Book and podcast reviews?

HalloweenIs anyone interested in writing book reviews for this site? The new publications below have come to my attention recently. Maybe you have other suggestions? If you are interested, either email me at or leave a comment in the usual spot. Here are the books and podcast I have in mind, including their press descriptions and my two cents (links are at the very end):

  • Marcus Boon, Eric Cazdyn, and Timothy Morton, Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2105).

Though contemporary European philosophy and critical theory have long had a robust engagement with Christianity, there has been no similar engagement with Buddhism—a surprising lack, given Buddhism’s global reach and obvious affinities with much of Continental philosophy. This volume fills that gap, focusing on “nothing”—essential to Buddhism, of course, but also a key concept in critical theory from Hegel and Marx through deconstruction, queer theory, and contemporary speculative philosophy. Through an elaboration of emptiness in both critical and Buddhist traditions; an examination of the problem of praxis in Buddhism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis; and an explication of a “Buddhaphobia” that is rooted in modern anxieties about nothingness, Nothing opens up new spaces in which the radical cores of Buddhism and critical theory are renewed and revealed.

This book includes some discussion of the speculative non-buddhism project, both favorably and critically. In bringing “contemporary European philosophy and critical theory” into the discussion, it also attempts something like a feast of knowledge. One interesting point of difference between Boon, et al. and what they term “Wallis et al.” is that the term Buddhaphobia appears in contrast to our (or maybe just my) very early term buddhaphilia. The former is Timothy Morton’s invention. It “overlap[s] with those [coordinates] of homophobia: a fear of intimacy, a fear of ambiguity, a fear of inwardness and introversion, a fear of theory rather than praxis” (187). The latter refers to westerners celebratory Romantic embrace of all things buddhist, particularly of those very “coordinates” that Morton sees as pointing to Buddhaphobia! Continue reading “Book and podcast reviews?”

Dialogical Meditations I

dialogueMatthias 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. Continue reading “Dialogical Meditations I”

Worstward Ho!

From a talk by Badiou.
From a talk by Badiou.

I thought I’d start writing on this blog again for a while. I’d like to use it to think through some issues related to the non-buddhism project. Specifically, I want to explore, more explicitly and robustly than before, the constructive side of the critical-constructive dialectic. Many of the posts on this blog and at non + x already present promising work in that area. As a particularly pertinent example, I suggest you read Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.” 1

As before, the argument driving this blog is that Buddhist conceptual materials offer potent resources for thinking radical reformations of self and society in the contemporary West. (I am primarily concerned with western Buddhism.) And yet, the noun “Buddhism” (or what I call “x-buddhism”2) indexes a historical failure to unleash the force of its very thought. “Buddhism,” that is, names an obstinate containment of potentially dynamic human goods. The end result is that Buddhism everywhere functions as a conservative protector of the social status quo, however toxic, and as an ideological fortress spawning subjects whose treasured goal is merely to rest at ease therein. Paradoxically, therefore, we cannot look to Buddhism—to its teachers and defenders, to its commentaries and explications, to its communities and organizations—to assist us in ransacking its “refuge” and interrogating its residents.

Why? Continue reading “Worstward Ho!”

News and Updates (October 6: one new item)

RonanPicScroll down for most recent updates.

This blog ran from May 2011 to March 2014. [I recommenced posting October 23, 2014.] Over 100 posts were published and over 6,000 comments written. Many of the comments are substantive essays in their own right.

If you are at all interested in the critical project called non-buddhism, this site offers you a wealth of material. The sites linked to the right will also be useful.

This phase of the project is over Yet furies remain aflight. Continue reading “News and Updates (October 6: one new item)”

Circles of the Same || Lines of Flight

linesandcirclesI am going to put this blog on low burn. Super low burn. So low that you may not even see its glow. Maybe the glow will die out, and this site will remain as an archive. In any case, I am turning my attention to a new project. It’s not overtly related to non-buddhism in any way. The one thing I can say about it is that it swings back toward the creative end of the critical-constructive continuum. I’ll announce the launching of the new project when it’s ready. In the meantime, a few thoughts.This is some text!


The circle is an apt image for Buddhism, but not for the reasons that x-buddhism itself gives. The circle is apt because with x-buddhism it’s always ’round and “round we go. Nothing ever really changes. It’s just one of a multitude of rich x-buddhist ironies that one of its central tenets is impermanence, the claim that things don’t and can’t remain the same. Yet, for Buddhism itself, it’s just the opposite: nothing really changes. Buddhism is caught in a vicious circle of sameness. No, that’s not right, vicious doesn’t work here. It suggests dynamic energy and directed intention. X-buddhism lacks both. A better word is moribund: Buddhism is caught in a moribund circle. Picture a rickety old windmill–slowly wobbling around, creaking and cracking as it does.

Another unintended x-buddhist irony is found in the person of the Dalai Lama. Continue reading “Circles of the Same || Lines of Flight”

The Faithful Buddhist

TFBBelow is a repost of a piece by Tom Pepper. He recently published it on his blog, The Faithful Buddhist. I asked him if I could repost it here because I thought that the larger non-buddhist readership would be interested in what he is saying. Comments are open. Be sure to see the comments on his blog, too.

From the beginning, I have viewed Speculative Non-Buddhism as a means to ignite a robust critique of x-buddhsm. The x-buddhist image of thought is so closed off to genuinely creative innovation, and its practitioners so complacently tradition bound, that nothing short of an explosion could force open a critique. As most readers of non-buddhist blogs understand, we believe that critique is a necessary companion to constructive change.

