In Search of a Non-Human: Trash Theory #1

Trash Theory: Preliminary Materials for a Non-Buddhist Image of Practice #1*

In Search of a Non-Human

Cowards, we substitute for the sentiment of our nothingness the sentiment of nothingness. It is because the general void disquiets us not one whit: in it we see all too often a prom­ise, a fragmentary absence, an impasse opening up …

For a long time I have searched for someone who would know everything about himself and about others, a demon­ sage, divinely clairvoyant. Each time I believed I had found him, he obliged me, upon scrutiny, to sing a different tune: the new elect always  possessed some flaw, some defect, some recess of unconsciousness or weakness which lowered him to the level of human beings. I perceived in him certain traces of desire and of hope, some hint of regret. His cynicism, manifestly, was incomplete. What a disappointment! And I still pursued my quest, and always my idols of the moment sinned in some direction: the man was always present in them, hidden, painted over or juggled out of sight. I ended by understanding the despotism of the Race and no longer dreaming of a non-human, a monster who might be totally imbued with his nothingness. It was madness to conceive of him: he could not exist, absolute lucidity being incom­patible with the reality of the organs.

Days of Miraculous Sterility

My faculty for disappointment surpasses understanding. It is what lets me comprehend the Buddha, but also what keeps me from following him.

Truth, what a word!

The idea of liberation through the suppression of desire is the greatest foolishness ever conceived by the human mind. Why cut life short, why destroy it for so little profit as total indifference and the  illusion of freedom? How dare you speak of life after  you have stifled it in yourself? I have more respect for the man with thwarted desires,  unhappy and desperate in love, than for the cold and proud guru. A world full of sages, what a  terrifying prospect! They should be all wiped out so  that life could go on naturally—blindly and  irrationally.

I hate the wisdom of these men and women unmoved by  truths, who do not suffer with their nerves, their flesh, and their blood. I like only vital, organic  truths, the offspring of our anxiety. Those whose thoughts are alive are always right; there are no arguments  against them.

The Paucity of Wisdom

I hate wise people because they are lazy, cowardly,  and prudent. To the sages’  equanimity, which makes them indifferent to both pleasure and  pain, I prefer devouring passions. The sages know neither the tragedy of passion, nor the fear of  death, nor risk  and enthusiasm, nor barbaric, grotesque, or sublime heroism. They talk in proverbs and give advice. They do not live, feel, desire, wait for anything. They level down all the  incongruities of life and then suffers the consequences. So much more complex is the  in-human who suffers from limitless anxiety. The wise person’s life is empty and sterile, for it is free from contradiction and despair. An existence full of irreconcilable  contradictions is so much richerand creative. The wise person’s resignation springs from inner void, not inner fire. I would rather die of fire than of void.

—Emil Cioran


These Cioran fragments are a good place to begin reflections on immanent practice because they address the issue of the teacher. In x-buddhism, the teacher is the commanding figure who occupies the center of the practice community. Originating with the Buddha-protagonist, this figure is woven into the x-buddhist image of thought, such that it is apparently inconceivable to imagine Buddhist practice without this figure. If you look around at x-buddhist websites, even the most ostensibly secular, progressive, and non-traditional, you will almost certainly discover the One-Supposed-To-Know looming large. Is it possible that respect for this masterly figure is founded on the atavistic belief in a special class of people who possess special innate qualities? If so, is it  further possible that certain types of people exploit this atavistic tendency toward authoritarian spiritualized ends? Ultimately, the Cioran fragments render this figure unbelievable and ridiculous. Laruelle’s quip on the lordly figure of the wise philosophers comes to mind: they don’t do what they say they do, and they don’t say what they actually do. Intransigent to admitting their deceit, the guru frolics on, playing with loaded dice. We can paraphrase Laruelle to our purpose here:

The Buddhist Master, legislating for the Dharma, for the life of the awakened mind, makes an exception even of the fact that he does not do what he says or does not say what he does, but, speaking the Dharma, he makes an exception and enjoys the privilege of speaking about it and imposing it with his authority. I speak the truth, says the liar; I speak democracy, says the anti-democrat: this is the paradox of the Buddhist Master as thinker of the Whole who is never short of expedients for presenting the paradox as if it were acceptable.

