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BUDDHISM AND THE PRODUCTION OF AMERICAN COOL By JAMES F. ROYAL A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UN IVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009
2 2009 James F. Royal
3 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank the chair and members of my committee for their assistance on this dissertation. They provided thoughtful and considered feedback, and challenged my thinking i n creative and constructive ways. Maranatha Joy Hayes
4 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 3 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: T HE DISCOURSE OF COOL AND BUDDHISM ......................... 8 The Discourse of Cool and the Protestant Ethnic ................................ ................... 11 Buddhism Meets Cold War Consumerism ................................ .............................. 22 Green as a Capitalist Analog ................................ ................................ .................. 29 Buddhism and the Post Cold War Era ................................ ................................ .... 32 2 BUDDHISM GETS FRAMED ................................ ................................ .................. 36 Morgenlandfahrt : Reading Eastern Religion via Europe ....................... 37 Buddhism and Manifest Destiny? ................................ ................................ ........... 46 Buddhism as a Capitalist Ideology? ................................ ................................ ........ 48 19 th Century Interest in Buddhism ................................ ................................ ........... 49 Buddhism Twice Told ................................ ................................ .............................. 52 3 KEROUAC AND GINSBERG: THE SUPERMARKET OF BUDDHIST IDENTITY .. 61 Buddhist Style Saves America ................................ ................................ ................ 74 Ginsberg: Eclectic Affinities ................................ ................................ .................... 85 Satori in Paris : Americans (and French Canadians) as Ethnics ............................. 97 Buddhism as Justification for the Beat Style ................................ ......................... 107 Kerouac and Ginsberg as Avant garde Capitalists? ................................ ............. 112 4 GARY SNYDER: BUDDHISM AS ECOLOGY AS COUNTERCAPITALISM ......... 117 Snyder and Sustainability ................................ ................................ ..................... 121 Endless Streams and Mountai ns ................................ ................................ .......... 125 Buddhism and Protest ................................ ................................ ........................... 142 The Market ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 144 Essays of the 196 0s: Earth House Hold ................................ ............................... 151 The Etiquette of Freedom ................................ ................................ ..................... 159 The Renunciation of Control as True Freedom ................................ ..................... 162 5 CHARLES JOHNSON: BUDDHISM AND THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK ........... 164 Johnson and Buddhism ................................ ................................ ........................ 165 Black Identity ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 168 Buddhism as Protest ................................ ................................ ............................. 174 Turning the Wheel : Essays on Buddhism ................................ ............................. 175 Buddhism Battles Capitalism, or Meditation Instead of Mediation ........................ 179
5 Reading Black Experience as Buddhist ................................ ................................ 182 Mid dle Passage as the Middle Way ................................ ................................ ...... 190 Cool as a State of Mind ................................ ................................ ......................... 208 6 COOL PROJECTIONS: THE ART OF FILMING BUDDHISM .............................. 209 Representing the China Tibet Conflict ................................ ................................ .. 213 Cool and the Representation of Tibet ................................ ................................ ... 217 Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet : Americana in Shangri La ............................... 219 The Dalai Lama and Western Technology ................................ ............................ 229 The West as Protecto r of the Innocent East ................................ ......................... 235 The West as Producer of Knowledge ................................ ................................ ... 244 Keanu Reeves: the Buddha from Zen to Now ................................ ....................... 246 America Protects the Little Buddha, or the Conrads Go into the Heart of Darkness ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 247 Slumming with the Buddhists ................................ ................................ ................ 252 ................................ ................................ 253 Buddhism as Ultimate Control ................................ ................................ .............. 266 Attention Energy as Fuel for the Matrix / The Matrix ................................ ............. 270 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 274 7 ADVERTISING BUDDHISM: CONSUMING THE EXOTIC AT HOME .................. 276 China and the Post Cold War World ................................ ................................ ..... 280 Advertisement as Opiate ................................ ................................ ....................... 285 Marketing the Commodity as Ethnic ................................ ................................ ..... 286 ................................ ................................ ............ 288 Buddhism Made Me Cool ................................ ................................ ...................... 294 Meditating for Profit ................................ ................................ ............................... 297 Luxury Leisure ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 299 ................................ ................................ ....................... 302 Luxury Soul Food ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 309 Cool Hybridity ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 311 Buddhism as Control ................................ ................................ ............................. 313 The End(s) of Cool Buddhism ................................ ................................ ............... 314 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................. 316 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 331
6 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy BUDDHISM AND THE PRODUCTION OF AMERICAN COOL By James F. Royal Ma y 2010 Chair: Malini Schueller Major: English One of the most remarkable facets of capitalism is its ability to incorporate disparate even antithetical systems into its ever enlarging sphere of influence, especially in the 20 th and 21 st centuries as technology mak e s the world interconnected. To make such a transformation, consumer capitalism has employed a discourse of and ideologies and bring them back into the circuits of consumption Especially ripe for analysis is the incorporation of Buddhism, since the creed is the fastest growing of the world religions in the U.S. They key moment for its mobilization the 1950s occurred during a period of escalating tensions with communism, in which a flourish ing consumer capitalism was touted as the way to defeat the U.S.S.R. During this period, representations of Buddhism e ntered pop culture as a challenge to mai nstream consumerism. Yet, now representations of Buddhism support consumer capitalism for instanc e, in ads and films Thus, this dissertation seeks to understand how seemingly antithetical discourses can promote the proliferation of capitalism, and how political and capitalist imperatives can motivate representations of a foreign religion.
7 This disse rtation examines postwar figures who have used Buddhism in their cultural productions, although it highlights writers from earlier periods who framed Buddhism for later adoption. Such antecedents include Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose use of Buddhism for capit alist imperialist ends set the stage for the work of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. While the Beats deployed Buddhism in a way that perpetuate d capitalist individualism, Gary Snyder seriously challenges the capitalist paradigm by incorporating the experi ence of Buddhist enlightenment in his poems. Charles Johnson deploys Buddhism as a means to connect African Americans to a spiritual heritage that is resistant to the dominant capitalist paradigm. Whereas each of these figures ostensibly provided a criti que of capitalism, later uses of the religion, in 1990s film and 2000s advertisement, show a Buddhism that is more overtly pro capitalist, a move that reflects identity crisis in the post Cold War, especially in its relationship with China, but a lso Asia generally. Throughout this era, the discourse of cool has tried to appropriate seemingly subversive elements back into the capitalist fold.
8 CHAPTER 1 IN TRODUCTION: T HE DISCOURSE OF COOL AND BUDDHISM Cool Perhaps no word in the English language p rojects so secularly such spiritual overtones. The importance of cool has transcended generations of consumers, and it appears to be an ideology whose strength endures remarkably well. Indeed, the notion of cool is a key guiding motif in the marketing of p ostwar and then post Cold War consumer culture for middle class America. Although the fundamental sense of cool has remained relatively unaltered over its lifetime, its application to objects and people has changed remarkably as consumer culture developed swiftly in the last half century amid vast economic fluctuations. Analyzing the discourse of cool is central to understanding how capitalist representation, especially via mass media, channels potential threats into profitable avenues and how that discours e has operated to increase consumption, especially vital in periods of stagnant or negative economic growth. By spiritualizing the experience of consumer culture, this discourse has attempted to fashion material consumption into a transcendent experience free of market based economics, mystifying the materialist (and often brutal) conditions of production. From the 1950s on, a key strand of the discourse of cool has been based on the alterity of Buddhism, especially the use of the religion as a means to c raft a critique of consumerism and create a range of countercultural identities that are putatively resistant to capitalism. This use of the religion, by writers such as the Beats, partakes ugh which dissent from white American culture is articulated via ethnic alterity. But while Buddhism was used in early postwar America as a bulwark against consumerism, its representation in popular culture has shifted remarkably in the interim, depending on preponderant economic and
