Thoughts on things other than Trump, coronavirus, stock market corrections, and the fear of Bernie Sanders…

Really, I’m not going to talk about any of those things.  Too depressing.  Just some ramblings about what is on my mind right now, as I try to avoid the news.

Still struggling with finishing up the book, and deciding what to do with it now that every publisher I can think to submit it to has declined to read it.  I suppose self-publishing is the only option left.

In the meantime, I’m preparing to relaunch the old “Imaginary Relations” online journal from several years back, trying to drum up some submissions—the goal there is basically to do marxist/feminist/psychoanalytic readings of individual aesthetic objects, trying to puzzle out what kind of subjects we are made into when we consume or participate in these particular aesthetic experiences.  If anyone is interested in writing something, contact me for more information.

I’m also contemplating something on the nature of addiction, involving the concepts of intention (central to the current book project) and akrasia.  

But on a completely different note: I recently got an email add for an upcoming Buddhist online course from Tricycle.  Frankly, it appalled me, but it also reminded me of how important, despite the apparent futility, the kind of critical work I keep struggling to do might be.  Perhaps if others more gifted than I am would lend a hand, we could do some good.  

For your amusement, here’s the description of the online course, for which you would pay a mere $199!

The Whole Path: Kindness, Meditation, and Wisdom, our upcoming online course with Sharon Salzberg, begins on March 23. This course will cover each aspect of the Buddha’s eightfold path to guide you toward the transformative wisdom that is to be uncovered.
The Whole Path unfolds in six units covering the following topics:
Unit 1 | Ethics as a Source of Self Respect: Sharon will show how ethical conduct supports a healthy view of ourselves and, in doing so, supports our meditative development.
Unit 2 | The Five Precepts: The Buddha recommended that lay practitioners abide by five simple guidelines. They provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our values and to train our self-discipline in ways that gently support our wellbeing. 
Unit 3 | Concentration: We will learn to gather our scattered mental energies and settle them, find tranquility, and empower ourselves to take action. Sharon explains how concentration arises and can be cultivated.
Unit 4 | Mindfulness: The ability to really know what it is we are experiencing is a critical ingredient for deep insight to arise. Sharon will help us understand and apply mindfulness as we bring receptivity and a kind, curious awareness to our practice.
Unit 5 | The Three Characteristics: Through mindfulness, the Buddha saw that all experiences have three characteristics. Seeing these characteristics for ourselves is decisive. We begin to loosen up. We don’t take life quite so personally. Sharon will explain the significance of these characteristics and how they free us.
Unit 6 | A Life of Wisdom: With these insights, we will see so much more of who we are and how connected we are to others. This will inevitably lead to the development of greater love and compassion in our lives.

 

I imagine any regular readers here, or readers of Speculative Non-buddhism from days gone by, will see immediately what is so horrifying.  Have you ever seen a more perfect account of the development of the modern, Western, neoliberal subject?  Or a “Buddhist” course more obviously dead wrong about the fundamental concepts of classical Buddhist thought?  Well, sure we have: name a popular Buddhist teacher, right?

So here we begin by reducing ethics to improving our image of ourselves, move on to self-discipline as a way of increasing our happiness, then mediation to create the illusion of a detached Cartesian mind…and wrap it all up with some nice ironic detachment, because we shouldn’t take the world or ourselves too seriously.  What do we get?  A new and improved atomistic self now able to freely choose to enter into social relationships with others to our mutual and maximum pleasure!  

John Stuart Mill himself could be teaching this class!  

Of course, I don’t expect that Salzburg has any idea she is even doing this.  She’s simply doing what all the “celebrity” x-buddhists do.  She takes an untenable, even horrifying, contemporary model of the subject, and finds that it is really what ancient Eastern spiritual teachers were saying all along, if you (mis)translate carefully and think ahistorically!  I’m sure she believes in the deep truth of this position, and its benefits.

And, of course, we know it can’t do much harm.  That is, nobody who isn’t already a good neoliberal subject would plunk down a couple hundred bucks for some lame videos and PDFs, meant only to reassure them that of what they already think, and give them one more bit of proof of their spiritual superiority. 

On the other hand, what it does do is prevent people from seriously considering what we might learn from Buddhist thought if we could stop finding in it an exact mirror of our desires.  But then, who wants to make that kind of effort?

I hope that a handful of people might someday be able to begin to question the common-sense conceptions of ourselves and our world that inform silly nonsense like this “Buddhist” course.  I hope my book may help with that…and even more, that a journal devoted to examining the ideological functions of our most loved aesthetic objects might make this questioning more possible.  So do let me know if you have any interest it writing anything for a new, and hopefully less “academic”, version of the “Imaginary Relations” online journal!