So, Cioran’s conclusion is that we once and for all negate this figure from our quest, from our image of thought, from our practice. This elimination clears space for a capacious question: now, how to proceed?

See further

Buddhists of Oz
Is Explication the Root of X-Buddhist Stupidity?

For Education
Tragic Perception
Meditation: An Intimate Act
Encounter with the Void
The Buddhist Conspiracy Against the Human Person
Only Don’t Know: Reflections on a Thoughtless Life
Practicing in Delusion
Sitting, Full of Shit
On the Grammar of Meditation: Parataxis
Spectral Discourse

*Trash Theory: Preliminary Materials for a Non-Buddhist Image of Practice

The concept of “trash theory” is borrowed from Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl. 

So as not to give a false impression — which could  well be our intention — the jumble of fragments that follows does not in any way constitute a theory.  These are materials accumulated by chance encounter, by frequenting and observing Young-Girls: pearls extracted from magazines, expressions  gleaned out of order under sometimes dubious circumstances…The choice to expose these elements in all their incompleteness, in their contingent  original state, in their ordinary excess, knowing that if polished, hollowed out, and given a good trim they might together constitute an altogether presentable doctrine, we have chosen—just this  once—trash theory. The cardinal ruse of theoreticians resides, generally, in the presentation of the  result of their deliberations such that the process of deliberation is no longer apparent. We figure that, faced with Bloomesque fragmentation of attention, this ruse no longer works. We have chosen a different one. In these scattered fragments, spirits attracted to moral comfort or vice in need of condemning will find only roads leading nowhere. It is less a question of converting [x-buddhists] than of mapping out the dark corners of the fractalized  frontline of [the x-buddhist World]. And it is a question of furnishing arms for a struggle, step-by-step, blow-by-blow, wherever you may find yourself. (20-21)

How do we conceive of practice after the death of the big Other?

Contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk argues that “anyone who takes part in a program for de-passivizing himself, and crosses from the side of the merely formed to that of the forming, becomes [an agent].” The colloquial word for such a program is practice. The more technical term, praxis, aims to approach the question consciously, with an a priori awareness of theoretical considerations. Yet, at the title of the series indicates, the “theory” arising out of whatever collective and chaotic deliberations may be the case.

More formally, it proceeds from three questions. First, what does it mean to “practice”? What, for instance, distinguishes practice from things like routine, habit, or simply a way of life? And when is a practice one of healthy self-formation as opposed to one of ideological subjugation or romantic fantasy? This question may presuppose a new image of practice, akin to Deleuze’s image of thought. Second, how can we conceive of practice in an age of profound skepticism toward the transcendental orientations of our so-called spiritual traditions? What might a materialist or, in the language of Pope Francis, an “incarnational” practice look like? Third, rather than adapt the practitioner to the existing social formation, how can we ensure that a practice develops competent, courageous agents for changing their formations in closer conformity to their moral ideals? 

If you have any thoughts on this matter, please send them along. You can write an original text or share an existing piece of writing or mash the two together. Keep it short, and include a commentary and a question or two for discussion. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate thinking, not to dominate it. Maybe some of you will eventually use these trashy fragments to create a new theoretical whole. Even better, maybe some of you will put them to the test in actual communal practice. Let us know how we can help.

Send your trash to

I am grateful for the gift of this spoken version from Daniel Ingram.


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12 responses to “In Search of a Non-Human: Trash Theory #1”

  1. Charles Nuckles Avatar
    Charles Nuckles

    The meme of the omniscient “knower of truth” is not a correct take on the concept of the “spiritual guide.” The core purpose of having a spiritual guide is to be linked to a lineage. The spiritual guide leads one along the path laid out by the lineage. The spiritual guide’s role does not include doctrinal challenges and revisions of the dogma. They are not reformers. This does preclude the learner from changing lineages or challenging doctrine if they feel there are reasons to do so. So all that Emil Cioran is really saying is that Buddhism is not his personal cup of tea.

