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Archive for the ‘Lacan’ Category

Notes on Therapeutic Buddhism

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This was apparently too long for blogger’s comments, so I’m posting it here. It’s another comment from that Progressive Buddhism post on mindfulness-based therapy and Buddhism.

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Jamie,

I’m glad you bring up ENDS and RESULTS, because we have to make a distinction. If Buddhist practice aims at the liberation of all beings, then therapy is at best a result experienced along the way as a side-effect, and hardly a necessary one. Slavoj Zizek introduces a wonderful distinction between therapeutic and critical religion in the introduction to his “The Puppet and the Dward,” one which I think he unfairly develops on the side of Christianity. He does well to highlight the passive tendencies of therapeutic Buddhism, but he misses the psychoanalytic import of his own terms and the subsequent abuse he makes on them. To put it bluntly, what we have here is a distinction between the pleasure principle and the death drive, and it is a misnomer to oppose the “life-drives” (Eros) to the death-drive (Thanatos). To this end, Lacan argues that all drives have a little death-drive in them. Buddhism is not an inherently therapeutic religion, nor is Christianity the sole bastion of critical religion. A survey of American forms of Christianity shows that the therapeutic mode dominates, arguably with less pernicious results than that ethico-spiritual disposition that in triumphal bad faith throws its hands up in the air for the sake of “pragmatism” and getting “beyond politics.”

I also want to dispel the mind-closing connotations of “critical” as judgmental. The best way to think of this distinction between therapeutic and critical religion is along the lines that Emerson, in his essay “Intellect,” distinguishes between “repose” (i.e. comfort and resignation) and “truth.”

“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.”

Another useful touching-point is Patrick Kearney’s essay, “Still Crazy After All These Years: Why Meditation isn’t Psychotherapy,” which is is both perspicacious and near-sighted. As the title suggests, he wishes to dispel the connection between what Kyle Lovett calls “traditional psychotherapy” and Buddhist practice (particularly meditation). The problem is when we conflate the history of psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalysis, with this image of “traditional psychotherapy,” with its parent-blaming, ego-worshiping escapism.

That is why earlier I brought up Lacan’s departure from the therapeutic mind-set of his contemporaries, who unfortunately did better than him to saturate the popular perception of psychoanalysis. Strictly speaking, for Lacan, psychoanalysis is not a program of therapy. Psychoanalysis does not proceed by labeling from some distance these or that problems, which are dealt with in the voyeuristic privacy of one’s own ego. Rather, psychoanalysis is an experiment in our painful habits themselves, though in the relative safety of the clinical situation, which in many ways we can expand to the student-teacher relation.

Is this not what happens when, for us Zen adepts, we are sitting? We do not escape from our busy minds or the world changing around us; our quietude is a noisy one, because karma is ALWAYS coming up for us. What we find and what the masters report to us is not a stillness of mind (as if they were somehow opposed in the sense of some reality behind illusion), but the revelation of that stillness in mind – that de-centered I of the storm. The transformations this brings to the practitioner are too great to be sub-ordinated to the therapeutic impulse.

Written by Joe

July 2, 2009 at 7:23 am

Who Thinks Abstractly?

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Hegel’s essay can be summarized in contemporary terms with a response as pithy as his own terse statement: “the uneducated, not the educated.”

Those who think abstractly are those who believe in some kind of metaphysical common-sense: whether the universal rationality that supposedly governs market-actors’ choices or some common-sensical naturalistic “way”. This goes for the fashionable, artificial back-to-nature simplicity of new agers and their western-buddhist, -taoist and -hindu cousins.

“Be yourself” is metaphysical common-sense. The romantic appeal to feelings is metaphysical common-sense. “The invisible hand” is metaphysical common-sense. Ideology as Marx engages and critiques it is metaphysical common-sense. “The way things are” is an appeal to metaphysical common-sense. The super-ego is metaphysical common-sense as an obscene agency shaping ahead of time the contours of how our ownmost convictions even appear to us as our own.

Written by Joe

June 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Notes on Lacan and Zen

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In a comment to a comment on a post at Progressive Buddhism, “Mindfulness Based Therapy and Buddhism.”

‘Buddhism, in a general sense discusses anatta and most psychologist would probably say a stronger sense of self, not weaker one may be more beneficial to the patient.’

This is also Jacques Lacan’s core departure from much post-Freudian psychoanalysis, particularly its American analog, ‘Ego Psychology,’ which taught (with much influence) that the goal of psycho-therapy is the identification of the patient with the therapist’s ‘strong ego.’ The distinction between normality and liberation beyond normality is relevant here too, because for Lacan and his students Freud’s insights pointed away from the ego, like the finger pointing at the moon. To that end, Lacan’s insistence on a ‘return to Freud,’ another more intimate and concrete engagement with Freud’s writing, is not unlike the Zen practice of sitting and returning to the breath.

Written by Joe

June 28, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Leaping Clear of the Many of the One

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In another conversation with Jon, I broach the subject of polyamory.

Me: I wonder how many polyamorist are open not only to their partners having other partners, but to having partners who only have them (the polyamorist) as their partner.

Jon: ??

Me: Do you know what polyamory is?

