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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Zizek, The Book of Job, Suffering, and Buddhism


William Blake's 'Job's Comforters'. Source: http://www.artbible.info/art/large/633.html
Contrary to the usual notion of Job, he is not a patient sufferer, enduring his ordeal with a firm faith in God – on the contrary, he complains all the time, rejecting his fate (like Oedipus at Colonus, who is also usually misperceived as a patient victim resigned to his fate). When the three theologians-friends visit him, their line of argumentation is: if you are suffering, you must by definition have done something wrong, since God is just. Like Oedipus at Colonus, Job insists on the utter meaninglessness of his suffering – as the title of Job says: “Job Maintains His Integrity. ” Job’s properly ethical dignity lies in the way he persistently rejects the notion that his suffering can have any meaning, either punishment for his past sins or the trial of his faith, against the three theologians who bombard him with possible meanings – and, surprisingly, God takes his side at the end, claiming that every word Job spoke was true, while every word the three theologians spoke was false. (http://www.lacan.com/symptom6_articles/zizek.html)
To an extent this understanding of suffering proposed by Zizek echoes the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, the recognition and acceptance of which is the necessary condition for the fruitful cultivation of ethical conduct, mental clarity and composure, and wisdom-compassion—for becoming otherwise. I wonder if Zizek would appreciate this if he had given more attention to the rich and diverse teachings of Buddhism themselves, rather than fixate on the ideological imperatives circumscribing the development of 'Western Buddhism' and thus perpetuate decontextualised, inaccurate readings of ancient non-Western sacred understandings. To be sure, 'Western Buddhism' is not inherently flawed nor are Zizek's claims entirely invalid if they are properly contextualised. But what next, one could ask, after making the sweeping conclusions he does? More precisely, what would be a responsible response to the adherents of Buddhism (a reification invented by Europeans) in other life-worlds, many of whom have so often been told by Westerners (who hold a religion/philosophy distinction not found in, but is today universalised and projected onto their tradition) that they ought to know better?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Of sea creatures and their habitat: the shared genealogy of Western science and Christendom

Those who have magnified more recent controversies about the relations of science and religion, and who have projected them back into historical time, simply perpetuate a historical myth. The myth of a perennial conflict between science and religion is one to which no historian of science would subscribe.
An essay by historian of science Peter Harrison, 'Christianity and the rise of western science'.

That Western science emerged within the context of—was arguably enabled by—Christendom seems obvious enough. One need only turn to Wikipedia to read the broad contours of this history (I've touched on it here). Yet, when I've tried to point out the shared genealogy of Western science and Christendom, I've received the response from some that I'm undermining Reason/Rationality, or worse that I'm secretly supportive of such outlooks as Creationism. Heh.. I dunno whether to be disappointed with their lack of faith in my understanding (they'd probably be affronted by the word 'faith' but when is an act of communication ever not performed in good faith?) or appalled at their stupidity. 

In any event, wouldn't greater historical awareness facilitate more fruitful dialogue and mutual understanding? Isn't it unproductive, and even disingenuous, for a sea dwelling creature who has somehow developed the ability to identify the constitutive elements of its habitat to claim that it is less tainted by saltwater than others? 



Sunday, May 6, 2012

Commemorating the 5th of May: affirming unconditional unconditionality unconditionally

I wasn't aware that yesterday, the 5th of May, marked Marx's and Kierkegaard's birthday. It was also Veshaka or Vesak (though some Buddhist cultures celebrate it on a different date). While it is sometimes described as the historical Buddha's birthday, what it commemorates are his Awakening and biological death (parinirvana), both of which announce release from what Buddhism posits as the endless cycle of rebirth, or samsara. So by 'Buddha's Birthday' what is commemorated is something like a disavowal of the notion that a birthday marks the origin of a self-present, self-identical subject, a Being who arrives for the first time (though sometimes unwelcome) into a life-world. This, however, performs not a negation but an affirmation of a multilevel and multimodal process of causation or interdependency--or better, of effects and their interweavings--with neither a discernible first cause nor teleology; the events 'birth' and 'death' (perhaps they are only naming-conventions) marking a duration called life, the assemblages of existence itself, imply not presence but the movement of ever differing, deferring traces of traces, an emergent process of becoming whose condition of possibility holds the potential for actualising its own impossibility: unbecoming, bodhi.

So if the 5th of May celebrates anything, perhaps it's the dangerous modality of the 'perhaps' Nietzsche spoke of, though he may not have been the first. Perhaps to accede to the 'perhaps' is to become receptive to the undecidablity suffusing judgement, the outside of thought which cannot be circumscribed; to enact hospitality towards the unexpected arrival of the strange or foreign, the unassimilable alterity of the other; to cultivate mindfulfulness of the spectral hauntings of today, the gifting of the absent presence of the present to another spatiotemporality; or to invite the incalculable absolute future to come which holds the promise of the advent of justice summoned by Marx, a messianicity without messianism to which—for which—Derrida suggests, we are asked, impelled, to await and attest with response-ability: a profession of faith in unconditional unconditionality unconditionally, the honouring of an infinite demand elicited also by the Middle Way's twin ideals of wisdom and compassion?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homer Simpson and the micropolitics of perception



'The doors of perception are open for business' encapsulates the current ideological context and econo-political arrangements (in post-industrial societies at least) within which contestations over 'belief' are playing out. These contestations, I'd say, are refracted through a spectrum constituted, on the one end, by the fanatical reassertion of belief-as-irrefutable, and on the other, by the fetishistic disavowal of belief-as-superfluous, with those seeking to deterritorialize/reterritorialize belief navigating the space in-between.

It also reminds me of William Connolly's discussion of the micropolitics of perception in A World of Becoming. An excerpt from pages 55-56: