Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

週四, 04 三月 2010 00:00

What is 'dialogue'?

The use of the word 'dialogue' is remarkably elastic. Does this mean that it should be abandoned in favour of a more rigorous concept? Actually, the flexibility of the term might stem from the variety of our experiences of exchange and communication, while finding within them some commonalities.

The very term dialogue introduces us into the field of verbal exchanges. Exchanges test knowledge; they check the agreement of stakeholders on the content of the knowledge they are supposed to share and in some cases they are testing the validity of knowledge itself. Knowledge may be of two kinds - either it refers to a given science such as physics, or else it refers to human beings considered in their nature and their social setting. In the first case, dialogical exchanges are at the same level of reality as those induced by mathematical formulas by which the progress of knowledge on the material world is ensured. In the second case, the truth is not primarily mathematical. The locus of truth is set into histories and cultures, a setting to which only dialogue gives access. Thus, dialogical exchange is no more a mechanical process, it centres on establishing relationships between "Others": verbal exchanges imply experiencing listening as a transformative process that cannot be separated from the one through which truth is reached.

[dropcap cap="I"]n other words, the determination of 'categories of truth' is intrinsically linked to that of dialogical styles. Let me suggest the way through which categories of truth may be associated with an array of dialogical styles:[/dropcap]- Dialogue understood as a logical exercise will generate propositions that are meant to be universally valid and part of a truth system based on the principle of non-contradiction. It does not differ fundamentally from the soliloquy that a scientist would lead with himself in order to determine the truth of a scientific demonstration.

- Dialogues within philosophical or theological schools work along similar principles except that the reference to 'universal' principles grounded on the natural light is replaced by a reference text - the one accepted by the school. The principle of non-contradiction is exercised within the reading of these texts.

- In contrast, the type of dialogue initiated and exemplified by Confucius’ Analects is first a dialogue of life which seeks to ensure that the disciple’s deeds coincide with his system of moral and cosmological beliefs. Dialogue is the gateway through which to match truth and life.

- The Gospel’s dialogical style is somehow similar to the preceding category, with the difference that the stress is put less on acquired wisdom than on the transformative process through which a decision is to be reached by the one who enters into a dialogue of life.

- We can group together several cultural and literary settings in which dialogue is meant to lead to enlightenment, as shown in the peculiar dialogical styles found in Zhuangzi, in Zen writings and in some Indian schools: the dialogue is pushed to a breaking point that challenges the principle of non-contradiction, bringing one of the participants to a sudden transformation of his consciousness or worldview.

- And there is of course the broad category that gathers variants of 'democratic dialogue', which applies not only to politics but to some models of inter-religious dialogue for example: the point here is that the process of listening is supposed to be mutually transformative for the partners once they enter an empathic understanding of the argument and experiences vis-à-vis the other, this in order to find a position on the basis of which to allow a common decision or, at the very least, ensure continued coexistence.

[dropcap cap="I"]n conclusion, true dialogue is always 'performative'. It does not merely determine one true position among all the ones championed; other procedures might lead to this result better than dialogue does. Instead, dialogue leads to a change in worldviews, practices and situations - and the depth of the change that dialogue generates is the real measure of the 'truth' it contributes in bringing to light.[/dropcap]

 

 

 

 
週三, 03 三月 2010 05:49

里松與羅嵐的台灣續集

2008年11月,人籟推出杜睿的小說《聖徒節與謀殺案》特刊,故事發生在作者的出生地──科西嘉的小村落。杜睿(Jean-Louis Tourné)是小說創作者也是銀行家,他居住過世界上的眾多島嶼,在台灣住過兩回,每次都是好幾年的時間。在科西嘉的特刊中,他描寫的科西嘉事實上很多 地方讓人想起傳統的台灣社會──倚賴高山的生活環境,村落中女性的堅韌角色、長串的家族史以及其中隱藏著令人著迷的祕密……

在這本小說中,杜睿將場景換成了台灣。他充分轉化自己的工作經驗,送給我們一個精采的劇碼,其中充滿家族祕辛以及財務糾葛的情節。當然,這是一個外國人眼中的台灣,雖然他在台灣居住過好幾年的時間,但是讀者不會不在其中發現他筆下的奇想之處。讀者將發現曾在科西嘉辦案的兩位督察──里松與羅嵐現身台灣,追查案情的過程中不斷撞擊台灣的歷史事件,不論是正在演變中的歷史或是遙遠的過去。

感謝沈秀臻翻譯這兩本小說,同時為我們 拍攝出台灣續集的氛圍。在推出許多探討嚴肅主題的專輯之後,人籟這個期號像是邀請讀者來到一個異想的呼吸空間。期盼讀者能在這個期號中找到閱讀的樂趣。

親愛的讀者們,敬祝虎年愉快!