  2. David Vitello Avatar

    First, what does it mean to “practice”? What, for instance, distinguishes practice from things like routine, habit, or simply a way of life?

    Practice is a repetitive activity or exercise performed in an attempt to gain skill and improve or maintain proficiency. Whatever we want to be proficient in is involved in self-formation because its meaningful to us, so we pursue it, even if it’s unconscious. Practice can be drudgery, but also pays off. It can lead to habits, routine, and a way of life that we think is “good.” Routine, habit, and a way of life when not linked to a conscious intended practice may result in life going “naturally—blindly and  irrationally”, which isn’t so bad either I guess, or maybe it is. Maybe that’s Trumps problem.

    Repetitive practice hopefully leads to the manifestation of the “program” as routine, habit and a way fo life. I practice scales so I can improvise on them during a jam session. Unfortunately the progressions and licks become habit, routine, and define my way of being a musician. Which then gets boring and I learn a new scale or style of music. I practice weight lifting and exercise so I can be mobile, competent, and do what I need physically as a matter of routine and habit on the field. I practice experiencing thoughts acutely as possible to see what their process is like, instead of believing them to describe reality. This hopefully leads me to routinely and habitually experience thoughts as process and this may inform my way of living.

    In summary, one way to look at it is that a practice leads to routines, habits and a way of life that we find meaningful. Nothing prodigious here. Practice is programming.

    And when is a practice one of healthy self-formation as opposed to one of ideological subjugation or romantic fantasy?

    This is the crux! What is a healthy self? Who defines this? What one century seems like a healthy progressive human the next seem like an ignoramus. I see no way out of the multitude of ideologies that are forming us, most of which we are completely oblivious too. Then someone like Glenn comes along and shows us and we freak out and call him hostile. Seems even the most thought out and well intentioned attempt at healthy self-formation will be saturated in infinite unknown kosmic rays and eventually someone really smart will tear the entire process apart and show how it’s simply ideological subjugation or romantic fantasy. Nonetheless, we must try right. We must aim for the utopia and to be the best human we can be given our current situation. So we find a practice that makes sense even though our goals may be unattainable. Or just read Ligotti and bleed out in the tub.

    Second, how can we conceive of practice in an age of profound skepticism toward the transcendental orientations of our so-called spiritual traditions? What might a materialist or, in the language of Pope Francis, an “incarnational” practice look like?

    I think tantra has something to offer here. Ideally one takes another step past transcendental emptiness (or Self) into the equality and value of every kind of incarnational experience humanly possible. You can develop skills in meditation to blip out, absorb, go into samadhi, experience emptiness, but this is only half the story. You go further and examine how experience is BOTH transient, flickering, immediate and at the same time incarnational wondrous patterning. I would press for a non dual view and not favor emptiness or incarnation, but work with both as inseparable.

    Third, rather than adapt the practitioner to the existing social formation, how can we ensure that a practice develops competent, courageous agents for changing their formations in closer conformity to their moral ideals? 

    Practice can become a permanently open question and engagement. There is no one correct practice or way to practice, or thing to practice that IS IT, like the “ideal practice divorced from social formations.” Practice remains nebulous, yet important, a work in progress. We have transcended the practice leading to enlightenment model. Moral ideals are fluid, so practices to match would have to be so as well. Practices that claim to develop competent and courageous agents have likely caused a lot of suffering and would continue to do so. Someone could be very competent and courageous and do very terrible things. How do we know what type of subject formation is best?

    Can we ever step out of imposed social formation to an extent that we could claim freedom? Theres no getting completely out of idealogical subjugation right? Please explain if I’m wrong. Once we know this to be the case, a practice could be reflecting and examining ones current formation to get freedom from it enough to then use it skillfully to enjoy and navigate life when that ideology seems appropriate. We can learn to be fluid with ideologies, practices and values. Chapman writes about transitioning to a meta-systematic worldview: “You have begun to recognize that you are subject to a system (ideology). This is a first step toward a self larger than any ideology, with the greater freedom and power of reflecting on and using multiple systems.”

