Apostasy and Deconstruction (Derrida and Siddhartha

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To what extent does language constitute consciousness? The question is pertinent, not only to literary theorists working under the rubric of Deconstructionism (and, to a lesser extent, the rubric of New Historicism) but to those who seek spiritual solace in Buddhism. The Buddhist's focus, indeed, is just as much on consciousness as on morality, and "right" consciousness creates right morality. Judeo/Christian cognitive systems often (but not always) privilege morality and its expression in strictly defined (ethical) behavioral patterns over consciousness; i.e., your consciousness can be shaped, refined or even reified in any way, as long as you tow the party line. In the context of most Judeo/Christian systems, a given subject is by no means compelled to investigate his or her own subjectivity; questions of language and consciousness can be discarded if deemed uncomfortable or irrelevant. For a Buddhist, the linguistic investigations of Deconstructionism have (I would think) a more urgent pull. Buddhist meditation hinges on the ability for the mind to achieve a serenity that is both cognitive and affective (the mind and the emotions are stilled simultaneously.) If most of what constitutes consciousness is language, then what a Buddhist in meditation is doing bears a close and ineluctable relationship to the inquiries of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Foucault, Barthes, and their compatriots. Buddhist meditation may be seen as a mode of controlling language, if we accept that language is the basic fabric and texture of lived human consciousness. As cognitive science has yet found no way to map consciousness precisely, there is no way the say that, for example, consciousness is 75% language, 25% something else. But I, personally, accept that the basic fabric of consciousness is language. All this begs the question: why is it relevant that there should be a correlation between Buddhism and Deconstructionism? The one system controls language via meditation, the other via demonstrating language's limitations and ultimate evanescence. Is this "never the twain," or can we develop a unique dialectic here? Is "controlling" and "demonstrating" the same thing? If we can develop a synthesis from Buddhism and Deconstructionism, it hinges on a few things. First, we must accept the premise that Buddhist meditation, becasue it is consciousness based, is (largely) language based. We must also accept that Deconstructionist inquiry demonstrated that language, already known to be arbitrary, is also fundamentally flawed as a representational tool. For Derrida, it seemed that language is, to a greater or lesser extent, empty; empty of content, empty of significatory power, empty, ultimately, in its attempt to manifest the presence of what it signifies. This emptiness, in Deconstructionism, is

seen to be negative: it renders most of human consciousness illusory and imprecise, and certainly radically demystifies literature. Buddhism makes similar claims about the illusory nature of consciousness, about its emptiness, the emptiness of all things, and the Deconstructionists demonstrated that language is very much a thing. However, "emptiness" does not have to have pejorative connotations. The energy to create, to lead a fulfulling life, to participate in a community, to go forth into the world, emerges out of positive emptiness. Positive emptiness is a condition in which acknowledgement of fundamental illusion, rather than leading to despair and negation, leads to modesty and grace. A substantial analogy would be a skilled doctor working with faulty tools: he (or she) would not stop working, but would work with the modesty that would take imperfection and errancy for granted. "Doctor" is good, because it leads to the idea of the Bodhisattva, a Buddhist that leaves the sangha to go out into the world and help people. Implicit in this is the belief that people are worth helping, that the emptiness of consciousness does not render it (or its "carriers") either unintelligible or unsalvagable. These configurations are, admittedly, crude, and need developing. "Grace" needs to be looked into, and I intend to. For now, I define grace as a state of affective harmony born of acknowledgement and acceptance of imperfection, combined with an attitude of expectancy for its arrival. Modesty is, I hope, self-explanatory. Positive emptiness would be a good recuperative angle to fixate on Deconstructionism, because it leads us away from the Zero mentality that would have us believe that accurate signification is impossible and that textuality must always fall short of representational truth. If language is seen to be "positively empty," we use it with a certain amount of resignation, but with the modesty and grace that come from "right knowledge" as well. Deconstructionist dharma only starts to be a problem at the moment in which it changes our affect, makes us believe that the collusion of language and consciousness is a hopeless mess. What I am saying is that it is a mess but it is not hopeless. What is the Buddha's First Noble Truth? Life is suffering. Amended to fit the angle I am playing here, we can say, with full confidence, language is suffering. Yet, just as Buddhists are not encouraged to kill themselves, the status of language-as-suffering doesn't mean we have to follow Wittgenstein into an ill-at-ease silence. The synthesis of Buddhism and Deconstructionism would make clear that the collusion of language and consciousness is, for better or for worse, what we have or, better yet, what we own. If it is a mess, it is a mess that defines our humanity, and, as the primary means of our suffering, can also perhaps be the primary means of our deliverance. What it can deliver us into is a mystery that we can only begin to configure. Derrida says, there is nothing outside the text, just as Buddhists say there is nothing outside consciousness. Both imply something else: that what we take to be all-prevalent and

