by Bernard Faure
Professor, Religious Studies, Stanford University
Journal: Critical Inquiry
University of Chicago Press
Spring 1998, Volume 24, Number 3
This essay is an attempt to reconsider what vision of -- that is, what discourse on -- Buddhist icons is possible for a Westerner (or Westernized Asian). Buddhist icons have been essentially the domain, or rather the preserve, of art historians. But Buddhist art, if there is such a thing, is perhaps too important to be left to art historians alone. Is there a Buddhist "art," a subcategory of Asian art, itself a rubric within world art, one among the many rooms in Andre Malraux's famous "musee imaginaire"? Or are we not dealing primarily with Buddhist images, whose artistic value is at best derivative? Even though art history is beginning to take a broader, even anthropological, perspective with regard to Western images and visual culture, it is still necessary in the Asian context to shift the focus from traditional concerns about the history and aesthetics of art to the history, affect, and function of ritual images or icons. Even if we want to retain the notion of aesthetic value, to the extent that a narrow aestheticism precludes our understanding of the anthropological and phenomenological dimensions of Buddhist icons, we must question this emphasis on the aesthetic object. I want to focus precisely on the vision of icons, on the asymmetrical exchange of glances that characterizes icon worship. I have elsewhere examined the various techniques of animation of the Buddhist icon.(1) Because they are, in a manner, alive, and not simply dead representations, these icons are images of power.
However, this obvious point -- perhaps because it is obvious in the etymological sense ("lying in the way"; hence preventing, making an obstacle) -- has until recently been largely ignored by art historians, especially in studying Buddhist images. The notion of animated Buddhist icons has been repressed as a result of the modern and Western values of aestheticization, desacralization, and secularization. This situation, however, is beginning to change.(2)
In order to counteract this repression, I will take some of my cues from the recent work done by certain historians and from critiques of Western art in the wake of Walter Benjamin.(3)
I also want to question the scholar's instinctive reluctance to blur genres. What is at stake in this maintenance of the disciplinary border by the scholars who set themselves up as keepers of the pass, or of the passage? This question motivates my inquiry into the need and possibility for rethinking -- or rather revising, reenvisioning -- our understanding of the Buddhist icon, and by the same token perhaps modifying our gaze. The term icon, here, will designate mostly images such as statues and portraits (icons in the strict sense), but it could be extended to include aniconic, that is, nonanthropomorphic, symbols or diagrams (such as the Indian/Buddhist
swastika or the wheel of the dharma). Icons, as we will see, are ritually animated and in this sense are not different from masks, puppets, or automatons, in which one finds the same "conflation of sign and signified" (PI, p. 32). At times, Buddhist icons are literally animated by the presence within them of a (supposedly) live entity. Paradoxically, then, the icon becomes a kind of tomb. A significant case is that of a Japanese stone statue of the Buddha Amida, in which was placed the mummy of a Buddhist monk.(4) The icon becomes a container, a recipient, a funerary urn or stupa.
The labyrinthine structure of my argument might be partly justified when we recall that Daedalus, the first maker of animated images, was also the inventor of the labyrinth. Daedalus was the first to open the eyes of the statues, and to set their feet apart (see PI, pp. 36-37). Notice here the symbolic equivalence between eyes and legs: it is as if the opening of the eyes, which gives life, were equivalent to the separation of the legs, which permits movement.
Buddhist icons, although their eyes have been opened, are usually represented sitting cross-legged or standing still with legs joined. Only a small number of Buddhist icons, representations of minor deities (what the Japanese call besson, "distinct worthies," as opposed to the major Buddhas, the honzon or "main worthies"), are depicted as dancing or gesturing wildly. On the whole, Buddhist iconology has valorized stillness. Buddhist icons are, strictly speaking, "still life" or "suspended animation." When they seem to be on the move, their movement often goes hand in hand with a certain sexualization. Whereas the honzon's immobility, its self-contained appearance, symbolizes its absence of passions (or outflows) and its genderlessness, the besson are more dynamic and clearly gendered (sometimes even quite explicitly, like images of the goddess Benzaiten, whose unclothed body is distinctly feminine).
The Rise of Orientalist Aesthetics
In what follows, I first examine the aesthetics of several early
twentieth-century art historians, some of whom became at one point
purveyors of Asian art to European and American audiences. I realize
that modern art historians no longer find this aesthetic discourse
valid, or worth discussing (if they ever did). No self-respecting
specialist in Indian or Japanese art today finds his or her
references in Ananda Coomaraswamy or Ernest Fenollosa. I still think
it necessary, however, to emphasize what we might call the
genealogical flaw of the Euro-American discourse on Asian art and
its replication in the "secondary Orientalism" of native Asians,
precisely because its Orientalist origins have receded into a dark
corner and seem to have evaded scrutiny.(5) A number of
presuppositions that governed the discourse and vision of these
predecessors are still influencing ours today. I would like to
adumbrate some of these presuppositions by setting up a few straw
men as (not so) ideal types.
The aesthetic tendency (and secondary Orientalism) in early Japanese
art history is well represented by a historian like Watsuji Tetsuro,
who in his book Restoring the Idols compared the Buddhist revival of
the Taisho era (1912-25) to the Western Renaissance. The title of
his book is, however, rather misleading, since the idols thus
restored "did not revert to being gods to be worshipped but were now
appreciated as works of art."(6) This return to antiquity was in
fact, as in the French controversy between the Ancients and the
Moderns, a departure from everything that had prevailed in the past;
therefore, despite its title, the book advocated a radical
modernism. The rediscovery of Buddhist doctrine and Buddhist art
from the Taisho era onward followed in the wake of this modernist
Another influential writer who was among those credited with
(re)-defining the fields of Japanese (or of Buddhist) art is Ernest
Fenollosa. Hoping to serve as a bridge between the West and Japan,
Fenollosa defined the parameters by which Chinese, Korean, and
Japanese arts should be judged. In 1887 he received from the
Japanese government the task of registering Japanese art treasures
and through his lectures almost singlehandedly changed the Japanese
people's perception of its cultural and artistic patrimony.
Fenollosa was not only a fine lecturer at Tokyo Imperial University,
he also became in 1890 the first curator of the Oriental collection
(named after him) at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He went back to
Japan in 1896 and, after his death in London in 1908, his ashes were
buried at Miidera, the Buddhist monastery on the southern bank of
While in the United States, Fenollosa exerted a powerful influence
on American art education, namely with his emphasis on the notion of
"spacing" and his assertion that "style" was a "shibboleth,"
reflected in statements like the following: "We find that all art is
harmonious spacing, under special technical conditions that
vary."(7) By attempting to give "a history of Oriental Art written
from a universal point of view," he contributed more than any other
Westerner to the enshrinement of Buddhist imagery into so-called
universal art (EC, 1:xxv). In the introduction to his Epochs of
Chinese and Japanese Art, he wrote, for instance: "We are
approaching the time when the art work of all the world of man may
be looked upon as one, as infinite variations in a single kind of
mental and social effort" (EC, 1:xxiv).
The crucial role played by Fenollosa in rescuing Japanese Buddhist
art and, as his wife, Mary, claims in her preface to his work,
restoring Japanese "national pride and interest" cannot be denied
(EC, 1:xvi). However, this achievement was not without cost, in
artistic as well as ideological terms. In light of our knowledge of
what this restored national pride led to, the preface's claim that
Fenollosa was "deeply stirred by the splendid struggle of Japan in
her war with Russia" is disturbing (EC, 1:xxi). Conflating religion
and ideology, he was led to believe that the passionate idealism" of
"this remarkable race" had "displayed itself in the sacrifices of
the recent Russian war" (EC, 1:155). From an art historical point of
view, the cost has to do with the aestheticization of Buddhist
images -- the purely stylistic approach to the "epochs of art" --
with hardly a word as to the functions of and responses to this art.
Fenollosa's idealization of Asian images as sublime works of art,
comparable and even superior in some respects to Greek art, goes
hand in hand with a lack of interest in their cultic functions. A
significant example is his account of the discovery in 1884 of the
Yumedono Kannon of Horyuji, an icon which had been kept hidden in
its "Pavilion of Dreams" (yumedono) for centuries. But, says
Fenollosa, "it was the aesthetic wonders of this work that attracted
us most," a work that "seemed to rise to the height of archaic Greek
art," with "its rather large -- almost negroid -- lips, on which a
quiet mysterious smile played, not unlike Da Vinci's Mona Lisa's"
and a slimness "like a Gothic statue from Amiens" (EC, 1:51).(8)
Here is Malraux's "musee imaginaire" in a nutshell: "As one stands
upon the altar of Kondo, he gets to-day a strange, weird feeling of
Greekish frescoes, Norman hangings, Gothic statues, and Egyptian
bronzes, so varied is the jumble of forms of a hundred sizes" (EC,
In all fairness, Fenollosa does at times, though rarely, depart from
his purely aesthetic mode and reflect on the response that these
icons could provoke from the (Christian) beholder. Thus, speaking of
the Maitreya of Horyuji, he writes: "The impression of this figure,
as one views it for the first time, is of intense holiness. No
serious broad-minded Christian could quite free himself from the
impulse to bow down before its sweet powerful smile. With all its
primitive coarseness of detail, ... it dominates the whole room like
an actual presence" (EC, 1:64). But on the whole, he remains mainly
interested in the line, color, and grace of Buddhist art, this
"aesthetic flowering of the Japanese race" (EC, 1:99). When one of
these standards is not met, he is quick to denounce the ugliness of
what he observes, as in the case of Nara's Great Buddha, with its
"ugly big head," reflecting "the taste of the day ... for fat and
neckless types" (EC, 1:109). The same is true for the Eighteen
Arhats of Kodaiji, which, with their "evidently intentional" Semitic
features, lacking any grace, he argues must have been found in
Chinese synagogues, for "the Arabs hated Buddhism so heartily that
they would hardly have become mistaken for arhats" (EC, 1:142).
Fenollosa does not even mention the obvious ideological and cultic
aspects of these icons, in particular the Vairocana Buddha of
Todaiji, whose ritual "eye-opening" ceremony in 753 crowned a
massive effort to gather the metal for the statue that strained the
Fenollosa's interest in line (perhaps showing the distant influence
of Vasari) and color leads him to assert the superiority of painting
over sculpture: "The very rhythms of line may suggest motion and
transitory phases which are forbidden to sculpture. The latter
normally register's the permanent; the former the process" (EC,
1:122). Sculpture seems to be the first stage in artistic evolution,
correlated with public religious worship; but with the growth of
individual religiosity, painting he foreground, as for instance is
the case with the "mystical," antiritualistic art of Chan/Zen. We
are now "to follow Chinese and Japanese art into the greater
subtleties of painting, the ripe stage of infinite modulations in
line and colour" (EC, 1:123). Because painting constitutes the
ultimate reference, Buddhist sculpture is judged on the basis of its
lines, the grace of its forms. When the line fails, it may be partly
redeemed by the richness of the color, but in most cases ugliness
For Fenollosa, therefore, as for historians of Western art like
Heinrich Wolfflin, the history of art is one of the development of
forms.(9) This emphasis on the stylistic form prevented him, and
many after him, from reflecting on the ritual context of the icons
he discovered. Aesthetic considerations have steered us away, for
instance, from exploring all the implications of the well-known (and
often mentioned) fact that the Guze Kannon icon and the Sakyamuni
icon at Horyuji were made the size of the ruler Shotoku Taishi
(572-621). The size of an icon was one of the essential elements in
the success of a ritual. As Sylvain Levi pointed out in his analysis
of Vedic sacrifice, "the sacrifice is the man. The sacrifice is the
man because it is man who offers it; and every time it is offered,
the sacrifice has the size of the man."(10) The Guze Kannon is even
believed to be an image of Shotoku Taishi, made while he was alive.
In other words, whereas these icons were substitute bodies, tokens
of immortality, many of us, a century after Fenollosa, still see
them as items in the catalogue of the "musee imaginaire," next to
the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and Rodin's The Thinker. To give
just one example, quoted with approbation by a contemporary art
historian, Karl Jaspers saw the famous Maitreya icon of Koryuji as a
"symbol of the purest, the most harmonious and the most eternal
sic of the human `being,' freed from the hindrances of the
temporal that rules over this earth."(11) No doubt Jaspers would
have been surprised to hear that -- unlike in the case of the Venus
de Milo, whose beauty is enhanced by her incompleteness -- when a
finger of this Maitreya was broken by a high-school student in 1960,
the whole country followed the media's hour-by-hour account of the
recovery of the wounded icon. All this does not detract from
Fenollosa's achievements -- or does it? At the very least, one could
say of him what he says of one of his predecessors: "Marco Polo is
surely worth something" (EC, 1:xxix).(12)
The Sacralization of Art and the Profanation of Icons
In the case of the Yumedono Kannon as in many others, Fenollosa,
acting on behalf of the Meiji government, was able to requisition
the opening of the pavilion, despite the protestations of the
resident monks: "They resisted long, alleging that in punishment for
the sacrilege an earthquake might well destroy the temple. Finally
we prevailed, and I shall never forget our feelings as the long
disused key rattled in the rusty lock. Within the shrine appeared a
tall mass closely wrapped about in swathing bands of cotton cloth,
upon which the dust of ages had gathered." The atmosphere of
profanation that prevails here recalls the Western discovery of
Egyptian mummies, but this violence in the name of art is well worth
it in Fenollosa's text, since "at last the final folds of the
covering fell away, and this marvellous statue, unique in the world,
came forth to human sight for the first time in centuries" (EC,
The earlier mention of Malraux in relation to the notion of
universal art, of the "muse imaginaire" (an expression that E. H.
Gombrich translates as "Museum of the mind"), is significant in
other respects as well."(13) One of the lesser claims to fame of
this colorful figure, who became the first minister of culture of
the Fifth Republic, is the story of his arrest in his youth for
stealing the head of a Buddhist statue from Angkor. Art and violence
form an old couple, and Buddhist temples, from India to Japan, were
plundered long before Malraux. When Indiana Jones tries to retrieve
a precious cross from the hands of avid collectors, angrily
protesting, "It belongs in a museum!" he is more akin to the thieves
than he might think.(14) However, this plundering was usually
committed for venal reasons, rarely in the name of aesthetics (and
even when it was, as in Malraux's case, aesthetics seems more like
an alibi or an afterthought -- or perhaps a mark of remorse). This
enshrining of aesthetic pieces (and fragments) in the temple of art
by profaning the icons of the temple (literally, bringing them from
inside the temple to outside, in broad daylight, in front of the
temple pro fanum) brings to mind an even more dramatic case, that
of Victor Segalen, a noted French poet and novelist, who also became
well known in the sinological field for his research on Chinese
archeology. In his epigraph to Segalen's book, The Great Statuary,
of China, Malraux writes: "The great poet who wrote Steles here
reveals to us, as no one had ever done before and as no one since
has done, the spirit of the art he studied. In its field, this book
is irreplaceable."(15) One wonders whether Malraux knew about the
following incident, narrated by Segalen's companion, Gilbert de
Voisins. If he had, would it have changed his appreciation of
Segalen as a great poet uniquely able to reveal to us the spirit of
Chinese art? Or would the revelation of this dirty secret have, on
the contrary, illuminated in his eyes the essence of
On 29 August 1909, upon stopping to visit a dilapidated pagoda on
the roadside, Segalen and de Voisins discover a splendid statue of
shape, this life-size statue is still alive: its profile has
retained its nobility, its eyes their gaze, the smile of its mouth its generous
sweetness and a kind of irony. -- This statue, we must have it! We won't leave
it as if it were a mere bronze vase! We will not leave without it! With
chosen words that bind us, we make a pledge. -- This is all very well,
but how should we proceed? Take it? Steal it? -- It would be impossible for us even to lift that piece of wood! Very well then! We will its head! Immediately, fetching an axe from our luggage, we undertake the sacrilegious work. With all my strength, I strike the first blow on the golden neck, but I hardly make a mark on this age-old wood. We struggle in vain. Segalen strikes with all his strength, without any more success. This lasts for about half an hour, when just as we are about to give up ... two peasants who were passing on the road, attracted by the noise, enter suddenly. We feel quite embarrassed, our cynicism has its limits.... To pollute a temple by debasing the statue of its god is an act for which there is hardly any excuse. But the newcomers, far from showing any anger or indignation, behave, on the contrary, in a way that stupefies us: they offer to help us! -- first, they make us understand that it is pointless to try to behead this Buddha, which is too heavy, while standing. They lay it down on its face, with its head on a block, put wedges under its sides, fix it with straw plugs, and finally, laughing at our clumsiness,
take the axe from our hands. With a few well-directed strokes, crackles, an atrocious tear, it is done; the beheading is perpetrated. In the chest we find some cash, which we leave to our accomplices, and papers, which I keep. Our horses are now stamping in the mud. We jump into the saddle without further delay and ride away... On the way back, Segalen imagines the plot of a nice story, based on our action today. He is so ashamed of this sacrilege that he wants to justify himself to posterity. In particular, he is so ashamed of our impunity that he heaps a thousand calamities, each more atrocious than the other, on the main character of his story. In this way, he believes that he can to some extent avoid them himself. Only when he laid out the conclusion of his story, which I may add is perfectly horrible, did he perhaps feel relieved and find his peace of mind again.(16)
Interestingly, Segalen exorcizes or placates one double (the icon)
by punishing another (the character in his story).