    The stinker is, we are always caught in subject formations, always caught in a world view that we are likely unconscious of. We lack the view to see its influence, until we simply out grow it do to boredom or are forced to evolve from it for survival, and then the process starts again.

    Not sure any of this makes sense. I don’t write about this stuff or post on the internet much but felt compelled. I think I need to write more and more often to get my thoughts clearer but decided to post this anyway.

    Thank you Glenn for all your work.


  3. Fragments for Immanent Practice #1 – nelsongondotcom Avatar

    […] via Fragments for Immanent Practice #1 — Speculative Non-Buddhism […]

  4. Brad Potts Avatar

    My initial reactions to this post, with possible explication of fragments to come at a later time:

    “First, what does it mean to ‘practice’? What, for instance, distinguishes practice from things like routine, habit, or simply a way of life?”

    Peter Sloterdijk defines practice as “any operation that provides or improves the actor’s qualification for the next performance of the same operation, whether it is declared as practice or not.” (You Must Change Your Life, 4.) To take up a practice, then, is to enter a discipline. This necessarily involves denying oneself in some way (abstention from easy, un-thought routines) in order to obtain or become that which would have been impossible without such discipline. To practice necessarily involves some striving toward an upward trajectory. The goal of practice is to become something more. If there is stasis in one’s practice it means one of two things: 1) you’re doing the practice wrong, 2) the practice has reached a plateau and it’s time to do something else or alter the practice in some fundamental way. Practice connotes verticality; mere habit, horizontality.

    :”And when is a practice one of healthy self-formation as opposed to one of ideological subjugation or romantic fantasy?”

    Sloterdijk again: “The healthy…are those who, because they are healthy, want to grow through good asceticisms; and the sick are those who, because they are sick, plot revenge with bad asceticisms.” (You Must Change Your Life, 33.) In addition to revenge plotting, I’d add (echoing Nietzsche) that the sick seek quick and easy comfort, static “well-being,” and non-confrontational “resilience” in the face of systemic oppression. Their “bad asceticisms” involve persistent denial of their own subjugation (or of the possibility of change), suppression of retaliatory desires within themselves (or others) in the name of “respectability” and “professionalism” within systems of oppression, fixation on the status quo, and disciplining of the mind and body not for oneself but for nationalistic and/or economic abstractions.

    Not to be overlooked are the “bad asceticisms” one finds on the radical Left: a naive and apocalyptic faith in the certainty (or strong possibility) of immanent Revolution, starry-eyed dreams of the utopia that will come “After the Revolution” (ATR), relinquishment of any and all personal responsibility due to “the System,” a marked tendency toward being killjoys, and a static reverence for and inability to think beyond whatever leftist orthodoxies one is allied with (Marxist, Anarchist, Maoist, etc.).

    In sum, on the side of sickness we find: stagnation, denial, delusions of grandeur (or of impotence; see: most liberals), tunnel-vision, nostalgia, smallness (though sometimes masquerading as bigness; see: most Communists), satisfaction with either the present or with some imaginary future that will only come ATR (whenever that will be!). Sickness in this sense is a form of perverted comfort.

    To move beyond sickness and toward health a practice must constantly challenge and provide something desirable that would not be possible without the practice. It is an expansion of powers, be they individual or collective. Ideally, practices paradoxically provide simultaneous dissatisfaction and joy: the former because one can always do better, and the latter because the practitioner is becoming more powerful, larger, more expansive. A practice of this kind is not “all for tomorrow” (e.g. “getting into heaven,” ATR) and nothing for today. It is for both present and future: a moving up the limitless vertical with results one can experience NOW.

    :”Second, how can we conceive of practice in an age of profound skepticism toward the transcendental orientations of our so-called spiritual traditions? What might a materialist or, in the language of Pope Francis, an ‘incarnational’ practice look like?”