攝影、翻譯/ 沈秀臻
本文亦見於2010年3月號《人籟論辨月刊


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週五, 26 二月 2010 00:00

Religions as languages

The remarkable diversity of religious expressions typical of South-East Asia has led to a focus on the interaction between the various faiths operating in the region. Such attention has been also fostered by the various ethno-religious conflicts that have developed, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia. If religious communities had to be agents of peace, the narratives on which they rely would play a role: creative interpretation of canonical narratives can stress peace and reconciliation; in the pluralistic situation of the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, some narratives play a mediating role by incorporating elements from different religious traditions; the sharing of stories (especially role-model stories) at the local grassroots level is by itself a factor of reconciliation.

At the theological level, some thinkers nowadays see hermeneutics not as a tool for redefining religious identities in the region but rather as a resource for challenging them. R.S Sugirtharajah says that “the task is seen not as adapting the Christian Gospel in Asian idioms, but as re-conceptualizing the basic tenets of the Christian faith in the light of Asian realities. … There is a willingness to integrate, synthesize and interconnect.” The need to connect with other believers in order to implement justice, peace and environmental concerns also plays a role in the “communication and interconnection” paradigm, which is strongly influenced by theologians such as Michael Amaladoss, Raimundo Panikkar, Paul Knitter and Aloysius Pieris. Of special relevance might be the concept of intra-religious dialogue as championed by Panikkar: one’s religion is very akin to a native tongue, and any religion is as complete as a language is. The discovery of the Other draws us out of our language and leads us to understand what its “words” mean to our religious partner. To enter another's world is a religious experience that engages a dialogue not only with the Other but also within our self.

In this approach, and other similar, the hermeneutics of inter-religious dialogue is not seen as a theological task among others but as the one that determines the future of Christianity in Asia and even the shaping of religious forms, identities and experiences in the world. South-East Asia is a place in which the intermingling and communicability of religious faiths is especially visible, which gives it a prominent role in the continuation of this global endeavour.

Photo courtesy of James Russell

 

 

 
週四, 14 一月 2010 01:30

Forgiveness by ritual

It is easy to forget that the act of forgiveness is inseparable from how it is delivered and what it signifies. Forgiveness is simply not possible without any real, visible changes. Between two people, forgiveness can be expressed through subtle signals such as a smile (or shared crying), a resumption of communication displayed by a slight gestures and more confident conversation. But even at this personal level most forgiveness demanded and received is transmitted through codes and small rituals - a gift offered and accepted, a shared meal or a hug. These rituals are created spontaneously, by a couple or a group friends. The signs exchanged are of great importance: once the ritual is performed, everything can restart again; however, without at least a discreet, subtle gesture, all progress is hindered.Things are even more subtle and complicated in society. Firstly, you never quite know who is forgiving and who is being forgiven. A nation is not the same as an individual, different opinions and experiences are in operation at the same time and there is great disparity in historical interpretations. However, nations and communties suffer similarly traumatic experiences: periods of dictatorship, foreign or civil wars, natural disasters, serious economic crises etc; and when emerging from a crisis, the group feels the need to start afresh, but this is often very difficult to achieve. Your memories are shackles that you drag along, haunting flashbacks to which you constantly return. Its difficult to place and divide responsibility, and those responsable often refuse it . The victims take refuge in their grief, the culprits go unpunished or disappear, amongst many other situations that plague the collective atmosphere.

