By Glenn Wallis
Oi, readers! I’m just going to accept comments that flow out of the critical work that is fostered on this and a few other blogs (links below). Dealing with general questions and uninformed criticism is just too fucking tedious, yo. Besides, we have now placed a veritable shit-load of texts, tools, concepts, acids, acid, and weapons of crass destruction at your disposal. It’s just a matter of your picking something up and getting on wif it.
Contrary to every single x-buddhist teacher whom I have known, read, or listened to, I actually still believe in the liberating potential of x-buddhist concepts. To unleash the force of the concepts, of course, you have to cancel their specifically x-buddhist warrant and find a way to re-commission them. Think of what you could do with re-calibrated primary classical-buddhist concepts such as requisite disappointment, flesh and blood humanity, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, social symbolic identity, nihility, thinking, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (nibbida, bodhi, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nirvāṇa). Imagine the kinds of subjects and social formations that could emerge from a robust, comprehensive, and intelligent inculcation of such values.
Don’t expect x-buddhist teachers in the West to do much with these concepts, though. If I am sure of anything concerning x-buddhism, it is that its teachers have created a self-perpetuating network of safe, conventional, middle-managers. I recently witnessed a recursion of this time-tested pattern. The teacher in a Zen center that I keep my eye on “transmitted” to one of his students. He had two long-standing students to consider. One was a feisty, gutsy, super-intelligent, creative, unconventional, and out-spoken young women. The other was a plodding, fuddy-duddy of a middle-aged man. This dude is really nice. He’s really likeable. He’s a paragon of compassion and right-speech. But, my god, is he an uninspiring, rule-worshiping, lame-ass of a human being. (Don’t worry, he’s a sensei; he can handle it–right?.) So, guess who received “transmission”? Yep. Maybe what is being “transmitted” is, after all, the mind of milquetoast or the lifeblood of the anemic Patriarchs. Anyway, this is an ancient pattern in x-buddhism. It goes a long way toward accounting for the abysmal failure of x-buddhist teachers throughout history to unleash the force of their received thought. Indeed, our non-buddhist critical apparatus may make it difficult for you to avoid the sad conclusion that x-buddhist teachers, the heirs of “The Enlightened One,” simply perpetuate “a form of deep stupidity,” as Matthias Steingass put it in a recent comment.
But, then again, once you get to work for yourself, you’ll certainly make your own discoveries, and come to your own conclusions.
Patricia Ivan made a comment here that can be used to make some more points. Patricia was responding to Matthias Steingass’s comment, in part, that:
Glenn, you mentioned recently that you would like to change the discussion into something more like a workshop. I think that’s one way to go and we should think about how this this could be implemented. At least this would mean that people taking part would have to confront themselves with the material which is talked about. There are more problems to go in such a direction but personally I don’t think that this has to be discussed any more in the open. I mean, our ‘critics’ do not even see our own most weak points, our own very stupid actions. They are really not worth [letting] look at our own internal discussions. (#72)
Yes, a “workshop” where you train followers in using SNB tools is what you are really after, not a public conversation or debate about the tools themselves. That, in essence, is what some of are trying to say. Thank you for clarifying it. (#73)
Read in the context of Patricia’s other comments in that thread, the last line is ironic. Okay. My reply is right below, rather than in the comments section.
Yes, that’s it, Patricia. I don’t mind a conversation about the tools themselves, but it has to flow from the user’s effort to craft something in his/her workshop. (Actually, I think in the future I’ll use war metaphors. See “Sutras of Flesh and Blood.”) You can train yourself. Like IT people say of certain computer programs: the theory is “intuitive.” Its features really do a certain kind of work when applied, and its not too difficult to navigate the apparatus. Also, its easily transferable to domains of interest other than the ones we identify, including x-buddhism itself. Maybe you can use it to critique non-buddhism. But why bother? I would hope you’d use it to dig into the more important issues that you have addressed here and elsewhere, like power dynamics and abuse of authority in x-buddhist circles.
