Healing Deconstruction: Postmodern Thought in Buddhism and Christianity
Edited by David Loy. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996. 120 pp.
Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) 267-278
reviewed by Mark D. Wood Virginia Commonwealth University
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.--Karl Marx, Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach
Healing Deconstruction, edited by David Loy, is a collection of essays which are situated by and elaborate the intersection of radical Christian, Buddhist, and deconstructionist discourses. With the exception of "Mindfulness of the Selves" by Morny Joy, all of these essays were first presented at the Fourth International Buddhist-Christian Dialogue conference in Boston in 1992. While each author addresses different aspects of problems associated with suffering, the self, language, and healing, they share certain poststructuralist sensibilities in common and, with the exception of Robert Magliola, share a commitment to developing "a more holistic praxis " (p. 2). The title of this volume is, says Loy, "intentionally ambiguous. On the one side, it emphasizes the healing possibilities of deconstruction in a field where the deconstructive turn has too often been understood reductively" and on the other, it "refers to the potential healing power of this dialogue for deconstruction itself, whose critique of logocentrism had led to a rupture within contemporary thought" (ibid.). 1 The authors both affirm "the liberating and healing potential of de-essentialized concepts and images, language, bodies and symbols" and maintain "that actually realizing this healing potential requires a move from theorizing to practice, for only that can truly deconstruct the self" (p. 10).
Chief among the problems they identify as presenting barriers to developing a new way of relating to the world and a new self are dualistic thinking and the notion of the autonomous self. Each of the authors contributes to comprehending the philosophical factors that foster the creation of these barriers and what may be done philosophically to dismantle them. Moreover, Philippa Berry, Joy, and Magliola not only deploy Christian, Buddhist, deconstructionist, and feminist tactics to dismantle these barriers, they also articulate alternative modes of relating to the world.
Creating new ways of relating to the world and new senses of self are clearly in order. Profit-driven global development, enforced by U.S. directed, taxpayer financed military power, is not only fostering the growth of illiteracy, homelessness, poverty, slave labor, and starvation for hundreds of millions of persons worldwide it is also threatening the biological basis of life. To make matters worse, revolutions in communication, transportation, and weapons systems have accelerated the rate at which these processes are developing around the world. The left used to say: either socialism or barbarism. Today we might say, either a way of life or death. In light of the fact that, as Joy indicates, "[r]acism, sexism, and classism still pervade our social structures in ways that damage the lives of billions of people"; it is clear that we need "a new way of relating to the world: a different sense of self" (pp. 71, 97). It is no exaggeration to claim that we must build an alternative mode of being and becoming to that which presently exists in order to ensure that all human beings are able to enjoy the rich abundance of life. The authors in Healing Deconstruction make diverse contributions to this end and provocatively stimulate our thinking about how we might best create an alternative mode of human existence.
Their contributions suffer, however, from problems which are, among other things, symptomatic of the state of critical theory and politics as we begin the twenty-first century. With the triumph of global capitalism and the retrenchment of the political right, critical theory and politics, particularly in their academic manifestations, have in large measure retreated from the radical agendas that characterized political movements in the 1960s. Whereas anticolonial, civil rights, antiracist, feminist, indigenous, environmental, and working class organizations and movements sought to transform existing institutions in order to insure universal access to social, political, and economic resources, most liberals and many who identify themselves as left have abandoned this project in favor of individual resistance to local oppression, self-transformation, and the affirmation of difference. Poststructuralism facilitated this transition by deconstructing the revolutionary Enlightenment assumptions regarding human nature, democracy, and rights which provided the ideological banner under which the former movements were advanced. The essays on Healing Deconstruction express the latter politics and, I will argue, helpfully expose the inadequacy of this position to aid the work of building a democratic, just, and humane global society.
