Dialogical Meditations

Matthias Steingass: We have been talking about direct interaction in Germany/Switzerland for some time now, but for some reason it hasn’t happened so far: After some initial interest in the project most people pull out again. The initial interest oftentimes seems to consist of two parts, a) a vague notion of a new truth, and b) the expectation of authority leading to a new truth. As soon as it becomes obvious how deep the critique goes and that there will be no authority leading into the transition to a hypothetical new truth, interest fades or changes into naïve x-buddhist opposition. The result is that very few people go any further.

Glenn Wallis: I’ve experienced the same outcome. It was quite disheartening, but not the least bit surprising. I tried an experiment with a meditation group. To explain briefly, I altered the group from one that would seem strange but nonetheless familiar to a traditional (western) soto-zen-buddhist to one that was, well, just strange. The original group was popular, with twenty to thirty participants each session, and a constant stream of new people. Participants were accustomed to a predictable protocol—instruction, sitting facing the wall, walking, bowing, more short sitting, talk (by me) and discussion. There was a lot of buzz around the group, and its reputation spread. Now, I asked comers to sit facing one another in a circle for a full hour without a word spoken. After the hour, someone would read a short piece of text. Everyone was then invited to dialogue. After a few weeks, the group shrunk to three or four participants,

Matthias Steingass: To me it seems something is missing here. What happens in that hour? Was there ever a dialogue what people actually were doing? Why are they doing it? And if you explained what they should or could do, how did they actualize it? What’s happening? They great mystery and power of meditation seems to be that no one ever talks about it. Or at least it is rarely done. I do not mean the endless buddhemic discourses. I mean an actual dialogue about what people experience when doing certain kinds of such mind work. Moreover, what has the sitting hour to do with the text? I recently saw a video about how scientists researched what a surfer is doing. Among a lot of things they measured his brain activity. They found something interesting. After the surfer paddled out to the place where he would wait for the right wave to ride, he got in the alpha-mood. That is, while watching and scanning the incoming waves the EEG showed an increase of so called alpha waves. These waves develop while a human is in a relaxed, quite but alert state. Still and wide awake. In other words: A kind of meditation. Being quite and wide awake can be called a certain mind work. My point is: This kind of mind work is part of and embedded in a certain pattern of activity. It is part of ones life. It has meaning full place in some ones activity. Now, just sitting for an hour might be meaningful, but was it meaningful to these people? And what was the connection to the text?

A point I often try to make is that different meditations might be entirely normal states of being with the difference that they are specifically trained for certain reasons and for specific applications. An example I often used is sitting on a park bench just watching what happens. For example an author who his collecting material for a novel might sit – like the surfer – calmly watching what is coming in. He will have a kind of open and relaxed receptivity for any kind of activity which is developing. He will not drift into daydreaming because he could miss something. But certainly thoughts will cross his mind witch he takes note of if they are interesting or which he will skip if not. All the while watching what happens.

Now in introspective meditation – to give it a name – the process of watching what is coming in, watching the waves, is applied to the working mind itself. Mind work is working the mind in this way. It will be a kind phenomenology, which can be differentiated to some extent. But the process is complicated because we cannot any more presuppose a common mind form, or an objectified kind of mind, like an objectification in classical phenomenology (Husserl). The distortion which inevitably is part of communication makes this impossible. So if we begin 1) a dialogue about a differentiated perspective on what the mind actually does while thinking – for example by taking classical buddhist texts, not simplified contemporary derivatives – we already have to take into account that each person gets a more or less different view about what has to be done while actually sitting and watching. The next step 2) is actual training in watching the mind working. This comes with a set of instructions like, for example, to concentrate on the experience of the mind concentrating on a given object, the mind inevitably wandering away, then at some point remembering the object again and concentrating again. How, for example, is the experience of daydreaming and suddenly remembering and becoming aware of daydreaming. This is already quite a task to accomplish. Phase 3) is to facilitate a dialogue about this. Hereby the facilitator is of great importance. He needs some specialized knowledge about how to get people into the dialogue. Especially because the dialogue is only of any value if it is willing to leave established known symbolic terrain. People must be willing to be creative and experimental with how they relate an experience. For example, people almost certainly will feel misunderstood by getting themselves rid of pre-formated buddhemic notions about their meditation. The facilitator must be able to make it clear that misunderstanding is inevitable and in fact part of the show. It is a fertilizer.

Glenn Wallis: There is this persistent idea—probably more like an unquestioned belief (dogma?)—that meditation necessarily revolves around experience, consciousness, states of mind, and that sort of thing. I would like to put this species of meditation out to pasture. It is a species that locks the practitioner of meditation into a vortex of meaning-seeking no different from any other idealist, atmanistic big Other-directed system. It’s a species of meditation that bears the sign of the old phenomenologists’ dream of the epoché, in which it’s assumed that there is some sort of pivot point within consciousness from which consciousness itself and all other phenomena can be viewed, or are permitted to appear, unsullied by our structuring categories. I’d like to contribute to the dispelling of such fantasies. These fantasies are commonplace in meditation environments. And they always involve some notion of “watching your mind.” I’m trying to re-conceive of meditation in purely materialist terms. I don’t mean the vulgar materialism of western buddho-scientism. I mean more the materialism that I see in thinkers like Laruelle, Badiou, and Žižek, a variety that prioritizes, for instance, social formations over those of consciousness.

Matthias Steingass: The difference between your first phase in the meditation group and the second might be that in the first they at least somehow imagined that their activity is part of a greater undertaking, while in the second this meaning vanished. Perhaps the vanishing of meaning is too advanced. Perhaps that’s already too real. Or perhaps it’s just useless to sit for an hour if one is not waiting in prayer.

Glenn Wallis: What such sitting is, how it’s conceived and articulated, would have to emerge out of the dialogical formation at the heart of the group. Once we uncouple a practice, such as meditation, from any given system of thought, we really have no choice but to take this course. Meditation is not meditation. It’s just a person sitting brutely still, silent, and aware. For what reason, to what end, a person might sit like that is not only no longer over-determined by a doctrine, it is wholly undetermined. Maybe a community based on study and dialogical exploration of some x will want to determine or fix a value to that practice. But that involves a completely different approach. In any case, in the group I mentioned earlier, we failed to unburden the practice of its buddhistic pretensions. In some of the terms that we have used on this blog and elsewhere, I would diagnose this failure along these lines. X-buddhism currently presents itself along two lines of trajectory: (1) as a permutation of the dream of the coming—yet perennially deferred—New Age spiritual apocalypse; namely, as a pseudo-secularized (and crypto-religious) technique for decisively uncoupling oneself from the alien-like stress and tension inherent in participating in our techno-consumerist maelstrom; and (2) as the ancient curative fantasy known as nirvana. In both instances, x-buddhism interpellates, or calls into being, a subject who is necessarily predisposed toward certain tendencies and disinclined toward others. It’s too much to get into here, and it really involves acquisition as much as predisposition, but, briefly for now, among the predispositions I’d include: susceptible to a big Other (as in Lacan) in doctrine and in the person of the teacher, and to the transcendental illusion (as in Kant) in terms of their habits of reasoning; prone to a code of deontological ethics; fanatical as opposed to enthusiastic (as in Badiou) for a new social-linguistic-imaginary place. In the briefest terms, they are disinclined toward any manner of praxis that aims precisely to expose such tendencies, that aims to enable one to traverse the fantasy (as in Lacan). I would include among these enablers features of praxis such as explicit exposure to ideas about the big Other, investigations into reasoning habits, consideration of an ethics of resistance, and the conscious adopting of place. So, again, we’re talking here about new ideologies, new subjects, and new organizations.

Matthias Steingass: The question here is, regarding what you said about your mediation group above, what has any kind of meditation to do with it? A differentiated phenomenology of the individual mind system at work might help, but I think such a differentiation has to be trained explicitly. What has any kind of literally just sitting to do with the investigations into reasoning habits, for example? A training in a more fine grained observation of ones own mind might be helpful in such a case but it has to be taught and trained explicitly. And then again it is the question, don’t we have it already? Think about how a psychoanalytic session is structured. The client learns to watch the flow of his associations, the analyst is hovering in a kind of relaxed and alert attitude just looking what’s happening. Isn’t this already meditation? And isn’t it embedded in meaningness, a meaningness which morphs, while the traversing is done?

On the other side, I can imagine a useful kind of just sitting. It’s main feature is its uselessness. But this doesn’t has any use as long as we try to use time usefully. This might be a real advanced meditation. It could only be done, when one alters ones conception of time. We are deeply suffused with the thought about the value of our time. So deeply that this value seems natural. That is certainly a question about ideology. But then this kind of meditation only makes sense after the traversing of this specific fantasy is done (a fantasy which might be a central one, like a cornerstone, making the house come down when extracted). Maybe in that way the usefulness of just sitting becomes visible: if we realize how useless our concept of the value of time is – at least when applied unconsciously to meditation. Only then Beckett‘s thought might become meaningful without being an affront.

Glenn Wallis: Just to clarify, I think we have to look to study—the consideration and formation of concepts—and dialogue to do that traversing work, such as becoming sensitive to our reasoning habits. I just employ meditation axiomatically. I don’t want to inscribe it with any meaning or purpose. If I did, I’d tip-toe in the direction of kenosis. But even that’s too much. What happens in the dialogue-study community will give the participants ample material for conceptualizing practice on their own terms. Or maybe various group understandings will pop up, disappear, and emerge again in a different form. I want to mention, too, that a materialist conception of practice doesn’t foreclose on what many people think of as “spiritual” practice. As I mentioned in the last post, I am very interested in the materialist theology of people like Caputo, Eagleton, Žižek, Laruelle, Badiou, and maybe even Hegel. I think that Tom Pepper’s work provides many innovative examples along these lines. Look at his discussion of rebirth in Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice, for an example. We probably should think carefully about the fact that Pepper self-identified as a Shin Buddhist when he wrote that. But maybe that’s a conversation for another day. In any case, everything that we’ve been discussing requires some form of community, of material engagement.

Matthias Steingass: I welcome your new initiative to get community and/or organization going. In this regard, I put forward two theses:

  1. The very act of communication is community.

This general statement has a lot of implications. I want to narrow it done here and now to one point: What happened with the initiation of this blog and the few texts you wrote to facilitate it was the beginning of community and organization. All communication at this blog was community and organization.

  1. Community and organization must mean that it understands the system it establishes by analyzing, interpreting, thinking about and changing relevantly the rules which grow with the community.

To explain it with a corollary:

Every taboo hints at a rule which is secretly, unconsciously guarded, or guarded by power structures not obvious and accessible to all members of the community; therefore, such taboos must be approached and analyzed by the community.

Glenn Wallis: I agree wholeheartedly with both of your theses. Concerning the first one, I would say that not only do acts of communication constitute community, but the inverse as well: community is communication. A crucial consequence of this thesis is that community is perpetually open to new ideas and practices. I think that we—everyone who has participated on this blog generally, and you, me, and Tom Pepper in Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice, in particular—have created materials that can be fashioned into dynamic real-life communities, real-time organizations. I am interested in thinking through how that might look, and even manifest, in actuality.

Matthias Steingass: Regarding material we developed and material about buddhism which comes from other sources: We laid a lot of emphasis in criticizing present day x-buddhism, namely a specific interpretation of buddhist material in our culture. Moreover we laid a lot of emphasis on criticizing trivial interpretations (Think Not Hahn, MBSR, Batchelor, etc.). We should look more to the material which is coming from the academy. Think about the Dun Huang translation project, or what we know today about Gandhara (to give two examples). Now, you said in your recent text, “the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist ‚text‘.“ What I want to suggest is somewhat the opposite. Let’s take what the academy is presenting in terms of archeology, philology, reconstruction of dead language, social relationship, economy, ritual, etc., and let’s play with this. Not unlike Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations, his thought about karma and reincarnation or Shinran and Hegel, but with one more twist to it: We should play with this with the idea in mind that we could encounter something absolutely alien. Foucault’s historical apriori in principal says that it formats a certain kind of thought which is unthinkable in another historical apriori. What if we accept this possibility and work under the presupposition that we’ll never know what really happened (and this is contra to the idea of knowing about a truth event which happened then). This then is the superposition of human mind which in different historical situations develops thoughts which are uninterpretable to each other. But the more material we use from what is unearthed by the academy, the more it becomes possible that the constant interaction of these particles create a critical mass which brings birth to a new alien thought. Whereby the old one we’ll never know – at least we will never be able to prove the budhofiction we create will anything have to do with what they then thought. This is a shameless game because it uses, without any restraint, and in an eclectic and idiosyncratic way, whatever material comes its way.

Glenn Wallis: I agree that that sort of work could prove valuable. Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations are a particularly promising example. Having a foot, or maybe just a toe by now, in that world of Buddhist studies, however, I can see massive quagmires down that road. I think my interest in Laruelle is related to my reluctance to engage in any form of reconstruction, even a playful one. I am more inclined toward, say, Badiou’s militant practice of using force and destruction in order to dis-place an ideological structure, and thereby open radically new ground. Again, maybe that’s a topic for another discussion.

