"We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter, old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat."
I read this interview today, after avoiding most of the preceding debate, although I think I got enough of a flavour of it from my dashboard. I tried writing a post about it but wasn’t very happy with the result, and most of those concerned are probably sick reading about it by now, so I’ll just put it down in brief notes:
Ott’s argument has obviously been taken up (and resisted) by music writers, i.e. those with a professional and cultural interest in the topic, but underneath all the criticism of writers and the industry it’s really a theoretical argument about politics and economics, and I’d like to see people discussing it from that perspective
His argument is flawed to the extent that it is overly personalised and holds people to ridiculously high standards (see his definition of editorial independence) yet the uncompromising nature of it is itself a reflection on the compromises we ourselves make.
In other words, writers are the alienated workers exploited by corporate advertising; but more importantly, pervasive advertising and marketing effectively exploits the art that writers believe themselves to be supporting. If you take it away from the level of criticising what people do or don’t do for a living, that’s the criticism that has to be answered.
His alternative of working outside that paid advertising sphere is problematic too, however, to the extent that (aside from the question of the need for professional criticism itself) it absolves the economic system of the demand to support cultural criticism, or provide avenues of meaningful work within it - instead pushing it back on the sphere of individual responsibility, while still extracting from it the affective labour value collected by content production on the technological networks that, like Tumblr, we can ‘freely’ (and enthusiastically) publish.
You can think of the economic ‘value’ of criticism (or even the art itself, increasingly) as currently being expressed in that part of the price of consumer goods that does not go to manufacturing or retail workers, or accumulates to the owners, but flows instead to media channels and hopefully trickles down to creative workers. It’s obvious enough - and the question is how much of its implications do we accept - but it’s worth emphasising.
There’s a strong echo in this whole debate of the wider discussion around class and identity politics, given that Ott’s argument is ultimately a class-based analysis, whereas the criticism has centred on his attacks on female writers (there’s an interesting part in the interview where he elaborates his view on that as a further marketing ploy to lure in, essentially, ‘right-on’ male readers, which I find equally plausible and patronising). But fundamentally perhaps the ‘identity’ in question here is that of music writer - as an individual who chooses, and deserves, to earn a living - as against the issue of what, collectively, that group is doing (and to what extent they are alienated from the means, and values, of their production)
“The suspension of intuitive logical certainties (of what would normally be called reason) is obtained in virtue of an idea which is in no way religious, but on the contrary utterly, indeed paradigmatically naturalistic: the Unconscious.”—
Ernest Gellner, The Psychoanalytic Movement
I’m re-reading this book currently, because I wanted to anyway, but also with the aim of seeing if it provides any critical reflections upon Zen. The anti-intellectual nature of the latter, which as I have discussed is a large part of the reason it actually attracts me, seems similar in form to the above (which in turn is a large part of the reason why psychoanalysis and psychotherapy have repelled me). The difference between the two systems being, I would argue, the end aim or ‘idea’ which in Zen is so fundamentally and radically anti- or non-intellectual as to cease to exist in those terms.
The Zen/Buddhist parallel seems even stronger here:
"The concept of the Unconscious is a means of devaluing all previous certainties, above all his assessment of himself [the person undergoing analytic therapy]. It is not so much a hypothesis as a suspension of all other hypotheses. The more secure they seemed, the more suspect they are."
Whereas in Buddhism there is a reasonably strict set of ethics that goes alongside the formlessness of thought, to the extent that the two conflict it has led to a charge of antinomianism, the disregard for rules; for Gellner, since psychoanalysis is fundamentally a secular movement, its antinomianism is against rules not so much of morality but of empiricism, the scientific values which create the world of modernity, and which psychoanalysis subverts in offering its cure for modernity’s psychic ills. I feel there is potentially a good deal of that in Buddhism and Zen, especially in the context of using it to seek solace in Westernised society.
Gellner’s text is itself almost seductively well-written; beginning with an introductory intellectual history of psychology through Hume and Nietzsche, he then outlines the sociological need for psychoanalysis. Two passages stand out as particularly arresting turning points: the description of the anxiety-inducing modern world, and of the ‘click’ whereby a dramatic and persuasive belief system (outside the dry rationality of science, and of the intellectually non-credible patterns of religion) offers a salvation to the person in distress. Yet that is pretty similar to what the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism offer, or at least the beginning and ending ones: the fact of suffering, and the means of release from it. Unsurprisingly so, since Gellner as an anthropologist is deliberately placing his argument within the behaviours of humans across a variety of circumstances: but what is it that distinguishes the psychoanalytic movement from the contemporary Buddhist one, or indeed from his own persuasive critique (save for its ultimate pessimism on the question of therapeutic intervention)?
Clearly, the difficulty is with the method of psychoanalysis - but also with its basic assumption, of the Unconscious mind, which Buddhism does not share in any meaningful way. Gellner is merely agnostic about it, since his arguments rely on turning the assumptions of psychoanalysis (as he seems them) against itself:
"… If indeed we are in thrall to a powerful and devious Unconscious (most plausible), and if this [the analysis] is the only way out (well, it seemed worthy trying), there is now no longer any way of challenging the authority of the therapist and his doctrine. The consequence, however, is that the patient is and must be deprived, if he is cooperating with the therapy, of retaining some stance from which he could attempt a critical evaluation of it. The internal and external terms of reference preclude it; the external ones are superficial and devalued by the very concept of the Unconscious. If he does not cooperate, plainly he can’t blame the therapy for failing to work; but if he does cooperate it is even plainer, for it is built into the theory and practice, that he can’t blame the therapy either. Criticism at this level of mere consciousness proves and establishes nothing. No bona fide can be invoked, for no one can know himself to be in good faith. That much is entailed by the very concept of the Unconscious. The concept of the Unconscious exorcises all bona fide.”
The demands of Buddhism and Zen to cease thought and desire operate, naturally, on their own limited set of psychological assumptions (which seem to be, however, largely backed up as far as the mechanics go by cognitive psychology). And Zen, in particular, does restrict the capacity to intellectualise the process in such a way that would normally give rise to rational critique. Yet I’d like to think the crucial difference is that it does not do so in the service of a reified construct of the mind, which is what the Unconscious is (and, arguably, what it remains even when most of the Freudian trappings have been removed, as in modern psychotherapy), but a more basic ontological notion that is ultimately indifferent even to our concept of the mind. That is the point at which I believe one passes from simple mindfulness, or even a completely secular, ‘naturalised’ Buddhism, into the radical potential of no-mind. The challenge is to maintain that as both a critical and an open process, one which illuminates the self (and its illusions) but does not enslave it (the problem of the closed belief system) or become enslaved by it (the problem of intellectual pursuit).
