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Chan Insights and Oversights

by Bernard Faure

Buy the book: Bernard Faure. Chan Insights and Oversights

Release Date: 11 November, 1996

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Bernard Faure. Chan Insights and Oversights

Post-structuralist Look at Zen

Faure's book is a very ambitious attempt to look at the history of Zen and its relationship with the West, and attempt to see how this has been from the start shaped through ideological battles. He traces the history of this East-West interaction from the first landing of the Jesuits Matteo Ricci and Frances Xavier in China and Japan, respectively, up to Kerouac and the Beat generation in the 1960s. At the same time, Faure employs the concepts, methodologies and epistemological insights of post-structuralist thinkers from Foucault, Derrida, Michel de Certeau, Deleuze and others.

The first part of the book is more straightforwardly history and historiography, where Faure develops his main claim that the split between the Northern and Southern Chan schools in China should *not* be equated with the separate approaches of Soto and Rinzai (gradual vs. sudden enlightenment) Chan/Zen. He sees this as a later invention. He also questions the lineages of the Zen/Chan patriarchs as serving ideological purposes, rather than being factually historical.

The second part of the book is where Faure develops his post-structuralist thought in examining questions of space and place, time, language, writing, and individuality (a chapter on each of these). This will be quite interesting for those unfamiliar with post-structuralist thought, but the cognoscenti may be disappointed by Faure's conclusions.

In general, a good work especially for those who have up to now reacted allergically to "postmodernism" or "deconstruction", since while Faure employs the thinking of these "theorists", he does so in very easy to understand language. Unfortunately, for those who *do* know these thinkers and their works, Faure's efforts may seem only half-successful. For example, while he criticizes other scholars for failing to see the ways in which they were themselves implicated in their theories and writings (he does this to E. Said, DT Suzuki, and many others), he fails to historicize himself, or examining his own ideological "place", his own use of rhetorical techniques, etc.

Still, a very good work, and virtually a must read for those studying Zen history and historiography.

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