Concerning community, I think that online communication is a valuable feature of such a community. We can use it to formulate and debate ideas, share successes and failures, and so on. But I don’t see how face-to-face community can be left out. I think that the difficulty that we started this discussion with can be ascribed to the fact that we, or at least I, merely inverted the x-buddhist model. What I did was inscribe x-buddhism with its negative. That’s not going to work. It’s too late for that approach. At best, it will result in a regression. That approach is still too determined by what’s come before. So, a looming question for us is: what form might such a newly conceived communication-community take? I think people like Paulo Freire offer concrete examples (see, for instance, his “Education and Conscientização” in Education for Critical Consciousness).

Many specific ideas can be fashioned from the non-buddhist material, too. But for now I would suggest the general principle of infusing anemic x-buddhist discourse—assuming that the continuity with Buddhism is deemed desirable—with the lifeblood of alien thought, specifically, that of western materialist thinkers from Althusser to Žižek.

Matthias Steingass: But I wouldn’t focus on discourse with x-buddhism any more. As you said a certain subject is interpellated in contemporary Buddhism. This subject is antagonistic and oblivious to SNB. There is only a small percentage of people who take the pains to understand important terms, like interpellation for example. I suggest that material developed in this venue should stand by its own. We should work on developing a better online presence with the goal that people can find our stuff. Networking with other networks should be established. With artists and scientist of any kind. But at the same time, let’s be realistic. It really is the 1 to 99 relation. 1 person working 99 being entertained. As long as this relation does not change I see no chance for SNB to have any bigger impact.

Glenn Wallis: I agree that dialogue with committed x-buddhists is not the project we’re interested in. After all, like I said, I don‘t want to re-inject atman into the current idealist fascism of x-buddhism, hence my materialst practice; and I have never met an x-buddhist who can abide that move.

Matthias Steingass: I see a paradox here. If x-buddhism is interpellating a subject which is opposed to a new social-linguistic-imaginary place, as you say, how should this subject be interested in a re-injection of anatman? Maybe we must be very much clearer here about whom we want to address. For sure it’s not the idiots of no-ego-no-problem. Perhaps the strategy again must be more about producing and presenting more budhofiction to become thereby more magnetic and then waiting for what is attracted. With this in mind I want to suggest to rethink our stance towards the level of our material. It is often times said, that what we produce is too complicated. When we answer, well just take dictionary and look it up, we do the opposite as those x-buddhists who announce meditation retreats and regardless what is presented it is always open to any level. Don’t we have somehow the obligation to offer different levels of material with the more advanced levels building on the lesser ones? This suggests a kind of gradual approach. Is the cancellation of warrant really/always a sudden event? In this regard we could begin with writing a short paper about the Theses of SNB.

  1. Buddhism is an invention of twentieth century Europe.
  2. It is disguised christian-romantic thought.
  3. There was an event in India twenty-five hundred years ago.
  4. We hear a distorted echo of it now, and nothing but this.
  5. There is no original.
  6. Anatman went missing in Buddhism.
  7. Anatman implicates a specific meaning which goes against contemporary hyper-individualism.
  8. SNB aims to establish a responsibility which anatman implicates.
  9. Social relationships are not a natural given. The rules governing these patterns have to become visible to the practitoner.
  10. As to this task every present day tool can be used.
  11. Likewise every buddhist notion has to be put to the test (even anatman).
  12. Society today is far from being liberated. SNB is a force to make our golden fetters visible.
  13. SNB aims to understand the strange being the human is.

(That’s just off the top of my head)

Glenn Wallis: I’m down with all of that! I would make clear somewhere around #10 that study-dialogue communities are a particularly potent vehicle toward these ends. I am wondering if a party, maybe along the lines that Badiou spells out, is necessary. It would, of course, be a party of forces and infusions. Among other things, such as perpetually displacing static structures, forces and infusions will enable what Laruelle calls a “superposition of vectors,” whereby each mode of thought-practice “interferes” with the other, creating a potent new conjugation. That’s not as vague as it might sound. To get at the concrete possibilities of this idea, you’d have to imagine a group of thoughtful people sitting in a room, a facilitator, a practice (meditation?) conceived as corollary to unsentimental social engagement, and plenty of desire, passion, and— why not?—love.

About your second thesis, I would say that making explicit the taboos are indispensable for an emancipatory community. (Again, this assumes that we want to maintain, though under these new conditions, the primary Buddhist trope of liberation.)

In other words, the taboos mark the places where we’ve naturalized oppressive regimes of thought and social practice. I am thinking of the “unknown knowns” that, as Žižek reminds us, Donald Rumsfeld failed to mention. Sitting around our table or whatever discussing equality, we all know that Wallis hogs the conversation, and that we even sort of want and expect that from him, but how can we say so without pulling the threads out of the group fabric? Better not to acknowledge the fact. Best to keep it unknown. My own effort to reveal such repressed truths in the depths of the group is to give them voice. Let’s do an exercise every so often called Name That Taboo!

Matthias Steingass: In a way, my theses are connected to another point I want to make regarding your initiative. It is about meaning. You wrote in the last post “Worstward Ho!”:

For those of you who might like to participate, I want to emphasize that the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist “text” or, indeed, even to explicate its meaning. […] The purpose of ruining is to create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice.

You don’t want to explicate meaning, but you say the purpose is an individual actualizing an emancipatory thrust. If we don’t want to explicate, how can we think the process of the establishment of meaning otherwise? Because, if I understand you right, if you say there is emancipatory thrust, this is meaning (whatever that might mean). So in the light of my above two theses, how can we think and actualize community and organization based on non-explicatory development of meaning?

Glenn Wallis: I would encourage people to read Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster in this regard. I would quickly add, though, that I agree to some extent with Badiou’s claim that Rancière’s approach might hinder robust political-social action. I’m not sure. In any case, The Ignorant Schoolmaster is an extraordinary resource for thinking through this difficult issue that you raise; namely, that of the relationship between (non-)explication and emancipation (and its inverse: explication and stultification). It’s interesting to read Rancière in light of Freire’s idea of education as midwifery for critical consciousness, the latter which Freire equates precisely with emancipation. In short, I think the key is not to get too precious or literal about “not having an agenda,” and “non-explication,” and so on. We do have an agenda. We can’t avoid explication. We do have values. We have to start somewhere. But in light of what we have been saying about communication and community, we won’t stay there very long.

Matthias Steingass: I read The Ignorant Schoolmaster two or three years ago. I would have to re-read it more thoroughly to say something more about it. But it tells a very interesting story I experienced myself. Almost everything I know I have taught myself. English, for example, I learned from a bilingual book. This autodidactic style has pros and cons for sure. The relevant question here would be how does anyone come to use such a style. In my case, I adopted form a relatively early age onwards role models which showed how to learn and work as an autodidact. The great irony today is that the times never have been better for autodidactic learning, but the tools and materials at hand are seldomly used.

Image: “Dimensions of Dialogue.”

52 responses to “Dialogical Meditations”

  1. April Avatar

    Great! Will need to read several times to digest all of it, but I would also add:

    1. Impermanence (all the way down, to its logical conclusion) also went missing from Buddhism.

    In other words….are they all searching for some permanent perfect peace, some permanent state of no suffering, some permanent “present moment awareness?” Are they all interacting with some “permanent energy” which also has a atman implications. If impermanence is a “truth” then those things are not possible.

    Has it gone missing from SNB? If not, how is it interpreted, applied, evaluated by SNB?

    Just a quick thought….

  2. M. Steingass Avatar

    Hi Glenn.

    I suggest a thought experiment.

    Can you (or anybody else) read the paragraph beginning now in introspective meditation without thinking that this is about sitting still for an hour or something like this? Is it possible, for example, to think this paragraph as a description of a group of people talking?

    Also I have to point out that the three steps or parts or phases in this paragraph are not necessarily a temporal order.

    Can anybody think this paragraph in such a way, and what happens then?

  3. David Watson Avatar

    April, I agree with you about impermanence. Impermanence and anatta are two sides of the same coin. X-Buddhism’s abandonment of anicca and anatta empowers it to sell remedies for dukkha in the capitalist marketplace (indulgences, anyone?). Deprived of their theoretical foundation, these remedies are reduced to variations on the fantasy of infantile imaginary plenitude.

    Because anicca and anatta imply one another, the question whether both need to be named becomes strategic rather than a matter of doctrine. If SNB demands of X-Buddhism that it return to anatta, it must return to anicca as well. But the pervasiveness of the three discourses you identify in X-Buddhism — permanent perfect peace, a permanent state of no suffering, and permanent present moment awareness — suggest that, at least to whatever extent SNB wishes to maintain its focus on X-Buddhism, including an explicit insistence on anicca could be strategically useful.

  4. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Glenn,

    “Meditation is not meditation. It’s just a person sitting brutally still, silent, and aware. For what reason, to what end, a person might sit like that is not only no longer over-determined by a doctrine, it is wholly undetermined”

    I have problems with “undetermined” and would replace that word with under-determined, as in Laruelle’s concept of a determination in the last instance. That is to say “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” is a first name for what x-buddhists have postulated as meditation , with all of its additions, permutations and methodologies.

    But even in the case of meditation as a determination in the last instance no capture of the “person sitting brutally still, silent, and aware”is possible in thought. Nor is the experience transparent to a mind cognizant of it. In other words “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” is a state unavailable to us in some pristine form, either via meditation or as a philosophical postulate delivering an absolute identity between thought and the real.

    My understanding of Laruelle is that such a “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” is an apriori given, a transcendental determining any thought of such a state but unilaterally—there is no reciprocal relation between thinking (or thinking as meditation in the last instance) and the real.

    But how valuable is this “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” compared to say psychoanalysis, psychotherapy or any other form of practice? Why wouldn’t a simple awareness of the way in which thinking replicates ideological stances be as effective in combating ones own conditioned responses and confused thinking then say “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware”? Why can’t we arrive at such a state of awareness by means of a sustained form of thinking, or indeed by means of a dialogical practice? If we can, why do we need to “sit”.

    No doubt there is value in replacing meditation with some sort of dialogical practice but I wonder if there would be anything about it that was uniquely non-buddhist? If not why would it be any different to what is already available in many places outside of non-buddhism? On the other hand isn’t the practice of critical thinking practice enough for non-buddhism?

    I no longer “sit”. As for dialogical practice, every interaction I have with another human being, and indeed with every animal, is a dialogical practice. I feel no inclination to formalise it, but maybe that’s simply a mood of mine. Wouldn’t such a practice attract the psychologically needy hoping for a refuge, some consolation, a quick fix? No doubt I am as needy as the next person but are we in the business of trying to fulfil such needs. Wouldn’t such an outcome be almost inevitable, given the inhumanity of contemporary life? Community? For me at least it can be founded on study, thinking, and speculative practice, the more rigorous the better. Haven’t we already established, as Matthias says, such a community? Small, yes , but who can predict the power of a thought well chosen?

  5. JRC Avatar

    Matthias Steingass (#2):

    Can you (or anybody else) read the paragraph beginning now in introspective meditation without thinking that this is about sitting still for an hour or something like this? Is it possible, for example, to think this paragraph as a description of a group of people talking? Can anybody think this paragraph in such a way, and what happens then?

    Die a logical mediation

    Those who are gathered are sitting in chairs arranged in a circle. If necessary, someone in the group who feels qualified to do so will describe in simple terms what it means to intentionally turn one’s attention inward. Those who are gathered will then perform this non-non-activity (5 minutes). After 5 minutes have passed, those in the group who feel comfortable doing so will take turns describing to the best of their abilities what has just occurred for each of them (25 minutes). Open conversation is welcome during these tellings. After 25 minutes have passed, those who are gathered will then repeat this non-non-activity (5 minutes). After 5 minute have passed, those in the group who feel comfortable doing so will take turns describing to the best of their abilities what has just occurred for each of them but this time also taking into consideration how what they describe may or may not have been affected by the previous discussion. Open conversation is welcome during these tellings. After 25 minutes have passed, end session.

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#1). I do think impermanence has been banished from x-buddhist thought and practice. As David (#2) point out, this elimination of impermanence is part of x-buddhism’s retrenchment (from its own premises) to a position no different from any other bearer of the idealist phantasm. At best, we can find x-buddhist accounts of reality and experience that pay lip service to impermanence, but then reinstate it as some vitalist form such as “present moment aware” or “energy,” as you mention. For me, non-buddhism is a way of retaining impermanence in thought and practice. So much changes when we do so. I think your poetry is a living, breathing example of what happens when you force the truth of impermanence into thought. Poetry can, of course, also merely perpetuate idealist fantasies about pure states of experience and eternally comforting states of being. But once you add a few dollops of impermanence and anatman, everything changes. You know that from your poetry practice. I’d like to encourage more thought along these lines in terms of sitting practice and dialogical encounter with concepts. What’s happening, for example, in your meditation group in that regard?

    Matthias (#2). Maybe that description could read like an account of people having a conversation. But I would find it annoying and distracting to converse with someone who is constantly checking in on his inner experience. You already mentioned Freud’s analogy of looking out the train window and reporting on what you see pass by. You might have something like Freud’s idea in mind. But even if you don’t, I think that his idea here has had an influence on American, and, ironically, by extension, European meditation rhetoric. I see this as ironic because of the dismay with which the European Freudians—Austrians, Germans, Swiss, and French—observed the American turn toward ego-psychology. The ego-psychology desire to fix the person (to, for instance, establish a conflict-free zone of ego-consciousness) and release him back into the unaltered social maelstrom is precisely what we get in contemporary meditation rhetoric. That should not be surprising considering to what extent people trained in psychology have influenced the American meditation scene. Anyway, it might interesting, just for the record, to look at what Freud says.

