Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Grammar of Zen

"You can indulge your righteous rage but the things it comes out of are pretty cheap. The trick is to make yourself an instrument of your own policy."

Norman Mailer's General Cummings
The Naked and the Dead, ch. 3)

I want to get back to some core pangrammatical issues. Last night, a friend and I worked out an elaboration of a piece of Zen advice. Make few your desires

in order to make a precision instrument of them. The same, I would argue, goes for belief. Make few your beliefs

that they may be more precise. It is easy to see how this advice might be radicalized. Reduce your desires to one and your beliefs to one. Make these the same.

I want to emphasize, however, that the simplification of desire need not imply a simplification of emotion. Institutional experience (the immediate takenness of subjects by power) may be very complex. The maintenance of a simplicity of desire may therefore demand a rich assemblage of emotions (system of machination).

In fact, I would argue that excess desire and emotional deficit go hand in hand. Emotions are the discipline of desire, as concepts are the discipline of belief.


Raúl Alberto Lilloy said...

why do you need to reduce your desires at only one? Fears? to escape Suffering?
sometime is better having thousands of desires, and accomplish these.

Thomas Basbøll said...

But it is unlikely that you would accomplish them. Maintaining many desires, I would argue, is a way of avoiding suffering. Reducing them to a manageable number is a way of making suffering possible and, which was my point here, precise. (I mean suffering in the philosophical sense, not as simple unpleasantness.)

That said, the idea of having a single desire constitutes a kind of limit case, probably unattainable. I imagine it implies its own accomplishment. But that's speculation on my part.