Would Segalen have committed the same profanation if the icon had
not been a Buddhist one? Sometimes the idealization of one type of
art is achieved at the cost of another. Segalen calls Buddhist
sculptures "outgrowths of apostolic Hinduism" and refuses to
consider them as examples of "China's true statues" (GS, p. 15).
These sculptures, being the "repetition of one monotonous type," are
"of the same stiff ecstasy" and are "neither beautiful nor Chinese"
(GS, p. 121). Segalen deplores the tragedy that famous sites such as
Yungang and Longmen are "no longer anything but an empty sponge, a
once-living core putrefied by the hand of man" (GS, p. 122). He does
not try to hide his prejudice against Buddhism, "what we must call
and consider China's major heresy, her fault, her slavery" (GS, p.
79). If he feels obliged to talk about Buddhist art at all, it is
"in order to challenge and reject the lyrical admiration with which
that `art' had been treated" -- an art "so remote, so exotic, so
waning" compared to the "pure, intrinsic, inherently Chinese nature
of the genius of ancient China expressed in three-dimensional stone"
(GS, pp. 128, 119).(17) Yet the Buddhist statue was beautiful
enough, with the "generous sweetness" and the "kind of irony" of its
smile, for Segalen to desire its possession at any cost.
The point is not to lay blame on some individuals in order to
exonerate ourselves more easily but rather to register the intrinsic
violence of the modern gaze and discourse, the predatory nature of
our relation with non-Western cultures -- a violence so deeply
embedded that it infected even the best minds, but a desecration
that is also perhaps incited by the sacred icon itself.(18) The
commodity fetishism that characterizes much of the discourse about
art today may be simply another expression of the intrinsic violence
done to the image, although it can also be analyzed as part of the
lingering fascination exerted by it, and as a way of recharging
things with alienated "powers." Or again, as Freedberg argues, the
violence might be done not only to the object but to oneself. The
aesthetic mode of thought might be the active repression of an
animistic belief in the power of images, the very kind of repression
of outdated feelings that Freud sees as the source of the uncanny.
As the above example suggests, there is sometimes a fine line
between iconophilia and iconoclasm.(19)
The Desire for Vision
If unlike the devotional or ritualistic approach -- and more than
the traditional Buddhist emphasis on beauty -- the modern aesthetic
approach is essentially a strategy for containing the "impure"
(sexual or magical) elements of cultural artifacts, we need to move
beyond aesthetic discourse to consider the abundant, yet neglected,
anthropological data regarding (and regarded by) the icon. Among
these we might want to include Indian and Chinese notions about the
gaze (in Sanskrit, darsan), the stupa (a reliquary mound housing the
relics of the Buddha or of a saint), the tessera (in Chinese, fu),
and power (in Chinese, ling).(20) A case for the importance of
context has been made by Edmund Leach, who argues that icons are
part of a "space syntax" of sacred buildings (and, we could add, of
domestic worship) and that one cannot remove them from this context
without entirely changing their nature.(21) For Leach, "works of art
are not just things in themselves, they are objects carrying moral
implications. What the moral implication is depends upon where they
are" ("GH," p. 256). What we call the loss of aura results in this
case from the displacement of the icon from its religious context
and not merely, as Walter Benjamin argued, from mechanical
reproduction. Although some icons are displaced a great deal in
traditional cultures and actually derive much of their power from
this, their displacement does not entail a dislocation of their
meaning. One could perhaps distinguish between the syntactic level,
on which an icon appears as part of an iconological structure or
network (a triad, and so forth), and the semantic level, which
abstracts that icon from its synchronic or metonymic associations
not in order to re-create another sequence, a diachronic one, but
rather to focus on its individual aura, its unique presence. Leach
focusses on group representations, in which "the jumble is the
message" ("GH:" p. 250). A case in point, which both he and Rolf
Stein study, is the representation of the Gatekeepers -- who usually
form a "dual" of persons, a pair of twins that should not be
separated.(22) In the twin pagodas of Zayton (Quanzhou), studied by
Gustav Ecke and Paul Demieville, icons are structurally paired.(23)
These pagodas, whose photographic study necessitated the
construction of a complex scaffolding, reveal another interesting
fact: in many cases icons are not there to be seen, either because
they are placed too high or because they are buried (literally
encrypted) or kept hidden (the so-called hibutsu, or "hidden
Buddhas").(24) A dominant metaphor in art nowadays, which explains
the art critic's interest in a hermeneutic or semiotic approach and
Leach's structuralism, is that of the text to be deciphered
(de-crypte). However, images are not simply there to be seen or
read. Even in the case of icons carved on a stupa, "circumambulation
does not lend itself to aesthetic contemplation."(25)
Despite its highly abstract metaphysics, Buddhism, through its
iconic and ritualistic tendency, remains an eminently concrete
religion. As noted above, the cult of icons is characterized by
strategies of presence. The notion of presence might seem too
reminiscent of Christianity, but in this respect Christian iconology
itself, unlike Jewish iconoclasm, savored of paganism. Christianity
(or Western philosophy, according to Derrida) does not have the
privilege of a "metaphysics of presence."(26) Such a metaphysics is
one of the most commonly used strategies and one of the most common
features of religious ideologies across cultures.
The figurative practice in China has its antecedents in magical
conceptions related to witchcraft, funerary, and ritual practices,
in contrast to the figurative practice of the West, where a clear
break seems to have occurred.(27) The Western image is, in the words
of Jean-Pierre Vernant, "only resemblance," and "this pure
similitude that defines its nature of image marks it with the seal
of a total irreality."(28) However, the contrast is perhaps not as
clear-cut as Hubert Delahaye, for one, thinks. Delahaye nevertheless
makes the interesting point that statues in China do not reflect a
divine reality; they are not mere illusions or repositories of a
higher power, but refer only to themselves -- a signifier without
signified, as it were. As we will see, this is not always the case
for Chinese sculpture, or at least for Buddhist icons.
In some cases, Buddhist icons were so true to life as to be endowed
with viscera, the most famous example being that of Seiryoji in
Kyoto, a wooden Buddha dated 985, in which five cloth entrails were
found along with a variety of votive objects and relics. Likewise
the statue of the Buddhist master Zendo (Shandao) at Chion-in
contains a number of objects a mirror, coins, written prayers, and
so forth). Some of these "stuffed" Buddhas are verisimilar to the
point of having inlaid glass eyes. The blood, sweat, and tears of
sculptures were usually seen as bad omens. Sometimes icons grow hair
or eyebrows, another ominous sign, or cry for help when robbers come
to steal them. Sometimes the icon can be a stupa, as in the
following story: Having noticed an old woman climbing a mountain
every day to worship a stupa, some youths ask her why she takes such
pains. She answers that it is because of a prophecy that the
apparition of blood on this stupa would mean an imminent disaster.
The youths decide to smear the stupa with blood to laugh at the old
woman's expense. The next day, when she sees the blood on the stupa,
she runs down the mountain and leaves the village. Soon after, a
sudden flood devastates the valley, fulfilling the prophecy.(29) I
will return to the equivalence between stupa and icon below.
There are many cases like the following, in which Asian icons,
because of their verisimilitude, their mimetic quality, are able to
arouse people. Here are a couple of Chinese examples:
During the Xianning era of the Song, three young men went to a
sanctuary on Mount Jiang. There were several statues of very
beautiful and worthy women. The young men got drunk, and everyone
chose a statue as a spouse and began to flirt with her. They
played thus until the evening; during the night, they all had the same
dream, in which the lord of Mount Jiang sent a messenger who
transmitted this message: "My daughters are all old and ugly, and
yet we have received the favor of your homages and solicitude. We must
therefore fix the day and month when you will all meet again for
Soon after, all the young men died. Another story is found in Hong
Mai's Yijian zhi (Record of the Listener), from the second half of
the twelfth century:
There was in Chaojue monastery ... a hall of the Mother with Nine
Children. It was on the top of the mountain. A lay practitioner
named Huang went to offer incense and lamps, and, among the
statues, he took particular care of a statue of a wet nurse. Her
breasts hung outside her robe, offering a pleasant sight. Every time he
came, he caressed her breasts with sighs of pleasure. One morning, the
statue moved her eyes and got up. She took him by the land, led
him behind a screen, and they had intercourse. From that day
onward, they maintained the habit. After several months, the man
fell ill and had to stay in bed. However, he continued to climb the
mountain. The abbot of the monastery spied on him, and saw a woman
welcoming him with laughter halfway to the top. The next day the
abbot followed him: the woman was there again. The abbot hit her
with a staff, and she collapsed on the ground. In the terracotta
fragments of the statue he found a fetus which seemed to have been
gestating for several months. He ordered Huang to take it home;
then suddenly the fetus broke in a thousand pieces. Huang mixed
bits of the fetus into a drug which he then swallowed, and
We find here a very concrete description of fetishism as the
animation of an object through the projection of one's own life. If
unchecked, such alienation leads to the death of the fetishist,
through the birth of his double.(32)
In Japan, the best-known story is that of Kichijoten (in Sanskrit,
Laksmi) in the Nihon ryoiki (Record of Miraculous Stories from
Japan): In a mountain temple of Chinu there was a clay image of the
goddess Kichijo. A lay brother who lived in the temple was attracted
to the female image, felt desire, and fell in love with it. This
Buddhist Pygmalion prayed to the goddess six times a day, asking her
to give him a beautiful woman like herself Subsequently he dreamed
that he had sexual intercourse with the goddess; the next morning he
discovered a stain on the skirt of her image. Seeing this, he
repented, saying. "`I prayed to you to give me a woman like
yourself, but what a sacrifice you made to give yourself to me.'" He
was too ashamed to tell others, but the whole affair was eventually
discovered, and villagers found the stain on the statue. The text
concludes by saying that "deep faith never falls to gain
Delahaye contrasts the world of Chinese painters, who were usually
literati and therefore opposed to magical aspects of their art, to
that of sculptors and craftsmen, who remained closer to the cultic
context of popular culture. In both cases, however, image makers
were seen as demiurges, able, like Pygmalion, to breathe life into
their creations. Even the most abstract concepts of Chinese
aesthetics betray their magic origins. As noted above, the lifelike
nature of the icon manifests itself in its movement: icons can
speak, walk, fly. Sometimes the icon walks around its own pedestal,
from which it has climbed down. The first Buddhist image was also
the first icon that moved.
Here is how the Gaoseng zhuan (Biographies of Eminent Monks) tells the story of the origin of this icon:
The Buddha had gone ninety days earlier to the Trayastrimsa
Heaven to preach the Law to his mother. King Prasenajit or, in a
variant, King Udayana, regretting not being able to see him, had a
statue carved in sandalwood ... and had it placed at the spot where
the Buddha used to sit. Later, when the Buddha returned to his
vihara, the statue came out to welcome him. The Buddha said:
"Return to your seat. After my nirvana, you will serve as model to
the four categories of followers." The statue sat down. This statue is
the first of a multitude.(34)
A replica of this icon (or, in some versions, the original -- which
was, of course, already in a sense a replica) was allegedly brought
to Japan by the priest Chonen at the end of the eleventh century and
enshrined at Seiryoji (Shakado) in Kyoto. This icon is the one in
which cloth viscera were found, a fact that in part explains its
vitality. However, in China, the notion of live icons predates
Buddhism, and animated effigies were already found in the tombs of
the Han. Of course, this widespread cultural notion ran against the
intellectualist approach of doctrinal Buddhism. In the early
canonical scriptures, one often reads that the Buddha is not in his
image. In the Daoxing jing, for instance, the Bodhisattva
Dharmodgata asks his disciple, Sadaprarudita, "O Noble One, would
you say that the Buddha's spirit is in the image?" Sadaprarudita
replies, "It is not there. The image of the Buddha is made (only)
because one desires to have men acquire merit."(35)
Similarly, the well-known story in which Upagupta asks the Tempter
Mara to impersonate the Buddha Sakyamuni is an early attempt to
distinguish Buddhist icon worship from "pagan" fetishism: When the
patriarch Upagupta wants to see the Buddha, the demon Mara
impersonates him, to Upagupta's delight. However, Upagupta makes it
clear that his devotion goes to the Buddha, not to Mara.(36) We are
reminded of the Byzantine iconodules' statement that the devotion
goes to the prototype and that the image and the prototype are not
to be confused.(37)
These stories suggest that in most cases the icon finds its origin
in a desire for vision and/or presence. The same desire is found at
the source of Christian icons. Like King Prasenajit (or Udayana)
requesting the right to make an image of the Buddha Sakyamuni, Saint
Veronica, in one version legend, asks for an image of the Christ as
a substitute when she is about to be deprived of his presence. In
response, Christ presses his face on a cloth and leaves an
impression of his features: a true image (see PI, p. 207). This
legend eventually merged with another legend, that of the holy
shroud, perceived as a vera eikon (whence derives the name
Veronica). Yet, whereas a subjective vision might easily lead to
aesthetic contemplation, the Buddhist desire for vision is not
purely assertive: the beholder wants also to be beheld, to dwell in
the benefic, transformative gaze of the icon. The icon is also at
the center of meditation (dhyana, "visualization"): here too we have
a form of image making, one that results in a mental icon.(38)
The intimate relationship between the icon, the god, and the
believer can also be observed in China and Japan in the cases of
people who, in times of drought, attempt to coerce the deity by
making its icon suffer from exposure to the sun, or by throwing the
icon into the water because the god has failed to protect them from
a disease.(39) In some of these stories, the god appears
subsequently in the dreams of other monks to complain about this
harsh treatment.(40) At any rate, the icon seems to offer a direct
access to the god and to allow for all kinds of spiritual blackmail
or hostage taking.