    Freud hatte in seiner Methode der freien Assoziation des Analysanten und der gleichschwebenden Aufmerksamkeit des Analytikers eine Art gleichmütig-akzeptierende Achtsamkeit, die er auch kritiklose Selbstbeobachtung nannte, eingenommen und genutzt: “Nachdem es sich der Patient auf der Couch bequem gemacht hat, nimmt der Arzt hinter ihm ungesehen Platz: ‚Bitte teilen Sie mir mit, was Sie von sich wissen, eröffnete er die erste Analysestunde, sagen Sie alles, was Ihnen durch den Sinn geht. Benehmen Sie sich so, wie zum Beispiel ein Reisender, der am Fensterplatz eines Eisenbahnwagens sitzt und dem im Inneren Untergebrachten beschreibt, wie sich vor seinen Blicken die Aussicht verändert.” (Matthias Michal, “Achtsamkeit und Akzeptanz in der Psychoanalyse,” in T. Heidenreich and J. Michalak [eds.]: Achtsamkeit und Akzeptanz in der Psychotherapie:Ein Handbuch. Dgvt-Verlag, Tübingen 2004, p. 365.)

    Rough translation: In his method of free-association by the analysand and the evenly-hovering attention, Freud adapted and used a type of even-tempered awareness, which he also uncritically referred to as “self-observation:” [Quoting Freud] “After having the patient lie comfortably on the coach, the analyst takes his place behind and out-of-sight of the patient. The analyst opens the first session by saying, ‘Please tell me what you know about yourself, mention everything that passes through your mind. Act, for example, as if you were sitting on a train by the window and reporting on the changing scenery to the person next to you.’”

    This, too:

    Man halte alle bewussten Einwirkungen von seiner Merkfähigkeit ferne und überlasse sich völlig seinem unbewussten Gedächtnisse, oder rein technisch ausgedrückt: Man höre zu und kümmere sich nicht darum, ob man sich etwas merke.

    Rough translation: [The analysand] keeps all conscious influences from his retentive capacity, and gives himself completely over to his unconscious memory, or, expressed in purely technical terms: the analysand listens, and does not respond unless he notices something. (Sigmund Freud: “Ratschläge für den Arzt bei der psychoanalytischen Behandlung” [1912]. In: Gesammelte Werke–Chronologisch geordnet, Bd. VIII: Werke aus den Jahren 1909-1913. Frankfurt/Main: Fischer, 1999, 376ff.)

    Elsewhere, Freud laments the near impossibility of pulling this off. There are just too many layers of defense, strategies of resistance, and ego-protection. I think that what you describe makes for a good training practice, during which the practitioner gains insight in basic surface subjective processes. I think the Anapanasati Sutta is a good source in this regard. But after that initial training, I’d want to put meditation in the background of a communal, dialogical practice. More on this topic in response to JRC and Patrick.

  7. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Patrick (#4).

    “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” is a first name for what x-buddhists have postulated as meditation , with all of its additions, permutations and methodologies.

    I agree, and this is why I say that it–such sitting–is undetermined. I meant that in a non-technical sense. As you say, using Laruelle’s thought we’d have to emend that term. But for me the point is that sitting in a manner that is undetermined by all “additions, permutations and methodologies” is precisely what allows it, in Laruellen language, to be determined by the human real. The massive error made by all meditative traditions is to place sitting under the sign of, under the determination of, some doctrine of the real. What happens when you refuse that move?

    “sitting brutally still, silent, and aware” is a state unavailable to us in some pristine form, either via meditation or as a philosophical postulate delivering an absolute identity between thought and the real.

    Are you equating the two–purity and delivering–here? I wouldn’t. Such sitting is, let’s say, a para-zero activity. As long as you eliminate doctrines about it, it’s subtractive, like sleep or reverie. (Maybe “eliminate” is too much. Minimize? Problematize? Maybe we should reconsider some surrealist ideas?) But in that subtraction it’s like in Beckett: “-What happening? -Something is taking its course.” Period. Nothing more said.

    Why can’t we arrive at such a state of awareness by means of a sustained form of thinking, or indeed by means of a dialogical practice? If we can, why do we need to “sit”.

    I’d like to view meditation as but one instance on a continuum including the sustained engagement with ideas, thinking, dialogue, and real-world political application. So, three distinct but interrelated modes of inquiry could be included in a practice:
    1. Discursive analysis and dialogue, in which concepts are presented and discussed. These ideas, theories, and systems of thought are taken from a broad range of disciplines, including western philosophy, literature, psychology, cultural analysis, the creative arts, critical theory, and, if you like, classical Buddhism.
    2. Meditative inspection, during which the concepts are examined in silence and stillness.
    3. Political relevance, whereby students courageously transpose the results of discursive analysis and meditative inspection into specific spheres of social application.

  8. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    JRC (#5). So much will depend on “what it means to intentionally turn one’s attention inward.” What would your simple terms be here? I would predict that the later phase of people reporting on what occurred to them during the sitting would, more and more over time, reflect the initial description. So, a feedback loop emerges where the description determines the experience which then verifies the description. I have seen this loop repeated in every single x-buddhist setting I’ve been in. In a course I taught, “Survey of Contemplative Traditions,” in which we visited some ten communities (Quaker, Transcendental Meditation, Catholic Medical Mission Sisters, for example), this loop was one of the main features. That is, in each case, the community had a meditation practice that was, in the first instance, empty of content. And yet, by the time the facilitator got done with it, you could not imagine anything fuller than this empty form. I think this comment by Laruelle beautifully captures the issue:

    [Meditation] is a faith, with the sufficiency of faith, intended by necessity to remain empty but which necessarily evades this void by its repopulation with objects and foreign goals provided by experience, culture, history, language, etc. Through its style of communication and “knowing” it is a rumor—the occidental rumor—which is transmitted by hearsay, imitation, specularity and repetition.

    And this is the reason that the meditator is “the capital or a quasi-capital in the order of the thought. Or the shape of the World understood in its more inclusive sense,” namely, the sense given in advance by the doctrine/initial description.

    The other issue revolves around the reporting of experience. Like I said in my response to Matthias, I think this practice of attention to and reporting on “inner experience” has value initially. Many people are like that character in the James Joyce story who has always lived some distance from his body. So, sure, let’s spend some time reconnecting, if that’s the right metaphor. Having been around this practice I cannot deny that many people benefit from this phase. But after that initial yogic move–re-alignment, or whatever–I’d want to shift the content of attention over to concepts, arguments, ideas, theories. In other words, to thought that can force action. At some point–quite early on, if you ask me–inner experience looses its force and relevance. Really, of course, it’s not “inner” at all. What we experience is deeply conditioned by external factors. Some are immediate and subtle, like sounds and temperature, others are less obvious yet even more formative, like our social formations and language. I don’t believe that meditation can get at what’s forming our experience. Concepts and dialogue maybe can.

  9. M. Steingass Avatar

    Hi Glenn, I think we don’t get anywhere in this dialogue. I mentioned Freud, for example, as a question. Freud already tried it. He came to this or that conclusion. So why go on with it? I think you are sitting in a massive ambiguity. On one side you describe meditation in a zen-like shut-up-and-sit manner. On the other side you go long ways to explain that this is not zen but Laruelle. But to “uncouple a practice, such as meditation, from any given system of thought” has nothing to do with Laruelleian thought. To say it straight forward, to me it seems like you still romanticize meditation. The human as the transcendental being is never uncoupled from any thought.

  10. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#9).

    The Freud stuff is interesting because it is central to the American understanding of meditation. I am trying to say that meditation, or sitting in the manner I describe, is the opposite of romantic and big Other-oriented. It–sitting like that–is no big deal. It’s nice to engage in though, like reverie or sleep. The uncoupling has to do with the elimination of a strong doctrine of meditation. Of course we can’t escape thought as such.

    I am trying to think through practice–in whatever form–minus over-determining structures and influences. Aesthetics might be useful in this attempt, maybe along the lines of Boal or Beckett. Of course, the other option is just to throw it all overboard. But that won’t really get us anywhere, will it? (Something else requiring the same kind of thought will just take its place. Hence, my interest in materialist theology.)

  11. M. Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, #10.

    I don’t think that the choice is between troughing it all overboard (something else, as you say, requiring the same kind of thought just taking its place), or just keeping ‘meditation’. In me eyes that’s a false dichotomy. We went to great lengths to secularize and humanize what in different forms of meditation is done, to pull the esoteric rug from under its feed. Bliss is, we have seen, for example, the triggering of auto-opiat-production. We can keep these practices, why not?! But we have to give them names which say what these practices are about.

    You instead put yourself in a very difficult corner now by keeping this floating signifier and giving it this or that meaning. Sitting still (with the zen connotation) or, like in #7-2, examination of concepts in silence and stillness. Why not all naming it? The latter is thinking about something, the former is zazen. If people like it, well, nice. But why do you keep the ambiguity? Why not just do zazen?

    If you like to view meditation as but one instance on a continuum and you name this practice brutally-sitting-still, fine, no problem. But why mixing it with all kinds of stuff? All the more you get in real trouble when you say:

    For me the point is that sitting in a manner that is undetermined by all “additions, permutations and methodologies” is precisely what allows it, in Laruellen language, to be determined by the human real.

    You just mix Zazen with Laruelle – what doesn’t work. And you get in real danger when you put into opposition to your version of meditation, in the next sentence, the massive error made by all meditative traditions

    With Laruelle it doesn’t work because the human real is nowhere to be found but in that instance in which the human is cutting his finger, for example. One hasn’t to sit for it. It doesn’t work with all meditative traditions because the past we know about these traditions is fiction. If it where not you would have been reconstructing one, and that is that what you don’t want to do. So the comparison isn’t possible. If you insist, then you put yourself into the position of someone who knows the real thing.

    On the other side, it would be easy to construct a Laruelleian meditation.

    Photographic thought, rather than being primarily relational, differential, positional, is first of all real, in that sort of undivided experience, lived as non-positional self-vision-force, which has no need to posit itself simultaneously on the object, to divide with itself, to identify itself with the World and to reflect itself in itself.

    That’s from The Concept of Non-Photography. But this alone is, what doesn’t come to light with this citation, far from anything beyond thought or undetermined – what you imply with meditation.

    The materiality of our interaction is it always already. This materiality is the transcendental the human is. The undivided experience of the human is a radicalized phenomenology which is this transcendental and which is always already determined (and never undetermined) by that transcendental. But the undivided experience at the same time is determining the transcendental in the last instance. That’s the heresy the stranger is. Therefore, because s/he is determining in the last instance, s/he has to work with the materiality of the interaction to change and develop the World. From the point of view of the stranger, the stranger is the point of departure of every (inter)action – not the World. Therefore s/he has to begin. And as a being of communication the materiality of that communication has to be worked on. That has to be done with philosophical material (in the Laruelleian sense). Without further consideration now, this material, in the case discussed here and now, has to be that which is about changing (inter)action.

    This is important also regarding what JRC says in #5:

    Taking into consideration how what they describe may or may not have been affected by the previous discussion

    This taking into consideration is the game changer. That is the great point in what you say JRC.

    Would anybody call this meditation?

  12. April Avatar

    David, yes…anicca and anatta do indeed imply one another. They are also inextricably linked to dukkha. These basic principles seem to be lost, or at least muted quite a bit in current Buddhist and “mindfulness” chatter. However, as I sit for any length of time, I cannot escape them. Quite frankly I do not want a sitting practice that allows me to escape them. I think Glenn’s definition of what meditation is takes these into account. “Brutal silence and stillness.” Sometimes the brutality is beautiful, sometimes it is just brutal. But that is impermanence.

    Glenn, we have not directly addressed impermanence yet. We have only made it to sitting where you are, effort, noticing breath…tonight is noticing bodily formation. My hope is that impermanence is unavoidable if we are sitting for an hour noticing breath and noticing when we don’t notice it. However, I will address it directly as we get to the 4th tetrad. It seems to me that if you are really paying attention, in meditation and in life, there is really no way around it. And yes, I agree, poetry can be used just as “Blissed out” mediation can be used. While there is definitely room for play and imagination, I have no room for “paper heart” poetry, or paper meditation for that matter. I prefer cutting my own chest open and letting my own muscle we call heart, flop around out of my chest for a bit. I prefer the bloody organ to the paper heart.

  13. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#11). Sure, “meditation” can ring the old x-buddhist vibrato. What term do you prefer? “Sitting still” seems okay to me. And it doesn’t have to be part of dialogical practice. But I am still interested in making it a part. Zazen is the last thing I have in mind. Zen’s zazen is, in fact, the very antithesis of where my thinking is. I can hardly think of a more burdened notion of “just sitting” than Zen’s. When I say “undetermined” I mean undetermined precisely by such systems of thought. I assume we all agree that everything we do is profoundly determined by all sorts of things, from language to culture to biology. The point, for me, of devising practices is to get a view on these things, to tease them out in a manner that we find beneficial going forward in life. So, as to something’s being “beyond thought,” I have no idea what that could possibly mean.

    I brought Laruelle up only because Patrick did. Concerning your quote from The Concept of Non-Photography, I think I was trying for something similar in my post “On the Grammar of Meditation: Parataxis.” That was a while ago, though, so I’d have to re-read to see if I still hold to those views. What does hold still for me is the idea of a heretical practice–one that is, for starters, unbeholden to pre-determining structures. Sitting still, silent, and watchful is probably a primordial human practice. Hunters had to be good at it. It’s just a human material, like singing or pounding on a drum.

