Žižek v. Buddhism: who’s the subject?

LacanSubjectŽižek v. Buddhism: who’s the subject?

By Adrian J. Ivakhiv

This started out as a response to Slavoj Žižek’s recent talk at the University of Vermont on “Buddhism Naturalized,” but evolved into a consideration of subjectivity, which happened to be the topic of my next post in the pre-G (process-relational ecosophy-G) series. [Links at bottom.] So this can be considered part 1 of a 2-part series.

There are Western philosophers with a good understanding of Buddhism. Some of them are Buddhologists: longtime scholars of Buddhism, like Herbert Güenther, Jay Garfield, Kenneth Inada, Jin Park (the definition of “Western” gets a little blurry here), Brook Ziporyn, Stephen Batchelor, and others who are philosophers in their own right (if not necessarily academically sanctioned ones), and who have cut their teeth interpreting original Asian Buddhist texts.

Others have come to Buddhism through a side door: either by accident or through a logical extension of their own interests. Owen Flanagan is one of these, and his recent book The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized provides a model for how an established analytic philosopher can develop a critical dialogue with a philosophical tradition that is foreign yet ancient, complex, and clearly worthy of comparative assessment.

Then there are those whose writing about Buddhism extends somewhat beyond what they know about it. In the past, this was excusable by the dearth of material for western commentators. Buddhist literature is voluminous — one might say it’s Himalayan in its voluminousness — and the fraction of what’s been translated into European languages is still comparatively small. But there is enough now to support full-time positions in Western universities for those who specialize in refined sub-areas of Buddhist studies. And with Buddhism alive and well now in the West and in the East, there is no end to what a Buddhist scholar can do.

Where does Slavoj Žižek fit into this continuum? Continue reading “Žižek v. Buddhism: who’s the subject?”

Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism

Whatever you may think of Slavoj Žižek (people seem to either love him or hate him) his points about western Buddhism’s complicity in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system are not easily dismissed. Might he be right in his contention that Buddhism, as it is practiced in the West, “is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism”? Certainly, I have seen no Buddhist response to his claims that even approaches the intelligence and care which Žižek brings to the matter.

In addition to the issue of Buddhism’s role in inuring people to a destructive form of capitalism, I hope we will all give sustained thought to the issue of fetishism. I mean here the imbuing onto objects a power and potency that they do not possess. Would Buddhism, as yet one of countless offspring of western “spirituality,” be the multi-billion dollar enterprise that I suspect it is if not for western Buddhists’ propensity to fetishize–to some extent, at least–its practices, teachers, texts, and ritual paraphernalia? Can we give it some serious thought? I, for my part, will revisit this topic from time to time. Here is Žižek’s piece. Continue reading “Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism”