In fact, I can feel myself starting to become anxious about not understanding right now… Gee, maybe I better interpellate myself into your ideology to feel better. You’re so transparent it’s ridiculous, you prick

  13. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    The last refuge of the stupid and the reactionary is always to take pride in their ignorance and resort to name calling. This is always a sign that someone is saying something new and important: when the response from the “center” is that 1)it is boring and pedantic 2) it is incoherent nonsense and 3) it is unacceptable for others to “understand” it, and those who do must be silenced (usually with ad-hominem attacks).

  14. Lee Avatar

    …and, as if by magic, my disagreeing with you transforms into evidence of the correctness and importance of what you are saying. What a great way to silence dissent. To employ one of your rhetorical devices, there are many highly intelligent people out there who think that Lacan is a fraud, and plenty convincing critiques that illustrate his intellectual charlatanism. It’s amusing that whilst taking every opportunity to scrutinise the sacred cows of others, the minute that yours are questioned you’re flailing around all over the place. Name calling is always a sign that someone is saying something important is it? That really gave me a good laugh. You must be getting desperate.

  15. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    You haven’t “dissented” at all! You have merely asserted that since you find Lacan incomprehensible, he is therefore a “charlatan” and everyone who understands him is wrong. I have personally never seen a “convincing critique” that illustrates he is a charlatan–although I have seen many people make the same argument you make. And they always include some attempt at insulting those of us who do understand Lacan (Yes, I am a “minor professor,” not a big name at a big university–so that counts as evidence that anything I say can be disregarded; and I must “bore” my students–and of course the boredom of students is the key to what is valuable, so we should all be teaching classes on Harry Potter and Twilight. These aren’t arguments that Lacan is wrong. They are simply assertions that you don’t understand him, and insults directed at me. And, since I am such a boring prick who “cows” my students and desperately seeks attention from somebody I don’t agree with (I’m not sure who you have in mind here), therefore, Lacan is wrong.

    I’m not trying to silence “dissent.” I’m and trying to insist that only real dissent is acceptable. The “argument from stupidity” is not real dissent. You would have to actually explain where Lacan is wrong.

    That said, I don’t think anybody “deifies” Lacan. I don’t know of anybody who seriously thinks that everything he said was correct–he taught from several decades, with students recording all his seminars, and there are many things he said over those thousands of hours that are just not defensible, or are open to argument. I would say the same about anybody. So, go ahead and dissent–but to insist that everyone share your ignorance is not dissent, and neither are your asinine personals attacks. I’m happy to be calle stupid, wrong, harsh, mean, whatever–disagree with me all you want. But to invent an imaginary life for me and then insult your creation is an unacceptable form of argument that does not merit the name dissent.

  16. Lee Avatar

    Oh, you DO, do you? Excellent! Well, let’s take something that you’re familiar with – Lacanian theory – and something I’m familiar with – topology theory in mathematics – and you can explain to me what exactly Lacan means when liberally borrowing from the latter in the former, OK?

    Lacan: ‘In this space of jouissance, to take something that is bounded, closed constitutes a locus, and to speak of it constitutes a topology’

    There are four technical mathematical terms in there – space, bounded, closed, topology. Perhaps you could be so good as to explain the relevance of these precise mathematical concepts to psychoanalysis, in the Lacanian sense, of course?

    Let me explain something to you. Just because you understand something – or in your case, THINK you understand it – does not make it correct. Furthermore, to insist that I should have to prove this kind of nonsense wrong, rather than have Lacan or his advocates provide some kind of evidence or support for ridiculous, sweeping statements such as the above, demonstrates the profound level of your idiocy.

  17. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Which comes back to the orignal point: what would count as “evidence or support” for the theory? I think there is abundant evidence that much of psychoanalytic theory is correct. I don’t think I claimed that everything that can be understood is therefore correct–I understand Aristotelian four-element physics, but I don’t think it is correct.

    If you could give me the citation for the particular passage you refer to above, I would be happy to explain what it means in context–which is, of course, a separate matter from what counts as evidence of its correctness. From the passage alone, I can’t get what he means, because it isn’t clear what exactly is “bounded” or who would be speaking of it and in what kind of discourse.

  18. Tomek Avatar

    Tom, are you familiar with Fashionable Nonsense by Sokal and Bricmont. Take a look at page 20, there you’ll find the citation from Lacan given above by Lee.