  14. John Cotham Avatar

    Is a practice ‘overdetermined’ to the extent that it has a specific end (e.g., enlightenment, The Good, Faithfulness to a Truth?)? That would seem to imply that the ideal would be goal-less action, which is impossible, inane. Even an undetermined practice has some goal.

    So can we appropriately determine that an undetermined practice is an attempt to discover what is already going on, to allow something new to be recognized, to discover unconscious ideology? Approaching the asymptote we call the Real*.

    I feel like coming up with a name for the practice would be easy in Pali or German. In Pali, you have samatha-bhavana and vipassana-bhavana. In English it’s hard to come up with a word for awareness-of-ideology-bhavana. De-determining meditation. Sifting, dialoguing, fracking, undetermining, recognizing, analyzing (bringing the unconscious to the conscious). Analytical meditation, perhaps.

    *I’m thinking a good use for the non-x forum would be to explore Laruelle a bit. I’ve done my best to get by with several articles on his thought, but it seems that a real thorough investigation is in order.

  15. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Glenn,

    Thanks for the comprehensive response. There is enough material in all your responses here (not to mention the other contributions) to warrant a post in return.

    “So, a feedback loop emerges where the description determines the experience which then verifies the description”.

    I agree with this assessment of meditation. Sharp makes a convincing argument against inner experience being the essential core of meditation and suggests instead a process in which the meditator introjects, the discourses, ethos, methodologies, stages, signs ,obstacles, pitfalls and rewards of meditation—in short all of the practicalities and all of the sublime paraphernalia; he meditates in the proscribed way and passes through each of the stages of the path in an enactment of the actions, deportment, methods and achievements of the mythical founder.
    At no time need he report on his experience as anything other than the experience described in the treatises on meditation; indeed, if he reports any anomalous experiences he will be told to ignore them and proceed as instructed.
    This is of course a feed back loop in which practice is structured, translated represented and confirmed by the discourse at every stage along the path. What exactly the mediator is experiencing, at para-zero say, or in the last instance, is of no interest either to the mediator or to the high priests of the discourse, since, of course, the discourse is the very way in which those who have introjected it come to experience what the discourse describes as the stages of the path.

    “2. Meditative inspection, during which the concepts are examined in silence and stillness”

    For me this amounts to a form of contemplation, an analytical practice differentiated from meditation in most traditions. I cannot see how it adds anything to the process that cannot be achieved by structured dialogue, unless of course sitting brutally still and aware can deliver something beyond or before concepts arise-a sort of transparency of mind allowing a gaze unsullied by ideation-something we have definitely rejected as delusion.

    “The massive error made by all meditative traditions is to place sitting under the sign of, under the determination of, some doctrine of the real.

    The discourses on meditation just are a doctrine of the real, no? What Althusser calls an ideology in practice. Remove the doctrine and there is no remainder; if decision falls the whole house lies in ruin. Meditation is not some sort of neutral container which can exist apart from the doctrine that structures it.

    “What happens when you refuse that move?”

    A new discourse of meditation arises in its place, under, perhaps, the sign of the absent sign, or the sign of Badiou, Lacan or Laruelle. In fact you already speak the language of the new meditative discourse, inscribed with the injunction–What happens when you refuse such a move?— its already in operation, as it must be, since the critique of the old discourse is already negatively structuring the new one. All that needs to be done is a refashioning of the terminology and a recalibration of the practice along the lines you describe

    “Sitting still, silent, and watchful is probably a primordial human practice. Hunters had to be good at it. It’s just a human material, like singing or pounding on a drum”

    If that is so why separate it for special consideration? Are you over determining non-buddhism in a negative way by structuring it on an essentially curative practice embedded within a decisional structure from which it just cannot be rescued? Like prayer and grace in Christianity, meditation is the conduit through which an essentially religious/salvic experience, already theologically explicated, is actualized as an ideological practice interpellating the individual into a collective world view. Isn’t separating out “sitting brutally still and aware” and describing it as nothing special the essential move of the Zen/Dzogchen discourse on meditation, in which realization of a state of “nothing special” has already been inscribedin the discourse as the quintessential mark of realization of an always and already given non-duality of the transcendent/immanent subject/object dichotomy.

    Can such a discourse point us towards the world and not away from it, towards conceptualization, analysis, intuition, imagination, collective projects, dialogue, struggle, new thinking, action. I think not. I would like to place meditation under an old sign which asks—why continue to indulge in an old religious practice in an age when the religious illusion is passing into history?

    “The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo. Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun.” Marx

    For me “Nascent Speculative non-Buddhism” is a disillusioning document in the positive way Marx means it here. I don know that meditation has any contribution to make in plucking the living flower. There is no point in pre-empting anything though. But I think every term of the new discourse needs to be contested.

    My preference is for rigorous theoretical study, research and the production of texts aimed at involving that portion of academia already concerned with radical critique and radical political change. A dialogical community among non-buddhists would certainly be a plus. For me it is essential since I am not an academic and have few resources to draw upon. Of course I could enter academia as a student (and the thought has crossed my mind) but at this stage of my life it seems pointless to enter into such an arcane structure.

    I am no longer interested in a quasi sangha, or practice group, meditative or dialogical, which tries to address the effects of an alienated, luridly consumerist culture on the individual psyche. No doubt something along those lines is needed but we should not try to provide even a relativized version of the curative fantasy. There are others more competent at doing that, to little effect, sadly, on the overall mass of suffering.

    I do think non-buddhism has something unique to offer, probably because it tries to straddle a broad range of disciplines in a disruptive, anarchistic and speculative/experimental mode, and is not adverse to thumbing it’s nose at its betters.

  16. M. Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, #13
    You ask,

    what term do you prefer?

    What I am about is not changing terms but differentiation. It is an old story and I tried to make this point over and over again at this blog. Your The Grammar of Meditation: Parataxis is a differentiation. But the problem remains, sometimes meditation is this, sometimes that, and nobody knows what we are talking about. We see it here in this thread. And I think there is still hope. That’s it what this overdetermination of the notion means. Hope for liberation, end of dukkha, understanding of anicca and anatta. Hope for a truth popping out of sitting for one hour at a time with ones breath. In this way meditation is a knitting point. And in that it is a means of communication. Nobody should be criticized because of using it this way. But if a knitting point is extinguished suddenly the hole discourse changes. If a knitting point is nailed down in its function, a shift establishes and a new one with a new discourse around it is becoming possible. But because the change can be fearful, terrible, or even outright disastrous, the knitting point is tabu. You shalt not make a picture of thy god.
    Part of the problem is the meaning of “dialogical practice”. That is why I say

    the very act of communication is community.

    There is no sangha, no congregation, no explicite meeting necessary. It is right here with anybody. Spouse, children, colleagues, husband, stranger, whoever. In every case it is a material act. If this act is altered communication changes. It takes place in the very word I say. The gesture, the gaze, the tone of my voice and of course the what. That is no political act of course, it still remains on the level of individuals. How it can become a political act is a different question. But it begins here – at least partly and at least it is something the human can actually do.
    Don’t waste your time. If you come together, talk.

  17. M. Steingass Avatar

    P.S. I missed to correct something yesterday after reformulating a sentence in #11. The relevant passage must read:

    That’s from The Concept of Non-Photography. But this alone is, what doesn’t come to light with this citation, far from anything beyond thought or undetermined – what you imply with meditation.

    I did not want to say that you look for something beyond thought. Of course not!

  18. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    John (#14). By “undetermined” I simply meant uncoupled from, let’s call them BDMs, Big Determining Machines, like ____(fill in the blank). I like how you express it in your second and third paragraphs. I’ve even played with the idea of analytical meditation. It preserves the continuity to thinking.

    For myself, in terms of a community as I am currently conceiving it, I want to appeal to axiomatics. That is, I hold these actions worthy, without offering proof, evidence, reasons, or even propositions: There is sitting in silence. There is immersion in dialogue. There is engagement in the world.

    Axioms allow us to get on with our work. My axiomatic approach avoids dogmatics in refusing to assign value to the terms beyond the axiom itself.

  19. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Patrick (#15).

    If that is so why separate it for special consideration? Are you over determining non-buddhism in a negative way by structuring it on an essentially curative practice embedded within a decisional structure from which it just cannot be rescued?

    The “non,” and all that that entails rescues it from the decisional structure.The point is to reconstitute it as material for the human. Isn’t that what we’ve learned from Laruelle? I hear no Zen/Dzogchen vibrato. I certainly see no trace of a cure. Every conceivable cultural form has been burdened by signs. We could even be having this conversation about dialogue itself, or study, or reading, or for that matter about rigorous theoretical study, research and the production of texts. We could be having it about things, namely, that we are axiomatically holding to be useful in some way. If I have been cured of anything along the way, it is the tyranny of signs. I can recite the officium right now without the slightest pluck of the indwelling trinity on my soul’s heartstrings. It makes for beautiful theater. So, I can certainly sit still and silent without rousing the spectors of the x-buddhist undead–purification of consciousness, realization, direct knowledge, nirvana, ad nauseum.

    I wonder what Marx would think of his most militant contemporary followers–Eagleton, Zizek, Laruelle, and Badiou–calling for a repudiation of vulgar materialism and even a return to theology? Zizek tells Milbank that only an atheist can believe in God today. Eagleton argues for teasing out the radical political potential from religious texts and practices.* Laruelle proclaims the future Christ. Badiou gives us St. Paul as the immortal bearer of a truth. This is not to say that any of these men are religious. They are in fact more sensitive than most to the fascist big Other ghosts swirling in our midst. But neither are they thinkers who are afraid to approach any human material as a possible source of fertility. Of course, they do so in a manner that can only be called heretical, but still, some readers should pause and consider what might be going on here. Again, have we not learned from Laruelle that it’s all just human material, or let’s call it in-human-material?

    *A taste:
    Are you urging people to go to church, or to read the Bible, or simply to acknowledge the historical connections between, say, Marxism and Christianity?

    Terry Eagleton: I’m certainly not urging them to go to church. I’m urging them, I suppose, to read the Bible because it’s very relevant to radical political concerns. In many ways, I agree with someone like Christopher Hitchens that most religion is fairly hideous and purely ideological. But I think that Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are gravely one-sided about the issue. There are other potentials in the gospel and in the Christian tradition which are, or should be, of great interest to radicals, and radicals haven’t sufficiently recognized that. I’m not trying to convert anybody, but I am trying to show them that there is something here which is in a certain interpretation far more radical than most of the mainstream political discourses that we hear at the moment.

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#16),

    Who has hope for any of that? I sure don’t. I can’t even conceive of what hope for the ending of impermanence might mean to someone. I would think that that person is either pathologically deluded or really stupid. I’m not sure what you mean by a knitting point. Do you mean it’s the topic around which a conversation takes place? If so, I don’t know how something as simple as sitting still and silent as an element of a dialogical practice become such a point. I thought the point was to give thought to what community might look like. I suggested that it should have some live, face-to-face component, in addition to being online. I do, by the way, know what meditation means. That’s because I provide the meaning. Really, I prefer function over meaning. My function is undetermined by pre-existing ones. I made it up ex nihilo, like, you know, God.

    What is your point about the taboo here? Are you saying that a person’s claiming that “sitting for one hour at a time with one’s breath” can legitimately bring “Hope for a truth popping out” should not be dismissed, and to do so only shows that it’s became a taboo view? Is that what you’re saying? A person can say that here. Why not? He can be dismissed or challenged, too, right? Who knows what direction a conversation will take? But we don’t have to be willing to go every which way, do we? Or have I misunderstood your point here?

    Sure, community can include all of that (your second paragraph). But I am speaking from an actual attempt to create sitting-dialogical communities at the institute where I work. I have had some remarkable successes and some grand failures. Maybe I should say more about that at some point. In any case, I am trying to think through what might come next, like a virtual community of some sort. Maybe oculus rift for discussions will help.

  21. David Watson Avatar

    I think Matthias’ “knitting point” = Tom Pepper’s “quilting point” = Lacan’s point de capiton. Which is not to say I understand any of it.

    I would like to see us get back to Matthias’ 13 points as an outline for a “short paper about the Theses of SNB.” Yes this is (as Matthias has said elsewhere) “SNB for dummies.” But if we want to move beyond critique of X-Buddhism, to “create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice” (Worstward Ho!), we need concise formulations that differentiate us from the Tricyclete othodoxy. As, again, Matthias has urged elsewhere, a Manifesto.

    A Manifesto would structure discussion away from “I think….” and “Yes but….” into “That is inconsistent with the Manifesto as currently agreed upon” and “Well, then the Manifesto needs to be amended as follows….” That’s how an academic discourse evolves into a political one.

    Concise forumulae (e.g., the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path) are not what is wrong with Buddhism. They are one of its great strengths. Yes, concision facilitates corruption, anybody can make a short formula mean whatever they want, but it also anchors dialogue. The argument becomes about something, not just a staking out of positions in infinite academic space. (Religions, including Buddhism, have always been political in that sense.)

    For the evolution of SNB into a Party, or alternatively a Religion!