Tom Pepper played a vital role in this initial blast. I’m not going to eulogize him, though, because he’s not finished working with x-buddhist materials.

Taking a Lesson from Santideva

In his Siksa Samuccaya, Santideva warns against the dangers we will meet on the bodhisattva path, collecting a compendium of advice from Buddhist texts to help avoid the pitfalls of pursuing awakening. I’ve been thinking over his suggestions lately, and have decided I can’t do better than to follow them. So after this post I’m discontinuing this blog for the foreseeable future.

Santideva devotes about a third of his text to advice on protecting the self. This may seem contradictory at first, if Buddhism is understood to be devoted to the teaching of non-self; however, what Santideva has in mind here is not the purification or protection of some kind of atman. Continue reading “The Faithful Buddhist”

Introduction to Cruelty

Nolde_Masks1911The idea behind the kind of cruelty envisioned in non-buddhism is not what most readers think it is. One fairly well-known x-buddhist teacher recently email-lectured me on the karmic error of promoting what he called “mental sadism” on this blog. That’s not what cruelty means here. The best way to give you a sense of the cruelty that we–the authors of Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice–are engaged in, is to present part of the Introduction to the book. I’ll do that further below. First, a few general remarks on cruelty. And please note that I am speaking for myself alone.

I take inspiration from Artaud without needing to mimic him. Like him, I want to stimulate a rigorous yet creative exploration of what I still find honest and true in x-buddhist materials. Rigor implies a careful persistence of thought–of thought in and as practice.1 Rigor is absolutely essential because of the extent to which x-buddhist teachers have molded the materials to support either the ancient ascetic dream of transcendence or the modern secular yearning for a soothing utopian aesthetic.

Rigor of thought is itself cruelty. Coupled with creative thought, it threatens to result in what Deleuze calls “a kind of ass-fuck” of x-buddhism, “or, what amounts to the same thing, an immaculate conception.” Continue reading “Introduction to Cruelty”

The Fetish of the Present Moment

clockA current western x-buddhist dogma holds that there exists “the present moment.” It is a dogma that is so passionately embraced by x-buddhists of all stripes, so universally imbued with wondrous properties, so determinative of x-buddhist beliefs and behaviors, that I’d elevate it to a fetish. The fetish of the present moment. There is even a new podcast by the Secular Buddhist Association called “Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science.” I’d guess that the current outbreak of the fetish among secular-buddhists, broadly conceived, can be traced back to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s paradigmatic statement about “mindfulness:”

Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible. (Emphasis added)

Perhaps, there is no clearer evidence that the fetish is spreading far and wide in x-buddhist circles than a recent Guardian article with the headline:

Zen Buddhism teaches us of the importance of living in the present.

Forget about learning from the past and applying those lessons to the future: reclaim and expand the present moment

The author employs a rhetoric of time that is, I would argue, emblematic of a view that is fast becoming universally and unquestioningly accepted in x-buddhist circles. It also expresses or suggests values that increasingly inform x-buddhist thought and behavior. These values include, for instance, an attitude of quiescence; passivity in relation to social formations; the desirability of a non-thinking subject; privileging pristine understanding over messy active analysis; retreat from political action; belief in utopia; a sense of superiority. Continue reading “The Fetish of the Present Moment”

non + x, Issue Nine

dada ironIssue Nine of non + x is up. The contents are:

  1. Gone with the Wind of Tarot: John Starr Cooke and the Esoteric Tradition in the West, by Camelia Elias
  2. The Truth of Anatman, by Tom Pepper
  3. How to Xplode X-buddhism, by Matthias Steingass
  4. Thinking as Spiritual Practice, by Patrick Jennings
  5. Žižek v. Buddhism: Who’s the Subject?, by Adrian J. Ivakhiv

non + x will serve two purposes. Our main goal for the e-journal remains to foster original and creative non-buddhist-oriented critical writing. We will also use it to consolidate some of the writing that is happening in various venues, both web-based and otherwise.

We know a lot of you out there are thinking creatively about the contours of a decimated Buddhism. We’ve heard many innovative ideas. Some of you have submitted essays. Many exciting and vital lines of exploration have been discussed in comments on ours blogs. We’d like to encourage you to throw the dice. Take a chance. Continue reading “non + x, Issue Nine”

Non-buddhist blotter, anyone?

acidOi, readers! I’m just going to accept comments that flow out of the critical work that is fostered on this and a few other blogs (links below). Dealing with general questions and uninformed criticism is just too fucking tedious, yo. Besides, we have now placed a veritable shit-load of texts, tools, concepts, acids, acid, and weapons of crass destruction at your disposal. It’s just a matter of your picking something up and getting on wif it.

Contrary to every single x-buddhist teacher whom I have known, read, or listened to, I actually still believe in the liberating potential of x-buddhist concepts. To unleash the force of the concepts, of course, you have to cancel their specifically x-buddhist warrant and find a way to re-commission them. Think of what you could do with re-calibrated primary classical-buddhist concepts such as requisite disappointment, flesh and blood humanity, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, social symbolic identity, nihility, thinking, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (nibbida, bodhi, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nirvāṇa). Imagine the kinds of subjects and social formations that could emerge from a robust, comprehensive, and intelligent inculcation of such values.

Don’t expect x-buddhist teachers in the West to do much with these concepts, though. If I am sure of anything concerning x-buddhism, it is that its teachers have created a self-perpetuating network of safe, conventional, middle-managers. Continue reading “Non-buddhist blotter, anyone?”