Friday, May 23, 2014

Bibliography Writing

I'm writing my bibliography tonight.
Well, it's sorta fun. I like having all the books around me and running my fingers through their frontmatter. Then getting lost in their indices.... Fun.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Devils vs Demons (鬼 v 魔)?

NOTE: I wrote this last night (Wednesday night) but there was a brown out around midnight and that derailed me. So, you will see that I just stop writing mid-thought below.

I have been sick the last couple of days and took some extra sleep. It wasn't a total loss of time, though.
I did submit a first draft of my proposal to my advisor and I will be preparing a table of contents and my bibliography over the next month.

I wrote to Ori Tavor requesting a copy of his dissertation and he was very kind to share with me and wish me luck in my writing. He will be revising his dissertation over the next year or so in order to prepare the manuscript for publication somewhere. I'm sure it will be a frequently discussed book when it's published. You can read Michael Stanley-Baker's review of Tavor's dissertation over at the excellent site Dissertation Reviews.

Tavor had an article published in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy last year about Xunzi's ritual theory and it really opened up my thinking about addiction. Reading his article I kept slapping my head and saying, "of course, I wish I'd thought of that!" the experience has been really gratifying for me because to this point I've been thinking that I've been crazy to think about addiction from a Confucian ritual perspective. So, for just that alone I'm thankful. But then this weekend I was mulling over Hui-Lin's short article about cannabis and its linguistic impact on Chinese culture and I started wondering why ma 麻 + gui 鬼 = mo 魔?  As it turns out, Tavor writes a bit about this term. I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Li translates mo 魔 as "demon" and notes that the hallucinatory capacity of ingesting cannabis ma 麻 combines with "devil" (gui 鬼) to create this new "demon" character, mo 魔. But why? It would seem that Li is suggesting here that ma is amplifying the quality of a class of being, "devil" (gui 鬼). But when did mo 魔 come into usage? What is the difference between a "devil" and a "demon" really? Gui 鬼 is used today in several bisyllabic words that are relevant to my dissertation: yangui 煙鬼 (opium smoker; heavy tobacco smoker), jiugui 酒鬼 (drunk, alcoholic), segui 色鬼 (lecher), and zuigui 醉鬼 (drunkard, alcoholic). Zuixin 醉心 apparently means "addicted to." That xin 心 is used must have interesting implications for the neuroscience of addiction. Xin 心 has historically been understood as both heart and mind together, but Western-trained medical professionals are more likely to understand xin 心 as referring to what we would refer to exclusively as "mind."

ASIDE: While Karen and I were in Shanghai last spring we were told by several faculty of China's most prestigious neurology and psychiatric departments that a delegation of German psychoanalysts have been coming to Shanghai over the last several years to train folks. Time didn't allow for us to ask much about these training sessions nor the practices that are apparently taking off like wildfire there. I'd love to know how this collapsed heart-mind, xin 心, fits into psychoanalytic practice. I wonder how much xin 心 is going to change the way psychoanalysts think about heart and mind.

Gui 鬼 occurs several times in the Zhongyong 中庸:

16. 子曰:鬼神之為德,其盛矣乎!
Legge—How abundantly do spiritual beings display the powers that belong to them!
Ames and Hall—The efficacy (de 德) of the gods and spirits is profound!
Jullien—La capacité dont témoignent les efficiences invisibles, comme elle est éminente!
(my take on Jullien, "The efficaciousness of supersensory effect-making is awe-inspiring!)

29. [...] 故君子之道本諸身,徵諸庶民,考諸三王而不繆,建諸天地而不悖,質諸鬼神而無疑,百世以俟聖人而不惑。質諸鬼神而無疑,知天也;百世以俟聖人而不惑,知人也。
Legge (30.)—He presents himself with them before spiritual beings, and no doubts about them arise. He is prepared to wait for the rise of a sage a hundred ages after, and has no misgivings. His presenting himself with his institutions before spiritual beings, without any doubts arising about them, shows that he knows Heaven.
Ames and Hall—Confirmed before the gods and spirits, no doubts attend it. Having waited one hundred generations for the appearance of the sage (shengren 聖人), there are no second thoughts. Confirming this way before the gods and spirits so there is no doubt about it, is to know tian 天; having waited one hundred generations for the appearance of the sage so there are no second thoughts, is to know the human (ren 人).
Jullien—C'est pouquoi la voie du Souverain a son fondement dans la personnalité morale de celui-ci et se voit attestée au niveau du peuple tout entier: si on l'examine en regard [du gouvernement] des Trois rois [fondateurs des trois dynasties], [on se rend compte qu']elle ne s'en écarte pas; si on l'établi en regard [du grand procès] Ciel et de la Terre, [on se rend compte qu']elle ne le contredit pas; si on la confronte à la dimension d'esprit du réel, on n'éprouve pas de doute à son égard; enfin, qu'on ait à attendre cent générations un Sage [qui vienne la confirmer], on n'éprouvera aucun trouble à son endroit.
Qu'on la confronte à la dimension d'esprit du réel et qu'on n'éprouve pas de doute à son égard, c'est connaitre le ‹‹Ciel»; qu'on ait à attendre cent générations un Sage [qui vienne la confirmer] et qu'on n'éprouve aucun trouble à son endroit, c'est connaître l'homme.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading Hui-Lin Li