  19. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Thanks Tomek–I am familiar with the book but I don’t have it: do they say where the passage comes from originally?

    While I would agree with Sokal’s position that the ridiculous use of science to give one’s argument the illusion of greater truth is a bit of a problem, I don’t think this is the case with Lacan, who is generally not interested in the accuracy of the scientific claims he refers to, merely using them as metaphors to illustrate his point. Sokal did academic publishing a great service by teaching editors not to agree to publish something they cannot comprehend–it just might be nonsense! That, however, is completely separate from the metaphorical use of terms and concepts from one discipline to produce a concept in another discipline.

  20. Tomek Avatar

    Tom, originally it comes from The Seminar of Jaques Lacan, Book XX, Encore 1972-1973 (1998) New York: Norton, p. 9.

  21. Lee Avatar

    …except that when explicitly asked whether his use of mathematical concepts were analogies, he denies it ‘it is not an analagon; it is not even an abstraction, because an abstraction is some sort of diminution of reality, and I think it is reality itself’. And ‘there is abundent evidence that much of psychoanalysis is correct’. Please. You really are a joker, aren’t you? There’s nothing that you would like more than to be be interpreting the texts of your high priests for lesser mortals, but let me make it quite clear – I’m not interested in anything that you have to say. I’m certain that you are an intellectual posturer, but what’s more, I suspect that you know quite well what you are doing when you pass off your, at best, questionable conclusions as well established truths for the consumption of the gullible; and I doubt the sincerity of your professed motives.

  22. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Okay, so, you don’t want me to explain the passage–you aren’t interested in understanding it at all, because that might threaten your “argument from stupidity.” And because you refuse to hear an explanation, that is proof to you I don’t have one, I am a “posturer” because I offer actual arguments for things I take NOT to be “well established” but in need of being argued for. To not be a “posturer”, then, like you I would have to make completely unsupported assertions that what I don’t know is wrong. And, then, of course, you attack my “motives,” without even offering what you think they are–and ethical smear just vague enough to not really be disproven (I can’t prove my motives actually aren’t whatever you imagine they are, since you won’t say what that is). On top of this, you still refuse to suggest what would count as evidence for you–you simply insist there cannot be any, because you don’t know anything about psychoanalysis and would like it not to be true. You are without a doubt the stupidest, most vile individual I have ever tried to have any intellectual interaction with. Please note, that I am making this judgement on what you have written on these posts, and not based on some imagined personal life or imputed secret motives. Yours are the most shockingly hostile, ignorant, and irrational posts I’ve ever seen on this blog–and I’m including Luis Daniel’s posts in that list. So, I won’t bother with the explanation, and will stop responding to your insane personal insults, and all other posts from you. Don’t feel “silenced”, though, you can continue to post your moronic assertions if you choose.

  23. Lee Avatar

    Thanks Tom. Coming from you, that’s just made my day.

  24. Svetlana Avatar

    Zizek is stuck in Lacanian framework, Buddists are stuck in the buddhist framework. They must all read Hume & Vonnegut and meditate. It’s like sitting near the globe but on different sides and arguing whether Africa or Australia is in the middle.
    Gautama Buddha and Jaques Lacan are equally silly. And both are just poets pretending to be something else =))

  25. John Avatar

    Yeah, why doesn’t Zizek take time out to take a few drugs and go on a retreat or two ? He’s got the money, he’s got a passport, he can do it if he wants to, it may not take very long.
    Wish someone would ask him that in one of his many youtube vids.

  26. Stephen Pierson, Ph. D. (Purdue University, Comparative Literature) Avatar
    Stephen Pierson, Ph. D. (Purdue University, Comparative Literature)

    Lee, quite belatedly, I couldn’t agree more with your response, particularly what you say about Lacan. Check out Richard Webster’s essay “The Cult of Lacan” to see what an utter fraud upon psychology Lacan has been. It is baffling that Lacan is kept alive in English studies when he is considered irrelevant in psychology. I am told that not a single peer-reviewed article in psychology over the last 40 years has substantiated Lacan’s arguments concerning the mirror stage or even the event of a mirror stage. If that’s the case, why would you teach it in a lit or cultural studies class, except unwittingly or deliberately because, as is the case today, politics trumps disciplinary knowledge. A similar condition is evident with respect to linguistics, which follows Chomsky, not Saussure or Peirce–again, except in English studies. And, again, because of agendas rather than knowledge. Human beings are conscious, volitional creatures whose understanding of the world is embodied and who consciously use language, which exists in use (not in the abstract) as a cognitive tool to achieve goals. This is well documented in linguistics and psychology, yet ignored in English studies to its own detriment and increasing irrelevance.