The following constitute the principal limitations of their work. First, by making the transformation of the self the primary, if not sole, prerequisite for the creation of a "new way of relating to the world," these authors reduce this project to a matter of individual conversion or, in secular terms, psychotherapy. Second, each author theorizes suffering as being primarily, if not entirely, an effect of discursive, cognitive, and especially philosophical conditions of existence. In doing so, they theorize suffering in fundamentally idealist terms. Suffering is caused, for example, by dualistic thinking, the metaphysics of presence, and the idea of the autonomous self. Third, and closely related to the second limitation, as a result of their assumptions regarding the discursive, cognitive, and philosophical causes of suffering, none of the authors investigates the role that particular institutions and structures may play in terms of causing people to suffer today. In short, their position is idealist and ahistorical. For these authors, suffering and healing have been and forever remain essentially epistemological, rather than sociological, problems. Fourth, and finally, I would suggest that these limitations characterize a mode of academic intellectual practice that remains alienated from most, especially working class, "selves." Ensconced like secular monks in close-knit circles of professional associations, intellectuals rarely connect their scholarship and pedagogy to the needs and concerns of "selves" who suffer not from "dualism," the idea of the "autonomous self," belief in "inherent existence," or a conception of "healing as holism," but rather from the absence of empowering conditions of labor and life. Unless academic intellectuals working to develop a more "holistic praxis " engage with life beyond the academy, their work will at most result in absolution therapy for middle-class scholars, while those who make the luxuries of reading and writing philosophy possible will continue to suffer. In what follows I elaborate on these limitations and suggest an alternative approach to healing.
I. Transforming the Self or Politics as Therapy
With the exception of Magliola, all of the authors identify dualistic thinking and the autonomous self as principal causes of suffering and barriers that must be overcome to heal a wounded world. Each of the authors elaborates strategies for deconstructing dualistic thinking and the autonomous self; Berry, Joy, and Magliola also suggest how to think self and world differently. Morny Joy begins her essay, "Mindfulness of the Selves: Therapeutic Interventions in a Time of Dis-solution," by describing the catastrophic nature of human suffering in the world today and then suggests that the notion of the "autonomous self that has reigned as the principal paradigm of Western individualism since the Enlightenment" has played and presently plays a key role in generating these problems (p. 71). She focuses on the problems facing women and on how the fight for women's rights can be advanced without reproducing this principal paradigm. She argues that the Buddhist "principle of pratitya-samutpada, variously translated as dependent co-arising, mutual dependent causation, dependent origination, conditioned co-production or genesis" may provide a solution to this problem as it provides a way to conceptualize the "self" as existing but only through its relationships with other relationally constituted selves (p. 78).
Among the authors in this volume, Joy is the most explicitly concerned with how to build institutions and social relations that would practically support the flourishing of relational selves. Thus, while she draws from French, Ecological, and Buddhist feminists to develop this concept, Joy admits that the question of how to build a society that would support and be supported by the existence of relational or eco-selves remains largely unaddressed; as far as the French feminists are concerned, "there is no clear indication of how the world could actually be changed" (p. 90). Joy concludes her essay by describing the theory and practice developed by black feminist Bell Hooks as a provisional response to the problem of linking individual and institutional change. A practicing Buddhist, Hooks, notes Joy, is committed to "an education which honors both the personal and the social dimensions, both theory and practice," "an agenda of personal as well as social reform," and a "spiritual practice" that is able to transform the "racist self" (pp. 91, 92, 93). Hooks provides, in other words, a model for moving forward toward changing the self and the world.
Joy's conclusion reveals, however, a failure to consider models of transformation that involve engagement with movements for social, political, economic, and environmental justice.
Hooks is one of the principle theoretical architects of social change as personal transformation. She reduces the political project of reorganizing institutions in favor of the personal task of transforming the self by, for example, loving blackness, daily mindfulness, truth-telling, and raising awareness. As much as, if not more than, any other single theorist, Hooks has dedicated herself to reversing the 1960s feminist rallying cry that the "personal is political," a theoretical claim that demanded that such areas of life as sexuality, domestic labor, and gender relations be subjected to political analysis and reorganization. For Hooks, however, the "political is only personal." Indeed, she even goes so far as to argue, in a manner not unlike arguments made by Derrida, that the struggle for power is as "corrosive" as the struggle to maintain oppressive social relations. 2 In Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (1991), she correctly indicates that civil rights and black power movements understood the path to liberation in terms of "the degree to which black people gained equal access to material opportunities and privileges available to whites--jobs, housing, schooling, etc." (p. 15). This path was, according to Hooks, a dead-end because the criteria black activists used to measure the success of their efforts "imitate[d] the behavior, lifestyles and most importantly the values and consciousness of white colonizers" (ibid.). Apparently Americans socially categorized as "black" do not value jobs, housing, and schooling--a fact that proves exceedingly convenient for white politicians seeking to cut funding for programs and policies that support these "white" values. According to Hooks, loving blackness does not mean struggling for "material opportunities and privileges available to whites." Rather it means engaging in personal acts that express concrete relational love (pp. 25-35).