"There is every indication that this realm of human relationships has taken over that overwhelming load of anxiety and sense of precariousness which had once attached to the natural world. This realm now has a peculiar quality which once characterised the natural world (but apparently does no longer): a sense of tight pattern,of lurking danger and fatality, which at the same time cannot be apprehended or controlled by rational and intelligible methods. The realm of nature had once been endowed with this compelling feel, for most or all of our ancestors in the agrarian age; but nature has been tamed, and we now really see that it is subject to intelligible and impersonal laws, whether or not each of us individually knows just what they are and how they are to be applied.
By contrast, the realm of personal relations, which has now become the area of our most pressing concern, the sphere in which we stand to lose and fear most, does have just this particular feel about it: it seems anything but random, and the pattern of experiences which befall various people generally has an air of some kind of hidden and ineluctable logic about it - but at the same time, attempts to seize, capture and utilise this logic for out hands, are totally unavailing. The popular psychology self-help magazines and manuals , which do a good trade by promising to fill this gap and to allay these anxieties, do not contain any genuine knowledge or information not available to common sense: and the generalisations offered, by them or common sense, or academic psychology, are riddled with evasion, exceptions, ambiguity, and have little real value. Yet a vacuum must be filled. People find it impossible to remain passive in the face of acute and recurrent anxiety. What is to be done?”
Ernest Gellner, The Psychoanalytic Movement (1985)
“Spotify was born out of a single correct assumption about human behaviour, namely that music fans would embrace, and even pay for, a legal service if it was virtually frictionless. Now the company’s colossal volume of granular data makes assumptions unnecessary.”—
The second line above is of course sheer, and blind, techno-optimism, although it’s not wholly inaccurate and has even been proved correct to a limited extent by today’s news. Transparency, naturally, is the real valuable asset - along with knowing the right information to access. But elements of both points - the volume of data, and the virtually frictionless service for listeners - are really important things I think to realise about Spotify.
Two embarrassing omissions from yesterday’s list, considering how much I like these albums (although I think the core six still stand, as these are - if I can state in a way that isn’t condescending - sonically hedonistic pop records that didn’t actually require an extended listening period to fully enjoy):
Squarehead - Respect
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
The moral of the story is: don’t rely on Spotify for reviewing listening habits - the Squarehead album isn’t on it (I bought it from Bandcamp) and the Vampire Weekend album wasn’t added for a month or so, by which time I had the LP and had it on my mp3 player too. In both cases I wrotedown some initial thoughts and then appeared to forget about each of them. But I kept listening to them! More as an on-and-off kind of thing than a sustained engagement, although for a while Squarehead became my leaving/arriving music for the train in Dublin. I can’t cheerlead enough for how good that album sounds - from my listening history, a Bouncing Souls comparison, even a necessarily loose one, is high praise - but it’s exceptionally hard to put into words because it’s about a transient feeling of positivity. The Vampire Weekend album doesn’t need my praise, but I will say that I was particularly impressed by it as a maturation of their style and sound: it’s such a rich-sounding record.
I know it’s only the first of December, which is why I’d been holding off on even thinking about lists before now, but as it turns out my list for the year is basically pretty simple: six albums. For various reasons, I haven’t devoted as much time to listening to music - or, rather, seeking out new music - as I have perhaps in other years, but perhaps as a consequence my year feels more defined by particular albums across particular times. Six albums, an average of two months for each (I’m going to try and listen more to the last one over this final twelfth month). Pretty much in order of appearance:
Torres - Torres
Wounds - Die Young
The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
Grant Hart - The Argument
Tim Hecker - Virgins
Chequerboard - The Unfolding
Torres is by far my favourite, it’s the closest I’ve gotten to a perfect album in a couple of years (i.e., since Past Life Martyred Saints). Or really, when I say ‘perfect’ I mean something that has such a personal connection and resonance that you can’t imagine listening to any other music in preference to it. Die Young made a big impact on me too; although musically it’s very, very different (thematically, perhaps less so…) it had an equally visceral effect. I’ve been in the weird situation of wanting to proselytise it and defend it, because it’s a punk album that pursues a pretty straightforward path of destruction to the heart of nihilism, using accumulated layers of hardcore/post-hardcore tropes, yet seems entirely refreshing to me (if not others). Shaking The Habitual, by contrast, is an album that it’s definitely more hip to like, and I even seem to like the ‘difficult’ bits more than most: ‘Raging Lung’ is however the song that’s closest to my own tastes. The Argument is a wonderful album, especially when you take enough time with it to appreciate the concept of the ‘Paradise Lost’ storyline - Grant Hart has produced several fun, fuzzy pop albums in the long shadow of Husker Du, but this one feels the most permanent. Virgins is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from a Tim Hecker album now, which means an immersive, challenging soundscape that takes several weeks at least to wrap my ears around; and finally, the new Chequerboard album that is still unfolding in my listening hours…
So those are ‘my’ favourite albums of 2013, six records into which I’ve put my self, stored my person(ality), at various times in the year. I don’t know what I want to write about them, probably less traditional commentaries and something more along the thematic line, starting with this promised topic.
* * *
Two further albums that don’t make the cut, but probably should have:
My Bloody Valentine - mbv
I really enjoyed this album and very much got into it, but in the end - to a large part probably because of the discourse surrounding it - it didn’t really feel like part of the year, and it didn’t rekindle any lost fire for MBV since I’d never really stopped listening to them. No doubt I’ll be returning to it alongside Loveless and Isn’t Anything whenever I do get the desire for shoegaze…
Chelsea Wolfe - Pain is Beauty
Again, really great album, but in this case I never got completely into it. And my attempt to see her live was pretty much a write-off - although I also recently found out I missed seeing Torres play in Dublin, when I was Galway (and, somewhat fortuitously, was doing an exam so I most likely couldn’t have come back even if I had known; maybe I’m being too Zen about it, but it seems like I managed to save myself from some frustration there). The two albums go together in my mind, and while Pain is Beauty has quite a few moments of exquisiteness, it ultimately can’t compare.
"Today’s Ipsos MRBI/Irish Times “Perceptions Research” poll that finds we, the citizenry of the State, are seriously deluded on a range of public policy issues about key facts which inform decision-making must be a matter of concern. The poll repeatedly begs but does not answer the question: “now that we have given you the correct answer, would you change your view on the substantive issue?” Presumably the answer for many is Yes, although, also for many more, it’s surely the case that where they have guessed at an answer, that guess probably reflects their prejudices and a desire to validate them. In that sense the poll is as much a snapshot of political prejudices as of public perceptions."
