Tag Archive: Nagarjuna

cataclysmic eventology

Hiroshima mon amour (dir. Alain Resnais, 1959)

In my reply to kvond’s and Meg’s comments on the Event, I alluded to a quote from Derrida’s Cinders, which I thought would be worth posting, especially since I can’t find any reference to it online and I don’t have the book handy to check it.

“At what temperature do words burst into flame?

Is language itself what remains of a burning?

Are cinders all that’s left from the ringing at the origin of words?”

Derrida’s reference point is the Holocaust, but it’s also the entry into language, which resonates with Lacan’s notion of a gap between the Real and the Symbolic. Following up on Meg’s suggestion of petrification and Pompeii as western civilization’s perhaps archetypal reference point for volcanic/traumatic cataclysmic events, what’s left behind, and what Herzog dwells on in the films I mentioned, is the signature of the Event (though, in the case of La Soufriere, it’s a non-Event). Rather like a nuclear explosion that leaves its radioactive shadow splayed across everything, the traumatic event leaves everything askew, haunted by a spectre, or ringing with an inaudible sound, the meaning of which we can’t make out. The vacated city, the empty landscape, the city frozen in time, with its illegible ciphers, the Event we can never come back to, yet which we perpetually circle around. If the human disappearance from this planet is genuinely thinkable, Herzog is one of its most evocative thinkers.

But sometimes reading these fragments can only be done in still shots, not in movement images. Unlike Deleuze’s time-image, which is always an image of movement, these might be something more like a geological frozen-time-image, which is always an image of movement stilled, of time passed, and, as Barthes put it in Camera Lucida, ultimately an image of (one’s own) death.

La Jetée (dir. Chris Marker, 1962)

For all that I value the vibrant materiality of process-relational and vibrant-materialist ontologies, I still turn to Derrida (and Buddhism) to remind us of the resonant emptiness at the heart of things. Derrida and his followers (Caputo, Mark Taylor) groped toward an ethic, a call, a claim on us from within that emptiness; but for a pretty reliable method for hearing that call, we could do worse than to turn to Nagarjuna and the Buddhists.

Continuing from the previous post…


“For Buddhism,” Clark writes, “the negative path of the destruction of illusion is inseparably linked to the positive path of an open, awakened, and compassionate response to a living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature.’’’

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John Clark’s recent article in Capitalism Nature Socialism, “On being none with nature: Nagarjuna and the ecology of emptiness,” has gotten my neurons firing in a productive way. Clark is a political philosopher whose book The Anarchist Moment had long ago excited me about the prospect of melding together a Daoist-flavored, but Murray Bookchin-inspired eco-anarchism with a Foucauldian critique of power. Clark abandoned his Bookchinian social ecology years ago, finding Bookchin’s project too limiting (though he still sees the need to periodically inveigh against it). But it’s good to see that he is still working on a socio-ecological project that continues to synthesize, deeply and thoroughly, from eastern as well as western traditions.

This particular piece is among the best attempts I’ve seen to apply Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka (Madhyamika) philosophy to environmental ethics, and it raises issues of relevance to ecophilosophy, the relational/objectological debate that featured here a little while ago, and eco-social liberatory practice. Since the article is only available through a personal or institutional subscription to the journal, I’m cutting and pasting some favorite passages into this post, interspersed with comments recontextualizing Clark’s argument within the philosophical currents I’ve been exploring here — specifically, Deleuze, Derrida, Lacan/Zizek, and others. What follows isn’t an in-depth philosophical analysis, and there remain many issues one could try to work out in the relationship between these different thinkers and traditions. I just wish to point out some of the resonances here. (And, sympathizing with Tim Morton’s — that Deleuzian anti-Deleuzian’s ;-) — recent lament about Derrida’s burial beneath mountains of Deleuze, I’ll briefly touch on their compatibility here, at least in a cursory way. They are both, after all, “philosophers of difference” — as one might argue Nagarjuna is, too — but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there remain large differences, no pun intended, between their philosophical projects.)


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