- Buddhisms and Deconstructions
Buddhisms and Deconstructions, edited by Jin Y. Park, contains a number of fascinating articles dealing with a comparison between two systems of thought, one a long-standing tradition from the East and the other a contemporary movement in the West, that have in common an emphasis on a main philosophical element: the interconnectedness of phenomena characterized as emptiness in Mahāyāna Buddhism, and "difference," or différance, in the works of Derrida. Other forms of modern Western thought such as existentialism, phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and pragmatism have come close to and are often compared with Buddhism for the way they advocate going beyond egocentrism and substantive notions of selfhood to realize a dynamic and holistic understanding of reality. However, according to this volume, it is deconstructionism that is the best approximation in seeking to overthrow logocentrism in all its manifestations, overt and hidden, and to surpass onto-theology (a term first coined by Heidegger to capture the Western metaphysical and theological traditions, both based on substantive ontology).
What particularly links various schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Derridean middle-path deconstruction is an uncompromisingly critical approach to all points of view and ideologies and the refutation of illusory notions and philosophical inconsistencies. Many of these connections and disconnections have been discussed in two books, Derrida on the Mend (1984) and On Deconstructing Life-Worlds (1996), by Robert Magliola, a follower of Derrida seeking to extend and to explore Asian linkages, who helped inspire and also was called upon to comment on a number of the articles in this volume (some were originally delivered at an international conference on comparative philosophy a few years ago).
The thirteen essays here are presented in six parts that are followed by Magliola's afterword and a selected bibliography on comparative philosophy compiled by William Edelglass. The first four parts, containing eight chapters, deal with various forms of Buddhism in relation to deconstructionism, especially Nāgārjuna's philosophy of the Mādhyamika school in its Indian and Tibetan commentarial redactions and the Chan/Zen school in East Asia. The book opens with editor Park's overview of the connections between the two approaches, and continues with discussions of Mādhyamika by Ian Mabbett, Zong-qi Cai, David R. Loy, and Roger R. Jackson. The Buddhism section of the book is rounded out with Ellen Y. Zhang's view of Ji Zang and two examinations of Chan by Youru Wang and Frank W. Stevenson. Of particular note are Loy's exploration of the categories of play and ethics and Jackson's analysis of the balance of foundationalist and deconstructive tendencies in Buddhism, as well as Wang's emphasis on the way "the Hongzhou masters both reconstruct [End Page 594] and deconstruct Buddhist themes, notions, and concepts. On the one hand, they ceaselessly deconstruct all terms including their own; on the other, they never stop using positive terms" (p. 141).
The next five chapters focus on various aspects of Western thought, including Christianity, Judaism, and Continental thinkers other than Derrida such as Sartre. The two articles in part 5 by Jane Augustine and Gail Horowitz are very much related and are enhanced by a background in Magliola's thought. My feeling is that these articles probably should have been placed either just before or just following his essay for a greater sense of continuity. The final three articles by Simon Glynn, Steven W. Laycock, and E. H. Jarow extend the scope of the Western side of the comparison in exploring connections with Buddhism, particularly on the topic of selfhood and (in)substantiality.
The combined impact of the articles examining deconstructionism from Buddhist perspectives and Buddhism from Western perspectives, according to Park, is to create a new platform for East-West philosophical comparisons and exchange without the imbalances favoring one side over the other that have plagued previous attempts at such a construction. My concern is that there seem to be two separate books placed into a single volume—one dealing with Buddhism and the other...