Today’s Irish Times is really irritating me. I read the poll results (at least in headline, abbreviated form with no detailed data, which I don’t really expect to be forthcoming) on the IPSOS/MRBI Twitter before I saw the gloss put on them by the political editor Stephen Collins, but I could see from the questions the obvious ideological bent. Their UK sister firm, IPSOS MORI, did a ‘Perils of Perception’ survey last year which went deeper into the perceptions of the British public about media-driven issues like immigration and welfare, which was an intriguing read that prompted me to think a bit about how ‘perception’ can be aggregated and measured. This survey is much more narrow, however, and sticks to investigating whether Irish people have the ‘correct’ interpretation of the economic and political situation.
I say ‘interpretation’, since although the items can be claimed as matters of factual knowledge, the framing and inclusion of the question versus the likelihood of accurate statistical knowledge, on the part of the average respondent, speaks volumes to me. Two questions are asked about the amount of state spending on welfare recipients: the first comparing the total spend to that on public servants or politicians, the second between the unemployed, pensioners and child benefit. In each case the correct answer is clearly the largest group, even though individually they are paid less - and it’s that confusion that seems to be borne out by the answers, not a conspiracy to not recognise the high cost of the welfare state. To the extent that the same results could have been achieved even with a better explanation of the question, would I think simply show the lack of genuine statistical understanding in the public discourse over ‘costs’ and individual burdens.
That’s the spending side: on the tax, it’s the old chestnut of the small group of high earners contributing (rightly) the largest share of income tax under a ‘progressive’ system. That people underestimate this - that the top 10%, according to the figures the survey is based on, pay 59% rather than 28% of all income tax, yet begin at €75,000 in gross income rather than €153,000 as suggested - to me illustrates an underestimation of income inequality, not of rich people’s unrecognised support for the state. That distinction is I suppose a matter of political debate, but that’s exactly what the use of this poll shuts down by implying that voters make wrong decisions because they don’t fully appreciate the facts, rather than the way the facts are shaped being part of the problem.
* * *
Previously, I tried to suggest that the ‘perils of perception’ were as much in the readings of opinion polls as in the opinions themselves. It’s too easy to take evidence of mistakes in statistics as evidence of mistaken belief, without considering other sources of error and difference. For example, I would be dubious about this apparently sincere concern:
"The findings on perceptions of ethnic background are perhaps the most worrying of the poll. Although only 12 per cent of the population consists of non-nationals, more than one in three of us believe that the non-national community represents over 30 per cent of the population. That view is shared by as many as 47 per cent of women and 42 per cent of unskilled workers and the unemployed. Fifteen per cent of respondents even said they believe one in two of us are non-nationals. Such misperceptions are deeply dangerous and could, if unchallenged by the Government, be the basis for the sort of worrying upsurge in racism seen elsewhere in Europe."
Or as Stephen Collins rather bluntly put it elsewhere in the paper, “poorer” people (as presumably measured by ABC1/C2DE social class) are more likely to be ‘wrong’ on this subject. But immigration in Ireland is not uniform - quite likely if you’re living in an inner-urban area, or a less-well-off suburb, immigrants will make up a larger proportion of the local population. Probably not quite as large as the perceived figures would suggest, and I don’t discount the involvement of a certain alarmism or social disquiet, but another factor to be considered I think has to be education: if your schooling, particularly in terms of mathematical literacy, is not as developed as it may have been in higher-class areas, how does that affect the ability to make a statistical judgement such as assigning a proportion to national demographics? It’s hard for anyone to visualise ‘30 per cent of the population’, and most will default to personal experience at some point, so what are we really measuring here?
I mean, there’s also the obvious shadow of Kurt Cobain as well. This was 95’, right?
Also, “Finnegan’s Wake” runs in a loop (per wiki, “The opening line of the book is a sentence fragment which continues from the book’s unfinished closing line, making the work a never-ending cycle.”), which is something I just generally like with a work cause it puts you in that “Poetic Effect” mindset where you’re invited to enjoy a new set of readings the next time through./p>
Windows I read as opportunity but also an allusion to suicide. I’m sort of kicking around this idea of the Arrow of Numbness as some kind of tenet of Slacker Existential Cosmology and this would certainly align with that. The sort of anhedonic state that often yields The Arrow can have a preserving effect as well though. Kurt Cobain traced the arrow but never rode it. It’s probably worth noting that a lot of this one (and his work as a whole) is Blake (by his own admission) dealing with depression in different forms. This one always hit me as him trying, almost too hard to talk himself down. There’s the dear you reading where it’s the intentionally poppy sellout move, which this certainly has more of a whiff of than a lot of the record (and it’s fucking track 1). Also the punk scene element is relevant as well. I mean, Indictment and Boxcar were back to back on Act I of 24hr, so pissing of the guys squaring a given scene with purism was a nice MO to repeat if nothing else.
Well, according to the ‘liner notes' written by Blake a year or so ago, 'Save Your Generation' was:
"Written in Oakland on my couch, New Year’s Eve, 1993. Oakland is so wild with gunshots on New Year’s. My housemate and I spent from 11:30 to 1:00 on the floor in the living room. There were so many stray bullets flying around. I guess that doesn’t tell you much about the song, but it gives you an idea of my state of mind."
But I did notice again the picture of Cobain in a Jawbreaker t-shirt (under ‘Shirt’).
Yeah, I like the ‘Finnegan, begin again’ line too. I’m going to take it literally and pick up Finnegans Wake again. You could be right about the windows, that line has always puzzled me.
I know it’s a minority opinion, but Dear You is by far my favourite Jawbreaker record. I do have a habit of preferring a band’s more ‘accessible’ work, especially when it is my first point of access to them. But listening to Unfun again today (also great, but a big contrast with the rough edges and the harsher pleading of songs, beginning with ‘Want’) I wondered what another Jawbreaker album after Dear You could - if not would - have been like. I mean, the Jets to Brazil albums are great introspective background music, but they’re not quite the same kind of project. Maybe Dear You was the once-off apex of a certain kind of quasi-emo pop-punk, acute lyricisms floating on a sea of pristine guitars, that transcended its own genre. At least, that’s how I feel about it…
Until Thoughts Stop Acting Like Excited Monkeys... Confusion!
Came across this excellent mnemonic for the Eightfold Path of Buddhism (Right Thought, Understanding, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration). I liked it so much that I put together an acrostic image for it, with this painting from the Wikipedia page for ‘mind monkey’, and of course the eight-spoked Dharma wheel:
A good further project would be to make a symmetrical image of eight monkeys chasing after each others’ tails, in a circle…
In the meantime, this is a good interpretation of the Eightfold Path. (‘Understanding’ and ‘Thought’ are sometimes translated respectively as ‘View’ and ‘Intention’; to me ‘intention’ is a better fit, but I’d stick with ‘understanding’ - so ‘until intellectuals stop acting like excited monkeys’, perhaps?)