The "true images" (zhenxiang or chinzo), portraits of Chan/Zen
masters that have long aroused the interest of art historians
because of their so-called realism, must be understood against their
funerary backdrop.(41) This is not true, of course, of all Buddhist
icons, strictly speaking. In Chinese, the term used to qualify
powerful icons, ling (usually translated as "power" or "efficacy"),
generally connotes death.(42) Even in the case of icons such as
those deriving from the image made by King Udayana, one could
perhaps argue that Sakyamuni's departure to the Trayastrimsa Heaven
was a kind of anticipation of his great departure into nirvana. In
this sense, the image is not so different from a chinzo; each is a
vera eikon, a true image.
There appear to be some exceptions. For instance, a distinction may
be drawn between images used as aids for meditation and images that
serve as channels of power in a cultic context. At first glance, a
visual aid for meditation seems to have little to do with death. But
perhaps the cultic logic at work in these, too, has something
uncanny about it, and as this is the case, the funerary chinzo can
be taken as paradigmatic for this sort of image, as well. The
funeral of the Chan master is reminiscent of what the Romans called
a funus imaginarium, an "imaginary" funeral, or, more precisely, a
"funeral for an imago," in which the portrait of the deceased takes
the corpse's place.(43) Florence Dupont points out that the imago
"is the trace, not the figuration, of the deceased.... This presence
is real, and has nothing to do with the presence/absence of images
that merely resemble him.(44)
The theme of the animation of the icon is found across times and
cultures, from Pygmalion to Chinese painters like Gu Kaizhi, who
lived in the fourth century.(45) It accounts for the liveliness, or
potential for liveliness, of images. The effects of this animation
can sometimes remain invisible, but can sometimes also be quite
dramatic, as in the following account from the biography of the
Tantric priest Vajrabodhi:
The Emperor ordered Vajrabodhi to set up an altar in order to pray
for rain. Vajrabodhi thereupon called on Amoghankusa, according
to the bodhisattva ritual, and erected an altar... He himself
painted an image of the Bodhisattva of Seven Kotis that is, Guanyin, and
set the date to "open its eyes," so that at dawn of that day it would
rain.... On the seventh day, the air was hot and dry; there were no
clouds in the sky. But in the afternoon when the eyes of the
statue were opened, a northwest wind immediately began to blow. Tiles flew
off roofs and trees were uprooted. Thundering clouds burst forth
with rain, startling those near and far. And in the place of the
altar, a hole broke through the room so that the ritual arena was deluged.
The next morning, gentlemen and commoners of the capital all said,
"Vajrabodhi captured a dragon which broke out of the room and
flew away." Hundreds of thousands of people daily came to look at
the place. Such is the divine efficacy of the "altar ritual."(46)
Likewise, we are told that the dragon paintings of Fuxing were used
to make the rain fall, while the lion paintings of Puyangcheng
healed people afflicted with malaria.
The animation process of Buddhist icons corresponds to what the
Greeks called stoicheiosis, in which talismanic powers are brought
to an icon through the introduction of mineral or vegetal
substances, or even sometimes of small animals (lizards), but also
through inscribed seals or incense.(47) It is at times difficult to
distinguish between relics and ex-votos inside Buddhist icons. But
the placing of relics inside an icon is not everything. More
fundamentally, icons are alive because they have been consecrated.
This also explains why they can, and in some cases must, be
desecrated. The iconoclast's attempt to destroy the icons is still
an acknowledgement of their power, an affirmation qua negation. This
kind of desecration seems fundamentally different (or is it?) from
the Western profanation described above. And if, in some cases, it
can be seen not only as a response to but also as part of the icon's
power, should we speak of the icon's masochism?
Many characteristic features of the Buddhist icon -- consecration
and insertion of relics, for example -- are found traditionally in
the Western tradition, too. This does not mean that we can project
into Buddhism a Western, Christian metaphysics of presence but
rather that there are some phenomenological constants in the human
response to images. Sometimes Buddhist mummies, too, were used just
like icons, as when the "flesh-body" of the Chan patriarch Huineng
(d. 713) was paraded through town on a palanquin in times of
drought, as a substitute for the icon of the Bodhisattva Guanyin.
The description of this "celebrated monster" given by Jesuit
missionaries suggests that, like popular icons, this mummy had been
blackened by the smoke of incense.(48) This raises the question of
whether this flesh-body is the same as the lacquered, golden-colored
mummy that was until recently visible at the Nanhua Monastery near
Canton. It seems that one may discern in Buddhism two notions of
presence, which perhaps entail two different conceptions of the
sacred: the presence of the here/now (the immediacy advocated by
"sudden" Chan/Zen), and the presence/absence of the sacred divinity
(implying some form of mediation).(49) At any rate, it is clear that
the notion of presence is not merely a Christian one, inspired by
the eucharist and Byzantine icons; it is pre-Christian, or pagan --
and nowadays eminently poetical.
In his stimulating work, Freedberg asks, "Why do we ignore the
evidence for the effectiveness and provocativeness of images?" (PI,
p. 26). There is perhaps no need to dwell here on what is apparently
the blind spot of traditional Buddhist art history as well. T.
Griffith Foulk and Robert H. Sharf have pointed out some of the
inadequacies of the aesthetic approach in the case of Chan/Zen
portraiture, and, as already noted, recent Euro-American art history
has become interested in the ritual "effectiveness" of images.
Instead, I would like to explore what kind of possibilities arise
when we consider icons as images of power -- an expression that
translates quite appropriately the Chinese term lingxiang (if
perhaps less clearly its Japanese counterpart, reizo) -- and to
discuss, as Freedberg and others have done for Western art, the
possibility of a theory of response. This means attempting to free
ourselves from the obsession with meaning (symbolism, iconology in
the Panofskian sense) and form (style) in order to retrieve the
affect, effectivity, and function of the icon.(50) We need to go
beyond the traditional concerns about the genesis of particular
works of art; influences; attempts to retrieve historical or
aesthetic categories (the sublime, and so forth); and, more
generally, the privileging of "high" art.
Because he deals with Western materials, Freedberg is concerned
mainly with the extreme eroticism of images, a dimension that one
might claim is less conspicuous in Buddhist or Asian images. Indeed,
it seems more difficult to derive a "phenomenology of coprophilia
and arousal" from the vast bulk of Buddhist sculpture -- with the
exception of some Tantric figures (PI, p. 20). Many scholars would
probably argue that even in these cases the image should be seen as
merely a symbolic expression of the philosophical "conjunction of
opposites" and not as a realistic representation of carnal lust.
Even if the point were granted, it is obviously clear that such
dialectical images lend themselves to a multitude of
interpretations. Likewise, even if repressed in terms of pictorial
depiction, the development of a motif such as that of Guanyin as
prostitute, an illustration of this bodhisattva's vow to appear in
the world to save beings overcome by desire, must have had a power
of arousal that we no longer suspect. The same can be said of
figures of goddesses like Benzaiten or Kichijoten, or of the
representations of Manjusri, Shotoku Taishi, and Kobo Daishi as
young boys (chigo).(51) A similar example, in the Christian context,
would be the popular image of the Virgin offering her breast to a
sick monk. If this male fantasy was triggered by the monastic
contemplation of an icon, one might expect the same fantasies to
have arisen from Buddhist monks' relations to Guanyin and other
similar (male or female) figures.
"Seeing comes before words," John Berger argues.(52) Yet our gaze is
always already informed by words, discourse -- discursive thought, a
thinking whose course is dual, bifurcated. There is no need to
further emphasize the importance of the gaze, not only in the
Indo-Buddhist tradition, but also in the Western tradition. As the
conscious gaze, presupposing spacing and differentiation, is always
already mediated by discourse, apparently no primacy of perception
exists. Although words can never replace seeing, seeing is already
informed through knowledge, discourse, and words, and our discourse
on Buddhist "art" is itself informed by several venerable
Even when we attempt to break away from the traditional aesthetic
approach to take into account the anthropological or cultic
dimensions of the Buddhist icon, our predominant influence remains
Western. Whatever its inadequacies, the study of the anthropological
or cultic dimensions of Buddhist art appears as a prerequisite, an
antidote to the dominant Orientalist and/or aesthetic approaches. As
Heidegger puts it, "the works of art themselves stand and hang in
collections and exhibitions. But are they here in themselves as the
works they themselves are, or are they not rather here as objects of
the art industry?(53)... The whole art industry, even if carried to
the extreme and exercised in every way for the sake of works
themselves, extends only to the object-being of the works. But this
does not constitute their work-being."(54) Of course, there are also
ambivalent cases, for instance in modern Japan, where icons are at
the same time-although not for the same people -- objects of
collection and of devotion, of aesthetic appreciation and of
If icons, in their ritual context, are essentially traps, devices
for capturing power (ling), it is no wonder that the art historians,
but also the artist-monks, like the gods of their iconology (or
iconography), would be in turn trapped by their lure (what the
French call a miroir aux alouettes).(55) Our discussion of the
nature of the icon should blur the opposition between presentation
and representation: both are always present, and interpretation is
always to double business bound. And yet the icon is neither simply
presence nor representation.
We stand at the intersection of several strands (aesthetic,
philosophical, and cultic) of the Western and Asian traditions,
which are themselves dual, insofar as they present iconic (or
cultic) tendencies and iconoclastic rhetorics -- a duality found
most notably in Chan/Zen Buddhism. Insofar as it acknowledges its
debt to Asian and Western, Buddhist and Christian traditions, while
attempting to intertwine them, my own discourse here is
self-consciously and painfully hybrid. However, before weaving these
various strands into a new pattern, I should try to disentangle the
red thread that runs through each of them.
In Christianity, the belief in the incarnation, while an attempt to
make "the invisible visible," amounted to a destabilization of the
visible, its opening into -- or rather, its escaping, vanishing unto
-- another, still invisible, reality. The vanishing point in
question, however, is not that of perspective. Although the
manifestation of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas in this world is not
the same thing as the incarnation of Christ, there is something to
be learned from the history of Western images. I say "Western
images," not "Western art," because the latter could be seen, at the
risk of oversimplifying, as a forgetting of the incarnation of the
invisible in the visible, just as Western philosophy, according to
Heidegger, is a forgetting of the Greek notion of Being as
"appearing" (Erscheinen).(56) In the Buddhist context, an example of
that paradoxical attempt to reveal the invisible is the wooden image
of the Chinese thaumaturge Baozhi (418-514), in the Kyoto National
Museum. The face of this icon splits open, like a dehiscing fruit,
and another face, that of Dizang, the bodhisattva who was Baozhi's
true nature, appears within (behind the mask). The story behind that
image is also revealing: we are told that the artist who tried to
represent Baozhi found it impossible to fix his features because
they changed constantly.
Another symbolic expression of the excess that constitutes the
unrepresentable is the invisible usnisa or fleshy protuberance on
the top of the Buddha's head. We are told that this usnisa remains
invisible because no one can look down on the Buddha. On the one
hand, it is but one of the thirty-two signs that configure the
Buddha's body, obfuscating it while revealing it. On the other hand,
it is a paradoxical, formless sign that implies its own
negation.(57) According to Stella Kramrisch, it constitutes "an
extension of the body-like appearance of the Buddha beyond its
anthropomorphic limits" (EI, p. 131).(58) The usnisa is the unseen
top of the Buddha icon, symbolizing its nirguna, or unqualified
aspect, the paradoxical quality of the supramundane or transcendent
Buddha. It is, as it were, the invisible top of a truncated column
-- like the one in Giorgione's Tempesta, a comparison to which we
The point is this: something appears in the icon that is beyond
representation, and this something projects the whole icon beyond
representation. It interrupts or doubles the convenient demarcations
of aesthetic, artistic, symbolic, or art-market economies. The icon
is at the same time here and there, bridging the gap between two
realms and partaking of both. To begin to understand this
paradoxical presence or visuality, we need to expand our visual
field to include in it other realities, such as dreams, visions,
relics, and rituals. In this sense, images (unlike art) belong to
the field of anthropological history and no longer to art history
alone. Here Georges Didi-Huberman's notion of the visual (as opposed
to the merely visible) proves heuristically useful. According to
Didi-Huberman, there is no image that can be thought radically except beyond the principle of visibility, that is, beyond the canonical opposition -- spontaneous, unthought -- between the visible and the invisible. This beyond will still have to be called visual, as that which will always come to create a flaw in the disposition of seeing subjects to reestablish the continuity of their descriptive recognition or of their certitude with respect to what they see.(59)
The visual is what, in the visible, modifies it and gives it its
character of sacred event, what connects metonymic figures of the
double like icons, relics, and dreams.
In their attempt to move away from discussions about the sublimity
of art, art historians have tended to focus on works of art as
"deposits of a social relationship" or "fossils of economic
life."(60) Alternatively, they have focussed on symbolism
(Panofsky's iconology) or on techniques of production. Recent
scholarship has explored, for instance, the technical aspects of the
manufactured object -- what Heidegger described as the artisanal
element of the work of art. Heidegger warns us that "the
much-vaunted aesthetic experience cannot get around the thingly
aspect of the art work," but at the same time he wants to retrieve
what, apart from materiality, defines the work of art ("OW," p. 19).
However, when the focus is on the object (as "thing" or as "work"),
there is a danger of missing or minimizing the response of the
subject (the beholder). Even when the emphasis is on the response to
art, this approach does not always sufficiently address the
nonaesthetic effects that images may have on the beholder, and, in
particular, the performative function they have in a ritual context.
If, following Kramrisch's discussion of the Buddha's bodily marks,
we admit that the usnisa stands for the sublime or for
transcendence, whereas the web symbolism on the Buddha's body stands
for immanence, the inscription of the icon in multiple symbolic
networks, then one could argue that the gaze of the icon, but also
its touch, usually forgotten in these discussions, establish another
type of communication -- of relationship-between the icon and its
beholder (its would-be holder, but also its beheld and beholden
believer). Some of these icons, like those of Binzuru (that is,
Pindola, an arhat famous for his magical powers) are called in Japan
nade-botoke ("Buddha to stroke"). Others are kept, on the contrary,
off-limits, because they are too powerful; they tend to get out of
hand, or cannot be touched without harm. It is often one of their
lesser manifestations that is offered to the touch or gaze of
We need therefore to look again at traditional themes of Buddhist
art, such as the vexed question of iconism and aniconism, the
iconoclastic rhetoric of Chan, the double and the symbol, and ritual
efficacy. The icon (and, more broadly, the symbol) permits an
articulation between different symbolic orders (the stupa, the human
body, the social body, the cosmos). Such an articulation is not,
however, a pure equivalence because these various orders remain
clearly distinct; the family resemblance between various symbolic
artifacts should not be construed as an identity. There is a
constant danger of hermeneutic overkill: an icon is not a mummy,
which is not a living being. Yet something circulates from one to
the other, a circulation permitted by a certain isomorphism,
isotopy, mimesis, and functional equivalence between these figures
of the double. There is no identification, at least as long as a
clear sense of boundaries, what Nietszche would have called an
Apollinian sense, prevails -- but this sense is at times erased,
during crepuscular moments of Dionysian high tide, the time of
ritual when all sacred cows and all cats turn grey.
When we try to retrieve this dialectical dimension, how can we avoid
the double pitfall of formalism and historicism? Iconological
interpretation, despite (or because of) its sophistication, tends to
hermeneutic overkill. At any rate, trying to understand the symbolic
motivation of the artist is not sufficient, because, as Dan Sperber
has pointed out, this motivation is itself symbolical.(61) We need
to go beyond a purely semiological reading, or beyond reading as
such, that is, beyond interpreting the image as a message, a symbol
(in the traditional sense). Only then can we understand the symbol
(in the etymological sense of "throwing together"). This long detour
from one type of symbol to another only has the appearance of a
tautology, of a vicious, or, if you prefer, hermeneutic, circle.