substantial is, in fact, an empty space. This makes our judgments, where "emptiness" is concerned, a key both to our self-definitions and our attempts at self-fashioning. It is our choice to see either negativity or positivity, negation or possibility, elision or inclusion, in emptiness. The basis of what choice we make is spiritual, affective in essence: do we react with emotions of fear, mistrust, and hopelessness, or do we brace ourselves to work resolutely with our faulty tools? I hope that some of us will opt for the latter, as the New Historicists certainly have. Posted by P.F.S. Post at 6:12 AM 5 comments: J.E. Jacobson said... Thanks for the thought provoking article. I think you draw some fantastic conclusions, definitely worth engaging in thought! I do however think that the Judeo/Christian "system" can be a part of the discussion, and posted a blog with my response in the hope to add to your thoughts. Thanks again for the thoughts. 7:43 AM P.F.S. Post said... I have read your response. Thank you. I will say this: it would be amiss to say that Deconstructionists look at pieces of literature as "autonomous" or existing solely on their own. "Intertextuality," the notion that any given text is a "tissue of quotations," is a key precept for Barthes and for the rest of the Deconstructionists. Derrida's famous precept/sound-bite that "there is nothing outside the text" also alludes to a circularity and interpenetration between and among texts. Where Christianity is concerned, I do not doubt that there is a rigorous method or mode of demystifying language, just as there are, of course, established sects of mystical Christianity. But it would be disingenuous at best do deny that the base-line from which Christianity starts from is by no means as rigorous, in its stated relationship to consciousness and its necessities, as Buddhism. Christian consciousness is based on the language of an Other that is perceived to be ineffable: "God." Christians are encouraged to accept the language of the Other as past questioning. If one were to scrutinize Christ's language, and if one were to admit that his significations were imprecise, that makes him imperfect. Likewise, if God's significations were imperfect, then God is not perfect either. Christians, from what I have seen, will not accept this. Christ is disembodied as a presence: he is made of language. So is God. But their perceived ineffability makes their significations, also, ineffable, which renders rigorous Deconstructive analysis moot. You can't exalt an Other without exalting his or her language. Exalted language is privileged language, and privileged language is exactly what Derrida wanted to avoid. The idea of a Deity is, it seems to me, fundamentally incommensurable with following through the claims of the

Deconstructionists. Buddhism is non-theistic, which makes it a much better fit. 8:23 AM J.E. Jacobson said... Thanks for the thoughtful response. I do enjoy the conversation, and I hope you don't think I'm hijacking your post--I really do like the conversation. I disagree that "Christians are encouraged to accept the language of the Other as past questioning." I've interpreted past questioning as beyond questioning--because God said it means that one shall not question it. The Apostle Paul writes to the Thessalonians to test everything, and hold on to the good. Characters throughout the Bible question God with humility. So I would say that maybe Christians are encouraged to not question, but I'm not sure that encouragement comes from the Bible or Jesus. Secondly, I'm wrestling with your statement of admitting that Christ's significations are imprecise, thus resulting in imperfection. By suggesting one admits something, I assume that to mean that there is already fault in something prior to evaluation. This seems Deconstructionist in itself! But I don't see how imprecision equals imperfection. I would think that imprecision would lead to thought, questioning, and meditation resulting (eventually) in a more precise understanding of a teaching, thought, or experience. But you are right, while Deconstructionism can be synthesized with Buddhism via perfect emptiness, it does not fit well with the Christian system. 9:16 AM Doug said... hello I'm afraid I don't agree with some of your premises. Deconstruction has a mind, and in buddhism we are supposed to obtain 'no mind'. This means that we do not attempt to control language through meditation, control is not the goal, but this is a very difficult thing for the western mind which is why buddhism is so difficult for westerners. Derrida attacks language as empty from what pretext? Whatever pretext it is, notice that negativity and positivity still remain for you. Buddhism would not be interested in these kinds of dualities.