"The sombre recognition of the pays reel [Gellner’s term for the non-rational self*, as distinguished from the pays legal of rationality] and its bitter, harsh realities, is not in Nietzsche accompanied by any promise or genuine recipe for personal salvation. The Transvaluation of Values, which he commended, is questionably coherent, highly nebulous, sounds as if it might be arduous and perilous, and, lets not beat about the bush, is a bit above the heads of ordinary people. A highbrow classicist-philosopher is shrieking against long-term historical trends which are hardly involved in the daily concerns of most people. One knew what he was rejecting: no one has ever been sure of the exact nature of the alternative he was proposing, though some have claimed it for their own values, or attributed it to their enemies. It is for this reason that the endemic debate about whether or not he was a proto-Nazi is pointless. His proposed alternative was not coherent or determinate enough to enable one to answer this question with any finality.
By contrast, Freud does offer a position, concrete and identifiable, and a technique for attaining individual salvation in the face of problems only too real for ordinary people. In fact, his theory attained fame only as the accompaniment of that technique of salvation. Soteriology came before doctrine, as perhaps it should.”
Ernest Gellner, The Psychoanalytic Movement, ‘Back to Nature’
(* “the nature of our feelings, drives, relationships, as we know them to be from the often bitter experience of being alive”)
I think Zen is an appropriate ‘middle way' between these two. Buddhism offers a soteriology (i.e., salvation) embedded in its most fundamental doctrine: the third and fourth Noble Truths (the cessation of suffering, or nirvana, and the means of achieving it; in other words, enlightenment). Yet even, or perhaps especially, in Zen the notion of enlightenment echoes much of what Gellner says of Nietzsche’s ideas: “questionably coherent, highly nebulous, sounds as if it might be arduous and perilous, and, lets not beat about the bush, is a bit above the heads of ordinary people”. For all that one can say about its sudden nature, inchoate and inherent character or universal attainability, enlightenment in Zen is hedged about with many caveats about thought and expression such that rigorous training and commitment is generally assumed to be a requirement for its achievement - whatever ‘it’ means.
Likewise, the therapeutic structure demands time, effort and - although in its retreat from psychoanalysis the emphasis on its particular kind of revelation has lessened - offers a kind of salvation from inner demons. For Zen the demons aren’t exactly inner, although they are within us: they are the way we see the world, and thus fashion and react to it. Cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness address those issues but don’t go the extra step of reformulating themselves as an ontological philosophical perspective, and a radically nihilist one at that. Of course, why would they, being merely therapeutic systems for more-or-less ‘ordinary people’ (albeit those tending to have mental health ‘issues’ in, and perhaps with, modern society)?
To propose adopting a quasi-spiritual, quasi-religious system as a response to, say, depression appears to be tantamount to quackery; unfortunately there’s a good argument that much therapy is itself tantamount to quackery, at least on a fundamental philosophical level. Furthermore, to propose a system in which ‘cessation of suffering’ exists as an end goal that is both attainable yet stupendously difficult to achieve, seems worse than useless. My response would be twofold: one, that Zen has tangible day-to-day benefits, along the lines of mindfulness but with a deeper and more coherent cultural-historical background than that somewhat de-rooted, secularized wisdom; and two, the ultimate problems which remain, perhaps fundamentally unsolvable (at least in the sense of a rational answer), require a far-reaching philosophical approach that I don’t think can be contained within Western thought - and an approach which must of necessity be folded into day-to-day practice. Zen helps me, but it may not do so for others, or do so enough; it is something less than, and something greater than, a tool for living.
'Audacious' debut takes £10,000 prize for interlocking stories of austerity Ireland
"When asked what the book is about, I often pause for too long and then mumble something about a village and the recession and polyphony and watch as the person’s eyes glaze over," he wrote. "I desperately add that there’s a murder – and a kidnap! – but it’s usually too late."
A few more quotes from that excellent Tricycle piece (it’s long and it starts off with a very basic explanation of Marxism for Americans, as it were, but it’s well worth persevering with). I’m reading faster than I can get my thoughts together, really, and I need to get back to Gellner before I write anything more on the psychological implications of Zen, but with all the social/ethical caveats and philosophical nuances I’ve attempted to outline already, this really hits the nail on the head in terms of my concerns with Zen:
"In several essays around 2000, when Buddhism in America was enjoying seemingly universal “success”—celebrity status for many of its authority figures, increasing institutionalization as it galloped into the mainstream—Zizek wrote, and said in interviews, that Buddhism in the West was functioning as a fetish. Buddhism in the globalized capitalist world, he argued, functions as a “fetish” in the sense that “fetishists are not dreamers lost in their own private worlds, they are thoroughly ‘realists’ able to accept the ways things effectively are—since they have their fetish to which they can cling in order to cancel the full impact of reality.” In other words, the world we are faced with is full of injustice, suffering, pain, confusion, hopelessness, and stress, all in different orders of magnitude, and the Western Buddhist’s orientation, primarily through meditation practices, allows him or her to blunt or avoid the full impact of this reality.
and the potential solution:
If Buddhism is finally about liberation from ignorance and errant views, both individually and collectively, then we might consider studying not only what we are but also the culture that invisibly influences and dominates us. Quite apart from advocating any alternative to the current system, we may discover sources of suffering and new patterns of desire and ignorance that are embedded in our actions. The study of capital would quickly become the study of suffering and false consciousness. The study of capital and the revelation of the conditions for what we might call an “emergent communism” could supplement our contemplative approaches as the movement of the real. Marx approached something similar in German Ideology, a work he wrote with Engels in 1846 (first published in 1932).”
again, German Ideology, as the completed result of the Theses on Feuerbach (which I wrote about in relation to Zen here) is probably something I should have a deeper look at. The (potentially nondual, and practical) relationship between idealism and materialism, and the necessity for spiritual revolution and self-criticism:
“Americans and Buddhists might want to think about capitalism and how it can possibly be reconciled with the Buddha’s teachings. It’s difficult, to be sure, and gets very emotional for some. It might seem scary to think about its future, but that’s probably a good reason we should look at it: why is it scary to think about capitalism? It is as if Occupy has taken on the role of society’s collective therapist: patiently waiting and witnessing the tortured machinations of a society that tries to finally come to grips with its own state of denial.”
If Occupy is America’s collective therapist (leaving the anti-universal designation ‘American’ in place, as that does seem to be an association with particular resonance), my question is - hopefully building on Gellner and his critique of psychoanalysis, and psychotherapy, as pastoral care for alienated modernity - what stops Zen being merely our individual, atomised therapist?
Group understood to include Róisín Shortall, John Halligan and Thomas Pringle
There is certainly a space between Labour and Sinn Féin for this, but is it just Democratic Left Deux?