Actually, it is not so much a circle as a recycling of old ideas,
putting them to new use. This whole discussion may seem rather
obvious to postmodern historians, but Buddhist art history still has
a long way to go before earning the dividends (and enjoying the
divisiveness) of postmodernity.
For this bricolage, we find in the toolbox of Western art criticism,
beyond a traditional aesthetic criticism of a rather descriptive
vein, various recent theoretical attempts at "thinking through" the
icon with concepts such as the fetish (Marx); the aura (Benjamin);
the visual (Didi-Huberman); the parergon (Derrida); the effigy
(Louis Marin, Jean-Pierre Vernant); or the symbol, perceived, in the
words of Jean-Joseph Goux, as a concrete union between the finite
and the infinite.(62) Paradoxically, we might also try to retrieve
some submerged or peripheral intuitions of Kantian or Hegelian
aesthetics (most notably the Kantian discussion of the sublime and
the colossal) or take our cues from Baudelaire, who wrote: "Praise
the cult of images (my great, my unique, my primitive passion)."(63)
But this means that we attempt to divert these concepts from their
classic use, to subvert them by dislocating and relocating them, not
that we simply yield to the grandiloquence of sublime aesthetics. To
us, sublime resonates with sublimation and with subliminal.
In his analysis of Eisenstein's film images, next to (or rather
beyond) their semiotic and symbolic meanings Roland Barthes
distinguishes a "third meaning" (playing on the polysemy of the
French word sens: "meaning," "signification," but also "sense," and
"direction").(64) He returns to this theme, in regard to music, with
his notion of the grain of the voice: "Through music, we understand
better the Text as significance as opposed to mere
`signification'."(65) If so, through what medium can we understand
better the "image as significance"? Significantly, this "third
meaning" is qualified as obtuse (as opposed to obvious). What I am
trying to retrieve in Buddhist icons seems akin to what Barthes
calls the obtuse meaning, only it is no longer a meaning, strictly
speaking, but rather an elusive reality, perhaps akin to the
perlocutionary aspect of language according to Austin, or to what in
Indian aesthetics is called the indirect (paroksa) and in Buddhism
Fenollosa saw the introduction of Buddhism to China as a "stupendous
revolution" in Asian art (EC, 1:28). Let me indulge in an
etymological fantasy and derive stupendous from stupa (as colossal
derives from kolossos, an erected stone). One could argue that
Buddhist art begins with a stupa, a funerary monument usually seen
as a symbol of death but that is also a symbol of life and
fertility. As is well known, the stupa gave birth to the Chinese
pagoda (a term said to derive from dagoba, a contraction of dhatu
garbha, "womb of the relic"). According to Hegel, the origin of the
Indian icon is to be found in the linga, a column that resembles the
ovoid or seamless stupa (an egg-shaped monument, distinct from the
five-degree stupa) of Japanese Buddhism.(67) This phallic column is
soon ornamented with images' emptied and hollowed out by these
supplements. Asian art thus evolves from the column; the linga is
emptied to produce icons. Speaking of the culture of Angkor, Georges
Coedes writes: "The essence of kingship was supposed to reside in a
linga ensconced in a pyramid in the center of the royal city, itself
supposed to be at the ideal center of the world. The cult of the
god-king was first introduced in the ninth century. Later, with the
introduction of Buddhism, the god-king became an image of the king
as Buddha."(68) The truncated column, like Mount Sumeru, the cosmic
pillar whose upper part vanishes into the thin air of higher realms,
is therefore the image or symbol of the symbol itself. Likewise, the
portrait (chinzo) of a Chan/Zen master, a variant of the Buddha
icon, is a truncated column, whose top (usnisa, the skull
protuberance, translated as chinzo) is invisible. Needless to say, I
do not have in mind here an evolutionary conception of art like that
of Hegel. I merely want to suggest that there may be more than meets
the eye in this Hegelian column. This emphasis on phallic imagery
should not be read too quickly as standard phallocentrism, since the
column is also a crypt. Its hollowness and the womb symbolism that
accompanies it deflate its apparent turgescence, or at least belie
its gender symbolism.(69) Segalen, too, saw the origin of Chinese
statuary in the column and the stele. Stupas and steles are perhaps
the Asian counterparts of the Greek kolossos.
The Hegelian conception of the column/linga and its relation to
images recalls, mutatis mutandis, Kramrisch's description of the
Hindu temple or Paul Mus's discussion of the Buddhist stupa. One can
say of the Buddhist stupa and its relics what Kramrisch says of the
Indian temple and its image -- "the symbol or image occupies the
center of the sanctuary and is known as the jiva, the `life' of the
temple in which it dwells.... The walls are its body" (EI, p. 253).
While the center is unchanging, undifferentiated, like the immutable
essence (purusa), the periphery is differentiated in its images, and
changing, like matter (prakrti). We must, at least, distinguish
between the static image at the center and its mobile counterparts
at the periphery as they are seen in the ritual process, the
hermeneutical circle of circumambulation. Thus, the stupa is, in
more than one sense, an animated monument, not only because of the
presence of relics that give it life but because of the procession
of pilgrims that turns it into what Mus called a `cinetic'
monument.(70) The center/periphery, or inside/outside pattern
overlaps with the nirguna/ sarguna, or formless/with form paradigm.
This paradigm is played out in a variety of ways in Hinduism and
East Asian Buddhism: it informs, for instance, the distinction
between the seamless or ovoid stupa and the five-degree stupa in
In China, the mummies of Buddhist priests, first encrypted under the
funerary stupa, eventually were placed in chambers at the entrance
of the stupa, where they could reveal themselves on occasion to the
bemused gaze of the worshippers -- like the Buddha Prabhutaratna in
the Lotus Sutra, appearing in midair within his stupa. One case in
point is that of the mummy of the fourth Chan patriarch, Daoxin: the
gates of his stupa opened by themselves, revealing his intact body
in its eerie splendor, and no one afterwards dared to close them. I
have examined elsewhere the process of iconization that brought
these mummies out of their crypts into the "Image Halls" of Chan
We might pursue these philosophical musings on the column/stupa by
turning to Kant's conception of the sublime as a truncated column,
and to Derrida's analysis of the Kantian sublime in terms of the
colossal and the parergon. The question of taille, size, is also
that of taille, cutting, engraving. The French word taille derives
from tailler ("to cut," "to engrave," "to carve"), hence the height
of the human body (used by image carvers). Unfortunately, the
English language does not allow us to follow Derrida in his wordplay
on the limit that simultaneously delimits and "illimits." A "detail"
(detail, or detaille) -- like the visible/invisible usnisa -- means
"the movement from cise taille, which is always small or measured,
to the disproportion of the without-cise sans-taille, the immense.
The dimension of the effigy, the effigy itself would have the
fictional effect of demeasuring. It would de-cize elle
detaillerait, would liberate the excess of cise" (TP, p. 121).(72)
As Kramrisch points out, the Buddha image is always a cut above the
human beings it seems to reproduce, and this excess (demesure) is in
a sense the effect of its usnisa (see EI, pp. 130-40). Recall, too,
that this term came to designate the portraits of Chan/Zen masters.
The logic of representation permitted by the icon is supplemented
(in the Derridean sense, that is, also subverted) by the logic of
impregnation that comes with the olfactive perception of
incense.(73) Do mummies and icons have a smell?(74) They probably
do, and this may explain why they are usually sealed with lacquer or
gold. It may be worth mentioning here the case of the Central Asian
thaumaturge Sengqie (d. 710), whose posthumous refusal to be
enshrined in the capital -- far from his community in Sizhou -- was
manifested in his corpse's stench.(75) The mummy of the Chan master
Wuliao (787-869) is another similar example, in which the stinking
icon, the mummy, resists representation, resists commodity fetishism
-- even on the part of an Emperor.(76) The icon fights back. The
smell of the icon, whether stink or fragrance, is another excess, a
sign of transcendence that can easily go unrecognized.
In this context, we may recall that the first Buddhist icons in
Japan were made out of aromatic camphorwood (kusu), a particularly
sacred wood, although especially difficult to carve. A good example
is the Miroku image of Chuguji, the first known instance of the
assembled woodblock technique (yosegi zukuri). It has been argued
that camphorwood was the Japanese equivalent for sandalwood, out of
which was carved the first icon of the Buddha. But, unlike
sandalwood icons, camphorwood icons were usually painted, which
tends to cover the fragrance. The Yumedono Kannon, for instance, is
carved out of camphorwood. The fragrance of these icons may be seen
as a reflection of the natural fragrance of the Buddha's body, but
it may also be a way to cover the fingering stink of death in icons
that were perceived as mummies or as anthropomorphic tombs
The Logic of the Tessera
As Derrida has shown in his discussion of the parergon, the icon
lends itself to deconstruction. It is both disjunctive and
conjunctive, or, better, it itself operates the disjunction between
disjunction and conjunction: the disjunction between, precisely,
iconophilia and iconoclasm. Because of the appearance of the icon,
two strategies become possible, or, rather, two poles are produced,
with a number of intermediary strategies. The icon is also
conjunctive, like the ritual centered on it, joining and separating
the two spheres of the profane and the sacred, providing the
ontological cut (la taille, "cise") and the scar. Derrida again:
Thus all this goes on around an infinite but truncated column, at
the limit of the trunk, at the place of the truncation or the cutting
edge, on the borderline, fine as a blade, which defines the cise. The
question opens around knowing whether one must think a sublimity of
the soul from one edge or the other, of the infinite or the finite,
it being understood that the two are not opposed to each other but
that each transgresses itself toward the other, the one in the
other. TP, p. 134(77)
I argued above for the need to go beyond traditional iconology, that
is, beyond an approach that reads images as symbols. In apparent
self-contradiction, I want now to argue for considering the icon as
a symbol, but a symbol in a different, etymological sense. Referring
to John Skorupski's notion of the symbol as something that "in some
sense is or participates in the reality it represents" Freedberg
asks rhetorically, "If we speak thus of identity, what need for the
notion of the image or object as symbol?" (PI, p. 277). None, of
course, unless we use the word symbol in its etymological sense of
the identity and complementarity of tallies (doubles) -- what I call
the logic of the tessera.(78) This logic of the symbol, or of the
tessera, lends itself to duplication, that is, to the production or
even the profusion of doubles. The duplication process is not simply
the result of new techniques of production (icons constructed from
many prefab pieces, versus one-piece icons, carved from a single
block of wood or stone), although technical factors clearly played
an important part in it.(79)
The Chinese tessera (fu) was a bamboo tab or tablet divided
longitudinally into two parts to serve as testimony in a contract.
The term means, variously, a seal divided in two parts; to concord,
to adjust, to respond mutually, to fit, or to conform; or a good
omen, a charm (writing or drawing), an amulet, or a talisman. The
compound fuhao denotes a symbol, a mark, a sign. Robert Des Rotours
notes that these insignias or double contracts were of universal
use. In France, they were called tailles because of the incision
made on the two juxtaposed sticks; this is the origin of the English
According to the Shuowen dictionary, "the fu is what gives proof ce
qui fait foi. In the Han regulations, one divides a six-inch-long
piece of bamboo in order to join its two parts." The Cihai also
defines fuxin as follows: "What is in the genre of insignia or
tablets in two parts (fuqi) is also called fuxin, which means
insignia used as proof wei." The word xin, which means "faith," or
"worthy of faith," also means "seal" or "tessera."(81) The Ciyuan
has the following about fu: "A bamboo tablet on which characters
were written; one divided this tablet into two parts, each person
kept one half. One reunited these two parts when one wanted to prove
one's sincerity. Sometimes these were made of wood, jade or
metal."(82) According to the Cihai dictionary, fu also has the
meanings "good omen" and "amulet." It can in some cases play the
role of a talisman. These insignia were used in a lot of
administrative and judicial functions from the Han dynasty
onward.(83) A synonym is qi, a tablet used for a contract, generally
written on and divided into two parts. According to the Shuowen, a
qi is a large contract. The Cihai defines it as a contract or a
diploma in two parts. The word derives from the Chinese for incise,
engrave, hence it signifies also an incision (taille).(84) These
etymologies call to mind the old Chinese saying, "To incise the boat
at the place where the sword fell in the water" -- which is perhaps
a nice metaphor for what we are trying to do when we judge Buddhist
icons by modern standards, whether those of art history or of
On the Western side, we use the term symbol, derived from sumbolos
(and sumballein, "to throw together") (see, for instance, "OW," p.
20). An equivalent term is token, a piece of stamped metal used as
substitute for currency -- therefore halfway between false and real
money. What affects the prototype of the image during the ritual
also affects the beholder -- by the same token, because they have
the same token, the same "counter." The response (ying) of the deity
is the counterpart of the response of the follower. Ultimately, the
Chinese symbol is not simply a juxtaposition of two tallies; it is a
union, a hierogamy -- which implies an exchange of substance, a
twofold movement, upward and downward. The logic of this kind of
symbol is not simply metaphoric but also metonymic.
Icons can be used as material objects of worship or as mental aids
for meditation through visualization. However, the distinction is by
no means clear-cut: visual icons, just like material ones, are
essentially "traps for power," and they function as substitute
bodies. This power can at times be nefarious, as with the straw dogs
of Chinese antiquity, ritual scapegoats that were ritually
destroyed; or the Japanese dolls that are given to the custody of
temples (like the Ningyo-dera, "Doll Temple," in Kyoto). The same is
true of mental images of demonic powers, which are summoned by the
practitioner to be eliminated through incantations or imaginary
In traditional Buddhist practice, the meditator must visualize the
physical attributes of a Buddha to obtain the "samadhi mental
absorption of the one who stands (avasthita) face-to-face with or
in the presence of (sammukha), the present ... Buddhas."(85) One of
the sixteen ways to obtain this samadhi is by having an icon of the
Buddha made, or "just having a picture painted."(86) One of the
raisons d'etre of the first image of the Buddha was to aid
contemplation during the time when the Buddha would no longer be on
earth, and looking at it is said to be "no different from looking at
the Buddha's actual body." Significantly, among such visual aids,
Chinese Buddhists included paintings of landscapes. Stein has shown
that the miniature landscape, perceived as a microcosm, constitutes
a kind of tally. This world in miniature is said to call the powers
of the macrocosm, which flow into it, fusing with it. Like the icon,
the bonsai is a trap for power; it was used in particular by the
Daoist ascetics to increase their longevity.(87) Originally, as
Delahaye has shown, landscape painting had a talismanic value not so
different from that of the Daoist "sacred maps." This explains why
these paintings, despite secularization, have remained "compelling
images" in the hands (and eyes) of the literati, a facet of
aestheticism that would probably surprise many connoisseurs of
The Aura of the Icon
An analysis of Buddhist icons would not be complete without a
discussion of Benjamin's seminal notion of the aura of the work of
art.(89) Such a reference is not merely a nod in the direction of
modern art criticism; indeed, this notion turns out to be quite
useful in defining the obtuse presence of the icon. In "The Work of
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936), which appeared
the year after Mus published Barabudur, Benjamin defines the aura of
natural objects as "the unique phenomenon of a distance, however
close it may be" ("WA," p. 222). This notion is then extended to
cultural (and cultic) productions. In a footnote, Benjamin adds:
The definition of the aura as a "unique phenomenon of a distance
however close it may be" represents nothing but the formulation of
the cult value of the work of art in categories of space and time
perception. Distance is the opposite of closeness. The essentially
distant object is the unapproachable one. Unapproachability is indeed a
major quality of the cult image. True to its nature, it remains "distant,
however close it may be." "WA," p. 243 n. 5
The distance is equated, paradoxically, with presence through
another definition, albeit a negative one: "Even the most perfect
reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its
presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where
it happens to be.... One might subsume the eliminated element in the
term `aura' and go on to say: that which withers in the age of
mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art" ("WA," pp.
