Old Writings: Foucault and Buddhism

I have recently decided to start posting some old writing that I’ve written, for whatever reasons you may choose to impute on me–should you choose to do so. The previous post on Our Pedophilic Society was one such. This will be another. I’m not sure if I will start distinguishing these from those things I write recently, but for now I won’t. Without further adieu, here goes:

“Foucault’s notion that we construct our own subjectivity, especially in his later works, leads to important questions about why we act, think, believe and feel the way we do. Why do we choose to interpret the world in some ways as opposed to others? What ethos are we supporting when we act, believe and speak in the ways we do? The hermeneutic question here is: Why do we choose a certain subjectivity instead of another? Underlying this question is a tacit opening up of the malleability of one’s subject-position and the consequence that we can take an active part in constructing our own subjectivity. We can engage with all of those forces that shape our subjectivity, and attempt to reconstruct it in other ways. Foucault’s hope is that we challenge dominant paradigms and create new, less hegemonic/oppressive forms of subjectivity. The idea that we can take an active role in constructing our subjectivities is a key element of some Buddhist thought. One of the insights underlying much of Buddhist thought, including the Four Noble Truths, is the understanding that we actively create our own dukkha. While samsara is characterized by duhkha, nonetheless, the project of liberative action in Buddhism is the cessation of duhkha. This is engendered by an analysis that attempts to show how we can actively change our interpretations of the world, and how we can specifically reshape our attitudes about reality, our emotional states—in general, our subjectivity. To be more clear, the insight that we can transform and engage with our attachments is a position that at root is about transforming our subjectivity. The similarly key insight for both is that our subjectivity is not a given, it is a product of forces around us that shape how we construct ourselves. For Foucault it is power-relations and interests that impact our subjectivity; for Buddhists it is our collective attachments that shape our subjectivity (or conversely, the world as samsara of our being-in-the-world). And in both cases, a program of reconstituting the subject in ways that liberate the subject from these forces that shape our subjectivity engages directly with how we dominate ourselves through the disciplining of our own subjectivity.”

Let me provide a bhasa or auto-commentary. My first response is, so what? Almost every ideology demands the transformation of the subject. Why are these two so special?


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