I'm looking for material that reports on narcotic culture in China and through a fortuitous click on I came across Victor Mair's Sino-Platonic Papers housed at the University of Pennsylvania. In terms of their commitment to publishing "outlier" materials their only peer would be Punctum Books. It was through a (talented) student's essay on the speculative etymology of the word "marijuana" that I came across a series of articles that Hui-Lin Li, the first John Bartram Professor of Botany at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the 1970s.

Consider "Hallucinogenic Plants in Chinese Herbals" first published in Harvard University's Botanical Museum Leaflets in 1977:
So far as I know, there has been no report of any use of hallucinogenic plants in China in more modern times. We do not know whether the practice of using some plants by "sorcerers" or some other peoples as mentioned in earlier works occurred also in recent ages or not. It is not impossible that some use of hallucinogens may be found among the aborigines or other non-Han tribesmen along the remote borderlands in the southwest or elsewhere. There seems to be no such ethnobotanical study or survey ever having been made. We do come acress, however some records indicating that Cannabis was being used by the Uigurs [Uyghurs] along the Sinkiang (Chinese Turkestan) [Xinjiang] border in the remote northwest as late as the early twentieth century. (161–2)
Li also argues, in his article "The Origin and Use of Cannabis in Eastern Asia Linguistic-Cultural Implications" (1974) that Chinese people do not consume marijuana because of the violence that is associated with the drug. Given that family is the guiding metaphor in Chinese culture (to address a group in Mandarin one states "dajia" [大家, big family]) this drug-induced violence would foreclose the plant's use. He suggests that perhaps "aborigines or other non-Han tribesmen along remote borderlands" might be consuming marijuana for its hallucinogenic affordances.

There are two things that are remarkable here: 1) that casual racism that Chinese-ness is Han-ness and 2) that to be properly "Chinese" (again, meaning "Han") one knows better than to use this plant in this prohibited manner.

The first item isn't so surprising perhaps—having worked as a researcher in Japan I was frequently confronted with this casual racism that pervades both Japan and China. In Japan, I've gone on record about the gaijin 外人 situation in Japan. In support of this casual racism in China I offer an anecdote from a very accomplished non-native Chinese researcher working in China for some time. Even after a long career in Chinese universities of top quality and after being presented with the most prestigious award one can receive as a non-native this researcher is still required to leave the country and renew their visa at great frequency. Permanent resident status has been denied over and again because of this lack of "Chinese-ness."

On the second point, it's not surprising that Li presents Chinese-ness as adhering to a common literature. Specifically, Li argues that it is the Zhongyong 中庸 (which he translates as Doctrine of the Mean) that proscribes deploying a technology that disrupts one's filial relations. Ignoring the colonial and racist origins of translating Zhongyong 中庸 as "doctrine of the mean," I am interested in what the Zhongyong states about the role of education in consummating one's position in relation to the cosmos. The Zhongyong is a technical manual about the cosmic powers attainable through a kind of learning. That to become enculturated (by observing certain ritualized technologies) is to become more human.

It's been about forty years since Li wrote his articles arguing for a cultural relating that defines "Chinese" as being Han and so we might imagine that since then there has been a sea change toward understanding China as a place as culturally diverse as Europe. But just this month an article was published in Science presenting a study discussing rice technologies vs. wheat technologies that explains the cultural differences between northern Han and southern Han. Again, Han-ness becomes a gloss for explaining cultural difference in "China."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zhongyong and Addiction

Despite having cultivated cannabis for its hallucinatory effects since at least the Neolithic era, cannabis has not proven to be a preferred intoxicant among the Chinese since that time. Hui-Lin Li suggests that this is due to the near-universal adoption of the lessons contained in the Confucian classic text, Zhongyong 中庸 which Li refers to as the “Doctrine of the Mean” (300). Li argues that it's because cannabis is a Phantastica (a hallucinogen that induces mental exhilaration and nervous excitation), as opposed to opium, which is an Euphorica (having sedative qualities), that the Chinese would not be inclined to consume cannabis. That, Li argues, family life is the primary socializing agency and because cannabis consumption—on Li's account—leads to fantasy, unreality, and violence, cannabis would disrupt family life (300). Opium, on the other hand, could be consumed communally and brought about a relaxed state in the users. “In a way it incidentally served to preserve the large extended family system, thus reinforcing the teachings of filial piety [xiao 孝] and ancestor worship” (300–301).
 (, hemp, in zhuan script)