That or someone in the Times just got caught up on season 3 of Borgen…
ahaha… zing! also, Democratic Left was initially named ‘New Agenda’ (resulting in a slightly bizarre disambiguation notice: ‘“New Agenda” redirects here. For the song by Janet Jackson, see…”)
the difficulty I have with the DL comparison is that they were a rightward break from a genuine left party, not a leftward break from a increasingly rightward-travelling party (although the Borgen parallel is very obvious to me in that case) which ironically now seems to centre on former DLers (Gilmore, Rabbitte). I’d also question whether the ‘space’ between Labour and Sinn Féin is not just an illusion created by the dynamics of government and opposition (e.g. compare Sinn Féin’s economic rhetoric now to Labour’s before the 2011 election and find any substantial difference) although I suppose it may still exist functionally for the electorate. Maybe, in line with Democratic Left, the key factor is not so much actual economic policy but Shinner antipathy: in which case the combination of a ex-Spring Tide Labour TD, an ex-Workers Party (i.e., the rump party left behind by the original Democratic Left breakout) TD and an ex-Sinn Féin TD is… interesting.
Certainly I wouldn’t like to vote for Sinn Féin (more out of a distrust of their social democratic credentials in light of their general cuteness - shared with the rest of the Irish political establishment, it should be said - than the republican issue) and I’m increasingly fed up with Labour (although, like the Greens, I don’t think there’s enough effective acknowledgement of the difficulty of compromise with power for minority political formations in Ireland - although Labour, having bollocksed out the Greens for same, have now been pushing the limits of such tolerance for a while). So an independent, social-democratic grouping between the ‘right’ of the left and the far-left parties is probably a good option to have.
"The materialism and affluence of the West was certainly a new and unknown condition for the Buddhist pioneers who scouted the West and studied our culture. Now 50 or 60 years into Western Buddhism, there has been a shift in emphasis from a critique of rank materialism to the need for a Buddhism free of, say, the old Tibetan or Japanese cultural forms, one suited for Western sensibilities, one without “Asian cultural baggage.”
But the truth is that the entire world is much more “Western” now that capitalism is globalized. The world is merging with capitalism’s materialist zeitgeist: globalization isn’t just about commodity, production, and consumption—it is about culture, too. Some Buddhist teachers who have set up schools in the “West” pretend to critique aspects of American culture, but they are mostly superficial attempts that leave the root culture of late capitalism’s pervasive materialism firmly intact while adopting the technological fascinations of the moment. As Buddhist teachers and practitioners sort out the essential teachings from their own “cultural baggage”—the “blinding influence of culture,” as one teacher recently put it—are they aware of the forces of speed, chaos, alienation, and technological magic of late capitalism? Are we aware of the forces of capitalism?”
"The Absolute, according to Nishida, must be thought of as Nothingness in order to distinguish it from all ontologies that would reduce the uniqueness and autonomy of truly individual beings either to a transcendent being or to an underlying teleological process."
One of the most difficult ideas in Buddhism and Zen for me to get my head around is the non-existence of the self. Or not ‘the self’, because that’s already an abstract concept relatively easily disposed of, but self as in me, myself and I. That which emerges from the cogito and forms the virtually inescapable foundation of any intellectual thought. A later reformulation of it in the Kyoto School is apparently “I, not being I, am”, which makes a certain amount of intuitive sense to me as expressing the pre-cognitive locus of the self (i.e., when you’re not thinking, you’re not being, or just being). So while it’s a headache to apply in any logical sense to the ‘real world’, I can appreciate the erasure of self as part of nonduality and nonattachment.
"The individual is too fragmented to sustain broader forms of belonging, let alone class solidarity, and this alienation from collective identity is matched by an ontological, even religious understanding of “risk” perceived as a given, one that isn’t to be mitigated but instead mastered [….] the neoliberal subject makes a fetish of efficiency and aspires to be able to reorient itself at a moment’s notice, to expedite the flow of goods, though it has no ontological cohesion outside an imperative to engage in the swirling needs of the marketplace.
If this is too theory heavy, consider Jennifer Silva’s recent Coming Up Short (2013), which interviews numerous working-class young people in the wake of the economic crisis. Silva finds that they define adulthood in the rejection of social groups and institutions and an embrace of an individualized, therapeutic, self, matching the theory remarkably well”
The true individual is of paramount importance to liberalism proper, what Rubashov in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon termed the ‘grammatical fiction’ (‘I’) which totalitarianism made redundant; elevated also - or more likely, principally - in economic terms it becomes the starting point of modern conservatism. The argument that individualisation is not the same as self-realisation is an important one, as also is that which questions the construction of the self under neoliberal hegemony (“In neoliberal society markets don’t serve the pre-existing needs of subjects; subjects are fabricated to serve the market”). As a socialist and a democrat, I am especially conscious of the need to balance collective solidarity with individual freedom, but each concept is also malleable and emergent. With the latter, there is then a danger of erosion; from neoliberalism itself and from our attempts to react to it and the wider issues of modernity, such that philosophical self-abnegation weakens the resistance of the individual subject to greater social trends.
The “individualized, therapeutic, self” - appropriately fractured by commas - is a subject I hope to address further under the heading of ‘Psychological Zen’, but in brief I want to be aware of the potential of Zen (self-)practice to add to the transfer of social problems on to the individual, by over-emphasising the need for self-improvement. At the same time, while we remain alone - and Zen need not be overly solitary - the reformulation of the self so that it is detached from desire and, if not responsibility, then unnecessary worry, is surely a positive step against the encroachment of capitalism on the individual psyche; and if the self is further obscured in favour of undifferentiated compassion, is that not a good basis for communal solidarity?
The end of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow proposes a refocusing of Zen on the ethical possibilities of self-critique; while I would still maintain a necessary distance between the philosophy of no-mind and the politics of rationality, what bridges the personal and the political is of course the non-dual (in respect of such boundaries) character of ethics. Perhaps the last act of the self is to turn inwards and outwards, to reflect on both the limits of individuality and the demands of social solidarity; to be “at once reclusive in the sense of wholeheartedly exploring interiority yet being socially engaged, transcendent in going beyond the mundane, and trans-descendent in returning to implications in the everyday world”. The self, not being merely a subject of neoliberal karma, becomes truly individual.
"A simple rule: every day be sure to wake" - ‘Save Your Generation’
"Upon retiring, sleep as if you have entered your last sleep. Upon awakening, leave your bed behind you instantly as if you had cast away of pair of old shoes." - Soyen Shaku, from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
Chequerboard - ‘A Field of Night’ from The Unfolding
I haven’t given this album enough time this year (yet). Beautiful, mesmerising soundscapes, constructed equally out of digital/electronic asceticism and analogue/traditional richness. Organic and empty. (Useless words.)
