Posted by Glenn Wallis on September 22, 2011
A crucial fact, easily forgotten, devoid of which my critical practice of speculative non-buddhism would be just one more of the infinite iterations of x-buddhism: speculative non-buddhism is concerned with reclaiming from x-buddhism the person of flesh and blood, who lives in the world of stone and shit, emptied, that is to say, of the dharmic dream.
“X-buddhism” indexes a sacrificial rending from reality. Its rhetorics of display, whether secular or religious or anything else, constitute an act of high pageantry, whereby empty reality is both ruptured and repaired. But the sacrifice and its sacrament are confined entirely to a circle of x-buddhism’s own creation. Reality remains untouched. X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.
The purpose of this blog is to work toward a new critical theory of Buddhism. The theory, “speculative non-buddhism,” is emphatically not yet another iteration of Buddhism. And the purpose of the theory is not to move cumbersomely through the morass of Buddhist canonical and secondary literature making proclamations apropos of this or that doctrine.
My ambition here is both more limited and farther reaching than that. The theory that I am developing is concerned with western cultural criticism in the present. My proximate “problem situation” is the urgent issue that is unfolding in the English-speaking world and Europe; namely, what form contemporary reconfigurations of Buddhism might or should take. Certain directions have been gaining traction, such as those that style themselves secular-, progressive-, atheist-, agnostic-, liberal-, and post-traditional-Buddhist. Another aspect of this problem situation is this: as these secular, etc., groups gain adherents in the West, traditional organizations, such as the various Zens, Tibetans, Theravadins, Vipassanas, etc., are stating their claim to “Buddhism” with increasingly vehement proprietorship. A forthcoming special edition on so-called “Secular Buddhism” in the international Journal of Global Buddhism testifies to the critical mass that this issue has accrued.
As a critical theory of the main term of all of these emerging Buddhisms, Speculative non-buddhism can contribute to this contemporary discourse. But it can do much more as well. Speculative non-buddhism is a thought-experiment that poses primarily one question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what, if anything, might x-buddhism offer us? That very formulation, however, makes an assumption that is not shared by most of the x-buddhisms, ancient and modern. Indeed, from its earliest days down to the latest Existentialist Buddhist or whatever blog post, Buddhists have taken as their very reason for being precisely the necessity of an anti-foundational or anti-metaphysical account of human existence. Many, if not all, of the new forms of x-buddhism pride themselves on their empirical, phenomenologically-oriented, scientifically-allied approaches to “the Dharma.” An animating contention of speculative non-buddhism is that every single form of x-buddhism—from the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal to the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox—is founded on an identical transcendental syntax. This shared feature renders every single form of x-buddhism without remainder indistinguishable from every other form of x-buddhism. Given Buddhism’s self-presentation as organon of radical immanence, this fact is as insidious as it is ironic.
In this post, I will give a very brief overview of the three primary functions of speculative non-buddhist critical practice. The first step in considering what Buddhism may offer us once it is shorn of its transcendental representations is, of course, to show that it is indeed laden with such representations. So, the first aim of the theory is to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by—especially by—Buddhists themselves). The second aim is to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions. And the third, is to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.
(i) Decision. The first aim of the theory is to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure. I claim, furthermore, that this structure is unacknowledged by Buddhists themselves. What would be gained in such a syntactical “uncovering,” one that is, moreover, ostensibly unavailable to those most beholden to it?
My original impetus for speculative non-buddhism came from reading François Laruelle’s work on non-philosophy. Given the Buddhist terrain, however, something more than a mere transplanting of non-philosophy on to non-buddhism is required. That fact first became apparent to me when considering how Laruelle’s notion of “Decision” applied to my subject, Buddhism. Laruelle’s notion turns on a cognitive maneuver; I add to that an affective one. Here is Laruelle’s definition of the decisional structure of philosophy (via non-philosophy’s operation thereon):
Non-philosophy typically operates in the following way: everything is processed through a duality (of problems) which does not constitute a Two or a pair, and through an identity (of problems, and hence of solution) which does not constitute a Unity or synthesis. (“A Summary of Non-Philosophy:” ¶2.1.2).
X-buddhistic decision has both an affective and cognitive dimension. Affectively, the word “Buddhist” names a person who has performed a psychologically charged determination that Buddhism provides thaumaturgical refuge from life’s contingencies. In this sense, decision is an emotional reliance on or hopefulness for the veracity of Buddhist teachings. The reason that I contend that both aspects of decision are occluded from the Buddhist stems from this affective quality. Admittance to buddhistic affiliation, namely, ensues from a necessarily blinding condition: affective reflexivity. Indeed, reflexivity appears to be commensurate with affiliation, for the more instinctive the former, the more assured the latter. (In the extensive version of this idea, I explore the analogy to linguistic reflexivity, which is measured in degrees of fluency and, hence, automaticity.)