220-21). Benjamin comments on the intrinsic violence of modern
perception, arguing that "to pry an object from its shell, to
destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose `sense of the
universal equality of things' has increased to such a degree that it
extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction"
("WA," p. 223).(90)
The aura of Buddhist icons has to do with the deposit of relics
within them and their ritual consecration: the term aura means
"breath," and the consecration is an "installation of the breaths"
(pranapratistha). In some cases, this aura also has to do with the
beliefs in the divine power of the material element, stone or wood,
as in the ichiboku (one-piece) sculpture in Japan: "The god in the
unworked stone or stock continues to reside in the worked stone or
stock."(91) This is also true, for instance, of the "miraculous"
logs, found in many legends. In other cases, the wood is empowered
during consecration ceremonies that take place once carving is
initiated.(92) Finally, the aura is often explained as resulting
from an unbroken line of mimesis and contact between the first icon
and its later reproductions -- the power of this first icon, the
Udayana image, itself owing to its resemblance to and contact with
the Buddha himself. The importance of the initial view of the Buddha
can also be explained in terms of verisimilitude. This is also true
for the Chinese representations of the eighteen arhats, whose
prototype was initially seen by the poetmonk Guanxiu in a dream. In
all cases, the existence of a direct link, historical or
metaphysical, with the ultramundane prototype is essential in order
for it to become present in the icon -- hence the critical role of
textual iconographies as a source of models. Just as the vera eikon
was imbued with the power of Christ through the impression of his
face, the efficacy of Buddhist icons derives from their initial
contact with the Buddha. This contact, however, does not have to be
with the Buddha in the flesh, since his body was already, in a
sense, merely an icon or a trace, an embodiment of the truth or
dharma. Other traces or substitute bodies may have a similar effect.
The Buddhist tradition seems to have hesitated between two models,
one that insists on the superior value of the original or historical
Buddha, and another that, in an almost Derridean fashion, undermines
that foundation with its emphasis on the notion of traces. After the
death of the Buddha, the sacred places where his paradigmatic life
had unfolded and where his stupas remained came to play a similar
role in the production of presence.
To what extent, then, does the reproduction affect the effectiveness
of the image? Is not the materialization of a halo or aureole around
the head or body of Buddhist statues already a sign of their loss of
the true aura (in the Benjaminian sense)? More to the point, the
Benjaminian notion of a loss of aura through photographic
reproduction may have serious implications for the historian of
Asian religions. As any fieldworker knows, there is a clear sense of
profanation when taking photos in a cultic context; often the native
objection against photos is that they will diminish the "efficacy"
(ling), or what we may as well call the aura, of the icon. I recall
a Japanese Buddhist monk who, when I asked him if I could take a
picture of a particularly powerful icon, argued that the image would
not imprint on my film. We are clearly the descendants of our
Orientalist fathers in this and other respects: although we no
longer steal and behead statues (at least most of us), who does not
have in his or her possession Buddhist icons (in one form or
another) whose provenance will remain conveniently vague?
In modern society, Berger comments, "works of art are discussed and
presented as though they were holy relics" (WS, p. 21). He
disapproves of such fetishism. But one might want to see works of
art truly treated as relics, precisely because relics were not the
object of the kind of "bogus religiosity" that "has become the
substitute for what paintings lost when the camera made them
reproducible" (WS, pp. 21, 23). If this "bogus religiosity" is
nostalgic, so is its critique. Berger, in fact, shows that
photographic reproduction is responsible for a recrudescence of the
nostalgia for the aura. What exactly distinguishes this "bogus
religiosity" from Benjamin's authentic religiosity is not always
clear, even if the new kind of impressive, mysterious aura no longer
pervades the artwork "because of what it shows -- ... because of the
meaning of its image," but "because of its market value" (WS, p.
The standardized production of icons in Japan after the eleventh
century already resulted in a kind of commodity fetishism. As
Christine Guth writes of the earlier period: "In preserving the
cylindrical mass of the log from which an image is carved, Japanese
sculpture of this period has an inner life and immediacy --
qualities lost in later images of the joined-wood type."(93) Clearly
the shift from one-piece to prefab icons marks a watershed in icon
production (and perhaps in icon reception). It does not mean that
the cultic value has disappeared, although it might indeed have
weakened, but the dissemination of power or sacrality (ling) is what
justifies the multiplication of icons in the first place. Depending
on circumstances, this dissemination can reflect (or produce) both
an increase and a decrease in belief. The weakening of the icon's
power, or rather the alternation between belief and disbelief that
characterizes the icon as a dialectical image, is well illustrated
by the story of the future shogun Yoritomo carrying a figurine of
Kannon on his headdress, yet simultaneously dot wanting it to be
found by his enemies for fear of ridicule. In medieval Japanese
Buddhism, as in the contemporary Thai case described by Stanley
Tambiah, We find a massive production of amulets, but these amulets
are charged by the monks, imbued with power.(94) Similarly in
seventeenth-century France, the dissemination of the king's portrait
sometimes weakens but most often reinforces the belief that the
portrait of the king is the king -- a king who no longer has merely
"two bodies," but a multitude.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
In China, the first effigies, sometimes automata, are found in
graves and seem to have been substitutes for real people, meant to
accompany the deceased to the other world.(95) As Delahaye points
out, "the doubles, ou, are beings, living or not, with whom one
forms a couple. In numerology, ou refers to even numbers; it is
opposed to qi, meaning odd number, but also unique, extraordinary,
which has no match" ("AM," p. 52 n. 7).(96)
The icons are therefore quite literally "figures or images of the
double" (in Chinese, ouxiang; in Japanese, guzo, meaning "statue" or
"idol"). The original may be the god, or the worshipper. The
correspondence between the icon and its human counterpart is such
that the sympathetic magic works even on iconoclasts. We are told,
for instance, of a despot who urinated on a statue that he had put
in the privy and later suffered from a terrible pain in the scrotum
that ceased only when he repented;(97) and of the case of an
iconoclastic Tang emperor, who, upon finding out that an icon of
Guanyin had not been destroyed according to his orders, hit it in
the chest and subsequently died of chest cancer. The notion of
physical correspondence between the icon and its human counterpart
is a basic feature of black magic.(98) It also explains why people
in Japan often stick an ex-voto or a golden leaf on the icon or
caress its body at the point corresponding to the part of their body
which hurts. An interesting case is that of the bodhisattva Kuginuki
("Nail-pulling") Jizo, whose emblem is a pair of pliers. In a small
temple in Kyoto, dedicated to that particular Jizo, the presence at
the gate of a giant pair of pliers, the size of a person and wearing
a child's bib, shows the complex nature of some icons. One could,
paraphrasing Magritte, say, "this is not a pair of pliers" (although
clearly Magritte's point was different). It represents at the same
time an obvious symbolism (the nail as physical pain, nail-pulling
as removing the pain) and a substitute body, not only of Jizo (as
indicated by the bib, a traditional attribute of this protector of
children), but also of the worshipper, who touches this paradoxical,
nonanthropomorphic "Buddha to stroke" at various places before
rubbing the corresponding painful parts of his or her own body.
The icons of the Buddha are sometimes compared to the "original"
shadow that he is said to have left in a cave at Nagarahara, in
Central Asia. This shadow, which became the source of another
iconographic tradition, was described by the Chinese pilgrim
Xuanzang (600-664), who was able to see it only after prostrating
himself several hundred times. The shadow, invisible at first,
eventually appeared in its full glory, with a cohort of bodhisattvas
and celestial musicians, "as when the clouds open to reveal the
golden Mountain."(99) Likewise, the first Chan patriarch Bodhidharma
left his shadow on a rock on Mount Song, near the cave where he had
practiced his legendary "war contemplation." As a focus of worship
in the Chan/Zen tradition, this shadow plays a role equivalent to
that of another famous relic, the flesh-body or mummy of the sixth
The notion of the double leads us to examine the relation between
the aura and the Freudian notion of the uncanny. Taking some of his
cues from Hoffmann's story of the Sandman, Freud sees a paradigmatic
example of uncanniness in the motif of the double, that is, in the
relation between "persons who are considered identical by reason of
looking alike." This relation, in Hoffmann, is accentuated "by
transferring mental processes from the one person to the other --
what we should call telepathy -- so that the one possesses
knowledge, feeling and experience in common with the other,
identifies himself with another person, so that his self becomes
confounded, or the foreign self is substituted for his own -- in
other words, by doubling, dividing and interchanging the self."(100)
Freud considers that the double was originally a protection against
the disappearance of the self, or, in Otto Rank's words, "an
energetic denial of the power of death." He suggests that the
"immortal" soul was the first double of the body (quoted in "U," p.
387). Originally a product of "primary narcissism," an assurance of
immortality, the double tends to become, when the narcissistic phase
is left behind, precisely the opposite: a ghastly harbinger of death
("U," p. 387). The conscience is another kind of double, a
psychological double, but one that does not produce a feeling of the
uncanny. Thus, for Freud, the double, as a figure of the uncanny, is
the return of something once "familiar" but eventually repressed
("U," p. 394). It is in particular the return, or apparent
confirmation, of animistic beliefs that we thought we had surmounted
(see "U," p. 402).
One of the best expressions of the uncanniness of the double is
given by Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Here, a reversal
takes place between the "real" (Dorian Gray) and his double (his
portrait), his "truth in painting." The portrait undergoes all kinds
of changes while Dorian remains eternally young, until he tries to
get rid of his shadow, the silent witness to his depravation,
without realizing that it is himself. By trying to destroy it, he
ends up killing himself, effecting one last reversal.(101) This
illustration of the expression "le mort saisit le vif " recalls the
traditional Chinese belief that the subject of a painting sometimes
dies when the painting is finished: all his or her life flows into
the double. It explains in part the custom of painting only the
portraits of the dead.
The multiplication of icons in medieval Japan -- which could be
seen, with some qualifications, as their commodification -- suggests
the relevance of the problematic of fetishism and projection. A
notion of projection that prefigures the Marxist concept can be
found at the basis of the idealist tendency in Mahayana Buddhism
(Yogacara, Chan), but it was counterbalanced, in other parts of this
tradition ("gradual" Chan, Pure Land, Vajrayana), by a belief that
subjects do not necessarily alienate themselves or become dependent
on objects (icons) when they project themselves into them. The
priest who projects his Buddhahood into a material support, a wooden
icon, does not fall into the trap of fetishism -- let alone of
primary narcissism. He can eventually bridge the gap, the cleavage
of the self, when he reintegrates in his self-consciousness the
power temporarily projected into the icon. Here again we encounter
the metaphor of the symbol, the split image, and the reunion of the
tallies: divided in order to be reunited. Another paradigmatic
expression of the folded structure of reality and its resolution is
found in Hegel's statement, "As a spirit, man does not have an
immediate existence but is essentially returned-home-to-self (in
sich Zuruckgekehrtes). This movement of mediation (Vermittelung) is
an essential moment of the spirit. Its activity consists in
transcending and negating its immediacy so as to return upon itself
(Ruckkehr in sich)."(102)
Whereas Freud saw in the objectivation of doubles a return of the
repressed, Clement Rosset analyzes it in metaphysical terms as an
instinctive denial of immediacy, the constant search for a deeper,
hidden reality that replicates, subverts, or legitimizes that of the
everyday world. Here the duplicated original is no longer an object
or event of the outside world but the subject itself.(103) It is the
very self that loses some of its ontological reality that becomes
the double, the shadow of a greater reality Speculations about the
shadow, or the double, lead to a feeling well expressed by Rimbaud:
"Je est un autre."(104) Rosset denounces this feeling as an illusion
that will ultimately receive a reality check with the advent of
death. As in the case of the French and English kings, the Chan/Zen
master's two bodies turn out to be a mere single body, and a very
mortal one.(105) "The different aspects of this illusion," writes
Rosset, "refer to a same function, a same structure, a same failure.
The function: to protect one from the real. The structure: not to
refuse to perceive the real, but to double it. The failure: to
recognize too late in the protecting double the very same real
against which one believed to have guarded oneself."(106)
The Buddhist theory of the Two Truths, or two levels of reality,
introduces into the real a duplicity of which the iconic doubles are
merely particular cases. In a poem on an icon, for instance, the Lu
Shan master Huiyuan reflects on the Buddha's simultaneous existence
on both levels: "In the tasteless void he has sketched his
countenance. / Touching the surface of emptiness he transmitted his
image."(107) The much-vaunted iconoclasm of Chan/Zen, based on the
notion of immediacy, is belied by the adherence of this school to
the Two Truths theory, which implies a bifurcation of the real, two
levels of reality rather than a single, and therefore the use of
symbols to mediate between them, to bridge the gap. This two-tiered
structure should be seen as the symbolic structure, the structure of
the symbol itself. Thus, the opposite (and counterpart) of immediacy
is mediation, duplication, the double, the icon. The Chan/Zen
rhetoric of immediacy is also a rhetoric of iconoclasm.(108)
Conversely, there is a rhetoric of mediacy -- that of iconophilia.
Consider the Japanese contrast between the butsuzo (Buddhist icon)
and the shinzo (icon of the kami, or god): whereas the latter were
made of a single block, the former were, from the eleventh century
onward, usually made of joined woodblocks. Like the shintai (divine
body) -- a sacred mirror in the case of the sun-goddess Amaterasu --
the shinzo clearly functions as a double; there is only one in each
shrine, and it is hidden. Guth contrasts this unicity with the
multiplication in Buddhism of images that function primarily as aids
to visualization.(109) However, one should distinguish between those
Buddhist icons that are multiplied and offered to the gaze of
worshippers and those -- like the master's portrait (chinzo), the
mummy, or the "hidden Buddhas" (hibutsu) -- that remain sequestered
in the temple's inner sanctum. The former serve as aids to
visualization (but also as ex-votos), whereas the latter remain the
invisible bodies (or doubles) of the gods.