  27. […] hi ha gent que ho veu com una tècnica de control de les masses, com el filòsof Slavoj Žižek, on el Capitalisme aconsegueix, gràcies al Mindfulness, generar suficient “benestar” […]

  28. JimboMassiveLegs Avatar

    Firstly, I love this blog – I have made it a goal to print out one of the articles – from start to finish, hence why i am commentating on this first post – each day, it’s a perfect balance to some of the drivel I have subsumed myself in the last few years, chasing “bliss” and all that shit.

    A few points of a disagreement with the Hairy Marxist – he kind of suggests that ANYONE and EVERYONE practicing Buddhism is going to end up a non-thinking, capitalist-accepting drone…but that does not follow, really, does it?. We don’t KNOW the affects on Buddhism on large quantities of people, do we? On a personal level, I find I am more engaged, my mind exploring the world more instead of being trapped into my own ball aching inner neurosis. Perhaps meditation will help people see suffering clearer, and how to implement the “revolution” better…who knows? Could this be as likely an outcome of Buddhism in the west than us becoming blissed out lobotomized smug gits in Tibetian tunics? It’s not clear.

    But there are some who are I think are totally brainwashed, totally have given up on any sort of rational appraisal of how the world actually works. This article is discussed on DharmaOvergound and one guy was literally, with no irony, saying that thinking about politics “hurts” and that if everyone became buddhist and “got rid of passion” (not any sort of systematic structural lemming type walking into the abyss, of course), all would be okay. And then one wit asked, in as many words, “okay, thought experiment, if everyone becomes enlightened, what systems of economics and politics would be needed to run the world?.” the guy didn’t really know. But that question is the ultimate to ask a Buddhist. It will get them to think. “Everyone enlightened”, that would be nice, but how would the buses run, who would empty the bins, who would build the roads, how would taxes be paid, how would power manifest, etc? It puts their whole “practice” into perspective, hopefully broadening it out beyond their own navels.

  29. buddhistfamilyholidays Avatar

    Capitalism needs a few “tweaks” to remove its major problems, leaving the fruit and cream. If, in the world of the (quickly approaching) future, with our ability to alter the brain and genome, we can work a handful of relatively modest ‘tweaks’ to the most extreme negative aspects of human behavior, this world will be a much nicer place. We simply need to prevent the extreme range of various behaviors. By doing so, we would not need to make human society radically different from its present state, but only remove (like a bad tooth or tumor from an otherwise healthy physiology) the worst examples and extremes of human behavior (murder and major violence in anger, child abuse, drug and alcohol addictions, destructive levels of depression) which spoil what is otherwise a very healthy and functioning body and mind. Just those few, relatively modest corrections would radically reduce or eliminate a multitude of social problems that are otherwise infecting all that is going right with our civilization.

    At the same time, we might lightly nurture what are generally considered the best of human qualities (kindness, charity, caring, joy and more) by upping a bit their mental and instinctual influence within the human psyche. These are all qualities represented by a Buddha and the Bodhisattvas as symbols of excellent human ideals.

    No radical changes or fiery revolutions are needed. Imagine a world in which people savored food and pleasure, but not to the extent of true gluttony, addiction and morbid obesity; where human beings might sometimes become annoyed and bothered, but not to the degree of flying into irate physical violence or murder; where we could cry when our dog dies or our lover departs, but not be cast into the bottomless pits of depression and suicidal thoughts. In turn, imagine a world in which people would have a small, niggling feeling, deep down and subtle, that they should not fully enjoy a meal until all people of their town have access to a meal, that they cannot feel at home in their shoes until seeing that all have shoes. Likewise for housing, water and medicine. It need not be (and probably should not be) an overwhelming and consuming inner drive, but only a mild tickle within that points our behavior in such vicarious directions. The result would be a world much as it is now, but with the worst elements of human behavior largely removed, and much of the population encouraged toward behaviors more in the direction of peace and charity.

    But how to work such small “tweaks”?

