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Quaternary Discourse in Nagarjuna and Derrida

Quaternary Discourse in Nagarjuna and Derrida

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Published by: Journal of Undergraduate Research on Mar 27, 2009
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59
Quaternary Discoursein Nagarjuna and Derrida
CHAD LAvIMONIERE
It has been claimed that Buddhism is not a religion but a philoso-phy.
1
Tis paper will not delve into the intricate and conusing realmo religious denition; indeed, or Buddhism, concrete denitionsare not o much use, as shall be seen. Regardless o the label appliedto it, Buddhism is a discourse, a rhetoric. I will explore afnities be-tween the discourse called “Buddhism” and another discourse thatbends the conventions o modern philosophical
topoi 
, the discoursecalled “Derrida,”
2
by ollowing a quaternary organization o exam-ples: emptiness;
samsāra
(and) the text;
karmavipāka
and writing;and death (and) writing, in hopes that, in the olds between the ourquarters, an appreciation o the similarities between the two philoso-phies can be achieved.
3
Ian Mabbett, an historian at Monash University specializingin the history o Buddhism, and Roger Jackson, a specialist in thereligions o Southern Asia at Carlton College, have written briey in connection with Buddhism and Deconstruction; both, however,have ocused their eorts mainly on Buddhism and have paid littleattention to Deconstruction. It is my intention here to give a airertreatment and exploration o the Derridean discourse in comparingit to Buddhism.
empinss 
Te Buddhist conception o “emptiness” is not a orm o nihilism;
4
 rather, it is the assertion o the dependent nature o apparently in-dependent elements o being (or, perhaps,
Being 
5
). In his article
Nāgārjuna and Deconstruction
, Ian Mabbett explains: “to be void
 
journal of undergraduate research
60
[empty] is not to be either determinately existent or nonexistent,but to be, in a particular sense,
relative 
6
; that is, emptiness in theBuddhist sense is a necessary non-origin and dependence, an empti-ness o inherent and independent existence. In a way, this Buddhistconcept o emptiness matches the amily o terms in Derrida thatincludes
diérance 
,
brisure 
,
trace 
, and
 pharmakon
; or these termsreect a sense o the non-origin and necessary interdependence o signiers in Derridas thought. Tat is, just as all things are empty o inherent being and origination in Buddhist thought, all things arenon-originary in Derrida’s. Or, as Mabbett states: “both [Buddhismand Deconstruction] celebrate emptiness.
8
 Chie among the “deconstructionist Buddhist thinkers,”
9
 Nāgārjuna uses a tetralemmic
10
logic to show the intrinsic empti-ness o things. His tetralemma negates our possibilities or a subjectS and a predicate P: that there can be S with P, that there can be S without P, that there can be S both with and without P, and thatthere can be S neither with nor without P.
11
Let us quote an exampleo Nāgārjuna’s tetralemma given in Jackson’s article on the play o Deconstruction and Foundationalism in Buddhism, taken rom thetwenty-th chapter o the
 Madhyakakakārikā 
:I 
nirvāna
is said to exist [i S with P], then it must be anentity subject to production and destruction, but this con-tradicts the denition o 
nirvāna
as unconditioned. I it issaid not to exist [i S without P], then its very possibility asa human attainment is being denied, and this is contrary tothe “gospel” o Buddhism to the eect that enlightenmentis possible. I it both exists and does not exist [i S both with and without P], then contradictory properties arebeing asserted o the same concept. I it neither exists nordoes not exist [i S neither with nor without P], then nomeaningul statement is being oered.
12
 
Quaternary Discourse in Nagarjuna and Derrida
61
In this example, Jackson shows the crucial operation o Nāgārjuna’semptiness: it is not the denial o S (in this case,
nirvāna
), but thedenial o relationship SP—that is, Nāgārjunas emptiness is the emp-tiness o (absence o) a logical relationship between subjects andpredicates, or, as we might gloss rom Saussure,
13
between
signifed and signifer 
, insomuch as the signied is predicated by the signi-er.
Nirvāna
cannot be taken as the subject o any predicate in any  way that can be called unequivocally true; it cannot be signied ex-clusively. I will return to this later; in the meantime, it is sufcientto note that the Buddhist program o emptiness is an “ontologicaland epistemological deconstruction,
14
aimed at demonstrating thatnothing can be inherently existent or original.In a similar way, the operation o a deconstructive praxis revealsthe inconsistencies o “logocentric” statements. In the
Circumession
,Derrida “discovers” what might be compared to the tetralemma: aour-old thing he calls PaRDeS (an acronym, but also rom theHebrew 
 pardes 
, “orchard”), the model o rabbinical interpretation.
15
 First, there is the Pshat, or the literal meaning, which we can com-pare to
S with P 
; it is a statement o literal meaning, the tradition-al relationship
signifed is signifer 
, or:
S with P 
. Next, there is theR’emez, the “crypt, allegory, secret, diverted word”;
16
this we can, with some explanation, compare to
S without P 
. For, just as the logi-cal term
S without P 
means that S is signed by something other thanP, R’emez means that what is said is not the real meaning (is not
with P 
), but is a kind o negative denition, an intimation – but nota statement – o meaning: R’emez is the statement o what is
not 
thepredicate P o S; or:
signifed is not signifer 
. Next is Drash, more a“synthetic attribution than an analytic clarication o meaning,”
17
  which is similar to
S both with and without P 
; it is the bringing to-gether o dierent meanings, the depiction o harmony between ap-parent opposites; it is
S both with and without P 
, or:
signifed is and is not signifer 
. Finally, there is Soud, the “proound, cabbalistic”
18
 meaning, which correlates to
S neither with nor without P 
, or Soudis the intimation o a secret and seemingly impossible meaning, or

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