Jon: yup

Me: Recent interest in polyamory in the wake of my breakup. Josh and I had a lengthy conversation about it, which I reproduced on my blog.

Jon: ahh

Me: I go back and forth between which I am comfortable with, and it has slowly dawned on me that polyamory taken to its logical, ethical ends is not about having multiple partners or just one.

I think people approach it this way, and they get caught in the same game of possessiveness that is usually the exact thing polys claim to avoid.

Jon: agreed

Me: This way being: either monogamy or not, either one person or many – no in between.

From Dogen’s “Genjo-koan,” or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point.”

The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many of the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas.

Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

“The One” what? A possible answer is the ideal couple. The ideal couple is the mOther and child, who form the ideal-ego. Their unity is a torn one, and their independence really a co-dependence. “The many of the one” would thus be the world qua imaginary identifications, the world of drifting clouds: in a word, fantasy. Does this mean that Dogen anticipated Lacan’s “traversing the fantasy” and Freud’s “working through”?

Written by Joe

June 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Buddhism, Fantasy, Lacan, Love, Zen

The Form of this Formlessness Itself

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In a comment to “The Monstrosity of Christ,” Nathan brings up religion’s therapeutic value, which reminds me of a point Zizek makes in the Introduction to The Puppet and the Dwarf (available HERE) about religion being therapeutic or critical.

One possible definition of modernity is:the social order in which religion is no longer fully integrated into and identified with a particular cultural life-form,but acquires autonomy,so that it can survive as the same religion in different cultures.This extraction enables religion to globalize itself (there are Christians, Muslims,and Buddhists everywhere today);on the other hand,the price to be paid is that religion is reduced to a secondary epiphenomenon with regard to the secular functioning of the social totality. In this new global order, religion has two possible roles: therapeutic or critical. It either helps individuals to function better in the existing order,or it tries to assert itself as a critical agency articulating what is wrong with this order as such,a space for the voices of discontent—in this second case, religion as suchtends toward assuming the role of a heresy.

Zizek focuses a main part of his book of arguing against Buddhism as the therapeutic religion par excellence and for Christianity as the critical one. However, this discussion of the Eagleton’s book reminds me that the therapeutic and critical distinction is internal to a given universal religion (too). Eagleton swoons over critical Christianity, but overlooks its (paradoxically destructive [i.e. nihilistic) therapeutic dimension, especially as dominant in the United States. Zizek has a similar blind-spot in the P&D, where he gives little attention to therapeutic Christianity OR critical Buddhism.

I think the future of a Lacanian critique of therapeutic Christianity resides in some alliance with these critical Buddhist elements, which means working through Zizek’s analysis, his focus on critical Christianity and therapeutic Buddhism, and instead invert the whole thing. In this sense, Zizek’s analysis is still stuck in the Imaginary and the relation narcissism and aggressivity, between ideal-ego (formless Buddhism) and ego-ideal (form of this formlessness itself Christianity). We might say Eagleton’s analysis is in a similar position, but apropos the relationship between critical Christianity and therapeutic Atheism.

Take Zizek’s comments on the new Star Wars movie in In These Times:

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace gave us a crucial hint as to where to orient ourselves in this melee, specifically, the ‘Christological’ features of the young Anakin (his immaculate conception, his victorious ‘pod-car’ race, with its echoes of the famous chariot race in Ben-Hur, this ‘tale of Christ’). Since Star Wars’ ideological framework is the New Age pagan universe, it is quite appropriate that its central figure of Evil should echo Christ.”

I’m not actually opposed to this reading, but it’s easy to also look at Vader, especially coming from “an overwhelming desire to intervene, to do Good, to go to the end for those he loves ” to “seeing Evil everywhere and fighting it,” and see the quasi-paranoia of therapeutic Christianity. Makes me wonder what how a bodhisattva would appear in the world of therapeutic Christianity.

Written by Joe

May 6, 2009 at 2:21 pm

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

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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

Something is Missing

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From Slavoj Zizek’s “The Eclipse of Meaning: On Lacan and Deconstruction”:

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’. 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.

From Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi’s translation of Dogen zen-ji’s “Genjo-koan”:

When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing.

Is Dogen preaching a similar heroism of the lack? This is so different from the Western Buddhism that Zizek critiques, which clings to the pseudo-Gelassenheit, “let it be” attitude, and sometimes exerts itself as the commandment to tolerate or in the liberal apology for ‘the market’. The ‘liberal pragmatic’ outlook and charge of many Western Buddhists, compared with ‘religious fanaticism’, is an ideological caricature that veils class-struggle. However, Zizek’s emphasis has been on the obfuscating qualities of this ideological veil, not too unlike Marx’s critique of ‘false consciousness’, while neglecting the revelatory dimension of such a veil, which by definition functions on account of both concealing and unconcealing.

The question to put to Zizek’s critique of Western Buddhism IS NOT what can it do for the Left, but what can it not do for itself? What is missing—not as a specific object, but in terms of the splitting and rendering asunder that propels desire? Moreover, what do popular conceptions of ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ put in the place of this lack, this missing-something, so as to maintain a certain semblance?

Written by Joe

March 2, 2009 at 11:34 pm