9 nationalist imperatives of a specific period. Briefly, via the discourse of cool Buddhism has been tethered to economic profitability first through its portrayal as an anti capitalist position up through its more recent deploy ments in films and advertisements as an ostensibly pro technological ideology of control. But while the 1950s become the period in which the discourse of cool circulated Buddhism, the r oots of its representation as a religion for dissidents of capitalism developed in the 19 th century, especially through figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The readings of the religion or at least specific parts of it by these authors were profoundly affected by the Orientalist slant of not only the men themselves but also the imperialist colonialist milieu through which they received their spir itualized American identity frames later deployments of Buddhism as a religion that resists capitalist depredations. The Beats comprise the first major postwar landmark in the deployment of Buddhism as anti capitalism. As the heads of the Beat movement, J ack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg use the religion to craft countercultural identities that, they claim, resist the rabid consumerism then being promoted as a means to fight the communist Soviet Union. By deploying newly styled Buddhist inspired personae tha t could then be promulgated by the media, Kerouac and Ginsberg participate in the discourse of cool as dissidents from the Cold War consensus identity, which conceived America in the narrowly defined terms of white, heterosexual Protestant men. At the same time, through their formulations Kerouac and Ginsberg validate American ideals of atomistic
10 individuality and leisure consumption, suggesting how the Beats operated as avant garde capitalists rather than as the countercultural heroes they are so often mad e out to be. Whereas the Beats offered a more dilettantish engagement with Buddhism in the 1950s and 1960s another wave of interest in Buddhism as capitalist critique deals with the religion not as an exotic phenomenon but as a lived practice of dedicatio n and discipline. For authors Gary Snyder and Charles Johnson, both of whom have practiced the religion for many years, Buddhism becomes less a way to establish a new identity of coolness than a concrete means to address and heal the social deformations c aused by market based economics. As the poetic leader of the Deep Ecology movement, Snyder has used Buddhism to model a new, healthy system of social relationships among humans and the environment in order to indirectly (but nonetheless effectively) comba t the pernicious effects of commodification promoted by capitalist economics. In the face of an increasingly stagnant economy, the rise of sustainability in the service of ecology. For Johnson, Buddhism offers a way to transcend the dualistic trap posed by racialized identity politics, and he advocates a position that neither denies the injustices of racism on African Americans nor reifies those injustices into the basis for a specific fixed identity. Through Buddhism, Johnson challenges the notion of an essentialized self identity, so fundamental to one strain of Black Nationalism, and negotiates a space for African Americans between the uncritical acceptance of the goa spiritualized practice that recognizes the limitations of materialism. The ongoing
11 marginalization of these authors reflects in part their rejection of the identity formation based on alterity that is so essential to the notion of cool. The immense popularity of Buddhism in 1990s was unprecedented, even to scholars such as Thomas Tweed, who noted that no one he knows predicted the upsurge in interest. 1 In the most recent deployment of Buddhism as cool, American films and advertisements of the last 20 years have taken the religion as a sign of lineage of control. Such pop culture has also deployed Buddhism as a means to collapse of the Soviet Union. The religion has been represented as a way to negotiate issu es that pose both an opportunity and a threat for certain classes of Americans, but opportunity for America to portray itself and the nature of capitalism as unassailably be neficent. These films and ads also portray Buddhism as endorsing the apotheosis of a control oriented mindset and technology, both of which are increasingly loaded with the value of cool. The Discourse of Cool and t he Protestant Ethnic Critics such as Pet er Stearns associate the notion of cool with an emotional style that has shifted toward restraint, especially in the immediate prewar and postwar era. 2 However, cool is more than an emotional style; indeed emotional style may not even be the primary mode of cool. Rather, cool is a specific style and strategy of postwar 1 Thomas Tweed, p. xv. 2 Peter N. Stearns, p. 3
