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Reviewed by:
  • Buddhisms and Deconstructions
  • Francis X. Clooney, SJ
Buddhisms and Deconstructions. Edited by Jin Y. Park, with an afterword by Robert Magliola. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006. Pp. xxii + 290.

Buddhisms and Deconstructions originated in a panel on "Buddhism, Deconstruction, and the Works of Robert Magliola" at the twenty-second annual convention [End Page 182] of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature. Half its essays began as conference papers, while the rest (including several published elsewhere) were solicited for the volume. Implicit too are an awareness of other volumes—for example, Harold Coward's Derrida and Indian Philosophy (1990) and (with Toby Foshay) Derrida and Negative Theology (1992)—and the conviction that such volumes, although making a contribution, have not adequately sorted out what can usefully be said with respect to that tantalizingly elusive couple, deconstruction and Buddhism.

The volume exemplifies many starting points and avenues for testing the Buddhism-deconstruction relationship, but all of it is clearly mapped. "Buddhism and Deconstruction" (section 1) illumines some basic issues underlying Buddhist-deconstructionist comparisons: "Naming the Unnameable: Dependent Co-arising and Différence" (Jin Y. Park) and "Nagarjuna and Deconstruction" (Ian Mabbett). "Buddhism Deconstructs" (section 2) explores how deconstruction can be analyzed from a Buddhist perspective, and includes "Derridean and Madhyamika Buddhist Theories of Deconstruction" (Zong-qi Cai) and "Indra's Postmodern Net" (David R. Loy). "Deconstructing Buddhism" (section 3), with essays on "Deconstructive and Foundationalist Tendencies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism" (Roger R. Jackson) and "Ji Zang's Sunyata-Speech: Derridean Denegation with Buddhist Negations" (Ellen Y. Zhang), looks in the other direction, still further deconstructing Buddhism. "Chan/Zen Buddhist Deconstruction" (section 4) furthers the critique with another pair of detailed analyses, "The Chan Deconstruction of Buddha Nature" (Youru Wang) and "Sudao: Repeating the Question in Chan Discourse" (Frank W. Stevenson). All these authors stick with cases in order to test the larger Buddhism and deconstruction hypothesis, showing, unsurprisingly, that similarities and differences make comparisons work out in different ways and for different conclusions. It matters which Buddhist tradition is brought into play, how one interprets some particular Buddhist thinker, and (because almost everyone here is thinking of "Derrida" and "deconstruction" at the same time) how someone with Buddhist learning ought to read which early or late essay by Derrida. Altogether, these eight essays illumine specific examples and contribute to the volume's larger topic, as we narrow down and define the Budhism-Deconstructionism conversation. Loy perhaps speaks for many of the authors here:

From a Buddhist perspective, the post-structural realization that the meaning of a text cannot be totalized—that language/thought never attains a self-presence which escapes differences—is an important step towards the realization that there is no abiding-place for the mind anywhere within Indra's net. But the textual dissemination liberated by Derrida's deconstruction will not be satisfactory unless the dualist sense-of-self—not just its discourse—has been deconstructed.

(p. 80)

Or, as Ellen Zhang soberly puts it, [End Page 183]

The play of sunyata/denegation implies a movement of thought that sees the surplus of thought, and understanding this surplus sometimes requires the un-thought. The moment of negativity is, therefore, also the moment of construction and creativity. Sunyata/denegation is not simply a nihilistic place of reducing meaning to non-meaning, reality to non-reality. On the contrary, it is the moment of emancipation of meanings, we find in the Chinese traditions from Zhuangzi to Buddhist philosophers and Chan masters. Meanwhile, the experiential dimensions in the process of transforming our thought and consciousness explored by Daoism and Buddhism also offer a possible critique of postmodern discourse.

(p. 121)

One could well imagine an entire volume made of just these essays with just such insights.

But there is more. In "Deconstructing Life-Worlds" (section 5), two essays—"The Veil Rent in Twain: A Buddhist Reading of Robert Magliola's Deconstructive Chiasm" (Jane Augustine) and "Emmanuel, Robert" (Gad Horowitz)—remind us that the volume is indeed a still more complex three-way conversation, including also the writings and personality (evident by the vehicle of an Afterword) of Robert Magliola, a scholar of both Buddhism (which he teaches...


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