Tim Morton on Buddhism

by Arran James

In light of my last few posts dealing with Timothy Morton’ new book Realist Magic, and the efforts of others to do the same, I’m glad to see he has published a new paper. I’ve already started to think of Morton’s object-oriented ontology as a form of mysticism with much in common with Buddhism and Gnosticism. To be sure, I share his feeling that these are linked and have shared words with him in the past to that effect. For this reason, I feel very close to his project. On the other hand, a commitment to embodiment and corporeal materialism prevent me from following him all the way down the rabbit hole. An extract:

mysticism is a form of speculative realism: the attempt to talk outside the ego, based on the fact that ego is only an illusion. In fact, from this point of view, what’s perplexing is that confusion happens at all. What’s perplexing is “this life,” not what lies “beyond” life. It’s perfectly “natural” that enlightenment happens all the time, because we don’t have an ego, but we do have physical bodies. It’s not some gift from above, but the spontaneity of what is below. Which is why esoteric traditions jealously guard their secrets: they can be abused because enlightenment is not difficult at all—it is in fact the default mode of existing, period.

Read the full paper here.

On this topic of mysticism I have been casually reading D.T Suzuki’s Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist and came upon his discussion of The Unattainable. An extract:

The unattainability of Nirvana comes from seeking it on the other shore of becoming as if it were something beyond birth-and-death…refreshments cannot be taken outside of time. The taking is time. The taking is something attainable, and yet it goes on in something unattainable. For without this unattainable all that is attainable will cease to be attainable. This paradoxicality marks life. (p.87).

Perhaps the idea of virtuosity that I want to develop (a kind of corporeal ontological pragmatism that all objects engage in by degress) is this attainability for me. For Morton, on the other hand, attainability is hermeneutic. To be clear, the dis-agreement is not just about the status of matter and causation but also about the primordial disposition of thing to worlds.