Transforming institutions and the "self" are, of course, intrinsically related to each other. You cannot transform one without transforming the other. If it is the case, as I believe that it is, that "the self" produces and is more profoundly a product of institutionalized social, political, and economic relations, then transforming the self requires transforming these relations. This does not mean abandoning the work of criticizing different conceptions of the self. Rather it means exposing the linkages between different conceptions of the self and the practical relations out of which the former develop so that we may acquire a better understanding of what must be done to build a society in which, for example, "humanitarian selves" would flourish naturally.
II. Idealism Run Amuck
Unfortunately, none of the authors in this volume investigates the connections between ideas and institutions. In addition to the problem of formulating the work of healing as primarily a matter of self- transformation, each of these authors assumes that suffering is primarily, if not solely, caused by ideas. In "Idolatry and Inherent Existence," Roger Corless suggests that the Christian notion of idolatry and the Buddhist notion of inherent existence designate a tendency among those seeking salvation to relate to images and concepts of ultimate reality as if they were the "thing-in-itself." We mistake "the fundamental openness and transparency (emptiness, sunyata ) of reality by filling it with entities having inherent existence (svabh a va), thus blocking the path to liberation" (p. 23). The problem lies not in the existence of images and concepts but rather our tendency to relate to them in a reified manner. We become attached to images and concepts and in so being, we suffer. We worship a concept of God rather than the God beyond all concepts. For Corless, salvation/liberation is attained not by denying the existence of images and concepts. What is required is to affirm the provisional ontological status of images/concepts as "useful means" by which images/concepts are both transcended and yet remain what they are.
In "Dead Words, Living Words, and Healing Words: The Disseminations of Dogen and Eckhart," Loy continues the deconstructive work initiated by Corless. Drawing from John D. Caputo's essay, "Mysticism and Transgression: Derrida and Meister Eckhart," Loy notes that Derrida distinguishes between negative theology and deconstruction by arguing that whereas the via negativa of negative theology maintains the existence of "God beyond God," deconstruction disseminates this "beyond" within the differential play of signification. In concert with Caputo, Loy asserts that difference " un settles" the God-question "by showing that any debate about the existence of God is beset . . . by their inevitable recourse to binary pairs which cannot be made to stick" (p. 34). The task of healing requires unsettling not only the God-question, but also, says Loy--and as importantly--our commonsense, largely unconscious, ontological presuppositions.
These presuppositions are unified by a belief that entities, including and especially the self, are not subject to impermanence. Inasmuch as our belief in the existence of a self that remains the same throughout time causes us to suffer, deconstructing this belief "can heal us by revealing a less dualistic way not only of understanding but of experiencing the relation between ourselves and the supposedly objective world" (p. 35). Revealing a less dualistic way of experiencing the relationship between ourselves and the world does not so much signify mystical unification of the self and world as it does signify a shift in the very way in which we relate to words/worlds. Says Loy: "if we do not dualize between world and word (and Dogen shows us we do not need to dualize between them), then we can experience the Buddha-dharma--our own 'empty' nature--presencing (but not self- presencing: each manifests the whole universe) and playing in each" (p. 44). We do not shift from dead words/worlds to no words/worlds but rather from dead to living words/worlds. Following Caputo's lead, Loy discloses a similar subversion of dualistic formulations in the mystical ruminations of Meister Eckhart. The "deconstruction of dualisms that we find in these religious innovators," says Loy, "can help to free us from our own 'mind-forg'd manacles' (as Blake put it), from chains of our own making (the Zen metaphor)" (p. 49).