Enter Chinese Communist Party sanctioned Tulkus and the mess with Falungong.
Not quite sure what you’re getting at, but I’m talking about separating Zen philosophy from politics in the context of a non-totalitarian society with private, individual freedoms and a functioning public sphere. But, yeah, there is a lot of stuff (in Zen Skin, Zen Marrow) about Zen and Japan during World War II that is important to consider as well. It’s worth remembering however that state control of religion, as much as religious influence on official politics, was the worldwide norm until relatively recently.
In the last post I tried to separate Zen from an instrumental form, although it’s hard to see how pursuing any activity can cease to be ‘instrumental’, in the sense that one still expects to get something out of it. The closest I can get is considering Zen as a ‘practice’ which has no conscious purpose other than itself. Which is used in Zen Skin, Zen Marrow to connect it to environmentalism (as, presumably, an indirect purpose):
"Another important element for understanding Zen’s relation to contemporary environmental issues [the first being its counter-anthropocentric principles] […] is that practitioners are motivated to follow a realization-based, or a unity of ends and means - rather than an instrumental, or means leading to an end - attitude and approach to their training. Moreover, pantheistic implications that suggest that the whole world is contained in a speck of dust provide the basis for the imperative that, if one person practices zazen for a single instant, the effects continue to reverberate and to help redeem karma throughout the entire universe [a notion expressed in Dogen’s ‘Bendo-wa’ lecture in the Shobogenzo, which I personally think is ridiculous, although on a more practical level I do believe that the idea of ‘karma’ as the interdependence - and thus inseparability - of all things is of essential usefulness to environmentalism].
The combined impact of these doctrines is to inspire those working for ecological reform not to be overwhelmed and demoralized by the extent of the problems faced. Instead, they dedicate their efforts to accomplishing seemingly small or insignificant tasks here and now while having the determination to prevail and the faith that these activities will eventually have a greater, transformative impact on the whole society. Reformers can learn from monks, who spend countless hours cooking or cleaning the grounds or raking the garden, and can view each and every task, no matter how menial or seemingly trivial, not simply as a means to an end, which is frustrating if the final goal seems remote or unattainable. Rather, the tasks are seen as ends in themselves to be celebrated as eminently worthwhile, which paradoxically enhances their possible benefit for the future.”
Which is all well and good, but one of the main environmentalist critiques at the moment is that the emphasis on ‘small things’ (recycling cans, changing light bulbs) is totally insufficient when faced with the existential threat of climate change; that it’s had its chance to change people’s attitudes and has either ground to a halt or is actively doing harm by lulling people into a false sense of activity while leaving the major issues about consumption and distribution untouched. I would return to my argument that there is (and ought to be) a disjunct between Zen philosophy and non-Zen politics, in this case of environmentalism (which at base necessitates, at least in my opinion, the revolutionary transformation of society and economics, as in socialism). On the other hand, the practice of each can reflect the other, and there is perhaps something more in Zen non-existence and non-attachment that can be useful in promoting the change of fundamental attitudes about consumerism and human living.
My tldr reading of that is: ‘an ability to affirm spiritual solace in incompleteness allows zen to fill some of the holes instrumental reason will always leave.’ which I really like!
ha, I like the idea of a “tldr reading”, it’s practically Zen in itself. but that’s a very good summary, almost perfect in that I can’t think of a way to complicate it further… except “spiritual solace” is a phrase I would avoid, not just because of the ‘spiritual’ part but also because ‘solace’ is a concept that I don’t think really fits with Zen, at least not entirely. Solace implies a refuge from the rest of the world, and I don’t think it can work like that or is meant to - if I feel despair (or hurt or anomie or any variation on all-encompassing suffering), I feel despair, and Zen doesn’t stop that in that moment (usually), no more than simply telling anyone life is meaningless would get them to stop caring about it. Instead it’s more about creating a base in ‘incompleteness’ so that the lows don’t hit too hard, or too much - insofar as it is about something or has an aim, because the other problem with the idea of ‘solace’ is that it turns Zen itself into an instrumental form of, if not reason, then unreason (which is probably worse).
Another aspect of the (post)modern philosophical approaches to Zen outlined in Zen Skin, Zen Marrow that I think would appeal to the Tumblr milieu (at least, it did to me) is this account of Nishitani’s reframing of a traditional Buddhist eschatology:
"the scientific and/or apocalyptic possibility is understood as the existential actuality of a here-and-now encounter with the transformative experience of the great doubt/death, that is, profound anxiety leading to genuine self-discovering following the demise of the ordinary ego"
which is very wordy and I’d certainly need to read the original argument in more detail to get any more out of it, but to me it seems to be echoing a lot of current Internet theory about technology and the self, or even just the particular existential anxiety of the current moment. I don’t want to get sucked into mysticism, but I’m certainly not above transcendence…
Or, as perhaps more bluntly put:
"Thus, Nishitani has recast and reversed that modernity seems to pose - can the seemingly archaic naturalistic outlook of Zen survive in an industrialized world? - by asking: Will technological culture itself endure without the metanoesis, or profound conversion or transformation, uniquely expressed in Zen’s view of absolute nothingness?"
"Besides contrasting Western Being with Eastern Nothingness, in his later writings Nishida also at times makes a broad distinction between a Western “logic of things” and an Eastern “logic of the heart-mind (kokoro).” While Western thought tends to begin with an objective logic of substances (be these physical or mental), he claims that in Buddhism one can find the germ of a logic of the heart-mind, even if traditionally this remained largely at the level of an expression of personal experience rather than being fully developed into a genuinely philosophical logic (see Nishida 1964, 356). (Scholars of Buddhism may want to argue that it was Nishida’s own knowledge of Buddhism that remained too much at the level of personal experience, rather than the sophisticated teachings of the Mâdhyamaka, Yogâchâra, Tiantai, and Huayan traditions of Mahâyâna philosophy.)”
Again, following on from this post, the above is an obviously simplified statement of a view I don’t wholly agree or disagree with. Zen Skin, Zen Marrow starts off with a discussion of Arthur Koestler’s The Lotus and the Robot, a fascinating and kind of terrible book in which a European intellectual (and a “controversial, side-changing” one at that) goes to India and Japan in the 1950s and makes some pretty strong criticisms based on his experience and reading. This description in Zen Skin, Zen Marrow is a good summary of the conflicting aspects:
"The sense of disillusionment and disgust in Koestler’s book, his only major work dealing with Zen, seems like a throwback to unrepentant Orientalists whose agenda it was to turn Asian religious thought into disreputable clichés. But at the same time, to his credit, Koestler presciently anticipated and articulated nearly all of the main rebuttals to TZN [the Traditional Zen Narrative, acronym used by the author] provided by HCC [Historical and Cultural Criticism] on the issues of language, ritualism and societal affairs"
I went back and read a couple of the chapters on Zen in The Lotus and the Robot and while the tone is not particularly pleasant, and the criticisms while robust also seem to contain something of a wilful blindness when seen from an appreciation of non-dualist philosophy (and as can be seen from the title of that book and others, Koestler loved using binary opposites) it’s not wholly unfair at base and depends really on negotiating between social and cultural values towards appreciating Zen in a lucid context. So yes, Zen can degenerate into irrational silliness that’s not particularly socially useful or even harmful, but (as he recognises with the symbiotic nature of its origin to Confucianism) those same qualities may have or have had their uses.
