“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

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Akira Kurosawa knew about fighting demons

After the symposium on Friday, someone told me “I can't believe that you conceded my point so easily.” To which I replied, “But of course—you were right.”

My interlocutor seemed to find my response freshly disconcerting. Why?

I've been feeling somewhat reflective about this and other moments. They seem to be symptoms of the Asura Realm that is default academia.

There are six realms of existence in traditional Buddhism: human, animal, hell, hungry ghost, gods, jealous gods. You can imagine these realms as psychological states. The hungry ghost realm for instance is the state of addiction: nothing is ever enough. Hungry ghosts have tiny throats and enormous stomachs, and they're always hungry. Yet everything tastes of pus and poison.

means jealous god. The jealous gods are jealous because a beautiful wish fulfilling tree has its roots in their realm but flowers in the god realm.
The jealous gods struggle for an inch of ground from the gods, like First World War armies.

Doesn't this epitomize the psychological state of academia? Places like Hollywood are god realms, full of effortless bliss. That is, until the gods are thrown out or die—then they usually go straight to hell, until they can make it to the Oprah realm...

Academia, however, is a realm of conflict and jealousy. Everything is struggle, attack, defense, paranoia. My interlocutor couldn't believe that I'd given an inch, and so easily too.

It takes a lot of work, if you're a scholar, not to get drawn into this psychological realm. You find that the things we like to think and say, the very concepts we generate and the attitudes we have to them (see Alex Reid's recent post for more on this), are colored by the jealous god energy (guess what color is the traditional one? Green.)

Let them win. Disarm them. The best way to defeat a jealous god is to be pleasant to them.


Alex Reid said...

A great point Tim. I am reminded of a related tradition, the Tarot, and the figure of the Hanged Man, which represents the willingness to submit the self to the other. Letting go of our mental addictions is never easy as we tie our ego to them as you point out. For this reason surrender, an insouciant turning away, can appear an almost magical intellectual gesture.

Karl said...

this post is awesome.

Timothy Morton said...

Thank you!