Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Posts Tagged ‘polemics’

Spectral Discourse

Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 18, 2016

spectral discourseWhat follows is a chapter in search of a book. I originally wrote it for an edited volume on meditation and health. I thought that the editor’s idea for the book was very promising. A conference was held in which a group of Buddhist studies scholars, Buddhist practitioners, and a combination of the two, scholar-practicitioners, gave papers offering various perspectives on meditation and health. The idea for the book was to take papers that addressed the same theme but from different perspectives and put them in conversation with one another. Dialogue was central to the project. The title of the book might have been something like Dialogues on Meditation and Health.

The editor was rightfully concerned that such a book would be too strange a hybrid for a publisher. After all, it combined untheorized dogmatic discourse with theoretically sophisticated discourse. How could a book like this, one that addressed at least two seemingly incommensurable audiences, be made to work? My contribution was meant to help in that regard.

It is not surprising that a book like this would fail to come to fruition. It was a long-shot to begin with. The reasons for the failure in this case were complex, having to do with the usual university politics, funder requirements, and professional and personal needs of the participants. But, being a disciple of Freud, I suspect that it failed for other reasons, reasons having to do with the issues I address in my text.

The examples I give stem from the specific nature of the conference. Some of them might seem strange to some readers. It should not be difficult, however, to exchange out these examples with countless other x-buddhist instances.


Spectral Discourse

by Glenn Wallis

1. The articles in this volume create a spectrum. A spectrum, recall, is a perceptual field of some sort that is constituted by a shared component, but within which specific values can vary infinitely. Think of the color spectrum. It spans hues from dark, melancholic violets and cool, deep indigos to hot, bright yellows and fiery reds. Notice the plurals. A spectrum is characterized by its gradations of values. But notice, too, the singularity of theme: the common phenomenon we call color. This allows us to speak more figuratively of a spectrum of, say, political views or of the autism spectrum. So, I think spectrum is an apt metaphor for making explicit the fact that the papers in this volume are (1) addressing a single theme, Buddhism, but (2) doing so in a way that reveals different values—sometimes subtly and sometimes quite profoundly different values. A reader of this volume could thus be excused for questioning whether it coheres in any meaningful way. To return to our metaphor, if that reader said that these papers were not on the same wavelength, would he or she be wrong? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Critics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos!

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 1, 2012

Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby. —Walter Benjamin

Is there any such thing as x-buddhistic polemics? Or are x-buddhists too busy primming themselves with right speech, loving kindness, and equanimity to consider such nastiness? I can imagine my x-buddhist friends asking how I can even suggest that the perpetually-grinning paragons of compassion that are their beloved teachers would even want to engage in something as “un-buddhist” as polemics.

Come to think of it, I have to ask them a question right back: Is it conceivable that your myriad x-buddhist values (compassion, right speech, renunciation, loving-kindness, forbearance, right thought, etc., etc., etc.) are precisely a passive form of polemics? In “cultivating compassion,” for instance, are you, as x-buddhist, arming yourself for the fight?

Consider this. When asked why he does not engage in polemics, Michel Foucault answered as follows.

The polemicist . . . proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question…. [T]he person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.

To my non-buddhist ears, this description of a polemicist astutely, if unintentionally, describes the contemporary western x-buddhist. This is because, from a non-buddhist perspective, an x-buddhist is nothing if not a person “encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question,” and  someone who “relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.” This legitimacy, this privilege, is, of course, The Dharma. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | Tagged: | 143 Comments »

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