- Neither/Nor:Ruminating on the Metanoetic Pharmakon in Nietzsche and Other Buddhas
A Compliment to the Philosopher Chef and His table d'hôte intellectuelle
If a book title were comparable to the name of a restaurant, the table of contents would be their menu. Jason Wirth's Nietzsche and Other Buddhas (hereafter NOB) initially reminded me of a fusion restaurant with a strong "Asian" flavor, an ambiguous genre that we would see anywhere in continental Europe. As one could easily imagine, this is not necessarily a compliment to the chef. By integrating various ingredients and different techniques from diverse culinary traditions, a fusion restaurant might claim to create a new dish or a unique course that transcends the conventional categories of our dietary practice. Like what Kant says about the uniqueness of nonsense, however, their end product could fail to be original or, what is worse, could even be offensive to those who are very familiar with any of the specific culinary traditions. If what comes after comparative philosophy results in this kind of "fusion philosophy," its success will have to feed on our ignorance of intellectual histories.1 Our feeding frenzy in this new, fashionable modus operandi may starve us to death of philosophy rather than liberate us from the hunger that has propelled us into a philosophical search in the first place. To borrow Wirth's use of the "felicitous analogy from Kierkegaard," it might as well be that "the last thing that we need is more food. Rather we need to lose something, to shed our gluttony. We need a medicinal poison to take away an unhealthy poison."2
As you can see, I was initially skeptical about the soundness of a philosophical menu that mixes Zen, Schopenhauer, Hakuin, James, Pure Land, Shinran, Tanabe, Deleuze, Dōgen, and Nishida (in order of appearance) with an explosive spice or the deadly meat, Nietzsche. Could this be a process of ventriloquizing Nietzsche through Asian philosophical traditions? Or are we washing down the strong aftertaste of reading Nietzsche or Schopenhauer with Pure Land or Zen water? How could we stomach all of these thinkers and traditions in one setting without causing serious indigestion in our hearts-and-minds? To my surprise, Wirth's text gives a performative proof that they can indeed be read together and examined with the purpose of giving us food for thought. What makes NOB particularly successful in referring to different thinkers is its emphasis on "rumination." It [End Page 1070] self-reflectively questions what it is to read any text philosophically and what it means to integrate texts into one's process of thinking such that its creative insight points toward the nutrients that it has found in the process of digesting ideas from diverse intellectual traditions.
This philosophical process of "rumination" is not merely an external comparison of ideas from different philosophical traditions. Nor is it an imposition of one tradition over another. Rather, by harmoniously fusing together various insights, the author's very process of understanding the cultural, linguistic, and historical milieu of his existence delves into fundamental issues concerning our human condition in the world today. NOB, in this sense, renders a final form of "comparative philosophy," where a thinker is liberated from conventional categories of philosophizing (especially in reference to the almost obsolete distinction between "East and West") and proves that what philosophers can stomach and integrate into their process of (self-)understanding should count as "philosophy." That is to say, depending on the capacity of the thinker to deal with a variety of intellectual resources, some intellectual traditions or a combination of ideas that are seemingly counterintuitive to most scholars in the field of philosophy could generate a tremendous force that accelerates the (re)new (ed) sense of philosophy.3 The "philosophy of food" in chapter 5 especially demonstrates this excellence, and we should anticipate a longer sequel that would mark Wirth's original contribution to the history of philosophy.
Two Counterfeit Negatives
A food critic, however, must entertain the possibility of some improvement, even when the dish is well prepared and its overall presentation is exquisite. I would like to draw our attention to two...