    It would be wise to begin small. Imagine a world in which (following proper legal proceedings, and as an alternative to imprisonment) a simple devise was implanted deep and securely under the skin of persons convicted of, for example, child sexual abuse eliminated the vast majority of repeat offenses.Iimplanted deep under the skin of the individual sexually aroused by children, the device would activate only when it detects rising arousal in the person, for example, by the release of hormones in the blood or the firing of sections of the brain associated with such arousal.Children would be safe. Imagine a world in which persons convicted of certain violent acts, ranging from heinous assault to rape to torture to murder in anger, became simply incapable of extreme anger and physically ill at the very thought of doing harm to a fellow sentient being. Just this change alone would return us to a world where we could walk through our city streets without fear at night, and our children would be safe to go to school or play in the park. Perhaps we would not need to keep such people in jails any more, “removed from civil society,” because the risk of criminal recidivism would be low. Society would be spared from crimes by repeat offenders, the criminal would become a free and socially contributing individual, and our prison buildings might be torn down or put to better uses as hospitals, schools and monasteries.

    On the side of positive emotions, increasing just a “tad” our propensity toward charitable or altruistic behavior, making a biological change that would cause us to feel truly uncomfortable at seeing a homeless man living cold in the streets as if that stranger were our own son or brother (or ourself), might cause support for public and private anti-homelessness programs to skyrocket, not to mention support for feeding and housing refugees overseas. Imagine if people were caused to have an inner propensity to be 25% kinder toward strangers, and 33% more loving. Imagine a small adjustment to the triggers of human satiation where we more easily reached the feeling of “enough” when consuming a healthier plant based diet having fewer calories, or by which we somehow felt more easily and quickly satisfied with our overall lot in life. We might look at our spouse, our simple house, our sturdy warm clothes and healthy meals, our neighbors and friends and feel truly content and blessed.

    Such small “tweaks,” all seemingly within reach of upcoming methods to manipulate the human body and brain, would leave this world radically better without need for radical revolutions. Crime would be down, our children would be safe to go to school, human bodies would be healthier, pollution caused by our endless consumption would be much reduced, the homeless and hungry would be fed and housed, people would be generally happier in their lives and more content. The world would be so much nicer, even if not so different from how it is today.

    We would not be “perfect” Buddhas, but only decent human beings exhibiting many “Buddha-like” qualities in our lives. It would be a good beginning, a step perhaps on the road towards Buddhahood if not a ‘Buddhaland’ realized, a way of “saving sentient beings” that would please the Bodhisattva. Even if we never reach perfection or the idyllic “Pure Land” and “Kingdom of God” on earth, we would have made a paradise on earth nonetheless.

    In answer to Zizek, the technologies of the future will now allow actual revolution within peoples’ minds leading to a revolution in society. .Criminal violence can be dealt with involuntarily, upon trial, much as we imprison today. But how to get to a point where ordinary citizens will CHOOSE to make the changes to their own bodies and brains in a purely voluntary and peaceful manner? If these techniques and pharmaceuticals etc. are designed to actually encourage people to act better, be healthier, all while experiencing incredible levels of pleasure in doing so … even being sometimes, perhaps, “better than sex” … they will be in demand. Just as people today are free to choose from the marketplace of available goods and services with all civil libertarian and free market respect for their right to pursue their own happiness, to have elective plastic surgery, to drink a beer, to have consensual sex, to buy a cute puppy, or even to smoke a joint because it makes them “feel good,” people will choose such treatments because they make the recipient feel incredibly good. Each will be designed specifically to cause such pleasure. No guns to the head will be necessary, any more than today we “force” people to eat ice cream, masturbate or do other pleasurable things. We will use the human desire for pleasure to combat and counteract the harmful aspects of the very same human desire for pleasure. Just as some Buddhists savor the extreme “bliss” that often results from Jhana states in deep meditation, thereupon enabling the practitioner to better abide by the Precepts, the Jhanic “bliss” provided by various future treatments and substances also will enable better, more ethical behavior. (Not a joke, and quite seriously, if we made doing charity as pleasurable to the brain as sex, we would all become Albert Schweitzer.) lf such planning is correct, wide swaths of the general population will choose to do so, of their own free will, because the change will feel so good.

    Gassho, Jundo Cohen
    Treeleaf Sangha

  30. A mindfully created children's show – Edenic Epistles Avatar

    […] Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism. Speculative Non-Buddhism. [online] Available: (Accessed 25 February […]

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