posted by P.F.S. Post on Monday, December 26, 2011 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------(7) Comments: Interesting.... For me, Postmodern philosophy is a questioning of the apparent supremacy of Western thought, from the Renaissance onwards. Many individuals respond to my writings on a shift towards globalisation, multiculturalism and therefore a "new renaissance" of thought, culture, etc. with quiescence or disbelief. However, economically these things are unraveling before our eyes. It is not hard to see the influence economically and culturally, on UK society of other cultures, either but comme ce comme ca, I suppose. For me the new avant garde is a displacement of cultures, not the acknowledgement of shifts in power from West to East (or other developing countries) which I believe Postmodern theory to be. I think what you are observing here is a shifting of power from West to East and this is why you are finding (if you will) a possible solution to Postmodern thought; Eastern spirituality that opposes the methods of "Western inquiry". I believe distraction in Western societies to be an escape from fragmented subjectivities but also from spiritualy/religion in a materialistic, High Capitalist, measurable, objective "reality". Hence, the lure of Eastern modes of thought and spirituality with their apparent lack of politics and simplicity. Certainly this seems to be the lure of Budhism for many. "But I, personally, accept that the basic fabric of consciousness is language." I think that concsiousness is far more subtle than to be completely constructed of language*. I remember reading Chomsky's rather bizarre notions of language and consciousness and that language isn't learnt but is already present! This reminds me a little of Chomsky. However, I believe consciousness (an awareness of self, others and environment) to be a product of all human mental (and possibly physical) experience. The sophistication of consciousness echoes the complexity of the human mind and language is one form of sound/image representation that

helps us to comprehend our expriences and communicate them. Much thought and communication is imagery and a lot of it sound. Much of it is emotion and non-verbal communication. The area of physical sensation and tactile communication is of much more importance than many people assume. *or even the basic fabric of consciousness! # posted by crescent on 9:24 AM

Furthermore, I just wanted to add that language does have many limitations, Derrida talked of "Ecriture" where he explained that the written word is the most important mode of communication and comprehending "reality", in the West. This does not necessarily mean that consciousness is largely constructed of language, but this is an assumption that we have made because it has suited our needs. At least up to recent times. In the past those who could write were a tiny priveliged few, often monks. They had immense power and access to texts in latin, Greek, etc. This made writing very desirable and has shaped our perceptions of language. New technology, higher standards in literacy and globalism are questioning our perceptions and values like never before. Indeed, the birth of classical music was when monks started to write down their religious chants that up to then they had to keep in memory. :-) # posted by crescent on 9:39 AM

Well, the East dissolving the dissatisfactions and tensions of the West has been around since the 1960s; it's not exactly that; what I want to forge is some kind of chiasmus between different notions of "cleanliness" (which, suspiciously enough, has Christian

connotations)and to demonstrate that some kind of common ground is shared. Did Siddhartha, under the Bo tree, completely deconstruct himself as much as a human being possibly can? I wasn't there; I don't know. But that deconstructive analysis is a hinge to the cessation of different kinds of cravings is an interesting idea, and one worth playing with. Craving, when applied to language, is the idea that a word or series of words might emerge, perfect and cutting enough to refine consciousness to perfection, and able to do so while leaving consciousness unsinged. The cure for (linguistic) craving could be construed as the deconstructive impulse. And there the piece attempts to leave us. If Christianity comes up as a foil, also to be deconstructed, it is only because its very facile and expedient deconstruction shows the premise of the piece in action. So, there it is. Best, Adam # posted by P.F.S. Post on 12:25 PM

Ah! Cleanliness! Yes, this is a real problem in Western cultures (particularly UK and US, if my understanding is correct) because cleanliness relates to spiritual and moral practice and concepts. Cleanliness and refinement - repression, an attempt to purge ourselves of the more animalistic aspects of human nature. Or those aspects of ourselves that we perceive to be animalistic. Surely, cleanliness is hyper-real; an artificial "reality" or "realities" that allow for a perception of refinement in a largely secular age. Similarly, government legislation and notions such as political correctness allow those who are in power to exercise a kind of moral cleanliness that controls us and allows them to keep their wealth and power. A secular church! You've evidently read more about Buddhism than I have, at least for a long time. What fascinated me at the time was the opposition of Western and Eastern thought, that, as you rightly say has been with us for decades now. I seem to remember that cleanliness in Eastern spiritual practice was not a moral obligation as in Christianity, but there to aid the practioner access a greater spiritual experience.

Maybe there is a notion of cleanliness within Postmodern thought? Certainly there is a disatisfaction with the general shallowness of Western, science-based (and Capitalist-based) thought. I hope you keep us notified of your ideas.... Simon # posted by crescent on 2:13 PM

Post-modernity and cleanliness...that's a good one. What's "clean" in the post-modern is what people are "clean of" when they think and create in post-modern ways and on post-modern levels; clean of patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, hierarchy, emotion, depth, rote egocentrism and the sanctity of paint on canvas and words in verse. Some postmodern cleanliness vistas work with Buddhism (though emotions need to be engaged to be conquered and depth of cognition is encouraged), some are encouraged by Deconstructionism. What separates Deconstructionism from Po-Mo is depth; specifically, the willingness to plumb the depths of language, to plummet into texts as into sea. That's why, ultimately, both Buddhist and Deconstructionist thought can swallow Po-Mo whole and spit it out again. Depth endures. And though Po-Mo and Deconstructionism have always seemed like uneasy if willing chums, in the end Po-Mo gets devoured.

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