The Buddhist Ideology of Aniconism
Aniconism is not a lack of images, a default, but rather an excess,
crossing through and beyond images. Recently, Susan Huntington has
reopened the old "debate on Buddhist aniconism" by arguing that
"representations of Buddhas were being produced at the same time as
the so-called aniconic reliefs."(110) Huntington correctly points
out the presuppositions regarding the superiority of iconism (and of
Western/Greek art) of Alfred Foucher and others. However, her claim
that the aniconic symbols are not surrogates for Buddha images or
descriptions of events in the life of the Buddha but "portraits" of
the sites of Buddhist devotion merely displaces the problem. As she
herself points out, these sites were themselves surrogates for the
Buddha, "traces" or "relics" ("EB," p. 406). Her belief in the
"intrinsic meaning of the art" hardly represents progress, and Vidya
Dehejia is right to emphasize in her response to Huntington the
multivalence of emblems ("EB," p. 406).(111) Regrettably, both
Huntington and Dehejia seem to ignore the work of Mus, although he
provided a much more comprehensive solution to their problem by
placing Buddhist imagery in the context of Brahmanic aniconism.(112)
The traditional view that there were no images of the Buddha in
early Buddhism led to the Orientalist belief that this religion was
artistically, therefore spiritually, inferior. Yet, as Freedberg
notes, aniconism (or nonfigurative art) is always on the side of
"spirituality" (PI, p. 54).(113)"' In the Indian context, however,
Buddhist aniconism should have been read as a claim for spiritual
superiority. In China as well, there is a strong connection between
xenophobia and the Confucian criticism of the cult of images as a
form of degeneration, as expressed by Confucians such as Yaochong or
Han Yu. Similarly, Chan/Zen iconoclasm is often seen as the
expression of a Buddhist theory of the sublime or the
unrepresentable. Consequently, Chan/Zen paintings, with their
rarefied atmosphere and their tendency toward abstraction, are
perceived as a concrete illustration of the passage beyond the
representation of objective reality, a freedom from what Kazimir
Malevitch has called the useless weight of the object. However, the
claim for aniconism or immediacy, wherever it is found, must be read
as ideological. Aniconism is usually part of a general discursive
strategy. For instance, with a similar aniconic gesture Plato
denigrates materiality, mimesis, and the Cratylian conception of
language, as well as the work of poets (ut pictura poesis). Standing
at the other end of this philosophical tradition, Heidegger wants to
present the work of art as a self-revelation of truth; however, in
the process he reduces the image to the poem (ut poesis pictura).
With their rationalist bent, orthodox Buddhists probably had an axe
to grind against Indian polytheism and its cult of images. However,
archeological evidence seems to run contrary to their claims.
Inasmuch as Buddhism is a product of Indian culture, there is reason
to believe that the use of symbols in early Buddhism was never
strictly the result of a purely aniconic teaching, a fortiori, of
some figurative incapacity. Could we argue that the nonfigurative
was perceived as ritually more efficient than the figurative?
Freedberg would disagree. For him, there are only different kinds of
likeness, some obvious to us, others not (see PI, p. 203). But this
seems to beg the question.
According to Mus, however, the nonfigurative nature of the Vedic
fire altar, with its schemas, diagrams, and symbols, is precisely
what makes it more strongly expressive of man and, more
specifically, of his immortality. The altar is an architectural
double, a substitute body made the size (taille) of the sacrificer.
It is an image, a "symbol" in the etymological sense, that is, a
temporary double of the sacrificer, whose final image will be his
funerary tumulus, itself measured in the same way. This
nonfigurative yet ultrasymbolic monument is more sacred, more
ritually efficacious, more "powerful," than any anthropomorphic
figure. It is an eminent representation or "making-present." not an
imperfect one. Anthropomorphic figures or figurations appear only
downstream; they are logically (not chronologically) derivative. A
nonfigurative representation like the abstract linga of Siva remains
more potent than any ithyphallic image. We also find hybrid cases,
in which nonanthropomorphic icons are worshipped in anthropomorphic
fashion: for instance, posts or erected stones are clothed like the
more anthropomorphic representations of the deity and/or dotted with
eyes. In this context, Mus argues, the aniconism of ancient Buddhist
art no longer seems problematic: it can be seen as a partial,
reserved, or eminent aniconism.(114) Similarly, in the Hindu temple,
icons are projections of the central god, which is often a
nonfigurative linga. The notions of aniconic center and iconic
periphery explain the importance of the circumambulation
(pradaksina) that leads the practitioner from periphery to center,
from bottom to top, from the senses to the spirit, from multiplicity
From the question of aniconism, we move now, in circumambulatory
fashion, to those of figuration, anthropomorphism, and realism,
which are at the center of Freedberg's work on the "power of
images." Verisimilitude is indeed important, not only in the case of
the funerary portraits (chinzo), but for all Buddhist images
modelled after the Udayana icon. Yet the conventional view is that
Indian art is after the type, not the individual; and one may argue
that the Sakyamuni of Seiryoji in Kyoto, supposedly a replica of the
Udayana icon itself, is quite "typical." There is a tension between
the symbol (for instance the usnisa), which connotes divine
transcendence, and a verisimilitude that denotes humanity --
although the distinction is not always clear-cut (the usnisa may at
times simply represent a concrete fleshy protuberance on the top of
the head). If resemblance is the goal, how do we explain the
coexistence of resembling and nonresembling icons? Freedberg claims
that we may not see what other cultures see as resemblance. But,
precisely, what is the line between what we see as resembling and
what we do not see as such? If this line is not the same for all,
how can one claim that we all look for the same verisimilitude? How
do we avoid the teleological schema (denounced by Freedberg) and say
that the verisimilitude aimed at by "primitives" -- in their
fetishes for instance -- is not as verisimilar as ours? How do we
include under that rubric objects that are clearly not very true to
life, yet that are obviously quite powerful and animated; Why would
a priest be glad to "dot the eyes" of a funerary tablet when he
could instead dot the eyes of a wax effigy? Should we not keep an
eye on that distinction? Can we simply reduce everything to
figuration? A conception of verisimilitude that relies on figuration
implies a notion of mimesis, which is understood quite differently
in the Chinese or Japanese contexts. How does it play out in the
case of Buddhist "realism" (for example, the Kamakura statuary)? Is
the addition of real hair aimed at making the icon more "realistic"
(that is, at verisimilitude) or more "real" (that is, at animation)?
Why, if we admit Freedberg's point, would the eucharist have
remained noniconic, yet so powerful? Why not some homunculus, a kind
of ginger-bread man, then? Surely not simply because the
cannibalistic nature of the ritual would have become too obvious and
The resemblance between the icon and its worshipper is not so much a
question of verisimilitude as one of size (as noted earlier, the
Vedic altar and Buddhist icons are made according to the size of the
worshipper) and of the presence of certain symbolic markers. Even
when likeness is deemed essential, it is not sufficient. A case in
point is that of a decorative painting by Huang Quan, a
tenth-century Chinese painter who specialized in flower and bird
paintings, on the walls of the palace of the King of Shu, that was
so realistic that a falcon offered to the king mistook the painted
pheasants in it for real ones.(115) The text commemorating the
incident states that "among the six principles" of higher art, only
the "resemblance to form" and the "harmony of breath" are essential.
If the "harmony of breath" is found without formal resemblance,
substance dominates over ornament. To have only "formal
resemblance," however, is like having the flower without the fruit.
While likeness and spirit are harmoniously balanced here, in many
other texts the emphasis is on the spirit. A case in point is that
of Gu Kaizhi, who would paint a portrait and sometimes not dot the
eyes for several years. When someone asked his reason for this, Gu
replied, "`The beauty or ugliness of the four limbs basically bears
no relation to the most subtle part of a painting. What conveys the
spirit and portrays the likeness lies precisely in these
dots.'"(116) In the case of sculptures, too, one can distinguish
between animation in principle ("installation of breath") and in
fact (for example, articulate limbs). In Western art as well, a
prejudice against verisimilitude is evident, but it appeared quite
late and did not constitute a dominant feature of the iconic
tradition. This explains Freedberg's emphasis on the power of
likeness, but it does not justify his attempt to generalize it to
non-Western cultures. Man of his conclusions derive from the fact
that his narrative moves, as it were, teleologically, from the
figurative to the non-figurative icon (and not the other way
around). Asian "realism" arises not only from increasing skill in
naturalistic representation but from a conscious will to render the
invisible visible, or the dead present. In Buddhist hagiography, the
mummy of a dead master, when it happens to be discovered, always
looks "as if alive" -- precisely the same topos found in the case of
a "realistic" icon.
Where Freedberg sees sexuality arousing the beholder because of the
likeness of the image, Heidegger would see the unfolding (Ereignis)
of Being: "This nature of truth which is familiar to us --
correctness in representation -- stands and falls with truth as
unconcealedness of beings" ("OW," p. 52). What Freedberg considers
to be the ne plus ultra of verisimilitude, the real costume of
certain icons, can play quite a different role in the Buddhist
context. There are some well-known cases in Japanese Buddhism of
icons whose body is represented with "soft" realism (for instance,
the so-called naked Jizo or Benzaiten). These icons were originally
clothed like noble human beings. The same is true of the mummies of
Buddhist priests. However, one may wonder what role this parure
(Kant's parergon) plays in the general economy of Buddhist ritual.
In a seminal essay entitled "Le Buddha pare" (The Adorned Buddha)
Mus has shown in the case of Sakyamuni that the nature of an icon
can change along with its parure, its finery: instead of descending
further into the world of appearances, as we might assume at first
glance, it now transcends it; it no longer manifests its (relative)
"metamorphic body" (nirmanakaya), but its (absolute) "dharma body"
(dharmakaya).(117) But things are not always so paradoxically
simple, and one may argue that, in most cases, the uncarved
woodblock (or at least the single woodblock icon) is closer to the
transcendental Buddha. We seem to have here two different ways of
conceiving the excess of representation (the sublime): as an
additional layer of symbolism (cloth, parergon), or as a total
stripping (like the nudity of the "heavenly-clad" ascetic in
It is clearly impossible to return to a premodern conception of the
icon, or to retrieve non-western conceptions of it, to abandon the
vantage point (or disadvantage point) of our self-centered
perspective. I suggested above that an intrinsic quality of the
modern (and, by the way, predominantly male) gaze is the violence it
does to images. Perhaps one cannot avoid the most subtle forms of
that violence. At any rate, there is little to be gained by adopting
a nostalgic approach that idealizes the past (an idealization that
is just the other side of the coin, as the case of Segalen shows)
and clings to tradition.
Our use (or abuse) of these icons may be not only the unavoidable
outcome of modern commodity fetishism but also part of a Western
pragmatic which consists in installing cultural fragments in another
context (Malraux's musee imaginaire), reinscribing them in another
structure, and thus establishing another circulation of power. These
icons remind me of Nancy Jay's example of the churinga (an
Australian Aboriginal ritual instrument, a sort of bull-roarer) in a
museum, which she compared to Confederate money, about which one
thing is certain: it is no longer money, although we do not know
what kind of object it is.(118) One could also argue that, despite
the apparent novelty, there is nothing radically new here: the icon
was always already reinscribed or disseminated. If we still believe
that this disenchantment is radical and irreversible, should we then
mourn it? Benjamin was the first to theorize this disenchantment of
the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. The example
he focusses on, the photograph, is interesting since, as he rightly
points out, it retains some of the individual aura (and we know that
photos can be used as substitute bodies in black magic). But above
all, if some photos do lose their aura through reproduction, others
regain another type of aura, or, rather, present an aura that was
not apparent in the original subject. Clearly, the reproduction of
votive images does not result in the loss of their aura; Benjamin's
earlier insight that the aura was in part the product of the
photographical technique would seem more to the point here.(119) At
any rate, the notion of aura might be useful even in the case of
noncultic images. One could also argue that the multiplication of
images, rather than depleting their aura, renders presence
"immediate and indubitable" (PI, p. 177). This is true with the
portrait of the ruler, in the absolute monarchy that emerged in
seventeenth-century France, as well as today in all regimes based on
a cult of personality. Although Benjamin at one point considered the
loss of the aura as a necessary counterpart to the democratization
of art, in his argument about the unity of the work of art in its
aura we can also perhaps hear a distant echo of the discourse of
censorship, according to which prints, like photographs, are vulgar
"because they can get into the hands of the vulgus, the crowd" and
"are therefore not like art" (PI, p. 361).
There is therefore no need to wax nostalgic or nihilistic about the
loss of the aura in the age of mechanical reproduction or the
inauthenticity of the technical epoch. As Jean-Francois Lyotard
remarks, Being "didn't choose Ceizanne to express itself."(120)
After all, the grandiloquent disclosure of truth that Heidegger
attributed to the work of art can occur in the photos of, say, Man
Ray or Henri Cartier-Bresson -- and, with some luck, in my own
amateurish photos as well. Similarly, the erotic aura is not limited
to the "artistic" photos of Mapplethorpe. One could argue, as
Freedberg does, that any erotic or pornographic picture has the
potential to arouse a strong response from the beholder, to turn him
into a voyeur. How this differs, then, from the voyeurism implicit
in paintings like Giorgione's Tempesta -- a voyeurism that is the
main source of the fascination exerted by "classic" paintings such
as this one -- is not always clear. We may recall that fascination
is derived from fascinus, the Latin word for phallus. Thus, my
position here is by no means a nostalgic one. However, I want to
emphasize again that the aura -- which is perhaps not irreversibly
lost, but often ignored or eclipsed -- is an important aspect of
these artworks and that one way to retrieve it -- as it were,
dialectically, through a kind of Buddhist "skillful means" (upaya)
that could later be conveniently abandoned -- is to place it, as
Benjamin argued, in its cultic context. This anthropological
reinscription will help us to move beyond the cultural level to the
Passing through customary readings of the icon (the aesthetic,
symbolic, economic, anthropological), we have shifted from its
readable/visible (or obvious) to its visual (or obtuse) dimension.
The icon overflows from the aesthetic and symbolic spheres into the
anthropological. The focus on the anthropological dimension referred
to the belief in a presence, a transcendent immanence of the icon.
However, one must be able to go beyond that dimension toward the
phenomenological dimension, where the experience of the aura, now
desacralized, secularized, reveals a more originary aspect of sense
perception.(121) Thus, going through the anthropological moment (by
placing the icon in its cultural/cultic context), one ends up
discovering a broader anthropological (in the philosophical sense)
dimension of the aura, for which the cultic aspect is no longer
essential, or, rather, from which it merely derives.
The Buddhist icon, like any true icon, is a meteque ("wog"), as
Segalen would have described it, but for reasons that have less to
do with designating cultural or artistic superiority or inferiority
and more to do with the etymological root of the word (meta-oikos,
literally, "one who moves to a different house"). This derivation is
apt not only because the icon tends to move from temple to museum
(or the antiquarian's shop) but because it is both within and above
the oikos, the economy (oikonomia, the law of the house and of
partition, distribution, and exchange): it simultaneously institutes
the economic/iconomic circle and goes beyond it.(122) In this hybrid
and highly unstable figure, all human meteques and metis
(half-breed, half-cast, or half-caste -- a related word, although of
different etymology) will recognize their prototype.
(1.) See Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of
Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, N.J., 1991), pp. 148-78 and Visions of
Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism, trans. Phyllis Brooks
(Princeton, N.J., 1996), pp. 237-63. See also Michel Strickmann,
Mantras et mandarins: Le Bouddhisme tantrique en Chine (Paris,
(2.) On Buddhist art, see the groundbreaking work of Paul Mus,
Barabudur: Esquisse d'une histoire du bouddhisme fondee sur la
critique archeologique des textes (1935; New York, 1978). See also
G. Coedes, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor: Cultes personnels et culte
royal; monuments funeraires; symbolisme architectural; les grands
souverains d'Angkor (Paris, 1947); trans. and ed. Emily Floyd
Gardiner, under the title Angkor: An Introduction (New York, 1963).
See also Stanley K. Abe, "Inside the Wonder House: Buddhist Art and
the West," in Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under
Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Chicago, 1995), pp. 63-106;
hereafter abbreviated "IW." On East Asian art and ritual artifacts,
see Doris Croissant, "Der unsterbliche Leib: Ahneneffigies und
Reliquienportrat in der Portratplastik Ostasiens," in Das Bildnis in
der Kunst des Orients, ed. Martin Kraatz, Jurg Meyer zur Capellen,
and Dietrich Seckel (Stuttgart, 1990), pp. 235-68; T Griffith Foulk
and Robert H. Sharf, "On the Ritual Use of Ch'an Portraiture in
Medieval China," Cahiers d'Extreme-Asie 7 (1993-94): 149-219; and
Mimi Yiengpruksawan, "In My Image: The Ichiji Kinrin Statue at
Chusonji," Monumenta Nipponica 46 (Autumn 1991): 329-47.