Loy's position regarding the problematic nature of dualistic thinking is shared by Corless, Joy, and Berry. In "Sky-dancing at the Boundaries of Western Thought: Feminist Theory and the Limits of Deconstruction," Berry says her aim "is to explore the implications for Western spirituality and religion of certain recurring figures or tropes which occur within deconstruction in particular and in postmodern thought in general: tropes which are gendered feminine" (p. 53). She explores the work of French feminists Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous, and Luce Irigaray in order to forge a beyond that is beyond what Foucault calls the "end of man," that is, beyond the metaphysics that have sustained the development and maintenance of oppressive relations (p. 53).
Joy's work is, as indicated above, the most empirically grounded in this volume. For Joy, the ethical task of deconstructing the Western notion of the autonomous self involves subverting "essentialist configurations of identity" and building a relational conception of the self (ibid.). While Joy appreciates the importance of creating practical relations that support this conception of the self more than any of the other authors, she nevertheless remains focused on changing how we see and think about the world. Buddhism is valuable, she says, because it makes it possible for us to develop "a new vision [emphasis added] of things" and "the very nature of our perception [emphasis added] of the world by the constant practice of daily mindfulness" (pp. 79, 89).
There is, however, no necessary relationship between altering our mental perceptions and transforming the objective arrangement of "things" and "people" in the world (e.g., the unequal distribution of privileges, property, and power). In making this point, I assume a philosophical position that is not shared by the authors of Healing Deconstruction: namely, that there is a difference between the way we see, represent, imagine, talk, and write about reality and reality in itself. In short, I assume that being and consciousness, subjectivity and objectivity, discursive and extra-discursive conditions of existence are linked to and yet fundamentally non-identical with each other. The world is heterogeneous to our sensually derived/mentally constructed ideas about the world. Deconstruction renders the materialist presupposition that there is a difference between the world and ideas about the world indeterminable, and in so doing renders the project of discerning the nature of this difference and developing more accurate knowledge about the world through empirical research, theoretical analysis, and practical engagement unintelligible.
With the exception of Joy, the authors in this volume either explicitly reduce extra-subjective to subjective conditions of existence or simply assume the latter encompasses the former in what amounts to a totalizing anthropomorphism of a most embarrassing kind. Thus, while they are critical of anthropomorphism, they nevertheless collapse objective into subjective conditions of existence. Loy argues that deconstruction and Buddhism "can heal us by revealing a less dualistic way not only of understanding but of experiencing the relation between ourselves and the supposedly [emphasis added] objective world" (ibid.). Hui-neng, Dogen, and Eckhart demonstrate that "if we do not dualize between world and word (and Dogen shows us we do not need to dualize between them), then we can experience the Buddha-dharma--our own 'empty' nature--presencing (but not self- presencing: each manifests the whole universe) and playing in each" (p. 44). "For Buddhism, and apparently for Eckhart as well, the most important dualism that needs to be deconstructed is that between myself 'inside' and the rest of the world 'outside'" (p. 49). Loy even goes so far as to claim that "the infinite set of differential traces that constitute each of us is nothing less than the whole universe" (p. 35). In claiming as much, Loy radically extends the solipsistic claim made by those pop-music icons who declared "we are the world." The world and words are indistinguishable. In this way, the relationship between theory and practice, that is, between developing ideas that adequately and accurately represent social and natural patterns of determination, is quite easily solved by the stroke of a pen (or keyboard) by claiming and/or assuming that our ideas about the world are in reality (the same as) the world.
