“Portraying Zen Buddhism in the Twentieth Century: Encounter Dialogues as Frame-Stories in Daisetz Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism and Janwillem Van de Wetering’s The Empty Mirror.” Japan Studies Review 21 (2017). 3-24. online.
In the twentieth century, few people have influenced perceptions of Zen in the West as much as Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. Thus far, studies of Suzuki have not addressed the literary forms he used to convey his construction of Zen, thereby ignoring one of the most important ways in which he rendered his ideas attractive to non-Japanese audiences. To address this gap, my article investigates how two accounts of Japanese Zen Buddhism, Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (1934) and Janwillem Van de Wetering’s memoir The Empty Mirror (1973), frame Zen Buddhist stories known as encounter dialogues. I argue that Suzuki uses these stories 1) to condition the relationship between author and reader as that between a master and a student; and 2) to portray Zen as an a-historical practice centered on “experience.” In The Empty Mirror, however, framed encounter dialogues remain ideal portrayals that contrast with the protagonist’s life in a Zen monastery. The manner in which Van de Wetering uses frame-stories thus implicitly critiques Suzuki’s influential narrative of Zen, and suggests a manner of writing and thinking about this religion that takes into account both the ideals and failures of Zen Buddhist practitioners.
“Reading Chan Encounter Dialogue during the Song Dynasty: The Record of Linji, the Lotus Sutra, and the Sinification of Buddhism.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 37 (2017). 209-221. Online.
This article provides a new understanding of a Chinese Zen (“Chan”) Buddhist literary genre called “encounter dialogue,” arguing that this genre implicitly and explicitly invites its readers to visualize Zen Buddhist patriarchs. I do this through a reading of The Record of Linji. Though encounter dialogues, which typically describe interactions between masters and students in the Zen tradition, have enjoyed some significant attention in Buddhist studies recently, what has remained underdeveloped is the study of these texts as literature. Through a comparative approach focused on the literary features of encounter dialogue (their brevity, focus on action, and lack of descriptive indexes), we can understand (1) how and why encounter dialogues classify as a type of text Erich Auerbach calls “history” and (2) why encounter dialogue collections consistently comment on encounter dialogues as allowing practitioners to meet their ancestors. A comparative analysis of encounter dialogues can help us understand the importance of encounter dialogues in what has been called the “sinification” of Buddhism during the Song.
“Inventing the Zen Buddhist Samurai: Yoshikawa Eiji’s Musashi and Japanese Modernity.” The Journal of Popular Culture 49.5 (2016). 1125-1145. Online
In 1939, Yoshikawa Eiji, a self-identified fascist writer, published Musashi, a historical novel that remains very popular in Japan and abroad. Thus far, literary scholarship outside of Japan has largely ignored Musashi, a gap this article addresses by studying the novel against the background of Japanese modernity. It sees Musashi’s eponymous protagonist, an ideal samurai, as embodying the contradictions of the Japanese nation-state in its project of “overcoming modernity.” The novel achieves this by portraying the “Way of the Samurai” (bushidō) as an unchanging essence, and by incorporating “fascist moments” that erase the ethical problems of using violence.
Review of Louis Komjathy, Taming the Wild Horse: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Daoist Horse Taming Pictures. Reading Religion (2017). Online.
Review of Jan Kiely and J. Brooks Jessup, Recovering Buddhism in Modern China. Twentieth-Century China 42.3 (2017). E26-E28. Online.
Nishida, Kitarō [西田 幾多郎] (1870–1945). In The Encyclopedia of Modernism. Ed. Stephen Ross. Taylor and Francis, 2016. Online.
Arguably the most important Japanese philosopher of the 20th century, Nishida Kitarō was one of the first thinkers to engage deeply with the sudden massive influx of foreign ideas that characterized the Meiji era, while still maintaining a distinctive place for Asian ideas. Beginning with An Inquiry into the Good (1911), Nishida’s lifelong philosophical goal was to identify the foundation of consciousness and existence, something he later called the “place” [basho]. Successive works identified this foundation as “pure experience,” “absolute will,” and, finally, “absolute nothingness.” All these “places” have in common the fact that they lack any distinctive features: being fields (another term Nishida employs) that contain oppositions (such as subject-object, me-you, knowledge-feeling), they cannot of themselves have distinguishable qualities…
This paper juxtaposes two visions of Derrida’s short essay Cosmopolites de tous les pays, encore un effort!, namely a translation and a critical article. The focus of the investigation will be the manipulations that both texts impose on the “original” French text. Thereby, an insight is gained into the operation of interpretations on a canonized philosopher that can be seen to attack the very logic of canonization. What is of concern here is how texts (more than authors), propagate a certain view of an oeuvre that, on first sight, resists any stable vision of itself. The role of the paper then becomes to destabilize the two texts that it examines, to put them in motion using the “original” they are grafted upon. This mobilization is achieved through a highly unconventional reading of text and translation, where the most material aspects of the text – italics, spacing – will be hypothesized to display the “system” of Cosmopolites most forcefully. Once this system is constituted, it will be utilized to complicate a monolithic interpretation of Derrida’s text. This process will reveal the constantly shifting (and highly underestimated) nature of “cosmopolitanism” in the later work of this French philosopher, a nature that is further explored by the use of the dyad political-abstract: interpretation and translation can be seen to incline towards one of these two poles. Finally, an argument is made for a context-sensitive reading of Derrida, one that remains conscious of the provisional nature of this philosopher’s expressions.