One last point, the word “follower” only works up to a point. Obviously, by entering our arsenal, you are taking our lead. Quite early on, however, you will look back and find yourself completely and utterly on your own.
Maybe we can alleviate some of the loneliness by turning this blog into a forum for nomads and exiles. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know.
By way of trying to disabuse readers of the belief that critique is quixotic and even futile (how many times have I heard that accusation!), I’ll just throw out the claim that, no, it’s just the opposite. Critique is always the prelude to real-world change. Every new form of some x, buddhist or otherwise, began with a sufficiently sustained critique of x. Some critiques are explicit, such as, say, the Frankfurt School’s or Marx’s. Others are implicit, such as the Secular Buddhist Association’s or Dogen’s Soto Zen. (I guess we could come up with some explicit x-buddhist critiques of x-buddhism–Nagarjuna is an example–but they are, without a single exception that I am aware of, ultimately self-defeating; for x-buddhism in the hands of its x-buddhist critics, is, in some form or another, inevitably salvaged and preserved as x-buddhism. Why is that?)
I am offering a course this semester called “Topics in Theory: Ideological Critique of Contemplative Practices.” The basic idea is to read through Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, collect concepts and ideas–in short, tools and weapons–that enable the students to critically tinker with/attack some material of their choosing. “Contemplative practice” is conceived very broadly. Students are looking at texts by, for instance, Jung, Emerson, Beckett, x-buddhist teachers, and western acupuncture figures. Another student will analyze the website presentation of the Mind and Life Institute. Another will look at a book on creative writing. One will look at mindfulness/MBSR material. This is just the starting point. a point that, really, is already in the midst of things; for, the one condition is that the student choose material that lies close to his/her heart.
I’ll share with you some texts that we read in class as a kind of rough outline for the critical work we’ll be doing in the class. The texts serve equally well for the non-buddhist-oriented work we’re encouraging you to do. The specifics can be found on our blogs, non + x articles, and book Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism.
This statement by Deleuze is a good starting point. Some of you might be offended by his imagery. Deleuze, I’m sure, wouldn’t give a shit. (Think: style and attitude as integral features of one’s critical apparatus. The Secular Buddhists’ dogma of right-speech is an example of a style. Bataille’s scatological rhetoric, etc.)
What got me by during that period was conceiving of the history of philosophy as a kind of ass–fuck, or what amounts to the same thing, [as] an immaculate conception. I imagined myself approaching an author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be his but would nonetheless be monstrous.
So, please, go forth, dear Readers, and beget your very own monsters of sublime cruelty.
Here’s some shit you might want to bear in mind. Think of these concepts as bricks to use in constructing a critical image of your material. That reminds me:
A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. ― Brian Massumi, “Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy,” Deleuze and Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. xii.