Cognitively, decision is the mixing of the immanently given world, namely, empty reality (the world of flesh and blood, of timber and stone) as, in Buddhist terminology, spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) and causal contingency (paticcasamuppada), with its transcendently given warrant, The Dharma (the norm: the author and protector of the vault of cosmic wisdom). Buddhism claims to offer exigent, superior knowledge concerning human being (i.e., of the immanently given). To do so in the terms that it advocates (exigency, superiority, etc.), however, Buddhism must intermix its essential “identity” (The Dharma) with its own description of “difference” (spatiotemporal vicissitude/causal contingency). This operation constitutes an inescapable circularity. The premise (The Dharma is the case), is contained in the conclusion (thus spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and the conclusion, in the premise. In other words, the entire decisional structure of Buddhism amounts to an explanans (The Norm: The Dharma), that is always and already present in every instance of the very explanandum (phenomenal manifestation: spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and an explanandum, every instance of which always and already attests to the truth of the explanans.
Buddhistic syntax, I contend, is a fecund supposition of uncircumventable validity that manifests as infinite iterations of “X-Buddhism.” Again , I welcome counter-examples to the claim: all x-buddhisms, without a single exception, operate via decision.
(ii) Heuristics. The second aim of the critical practice is to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions. Speculative non-buddhism aims to suspend the machinations of Buddhism’s structural schemes, rhetorical tropes, and decisional strategies so that the investigator may gain a fresh perspective on Buddhist thought and practice. Toward this end, I am creating an extensive heuristic. The heuristic consists of numerous exploratory postulates. These postulates, moreover, are being designed to be operational: any non-buddhism investigator may apply them to his or her xo-buddhist data. At present, I envision the heuristic as taking the form of a glossary. Examples of terms that I am developing as postulates are: Aporetic dissonance; Buddhemes; Curvature, Disruption; Devitalization of charism; Principle of sufficient Buddhism; and Ventriloquism. As a fuller example, the definition of “Buddhism:”
Buddhism. An explicit representation or thought-world founded on a universally accepted syntax, or decisional structure. As the history of the tradition exemplifies, this structure permits perpetual mutation, wherein decision is re-inscribed in ever-developing expressions of “x-buddhism.” Doctrinally: a specular, ideological system founded on teachings given canonically to a literary protagonist named “the Buddha.” Aesthetically: a consistently recognizable rhetorics of display (texts, costumes, names, statuary, hair styles, painting, ritual artifacts, architecture, etc.). Institutionally: the manufacturer and conservatory of buddhistic charism. In the terms of its own rhetorics, “Buddhism” names the principal and superior representer of exigent human knowledge. Yet, as mentioned earlier, given the inexhaustible inventory of reality engendered by buddhistic decision—indeed, given the very syntax of decision itself—Buddhism can be formulated and arranged in innumerable guises. The word “Buddhism” thus indexes a consistent multiplicity: consistent, given its omnipresent decisional syntax; multiple, given its protean adaptability. The history of Buddhism shows it to be, to cite Laruelle, “the articulation of a universal market where the concepts are exchanged according to specific rules to each system, and from an authority with two sides: one of the [buddhistic] division of work, the other of the appropriation of part of what the market of the concepts produces”—for instance, morphological innovations, such as MBSR, Soto Zen, or Secular Buddhism.
The investigator may choose to perform a critical-constructive dialogue with Buddhism on the basis of discoveries made via the heuristic—articulating, for instance, what a “Secular Buddhism” might look like given the operation of speculative non-buddhism postulates. As stated before, however, speculative non-buddhism itself is wholly disinterested in any reformulation of Buddhism.
(iii) Ideology. The final task of my theory is to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.
On its own account, x-buddhism is a systematic program of personal transformation and social reproduction whose ideas—beliefs, goals, actions—derive not from individual agents, but from a pre-established putative norm, in this case: The Dharma. X-buddhism is thus nothing if not a vortex of participation and identity. It aims, both explicitly and implicitly, to form particular types of subjects, and to do so in its own image. The basis of it transformational program is, furthermore, its own prescribed practices (social, linguistic; devotional, contemplative, etc.). All of this is, finally, accompanied by robust institutional commitment (what I called hyper-reflexivity). In the future, I will use speculative non-buddhist heuristics to explore to what extent such features describe not a contestable program of knowledge or skill acquisition, but rather an ideological system of indoctrination.
Speculative non-buddhism postulates permit the investigator to be constantly alert to any signs in buddhistic decree that indicate a comprehensive view of self, society, and cosmos. Indeed, the very fact that, unmolested by the kinds of methodological moves that speculative non-buddhism makes, The Dharma operates unseen (it’s just “how things are”), may be evidence of the ideological machination of x-buddhism.
A crucial fact, easily forgotten, devoid of which my critical practice would be just one more of the infinite iterations of x-buddhism: speculative non-buddhism is concerned with reclaiming from x-buddhism the person of flesh and blood who lives in the world of timber, shit, and stone, emptied, that is to say, of the dharmic dream.
“X-Buddhism” indexes a sacrificial rending from reality. Its rhetorics of display, whether secular or religious or anything else, constitute an act of high pageantry, whereby empty reality is both ruptured and repaired. But the sacrifice and its sacrament are confined entirely to a circle of x-buddhism’s own creation. Reality remains untouched. X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.The purpose of this blog is to work toward a new critical theory of Buddhism. The theory, “speculative non-buddhism,” is emphatically not yet another iteration of Buddhism. And the purpose of the theory is not to move cumbersomely through the morass of Buddhist canonical and secondary literature making proclamations apropos of this or that doctrine.
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