Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/ Zen Buddhism
Princeton University Press, 1994.
I really like this one book review summary of Faure’s Rhetoric of Immediacy, it goes: Bernard Faure’s encyclopedic study of the rhetoric of immediacy and the reality of mediation in the Chan/Zen tradition suffers from lapses and its own rhetorical excesses, but succeeds in conveying the ‘essential undecidability of Chan,’ as manifested in deeds and words through the centuries in China and Japan (Stuart Sargent, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 116, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1996), pp. 77-84).” More useful, though, is Princeton Professor of Religion Stephen Teiser’s review from January 1994 edition of The Journal of Religion, in which he writes first about how this book of Faure’s builds off of his previous four books, and also how it takes his work in a new direction by offering “the best narration in English of the role that magicians, healers, jesters, relics, mummies, dreams, funerals, deities, and mundane rituals play in a tradition that lays claim to emptiness” and secondly, in how it is “conceived in a style that owes as much to Pierre Bourdieu, Michel de Certeau, and Jacques Derrida as to any figure within the tradition itself (Teiser, 137).” And that’s basically the point so far as I see it. To be honest, I really only skimmed stuff after the introduction because I am 99.9% certain that the point of us reading this book for this exam is to consider the implications of his methodology, and while the chapters that implement that methodology are interesting, I’m sure that what we are supposed to think most about is how he articulates his method, and he does that very explicitly in the introduction. So, I’m going to go through the introduction (er, “Prologue” it’s called here, actually) carefully, and I will email out the reviews that I read, and will hope that is adequate.
Key Terms: Chan/Zen, Buddhism, Deconstruction, de Certeau, Bourdieu, Immediacy, Methodological Pluralism, History, Difference, Orthodoxy/ Heterodoxy
Okay, first, immediacy. This should be familiar (enough for our purposes here, at least) from what we read in the Transmission class, but Faure sums it up nicely by explaining that, “the gradual/ sudden paradigm, which functions as the matrix of the Chan/Zen tradition, can be seen as a dialectical tension between mediate and immediate understanding (Faure, 4).” In this tension, Faure sees a mirroring of tensions in scholarship about Chan/ Zen and argues that, “in order to deconstruct the tradition, that is, to reveal it in its essential multiplicity, one has to fight against the teleological tendencies of controlled narrative and to give up at least some authorial privileges (Faure, 4). So, deconstruction here is given a clear definition, to reveal the tradition in its essential multiplicity. And a scholar seeking to deconstruct the tradition must fight the desire to control the outcome of her study, much as a monk might need to give up control of his practice as well.
Faure frames such an approach as a way of answering to Edward Said’s work’s challenge to scholarship about “The East.” He says that, “this transferential relationship between the scholar and the Chan tradition that he or she studies [which I read as meaning that the practice of the scholar is related to the practice s/he studies] may help us then to answer the fundamental question raised by Edward Said and others: namely, how to understand other cultures and religions (Faure, 5).” Faure wants to argue that “the gap between two cultures might be less insuperable than the critics of Orientalism [the kind critiqued by Said, not Said’s] have led us to believe” but that “the gaps within a ‘vital’ tradition might be wider than they seem, to the point of leading to what François Lyotard calls a différend, that is, ‘a conflict between [at least] two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule or judgment applicable to both arguments (Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. 1988.) (Faure, 5).” Essentially, I understand this to mean that Faure is less interested in what might divide East from West, as that which may form divisions within traditions themselves. In particular, of course, Chan/Zen. Thus, a scholarly approach that is invested in revealing and understanding difference and multiplicity (deconstruction) is well suited to studying differences within the Chan/Zen tradition. He expands his analysis and explains that,
Writing of (and about) Chan is necessarily a dual activity, an intertwining of two tendencies: it represents or reproduces more or less truthfully certain ideas or movements of thought, thus aiming at transparency; but it is also an act that produces new thoughts and creates an opaque reality. Whatever its author may say, a book is not merely an image of the world, ‘a mirror carried along a path,’ as Stendhal said of the novel; it is another world. (See Deleuze and Guattari, On the Line, 1983, p.5.) Hence the necessity of complementary approaches: hermeneutical/ structural and performative/semiological; the incessant to-and-fro movement between the seriousness of meaning and the ‘pleasure of the text,’ between commentary and rhetoric, between koan and ‘capping phrase’ (jakugo) (Faure, 6).