In his short essay Li puts forward a number of arguments about the role of cultural techniques in the formation of Chinese culture and the unfolding of China's entrance into the Modern era. The essay opens with a discussion of textile fibers as defining features of ancient Old World cultures: the Mediterranean region cultivated linen, there was cotton culture in India, and in East Asia there was hemp culture (293). The casual reader might be surprised that East Asia is not marked as a silk culture, but Li tells us that from the earliest times the cultivated fields were referred to as “land of mulberry [which attracted silk worms] and hemp.” Hemp was a crucial element in observing ritual propriety (li 禮) since before the days of Confucius. According to the Liji 禮記 one must wear rough hempen clothing during the mourning of one's parents. for example. Confucius states in the Analects 論語 (9.3) that “The use of the hemp cap (麻冕) is prescribed in observance of ritual propriety li 禮. Today people use silk as a matter of frugality. I would follow accepted practice on this.”

You'll note that Li relies upon the first translation of Zhongyong that the Protestant missionary James Legge created, “Doctrine of the Mean.” Twelve years later Legge would later abandon that translation in favor of “The state of equilibrium and harmony.” There's no question that those in power throughout China's history have been influenced by the Zhongyong as all bureaucrats were required to memorize the text as part of their standard exams. But how do we understand the text? Although I disagree with Li that the Zhongyong is primarily a text about moderating one's behavior (a la Aristotle's Golden Mean), I am intrigued by the reading of the Zhongyong as a user's manual. Translating the work is difficult in part because it is straightforward in what it says, but philosophically it appears incoherent at first.
(, hemp, in contemporary hanzi)

The Zhongyong discusses the role of education (jiao 教) in the process of enhancing and developing one's natural tendencies (xing 性) so that one may become consummate in the performance of one's daily affairs. Through this process of harmonization and consummation one is elevated to a status of cosmic co-creative status. That's not to say that one creates worlds ex nihilo, but that through this practice one learns to align with the creative forces of the universe.

I've argued elsewhere (Boshears, Boeri, Harbry 2011; Boshears 2012; Boeri, Gibson, Boshears 2014) that addiction is a networked phenomenon: one is apprenticed into addiction and out of addiction. In so far as "addiction" as a concept is philosophically coherent it is a description of learned technological relating that has gone askew. In my dissertation I will consider drug use from the perspective of cultural techniques and as a case study I will examine how addiction came to be articulated by colonial European agents acting in China. The creation of the concept of addiction was a means of naturalizing colonial Europe's cultural techniques and providing a pretext for further subjugating non-Europeans. I suspect that unpacking the Zhongyong's position on education will help us understand what is possible in pedagogy and contribute a novel interpretation of how addiction "happens."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Re-establishing Comms: a short intimate bibliography

I've been struggling to write lately. Some of it has to do with the seemingly unending months of sleep deprivation that began with the birth of our son last summer. Some of it seems normal enough for someone trying to write their dissertation. I'm hoping that a return to the ol' blog will help limber me up.

Writing, I'm told, is similar to distance running: you have to warm up in order to get your stride going. And, if you've not run for a while, your warm ups are likely going to be longer than your runs. That's how I feel today. Yesterday was really difficult: after a couple of hours of actually trying to write, I managed to push out about a paragraph. I have to remember that I have completed a marathon and that was only possible because I committed to small runs several times a week. I'll complete this project in a similar manner.

Writing a PhD dissertation is daunting. It's a creative activity in so far as it's the creation of a new expertise—no one else will be an expert on your topic, you will actually "write the book" on the matter. In order to minimize that, I'm trying to organize my task into smaller pieces that are more readily wrangled. Probably familiar to others in my position or that have been in my position, I despair at the feeble scaffolding that I've committed to the page when I try to organize my work.

So, what am I writing about? I think I'm writing about the origins of the concept of addiction and the role that Chinese philosophy played in that historical formation.

I imagine that this is to some degree a conversation about cultural techniques (kulturtechniken, techniques du corps) as well as comparative philosophy and I'm, of course, looking to some recent scholarship in the area to help gird my arguments. Following Thomas Kasulis' lead established in his excellent introductory text to comparative philosophy, Intimacy or Integrity, I'll share a brief "intimate bibliography." An intimate bibliography has the virtue of foregrounding the reading of a book at a particular time and in a particular environment and intimates the atmosphere in which these ideas came into contact. Rather than writing a bibliography that establishes that I've exhaustively searched the relevant material for sources that exist (this would be the more traditional integrity-oriented bibliography), I'd like to share the story of how I came to think of this topic.

