Friday, January 14, 2011

méfiez-vous des savants français

Here's Bernard Fauré, in his critical appraisal of Zen, Chan Insights and Oversights:

The emergence of a tradition is simultaneously the sign of a loss and an attempt to deny this loss, to bridge the gap between a devalorized present and an idealized past.

In other words, people make stuff up to establish historical continuity. The PoMo cynicism of this claim makes me shudder. It also makes me wonder why one of my profs recommended this book to me back in grad school.


1 comment:

Kevin Kim said...

Someone left an intelligent comment for this post, but failed to read the comments policy (no anonymous comments!) and thus wasn't published. Anonymous, feel free to try again-- with a name this time, please. Screen name is OK; I'm not looking to "out" anyone.

Anonymous's point was that we routinely mythologize the past. I grant this, but it's only half of the truth. We also do our best, with the methods available to us in our era, to preserve and record the past as faithfully as possible. Fauré neglects to mention this, perhaps because it doesn't fit his PoMo agenda. (He's very much a product of a lit-crit formation.)

In religious studies, we're constantly confronted with "pious fabrications"-- falsely reconstructed lineages, exaggerated miracle stories, misplaced historical events, etc. That's one reason why there are scholars who question the existence of Jesus, Moses, Bodhidharma, Lao Tzu, et al. But those scholars generally know better than to leap to conclusions about the reality/unreality of elements of a tradition because they realize that something, some signal event(s) or some forceful personality/-ties, might lie at the root of that tradition.

Every launched rocket has a trajectory, and that trajectory, when traced backward, implies the existence of a launch pad. The rocket may leave a wispy, smoky trail that's hard to follow, but the trail points back to definite origins. Traditions aren't merely a stack of lies.