But is it really the case that words, ideas, and concepts are the cause of suffering? Are the Ogoni fighting to protect their land from Shell Oil destructive operations in Nigeria, African Americans contesting police brutality in New York City, and women struggling to improve their lives in El Salvador ultimately struggling against the wrong enemy? Is their tendency to think dualistically and believe in the autonomous self as the root source of the problems they confront? Were the bombs that rained on Yugoslavia, killing thousands of citizens, a consequence of thinking according to deadened categories, metaphysical binaries, and "mind-forg'd manacles?" Perhaps. But the links between these ways of thinking and social, and political, economic, and military forces that are so obviously implicated in human suffering must be demonstrated and not merely asserted or assumed. Not surprisingly, as I detail below, the authors in this work do not clarify these linkages as their projects remain within the comfortable limits of philosophy alone. 3 To paraphrase Marx, we might say that these "[y]oung-[anti-]Hegelian ideologists, in spite of their allegedly 'world-shattering' statements, are the staunchest conservatives. The most recent of them have found the correct expression for their activity when they declare they are only fighting against 'phrases.' They forget, however, that to these phrases they themselves are only opposing other phrases, and that they are in no way combating the real existing world when they are merely combating the phrases of this world" (1978: 149). They share with Hegel a "belief in the rule of religion, of concepts, of a universal principle," e.g., spirit, difference, codependent arising (pp. 148-149). In this respect, their respective critiques of logocentric formulations do not, as Loy claims, lead to "a rupture within contemporary [idealist] thought" inasmuch as they leave the main thing, how to change the nonphilosophical world, unexamined and unchallenged.
III. Difference and the Erasure of History
Not only do each of the authors reduce objective to subjective conditions of determination and freedom, they also, and as indicated above, explain suffering as being primarily, if not solely, caused by the mistaken epistemological assumption that reality or some aspect of reality is not subject to difference. Oddly enough, in making this argument, the same authors who critique essentialist thinking posit a concept of suffering in which its source remains essentially the same throughout all time and in this way, the solution to suffering has nothing to do with the material differences between one period, place, or society and another. The defenders of difference, in other words, remain oddly indifferent to historical differences.
Their ahistoricism is especially evident in Robert Magliola's essay, "In No Wise is Healing Holistic: A Deconstructive Alternative to Masao Abe's 'Kenotic God and Dynamic Sunyata.'" Drawing from elements of his book entitled On Deconstructing Life-Worlds: Buddhism, Christianity, Culture, Magliola pushes the project of deconstructing essentialist concepts advanced by the other contributors a step further as he advances deconstructionist critiques of the concept of "healing" itself. In this respect, while the other authors are, as Loy notes in his introduction to the volume, concerned with developing a "healing praxis, " Magliola disseminates the metaphysics of healing conceptualized as sameness, identity, or wholeness.
Magliola begins by critiquing the metaphysical presuppositions that remain operative in Christian versions of negative theology and Buddhist conceptions of emptiness. He critiques both D. T. Suzuki and Masao Abe's versions of S´unyata as exemplary of a Buddhism that "heals by way of holism: like most Japanese Zen, it operates broadly within the Svatantrikan-Madhyamikan-Yogacaric tradition" (ibid., p. 101). Unlike Abe and Suzuki, Magliola affirms the Prasangika-Madhyamika tradition associated with Nagarjuna (second century c.e.). Members of this tradition seek, says Magliola, to "reduce their adversaries to prasanga ('absurd consequence') much like Derrida does in his own deconstructive practice" (p. 102). They do not presuppose the existence of a totality beyond words, a God beyond representations of God. Rather, they subvert such presuppositions and articulate a concept of wisdom as prajñapti which "is 'conductal' to a sort of wisdom, and in Derrida not to a fulfillment (full-fill-ment) of a logocentric end, be that parousia or void" (p. 106). Derrida's concept of writing, adds Magliola, reverberates prajñapti.
Turning to theology, Magliola mobilizes Derrida's subversive maneuvers as means for helping "Christians better understand the Trinity and Unity of God" and in particular to aid in the world of formulating this conceptual relationship in a manner that does not exclude that which makes Christians uncomfortable (e.g., that God is both personal and impersonal or apersonal) (p. 109). Explicating Conciliar theology's ideas of kenosis and relationis oppositio as contrariety rather than contradiction, Magliola discloses what he calls a "divine Glitch" that dislocates the Triune God such that "God becomes--for those demanding a God of 'stable definition'--quite frightening indeed" (p. 115). Like Nagarjuna's critique of Yogacaric formulations of s´unyata as totality, differential theology "confirm[s] what many Christian mystics (and other mystics) have attested, that God--while still imbricated into us--is nonetheless radically otherwise " and "that God is better served by the notion of alterity than stasis" (p. 116). God is everywhere exorbitant.