  22. M. Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, #20

    Let me reiterate that I welcome your recent initiative to get on with the SNB project. And yes: the point was to give thought to what community might look like. Maybe I am a bit to much of a horsefly right now agonizing you, but this is because I see some contradictions in your recent statements. You know I have to to put them forward because the contradiction is the breaking point of ideology. Either I don’t get your point about these points, or they are real contradictions and you don’t want to address them. Btw, I use knitting point somehow like contradiction. It’s a point from which everything unravels.

    One of these contradictions is the term meditation. I was hesitant to address the topic altogether after I read what you wrote in Worstward Ho!I wondered why you still would use this polyvalent term which is so prone to be misunderstood? Then I jumped in anyway. But let’s put it aside for now. Let me only say that I find you make a good point about meditation in what you say about it in regard of Malik’s film (although I think the film does tell a story: about remorse).

    I must say though that I am bit disappointed by some other points. For example I really do not understand why you see what I said about Budhofiction as some kind of reconstruction. After all what was said and done on this blog, do you really believe I want to reconstruct something?

    This said, at that point I see another contradiction, or at least an open question. I think it is rather the latter. It is a kind of hermeneutic question which has to be addressed, otherwise the SNB project stays open to the critique that it is inconsequential.

    If we don’t want to reconstruct, how can we say that we want to re-inject anatman into buddhism? For we must have some kind of knowledge about it to do this. What kind of knowledge can this be, without reconstructing it? The latter, in the sense of finding an original meaning is impossible, if we say that meaning is always dependent on context. So the question is, what kind of reconstruction is it other then one which searches for an original.

    I don’t want to say that you don’t see this question. What I say is that it has to be worked out for a wider public to understand. Otherwise the SNB project stays open to the critique that it does what every other Batchelor-typ of hanky-panky buddhist is doing.

    One way to tackle the question may be to ask what kind of hermeneutical take Zizek, Badiou and Agamben have in discussing Paul.

    I think this question is a major open question in this project. It concerns the whole task of searching the ruins of buddhism for useable stuff. With this question solved any kind of hope will vanish and everybody still clinging in the least way to any kind of raft will be liberated. I think there are people here still hoping. But I don’t think they are deluded.

  23. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    David (#21). Oh, right. Thanks. So, in my terms, “sitting still, silent, and watchful” is the point de caption. That phrase anchors my usage and stops the slippage. It does the latter, of course, at the cost of illusion. But it’s a necessary fiction. Without such a point we can never get on with our work. Hence, axiomatics.

    I am not sure what you mean by a “concise formulation.” Can you give an example? Your last paragraph makes me think of something like a weird dictionary. I have thought about do that. JRC gave me the idea a while ago. Laruelle’s Dictionary of Non-Philosophy is a good model, I think. In any case, I think we certainly need heuristics that force the opening, and then concepts to articulate a new place (new ideologies, new subjects, new practices). Force-place-force-place continues.

  24. M. Steingass Avatar

    How strange “knitting point” must sound. I think always about “point de capiton” and confused knitting with quilting.

  25. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#22).

    Paragraph 1. Thanks. David corrected me on the knitting point. If you see a contradiction, by all means buzz away.
    Paragraph 2. We’re seeing that language is front and center in an attempt to think. We should keep it right there. We had a long, heated conversation a while ago about this naming issue. It was largely between Tomek Idzik and Tom Pepper. Remember? Tom was retaining x-buddhist terms like anatman and others, I can’t recall now. Tomek saw this practice as a refusal to silence the x-buddhist vibrato. I sided with Tomek. My argument was that in order to prevent the old reflexes from ticking we should find English terms, or German ones or whatever. I see it somewhat differently now. There is something deliciously transgressive about usurping a beloved technical term and using it in a completely modified manner. The old Pali texts are filled with instances where the protagonist is made to take terms held sacred by the Brahmins and inject them with decidedly unbrahmanical senses. Or think of Badiou’s usage of “ethics:” it had virtually nothing to do with how we are taught to think of ethics. We could come up with thousands of such examples. I have even thought of writing a book that is filled with difficult non-buddhist language and with the notions of sitting still, axiomatics, etc., that I am touching on here, and calling it called Introduction to Meditation! Your point about Malik’s film having some “point” should remind us that we’re always talking about para-zero and minimal transcendence. It seems like something must always remain hidden from our theory-in-action, and that it must be so precisely for us to get on with things, with action. Maybe the axiomatic terms can have their roots in this fuzzy element. Maybe the fuzz has to do with the fact that we are just sloshing around in ideologies. The kind of paralysis of action that is threatened by our conversation about practice and meditation may be due to an ideology-phobia, an unwillingness to admit that we’re doomed to symbolic structures, language, ideology, and thus have no choice but to begin in media res.
    Paragraph 3. Can you say more about Budhofiction? It brings to mind philofiction, but I’m not sure. I just said that I don’t want to get into the reconstruction business, like some of the academics that you mentioned in the post.
    Paragraph 4. Even if we stopped today the non-buddhism project would not be inconsequential. It may not have blown huge holes on the x-buddhist fortress, but it’s dynamite nonetheless. For individuals, it has been and will continue to make an important difference.
    Paragraph 5. Speculative Non-Buddhism is precisely the answer to that question. “Reconstruction,” though, is your term.
    Paragraphs 6-8. I’m not sure what you mean by the hermeneutical question. I can take Gadamer in small doses, but I don’t really care for hermeneutics. I’m not interested in meaning-seeking, either. What do you have in mind? By hermeneutics, in relation to the discussion around meditation, both the practice and the word, do you mean interpretive strategies and justifications? There is no end to that. I like to apply torsion, twisting, to language and concept adaptation. “Meditation” is a particular Möbius strip on which is marked countless usages. On the surface you get Marcus Aurelius’s use. Twist a bit: Hume. Twist again: Descartes, Einstein, Pascal, Dogen, Dzogchen, The Protagonist; on and on. The interpretation game never ends.

  26. M. Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, #25. I honestly tried to put forward a question regarding a contradiction. You evade the answer. Ok, fine. But the question remains. Why do you want to re-inject anatman? We have a lot of answers today about subject formation which go far beyond buddhist knowledge. Why anatman? What is its value above what we know today? The deliciously transgressive about usurping a beloved technical term? I don’t need SNB for this. For a particular Möbius strip on which is marked countless usages? For what else? The only answer seems to be: for Buddhism’s sake. But not me. I am serious. I don’t like any games like this anymore. I have tried to say something. It’s enough. More would be redundant.

    David, #21. Thanks a lot for your interest in my 13 points. They really were off the top of my head. I used anatman because Glenn was talking about re-injecting it. I myself probably wouldn’t use it. I would prefer paticcasamuppada. But in both cases the question remains to be answered, if there is no original how do I get the meaning? (And the meaning question cannot be evaded, Badiou, for example, must have one re his Paulus.) My Manifesto would look quite different….

  27. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#26). I said: “I don‘t want to re-inject atman into the current idealist fascism of x-buddhism,” into, I thought it was understood, any new configuration. I am thinking far beyond buddhist knowledge. It’s just that the initial vector, in Laruelle’s sense, on this blog is buddhist knowledge, or at least buddhist concepts. It’s just a starting point, a topos on which people and thinking and lives can begin to turn. Like I said to Patrick, I thought that Laruelle has shown us a way to free ourselves from the tyranny of fixed signs.

    By the way, what, precisely, is this contradiction you keep referring to?

    This discussion is affirming a suspicion that I have had lately. A blog post can stimulate thinking, but the discussion has to happen face-to-face, either literally or virtually. The topics being discussed are too lively and complex. They don’t lend themselves to the comment-respond-comment mode. We need these noisy conversations. They model democracy. But we need faces and voices, too.

  28. M. Steingass Avatar

    Glenn, to be precise, in Worstward Ho! you talk about “re-introducing anatman into a decimated x-buddhist practice.”

    And you say there,

    the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist “text” or, indeed, even to explicate its meaning. […] The purpose of ruining is to create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice.

    My initial question about this was,

    you don’t want to explicate meaning, but you say the purpose is an individual actualizing an emancipatory thrust. If we don’t want to explicate, how can we think the process of the establishment of meaning otherwise?

    What can emancipatory trust mean, if you don’t want to explicate meaning?

    That was the contradiction I was initially referring to.

    I put this here for the record only. It’s a simple question.

    It is not about face-to-face or blog. It’s a simple question. The topics are not too lively and complex. This question very well lends itself to the comment-respond-comment mode.

    I put it here just for the record, as I said. It was a simple question. Initially I put it here sincerely. Now it became a farce it seems.

    I am sorry about this, and I mean it!

  29. Glenn Wallis Avatar


    What can emancipatory thrust mean, if you don’t want to explicate meaning?

    Emancipation can mean a lot of different things. I don’t explicate it’s meaning. I employ the concept. I create a dialogue-oriented learning environment where it can be (pretty much in this order): conceptualized, explored, thought about, articulated, debated, and put to action in different ways by different people. Things take place. Things take flight. Or, if you prefer, recall Mr. Möbius.

  30. Tomek Avatar

    Re #19

    Zizek tells […] that only an atheist can believe in God today.

    A taste.

  31. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    Your last comment clarified a few things for me, but raised some questions too.

    The value of religious discourses and practices and the limitations of a purely rationalist dismissal of religion . Agreed.

    I’m old enough to remember when the liberation theologians radicalised Christianity to such an extent that congregations of Irish nuns working in the south American “missions” abandoned the old forms of contemplative living for new forms of militant political dialogue and action in solidarity with the “poor”.
    I quoted Marx to point to this richer vain of critique of religion.

    What would Marx think of contemporary explorations of the connection between religious discourses and atheism ?

    I’m sure he would applaud it as the continuation of the work he initiated in his critique of Feuerbachs “materialism” and his own attempts to show religion as an inversion rooted in “sensuous life” or “species life” and not simply faulty thinking. Subsequent dogmatic versions of Marxism failed to develop these insights. Many other Marxists did. Eagalton, for example steeped as he is in the tradition of English radicalism, would be aware of the interconnection between radical thought and religious heresy, much of it born in the tumult of the Cromwellian revolution

    “If I have been cured of anything along the way, it is the tyranny of signs.”
    Me too. Its one of the reasons why Laruelle. is essential reading. And yet we must live under the regime of the sign. Which is why I fear separating out meditation for any special consideration. ( as a practice). Not that I suspect you of succumbing to the vibrato but that we must push such terms to the par zero point of decimation as we create a new “regime of signs”—a sort of permanent revolution factored into our discursive practice.

    “So, I can certainly sit still and silent without rousing the spectors of the x-buddhist undead–purification of consciousness, realization, direct knowledge, nirvana, ad nauseum.”
    Granted. But I am not concerned with silence as an experiential fact as with the x-buddhist postulate “meditative silence” and all that implies. No doubt we can employ the term meditation as a dialogical tool to think the concept through into area’s beyond x-buddhist constraints. A book employing x-buddhist terminology in such a context and determinedly bypassing accepted x-buddhist postulation. (in the way Badiou employs the term ethics) would be extremely useful and entertaining boot.

    ” [···] My axiomatic approach avoids dogmatics in refusing to assign value to the terms beyond the axiom itself.”

    I absolutely agree with that approach. The question remains, though, about the choice of terms constituting the axiom. How do you formulate an axiom?

    “Emancipation can mean a lot of different things. I don’t explicate it’s meaning. I employ the concept. I create a dialogue-oriented learning environment where it can be (pretty much in this order): conceptualized, explored, thought about, articulated, debated, and put to action in different ways by different people. Things take place. Things take flight. Or, if you prefer, recall Mr. Möbius.”

    Would it be fair to say that you are transferring a deployment of the concept meditation to face to face dialogue in order to perform the same subversive deconstruction or decimation as you undertake within the text?
    Would this involve actual sitting practice?
    For me the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I would not exclude any mode of subversion of -x–buddhist postulation. Obviously, as your previous experience seems to have confirmed, such outright subversion of the x-buddhist discourse and practice on a face to face level could be experienced as a violent assault by those who are have been seduced by x-buddhisms consoling message. Surly the result will always be withdrawal since x-buddhist. correctness precludes the expression of outrage and outright confrontation? Wish I could be a fly on the wall at the won institute.
    It seems to me that a face to face deployment was always implied by your addition of an affective dimension to Laruelle’s non-philosophical method. There is a real connection between your concepts ancoric loss and aporetic dissonance and Mark’s concept alienation, although you seem to be nearer Feuerbach’s idea of a psychological alienation, precisely the point Marx critiques in his thesis on Feuerbach. Now the interesting question here is what Marx might have meant by practice. Later Marxism’s deployed the term in an overtly class conscious way as the intervention into the already existing workers struggle of an exterior t critique of the social relations in which the worker was enmeshed but which he was unable to articulate as an overall social gestalt. Such a situation necessitated the deployment of a critique from outside (delivered by a party vanguard of professional revolutionaries in Lenin’s conception)
    For me both the psychological and the class discourse need to be decimated, reduced to a series of first names deployed in all human collectivities and not just the worker collectives. Kolozova has done some very interesting work on the term “proletariat” and its relation to the term “the poor” bringing together the discourses of Christianity and Marxism to find a new term that would satisfy a Laruellien response to suffering in all of its permutations.

