domingo, 6 de marzo de 2016

Research proposal: Michel Foucault and Omori Sogen


In spring 1978 Michel Foucault met and practiced with Omori Sogen Roshi, one of the most important Buddhist Zen masters of the 20th century. My proposed research project is firstly to contextualise this moment within the ongoing conversation between Japanese Zen Buddhism and Continental Philosophy. Secondly, my research will analyse the importance of this event and how this meeting can shed light on Foucault’s later work of the technologies of the self and Omori Sogen Roshi’s mission for internationalizing Zen. Thirdly, I will analyse, from a postcolonial and foucauldian perspective, the spread of contemporary Zen Buddhism in Europe, its misappropriation by the neoliberal tendencies and its emancipatory potential. 
 
Michel Foucault was invited to Japan to give a series of lectures and seminars in the University of Tokyo on April of the above-mentioned year. During his stay in Japan, his second time in the country, Foucault expressed his interest in experiencing Zen Buddhist practice to the cultural attaché of the French embassy. Consequently, an interview with Omori Sogen Roshi was organised. Foucault practiced Zen with Omori Sogen Roshi for twenty days, and records of their conversations can be found in the third volume of ́Dit et Écrits ́ (Foucault, 1994) from French sources and in Omori Sogen ́s bibliography (Dogen, 1999) by Hosokawa Dogen from Japanese sources. Foucault never thematised this event but, as Omori Sogen Roshi put it “I think that it is a tremendous thing that Professor Michel Foucault had such a realization in only 20 days. This realization will perhaps have a culturally historic meaning. Believing this, I set a high value on his experience and feel thankful that he came to Japan to do zazen” 