In the same manner, healing, says Magliola, is "not a question of holism but of sameness established by difference" (ibid.). By differing, as the prophet says, shall "all be one" (ibid.). Magliola concludes with the following supplication: "Let us calmly agree to disagree. The devoidness of Buddhism, and Christianity, and Derridean deconstruction (and of others, too)--while/as intersecting--are by this very fact apart. The 'sameness' they thus constitute shall heal the world" (p. 117). In short, healing arrives only by way of a differing (that is) without resolution.
Magliola's argument regarding the operation of difference throughout what is called "being," an assumption held by all of the authors in this work, leads him to hold that what causes human beings to suffer in the "present" "post-modern" world is the same as what caused human beings to suffer in, for example, the "modern," "pre-modern," "pre-agricultural," etc., "worlds" (p. 107). From Nagarjuna to Derrida it's all the same or, as Magliola writes, all are one because they are exactly different from each other. It is not private ownership of health care resources and their allocation according to the law of profitmaking that leaves so many in need of healing.
Nor is it corporate-driven degradation of the environment that leaves nature in a state of toxic shock. Rather, it turns out that what caused suffering during the time of Gotama the Buddha in the fifth century b.c.e., Hui-neng in the sixth century c.e., Dogen in the twelfth century c.e., Eckhart in the thirteenth century c.e. is the same as what causes suffering during our own time. The cause was and remains "dualistic thinking," belief in "inherent existence," "an autonomous self," "healing as holism," etc. We just keep making the same ontological blunder over and over.
I would suggest that deconstruction's ahistoricism derives in part from the fundamental assumption that drives its critique of metaphysics. That assumption is that any attempt to explain appearances/signifiers on the basis of factors external to appearances/signifiers is doomed to infinite regress as one cannot get outside of the play of signifiers. In short, deconstruction seeks to demonstrate that what are designated as essences, laws, centering structures--in short, signifieds--are constituted through the play of signifiers. In place of historically specific factors, all phenomena are governed by the absolute power of Difference. Difference, as deferring and differing, renders discernment of causal relations impossible since doing so presupposes the possibility of determining what difference makes forever ambivalent and indeterminate. Ironically, then, by assuming difference operates throughout "reality" or, as Derrida claims, that it is prior to and constitutive of any subject, anti-essentialists of the poststructuralist and deconstructionist variety sneak in what amounts to an essentialist view of human nature in which human beings are constituted in such a manner that they repeatedly believe in inherent existence where there are in fact only differences.
In place of analyzing social, political, economic, and military forces that are responsible for the "[r]acism, sexism, and classism [that] pervade our social structures in ways that damage the lives of billions of people," these authors remain within the limits of the onto-theological tradition (p. 71). While each of the authors is concerned with translating erudite theory into healing practice, they do not analyze the social, political, and economic relations which are materially cogenerative of "the self." I would suggest that a more fruitful analysis of suffering ought to examine not only the historically and socially specific ideas and concepts that cause human beings to suffer but also, and as importantly, the social, political, and economic institutions and relations that reinforce and are reinforced by these ideas and concepts. Such an analysis might, for example, expose the ways in which the existing division of labor, property, and power reinforce "dualistic thinking" and belief in the concept of the "autonomous self." In this way, the philosophical critique of dualistic thinking and the autonomous self would become a political critique of the social relations that give rise to dualistic thinking and belief in the concept of the autonomous self. Such an analysis assumes that the problems posed by dualistic thinking and the autonomous self cannot be solved philosophically. Solving these problems also means building institutions that support, for example, integrated thinking and a relational concept of the self.