Note the parallel use of theoretical and “religious” language he uses, this is what is meant by “writing of and about” this tradition in this way.
Faure sees another parallel between Chan/Zen and the way that they are studied, the tensions and divisions drawn between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. He says that the “exclusions that constitute the field of Chan/Zen studies appear to be a replication of those that organized Chan/ Zen as a single orthodoxy. Heterodox tendencies were repressed and/or relegated to the periphery (Faure, 7).” The lines drawn within Chan/Zen on right practice are “replicated” in the lines drawn between right and wrong ways of studying the tradition. Faure continues,
The elements suppressed or repressed at the core, however, either reappeared at the periphery as the ‘others’ on the margins of Chan (i.e., ‘popular religion,’ scholasticism, ritualism, gradualism), or they reinvested and subverted the tradition from inside. If one of the contexts of Chan is indeed popular religion, then we are reminded of Derrida’s remark that ‘context is always at work within the place, and not only around it.’ (Derrida, Limited Inc., 1988, p.198.). Thus the dialectic between pluralistic or ‘inclusive’ Chan and sectarian or ‘exclusive’ Chan is perhaps replicated by that between pluralistic methodology and ‘pure’ scholarship. Faure, 7
Scholarship should respect the multiplicity of its subject with methods that are, themselves, pluralistic. Arguments for pure scholarship deny difference in the same way that orthodoxy represses it. Or, as Faure puts it, “Just as Chan orthodoxy repressed syncretism, scholarly orthodoxy, based on the law of the genre, tends to reject the mixing of genres (Faure, 7). I, for one, find this argument very attractive, that an organic understanding of the multiplicity of a subject can produce a similarly pluralistic scholarly practice. Faure says that in undertaking such a project in such a way, that he hopes he has “avoided the kind of ‘accumulation without reworking’ criticized by Angenot and reached something closer to what Weber called pantheism or a ‘polytheism of values’ – a notion that implies ‘not peaceful coexistence but a Homeric battlefield, in which ‘different gods struggle with one another, now and for all times to come (Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, 1988: 2:11) (Faure, 8).’’
Faure ultimately ends up calling his approach methodological pluralism, which he says, here means, “an attempt to mediate between – or rather hold together – conflicting approaches such as the hermeneutical and the rhetorical, the structural(ist) and the historical, the ‘theological’ and the ideological/cultural (Faure, 9).” He explains that his research,
remains structural inasmuch as I attempt to bring out mental structures, whether these structures turn out to be ‘long-term prisons’ or patterns of a certain freedom, and to show how various levels of Chan practice and doctrine are structured by a few paradigms such as mediacy/ immediacy, sudden/ gradual, center/ margins, orthodoxy/heterodoxy, hermeneutics/rhetoric, description/prescription, communication/performance (Faure, 9).
He insists, though, that he considers himself an historian of Chan/Zen (Faure, 9) and that he is inclined, “to believe that intellectual history may be the history of variations on a few paradigms or metaphors (Faure, 9).” He then explains how this methodology manifests in the book’s structure by telling the reader that,
This multiplicity of purposes is reflected at the microlevel by a perhaps disconcerting oscillation between contradictory statements, and at the same macrolevel by the division of the books into two parts, or rather, two levels, the first one (Chapters 1 through 4) dealing with the general epistemological and ideological constraints resulting from the Chan/Zen dialectic of mediacy and immediacy, and the second (Chapters 5 through 13) examining various examples of this oscillation or agonistic tradition (Faure, 9).
Again, while these chapters may be very interesting for scholars of Chan/Zen, for our purposes I really do think that it is Faure’s wager that one should match methodology to subject, and that, specifically, French structural and post-structural/ deconstructionist thought best matches Chan/Zen (again, note the emphasis on difference à la de Certeau).