    Re-injecting anatman into x-buddhism

    Are you reinjecting anatman into x-buddhist discourse in order to subvert the x-buddhist postulate anatman or to confirm its significance for contemporary thought?
    To quote from CT/SP in your synopsis of Tom’s contribution.
    “He is not saying that these modern thinkers are saying the same thing a Buddhist thinkers, but that these Buddhist texts reveal truths that are absent from contemporary discourses.”
    I have never been able to decide if this is an endorsement of Tom’s project or a mere description of it. For me such a statement is patently untrue—in fact modern ecological science, research in the human sciences and contemporary philosophical discourses all provide vastly superior explications of “emptiness”, “no-self”, “interdependence”, or anatman.
    Toms use of Badiou’s concepts event, subject and truth is interesting , but I have no doubt that the proclamation of such a Buddhist truth is untenable. It also calls into question a weakness in Badiou’s thinking which he subsequently addressed,-namely the implications of the idea of the Subject of truth arising as an effect of the event and not as the result of its agency in practice.
    His idea seems to allow for just any old truth appearing in a world, although that impression seems to have been rectified.
    Are you subverting anatman or re-establishing it as a “universal” much in Tom’s manner. For me Tom’s use is perfectly consistent, since, as you have already pointed out, he self-identifies as a radical Buddhist of the Shin sect, a matter I have no problem with. If Buddhism, Christianity, Islam etc. persist, let them persist in a radical form. That being said they still need to be put under Laruelle’s non philosophical critique.

  32. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Thanks, Tomek (#30).

    Žižek makes several points in that clip that are pertinent to this discussion and to my project overall.

    First of all, his approach is not merely to psychologize or to reduce to metaphor the Christian teaching of the crucifixion. What he does illustrates the “superposition of vectors” referred to in the post. He smashes the Christian teachings against other, even ostensibly hostile, systems of thought-practice (explicitly Lacanian psychoanalysis, implicitly Hegel and Marx) creating a potent new configuration.

    Subjective destitution: stepping out totally from the domain of symbolic identification. Canceling or suspending the entire field of symbolic authority, the entire field of the big Other. Whether or not this total stepping out is possible may be a point of contention. I think that it is possible. Not stepping out from the field of the symbolic, of course, but from the strictures of authority.

    Of course we cannot know what God wants from us because there is no God. We could apply this idea to many of the terms that have come up in this discussion. For example: Of course we cannot know what meditation achieves/means because there is no meditation.

    The message of Christ is: I am dying. But my death itself is good news. It means you are alone, left to your freedom. Be in the hol[e]ly ghost, the hol[e]ly spirit, which is just the community of believers…who form an emancipatory collective. “Emancipation” (and, for that matter, “meditation”) seems to have certain big Other resonances for some participants. That vibrato is dead in me. I use the concept as a point de capiton, to use the phrase that came up earlier—a necessary or desired halting point.

    The only way to be an atheist is to go through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism. [Think the revelation from within Christianity of God’s forsaking of Jesus on the cross.] This having gone through is what I am calling fitting proximity. Once you’ve gone through, the entire creation of human culture is your very own treasure chest.

    The difficult thing is to accept is that there is no big Other, no point of reference that guarantees meaning. No comment.

  33. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias, I just noticed that you’ve been referring to (#22, #26) an earlier post. Sorry about that. I wrote:

    One consequence of re-introducing anatman into a decimated x-buddhist practice is that practice itself, whether meditation or something else, will have to include a robust social aspect.

    I’m not interested in doing that re-injecting, or, at best, disinterested. I know a lot of people who would be interested, though.

  34. David Watson Avatar

    Interesting, Patrick, that you attribute the introductory synopses in CT|SP to Glenn. I had assumed each (all, including the one for Glenn’s section, are written in the third person) was written by the author of that section.

    Glenn (in the part of the CT|SP Introduction he signed) poses the book’s query: Is Buddhism fit for modern life? The answers of the three authors could be roughly characterized as yes (Tom), maybe (Glenn) and no (Matthias). When Tom and Glenn shut down their blogs, “no” predictably gained ground. I took Worstward Ho!, with its emphasis on Anatman and its citation to Tom’s essay, as a call for a more balanced approach, one that would treat the book’s query as still open for discussion. It seems clear, however, that the partisans of “no” are inclined to regard this as mere backsliding.

    Patrick and Matthias are of course entitled to challenge Glenn to explain what “promising-looking husk and hull” he can identify in the “ruins of the buddhist real.” But if they are already fully committed to the position that there is none, then their professed welcoming of Glenn’s initiative has about the sincerity of MacBeth welcoming Duncan into his castle at Inverness.

  35. M. Steingass Avatar

    Ok, so far this is all quite confusing I think. This kind of dialogical meditation is confusing. At least for me. It must be for other readers too. Or not? I don’t know. Does anybody care?

    The confusion begins with the origin of this dialogical meditation. It was a comment I made in the thread Worstward Ho! And indeed it had to do with what I saw as contradictions in this text. Glenn did not publish the commentary and instead asked me if we should try the kind of thing we have at the top of this page. So it developed from that point. Now, what I saw as contradiction, seems like a misunderstanding. Does Glenn wants to re-introduce anatman into a decimated x-buddhist practice or not? He says “no”. Ok, then that‘s it.

    For me there remain contradictions in what Glenn writes. But I don’t have the impression that it is a good to point out what I see. I don’t know if anybody cares. So why should I go on?

    But anyway, put in the most general way the problem, SNB in the last instance is making itself unnecessary. Around this paradox revolves everything.

    One of my very first sentences at this blog said the same. I still have this conviction. Buddhism at best makes itself unnecessary. That is my position and that position demands at some point in the near future to stop discussions like this altogether.

    In 2004 I came to Buddhism like David McMahan puts it in The Making of Buddhist Modernism:

    Western Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers have often been eager to extract meditation from the larger doctrinal and praxiological frameworks of Buddhism […]. (McMahan, 2008, p. 184)

    But I did not look for salvation. I was interested in meditation techniques. Of course most western Buddhists and Buddhist sympathizers look for salvation through meditation, but that was not my case.

    I still have a text a friend in 2005 gave to me. A German Kagyu monk who had been for a long time in a french monastery. The text is about the classical Ngöndro, the so called preliminary practices done by a lot of Tibetan Buddhists. This monk belonged to a fraction whose opinion it is, that before one even begins with calm abiding in mahamudra, one has to do practices which consist of four respective five sets of specific rituals each to been done 100.000 times. I took the text and put a lot of markers in it. A lot of “A”-signs, each for artifact. I extracted the meditation advice in it and put the rest aside. I came to the opinion that this advice is the essence of meditation practice and as that what makes Buddhism unnecessary. Anybody knowing this tradition will see how I follow here Gampopa, who lays out the essential stuff in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation only after a lot of junk:

    If one knows the nature of reality be means of discriminating awareness, one becomes fully liberated from the three world-spheres.

    This is it in a nutshell. I won’t go into it at this place right now. I only have to say that it is nothing mystical – of course not! – and it does not mean that in this kind of meditation from somewhere out of the blue enlightenment ensues – quite to the contrary! And yes, enlightenment anyway is bullshit. It never has been of any of interest. Neither the whole complicated dust covered complex of Buddhist ethics. Respect, compassion, truthfulness, self-criticism etc. have been self-evident values for me long before I came to Buddhism.

    I am a German who hasn’t been sleeping through history lessons and I read Hesse’s Siddhartha right next to Eugen Kogon’s Der SS-Staat when I was 15. What do you do with the dream of the protagonist when you realize that you live thirty years after Treblinka? (Oh yes, and btw, already Hesse shows that the essential part is to put into question what the protagonist says. This lesson went missing for most who read the book.)

    Of course the full impact of this didn’t materialize then. It still does not. Nonetheless the Siddhartha-side of the equation left me with great interest about meditation. And that’s how I came to Buddhism later in 2004: with lots of experience already about different things one can do with ones own individual mind. A lot of these things would be buddhistically uninterpretable. The relevant point here, for this discussion, to make my stance a bit clearer, is: I am on the outside. I never have been inside the Buddhist vallation.

    That is relevant here because it gives me a lot of freedom. Of course I can use material from what is called Buddhism. What is the question here anyway? I can use anything for whatever I like. Of course I can use whatever comes my way. The point is, one has to have a plan somehow what to use and how. And this regards the confusing discussion here about meaning, hermeneutics, Rancière and autodidactics (a discussion we did not even began), Budhofiction, meditation etc. Of course I can take the Satipatthana apart and use it however I like. This, for example, is Budhofiction. (Other examples you find in the opener of my text in Cruel Theory, in the passage Jimi’s No-self, and in the mentioning of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present (a passage which hasn’t been worked out because I was so pissed off by the development on this block).)

    Of course this is not what the protagonist thought. Not even the question arises. Who cares anyway? But from inside the vallation or in fitting proximity these questions arise. Oh my god, how do I use this material? How do I get to fit Hegel with Shinran if Hegel is enough anyway? But of course I can discuss Nagarjuna like St. Paul and see what enlightening insight happens. It is a hermeneutical practice. And of course letting Shinran being fucked by Hegel might result in interesting offspring. It is as it goes always – since some ape began to smear ashes from a lightening struck trunk of wood at the wall of his cave. So what the fuck do we talk about here?

    On a not so obvious level it is still about authority. We don’t even get near the question how the The Ignorant Schoolmaster could be implemented. If we talk about the end of representation – what to some large extent Laruelle is about, I think – we have to ask: what does this mean for dialogue? The answer is: nobody is able to speak for anybody else. Nobody is able to represent somebody else.

    The opposite has undermined the SNB project for a long time – what is another contradiction of this project. Tom Pepper from early on has dominated this project and has represented thought how it should be thought. There was no learning, but only teaching, explication and finally humiliation if the represented wasn’t accepted. The hermeneutical procedure was a top-down, centralized approach as we find it, for example, in every x-buddhist vallation. The question is always understood as a weakness not as a strength – and of course that leads to the fact that people who thinking ignorance is a weakness never will let there seeming weaknesses be exposed. Thus dialogue only can be corrupted. Every question is a weakness.

    In this way my question about the hermeneutics Glenn would use in his idea about

    actualizing the emancipatory thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice

    can only come about as put by an idiot who never knew that there is more to hermeneutics than Gadamer. Or to put it in another way: Everytime somebody put a question here which would pose a problem to the SNB project itself, and which was not an outright critique of some other project, the inquirer in the end looked like an idiot.

    I do think that this is because there is a contradiction at the heart of Speculative Non-Buddhism that never has been addressed directly.

    SNB’s best is that it helps dismantle the myth of Buddhism. After that it is useless. After that we can use whatever material we like. Buddhism, Christianity, Candomblé, whatever. But for that we have to let SNB’s Buddhism go. The metaphor of fitting proximity indeed is useful for that – but only if it is worked out. And that is my question, my strong question: What hermeneutics are implicated in using Nagarjuna or St. Paul? And, more important, what is hermeneutics after the end of representation? Fitting proximity is about hermeneutics.

    I have been waiting too long to put forward such questions which might have the consequence that the SNB project ends at some point – only to give leeway to better thinking and questioning. The questions I put forward are not self-evident and they are not answered by simply taking into account lots of authorities again, which only have the effect that one feels stupid if one doesn’t know at once what this is all about. Such use of authority again has the effect of the marginalization of the many for the benefit of the leader. That is what is centralization is all about. That has to be abolished!

  36. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#35). I’m not at all confused by any of this. It’s what I’ve come to expect. Like I’ve said a few times now, I think that online posts and discussions are great for kicking up dust. But the topics, in themselves but particularly in relation to actual human lives, are too rich and complex to leave it at that. I’m interested in creating a venue more suitable to the kinds of discussions I find valuable. I don’t know what your personal situation is in relation to the kinds of things discussed here and at The Non-Buddhist. If it’s just armchair engagement, I can see how it could be confusing. If it involves social engagement, less so.

    I personally spend up to nine hours a week in a room with deeply committed professionals who are interested in fashioning effective meditation-dialogue programs for their respective constituencies. (Every other semester, I also spend up to four hours a week with people in a meditation hall.) I would say that a third of the several dozen come with an interest in x-buddhism. Another third is interested in meditation. The other third is interested in the educational experience that the program (=me and my two teaching colleagues) has a reputation for. The institute mission binds us to an x-buddhist orientation. So, we work with x-buddhist material. And then all hell breaks loose. Last night, for instance, we began by discussing the article by Stephen Jenkins called “Do Bodhisattvas Relieve Poverty?” Jenkins wants to show that Buddhist texts address the issue of material conditions. So, he gives examples, mainly from the Perfection of Wisdom texts, where the practitioner is admonished to relieve the poverty, heal the suffering, etc., of the people. Jenkins seems to draw the conclusion that, yes, Bodhisattvas do indeed relieve poverty. This led to an extremely heated and productive discussion. Other, non-Buddhist, ideas and thinkers were brought in to run interference with the ideas in the article. I won’t get into the details, but what occurred was that course participants were being confronted, via the dialogue based initially on the Buddhist material, with their own positions, largely invisible up to that point, regarding meditation and society. It turns out that some of them had to admit that they were functioning as re-producing agents for the dominant neo-liberal American ideology. That is, their groups simply replicated society at large, including the belief that our task as citizens is to learn how to rest at ease in the (unchangeable, corporate-capitalist) way things are. For them, the x-buddhist material was valuable for its intentional quality: just reciting a text that says something like, “may all beings be well happy and at ease,” is enough. But they couldn’t rest at ease with their conclusion. That was partly because others concluded that much more robust forms of social engagement are required, and that their groups could model, or “rehearse” in Boal’s sense, social transformation. Every single one of the class participants goes out into the world, and into their various professional environments (prisons, schools and colleges, therapy practices, hospitals, drug rehab centers, homelessness advocacy, etc.), with the after-tones of these classroom dialogues still ringing.

