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Zizek’s Bodhisattva; or, Hegel as Shuzan’s Disciple

with 6 comments

From the aforementioned appendix to Metastases of Enjoyment:

In our everyday lives, we constantly fall prey to imaginary lures which promise the healing of the original/constitutive wound of symbolization, from Woman with whom full sexual relationship will be possible, to the totalitarian political ideal of a fully realized community. In contrast, the fundamental maxim of the ethics of desire is simply desire as such: one has to maintain desire in its dissatisfaction. What we have here is a kind of heroism of the lack: the aim of the psychoanalytic cure is to induce the subject to assume his constitutive lack heroically; to endure the splitting which propels desire.

What I have bolded could be a very succinct definition of what a bodhisattva does in renouncing Nirvana and “remaining in” Samsara. Perhaps, in this sense, we could say Dharma is pre-Oedipal, that Samsara is the Unconscious as such in its groundless materiality, and awakened being is that which determinately does not wake up, which forecloses the father function after already accepting the Oedipus complex. That precisely as he says it the previous sentence:

This gap that forever separates the lost Thing from symbolic semblances which are never ‘that‘ defines the contours of the ethics of desire: ‘do not give way as to your desire’ can only mean ‘do not put up with any of the substitutions of the Thing, keep open the gap of desire’

‘That’ precisely in the sense of ‘the This’ in Hegel’s chapter on Sense-Certainty:

Sense-certainty itself has thus to be asked: What is the This?

‘The This’ precisely in the sense that Shuzan’s monk yelled “what is this?” when Shuzan said:

Call this a shippe and you assert; call it not a shippe and you negate. Now, do not assert nor negate, and what would you call it? Speak, speak!

We could also call Dogen’s “non-thinking” (his response to the question, “how do you think not-thinking?”) a possible response to Shuzan’s disciple. When the disciple breaks the shippe, he might as well be holding Heidegger’s hammer, in whose broken (i.e. samsaric) state we experience its ‘disclosedness’, its openness (in the sense of Heidegger’s ‘clearing’ or Lichtung). All dharmas are empty, all tools (for skillful means) can be broken, and in the end it makes no sense. “It” in the sense of Freud’s Es. The sense that it doesn’t make, besides the idiomatic phrase, is that captured in Hegel’s phrase “sense-certainty.”

“The This,” again, is that interrogated by the Siddharata on his four trips with his charioteer (a potential superego figure, who almost seems to enjoy telling Siddharata that everyone (including the Prince) gets sick, ages and dies) where he saw old-age, sickness and death, but also the mendicant. “This” gave rise to bodhichitta, to desire that persists in its renunciation (i.e. the desire to awaken all beings and therefore put off complete enlightenment) Bodhisattvas (and psychoanalysts) are beings who practice one thing: the arousal of bodhicitta. The Buddha’s bodhicitta expresses how the ego-ideal introjects itself and begins the process of symbolizing, of putting into words, this painful split caused by the wall of language.

Siddharta’s encounters are moments of the shape of consciousness called Sense-Certainty. “This” is the ground zero of critique (the Buddha was a HUGE critic, was the basis of Nagarjuna’s school of dialectical criticism). In the sense, the interpreters of Job’s suffering were all answering in addressing Job’s story a version of a question that is really more than Job, “what is this?” To this end, they simply “don’t get it.” The Buddha strays down an ideological path of his own when he tries to strike it out as an ascetic, though he was left unsatisfied — “This is not it!”—and his bodhicitta grew, like a baby in the womb.

The ascetic ideal and the pleasure principle are two (always-already unsatisfactory, “failed” in the sense Zizek describe feminine and and masculine sexuation as failed-whole) ways of enjoying, but jouissance rears its head as a painful excess of this-enjoyment, which we desperately address by enjoying the enjoyment some more. The Buddha’s renunciation of his ascetic-life recapitulates his renunciation of his pleasure-life after having his four sights, and the gesture is still the same one of not enjoying samsaric existence. The middle-way is the way that is beyond the pleasure-principle, beyond good and evil, and as Badiou expresses it in talking about a peace that is “beyond the war, and not merely the lazy hand of it.”

