- Liberation through Rumination:Expanding the Ranges and Concerns of Philosophy
"Blessed are they who are empty, for in them life finds no restrictions, no barriers."Henry Miller (1958)
I begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to my three astute readers, all of whose own work I admire and esteem. They already inhabit the philosophical universe to which my book aspires, and I am moved that they recognize this. Writing, to borrow Paul Celan's famous simile, often seems like a message in a bottle, tossed out to sea. How rare and wonderful that it washes ashore, and rarer still when received in a heartland! [End Page 1093]
These insightful comments, provocative embellishments and commentaries, and well-posed questions are, to my thinking, the highest honor that a reader can grant a text. I learned much from them. As Maurice Blanchot taught us, dialogue is infinite. What follows are simply my initial responses.
Leah Kalmanson rightly argues that at the heart of my book is an effort to liberate the "powers of philosophy," and she associates this with "a deep (and these days overlooked) connection to the practice of commentarial writing." I embrace this connection and bow to Kalmanson a thousand times.
My book does not seek to explain either Nietzsche or Japanese Buddhism. Nor does it imagine that the alternative to exegesis is a putatively "original" work of philosophy. The fantasy that we can construct a philosophy out of whole cloth has more to do with capitalism's insatiable need for the "latest and greatest" than it does with philosophical rumination, and I regard it as an act of ingratitude, bordering on heresy. Philosophical activity is shaped and facilitated by the legacies of Elders, Ancestors, and Teachers, human and non-human. Commentary is not, however, obsequious servitude. We do not honor our Elders, Ancestors, and Teachers, who sought to heal and liberate us, by embracing intellectual slavery, closed-mindedness, and stinginess of spirit. That would be to use the power of philosophy against itself. Commentary is both grounded and expansive, but it should not be reactionary or self-serving. My term for commentary is one that I borrow from Nietzsche, namely, rumination, which is "not simply the act of pondering something deeply. It is rather to process and digest what one reads … The book that one reads is the grass that one first ingests. But if the ruminant does not first transform the grass into cud and chew it again, the grass will sicken and eventually kill it."1 We honor our Elders, Ancestors, and Teachers by ruminating carefully and salubriously on the cud of the world's bounty of thought. Rumination is libratory, unleashing the power of thought.
Kalmanson also rightly points to one of the key masses of cud that philosophy needs to chew, namely itself. This includes ruminating on practices that, left to themselves or used unscrupulously by others, become fortresses of privilege. One such practice, one that I find that many of my students find puzzling at best and disheartening at worst, is philosophy's own stinginess about the questions, problems, practices, and legacies that it allows into the Exclusive Club of what matters or counts as philosophical. Kalmanson's turn to Peter K. J. Park's seminal work, Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy, drives this point home. As Park demonstrates, philosophy as somehow Western, the child of the Greeks, a gift not distributed to non-Western cultures, who remained haplessly in the thrall of [End Page 1094] religion, is false, racist, and of relatively recent invention. As Park argues: "It was no earlier than the 1780s that historians of philosophy began to deny that African and Asian peoples were philosophical. Also beginning at that time, they segregated religion from philosophy and argued that Africans and Asians had religion, but not philosophy."2
This, for example, is the kind of legacy that led the distinguished Japanese philosopher Masao Abe, in his brilliant A Study of Dōgen, to speak of Dōgen's "philosophy and religion" in order to emphasize, at least on a European scale, that what made Dōgen philosophical was his capacity to reflect upon his...