Zen choice

Hey hey hey – take me back to the dyakshya yoga youth refuge I first ran to after Grandpa Tate thought I shouldn’t keep camping out in his backyard shed… I was 14 – Crikey, there is a long story I have to tell one day… but already I can see this is going to be far too autobiographical, because its late and holiday-time, but all the same… I want to preface this ‘link’ [tribute, reference – yo Steve, its your fault too] with some arabesque like hedging cos I used to be so opposed to the random use of Zen in western academic work. Because, clearly, it was often little but a form of exoticist shorthand rendering-reduction of a philosophy deserving of respect to the somehow lesser status of ‘eastern’ philosophy (at best this is trinketization, orientalism, etc) and, even where there was cursory reference to Allan Watts (rarely with the level of scholarship/obsession that would honour his learning) or even reference to some actually existing and even named monk, teacher, guru (think of Verela’s pretty much single questionable, saffron-enrobed, source for… – and there is still an old debate with slash on the validity of such narrow fly-by-night adventure mysticism, including versions of Confucius, Meiji-‘capital’ or Tiger-economics which does little, for mine, to open up the particularities of Asian capital or the ‘magic’ of new media, finance flows, monad, rhizofcukic… etc. [why not world systems?]). Anyway, all that was way back then (five minutes ago, and its this afternoon’s set text).

Nowadays I am easily impressed and often plain emotional, and sometimes prepared to welcome an exception. Actually, I always was – I liked Watts very much because his scholarship opened up several other worlds in the midst of the ‘main’ one… [so – formative bio moment – my first paid teaching job after picture framing and other scams that paid for my degree, was a course on History of Religions in Geelong, see footnote 1]. But here, at last I start to get closer to the meat – at the beginning of Steve Wright’s very useful commentary on immaterial labour in a recent issue of Mute Magazine, a koan-like bit of mischief that serves him well. As epigram, Steve offers us a pithy tribute to Zen thought, as a short-hand/short-arm way into critique. He does this economically, in a way my hedging refuses to allow… in a way, that, on a good day, I think means that … well, this one below (wait, patience, we will get there) … could be adapted for many purposes, and it is not unlike the story William Burroughs used to tell about when he heard the hippies had been giving flowers to the police and he responded that the only flower he would give them was one in a pot dropped from a three story building (I think this was after he had witnessed the Chicago 68 democratic convention where Mayor Daley unleashed all kinds of brutality on the flower power set). Oh my god, will we ever get there…. its taking ages, what is the hold up… anyway, what I wanted to note, was that in a sort of arabesque, in a delaying tactic, in a feint, avoidance, side-step, en passant, and in defence of a more nuanced reading of Marx on value (hurrah), Steve Wright starts out with this:


A priest once came across a zen master and. seeking to embarrass him, challenged him as follows: ‘using neither sound nor silence, can you show me what is reality?’
The zen master punched him in the face.
[from a story told to Steve by Hobo, from the article: ‘Reality Check: Are we living in an immaterial world?‘ in Mute Vol 2 No 1 p 34 _ (pp34-45).]

Whump. And laugh. Of course its just a little bit disappointing that Steve ends his piece with the obvious line from Madonna on living in a [historical] materialist world [as Ange sang circa 1990], but then, as he himself notes, there is much more to do to displace the Negri-ite consensus that affronts us today. This is still an unmissable start. And all this preface bumble preamble is meant just to say go buy his book “Storming Heaven”.

The immaterial labour argument is important, and its welcome that folks are interested in labour and value, again. And it implies an interest in the question of how to organise. To move this along beyond the platitudes of multitude, perhaps a reading of value as desire, as Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay suggests, might be a good place to start to r/mend fences.

Footnote 1. History of Religions was a course at Deakin University taught usually by Purushottama Bilimoria but he was away for just over a year and fluke of flukes I landed the job. Head of School Prof Max Charlesworth was kind enough to employ me, explaining that it was comparative religion that we did – Hinduism,. Buddhism, Aboriginal beliefs, animism would all be compared – in turn – to Christianity… So, that really started a debate, though I do remember his generosity in adding a thanks to me in his ethnography of the scientists at the think tank that was Eliza Hall (this is well before Bronio Latour, Paul Rainbow, etc – it was called “Life Among the Scientists”. I saw a second hand copy in Oxford once, but was stupid not to buy it… I’d love to find a copy as besides some obscure early poetry its the first glorious mention I got in print – very proud was I, as was mum).


3 thoughts on “Zen choice

  1. ouch – that’s a lot of money for an old thin paperback, even if the distributer promices its a ‘nice book’!


  2. the funny thing is that I misquoted Hobo’s story – it should be ‘using neither WORDS nor silence’ …

    thanks anyway for the plug/critique.


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