Non Buddhist Mysticism: Performing Irreducible and Primitive Presence
(Part 3. To read additional sections, go to the ToC and scroll down to “Non-Buddhist Mysticism“)
My insistence that we are engaged in a performance here is intended to drastically shift the reader’s expectations for, and relationship to, this text. Yet, simply inserting the term performance does not alter the fact that a formation called “non buddhist mysticism” clearly suggests some sort of practice, as is generally understood by that term. More precisely, it even suggests a series of practices. So, setting aside the specifics of “performance” for a moment, what is the preliminary sense of “practice” that I mean to convey to the reader?
Reading this text and reflecting on it is a practice. Talking about it with others is a practice. Trying out some of its ideas in daily life is a practice. The key terms, “Buddhism” and “mysticism,” however, suggest an even more formalized—robust, perhaps—notion of “practice.” In their contemporary, popular Western varieties, Buddhist and mystical practice is, namely, “contemplative” in nature—yogic, meditative, ascetic, interior.
Thus, “practice” has both a narrow and a broad sense. Narrowly, “practice” refers to a system of formalized, prescribed, sequential, and generally repetitive, indeed ritualized, activity. In a broader sense, “practice” signifies the wider range of activities that surround such a narrow activity. These surrounding practices are significant because they create the conditions that make “successful” practice, however construed, possible. A central contention of Non Buddhist Mysticism is that texts, their practices, and their communities posit, and labor to create, a World. “Success,” then, depends on the reader-practitioner’s ability to enter fully into that World. A World is always quite particularized, permeated as it is by the specific assumptions and values operating in the text and conveyed via its “directions” or “script” or “blueprint” or “prescriptions” (or whatever: the metaphor depends on the text’s self-given identity.) The practice, grounded in these assumptions and values, constitutes the actions by which these are, in turn, realized. This realization, or reality-making, is the general sense of “World.” Of course, on the battlefield of interminably contested thought, this is always a World held by its proponents to be ontologically superior to that which is known through other, insufficient sources of knowledge—other texts, communities, teachers, practices. Indeed, it is held to be of a piece with the very world itself.
A central example of a broader “surrounding practice” (we might also think of it as a scaffolding or framework for the narrower practice) is the robust theoretical basis suggested by the terms Buddhism and mysticism. This basis consists of several elements derived from philosophy (ethics, metaphysics, ontology, epistemology), religion (beliefs, morality, myths of meaning, maps of universal spirit), theology (theories of divinity, explications of gods and buddhas/bodhisattvas, cosmological maps of spiritual presence), psychology (models of the person, theories of mind, typologies of emotions), ideology (worldviews, Worlds, subject formations, material activity), and so on. I intimated that a rhetorical analysis or discourse analysis would show that these terms function as Authorities—as overdetermining, indeed, harassing and totalizing, features of a World. The purpose of the “non” in the formation non buddhist mysticism is precisely to perform operations on these authoritarian elements in order to render them mere chora, mere raw, ideologically inert, cultural material. Thus deflated, the material—terms, ideas, concepts, values, practices—can be assembled intact but otherwise (as non-buddhism-future-mysticism), as “a whatever material.”1
Such an assemblage is ultimately “fictional,” though in a very specific sense of that term. In this section, I will say more about the “fiction”—or buddhofiction—that is this text. To read this text as anything other than such a fiction is to commit a serious genre error, producing, at a minimum, ridiculous misunderstandings. I do not wish to waste the reader’s time and energy in this way. So, before proceeding, it will be useful to review several features and consequences of the non method. Doing so will allow us unambiguously to delineate the subject-performer of Non Buddhist Mysticism.
From the model reader…
First of all, let’s recall that the aspiration of this text is for dramaturgy rather than pedagogy. It aims to assemble materials for the purpose of staging a performance. Like the script of a play this text is, in Umberto Eco’s memorable phrase, a “lazy machine.” It is composed of inert matter—really, just print on a page or pixels on a computer screen. The text provides concepts, offers guidance, gives signals; it creates an atmosphere of thought; it stokes interest and, perhaps inevitably, desire, too. Embedded in this inert assemblage is what Eco calls the “model reader.” The model reader is in the text as a prototype. The model reader remains implicit within the text, requiring the collaboration of an empirical reader to do the work of generating the real-world effects that are encoded within these signals. Indeed, Eco insists that the process of fruitful reading—whether it be of a script, of a road map, of a brownie recipe, or of a book of philosophy—begins only once the empirical reader consciously determines to discern with care the intentions of the text. This discernment is the beginning of the performative work.2
So far, then, which signals must the reader have necessarily received and discerned with care? Let’s consider. Recall the suggestion that we are constantly being harassed by Authorities, those unitary systems of thought that collectively overdetermine “the human,” “the world,” and the relation between the two. Recall the desire to consider “first things,” to make possible a stance in the “irreducible and primitive presence” of the person out from under the crush of Authorities. Recall the roll of “determination-in-the-last-instance,” or “unilaterality,” in this regard, namely, to enable “the experience of a radical irreversibility…in thought.” Recall that such an experience brings with it the responsibility to transform rather than to destroy the material of Authorities, to render this material for us rather than us for it. Recall the spirit of the heretic, without whom God, and every other Authority “would not know what to do.” Recall once more that the text in which such signals are contained is akin to dramaturgy rather than to pedagogy. Pedagogy, recall, aims to convey knowledge, even wisdom, via ontological claims and epistemological assertions about the world, the person, and the relation between the two. Dramaturgy, by contrast, aims to “adapt a story to actable form,” to “assess the most compelling and appropriate means of staging a particular theatrical work.” Finally, recall that toward that end, the text is a “kind of exoteric memento for a theory…in order to provide the reader with an organon” for performing a quite specific work, the work of non buddhist mysticism.