(3.) See, in particular, Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the
Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn,
ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1968), pp. 217-51, hereafter
abbreviated "WA," and "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," Illuminations,
pp. 155-200; David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the
History and Theory of Response (Chicago, 1989), hereafter
abbreviated PI; W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology
(Chicago, 1986); Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations, ed.
Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, and Keith Moxey (Hanover, N.H.,
1994); Georges Didi-Huberman, Devant l'image: Question posee aux
fins d'une histoire de l'art (Paris, 1990) and Ce que nous voyons,
ce qui nous regarde (Paris, 1992).
(4.) On Buddhist mummies, see Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy pp.
148-78, and Sharf, "The Idolization of Enlightenment: On the
Mummification of Ch'an Masters in Medieval China," History of
Religions 32 (Aug. 1992): 1-31.
(5.) For a recent scrutiny of some of the Orientalist
presuppositions of Buddhist art, see "IW." For a discussion of
"secondary Orientalism," see Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights: An
Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (Princeton, N.J.,
1993), pp. 52-88.
(6.) William R. LaFleur, "A Turning in Taisho: Asia and Europe in
the Early Writings of Watsuji Tetsuro," in Culture and Identity:
Japanese Intellectuals during the Interwar Years, ed. J. Thomas
Rimer (Princeton, N.J., 1990), p. 239.
(7.) Ernest F. Fenollosa, Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art: An
Outline History of East Asiatic Design, 2 vols. (New York, 1913),
1:xxiv; hereafter abbreviated EC.
(8.) Not surprisingly, the classical reference is omnipresent in
Western judgments about Asian art. When Aurel Stein begins to
explore Buddhist sites in the Swat district of Northern India with
Alfred Foucher in 1896, he writes: "I feel I am on classical soil
and enjoyed every minute" (quoted in "IW," p. 85). As Abe points
out, "`Greekness' ... serves to designate the aesthetic superiority
of the European colonial" ("IW," p. 71). This bias toward antiquity
is still visible in the titles of major journals in the field:
Artibus Asiae, Ars Orientalis -- to name just a few. But in the case
of Gandhara art, unlike in the present case, the thickness of the
lips of some statues was judged as a proof of non-Greek origin; see
ibid., p. 71.
(9.) See Heinrich Wolfflin, Principles of Art History:
The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, trans. M. D.
Hottinger (New York, 1950).
(10.) "Le sacrifice, c'est l'homme. Le sacrifice est l'homme car
c'est l'homme qui l'offre; et chaque fois qu'il est offert, le
sacrifice a la taille de l'homme" (Catapatha-Brahmana, quoted in
Sylvain Levi, La Doctrine du sacrifice dans les Brahmanas 1898;
Paris, 1966, p. 77).
11. Quoted in Francois Berthier, Genese de la sculpture bouddhique
japonaise (Paris, 1979), p. 313. The formalist approach of Japanese
art historians to Buddhist sculpture is well documented (and
replicated) in Berthier's book.
(12.) Another representative instance of the aestheticizing tendency
is Hisamatsu Shin'ichi's construction of a Zen aesthetics under a
definition so broad that it allowed him, like Fenollosa's friend
Okakura Kakuzo and Suzuki Daisetsu, the scholar and lay Zen
practitioner who popularized Zen in the United States, to include
under the banner of Zen a broad variety of cultural products such as
the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, no theater, and haiku poetry.
I have discussed this aspect of Zen ideology elsewhere. See Faure,
Chan Insights and Oversights, pp. 52-88. Hisamatsu defines Zen
aesthetics under seven rubrics: asymmetry. simplicity, timelessness,
naturalness, subtle profundity (yugen), freedom from convention or
attachment, and aloneness. See Gregory Noyes, "The Rainbow of Zen
Aesthetics" (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1993). For a direct
contact with Zen ideology, see Hisamatsu Shin'ichi, Zen and the Fine
Arts, trans. Tokiwa Gishin (Tokyo, 1971); Okakura Kakuzo, The Ideals
of the East, with Special Reference to the Art of Japan (London,
1903); and Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, 2d ed.
(Princeton, N.J., 1970.).
(13.) E. H. Gombrich, "Malraux's Philosophy of Art in Historical
Perspective." in Andre Malraux, ed. Harold Bloom (New York, 1988),
(14.) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, prod. George Lucas and
Frank Marshall, dir. Steven Spielberg, 1989.
(15.) Andre Malraux, epigraph to Victor Segalen, The Great Statuary
of China, trans. Eleanor Levieux, ed. A. Joly-Segalen (Chicago,
1978); hereafter abbreviated GS.
(16.) Augusto Gilbert de Voisins, Ecrit en Chine, in Le Voyage en
Chine: Anthologie des voyageurs occidentaux du Moyen Age la chute de
l'Empire chinois, ed. Ninette Boothroyd, Muriel Detrie, and Fernand
Bunel (Paris, 1992), pp. 1053-54.
(17.) See also Yvonne Y. Hsieh, Victor Segalen's Literary Encounter
with China: Chinese Moulds, Western Thoughts (Toronto, 1988), pp.
(18.) Another case in point is that of Michel Leiris, a surrealist
writer who became an ethnographer when he joined the mission
organized by Marcel Griaule in Africa to collect specimens of
african art and culture for the Musee de l'Homme. Leiris denounces
colonial violence, but he also recounts in his diary, later
published despite Griaule's opposition under the title L'Afrique
fantome, how he stole precious fetishes from unsuspecting villagers.
On Griaule, Leiris, and Segalen, see James Clifford, The Predicament
of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art
(Cambridge, Mass., 1988), pp. 55-90, 152-74.
(19.) A similar point is made, in a different context, by Mitchell
in his discussion of the modern "rhetoric of iconoclasm." See
Mitchell, Iconology, pp. 160-208. On the Buddhist "rhetoric of
iconoclasm," see Richard Gombrich, "The Consecration of a Buddhist
Journal of Asian Studies 26 (Nov. 1966): 23-36.
(20.) On the animate icon, see Richard Gombrich, "The Consecration
of a Buddhist Image," and Strickmann, Mantras et mandarins. On the
indian "gaze" (darsan), see J. Gonda, Eve and Gaze in the Veda
(Amsterdam, 1969); on the tessera, see Max Kaltenmark, "Ling-pao:
Note sur un terme du taoisme religieux," in Melanges publies par
l'Institut de Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 2 vols. (Paris, 1960),
1:559-88; on the stupa, see Mus's monumental work, Barabudur; on
power, see Marcel Mauss and Henri Hubert A General Theory of Magic,
trans. Robert Brain (New York, 1972); Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, The
Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets: A Study in
Charisma, Hagiography, Sectarianism, and, Millenial Buddhism
(Cambridge, 1984); and PI.
(21.) Edmund R. Leach, "The Gatekeepers of Heaven: Antropological
Aspects of Grandiose Architecture", Journal of Anthropological
Research 39 (Fall 1983): 244; hereafter "GH." The worst-case
scenario, only too common, is that of these icons who, like the
Buddha from Hoti Mardan described by Foucher, came to decorate the
mess hall of a British frontier garrison, "leaning against the wall
of the dining-room and no longer inhaling any incense but the smoke
of cigars" (quoted in "IW," pp. 85-86).
(22.) See "GH," and Rolf A.
Stein, "The Guardian of the Gate: An Example of Buddhist Mythology,
from India to Japan," in Asian Mythologies, trans. Wendy Doniger et
al., ed. Yves Bonnefoy (Chicago, 1991), pp. 122-36. As Roland
Barthes pointed out, the French word duel has both the meanings of
"dual," or contest, and "dual," the category in Greek grammar
between singular and plural. See Roland Barthes, "Introduction to
the Structural Analysis of Narratives," Image-Music-Text, trans. and
ed. Stephen Heath (New York, 1977), p. 108.
(23.) See G. Ecke and P. Demieville, The Twin Pagodas of Zayton: A
Study of Later Buddhist Sculpture in China (Cambridge, Mass., 1935).
(24.) The same is true of Buddhist relics and regalia. See, for
instance, Faure, "Relics, Regalia, and the Ideology of Secrecy," in
Rending the Veil, ed. Eliott Wolfson (forthcoming).
(25.) Stella Kramrisch, Exploring India's Sacred Art: Selected
Writings of Stella Kramrisch, ed. Barbara Stoler Miller
(Philadelphia, 1983), p. 217; hereafter abbreviated El.
(26.) On the metaphysics of presence, see Jacques Derrida, Of
Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore, 1974).
(27.) See Hubert Delahaye, "Les Antecedents magiques des statues
chinoises," Revue d'esthetique, n.s., 5 (1983): 45-53; hereafter
(28.) Jean-Pierre Vernant, "Etude comparee des religions antiques,"
Annuaire du College de France 77 (1977): 426.
(29.) See Konjaku monogatari shu, trans. and ed. Bernard Frank,
under the title Histoires qui sont maintenant du passe (Paris,
1968), pp. 94-96.
(30.) Lu Xun, Gu xiaoshuo gouchen (Hong Kong, 1970), p. 428; quoted
in "AM," p. 48.
(31.) Hong Mai, Yijian zhi, ed. Congshu Jicheng (Beijing, 1981), p.
129; quoted in "AM," p. 51.
(32.) For a discussion of the Marxist notion of fetishism, see
Mitchell, Iconology, pp. 185-96.
(33.) "On Lustful Love for the Image of Kichijo-tennyo, Which
Responded with an Extraordinary Sign," Miraculous Stories from the
Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The "Nihon Ryoiki" of the Monk Kyokai,
trans. Kyoko Motomochi Nakamura (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), p. 178.
(34.) Gaoseng zhuan, in Taisho shinshu daizokyo, ed. Takakusu
Junjiro and Watanabe Kaigyoku, 100 vols. (Tokyo, 1924-32),50:860b.
On the legend of the Buddha image, see Hobogirin: Dictionnaire
encyclopedique du bouddhisme d'apres les sources chinoises et
japonaises, ed. Demieville, Levi, and J. Takakusu, s.v. "Butsuzo,"
and Donald E McCallum, The Zenkoji Icon: A Study in Medieval
Japanese Religious Art (Princeton, N.J., 1994).
(35.) Lewis R. Lancaster, "An Early Mahayana Sermon about the Body
of the Buddha and the Making of Images," Artibus Asiae 36, no. 4
(36.) See Hobogirin, s.v. "Butsuzo." For this story, see also John
S. Strong, The Legend of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India
and Southern Asia (Princeton, N.J., 1992), pp. 104-17.
(37.) See the rendition of Divyavadana in Ananda K. Coomaraswamy,
The Transformation of Nature in Art (New York, 1934), p. 102.
(38.) On the "visualization" of images according to Buddhist
scriptures, see Demieville and Emile Benveniste, "Note sur le
fragment sogdien du Buddhadhyanasamadhiagarasutra," Journal
Asiatique 223 (Oct.-Dec. 1933): 193-248.
(39.) On this point, see Alvin Cohen, "Coercing Rain Deities in
Ancient China," History of Religions 17 (Feb.-May 1978): 244-65.
(40.) See, for instance, in the Jingde chuandenglu (Record of the
Transmission of the Flame in the Jingde), the story of the "mad
monk" Shide, who beats up a monastery god for seeming unable to
protect the monastery (Taisho shinshu daizokyo, 51:434a); or, in
Mangen Shiban, Enpo dentoroku (Record of the Transmission of the
Flame in the Enpo; 1706), the case of the Zen monk Kyoo Unryo
(1267-1341), who threw the mountain god of Hakusan into a pond after
this deity had failed to protect his community from an epidemic (see
Enpo dentoroku in Dai Nihon bukkyo zensho, ed. Takakusu Junjiro et
al., 150 vols. 1931; Tokyo, 1970-73, 108:212a). Incidentally, the
fact that not only children but also adults are affected (although
in different fashions) by the violence done to inanimate figures was
brought home to me on the occasion of my daughter's birthday as I
watched the beating of a pinata.
(41.) See Foulk and Sharf, "On the Ritual Use of Ch'an Portraiture
in Medieval China."
(42.) To give just a couple of examples, a lingwei is a tablet
placed in front of the coffin, a lingwu, a paper house burned at
(43.) Florence Dupont, "The Emperor-God's Other Body," in Fragments
for a History of the Human Body, ed. Michel Feher, Ramona Nadaff,
and Nadia Tazi, 3 vols. (New York, 1989), 3:403.
(44.) Ibid., p. 413. Although we are dealing with a different
context, it is particularly interesting that the term
representation, in French royal funerary rituals, means a
catafalque, a funerary effigy. On this question, see Ralph E.
Giesey, The Royal Funeral Ceremony in Renaissance France (Geneva,
(45.) According to Audrey Spiro, Gu Kaizhi's famous line on dotting
the eyes of a portrait ("`What conveys the spirit and portrays the
likeness lies precisely in these dots'") must be understood in the
context of ritual empowerment (Audrey Spiro, "New Light on Gu
Kaizhi: Windows of the Soul," Journal of Chinese Religions 16 Fall
(46.) Zanning, Song gaosengzhuan, in Taisho shinshu daizokyo,
50:711c. An earlier translation of this biography may be found in
Chou Yi-Liang, "Tantrism in China," Harvard Journal of Asiatic
Studies 8 (1944-45): 276-77.
(47.) On this question, see Strickmann, Mantras et mandarins, pp.
(48.) Here is how Father Longobardo describes a drought that plagued
the inhabitants of the Guangtong province: "So they gave up hope in
the city gods, and for the occasion they brought in a celebrated
monster from the country. Its name was Locu read Luzu, the Sixth
Patriarch, that is, Huineng. They paraded it about, bowed before it
and made offerings to it, but like its counterparts it remained deaf
to their pleading. It was this occasion that gave rise to the
saying, `Locu is growing old'" (Matthew Ricci, China in the
Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matthew Ricci, 1583-1610, trans.
Louis J. Gallagher New York, 1953, p. 425).
(49.) On the Chan "rhetoric of immediacy" and the central role of
mediation, see Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy.
(50.) As Jean-Francois Lyotard puts it: "This is the way
philosophers enter the stage of `criticism,' by way of this gap
through which the work escapes being converted into meaning"
(Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Philosophy and Painting in the Age of Their
Experimentation: Contribution to an Idea of Postmodernity," trans.
Maria Minich Brewer and Daniel Brewer, The Lyotard Reader, ed.
Andrew Benjamin Oxford, 1989, p. 182).
(51.) For an "art historical" presentation of some of these boyish
figures, without discussion of their power of sexual arousal, see
Christine M. E. Guth, "The Divine Boy in Japanese Art," Monumenta
Nipponica 42 (Spring 1987): 1-23. For a discussion of Buddhist
pedophilia, see Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy, pp. 248-57. For a
discussion of the homoerotic tradition of Western humanism through
the figure of Ganymede, see Leonard Barkan, Transuming Passion:
Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism (Stanford, Calif., 1991).
(52.) John Berger, Ways of Seeing (1972; London, 1977), p. 7;
hereafter abbreviated WS.
(53.) The German Kunstbetrieb could be translated, more literally,
as "bustling activity around art."
(54.) Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," Poetry,
Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York, 1971), pp.
40-41; hereafter abbreviated "OW."
(55.) See Faure, Visions of Power, pp. 224-74.