Omori Sogen had intellectual, political, and social links with members of the Kyoto School. The Kyoto School of Philosophy is arguably one of the most significant philosophical movements of the 20th century. As a result of the Kyoto School’s interest in establishing a conversation with European philosophy, they developed a highly original philosophical work with its roots in Zen Buddhism. Although Western scholarship on the Kyoto School has grown steadily over recent years, it is far from reflecting the importance of this group to the history of world philosophy. One of the purposes of my proposed research project is to vindicate the importance of these Japanese philosophers and the relevance of their meditative practice to their philosophy.
There are several known links between Omori Sogen and members of the Kyoto School. Hisamatsu Shinichi, a member of the Kyoto School and one of the most famous students of Nishida Kitaro, founder of the school, was one of Omori Sogen’s mentors and had a great influence on him (Dogen, 1999). In addition, after a very positive review of Omori Sogen’s book, D.T. Suzuki and Omori became friends. Suzuki, a close friend of Nishida and a figure close to the School, held Omori’s talent in very high esteem, to the point that he recommended him
to guide the Crown Prince of Japan in his Zen training. Omori Roshi also published several articles in books and journals edited by D.T. Suzuki and Nishitani Keijii. (Omori, 1968) I feel certain that there were further connections; therefore one line of my research will be to collect further evidence and to determine the nature of these links.
The dialogue with European philosophy that had already been established by the Kyoto School, prior to the encounter between Foucault and Omori Sogen, had Heidegger as its main European point of reference. Heidegger, himself, had a great interest in East Asian religions and philosophies. He shared this interest with many of his contemporaries, such as Karl Jaspers, and could satisfy his curiosity thanks to his many students of Chinese and Japanese origin, and early translations of East Asian classics. (Lin, 2009) Several members of the Kyoto School were his students, such as Tanabe Hajime and Nishitani Keijii, and they were strongly influenced by Heideggerian philosophy. Nishitani Keijii also dedicated a great effort to researching the work of Nietzsche and re-reading the Zen tradition through the lens of Heideggerian and Nietzschean philosophy (Nishitani, 1990).
The controversial relationship of Heidegger and East Asian traditions has been already subject of research by scholars, such as Lin Ma (2008) and Reinhold May (1996). On the other hand, Foucault’s relationship with Japan has had little attention from the academic world. Therefore my research will expand the scholarship in this area by addressing this meeting between Foucault and Omori Sogen in the light of the connections already established through the Kyoto School and Heidegger. It will be imperative to ask if the apparent philosophical connections between Zen Buddhism, Heidegger, and Foucault are products of certain metaphysical/philosophical traditions influencing both these philosophers and translators of the Zen classics. Filtering its concepts through translations with heideggerian and foucauldian backgrounds, creating the illusion of connections where there only is the metaphysical tradition reading itself. For this purpose the critical approach to the research material will be built on the experience of the practice, in line with the traditional emphasis of Zen on the practice, as opposed to purely text-based scholar knowledge.
The determinant influence of Heidegger in Foucault, explicitly and specifically in Foucault’s later work, has the shared aim of challenging the Cartesian subject. One of the main aspects I will develop in my research is how this key interest is what connects not only Heidegger and the Kyoto School, but Foucault and, in certain way, Omori Sogen Roshi.
In 1982’s series of lectures at Vermont University Foucault (Foucault, 1990) states: “Perhaps I've insisted too much in the technology of domination and power. I am more and more interested in the interaction between oneself and others and in the technologies of individual domination, the history of how an individual acts upon himself, in the technology of self.
My research will argue that it was the pursuit of this interest that leads Foucault to Zen. The practice of Zen Buddhism can be seen not only as a clear and structured series of technologies of the self, but a solid philosophical tradition
with a explicit aim to disclose a different self. From a foucauldian perspective, it is a way of resistance to the modern disciplines that produce the Cartesian subject or, in Heideggerian terms, the ‘being of technology’ (Heidegger, 2013). The lesser-known affair with Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism can bring some light to Foucault’s later interests (Foucault, 1988) especially since his research developments were broken by his sadly early death. Indeed, it is possible that there might be texts supporting this research in the Foucault archive newly acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
It will be of an upmost interest to develop the potentialities that this encounter point has, what could a Zen Buddhist approach to Foucault’s technologies of the self reveal? The Zen disciplines and practices, as producers of an alternative to the Cartesian subject, may answer interesting questions raised by Foucault in his later work, and, as a counterpart, could a Foucauldian analysis of the Zen disciplines and practices reveal something overseen?
These questions, that are central to the proposed research, require a decolonial/postcolonial scrutiny, with an awareness of the political implications. Omori Sogen Roshi had links with the Japanese far right that have been outlined in very different scholarly approaches (Dogen, 1999; Victoria, 2003). This is a problematic aspect that one must address, just as it is also problematic to deal with Heidegger. Foucault’s interest both in Heidegger and Omori Roshi should highlight that, regardless of the politics, there was something of interest in their work. Foucault was correct in both reinforcing the impossibility of separating philosophy, religion and politics but not falling for the fallacy of dismissing an author because of certain political views.
Part of my work would be to find my own place and discourse in the context of the said postcolonial/decolonial analysis. Omori Sogen’s political and religious views have to be taken in the context of Japan having been forced into opening to trade and Western modernity, becoming a colonizer with imperialistic motivations, and then a post-war occupied country. It is also no coincidence that the cultural attaché of the French embassy put Foucault in contact with Omori Sogen, as Omori Roshi was one of the leaders in the internationalization of Zen and opening Zen to the ‘West’. Writers like D.T. Suzuki (Suzuki, 1949) were used as a source of an orientalist discourse, with the backlash of being accused of ‘reverse orientalism’ (Faure, 1995). A critical and decolonial analysis of the issue should shed some light onto this controversial point. This will also provide the theoretical basis to critique contemporary neoliberal appropriations of Buddhist practices such as mindfulness. A rigorous approach is necessary to guard against the decontextualized instrumentalization of the meditative practices born in the Buddhist tradition. Ultimately, it is hoped that one of the outcomes of this research would be a foucauldian outline of the emancipatory potential of Zen Buddhist practice.

Hosokawa, Dogen. Omori Sogen: The Art of a Zen Master. London ; New York: Routledge, 1999.
Faure, Bernard. Chan Insights and Oversights, Princeton University Press, 1996. Foucault, Michel. Religion and Culture. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Foucault, Michel, Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.
Foucault, Michel. Dits et écrits (1954-1988)
, tome III: 1976-1979 Collection Bibliothèque des Sciences humaines, Gallimard, 1994
Heidegger, Martin. On the Way to Language. 1st Harper & Row Pbk. Ed edition. San Francisco: Harper, 2003.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology: And Other Essays. Harper, 2013
Nishitani, Keijii. The self-overcoming of Nihilism. State University of New York Press , 1990.
Ma, Lin. Heidegger on East-West Dialogue. London. Routledge, 2009.
May, Reinhard. Heidegger’s Hidden Sources: East-Asian Influences on His Work. London ; New York: Routledge, 1996.

Omori, Sogen. Sanzen Nyumon. Translated by Dogen Hosokawa and Roy Yoshimoto. Boston, Mass: Tuttle Publishing, 2002.
Omori, Sogen. Zen to Budo.
Daisetz T. Suzuki and Nishitani, eds., Zen, in Vol. 5,
Zen and Culture Chikuma Shobo, 1968.
Suzuki, D.T Essays in Zen Buddhism. Grove Press, 1949.
Victoria, Brian Daizen. Zen War Stories. Routledge, 2003.

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