Ritual as a Road to Reconciliation

What can we do in these post-traumatic cases? Instinctively, groups and nations gradually invent their own rituals. These rituals always signify an end and a new beginning. There is nothing surprising in this; even in ordinary times we need rituals as milestones, to help us forget and start anew. New Year wishes, both in the Chinese world and the West perform this function. Wishing a happy new year, paying back the year’s debts, eating an exceptional meal together, wearing new clothes and cleaning the house, all welcome the new and bid farewell to the old. In many ways, the rituals that mark Chinese New Year can be seen as marking a reconciliation (implicit but very effective) in the household and neighborhood. Likewise, village communities often use rituals to expel demons who bring the plague or other contagious diseases. These rituals are repeated year after year, with all the "bad influences" symbolically burned. These rituals distinguish Wang Ye cult worship in southern Taiwan. By expelling the "evil spirits" the community cleanses itself. This is also the jealousy and infighting being dispersed, thus renewing the community spirit. I have been fortunate enough to observe similar phenomena in the rituals practiced to heal the sick amongst the minorities of southwestern China, where the family and neighbours all gather in a house. For many of us, diseases and conflicts are inherently linked. Fighting for the rejuvenation of the human body is also being committed to the reconciliation and purification of society.


Translation from French by Nicholas Coulson
週四, 31 十二月 2009 03:08

Paris of the Orient

As Shanghai World Fair is nearing, media and publishers are narrowing their focus on the capital of Southeast China – and rightly so: Shanghai has become one of the most powerful global cities, if not the most powerful. The accumulation of capital, headquarters, communication centers and technical know-how reminds one of post-war New York. If Shanghai has not achieved yet the cultural iconic status that New York reached during the fifties and sixties, it might well do so during the next decade or so. And it is at the core of a metropolis much larger than the ones of New York or Tokyo.

In thirty lively chapters, Bernard Brizay relates the formative period of the city: he draws a vivid portrait of the first French consul of Shanghai, Charles de Montigny, arrived there in 1848, founder of the French concession; he recalls the dark sides of the rise of the metropolis, drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling parlors or military repression… He depicts the foreign communities living in Shanghai during the twenties and thirties and some of their legendary figures. More important, by giving a clear and complete synthesis of the past of the “Paris of the Orient” he provides us with the keys for understanding the cosmopolitan and eminently adaptable nature of a leading metropolis of the new world economy.

(photo: J.J. Chen)

週五, 25 十二月 2009 02:26

Communication in a Time of Crisis

Communication is part of the process of the revelation of truths. A truth is not a given fact as the reaction of the public influences what the truth is. This is the relationship between observed and the observation. The nature of a truth to be communicated can be changed. It is a systemic (that is, linguistic and symbolic) exchange in which dimensions of information, education, manipulation and public debate take place.
Communication in a time of crisis can only be understood when put in the context of one of the channels through which society today is able to be in identity and in solidarity and in submission in different spheres of time – the future and the crisis. Those dimensions must be considered together as the worst mistake is to concentrate on short time spans during the time of crisis without taking into account the long, slow and meaningful process through which civic societies and public actors today are willing to find a meaningful interaction that is creative of new solidarities and consensus.

週二, 15 十二月 2009 00:00

Think Globally, Act Locally

Archbishop Hung evokes the cultural diversity of Taiwan society and the role of Catholic Church in the interreligious dialogue in Taiwan.

 
週二, 17 十一月 2009 04:06

Hope against all hopes

One thing that makes you desperate about the world is that problems, big and small, seem to remain around without ever being solved. Afghanistan makes Obama sleepless; the Middle East changes only for the worse; negotiations on climate change are protracted; bankers have gone back to their indecent bonuses; corruption and short-term interests are still hindering the shift towards sustainable development in most countries; Taiwan politics remains… well… Taiwan politics… and the list could go on indefinitely.

Of course, when you look more carefully at the picture you might feel a little less desperate. People easily forget the progresses already accomplished, the breakthrough having occurred in the past, and we all naturally focus on what is still going wrong. Even more important is the fact that most problems are not just fixed in one or two moves but require long-term, incremental adjustments. Nobody ever found a vaccine against cancer, but modes of treatments are indeed more sophisticated and successful than, say, fifteen years ago. Humankind had always been “muddling through”, and will presumably continue do so. “Muddling through” does not make for good movies plots (we go for decisive triumphs and crushing defeats), but constitutes the very substance of our everyday struggles.

