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  • Philosophy as "Commentary":Ruminating on Buddhas Old and New
  • Leah Kalmanson (bio)
Nietzsche and Other Buddhas: Philosophy after Comparative Philosophy. By Jason M. Wirth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019.

Thus we are nothing, neither you nor I, beside burning words which could pass from me to you, imprinted on a page.

Georges Bataille, Inner Experience1

Great commentarial traditions, such as the Talmud or the studies of Chinese classics, are not passive expositions of authoritative source materials but constructive and at times subversive projects, seizing mainstream interpretations of influential texts and repurposing them for novel and creative applications. In this process, new concepts are not produced ex nihilo, as it were, but are wrested from the old ones via the productive power of commentarial writing. For example, historian Tze-ki Hon has argued that the civil servants of the Northern Song (960–1127) accomplished a quiet political revolution in part by offering new commentaries on the world's oldest book, the Yijing.2 Daniel K. Gardner has described commentary in the Chinese context as "brokering" a special transformation whereby the minds of the ancient sages and the minds of contemporary readers are attuned to each other, thereby honoring the past as well as creatively re-appropriating it for present concerns.3 He clarifies: "Commentary thus is capable of giving new meaning to a text; and by giving this new meaning to a text, the commentator is in a very real sense creating a new text … But we need to note the reciprocity here, that just as commentary reaffirms the tradition and gives it continued value, so the tradition gives value and legitimacy to commentary."4

From this perspective, I wish to address the central question of Jason Wirth's Nietzsche and Other Buddhas: what is "philosophy" after "comparative philosophy"? One underlying issue prompting his investigation into a post-comparative philosophy regards the notion of "direct experience" or "sudden insight" so often invoked in Chan (Jpn. Zen) discourse. Wirth both explores the relation of direct experience to philosophical thought and situates his work in the larger history of the so-called sudden-gradual [End Page 1060] debates in Chan over the nature of awakening. In this latter aspect, he is informed by points of view that are in some respects opposed to each other, taking seriously material ranging from the existential-phenomenological work of Graham Parkes and Bret Davis to the historical-critical perspective of Bernard Faure and Robert Sharf. As he says, in the concluding sentence of the book, the debate over immediate realization has contemporary consequences: "It … makes all of the difference for the future of philosophy after comparative philosophy where what is at stake is not comparing and contrasting various philosophies but rather renewing a more philosophical commitment to exploring and unleashing the powers of philosophy."5

Here I want to suggest that these "powers of philosophy" have a deep (and these days overlooked) connection to the practice of commentarial writing, and that Wirth's book serves as a case study. As such, I address myself in what follows to the methodological issues at stake in his work. What do we "do" when we "do" philosophy after comparative philosophy?

Commentary as Subversive Reclamation: Or, Asking "What Is Philosophy?" after Peter K. J. Park

What Is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari is very much a meditation on the Greeks and the supposed Greek origins of philosophy. Philosophy, in their text, is about the production of concepts, especially as these concepts relate back to a pre-philosophical "plane of immanence"—the non-thought source of thought. They approach the question of the Greek origins of this uniquely philosophical concept-production from a variety of angles. On the one hand, as they claim repeatedly, philosophy is "something Greek"; on the other, they qualify, it was "brought by immigrants."6 On the one hand, they criticize Hegel and Heidegger for seeking a "necessary principle" that explains the Greekness of philosophy, and they accordingly reject Hegel's hierarchical account of the relation between the Greeks and the "Orient."7 On the other, they gently push back against François Jullien's suggestion that Chinese philosophical thought accomplishes an "absolutization of immanence...


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