A Philosophy of Emptiness
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Digging through early and non-Western philosophy, Gay Watson uncovers a rich history of emptiness. She travels from Buddhism, Taoism, and religious mysticism to the contemporary world of philosophy, science, and art practice. Though most Western philosophies are concerned with substance and foundation, she finds that the twentieth century has seen a resurgence of emptiness and offers reasons why such an apparently unappealing concept has attracted modern musicians, artists, and scientists, as well as preeminent thinkers throughout the ages. Probing the idea of how a life without foundation might be lived—and why a person might choose this path—A Philosophy of Emptiness links these concepts to contemporary ideas of meditation and the mind, presenting a rich and intriguing take on the concept of emptiness and the history of thought.
Way to Language. More recently this has been republished along with two other dialogues as Country Path Conversations. Here we ﬁnd much that is resonant with a philosophy of emptiness; indeed it is only, as a Japanese commentator noted, within an understanding of emptiness that it can be properly under86 stood. Speaking of a Japanese translation of Heidegger’s What is Metaphysics?, the Japanese commentator marvels to this day how the Europeans could lapse into interpreting as nihilistic the
Thus meaning is to be found in the spaces between. Every sign carries a trace of that which is absent, a certainty forever deferred. Derrida’s 90 writing has been much compared to Nagarjuna, and he has also been critiqued for his failure to go far enough, remaining in a half-way house of textuality, while Buddhist thought points to a transformed way of experiencing the world in practice.32 Indeed, despite Heidegger’s words about non-philosophy and the profundity of experience, his and other
the very process of attending than to its content. It is a cultivation of deliberate physical and mental stillness, evading the usual distractions, and of watching the way our minds work and seeing things more purely, enabling us to notice the distinction between the thing seen, the thought thought, and the feelings and mental chatter that quickly surround that ﬁrst moment of attention. We should not expect some form of transcendental experience, but we should examine such expectations or wishes.
trends have seen this priority questioned and even overturned (often, alas, to an extreme extent, a rebalancing that merely moves from one end of the spectrum to the other, resulting in an equal if opposite imbalance). As noticed in a recent book: The concept of practice is oddly underdeveloped within the Western philosophical tradition, despite being 169 central to the major modern ruptures of that tradition which form the corpus of critical theory and the artistic avant-garde.2 In this
Languages of the Unsayable (Stanford, ca, 1987), pp. 30–70. M. Fox, Breakthrough (New York, 1980), p. 215. These and the following quotations come from Sermon 15 and were chosen since they illustrated in one place many of the tropes for which Meister Eckhart is best known and which also resonate with ideas of emptiness. Ibid., pp. 214–15. These discontinuous lines come from St John of the Cross, Verses Written on an Ecstasy of Complete Contemplation (my translation). These discontinuous lines