As we enter Christmas time, we may be remembered that real progresses are often silent and discreet. They start from something that has changed within us and is communicated around, as a candle’s fire kindles other fires. Just for taking an example: for sure, negotiations on climate change are important, and we need new regulations. At the same time, if humankind is to overcome such challenge it will come from changes in consumption models, awareness of the challenges resulting in shifting behaviors, entrepreneurs’ commitment to shift to renewable, non polluting energies even if there is still some extra cost involved in such a move… These changes are actually already happening, just because concerned individuals and companies make them happen. Networks spread around knowledge and ideas, public opinion translates them into forces for change, and local leaders sometimes are able to mobilize whole communities.

Such outcome never comes automatically. It germinates within the hearts of individuals who have decided to take seriously the challenges to which they can practically respond, and who associate with like-minded people. As happens when we contemplate the Christmas manger, we are often moved by the very weakness of these individuals or local communities: the Pakistani village that transforms itself though micro-credit; Afghan women mobilizing against violence, as Irish women did a few decades ago; aboriginal communities struggling to maintain their identity and traditional setting… Paradoxically, their weakness becomes their strength, as it tells us something fundamental about human life: problems are not solved by problem-solvers; they must be tackled at their root thanks to a revolution from the heart.

(Photo by C. Phiv)
週四, 29 十月 2009 01:38

Taiwan Colour Code

I arrived in Taiwan in 1992. Among all the things that struck me at that time, and which still speak to me in a most special way, were the richness, the strength and the variations of colours. The tropical light was shadowed by the clouds and haze, typical of the mountains and sea. To the sharp red of the temples or the intense green of the palms responded vague mixtures of grey, pale blue, pink, and orange shades on gas stations, signposts and commodity stores scattered along the roads. An oncoming tropical storm reflected off a helmet, when a motorbike stopped at a crossroad. Sunrays falling on a metal roof would suddenly strike a strident note against the misty vagueness of the hills. The language of townships and cities seemed to arise from a continuum of colours, paler or more incandescent according to the hours and to the seasons.

As years passed, the landscapes and the scenery of the island became even more intimate to me, as if embedded in my own channels of perception. I am unable to recount the stories or words of wisdom that shapes and colours instil in me, but they seem to arise in patterns and codes that work their wonders throughout my body and soul.The photographs taken from 1992 until now, of which some are shown here, are testimonies to my ceaseless attempts to capture Taiwan’s spirit in a nest of colours that displays its essence and its variations. At the same time, this set of pictures is aimed at deciphering the inner journey undertaken while living, travelling and dreaming in Taiwan. And, ultimately, the spirit of the place and the recollections of a pilgrim are mixed into one and the same colour code.

(Photo taken by B.V. in Chiayi, 2005. "The mute dialogue pursued between yellow and red always seems to suggest a treasure hidden nearby… Is not Taiwan ’Treasure Island’?")



週二, 20 十月 2009 00:30

Taiwan’s hidden ground of love

Within the last 17 years, I have experienced many facets of the Catholic Church in Taiwan.

I first settled within the protected grounds of Fu Jen University, where lots of priests, brothers and religious sisters were working. Later on, with much joy and gratitude, I experienced many times the hospitality of aborigine parishes, especially in Hsinchu and Hualien dioceses. I was moved by the sufferings and weaknesses of the social environment in which faith was growing, as well as by the vitality and freshness of its expressions. I delivered Sunday mass for a very small parish in downtown Taipei for eight years, where I am also familiar with the powerful parishes of Tien Educational Center and Holy Family. I met with Filipino communities in Hsinchu, with small local communities in Taichung and Kaohsiung, with students’ chaplaincies and social advocates, doctors and workers, faithful Catholic families from generations on, to young converts.

It is true, however, that my work has had more to do with cultural and intellectual apostolates, meeting society at large, publishing, writing, researching, and debating in the conditions that are those of the cultural market – and this gives me a knowledge of the Taiwanese Church which is less intimate than that of many priests. Still, this double experience – looking at the Church from within and considering it from the society where I work - gives me, I believe, a few insights that I would like to share today.

