Sunday, June 10, 2007

Buddhist and Hindu postmodernism

I have long thought that much of modern and postmodern thinking can be categorized as "Hindu" or "Buddhist," depending on whether or not it allows the possibility of transcendence. Of course taken historically or philosophically that is not an easy question, and I think it is quite clear that many forms of Buddhism do allow for transcendance. I think the location of the Buddha's enlightenment at the moment of seeing the morning star figures this "going beyond." So when I use the rubrics "Hindu" and "Buddhist" I do not intend the terms literally. Rather, I mean that modernism and after divides fairly well into tough-minded cultures of suspicion, avid to dissolve or deconstruct all experiences of a beyond into sexual, political, economic, or gender interests, and tender-minded cultures of mysticism and ecstasy that believe in the reality of those moments of flight into joy surpassing our worldly understanding. Psychoanalytic and Marxist culture criticism fall into the former category, most of the counterculture and New Age (e.g., Jeff Kripal's Esalen, the sixties, etc.) into the second.

Where does postmodernism lie? I think that "officially" postmodernism is "Buddhist;" it wishes to eliminate anything essential and allow only the webs of difference (and consequent deferral) that most of its cannonical texts describe. In my usage, postmodernism tries to dissolve World 3 culture, i.e., culture that points toward experiences of enlightenment, into World 1, the realm of suffering (duhkha). But (in my view inevitably) postmodernist thought finds itself confronting moments reached ostensibly through its own deconstructive methods where the beyond breaks through, or at least beckons. Several of these occur in the thought of Jacques Lacan, which I think is why Derrida attacked him so severely. The structure of postmodern or poststructural thinking rests on a grid of oppositions that fail to capture any essential "self" in our material or intellectual worlds. In (real) Buddhist terms, there is a "failure to find" (anupalabh-) any permanent or self-subsiding entity there. Lacan's concepts of "the real" and "jouissance" raise the posibility of a transcendence that cannot be named or found. Transgressive within the patriarchal repression that has arisen within postmodernism Lacan's ideas suggest to me the relationship between prakrti and purusa in the Samkhya Karika. The nay-saying of self reached by prakrti (nasmi na me naham) points with overwhelming force at the seeing and I-ness that prakrti knows with all her being she is not. Lacan's "real" seems to me to be like this, something we can never know, and that we know more and more fully that we cannot know as we become wiser. On the other hand, the more sharp becomes our knowledge the greater becomes the bliss that rises from this understanding. Thus the real and jouissance are inextricably connected.

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