(56.) Heidegger, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven, Conn., 1959), p. 98.
(57.) Another practically invisible mark of the Buddha has caught the Buddhist imagination: his hidden reproductive organ; his sheathed, as it were, "invaginated" penis, which is often compared to that of a horse or an elephant.
(58.) In Chan/Zen, the term usnisa (in Chinese, dingxiang; in Japanese, chinzo) came to designate the portrait of an enlightened abbot. On this question, see Foulk and Sharf, "On the Ritual Use of Ch'an Portraiture in Medieval China," pp. 202-6.
(59.) Il n'y a d'image a penser radicalement qu'au-dela du principe de visibilite, c'est a dire au-dela de l'opposition canonique -- spontanee, impensee -- du visible et de l'invisble. Cet au-dela, il faudra encore le nommer visuel, comme ce qui viendrait toujours faire defaut a la disposition du sujet qui voit pour retablir la continuite de sa reconnaissance descriptive ou de sa certitude quant a ce qu'il voit. Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyons, ce qui nous regarde, p. 76 See also Didi-Huberman, Devant l'image.
(60.) Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style (Oxford, 1972), pp. 1, 2.
(61.) See Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, trans. Alice L. Morton (Cambridge, 1975), p. 33.
(62.) Jean-Joseph Goux, Symbolic Economies. After Marx and Freud, trans. Jennifer Curtiss Gage (Ithaca, N.Y., 1990), p. 67. See also Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. S. Moore and E. Aveling, ed. Friedrich Engels, 3 vols. (New York, 1967); "WA"; Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago, 1987), chap. 1, hereafter abbreviated TP; Louis Marin, The Portrait of the King, trans. Martha Houle (Minneapolis, 1988); and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Thought among the Greeks (London, 1983).
(63.) "Glorifier le culte des images (ma grande, mon unique, ma primitive passion)" (Charles Baudelaire, "My Heart Laid Bare," "My Heart Laid Bare" and Other Prose Writings, trans. Norman Cameron, ed. Peter Quennell New York, 1975, p. 198).
(64.) Barthes, "Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives," pp. 43-58.
(65.) Ibid., p. 277.
(66.) See J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Cambridge, Mass., 1962). On the indirect, see Coomaraswamy, The Transformation of Nature in Art, pp. 121-38; on "twilight language," see Roderick S. Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox, The Twilight Language:
Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism (New York, 1986).
(67.) Whereas the five-degree or "five-wheel" stupa symbolizes the five elements of the Buddhist cosmos, the ovoid or seamless stupa represents the pre- or postcosmic stage, the stage of indifferentiation and chaos before the emergence of the symbolic.
(68.) Coedes, Pour mieux comprendre Angkor, p. 62.
(69.) On the symbolism of turgescence and the "phallic effect that is not necessarily specific to the male," see Derrida, "Foi et savoir: Les Deux Sources de la `religion' aux limites de la simple raison," in La Religion, ed. Derrida and Gianni Vattimo (Paris, 1996), p. 63.
(70.) Mus, "Civilisations d'Extreme-Orient," Annuaire du College de France 54 (1954): 238.
(71.) See Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy, pp. 148-78; see also Sharf, "The Idolization of Enlightenment."
(72.) The translators of The Truth in Painting explain as follows
their choice of cise for taille: "To render this second sense of the French taille, and to preserve the uncertainty between the two senses which is vital in some of what follows, we shall use the word `cise,' an obsolete spelling of `size'... and suggestive of cutting (cf. incision)" (TP, p. 120).
(73.) See Jean-Pierre Albert, Odeurs de saintete: La Mythologie chretienne des aromates (Paris, 1990), p. 232.
(74.) This question was raised by Janet Gyatso in her discussion of my book, The Rhetoric of Immediacy, and I owe this insight (or afterthought) to her. On the smell of death in art, see Mieke Bal, "Dead Flesh, or the Smell of Painting," in Visual Culture, pp. 365-83.
(75.) See, for example, this account in Fozu tongji (General Records of the Buddhas and Patriarchs): "When master Sengqie died, a royal decree ordered that his body should be lacquered and that a stupa should also be erected at the Jianfu Monastery. Soon after this, a foul smell pervaded the city. An edict ordered the body to be sent to his former monastery at Sizhou. At once, a fragrant breeze blew over the imperial capital" (Zhipan, Fozu tongji in Taisho shinshu daizokyo, 49:372).
(76.) See the entry for Wuliao in the Fozu tongji:
Twenty years after its completion, Wuliao's stupa ... fell down owing to a flood in a hill stream. His disciples then saw that the corpse had suffered no physical deterioration. When the prince of the Min State heard this news, he sent a messenger and took the corpse to his house to worship. Immediately a bad smell came out of the corpse. After the prince had offered some incense and prayed, and it had been reenshrined at the original place at Guiyang, a fragrant smell came out soon after its restoration. So all the people of that city went out and paid homage to that stupa. Ibid., 49:389
(77.) See also the following: "This double trait of a cise which limits and unlimits at one and the same time, the divided line upon which a colossus comes to cise itself, incise itself without cise, is the sublime"; "the colossal is, in other words superelevates
itself, on both sides of its own cise, it is on both sides its own cise, it is of its own cise on both sides. A priori and from the start double colossus, if not double column. Whence its resonance"
(TP pp. 144, 145).
(78.) After writing this, I came across a reference to the tessera in Michael Ann Holly's recent essay on Wolfflin. She writes: "The corpus of Wolfflin's work can be read
according to the trope of tessera coined by Harold Bloom to explain the `anxiety of influence' often `suffered' by poets" (Michael Ann Holly, "Wolfflin and the Imagining of the Baroque," in Visual Culture, p. 351). And: "In Bloom's terms, Burckhardt's Renaissance provided the tessera for Wolfflin's baroque" (ibid., p. 362). Here is Bloom's definition of the tessera: "I take the word not from mosaic-making, where it is still used, but from the ancient mystery cults, where it meant a token of recognition, the fragment say of a small pot with which the other fragments would reconstitute the vessel" (Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry Oxford, 1973, p. 14). Yielding to the anxiety of influence, I add this fragment to my little vessel, although it may belong to another larger and more artistic one.
(79.) I owe this information to Mimi Yiengpruksawan.
(80.) See Robert Des Rotours, "Insignes en deux parties (fou) sous la dynastie des T'ang (618-907)," T'oung Pao 41 (1952): 34. See also the standard definition of the substantive tally, which includes the meanings "a reckoning or score"; "a stick on which notches are made to keep a count or score" or "a stick on which notches were formerly made to keep a record of amounts paid or owed"; "a mark used in recording a number of acts or objects, most often in series of five, consisting of four vertical lines canceled diagonally or horizontally by a fifth line"; and "something that is very similar or corresponds to something else; a double or counterpart."
(81.) Significantly, the same term was used in Chan/Zen for the definition of the patriarchal robe, which was the main emblem of transmission.
(82.) Des Rotours, "Insignes en deux parties (fou) sous la dynastie des T'ang (618-907)," p. 5.
(83.) Before the Tang, they had the shape of a tiger; during the Tang, usually that of a fish, sometimes of a tortoise. Until the Tang, the inscription was written on the edge, before the insignia was slit; later it was written on each side of the fault line; finally it was written inside the insignia, while the characters hetong, engraved on the edge, are split in the middle and must be reconstituted when the two parts of the insignia are reunited. In some cases, the inscription inside, reading tong ("same"), carved in relief (yang) on one side, must also fit together with the text carved en creux (yin) on the other side. So one part of the fu was kept inside the palace, the other (or others, for there were sometimes as many as twenty) were distributed to functionaries, who were sent to the provinces. After the Song, they were replaced by tablets (pai) -- but their symbolic value (in both senses) remained.
(84.) Among the various meanings for qi we find "pact, contract, convention; to carve, to incise; to concord, to match, to agree." This term is also used to designate awakening -- tallying with truth -- -and Chan transmission -- tallying between master and disciple, between mind and mind.
(85.) Paul M. Harrison, "Buddhanusmrti in the Pratyutpanna-Buddha-Sammukhdvasthita-Samaddhi-Sutra," Journal Indian Philosophy 6 (Sept. 1978): 42. See also Miranda Shaw, "Buddhist and Taoist Influences on Chinese Landscape Painting," Journal of the History of Ideas 49 (Apr.-June 1988): 196.
(86.) Harrison, "Buddhanusmrti in the Pratyutpanna-Buddha-Sammukhdvasthita-Samdhi-Sutra," p. 39.
(87.) See Rolf A. Stein, The World in Miniature: Container Gardens and Dwellings in Far Eastern Religious Thought, trans. Phyllis Brooks (Stanford, Calif., 1990), pp. 5-48.
(88.) See also Delahaye, Les Premieres Peintures de paysage en Chine: Aspects religieux (Paris, 1981), and James Cahill, The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting (Cambridge, Mass., 1982).
(89.) Aura -- "souffle" -- is not, like aureole, derived from aureus, "golden crown."
(90.) Perhaps owing to Brechtian influence, Benjamin is nevertheless ambivalent about this evolution, which he also saw as a sign of democratization, of the legitimate ambition of the "masses" to overcome cultural privileges: "Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction" ("WA," p. 223). The desacralization of the work of art was also for him an emancipation from its "parasitic" existence as an clement of ritual ("WA," p. 224). In an earlier essay on photography, Benjamin attributed the aura to the technical conditions of photography. The nihilism of "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is also contradicted by his later essay, "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire." On this question, see Rainer Rochlitz, Le Desenchantement de l'art: La Philosophie de Walter Benjamin (Paris, 1992), pp. 174-94, trans. Jane Marie Todd, under the title The Disenchantment of Art: The Philosophy of Walter Benjamin (New York, 1996); and Mitchell, Iconology, pp. 178-85. For a positive conception of mimesis and reproduction, see also Michael Taussig, Mimesis and Allerity. A Particular History of the Senses (New York, 1993).
(91.) See Christine Guth Kanda, Shinzo: Hachiman Imagery and Its
Development (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), p. 73: "The sheer bulk and lack of mobility either in pose or in the articulation of bodily mass gives them a primeval aura" (my italics).
(92.) See Yiengpruksawan, "Gods in Pieces: The Ontological Ramifications of the Joined-Wood Technique in Japanese Buddhist Statuary" (forthcoming).
(93.) Guth Kanda, Shinzo, p. 20.
(94.) See Tambiah, The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets.
(95.) See Li Chi: Book of Rites; An Encyclopedia of Ancient Ceremonial Usages, Religious Creeds, and Social Institutions, trans.
James Legge, ed. Ch'u Chai and Winberg Chai, 2 vols. (Hyde Park, N.Y., 1967), 1:173. See also J. J. M. de Groot, The Religious System of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs, and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, 6 vols. (1892; Taipei, 1982), 2:806-11.
(96.) The Dictionnaire francais de la langue chinoise (Taipei, 1976), s.v. "ou," has: "statue (representing a person), doll, idol; even number; together; to pair, to mate; pair, couple, member of a couple, spouse, partner; to match, to go together, etc.; to coincide, hence coincidence: fortuitous, chance, accidental." Qi also means "to exceed," "remainder," "bad luck," "bad omen."
(97.) See Donald E. Gjertson, "The Early Chinese Buddhist Miracle Tale: A Preliminary Survey," Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (July-Sept. 1981): 297.
(98.) In his famous description of sympathetic magic, Frazer mentions the Chinese "effigies made of bamboo splinters and paper" known as "`substitutes of persons,'" which could be used to inflict harm on one's enemies (J. G. Frazer, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, vol. 1 of The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 3d ed. London, 1911, p. 60). See also Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, pp. 44-58.
(99.) See Hwui Li, The life of Hiuen-Tsiang, ed. Samuel Beal (London, 1914), p. 62. See also Malcolm David Eckel, "The Power of the Buddha's Absence: On the Foundations of Mahayana Buddhist Ritual," Journal of Ritual Studies 4, no. 2 (1990): 68.
(100.) Sigmund Freud, "The `Uncanny,'" Collected Papers, trans. and ed. Joan Riviere, 4 vols. (New York, 1925), 4:386-87; hereafter abbreviated "U."
(101.) See Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (New York, 1993).
(102.) Quoted in Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. and Richard Rand (Lincoln, Nebr., 1986), p. 28.
(103.) See Clement Rosset, Le Reel et son double (Paris, 1976), p. 84.
(104.) Arthur Rimbaud, "A Georges Izambard," in Rimbaud, Cros, Corbiere, Lautreamont: Oeuvres poetiques completes, ed. Alain Blottiere et al. (Paris, 1980), p. 184.
(105.) See Alain Boureau, Le Simple Corps du roi: L'Impossible Sacralite des souverains francais, XVe-XVIIIe siecle (Paris, 1988) -- a critical complement to Ernest H. Kantorowicz's The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton, N.J., 1957).
(106.) "Les differents aspects de l'illusion decrits ci-dessus renvoient a une meme fonction, a une meme structure, a une meme echec. La fonction: proteger du reel. La structure: non pas refuser de percevoir le reel, mais le dedoubler. L'echec: reconnaitre trop tard dans le double protecteur le reel meme dont on croyait s'etre garde" (Rosset, Le Reel et son double, p. 123).
(107.) Quoted in Shaw, "Buddhist and Taoist Influences on Chinese Landscape Painting," p. 199. See also Erik Zurcher, The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1959), 1:242-3.
(108.) On the rhetoric of iconoclasm in Western discourse, see Mitchell, Iconology, pp. 160-208, and Goux, Symbolic Economies, pp.
(109.) See Guth Kanda, Shinzo, pp. 18-22.
(110.) Susan L. Huntington, "Early Buddhist Art and the Theory of Aniconism," Art Journal 49 (Winter 1990): 402; hereafter abbreviated "EB." See also Vidya Dehejia, "Aniconism and the Multivalence of Emblems," Orientalis 21 (1990): 45-66. Dehejia argues that, while it is true that Foucher misstated the nature and extent of aniconism, he was accurate in perceiving its existence; see p. 64.
(111.) On Foucher, see also "IW."
(112.) See Mus, Barabudur pp. 43-45, 60-66.
(113.) The best representative of this trend is probably Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, trans. and ed. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo, 2 vols.
(Boston, 1982), 1:114-219.
(114.) See Mus, Barabudur.
(115.) This calls to mind the painting of a nineteenth-century experiment, whose reference escapes me, in which real cows are put in front of painted cows to test the mimetic quality of the painting in the painting.
(116.) Liu Yiqing, Shishuo xinyu jiaojian (Collected Notes on "A New Account of Tales of the World").
(117.) Mus, "Le Buddha pare. Son Origine indienne. Cakyamuni dans le mahayanisme moyen," pt. 2 of "Etudes indiennes et indochinoises," Bulletin de l'Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient 28 nos. 1-2 (1928): 197.
(118.) See Nancy Jay, Throughout Your Generations Forever:
Sacrifice, Religion, and Paternity (Chicago, 1992), p. 12.
(119.) See Rochlitz, Le Desenchantement de l'art, p. 181.
(120.) Lyotard, "Philosophy and Painting in the Age of Their Experimentation," p. 189.
(121.) See Didi-Huberman, Ce que nous voyans, ce qui nous regarde, p. 125.
(122.) See Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago, 1992) pp. 6-7, and Faure, Visions of Power, pp. 282-85.
Bernard Faure is professor of religious studies at Stanford University. He is the author of The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (1991), Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (1993), Visions of Power: Imagining Medieval Japanese Buddhism (1996), and The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism (1997).