“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Response to a Badiouian

My response to some comments on this are worth repeating here. Check the comments then come back here.

[Lacan] has more respect for Buddhism than you or Slavoj. Your attempt to go meta has also been noted. “Anything you can do I can do meta” is indeed classic Zizek. “Engagement and generosity”? I think not. Classic nihilist one-upsmanship? Why yes. Here's a thought: les non-dupes errent.

In any case, the attempt to go meta fails as you only produce synonyms for letting go of clinging (or whatever)—ding! Correct!

There's a very good reason why Buddhists tell you that it's not desire they are getting rid of—desire in that blurry Zizekian sense is not on their cognitive map. They're not evading your cleverness. They are simply pointing out that they're talking about apples and you are talking about oranges. Or bad photocopies of apples.

You could easily argue that “never give up on your desire” is quintessentially Buddhist. Theravada Buddhism included, Buddhism is not about “getting rid of desire”—that may be Schopenhauer (a classic orientalist misprision) but it's not Buddhism.

All forms of Buddhism are about letting go of ego clinging. It's an elementary fact of Buddhism, the Third Noble Truth. Not the same thing as “getting rid of desire.”

If you want to be Theravadin about it, “desire” is way back on the Nidana chain from grasping—dig? You can desire all you want, as long as you don't cling. An action becomes karmic when you grasp. Not when you desire. This is first grade Buddhist logic. You want to drink that bottle of whiskey but you refrain? Great. You created zero karma. Those who don't understand the difference have simply not examined their minds closely enough. From a meditator's point of view “desire” a la Zizek is a blurry, vague concept.

All Buddhists agree on this. Check the Vajrayana version: “It's not perceptions that bind us, but clinging to perceptions—so cut your clinging, Naropa.”

The burden of proof is on your good selves to convince me that you know anything about Buddhism worth arguing with. I have studied all forms of Buddhism for thirty years. I've known Slavoj for about twenty and I've read all his books.

But none of this is why you are arguing. The reality is that you think that Buddhists are “inscrutable” faceless robots. If you don't, say so. Or perhaps they are too touchy-feely (rather than not enough)—provoking you with subtle phenomenological distinctions between states of mind you color uniformly as “desire.” And heaven knows we've all been trained that phenomenology is bunk...

Buddhists, in short, are queer.

I'm more convinced than ever that Buddhaphobia is a timely project.


toddwooster said...

Isn't pointing out when someone is 'going meta' in fact the ultimate act of going meta? And yes, I think I just went meta - and so it would continue, forever, I suppose. I'm just wondering: why does the acknowledgement of going meta provide a stronger grounding than just 'going meta'?
To me, this response to a Badiou-ian is actually quite insistent on being 'right' - what's more meta than claiming 30 years of familiarity with a subject, or even personally knowing a philosopher in question?
How can we avoid the game of being right when we make arguments?

Timothy Morton said...

I think you just proved part of my point--Zizekians can dish it out but they can't take it!

toddwooster said...

So you're a Zizekian then?

Timothy Morton said...

I can see why you are mad. No one has ever forced you to think outside the Zizek-Badiou Crayola Crayon box. Now in four easy to remember colors, love, science, art and politics! Don't forget your Void Eraser!

Anonymous said...

Timothy: Perhaps the reason for the confusion between desire and grasping is that they are explicitly conflated in the Christian tradition:

"But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:28, KJV)

Luckypierre: the best way to 'avoid the game of being right when making arguments' is to disengage the ego (truth-seeker) from the activity (search for truth). Which is kind of a Buddhist angle to take, isn't it! How "ironic" (in the American sense).