    Another term for practice is Sloterdijk’s concept of anthropotechnics: “methods of mental or physical practicing by which humans…optimize their cosmic and immunological status in the face of vague risks of living and the acute certainties of death.” (You Must Change Your Life, 10). Death is fairly self-explanatory, but “vague risks of living” can include all sorts of things: financial loss, physical or mental illness (often without the ability to reasonably pay for treatment), the catastrophes brought on by climate change, and the whole array of “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” The transcendentalist may take comfort in a better, second world that comes after this one. A materialist is left to her own devices to come to terms with the world’s fundamental, irreparable brokenness.

    I suspect the answer to the “problem of materialism” is to go deeper into materialism: into the world of the physical, the erotic, the hedonic, and the genuinely immanent. This doesn’t mean abandoning the ascetic or the ethical. On the contrary, pleasures can be increased through discipline, delay of gratification, refinement of libidinal impulses, careful study leading to mastery, and various strategies that allow for the intensification of a wide range of pleasures, both gross and subtle. Ideally this does not occur only for oneself but for others as well: a community of pleasure-connoisseurs. Note by “pleasure” I do not mean “happiness.” I’d also note it’s not for me to decide for others what is pleasurable or not.

    How does an emphasis on pleasure provide for optimization of our “immunological status in the face of vague risks of living and…death”? First it should be pointed out that relieving pain (or the threat of pain) is itself pleasurable. When the toothache is gone, you automatically feel good. To eliminate or mitigate pain in society would necessarily involve checking off many boxes on the socialist agenda. It should be kept in mind that the aim in doing this is not to fulfill some ethereal ethical requirement, but to give BODIES what they need and want. Even dying may become a pleasure (or at the very least less painful) through the administration of drugs and aestheticization of the process and the facilities in which dying occurs.

    The guiding questions that any materialist practice must answer are these: How can we discipline our bodies (bearing in mind the physical is coterminous with the mental) to experience more intense and varied pleasures? How can we construct communities of care that allow for the gratification of human social desires in all its myriad (and perhaps yet unheard-of) forms? How can we build objects (e.g. buildings, technology, art) that are hedonically fulfilling? Importantly, how do we start doing this NOW? Individually? Collectively?

    :”Third, rather than adapt the practitioner to the existing social formation, how can we ensure that a practice develops competent, courageous agents for changing their formations in closer conformity to their moral ideals?”

    I’ll return to this one…

  5. place9011 Avatar

    For me, practice is meditation and mindfulness and studying sutras. It is a middle way between conventional and eternal truths, conventional time and primordial time, form and emptiness, the 3-headed 8-armed demon and the 16 foot golden Buddha body. It is wandering in a dark labyrinth bouncing off walls of opposites: logic and myth, desire and no-desire, motive and no-motive, thinking and not-thinking. It is a not quite wayless way that is both practice and realization, is what Dogen calls passage (kyoryaku). Is practice/realization something we are already doing without knowing it, something we can’t avoid doing, something that whatever we do contributes to?

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi David. Thanks for your ruminations on practice. About what constitutes/who decides “healthy,” that would be determined within the new image of practice itself. This goes along with your comments about the impossibility for stepping outside of social formation per se. We can step outside of a social formation, but always into a new one. My “trash theory” of practice is groping toward precisely an explicit reflection on these matters–matters that are typically buried and obscured within the very image of practice. So, this assumed requirement already has us pointing toward a collective, dialogical image of practice. I am suspecting it is also turning us away from the current x-buddhist, x-spiritual image, which implicitly assumes a yogic form of practice. (I think I should throw down some fragments on what I mean by an “image of practice.) Onward in thought-practice!