Shuzan’s disciple asks the Buddha’s same question of the broken shippe, but leaves the back door open for affirming and negating. As with the Buddha after his four sights up until his enlightenment, the wall of language and alienating identification persisted for Shuzan’s disciple, who having uttered the full truth doesn’t yet realize that it was not all said. Only by virtue of his double mis-recognition does the Buddha finally become awakened. If his disciple returned Shuzan’s message to him in inverted form, the form of the broken shippe, the “This” which Hegel shows already betrays its supposed concreteness and stability by being the highest abstraction and negation, what should Shuzan say then, if he is to effect the same dialectical reversal that his student makes?


Written by Joe

April 25, 2009 at 11:56 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Would you be saying in your description that the Buddha went through the two sides of an active-reactive nihilism of renunciation to a reactive-passive nihilism of repudiation? Doing this with a totally different view of the self-other matrix?

    Ted Bagley

    April 26, 2009 at 10:16 am

  2. I’m not sure what you mean by “a reactive-passive nihilism of repudiation,” but it sounds like like a way of saying of “critique.” I’ll have to think about the rest though.


    April 26, 2009 at 10:30 am

  3. The Buddha showed by his first renunciation that his reference point for having a different point which was dependent on his old point of view to exist. He experience being right back where he started in the first place. Later he saw with no thought of the old the really new could come forth.
    It’s kinda like our discussions of a new language of ecology. We need to forget the old lingo instead of renouncing it as bad. We think of it as irrelevant instead.

    Ted Bagley

    April 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

  4. I get that last bit. It’s the detour through the Nietzschean lingo that threw me off. The first part of it sound straight-forward enough, but the “reactive-passive” thing just makes me wonder. Repudiation in what sense? Nietzsche, too, writes of forgetting before forgiving, which makes me wonder where you are going with the other stuff.

    The Buddha identifies with the four-sights, but what I am calling his second mis-take is his particular identification with the mendicant. It is not a mistake in the sense that I think he should have done something else, but a mis-take in the sense that Hegel starts the Introduction to the Phenomenology:

    It is natural to suppose that, before philosophy enters upon its subject proper — namely, the actual knowledge of what truly is — it is necessary to come first to an understanding concerning knowledge, which is looked upon as the instrument by which to take possession of the Absolute, or as the means through which to get a sight of it.

    As Jay Bernstein says in his class on the Phenomenology, this sentence is false—though it is not Hegel’s sentence, but the sentence of the epistemologists. “Mis-take” in the sense of mis-recognition, from which as Zizek is want to claim arises the truth. You say that “he experiences being right back where he started in the first place,” and I want to apply a Zizek: though we return, we do not return to the originally lost starting place. “Firewood becomes ash, and it does not become firewood again,” Dogen writes.


    April 26, 2009 at 8:26 pm

  5. As I write elsewhere:

    “Returning to this life means leaving [by means, perhaps we could say, of forgetting] the impossible something out of the picture that we all strive so hard to put into it.


    April 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm

  6. Buddha’s mis-take is the “choice” of becoming an aesthetic was based on his mis-recognition that he realized later. Yes? He did in fact have to do it to see that his choice was futile. Where he started in the first place was to see that he had no choice at all.
    An avoidance and a rejection of relevance being quite different from each other, like I said. The language of one that renounces(avoids) is dependent on the language of what he is renouncing. An alcoholic is always thinking of alcohol, albeit in a negative sense. One who does not want suffer is always thinking of suffering, albeit to get rid of it. I believe Zizek has said the same thing. And Timothy Morton also, for that matter.
    Mis-recognition was the basis of Buddha’s suffering and was mis-recognition he transcended.
    I believe the quote by not-Hegel does at least hint that knowledge is paranoid and therefor is always pointing to the other side of what it is saying.
    As far as Dogen is concerned, I would have to say that firewood does not become ash as firewood dies to itself and ash arises from nowhere.
    I think your last statement that you wrote elsewhere has to do with ethics of speaking well. Otherwise, the Real of being alone would overcome us. Yes?
    I think Deleuze charts up Nietzsche’s nihilism much like the Four Truths.

    Ted Bagley

    April 26, 2009 at 10:29 pm

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