My personal attraction to Zen stems, I’m pretty sure, from a dissatisfaction with the incompleteness of intellectual pursuit in a (Western) framework of science and philosophy, and even the humanities and arts as a bridge between the two. There is no system which will answer all our questions, and perhaps similarly to the way one is - supposedly, traditionally - led to question capitalist economics, maybe that is because the whole nature of our ‘systems’ is flawed? Critical thinking, despite the exhortations of our educators and business leaders who tout its material ends, manifestly does not bring happiness and rather tends to decrease it whenever we face a failure to rationally reorganise our lives and the world. Art can be a solution for some, hedonism for others, but what for the intellectual depressive and innate conservative who just wants to break the chain of thought without breaking anything else?
All of which is to say, in a rather incomplete fashion, that when I see such a statement as “in Buddhism one can find the germ of a logic of the heart-mind, even if traditionally this remained largely at the level of an expression of personal experience rather than being fully developed into a genuinely philosophical logic” I am both sceptical of and drawn towards it. I’m sceptical of a notion such as ‘heart-mind’, to start with, because I’m still too rationalist; yet at the same time I don’t want to see the ideas of Zen “fully developed into a genuinely philosophical logic” - in large part I reckon because my personality, which to use the Myers-Brigg typology (itself an unscientific, effectively anti-rationalist but deeply appealing ‘system’ that I find pragmatically useful) begins with the introverted intuition of ideas, proceeds to an outward facing rationality, followed only then by (introverted) feelings and (extrovert) sensory logic - because I need to keep it outside that sphere, free from its chains.
From a very good piece by Diarmuid Ferriter on the history of the Irish Volunteers from 1913 through the 1916 Rising to the War of Independence - the description resonated with me when reading it and it came to mind again while writing the previous post (we are all enmeshed to an extent, I guess it depends on how much we regard ourselves as idealists).
"Even if we grant that Marx’s thought touches the problem of religion at some depth, it is hard to sustain the claim that he understood its true foundations correctly. Matters like the meaning of life and death, or the impermanence of all things, simply cannot be reduced without remainder to a matter of economic self-alienation. These are questions of much broader and deeper reach, indeed questions essential for human being.
The problem expressed in the term “all is suffering” is a good example. It is clearly much more than a matter of the socio-historical suffering of human individuals; it belongs essentially to the way of being of all things in the world. The problem of human suffering is a problem of the suffering of the human being as “being-in-the-world,” too profound a matter to be alleviated merely by removing socio-historical suffering. It has to do with a basic mode of human being that also serves as the foundation for the pleasure, or the freedom from suffering and pleasure, that we oppose to suffering.”
So arising out of Zen Skin, Zen Marrow*, a book I picked up just because it looked interesting and seemed to be discussing the moral and political dimensions of Zen (which rarely happens from within the movement), I’ve now discovered a movement in Japanese academic philosophy - the Kyoto School - which applied Buddhist and Zen ideas to Western existentialism (or, perhaps more importantly, its immediate precursors; and also vice versa). That is, I’ve always seen the connection or resemblance between Western postmodern thought and Buddhist non-dualism, and perhaps rather more in the cultural than rigidly philosophical sense; this is, however, a series of Japanese thinkers before and after the Second World War applying ‘Eastern’ thought to Nietzsche and Heidegger (and yes, there are obvious, doubly compounded political issues with that). So it’s both a little unexpected and well out of my depth.
Nishitani appears to be chiefly a writer on religion, from this kind of Buddhist-existential perspective (his main work is titled Religion and Nothingness) and the quote above is from a brief appendix to a work I’ve not been able to give more than a cursory look over, but which does intrigue me (I’ve read quite a bit about Nietzsche and nihilism in, of all places, a book called James Joyce’s Negations, but I haven’t read Nietzsche himself yet - although he is in an existentialism reader I have on my shelf; Nietzsche also features prominently at the start of Gellner’s The Psychoanalytic Movement). I’m unsure as to how enthusiastically I would agree with the above: if put bluntly, it seems basically accurate; yet I’m wary of taking on too much the perspective that materialism does not deal sufficiently with human life, given that its non-material existence has no rational basis (hence my general distrust of spiritualism)**.
Yet at the same time it is essentially my position on the limitations of political thought as applied to individual psychology, and also of the seemingly necessary disjunct between the philosophy of Zen and the politics of socialism: not that they necessarily contradict each other, but that it is a category error to force them together. Suffering and oppression are not the same thing; it doubtless requires a certain privilege to be able to focus on the former, although oppression enhances suffering and is necessarily one of its (myriad) causes. To say, however, that there is an essential problem with the human condition is not to abandon socialism, unless it is of the very dogmatic Marxist kind that sees every aspect of social progress as flowing scientifically from the rearrangement of economic relationships. It may be more strongly heretical - perhaps from both perspectives, the rationalist socialist and the transcendent Zen - but more and more I wonder if better self-understanding is not an essential, or at least important, prerequisite for collective action? (And how do I distinguish that from a simple truism that I’m too introvert to have shared before?)
*if that seems an obvious echo, or complement, of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones- a very good collection of stories and koans - it’s because it is: referring to the sequence of four transmissions passed on by Bodhidharma to his disciples, in decreasing order of superficiality from ‘skin’ to ‘marrow’ with ‘flesh’ and ‘bones’ being the intermediate levels, although it is argued (naturally) that such a value judgement is not meant to be taken as an absolute.
** though thinking back on it, Marx - or ‘Young Marx’ at least - does address this issue quite directly in Theses on Feuerbach, arguing for a kind of materialism that is on the verge of non-dualism in folding together all aspects of human life, if still primarily concerned with removing the last vestiges of idealism from that as a philosophical project.
I finally got round listening to the second LP from my newly purchased (second-hand) copy of London Calling and, as I had hoped, it was much cleaner. Obviously whoever owned it before didn’t often play it all the way through, which isn’t too surprising as I know I’m a lot more familiar with the songs in the first half. And when I went back and properly cleaned the first LP (which I really should have done to start with, for the sake of my stylus if nothing else), it did noticeably help.