To accomplish this end, however, requires translating philosophical categories into sociological categories, for example, translating the problem posed philosophically as the problem of "the self" into a problem regarding social, political, and economic conditions that structure the relationships between different "selves." Feminist scholars Rita Nakashima Brock and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite have made a significant contribution to this end. In Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in the United States (1996), they do not investigate the problem of "the autonomous self," "inherent existence," or the "metaphysics of presence," though they are very much aware of these as philosophical problems. Rather they examine the specific role that Buddhism and Christianity play in terms of supporting and possibly challenging the social, political, economic, and military institutions and interests that subordinate, oppress, and exploit women who labor in the sex industries and export processing zones throughout South East Asian nations. They chronicle women's suffering and, in coordination with organizations networking against exploitation, are devoted to a liberationist project that changes spiritual and material life. What is needed, then, is not only a "new vision of things" and concept of self. What is also needed is a different mode of organizing our practical relationships with each other. To realize this goal requires not only interpreting the world differently, but participating in the work of transforming the social relations reflected in and reinforced by our theoretical concepts.
Given their interest in healing, practice, and ethics, we are left wondering what it is that prevents these authors from pursuing a course similar to the one charted by Brock and Thistlethwaite.
IV. Intellectual Theory and Practice
The failure to engage with extra-philosophical conditions of human existence perhaps explains why these authors are left with little more than gestures toward something called transformative practice. Joy admits that as far as the French feminists are concerned, "there is no clear indication of how the world could actually be changed . . ." and concludes that Hooks gives us little more than a "clue" as to "an agenda of personal as well as social reform" (pp. 90, 92). When Magliola is not making grandiose claims regarding the healing power of the sameness of Christianity, Buddhism, and deconstruction (they "shall heal the world"!), he affirms a mystical path to salvation. In a footnote he asserts: "I hold only mystical practice, a mysticism I call off-rational, can thoroughly attain deconstruction" (p. 101). Aside from the curious nature of a deconstructionist claiming that any practice is capable of "thoroughly" (totally, completely, fully?) attaining (the identity of subject and object?) deconstruction, like Corless, Loy, and Berry, Magliola says nothing about extraphilosophical causes of suffering. This is more than peculiar. After all, anyone who reads the morning paper would be inclined to think, rightly in my estimation, that suffering has more to do with exploitation than dualistic thinking. And yet, rather than analyze the empirically obvious (though perhaps less intellectually engaging) causes of suffering, they each argue that suffering is primarily caused by the ways in which we think.
Perhaps their failure to examine extraphilosophical causes of suffering partially explains why the theme of dualism (or separation) between the self and the world is so prominent among their concerns. Perhaps this concern tells us more about their particular circumstances than it does about the nature of "the human condition." Indeed, and as indicated in my introduction, I would suggest that their work is symptomatic of a certain mode of intellectual practice which is not only alienated from most human beings (and no doubt their own) extraphilosophical needs, problems, and concerns but also pessimistic regarding the possibility of building anything like a genuinely democratic, just, and peaceful global society. But the struggle to build such a society is, as indicated above, underway everywhere around the world and in this regard, I would argue that intellectuals concerned with healing ought to link their work to individuals and organizations struggling to improve their material and spiritual conditions of life. In short, it "requires a move from theorizing to practice" (p. 10). Anything less reduces healing to a purely academic endeavor.
1 . The extent to which deconstruction ruptured "contemporary thought," that is, assuming we agree on what is meant by "contemporary thought," is, in my own estimation, to say the very least, questionable.
2 . In Derrida's apology for Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazi Party and affirmation of Hitler, Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, he argues that discourses which "state their opposition to racism, to totalitarianism, to Nazis, to fascism . . . do this in the name of the Spirit, in the name of the axiomatic" and therefore stand on no firmer ethical foundation than do those positions which they oppose (1987: 40).
3 In fact, I would suggest that there is a link between dualistic thinking and NATO. NATO theoreticians have been arguing strenuously for rethinking the role of NATO by breaking free of the old "deadened categories" that structured its operations during the Cold War period and to deploy its force according to a more fluid and flexible, highly provisional and strategic understanding of its mission in the world. In this case, the subversion of deadened categories is making possible precisely the mass murder of civilians.
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