Signals emitted! Received?…With care?
…to the buddha subject
Recall, too, Laruelle’s statement about heretics, namely, that “they do not need to ‘exit’ [the authoritarian system] because they never ‘entered’ it with hands, feet, and soul bound, but…took responsibility for transforming it.” This binding is two-fold. If the over-identified good-subject practitioner is bound up in a static form, so is the system itself. The appearance of a fixed and immutable system gives the illusion of inevitability. It masks the fact of the system’s contingency and perpetual mutation. As a dis-identified subject, the heretic, by contrast, sees nothing but contingency, nothing but perpetual change and alteration throughout the long history of the discourse, and so sees no choice but to take responsibility for the work of transforming the material. The alternative, being bound up in a bound up formation, is simply no longer a possibility for the heretic.
The genre of buddhofiction, inspired by Laruelle’s notion of philofiction, is one outcome of such unavoidable work. Why “fiction”? The central operating premise of fictionalism is succinctly stated by Mary Leng:
“The distinctive character of fictionalism about any discourse is (a) recognition of some valuable purpose to that discourse, and (b) the claim that that purpose can be served even if sentences uttered in the context of that discourse are not literally true.”3
More specifically, Laruelle adds that his philofiction:
“may be understood as referring primarily to the ‘fictionalist’ school of mathematics, where the warring ontological commitments of traditional debates are eliminated by taking up a stance of hypothetical ‘acceptance’ with regard to the implications of the various objects they propose.”
The fictionalist “attitude,” Leng notes, is “acceptance without belief:” “Mathematical fictionalists, while refusing to accept the truth of mathematics, do not reject mathematical discourse.” Hence, a liberating consequence of this approach is that it permits us to “introduce peace into [buddhist-mystical] thought by means of democracy.”4 The interminable battles between the countless schools and factions of Buddhism and mysticism have no force here, no purpose, no function, no use, and nothing to offer. We do not need to sort it all out, or indeed, to make a decision regarding who’s right and who’s wrong, in order to take responsibility for transforming the material. All we need to do, to paraphrase Laruelle, is to get to work by “supposing that ‘buddhism and mysticism’ do not even exist or no longer exist, at least not in the sufficient and authoritative modes and manners in which they present themselves, that is, as rational yet transcendental facts that teleologically control the possible operations on it.”5
Unbound from the teleological controls that the Authorities jealously impose on their precious materials, removed from the “punctilious gaze”6 of the Masters, we, too, are free to use them to whatever ends, and as creatively, as we see fit.
To that end, we posit a subject of our buddhofiction. As befits a dramaturgy, this subject is implicit in the text, awaiting an empirical reader to bring real-world force to its inert signals. You may recall the several conditions implied by the heretic. To those, I would now like to add the following quite severe propositions.
1. The subject of non buddhist mysticism is spiritual, not spiritualist:
“Those who are spiritual are not at all spiritualists, for the spiritual oscillate between fury and tranquil rage, they are great destroyers of the forces of Philosophy and the State, which are united under the name of Conformism. They haunt the margins of philosophy, gnosis, mysticism, science fiction and even religions. Spiritual types are not only abstract mystics and quietists; they are heretics for the World. The task is to bring their heresy to the capacity of utopia, and their utopia to the capacity of the paradigm.”7
2. The subject has an active indifference to “awakening,” to “God,” to Truth and to the Real; must, indeed, be devoid of those very tendencies.
“The principle of this new use of the old [traditional] mysticism is therefore the Real as Lived (of) impossibility for which the active indifference to union with God is more than an attribute, a property, a historical destiny and a conjuncture. Such a Person, whose indifference is immanent, not relative but radical, is devoid of mystical tendency or impulse.”8
3. The subject “remembers” three matters that have been conveniently forgotten by the Authorities: the One; the proper subject; and the World.
“Future mysticism elucidates three problems that have been forgotten by philosophical mysticism…That of the One, the cause of any mystical posture, [the cause of] which is no longer the Good but the vision-in-One or the Person-in-person, of which God is the symptom. That of the properly mystical subject, who is no longer the religious or philosophical creature but the…the “Future Christ.” Finally that of the World, which is no longer theology or even metaphysics but the World of their mixture as mixture, Hell.”9
4. The subject does “not come to fulfill the ancient [traditional] mysticism but to universalize it under non-religious conditions, according to a universal sense of humanity whose messianity the religions have never suspected.”10
Laruelle’s future mysticism is mysticism stripped bare by God, yielding a christ-subject. Our non-buddhism is Buddhism stripped bare by the Buddha, yielding a buddha-subject.
Listen carefully: by, not of.
1 François Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, trans. Taylor Adkins (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013), 24.
2 See, Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1994).
3 Mary Leng, “Fictionalism in the Philosophy of Mathematics,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, online peer-reviewed journal, https://iep.utm.edu/mathfict.
4 François Laruelle, Principles of Non- Philosophy, trans. Nicola Rubczak and Anthony Paul Smith (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 14.
5 Laruelle, Philosophy and Non-Philosophy, 15.
6 François Laruelle, Christo-Fiction: The Ruins of Athens and Jerusalem, trans. Robin Mackay (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), x.
7 François Laruelle, Struggle and Utopia at the End Times of Philosophy, trans. Drew S. Burke and Anthony Paul Smith (Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012), 26.
8 François Laruelle, Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains (Paris: Editions L’Harmattan, 2007), 16-17.
9 Ibid., 15.
10 Ibid., 38.