Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Changes

Posted by Speculative Non-Buddhism on August 13, 2012

After more than a year of activity on this site, we’re going to make some changes. As our project of creating tools for a critique of Buddhism develops, the structure and form of its presentation alters. We are giving thought to how we might effectively push this whole thing forward.

One of our more delightful and intelligent commentators, Jonckher, recently raised a good question: Who is “we”? In the process of interaction over the last year certain relationships have emerged between different people here and around the blog. These relationships will continually change and new ones will be formed. Tom “pepper spray” Pepper, Glenn “kick out the jams” Wallis and Matthias “I am just a kraut” Steingass are not something of a triumvirate of non-buddhism. Pepper-Wallis-Steingass is just a structure that arose wholly by accident. It has no inherent meaning or even stability. Each of us has a different reason for our involvement in this project and a unique approach to the work.

Other people here are intently engaged in discussion, critique, translation and reading. “We” hopes for more structural accidents to happen. You are invited to get involved in this project to whatever extent you like. We hope you’ll consider writing for us.

Given the somewhat anarchic nature of the blog up to this point, some of you may wonder just what “the project” is about. Briefly put, it is about critique. What we are critiquing is, of course, Buddhist material. By “material,” we mean the forms that make up Buddhist thought and practice: practice groups, retreat centers, rituals, protocols, websites, blogs, forums, popular and academic books and magazines, concepts, canonical literature, and beyond. In a recent conference on art criticism, Lydia Goehr said this about the practice of critique:

To Adorno critique is not the promise of happiness, nor the promise of freedom. It is always immanent critique, the turning of thought back upon itself… This is the way that some of the so-called “social truth content” comes out of critique: It exposes the authority that concepts have over us. My suggestion is that one way to think about critique is in terms of looking for ways in our thinking to break the authority our thinking has over us. In that sense, there is nowhere to go outside of our own capacity to think.

That’s a rough idea about what we’re up to in relation to Buddhist materials. Another way of putting it is that we want to produce work and craft tools that allow us to see and then think through (in the several senses of that term) the contradictions inherent in Buddhist materials. We believe that critical work is in this regard powerfully creative and may, in fact (contra Adorno), even entail a degree of freedom after all.

To be more specific, we are building something like a magazine to serve as a reservoir for older articles and for material to come. (The German word Magazin better captures this double sense of journal and warehouse.)

Our intention is to provide a space that is withdrawn from the heated and often spontaneous debate on this site. The magazine site will be slower paced. It will be more like a quite reading room. Contributions will be more considered, less blog-posty. At the same time, however, we hope for a good deal of experimentation and creativity (see Word Blood). Again: everybody is invited to contribute.

The blog will remain the place for debate. It will continue to be the platform to exchange and test ideas in direct interaction with others, and with no holds barred and no restrictions. It will hopefully be, as throughout the last year, something of a hothouse for new ideas to germinate.

With these two sites we want to support the developmental process of thinking. The blog is a “site of struggle.” Ideas are tried out here, exposed to the heat of ego and personal need; it is strewn with views and opinions. Many ideas will, for sure, fade out like embers. Some, though, will explode into unexpected, sudden insights. The thinking-through of an insight will, we hope, be fashioned into material for the new magazine site. We hope in this way to support the force of your thought.

A huge amount of material has amassed here. We do not want to let it decay unused. So, we invite everybody to rummage through it and see what might be of further use to you. Maybe you’ll rediscover a topic that you’d like to expand on. Maybe you’ll find some comment material that you can mash together or edit, like a collage or dada poetry, or cut-up schizoid-fiction-critique. Write a critique of a critique you discover here. Maybe you remember a discussion you were involved in. Why not go through the comments and condense it down to the essentials? Alternatively, you could develop the discussion further and make it available on the new site. Again, have a look at the page Word Blood.

We hope you will give us feedback about these ideas. Let us know what is unclear. Tell us what you’d like us to include. Even better, suggest a way that you will contribute.

—Matthias Steingass, Tom Pepper, Glenn Wallis

_________

Image: Gerhard Richter, “Studie für ‘4 Glasscheiben,'” 1966.