The thought had occurred to me, however, that record hiss is probably one of the most primary signifiers of vinyl’s physicality - not to over-romanticise it. In fact it’s not something I’ve encountered much or at all, simply because I don’t have that many ‘old’ second-hand records - the only one of similar vintage is a copy of The Undertones, or Patti Smith’s Easter, neither of which seem much overplayed in the way London Calling probably invites naturally. It’s interesting to experience nonetheless, from the strongly audible crackling as soon as the needle hits the record (instead of the normal muted stutter) to the soft fuzz surrounding the opening chords of ‘London Calling’ (which however is quickly overpowered by its booming rhythm) or to hear the quiet beginnings of ‘Jimmy Jazz’ suddenly filled with extraneous noise. It may all be an illusion, but I frequently find that vinyl makes me listen to music with more depth and attention.
Beautiful piece and also used as the theme tune to Sunday Miscellany on RTÉ Radio One.
omg, so many feels.
also imbued with a kind of secular religiosity for me - and I’m guessing quite a lot of other Irish people - as we used to listen to it over breakfast before going to church on Sunday mornings. it has a mix of processional and exciting qualities which is probably why it was chosen for the show - readying people to do battle with God (through the medium of humanist stories)?
“Life, even though it is the totality of life, is not something wherein death is transformed and manifests as life. It is simply our letting go, from start to finish, of the notion of our ‘possessing’ life.”—
I’ve read the first chapter/lecture, Bendo-wa or ‘A Discourse on Doing One’s Utmost in Practicing the Way of the Buddha’, which isn’t supposed to be too difficult and I did find quite interesting. Although while there are some nice literary flourishes, I found the parts that got too deep into the spiritual mysticism of Buddhism - even as a metaphor for the aims of Zen - to be rather alienating, whereas the parts that did connect with me were essentially encapsulations of points I already know and understand reasonably well. As in, not to be prideful or arrogant in my knowledge (and thus to miss one of the chief points of that lecture), but if it has something particularly new to teach me I’m missing it - which I recognise is likely a problem with(in) me, in that I haven’t quite found the context in which my questions or confusions about Zen can be articulated. That is, if they need to be articulated at all. The Bendo-wa contains a rather forceful anti-scholastic passage, which entails a certain cognitive dissonance when reading the text:
"Scholars who go about counting up words are not adequate to serve as teachers and guides … you should keep in mind that even though, from the first, we are in no way lacking in unsurpassed enlightenment and ever have it available to us for our delight and use, we cannot believe this, and so we become habituated to needlessly giving rise to discriminatory thoughts and personal opinions, chasing after these as if they were something real and, stumbling, we sadly fall off the Great Path. By our relying on these thoughts and opinions, many and varied are the illusory ‘flowers in the sky’ that we create."
And of course the whole thrust of the lecture is the emphasis on sitting meditation (zazen), so I should try and get back to that while also reading further on in the collection. I chose this one, Sesshin Sessho, at random, or rather because the title appealed to me - and what was refreshing about it was that it contained a critique of another Zen teacher, Daie, apparently a founder of the Rinzai school which emphasises the importance of studying koans to break the attachment to logical thought. On the surface a lot of Dogen’s argument seems to be taking a somewhat tendentious and literal approach to Daie’s message, but the idea of absolute non-duality of mind and body does make sense (from a Buddhist perspective, that is - it is rather complicated, but not I think impossible, to translate that into a rationalist worldview by admitting the limitations of Cartesian philosophy).
What I like about the above quote is that it impacts on a pretty key issue for me, which is the everyday experience of Zen. What is the aim, if indeed it can be understood as an end in itself (because what else is there?), of non-attachment and being free from desire and suffering; and how does one move, from the attainment of that state, back into actual relations with other persons and the world? Here it is made clear that, in the text, ‘death’ refers to ‘letting go of the false self’, so the statement is in a way tautological - but it serves as a useful reminder that such a ‘letting go’ is meant to be compatible with living, as long as you remove yourself from dualistic notions of difference. Life, as lived by Buddhists, does not spring from such a state, but subsists in it. So perhaps as in the metaphor of boiling water for rice one simply lets it be, having applied sufficient heat, until it reaches its appropriate conclusion.
Going to start reading the Shobogenzo (actually, already have - chapter pdfs here). I made the decision shortly before making dinner and saw something that part of Dogen’s advice is about cooking, so naturally I tried to Google that, and came up with this:
"In the 13th century, Japanese Zen master Dogen wrote Instructions for the Tenzo, or head cook. In examining the manners and methods of preparing a meal at the Monastery, he reveals how to “cook”—or refine—your whole life. In one such instruction, he says to “take care of [the ingredients] as your own eyes.” In another: “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life.” How do we cultivate the mind that cares as deeply for an“ordinary” object as it does for its very own eyes and life “ordinary” object as it does for its very own eyes and life?"
The phrase “When you boil rice, know that the water is your own life”, while I’m sure has profound spiritual significance, is also kinda terrifying.
Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to a More Meaningful Life
Zen Skin, Zen Marrow: Will the Real Zen Buddhism Please Stand Up?
Terrible Fate: Ethnic Cleansing in the Making of Modern Europe
plus I’m still currently reading Zen Culture and The Psychoanalytic Movement
I wanted to pick up some fiction as light (or otherwise) relief, but nothing particularly grabbed me. I saw the follow-up to Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, but as much as I liked that book, I baulked at the idea of returning to similar themes and content so soon.
“Human desires are the pitfalls of life. Wise scholars take delight in music and painting, to take the place of the different desires. Since you are of the right type, you should keep on and not give up.”—
The Chinese Theory of Art: Translations from the Masters of Chinese Art
I think I found the right book for, if not 'Buddhism for INTJs', then at least ‘Buddhist-influenced aesthetics for INTJs’.
(One might add ‘books’ to the list above, but I reckon they’re all too human…)
Swing Kids - ‘El Camino Car Crash’ from Discography (1997)
potential parallels between the evolution of emo and zen, #1:
"In the Ryoan-ji garden, the Heian aesthetic concept of aware, the thought that beauty must die, has been replaced by the Zen idea of yūgen, whicn means, among other things, profound suggestiveness, a reduction to only those elements in a creative work that move the spirit, without the slightest concession to prettiness or ornament.”
in other words, moving from an approach that expanded the emotional content and context of hardcore music (the Rites of Spring/Moss Icon axis) the more chaotic and intensive movement of 90s emo condensed it down to short bursts that were not only more ascetic and/or minimalist by comparison, but also more vigorously expressive in the moment.
(I do like my “concessions to prettiness”, however, and will admit they are still present here in the more melodic parts - I’ll leave it up to someone else to propose another song that more purely expresses the idea)