My initial thought was that I would write something about appropriation. How does a public space become appropriated by a public? How does a space become appropriately understood as private? What is grasped when an object is appropriated? How does one learn what can be appropriated appropriately? Other than my own opinion that Ames and Rosemont's translation of li 禮 as "ritual propriety," I didn't really know what to do with those questions. Early on I thought I'd look to Rancière or Derrida or Barbara Johnson, but I didn't really know what to do with that.

Thanks to my wife's review of a manuscript under consideration at a publishing house, I was able to score a copy of Bernard Stiegler's What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology. When I first entered graduate school I was a member of a research team investigating methamphetamine use in the region and my task had been to analyze the data and find compelling interpretations for understanding the hundreds and hundreds of hours of interviews we'd collected. It was during an afternoon of random clicking that I first came across Stiegler's Ecole de philosophie d'Epineuil-le-Fleuriel and this image from Gilles Barbier L’ivrogne:
I'd told myself that I had to read more about Stiegler's treatment of Derrida's thinking on pharmakon and finally the chance had come. Stiegler's book, for all of its problems, got me to thinking about addiction as a problem of forming the appropriate relationship to a technology: whether that technology was a narcotic, a video game, or a food.

I'd long been thinking about the secular rituals of social life, the "social conventions" that make civil society possible even though we never convene to decide what these quotidian performances will be. Among those social conventions was smoking. I had smoked tobacco for about ten years before I quit and the process of quitting smoking was immensely difficult. I frequently likened it to a mode of suicide because my social life disappeared. I couldn't hang out with my friends because they all smoked. I couldn't go to my favorite clubs to see my favorite bands because you can smoke in those bars. It was immensely difficult to eat my favorite foods without wanting to complete a meal or a cup of coffee with a habitual cigarette.... 

I'd learned how to smoked as a teenager outside of Richmond, Virginia. My parents smoked throughout my childhood, but I didn't really know how to start. It was a production: how to light a lighter, how to do the "French inhale," or how to tamp the tobacco by "packing" the box. I had to hold the cigarette just so, I had to cultivate the careful carefreeness of keeping smoldering tobacco at my face without burning myself or looking like I was too concerned with how people looked at me smoking.

All of these were informal lessons, a bit of habitus, if you will. It was also the way I understood Ames, Hall, and Rosemont were arguing for the importance of learning Classical Chinese philosophy. Smoking was an ars contextualis. The way you learned to bum a smoke off somebody on the street, the way you learned to light someone's cigarette in passing, the way you learned to start a conversation when you sat down next to an ash tray at a party—these were moments of li 禮 and it was how I wanted to talk about drug addiction more broadly. Some of the things I'd thought about addiction had gotten published in some journals, but I wasn't clear on how to bridge the gap between addiction sciences and Classical Chinese philosophies. Then I got lucky.

I have a part-time job working for a contemporary arts publication and I am responsible for their circulation and distribution. One day last summer, while delivering magazines to a local bookstore I happened to find an old copy of Herbert Fingarette's Confucius—The Secular as Sacred which I'd seen referenced a number of times by Ames, Hall, and Rosemont. It's a great monograph and I after finishing it I wanted to know more about Fingarette. That's when I learned that he had also written a very influential book about alcoholism, Heavy Drinking. This then led me to also get a copy of the festschrift dedicated to Fingarette.

At about this time I was also re-visiting Avital Ronell's book Crack Wars and I think I started searching for links between her and Classical Confucian philosophy. Ronell's work has influenced and instigated discussion across a broad spectrum of disciplines and so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to come across Keith McMahon's The Fall of the God of Money: Opium smoking in nineteenth century China which explicitly states a debt to Ronell's perspective on addiction as a mode of being (Being-on-drugs). I reached out to McMahon after finishing his book and was so thrilled to know that there were others (better than me) that were also pursuing this kind of work. McMahon suggested that I also read the exhaustively researched Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China by Dikötter, Laaman, and Xun. Where McMahon's book helped me interpret opium use as a response to colonial Europe's obsession with becoming "Modern," Dikötter, et al. present a thorough report of who was saying what when and where during the 19th century in China.

It was during that period that I also became aware of a special issue of Theory, Culture & Society dedicated to presenting seminal essays on "cultural techniques" guest edited by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, Ilinca Iurascu and Jussi Parikka. In this excellent introduction to the field, Bernhard Siegert lists Ronell as among one of the earliest voices in the development of the body of literature (along with her friend Kittler, of course). Weirdly enough, this was around the time that I became aware of and read Ori Tavor's article in about Xunzi's ritual theory in Dao.

Well, I've not really delved into much detail about what I read in those sources, but you get the sense of how the timing and the dumb luck of my discovery process. It's now after midnight and I need to get some rest before the baby wakes again.