    I am relating this story as a small example of what can be done with Laruellen-inspired non-buddhist thought. I want to figure out a way to extend it beyond the on-site classroom. I want to do so because I have seen results from the work that are worth developing.

    Given all of that, comments like

    put in the most general way the problem, SNB in the last instance is making itself unnecessary. Around this paradox revolves everything.

    go right past me. Or I think, well, so make it necessary, or don’t–just move on.

    A few more quick responses.

    Of course I can take the Satipatthana apart and use it however I like.

    If I understand you, that sounds like the secular-buddhist approach. That’s not anything like a non-buddhist approach.

    But of course I can discuss Nagarjuna like St. Paul and see what enlightening insight happens. It is a hermeneutical practice…Fitting proximity is about hermeneutics.

    I guess I don’t know what you mean by hermeneutics. Do you mean interpretive practices? That’s the last thing I am interested in. Fitting proximity has nothing whatsoever to do with interpretation. Neither does the Deleuzian approach of philosophical ass-fucking that you allude to. Feel free to explain what you mean by a hermeneutical practice. Like I said, I dip into Gadamer’s dialogical model of understanding in Wahrheit und Methode once in a while, but that’s all I can stand of hermeneutics. (Maybe some Heidegger, for fun and for poetry.) Who, what do you have in mind?

    This business about authority seems very personal to you. I don’t see how authority is “undermining the non-buddhist project” or anything else, for that matter. I don’t know what to say. You have to earn authority. The group decides who speaks with the proper weightiness that is authority. I like the ancient Indian notion of authority. The Sanskrit term guru is cognate with English grave, gravity. So, as communities go, the authority is the one, or ones since it may shift from time to time, with the most gravitational pull. Who do people tend to turn to in a group discussion? That person is your authority. I don’t have anxiety around authority. I don’t accept it as such. But I want to be around authorities, gurus, people with gravitational force. I have had many masters in life. The Buddha is my master. Emily Dickinson is my master. Leonard Cohen is my master. Johnny Rotten is my master. Iggy and the Stooges are my masters:

    If you can be my lover
    I’m sure to go insane.
    But if you can be my master
    I’ll do you anythang.

    I still don’t know what this mysterious contradiction is that you keep referring to, this deadly worm at the heart of the project.

  37. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    You are right of course. Tom speaks there. Sorry for adding to the confusion.

    Insincerity, backsliding? Really, do I come across as thinking like that? What strange terms.

    Is Buddhism fit for modern life? No

    Can it be made fit? No. the process of trying to make it fit will splinter it into pieces, rendering it unrecognisable as Buddhism. Sure we can use its rituals, practices, discourses etc. but its decisional structure will, for the non-buddhist, have been rendered inoperable, its vibrato extinguished, its curative promise exposed as an illusion, its authority abolished. What remains? Usable material.

    What will take its place? Any number of contemporary discourses already well worked out. Or something new, perhaps , partly fashioned out of the husk and hull. Lets not over use the metaphor of ruin, searching and treasure,though. There never were any treasures; nothing has been lost and quite a lot has been gained. Its all only human material to work upon. There are only relative truths after all.

  38. Tomek Avatar

    Glenn (#19),

    But I think that Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are gravely one-sided about the issue.

    What intrigues me most after reading this post is how you assess these days opinions of such, I guess, important figures for SNB project as Ray Brassier who seem to strongly distance himself from this “theological turn,” as you call it. I am sure you remember what he used to said regarding Meillassoux’s L’inexistence divine in that interview for Kronos. He does not explicitly positions himself with Dawkins, but openly respects the forth of the horsemen, Mr. Dennett. On the other hand, he (Brassier) also appreciate works by “strange theologists” as Mr. Zizek – see for example notes regarding Parallax View in his Nihil Unbound – but at the same time says things like this:

    “Indeed, I view this continuing philosophical fascination with monotheism as deeply pernicious and think a moratorium ought to be declared to prevent any further ‘God talk’ by philosophers. I do not think it mere coincidence that the critique of scientific rationality in much 20th century philosophy goes hand in hand with a revival of theological themes. Religion obviously satisfies deep-seated human needs, but it has been a cognitive catastrophe that has continually impeded epistemic progress…” (from the interview)

    This comment is somehow my an attempt to mirror what Patrick lately said in #31 regarding an assumption that “…Buddhist text reveal truths that are absent from contemporary discourses,” and that for him “modern ecological science, research in the human sciences and contemporary philosophical discourses all provide vastly superior explications of “emptiness”, “no-self”, “interdependence”, or anatman.”

    So I would like to ask you: do you really believe that it is worth risking a return to monotheism today (even in the most subversive form) in order to gain inspiration to form, what Zizek calls, “emancipatory collectives”? Can’t we, with our vast, unprecedented contemporary knowledge of the human, just skip those old monotheistic narratives and stick to “doughty materialism and earthy leftism”? Or this would pose for many of us a great threat of “crass materialism” with all of its disguised “fascist big Other ghosts swirling in our midst”?

  39. M. Steingass Avatar

    Of course, Glenn, you are not confused. Go on, pretend, and evade any question that does not fit your agenda. And go on making annoying questions “very personal” problems of your interlocutor. We have seen this ‘solution’ here before.

    What is hermeneutics after the end of representation?

    Why don’t you give us a lesson and answer this question. It is stuff for an essay or a blogpost, but you may lay out your thinking to give us some hints.

    David, #34. My welcoming of Glenn’s initiative was sincere. I am fully aware that online discussion is not always the most easiest thing. One has to be much more tolerant than in personal face-to-face interaction. A lot gets lost. This is true here too. But it would be possible to answer a straight forward questions. I bet Glenn fully knows what my questions is about. He just isn’t able to say, well, I have to think about it a little. He evades. We can see it all over the thread. And this has to do with the fact that SNB is good in taking apart x-buddhism but that it doesn’t have so far a strategy to “actualize the emancipatory thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice”. What Glenn is telling us about his school room experience is about the individual. It has nothing to do with any holy “non” or whatever. It is nothing political. The latter is the big question.

  40. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#39).

    What is hermeneutics after the end of representation?

    If you are asking what does it mean to interpret some x–material after we’ve de-potentialized its representations?, I would say that the answer is, in relation to x-buddhist material anyway, for instance: non-buddhism. I thought that much was already clear. And I thought it was clear that it’s no longer about interpretation. It’s about ideas in practice, action.

  41. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Patrick (#31).

    The question remains, though, about the choice of terms constituting the axiom. How do you formulate an axiom?…Would it be fair to say that you are transferring a deployment of the concept meditation to face to face dialogue in order to perform the same subversive deconstruction or decimation as you undertake within the text? Would this involve actual sitting practice?

    I formulate my axioms based on the ideology that I am creating. It is an ideology whose subject can plow the fields of (negative) silence and (positive) discourse. My usage of sitting practice stems, as always, more from personal history and proclivity than from any good reasons. I can, of course, recite countless reasons for why someone might want to practice this combination of silence-discourse, but I can’t universalize those reasons–my reasons are probably not your reasons. And I don’t want to hear about anyone’s meditation “experience” or the movements of their mind. I rather hear about someone’s tax return or root canal or last night’s dream than I would his meditation experience. Meditation is not a topic of interest at my feast of knowledge. Bolstering a courageous, justice-conscious, socially engaged subject, is. I hold that the combination of a still, silent sitting practice and robust, perhaps fiery, discourse serves that aim of mine.

    Are you reinjecting anatman into x-buddhist discourse in order to subvert the x-buddhist postulate anatman or to confirm its significance for contemporary thought?

    The latter, which, I think it’s clear, implies not so much, if any, of the former. I am disinterested in x-buddhism as anything but material for thought. I just start with it because of my personal history and my current job. Isn’t that true for all of us, really? You take painting and art as a major point of reference. You know, Zizek takes Lacan. Again, all of this sounds unnecessarily abstract until we form ideologies and organizations–or go it alone, as you do, but go it for sure. Then we can see the real effects of such practices.

  42. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Re #38


    “modern ecological science, research in the human sciences and contemporary philosophical discourses all provide vastly superior explications of “emptiness”, “no-self”, “interdependence”, or anatman.”

    we could note that the discourses and practices of x-buddhism are sources of knowledge about our world, although not in the way x-buddhists would have use believe. To quote Marx:

    “But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion”….Marx. Preface to the critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right

    Marx does something essential here. He shows how religion as religion says something about the situation of the human being who produces religion; not only his /her psychological state but something about the social relations in which humans function as subjective beings. He shows how via a process of alienation human power gets projected onto various imagined screens and returns as the power of the big other—-the State, the Market, the Commodity, Nature, Necessity, God.

    Religion, for that reason is the “encyclopaedic compendium of the world” that is of the world of social relations in which humans function. Religion can be read as an inverted form of the world precisely because the world is inverted– we go about our ordinary busyness of work to transform nature into the necessities of life and in the process we produce the State, Market, Commodity, Nature, Necessity, God. We live under these signs as if they were truly independent powers, real big others, when in fact they are our own creations set over and against us as power of religion, power of the state, power of God. For this reason, says Marx, the beginning of all critique is the critique of religion.
    All of this is I think lost on the rationalists (Hitchens Dawkins etc) principally because rationalism has its own well established agenda, historically wedded to the bourgeois revolution and the discourses of secular liberalism. Such discourses insist on the dis—connect between critique of religion and the critique of economic structures and social relations, since such a connection would introduce a political element into the discussion and put the problem of capitalist social relations on the agenda

  43. Gabe Syme Avatar
    Gabe Syme

    As a lurking observer of this strange debate, I wonder if I can interrupt with a question?

    Why such terror of the Buddhist practice of anatman? What are you all afraid it might make possible?

    Properly understood, anatman is not so much a “truth,” a concept which describes something in the world. On this, I would suggest that Pepper in his “Full Strength Anatman” essay (mentioned in the previous post) just misses the mark. Rather, anatman is something we ought to practice, an activity of engaging our problems by recognising how the concepts with which we address them are limiting us, by assuming something as a given or constant which, to the contrary, is neither necessary nor unchangeable.

    So, the ancient Buddhist texts address the theory of consciousness predominant in their day (the five khandhas), and then demonstrates that this is just a convenient model meant to enable certain human practices, but perhaps to prevent others. This is anatman—there is no essence or core that cannot change, not when it comes to the realm of the human, and the practice of pointing out where we have mistakenly assumed such essences is the practice of anatman.

    Yet the suggestion that we might do this, now, with our present day models of consciousness, seems to have struck terror into many participants here. So, Mr. Jennings claims that we “have vaslty superior explications of emptiness” etc. Absurd! Of course we don’t, certainly not in the human sciences or “ecological science” or even philosophy, all of which are simply convenient models meant to enable certain actions and prevent others—usually, because of the nature of such academic work today and how it is financed, the kind of actions they are meant to enable is the production of profit, and the kind of action they are meant to prevent is anything that might interfere with making profit. If this were not the case, why have our “superior explications” not done anything to end humans suffering and global ecological destruction? Naturally, because they are meant to prevent ending these things, to make them appear as insoluble problems, no? They all assume some essential truth, and only the practice of anatman can break their stranglehold on us.

    And Mr. Steingass suggests that any use of the practice of antatman must require some “search for an original,” by which I take him to mean that he understands anatman to be some positive content, a theory of the subject if you will, that is somehow more pure and correct? This is the kind of argument that could only be advanced by one completely incapable of practicing anatman.

    Anatman is not a theory of the subject. It offers no model, no content to be “injected” into anything. It is a practice, only meant to be put into use when we want to do something, but cannot do it. We can then examine whether the thing we want to do is truly impossible, or whether we are unable to do it because of conceptual errors. Anatman is not an alternative model or theory, but a way of working with those we currently hold. It is not meant merely to destroy or “deconstruct” these theories. Instead, it is meant only to enable us to take action.

    Before one practices anatman, of course, it is necessary to begin with something one wants. Even if it is simply: I want to stop suffering. The proceed to an understanding of what you mean by suffering, and of what attachments and assumptions make it impossible for you to stop. Or you may say: I want to end world hunger. Regardless, you begin from something you want. Unlike Jainism, Buddhism is not about renouncing desires, it is not an asceticism.

    So, Mr. Wallis, I might ask, perhaps your hour of brutal sitting was a failed project because it did no begin with this question: first, what do we want to do? Perhaps sitting for an hour in this fashion you are assuming there is something that will be accomplished, but you just failed to make it clear in advance what that something was? Perhaps even to yourself?

  44. M. Steingass Avatar

    Hi Tom.

    Good point about the “positive content”. You could even accuse the position about the impossibility of an original of being idealistic. Or how do I escape absolute relativism with this position? This finally would be a good question which would advance such a strange debate.

  45. David Watson Avatar

    Mr Syme #43:

    Excellent contribution. Not really a question, but that’s all right, “ask a question” has become pretty rhetorical here lately. Very Pepperish, despite the claim at the outset that Pepper’s essay “just misses the mark” (just as in barely, or just as in simply or absolutely?).