First, I have seen the Taiwanese Catholic Church grow in quality, if not in quantity. From 1992 on, I have seen more and more laypeople following formation in theology and spirituality, enriching their prayer life, and addressing social challenges. I have seen a Church more diverse in its cultural and political opinions and in the ethnic origins of its leaders. I have seen a greater sensitivity to global challenges and to other Asian churches.

Second, I have the impression that the Church is still relying too much on the clergy, that the latter is still reluctant to abandon its power, and that not enough space is given to the creativity and diversity of Christian groups. More creativity and freedom are indispensible if the church wants to grow – or even simply to live more happily.

Third, I have been struck by the role played by individuals when they dare to play the role they feel called to fulfill. For instance, when layman or religious individuals decide to work toward more interaction between Taiwanese and Filipinos believers, to care for prisoners, or to develop aboriginal liturgies, he or she is quickly able to leave a mark, and often a deep one. So, what we need first and foremost are responsible, decisive individuals, anchored in a life of prayer, with a clear conscience of their gifts. We need individuals who work with tenacity and audacity to the realization of a goal that they deem to be meaningful.

Fourth, the defects of the Church are often the ones of society at large. For instance, obsession with finances and with so-called “management” (often poorly done), along with a hierarchical structure of decision, are not shortcomings proper to the Church. Rather, they reflect how much the Church remains embedded in the values of the society she is called to evangelize. The Church is still not counter-cultural enough…

Is there an antidote to such limitations? In a word, more love - and thus more freedom. “Love, and do what you wish,” used to say Saint Augustine. I think that he meant the following: someone who deploys their power of love is able to see not only the problems of the situation they are engaged in or of the people to be dealt with, but is able to see deeper than such limitations. The individual discerns in the heart, the possibility of an awakening, sees a flame - a very feeble flame maybe, but a flame that is never extinguished – and does what he or she thinks best, guided by this feeble light of the flame in the obscurity of the present. Clever people clearly perceive defects and shortcomings around them. Loving people see beyond such shortcomings, though they might discern them and suffer because of them.

Eventually, what will make the Taiwanese Church grow and bear fruits will be to go again and again to the “school of the heart.” Let us make “apostolic planning” if we have to do so. Let us build institutions. Let us work on formation…but let these tasks all be irrigated by pure love. A love so free and so joyful that the persistent weakness of the Catholic community in Taiwan will not be for us a source of desolation and worries, but rather a call to love even more from the well of an even freer heart.

Photo by B.V. - Tafalong, 2008


週四, 01 十月 2009 01:25

Embroidering the Earth

The performance of rituals can be seen as an embroidery, as a sacred cloth weaved by the dance, as a work that is offered to the gods, so that they may grant you the grace of survival and renewal. Today, the construction of the new house calls for a ritual. A priest-shaman of the Qiang (duangong) turns towards the altar of the household (every household has an altar in the corner of the main room of the house, facing the door. The altar and the area around it are loaded with taboos). The god of the household and the ancestors, the kitchen god, the god of the threshold are all invoked, so that they may give their blessings. The demons are driven away one after another, especially in the kitchen, a most dangerous place: in the kitchen we deal with fire, with flesh and with plants – at stake in the kitchen is personal and collective welfare…

The goat skin drum is the main ritual instrument of the duangong. It must be very carefully dried over a fire, even more so when it has already served to expel many demons, which have made it wet and depleted some of its efficiency. The Qiang say that they do not write and do not own sacred books because their first shaman had seen all his books eaten by a goat while he was asleep; the drum manufactured in the skin of the goat he killed afterwards, concentrates the efficiency of the sacred books that the Qiang do not possess…

The traditional word for shaman-priest (“duangong” is of Chinese origin) is “pi” or “bi” – a word found in many Tibeto-burmese languages for designating the performers of religious rituals. Though Qiang religion much differs from that of the Liangshan Yi people at the southern edge of the same Tibetan corridor, Qiang “duangong” and Yi “bimos” do share a common inheritance.


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週三, 02 九月 2009 00:00

Culture in Times of Crisis

The Taiwanese author Ping Lu’s metaphors on cultural diversity.

 


 

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