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17 Responses to “Changes”

  1. Craig said

    I’ve wondered about the idea of a message forum on this site as a place for discussion rather than the blog comments. might be easier to keep track of discussions and pull idea summaries together. for example, i would definitely want to just have a general discussion about ‘meditation’ (non-meditation) with regular contributors on this blog. would also be interested in how folks maneuver through the dissonance of subscribing to non-buddhism and being part of an x-buddhist community. just some brainstorming in response to the Changes post.

  2. Craig (#1). Thanks for that suggestion. It sounds like a good one. Someone recently described his visit to this site as being like walking into a punk rock concert with the amps turned up to 10 and feedback blasting out. Although that sounds like a good thing to me (!), I agree with you that the message forum would create some needed structure. Thanks!

  3. fionnchu said

    Hail Triumvirati. I’m by avocation a book reviewer (albeit amateur) who’s learned about dharma by reading and sitting and arguing with books and sometimes people. I study this site yet I am very much a student, as I lack the affiliation many on this and related sites share or reject. I’m eclectic yet I stay skeptical. My interest is how Buddhism gets transmitted and marketed in the West. I also wrote on my own blog recently about punk and Buddhism, as I have an interest in how pop culture adapts its message or trappings. This led me to find Glenn’s work and then this site. Apropos, I received a galley of Donald S. Lopez’ “The Scientific Buddha” dismantling its claims to “mindfulness” after going on two centuries of propagating what’s familiar to any at S N-B. Would you like me to contribute a review of this? (P.S. If work has been published on our own sites or blogs, would it be of interest, or is the invitation for contributions that premiere herein?)

  4. Danny said

    Ironic that on the very day SBA makes changes that may essentially shut down thought, you open up some doors and windows that allow more of it. Great idea, thanks and as you say, “kick out the jams motherfucker” …

  5. saibhu said

    I hereby request a community/nonsense-page for the new magazine, which will fill the need for a little piece of less-considered stuff. A quick overview of the latest chit-chat at the comments section, an update for the list of people who felt insulted by Tom Pepper and maybe something like a “letter to the editor” by jonckher.

    We then could all pretend to read the deep philosophical texts like we did with the interviews at Playboy… wonderful!

    But seriously: I think something like a quick report from the field could be interesting.

  6. Alan said

    How about a section for “miscellaneous tidbits of creative critique”? Here’s one:

    REFLECTIONS ON A SMALL PARADE

    When I see the little Buddhist scouts
    Marching with their Zen mothers
    To tea ceremonies at the rock garden,
    I shake my head….It falls off.

    –Bob Kaufman
    Beat, surrealist, jazz poet

  7. jonckher said

    woot! I got a mention but .. intelligent? really? #srsly #fail

    yes magazine would be good.

    But come clean puhleeze, this is really because you guys have been booted out of pretty much every buddhist page out there, right?

    Where else can you post snarky comments about some truly lame-o event or post if you don’t set up your own page specially for this?

  8. Craig, #1, message forums.

    You mean the form of forum where everybody can open a thread? Or is it more about more theme-oriented threads about, for example, praxis/meditation/non-mediation, dissonances which arise from contradictions inherent in x-buddhism and so on?

    Personally I have some reservations vis-à-vis open discussion forums. The history of them in the internet shows, in my view, that they are much more prey to trolls and that they need much more moderation than blog-threads like here.

    To me a theme-oriented approach look more promising. It only needs some kind of ignition. Perhaps in the form of a short text to open a thread. This again has to do with the idea mentioned in the text, that we data-mine through the material in the threads here to bring up topics which are interesting.

    One topic could be praxis. An initial text could be short and concise, with some citations from discussions, with links to the respective discussions, with a provocative hypothesis, a contradiction one has detected…

    Another topic I mentioned here: The Question about the Original Buddha.

    Saibhu, #5, a community/nonsense-page. Interesting idea. Interesting because it means also that a community of some kind is developing. We should consider this. But there has to be also a playbuddha of the month in each edition – and btw, we haven’t really touched this topic yet: Sex!

    My German Konfickte des Buddhismus, which is about the approach to sex by OGB (official german buddhism), has by far the most hits on my blog. Sex sells.

