Sales Pitch: Non-thought and non-practice constitute a set of antidotes to ideological entrapment and identity formation within the social and cultural apparatus of our age, and to the reactionary identities that make up the emotionally charged extremes of today’s dominant identity groups, and is an ideal companion to the practice of coming to inhabit the consequences of anatman, when explored at the Great Feast.
This piece mixes old and new insights in order to elaborate a more explicit understanding of how non-thought (non-contemplation), and non-practice can be a combined practice for working on the self and in a way that fits with well-executed explorations of anatman (no-self, not-self & other takes). This resource engages with the challenge of the social formation of selfhood and acts to resist inculcation into the paradigms of identity that are available to us in the social spaces that we inhabit, from dharma halls to social media tribes, from politics to activism, from intellectual life to practice life. Complex life, complex practice indeed. This piece is followed by a series of posts featuring insights, practice tips and questions for the interested, shaped by my own meddling, drawn from non-philosophy and non-Buddhism.
This first and longest post will also be available as an audio-cast.
To approach Francois Laruelle’s work on non-philosophy is to quickly find yourself in a world of new ideas, absurd linguistic demands, and complex manoeuvres intended to make non-philosophy a practice of itself. Laruelle is constantly striving to put his ideas into practice through his writing and this can make it a rather odd sort of adventure to participate in: His persona and cultural products can appear very slippery as a consequence and difficult to grasp. In a sense, Laruelle is challenging us to practice non-philosophy ourselves through his many works and in doing so discover its liberational capacity and immensely creative potential. In a funny sort of way, his work is an elaborate koan; the form of the writing is the expression of the act it describes. Despite appearances, non-philosophy, or better what emerges from it, is less complicated that it may first appear if we approach it as curious practitioners willing to take his ideas as invitations to enter specific kinds of practice spaces, not of the sort you might get from a koan, but no less enigmatic, or disruptive of our sense of who we are. Though not many of its proponents would likely consider it so explicitly to be a practice that can be harnessed towards the transformation of self, I will suggest otherwise throughout what follows.
For those without PhDs or membership of radical thought groups in Paris, Berlin, Philadelphia or New York, non-philosophy may initially appear as an insurmountable challenge yet many of its ideas are intuitive and will resonate once lifted from the strange codex Laruelle employs to defend his thinking from philosophers and the circular, sometimes insular, nature of philosophy. For those who are philosophically trained, Laruelle may be dismissed as yet another French charlatan producing intolerable prose, or a distraction from far better thought taking place somewhere else, or as a recycler of ideas already present in previous philosophers, and they may be right, but only in part, and as Vicky Pollard, would say, “Yes, but, not but…”. For Buddhists, he may appear as a waste of time, yet another western ‘philosopher’ who spends his days in intellectual masturbation, and whose ideas are of no use to us practical folks. That is one way to view him. In each case, however, to settle on such a reading would be to miss out on a remarkable opportunity that I have yet to find elsewhere.
Laruelle provides a means for picking apart the mechanics of identification with worlds of knowledge and practice. Worlds that end up, almost always it seems, capturing subjectivity and harnessing it to their own ends. So that when insight, freedom, or justice are sought through a given world of knowledge, say Buddhism or Progressivism, the practices and outcomes that result struggle to become other than images of liberation, wisdom, or equality, imagined ideals, if you will. This results in practices of performance in which the fantasy replaces the actual radical potential held within the knowledge world it was drawn from with the fantasy becoming a simulacrum, or in the realm of spirituality and religion, multiple holy simulacra ready to be purchased on the market of salvation as cures for the human condition.
My job here is not to convince critics that they are wrong or misguided about Laruelle’s project, or should be practising differently. I am concerned primarily with those folks who seek a third way to dichotomies and side-taking, and who feel something is deeply amiss in groups that demand conformity to modes of being that alienate the individual from their own capacity to think, feel and act for themselves. Additionally, my desire is to present non-thought and non-practice as fundamentally concerned with a topic central to practitioners such as Buddhists, philosophers, and spiritual practitioners, and even intelligent activists, namely that of human freedom, with particular attention to an aspect of freedom that has been neglected by these groups. The sort of freedom that is not an end in itself, but rather a practice that can be embodied or incarnated as an ongoing movement through the rich, complex, social and cultural human made world we all inhabit. It is a means for avoiding getting stuck in the way-stations that are endless in a life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. I would argue that handled well, non-philosophy acts as an antidote to ideological entrapment more broadly. It doesn’t eliminate it or take us to some land where ideologies no longer reign, but rather provides a set of tools and principles, a style of thought, that creates wiggle room to allow us to become far more creative thinkers, phenomenologically diverse, and liberate us from the allure of becoming Buddha Zombies, Activist Mascots, Parroting Spiritualists, or whatever other identities are currently traded on the market of selves today.
Practised well, such thought provides a form of liberational practice that cannot be found so well articulated in Buddhism and only really echoes quietly in the potential of more radical philosophical, spiritual and religious thought elsewhere. Ultimately, non-philosophy as practice provides the means to allow the spiritual and religious to be reinvigorated with the potential that is inevitably lost when new practices solidify into ideological machines designed to produce subjects that adhere to highly predictable structures of thought, desire, feeling and being. This is the virus that inhibits traditions from practising what they preach; from producing awakened beings, for example, or truly independent minds capable of acting on the world, or birthing genuinely innovative solutions to the endless problems our species faces.
I recognise these are big claims, so I guess I’m going to have to try and illustrate how it all might look, in practice. Shall we toddle on?
Continue reading “You Need Non-Practice!”