    You avoid Pepper’s term “ideology,” but it was not prominent in the essay cited. Your argument that “anatman is something we ought to practice, an activity of engaging our problems by recognising how the concepts with which we address them are limiting us, by assuming something as a given or constant which, to the contrary, is neither necessary nor unchangeable” seems to me to make exactly the point Pepper made in starting his Faithful Buddhist blog (unfortunately no longer available):

    “Our lives in the world require beliefs and practices that are socially created; I will call these ideologies. We must have an ideology, there is no way to act in the world without one. However, ideology does not need to be an illusion or a deception, and we can consciously choose our beliefs and practices instead of assuming they are natural or universal.”

    “Anatman,” for Tom, meant precisely what you say it means: That no human idea is naturally given, that all are socially constructed — “simply convenient models meant to enable certain actions and prevent others,” as you put it — and must be judged according to those actions.

    Mr Jennings, despite the language you critique, has recognized elsewhere that (again, as you put it) “because of the nature of . . . academic work today and how it is financed, the kind of actions [our present day models] are meant to enable is the production of profit, and the kind of action they are meant to prevent is anything that might interfere with making profit.” But we do too easily forget that Zizek, Badiou, et al are professional mandarins of contemporary capitalism and should be viewed with appropriate suspicion. (Though the Protagonist, too, may have had a business model of sorts in view, and to suggest today that an uncontaminated “Buddhist practice of anatman” exists or that “Buddhism is not about renouncing desires” seems to imply an insufficiently critical attitude toward what we here like to call x-buddhism, which after all exhibits its wares in the same marketplace).

    You write: “Before one practices anatman, of course, it is necessary to begin with something one wants. Even if it is simply: I want to stop suffering.”

    To want something is not unproblematic, unconditioned, nonconceptual, or natural. To make human wants into natural facts risks introducing atman all over again at a new level. But does suffering somehow exempt itself from that calculus? I am inclined to alter your formulation and write:

    Before one practices anatman, it is necessary to begin with something one wants, if it is simply: I want to stop suffering.

    I keep thinking Marx and the Buddha (these figures of my imagination) agreed about something. Could it be that simple?

  46. Gabe Syme Avatar
    Gabe Syme

    Mr. Steingass, I assume you are addressing me? As usual, I cannot make much sense of your comments. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume it is a problem of translation. If you are interested in escaping relativism in some way, then I have nothing much to offer you in the way of advice–I cannot even imagine what that would mean, in the human realm, or why one would want to do it. Good luck with that. Since you refuse to address me, I will in future return the favour.

    Mr. Watson: I see that you practice the rhetorical strategy of first misrepresenting what I say, then proving you are ever so much cleverer than I am because you can find a flaw in your own invention. I am not interested in this game. I thought I made it clear enough that even the “simple” idea of suffering is not simple, and must be investigated (“proceed to an understanding of what you mean by suffering…etc.) I see that if you ignore some of what I wrote, and misread other statements, then yes, you can triumph over my foolish naivety. Then what? You can continue to do nothing more than enjoy your imagined intellectual superiority? I suppose it frees you up from doing things like what Mr. Wallis does–you need not, say, foolishly make an effort to run a meditation group, because you can always out-think any result it might have in advance. Again, I am not interested in this game.

    To say that Alain Badiou is a “mandarin of capitalism” is the most pathetic kind of sophistry, a truly absurd statement. Then to suggest that if the Buddha (protagonist? okay) was interested in actually doing something in the world, in actual construction of a human community in which people could live, therefore he is suspect–well, this again is absurd. You seem to assume that only someone not at all interested in any living action has the moral standing to be taken seriously. A sign, I would suggest, of your own secret attachment to the illusion of an other worldly bliss.

    As for anything like an “uncontaminated” practice of anatman, this is just muddled thinking. As anatman is always a way of addressing an existing “ideology,” if you insist on that term, it makes no sense at all for it to be “uncontaminated” or anything of the kind. There could be no such thing as a “pure” anatman practice, if there can be no anatman practice except as a way of addressing a particular conceptual model. It should be obvious that then the method of address is specific to the model (ideology?) under examination.

    I must confess, I feel a bit as if I’ve wandered into a room full of college sophomores who were all straight-A students in their prep schools. You want to prove how clever you are by finding flaws in things you have not yet understood. Then, all that remains is to strike the clever cynical pose of the young prep-school grad, too smart to ever bother with something as foolish as, I don’t know, trying to help an actual person?

    So, Mr. Wallis is foolish to keep engaging in mediation, because you have all outsmarted meditation, revealed it as a “mere social practice” or something. Well, so is striking cynical superior poses a “mere social practice.” Of the two, I would prefer the foolish attempt to improve the world. Foolish perseverance in futile practices is infinitely preferable to muddled thinking used to justify inaction.

  47. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Gabe (#43).

    So, Mr. Wallis, I might ask, perhaps your hour of brutal sitting was a failed project because it did no begin with this question: first, what do we want to do? Perhaps sitting for an hour in this fashion you are assuming there is something that will be accomplished, but you just failed to make it clear in advance what that something was? Perhaps even to yourself?

    Point well taken. Your perspicuous comment has catalyzed a new view for me. I see that the rhetoric of undecidability is no haven. Or, put the other way around, it is a haven for inaction.

    Thanks for your participation in our conversation.

  48. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Thanks, Tomek (#38), I find comments and questions like those very helpful in thinking through my position. The topic deserves more thought than I can give it here. So, just some rough ideas, to be further worked out later. I am writing fast, so probably pretty shitily. Sorry.

    I want to be clear that, with Brassier, I think that religion “has been a cognitive catastrophe that has continually impeded epistemic progress.” In the Kronos interview, note that Brassier is assuming the term “God” to function as “the ultimate source and guarantor of [some] meaningful order.” So, that’s the classical big Other figure. In the clip you sent on the crucifixion, Žižek has de-potentialized that aspect of God. In so doing, he was able to produce a vibrant, personally and socially relevant, new potency. For me, this is the task. Simply shielding ourselves from material produced in religious contexts is as pointless as it is futile. I think that an implicit feature of much great, worthwhile thought is the assumption that such material will never vanish from the earth. It is zombie-like. The religious always returns. Think of the meaning-grounding function of The Dharma for ostensibly secular- and atheist-buddhists. Badiou says that even something as seemingly non-religious as statistics functions religiously for the bureaucrats. That is, statistics are believed to posses a meaning-bearing grounding in the real far, far beyond what is actually demonstrable by these bureaucrats. I know someone who is writing a book about the similarities between the prognostications of our current financial experts and the divinitory utterances of the Romans and medieval hermeticists. Religiosity pervades our secular culture and our supposedly rational proclivities. So, the task cannot be to shield ourselves from this fact or from its products.

    One solution is to follow Badiou, who believes that, given the resilience of such anti-philosophical thinking (namely, that which relies on “silent supra-cognitive or mystical intuition” [Deleuze, 31]; not, let’s be clear, what my silent sitting is about), philosophy should operate in close proximity to anti-philosophy. Hence, his usages of anti-philosophers like Lacan, Hegel, St. Paul, and so on. This stalking practice best allows us to hold anti-conceptual faith-oriented transcendence in check, by, for one thing, continually distinguishing ourselves from it. So, I am charting my materialist, non-buddhist practice close to the idealist, x-buddhist one. Such an approach to practice doesn’t really risk a return to monotheism and transcendence because these modes of thought and practice have never left us. What it does, this approach, is to lucidly and persistently cast a glaring light onto the shadows and dust that is the corpses of the gods, and onto the dark empty nothing of transcendence.

    I just happen to be taking a seminar on Badiou’s thought right now, so a couple more points inspired by him. This point speaks to my conversation with Matthias. Badiou roughly defines religion as “the endless effort to sustain a questioning confrontation with the ‘inaccessible,’ ‘inscrutable,’ or ‘impenetrable’ (Hallward in Ethics, xxv). Badiou: “To pose the Inaccessible as Inaccessible, and so to open the way to an infinite hermeneutics, is the religious position par excellence” (xliii).

    Finally, for now anyway, I find it helpful to think about the issue of practice in terms of the mathematics/art divide. Mathematics, founded on the void of the empty set (0 precedes 1), “thinks being.” Art, enigmatic, supra-propositional, “thinks the event.” Both modes make claims on us. Mathematics forces us to face the hard fact that “the One is not,” and all that that truth entails about human existence. (Mathematics is profoundly anti-religious. It assaults all forms of “hidden presence,” ancestral belief, the phantasm, etc.) Art, say poetry, doesn’t provide us with any assurances. It doesn’t produce dogma. It gives us enigmas that put us in the position of having to think/be through. It forces a rupture in the purely logical claims of mathematics or, for that matter, any sort of empiricism. It produces something the ruptures the current state of the situation, and thereby produces anxiety and the call of courage and the imperative for justice in the subject. I want to think through practice as being on the art side of this equation. But note that given that other side, this is a thoroughly de-theologized art/practice.

  49. Danny Avatar

    Gabe, (#43), Would you give an example of how an anatman practice might enable us to correct some seemingly insurmountable issue or problem in the world? We have plenty to choose from: How about poverty, folks having no or only limited access to the basic necessities of a modern life? Could an anatman practice potentially solve a problem as big as global poverty?


  50. Craig Avatar


    I’ve thought about abortion and anatman practice. I live in a pretty heavy Catholic neighborhood and see anti-abortion stickers all the time, so I can’t forget the issue. If we were full strength anatman, we wouldn’t be concerned about souls of the unborn, right? But, if our ideology was ending suffering, we wouldn’t just fall into abortion willy nilly, i don’t think. All things being as the are now, if everyone was suddenly saved from their delusion of self, I think the conversation about abortion would be much different. We’d be so much more open to the actual issues involved rather than have dialog halted by those screaming about unborn souls.

  51. Tomek Avatar

    But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world.

    And yet, Patrick (#42), you won’t deny that with the advent of modern science there have been indeed a shift, that is, as in the interview says Brassier, “[w]hat has happened in this shift is that intelligibility has become detached from meaning: with modern science, conceptual rationality weans itself from the narrative structures that continue to prevail in theology and theologically inflected metaphysics. This marks a decisive step forward in the slow process through which human rationality has gradually abandoned mythology, which is basically the interpretation of reality in narrative terms.”?

    So, what I actually intended to point out referring to your comment, where you mentioned “vastly superior explications …,” was this sort of “intelligibility,” conceptual rationality that has become detached from meaning. This “intelligibility” seems to me as something which challenges what has become known in modern philosophy as correlation – says Meillassoux in After Finitiude – “the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other.” Or, “Correlationism consists in disqualifying the claim that it is possible to consider the realms of subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another. Not only does it become necessary to insist that we never grasp an object ‘in itself, in isolation from its relation to the subject, but it also becomes necessary to maintain that we can never grasp a subject that would not always-already be related to an object.”

    Reading the quote from Marx that you cited, I see it as a perfect example of, well, precisely such “correlationism.” Whereas this ideal of “ineligibility” lies completely outside of “social relations in which humans function,” beyond a narrative that is “meaningful,” that it is for us. I think that “empty reality” heuristic refers precisely to this bifurcation.

    Of course, this “intelligibility,” especially when it focuses on human consciousness, poses a great danger for us – S. Bakker’s book Neuropath is a terrifying fictional account of what might happen when this sort of knowledge would be used to manipulate people… Nevertheless it is already with us to a certain extant and humanity have no other way but to accept that correlationism is just a form of “useful fiction,” or “anthropomorphic parochialism,” and therefore adequately transform its social relations.

  52. HENRY BLANKE Avatar

    i got so excited by this post that I decided to send off some words of appreciation before even finishing it. Sorry for that, but thank you! And thanks especially to Matthias for urging a positive, practical project instead of more sometimes impenetrable eviscerations of Western Buddhism (though I understand the usefulness of that). I have been participating in Barry Magid’s Manhattan group for several months and I find it refreshingly different from the few other places I checked out. The old and established Rinzai center I first visited has a gorgeous Japanese style zendo, but the guy running the meditation scolded me for breathing too loudly. The same guy was very nice afterwards during tea and cookies (it was beginner’s night) but wouldn’t quite believe me when I said I was certain that it was Shunryu Suzuki and not D.T. who wrote Zen Mind….I went to another zendo further downtown. There seemed to be a lot of emphasis on the arts and social action along with the robes and woo-woo. I’m all for social activism, but I’d rather do it separately from my meditation activities. I also investigated a Tibetan place, but that’s another story.

    Barry’s zendo strikes me as unique. Very small and informal. Serious, but a minimum of woo-woo and rigidity. Those who have been practicing there for a while wear bibs, but it is a lay center. Barry seems to be open to a fair amount of questioning and critique. Best of all, he constantly emphasizes the utter and complete uselessness of zazen (an approach which resonated with me deeply). Also, he sees zazen as a relational practice as opposed to something which only happens inside your own head. What i miss so far is any discussion of what actually happens during the time we spend meditating. We do have a discussion group around classic texts, but the talk is only tangentially related to time on the cushion. That I is why I found your ideas about such a community so exciting!

    For the record, I am largely on board with the politics of SNB. I hope that Tom’s impressive intellectual firepower and erudition, in particular, sometimes contributes to what is left of the labor movement. We need you! For my part, so far I find sitting quietly and still, while feeling my body breathe, think and emote with others to be deeply satisfying, The ritual and chanting I enjoy as I do poetry and music.


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