  9. Tom Pepper said

    Re #7: Of course that’s the real reason! Snarky comments are fun, of course, but it is also important to point out the errors, absurdly false claims, and the ideological implications of the various x-buddhisms. Such things are not allowed on their own sites, or in any other existing venue. It would draw the claim of “wrong speech” or “clinging to views,” and get one censored. But there has been, on rare occasion, in both Buddhist and Western thought, a belief that pointing out the truth cannot be wrong speech, and recognizing what we are really doing even when that differs from what we tell ourselves we are doing is important, even if sometimes unpleasant. I’m all for being snarky, but it is snarkiness with a purpose.

    I recently tried (albeit quite clumsily) to point out, in a discussion of using Buddhism to recover from addiction, that what was being described as a new Buddhist approach was just the same old psychological approach that has patently failed to solve the addiction problem for decades now. I was asked to stop interfering with the discussion, and the glowing comments about how this wonderful insight has finally completely cured participants in just one week after years of relapse continue. This kind of stuff is worse than a waste of time, its actually dangerous, and there’s no way other way to be critical of it.

    As for the topic of sex, that is interesting. I never noticed before that this has never really been addressed here. I guess I don’t think much about this issue. Unlike all those leaders of x-buddhist groups who are so much farther along the path, I’ve never cheated on my wife or had an inappropriate relationship with a student. It would be an interesting topic to address though–I’ve read articles claiming that Buddhist practice will improve one’s sex life, a claim absolutely not found in the Pali canon, I’m sure.

    Re #6: Alan, I think that such “creative critique” would be great. I tend to write in an academic, essayistic style, but it would be great to have some creative writing that is disturbing, in the best sense of that term, and provokes thought. Most so-called “Buddhist poetry” is meant to call a stop to thought with a complacent assurance that thinking is bad, and we should mindlessly enjoy the cloud, flower, tea, whatever. Let’s have some real poetry!

  10. Craig said

    #8:

    good points about the message forum. i can see how this blog comment form of communication in some way moderates itself. message board do tend to be a mess with trolls act. maybe dedicated threads where it would be easier to keep track of specific comment discussions. for me it’ just a matter of of going up and down on a GIANT comment page year. by the time i get to the bottom to write my comment, i forget what i wanted to write:) shorter pieces is a great idea with dedicated comments. again, just brainstorming. thanks for your insight,

  11. Danny said

    What about a Book page for sharing what we’re reading? A full review, or a just few lines about why we might recommend it or not. I know that I have picked up on several good reads from all of you by following along here…

    Thanks.

  12. Craig said

    Are there ANY x-buddhist books worth reading?

  13. Danny said

    hi Craig (# 12)

    Well, there might be. I meant anything that could relate to the project here. Tom Pepper is clearly a big reader and mentions books from time to time, for example, a very good little book the other day on the failure of capitalism that I otherwise would have never found.

    All I have right now. Just a simple idea.

  14. frank jude said

    RE: 11

    Yes! I would very much appreciate a “book page” as well as some kind of list of books that have informed your thinking (Matthias Steingass, Tom Pepper, Glenn Wallis). I’ve culled several books, writers, philosophers from your various comments, but it would be great to see them in some ordered way.

  15. saibhu said

    Danny (11) and Frank (14),

    if you’re eager to do the work yourself you could simply start a meta-blog collecting interesting ideas/books.

    Matthias and I have started such a blog (in german) recently (see Kritikos und Bodhi in the blogroll). Writing a short summary and linking to the original source doesn’t take much effort and maybe it is even an advantage to have it on a separate place and not overloading the blog here.

    If you do this, please leave a note. Maybe I can contribute a little comments-thread summary now and then.

  16. Danny said

    Saibhu,

    Thanks. I looked at yours and Matthias’ site. Very nice.

  17. sometimes said

    I’m Baaaack! Actually have been back…but been doing a fair amount of lurking.

    I like the idea of some discussion about things like addiction, sex, etc… Let’s address some of the everyday issues that people are bumping up against…but that go largely unmentioned (or only vaguely mentioned) in Buddhist dialogue.

    Also, I like the idea of creative content. I do NOT tend to write in an academic essayist style, but find that perhaps I could contribute more in a creative/disturbing fashion. I like to think that is how I communicate best, or at least when I am closest to what I actually want to be expressing.

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