“I would not have thought this through without a retreat like this.”
That comment by Tom Pepper about his recent gathering with Chaim Wigder literally makes my spine tingle. It intersects with an issue that seems to be defining our moment in history: how to effect change. Our recent texts on this blog concerning “practice,” as well as the small steps we’ve taken toward an online community, are also effects of this concern. With each passing day, I become more convinced that what Pepper describes in “Thoughts on Our First Buddhist/Marxist Retreat” is the kind of “practice” that we need. I don’t mean that we need “Buddhist/Marxist” practice. If you read Pepper’s post, you’ll see that the particular formation of their “retreat” ensured that the participants would not be ensnared by pre-packaged doctrines or forms. Readers of Laruelle might see that that retreatants were, rather, engaged in a practice of “superpositioning,” whereby something unpredictable emerged out of a complex “collision”—between the texts, between their time and ours, between the discussants, between the texts and the discussants, and so on. The “something” that emerged was neither quite Buddhist nor quite Marxist. We could take this notion further and say that what Pepper describes is also not quite a “retreat” nor even quite “education.” It is this kind of homeless, nomadic practice-from-the-margins that I find so valuable at this moment in time.
The fact that none of it would have happened without the actual encounter might seem self-evident and unremarkable. This fact inspires me, though, because it reveals a feature that, if intensified, becomes an effective element in our quest for change. In Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility, Bifo Berardi offers an analysis of our current inability to break the deadlock of capitalism. His basic analytical concepts are the following: possibility, or the concatenation of eventualities, ideas, models, objects, influences, conditions, etc., etc., that are inscribed in the present, in motion immanently and virtually, yet unrealized; potency, or the personal and collective energy, desire, and drive required to imagine and actualize some unmanifest possibility; and power, or the status quo limiting forces that select, institutionalize, and enforce one set of possibilities and prevent others from emerging. (Laruelle calls the instigators of such power “Authorities,” and includes unitary, “harassing,” thought systems under that term.) You will see all three of these elements at work in Pepper’s description of the retreat. And with this background it should be clear why I believe that his comment, “I would not have thought this through without a retreat like this,” is packed with futural explosives.
For me, a huge, perhaps decisive, as yet unresolved issue is how to generate actual force in the world via the kind of practice that Pepper and Wigder engaged in. Would it merely require an intensification? If so, what kinds of models might we look to? I believe that “the first Buddhist/Marxist retreat” happened in the woods, in a camping setting. That’s one model. A forum like Incite Seminars might be another model. Maybe you can suggest others. In any case, whatever the model, I believe that intensification, the creation of a “critical mass,” will require the regularity, concentration, escalation, commitment, and ritualization that I, indeed, would like to call practice. I feel that this is necessary if we want to go beyond but a momentary stay of the conditions ailing the collective “us” today–confusion, depression, isolation, powerlessness, lostness–and create possibilities that abolish the very structures of which these conditions are but effects.
Thoughts on Our First Buddhist/Marxist Retreat
In our recent two-person Buddhist/marxist “retreat,” Chaim Wigder (aka The Failed Buddhist) and I spent some time discussing Shin Buddhism and Marxist ideology theory. Our hope is that by writing a bit about the outcome of this retreat, we can encourage others to participate in possible future attempts. Many people we discussed this with were wary of a gathering in which there is no focus on meditation, and in which there is no leader, with each participant being responsible for choosing the focus of part of the discussion. My thoughts on the results of this meeting are that it was quite helpful in clarifying some important issues, and also providing motivation for continued work.
We each chose a text to discuss, with no prior consideration of their relationship to one another, so I was surprised to find that there is a startling similarity in both the problem that the texts addressed and the impasse that they reached.
My choice was an essay by Kaneko Daiei, originally published in the 1920s and reissued in 1966, called “Prolegomena to Shin Buddhist Studies.” …
Chaim chose to read Henri Lefebvre’s The Sociology of Marx, published in 1966, and also largely a defense of an academic discipline. But Lefebvre’s goal is to find a way to use the discipline of sociology to advance the cause of communism and resist the post-war triumph of capitalism.
At first glance, then, it may seem that these two texts are diametrically opposed.
What do you think?