  7. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Thanks, place9011. But what is the actual. physical process of what you are describing? What is the image of thought/practice at work? Is it done ultimately in isolation? That is, does this ” wandering in a dark labyrinth bouncing off walls of opposites” play out principally within your own consciousness? Is the world one thing and your inner self another? About your final question, my view is that we are indeed always subject to a practice. That Sloterdijk quote was meant as a way of signaling the possibility that we are caught between externally imposed forces of formation and internally self-determining ones. But as my questions to you are groping toward, where does the one end and the other begin? What might a practice look like that refused this basic dichotomy altogether? For one thing, Dogen’s idealist assumptions would be rendered extremely questionable and problematic, wouldn’t they?

  8. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Thanks for your comment, Charles. Cioran is saying more than that. Implicit in his comments is a challenge to your view that the “spiritual guide” is such a cipher for “lineage.” The further challenge would be that “lineage” itself is anything other than yet another untheorized ideological current, drawing acolytes into its stream against their own interests. Of course, we’d have to discuss this notion of “own interests,” but a quick take on it is that we don’t need anyone to point it out to us. Another deep notion that would require dissection is your usage of the word “spiritual.” What, for instance, would it mean in an anti-idealist image of practice?

  9. place9011 Avatar

    In my view meditation and mindfulness are actual mind-body processes, and so is studying sutras. I use conventional truths as we all must to get through our days, but I’m open to the view that there are another class of truths that only the enlightened, like Buddha and Dogen, have open access to. It is hard to say this, which is why Buddha who taught for decades is also said never to have utter a single word. I am not enlightened. I respect Dogen’s claims about it, that it is not what we imagine it is. I would not keep studying him if what he says had no resonance in my very ordinary experience. Internal/external is one of those conventional truths that can be used and discarded. It seems not to be ultimate. Dogen is not an idealist like Hegel and Plato, did not think his way into realization/practice. His process seems more like un-thinking, not-thinking; terms I cannot define but can explore in texts. I’m in no hurry.

  10. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    I think it’s important that people know a little bit more about this Emil Cioran.

    Emil Cioran was a Nazi sympathizer, including admiration for mass expulsion and extermination of the Jews. He adored Adolf Hitler and the uber-masculine authoritarianism of Nazi Germany, and equated European ‘effeminacy’ with ‘decadence’. Cioran was a Fascist who admired the utter cruelty of the Fascists, but was probably too cowardly to commit that kind of cruelty himself.

    “Cioran is so smitten by the “virile” order established by Hitler in Germany that he can’t have enough of it, so he wants a version of it transplanted into his native country. In a letter to another friend, Petru Comarnescu (December 1933), he wrote:
    [Cioran] I agree with many of the things I’ve seen here [Nazi Germany], and I am persuaded that our native good-for-nothingness could be stifled, if not eradicated, by a dictatorial regime. In Romania, only terror, brutality and infinite anxiety could still lead to some change. All Romanians should be arrested and beaten to a pulp; only after such a beating could a superficial people make history.”

    Cioran reads like a Trump supporter who is utterly convinced that the whole world is going to hell and human beings are utterly worthless piles of shit. Life is endless suffering, doomed to violence, destruction and decay. Like Trump supporters, he doesn’t think life in any society is worth living; people are better off not being born. And so he admires the Fascist Strongman who can commit mass murder and kill everyone, thus expelling them from this worthless life.

    [Cioran] “Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out every day: massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without destroying each other, without hating each other to death?”

    When Fascism finally did come to Romania in 1940, Cioran hailed it triumphantly:

    “Within a few years, when Romania’s own fascist movement, the violently anti-Semitic Iron Guard, would gain access to power for a few months in late 1940, Cioran would endorse them, if in his own ambiguous way. A “Romania in delirium,” of which he used to dream, was finally taking shape, and it was an ugly sight: Romanian Jews were hunted down and murdered in cold blood, their properties looted and burned to the ground, while the gentile population was subjected to brutal religious-fundamentalist brainwashing.”

    Read more about Cioran here:!

  11. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Yes, all of this is well-documented. Cioran was a colossal misguided fascist shitbag as a young man. The awakening of his social conscience was a long painful slog. This is in part, I suspect, what makes his dagger so sharp.

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