[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. —Lydia Goehr
[The goal of critique] consists in wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them. —Marjorie Gracieuse
When someone asks ‘what’s the use of critique?’ the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Critique does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of critique is to sadden. A critique which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a critique. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Critique is at its most positive…as an enterprise of demystification. ―Gilles Deleuze (I replaced “philosophy” with “critique”)
Anyone who is close to him and enters into conversation with Socrates is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject you may start, you will continually be carried round and round by him, until at last you find that you have to give an account of your entire life; and when you are once entangled, he will not let you go until he has completely and thoroughly sifted you. —Plato
No one is more ridiculous than a [critic] who wants to be liked. —Friedrich Nietzsche
Critical theory at its most abstract and general level … begins as a formal ‘negativity.’ As a dissenting motif, it selects some tradition, ideological premise, or institutionalized orthodoxy for analysis. As immanent critique, it then ‘enters its object,’ so to speak, ‘boring from within.’ Provisionally accepting the methodological presuppositions, substantive premises, and truth-claims of orthodoxy as its own, immanent critique tests the postulates of orthodoxy by the latter’s own standards of proof and accuracy. Upon ‘entering’ the theory, orthodoxy’s premises and assertions are registered and certain strategic contradictions located. These contradictions are then developed according to their own logic, and at some point in this process of internal expansion, the one-sided proclamations of orthodoxy collapse as material instances and their contradictions are allowed to develop ‘naturally.’ —David L. Harvey
Destruktion/deconstruction. When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it “transmits” is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial “sources” from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand. —Martin Heidegger
Subjectivity. [In critiquing The Hunger Games,] I’m going to try to avoid the simplistic assessment of moral content, and discuss ideology in the sense I have defined the term before; specifically, what kinds of subjects do the readers of these books become by reading and enjoying them? What is the function of the practice of reading The Hunger Games in the reproduction of the existing social formation? It is my argument that this novel serves to produce and reproduce a subject of late capitalism willing to consent to live in ignorance and delusion, happy to give up its right to live as a human subject in return for the mere fantasy of imaginary plenitude. In the terms of the echoes of Roman Empire that run throughout the series: The Hunger Games trilogy serves to produce good slaves for the global empire of Capital. —Tom Pepper
Plenitude. In Lacanian terms, the resolution of the Oedipal complex depends upon entry into a Symbolic system. The individual must move out of a more thorough immersion in the Imaginary and into the Symbolic system of the Other, into language. The Imaginary, in the Lacanian sense, is the realm of bodily experience of and interaction with the world, the organization of our perceptions. As the individual enters the Symbolic, there is a sense of loss, a sense that the language requires a level of abstraction causing us to lose some of our direct experience of the world. This loss can generate the fantasy of “Imaginary plenitude,” the desire to return to this (never actually existing) state in which we had a direct, unconstructed, pure and “full” perception of the world, as well as the instant and effortless gratification of every wish through thought alone. The entrance into a Symbolic order does require the acceptance of some loss, the loss of the possibilities of the nearly infinite other Symbolic structures we could have entered; in addition there is the necessary exclusion, the reality that no Symbolic system can ever fully include every possible experience of the world—a Symbolic system is always incomplete. Accepting this loss, and entering the Symbolic system, requires containing the fantasy of Imaginary plenitude (often perceived as a female or maternal excess of threatening incoherent presence), usually with the help of the moral restrictions or code of the superego (often in the form of the forbidding law of the father). When this works properly, we are interpellated into the ideology of our social system, and we become good subjects, working as we should, perpetuating the system that has created us. —Tom Pepper
Utopia. Q. Why should students study utopian thought? A. Such thought requires that we, students and teachers alike, dare to ask what we mean when we use the concept “ideal”? What is it that is truly preferable? This a question and topic whose consideration enriches every current subject in modern sociology. The study of utopian thought uncovers hidden assumptions about possibilities about “human nature,” the workings of history, and the ability of humankind to craft a society and life that honors us all. It helps us better appreciate how long and hard humankind has wrestled with certain deep-reaching utopian questions of a sociological bent; e.g., how can a society provide fairly for all? How can we craft a society closer to our heart’s desire.
This work requires that we look unflinchingly at society’s dystopian aspects, both on-going and preventable possibilities…lest we be blindsided by horrific scenarios we might have avoided sharing. No amount of preventive and humanistic preparation is too much. It teaches what is necessary if we are to get there (“utopia”) from here; that is, if we are to artfully combine directed social change with valuable aspects of social stasis. Or, as Andre Gide said,”People cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — from “Utopian Thinking in Sociology: An Interview with Art Shostak”
Rhizome. Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the one is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, the rhizome is made only of lines; lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or ligaments, should not be confused with lineages of the aborescent type, which are merely localizable linkages between points and positions…Unlike the graphic arts, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable,, and has multiple entrance ways and exits and its own lines of flight. (G. Deleuze and F. Guattari)
Some examples and texts:
What do you think?