12 American capitalism. Cool describes people, objects, and a lifestyle that seem to operate according to rules that lie beyond the quotidian, especially the market based logic of consumer capi talism. Cool functions as a discourse that reins in potential threats to consumer capitalism, by re working them representationally into the circuits of consumption. The notion of cool becomes especially necessary in developed economies where subsistence l evel needs are no longer a primary concern; in such the economy through fashion When cool is deployed, consumption can be organized and managed by providing a cool cachet to pro ducts, by adding semiotic value, by claiming the products and by extension their consumers operate according to a non market logic that transcends consumer capitalism As these pro ducts proliferate sufficiently their cool cachet diminishes and they b ecome merely the next uninteresting cultural form on which to base the next round of cool making. Ultimately, cool is used by consumers as another means to express identity in an ongoing and profitable cycle of identity politics. ol has changed since some of the earliest deployments of cool in the 1950s. However, central to the definition of cool in any period is the ability of the subject to be characterized as operating according to a non market logic. What was cool in the 19 50s may well have been sufficiently mainstreamed such that in the 19 70s (or 19 80s or 19 90s) the object, person, or place is so ensconced in consumerism that it cannot be used by the individual to evoke any non market appeal Consider the early representation s of the Harley Volkswagen Beetle, both of which were marketed as cool particularly in the 19 60s. In print ads, the Beetle in particular was represented as a car
13 that was proud of its ugly looks and its great low price. highlighted its character as non market based, whether that market be for good looks or class. And yet, of course, the car was simply appealing to a different style that was nevertheless on the same continuum with the high priced and stylish cars aimed at bourgeois consumers. Now, both vehicles are heavily flogged at inflated prices to nostalgic yuppies, who realize the power of their discretionary income, and these vehicles are anything but cool. The ability of a n object to be represented as operating according to non market laws is vital for the establishment of cool. For this reason, the definition of cool that I use shifts from period to period (and from chapter to chapter), as the deployment of cool to variou s subjects is modified according to prevailing or potential tastes. In the 19 50s the representation of cool could easily foil itself against the capitalist mass consumption that was officially sanctioned by cultural authorities. Figures such as the Beats who ostensibly criticized consumerist practice, fit well into this schema. Just as useful to cool was the image of the man who would not grow up and take responsibility, a figure that the Beats and the consumption oriented Playboy magazine could exploit As a growing anti establishment trend takes place in the 19 60s and 19 70s and references Beat figures such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg cool enlarges from just an anti consumerist style to an increased emphasis on the negative ecological impact of consumption and even expands into the realm of psychotropic or hallucinogenic drugs, apparently further away from market based logic into the area of the individualized mind Yet, a ll the while, such critiques were articulated through an increase of the s desire for obtaining
14 what he or she wanted, a process that re emphasized the atomistic individuality promoted by consumerist practice. Another side of that 19 60s and 19 70s movement is comprised of various Civil Rights movements on the part o f non white Americans, who emphasize their non white individuality in movements such as Black Cultural Nationalism. While these movements re articulate cool as inherently black and far away from the stiff characterization of whiteness, they reify black id entity as an essentialized category. Such an identity politics is challenged by Charles Johnson, who attempts to negotiate a space that does not r ely on any identity formation, since for the Buddhist Johnson identity is a figment of the mind. In the p os t Cold War era, cool becomes re defined and substantially enlarged as the era of the communist Soviet Union wanes. Cool becomes more explicitly aligned with consumerist practice, especially with high tech goods that promise consumers an experience that is limited only by their individual imagination. More prominent in the idea increasingly sated (even as such satisfaction is also deferred) by high technology. Such indivi dualist style is characterized as beyond market logic, even as it increasingly relies on consumer goods and so multinational manufacturers As important, America itself becomes cool, as its national identity is re worked as a capitalist nation whose produc ts are desired by the world. Increasingly, the importance of obtaining and maintaining cool becomes a focal point in popular culture of the post Cold War era. of cool as one that articulates capitalist power in the regulation and disciplining of
15 3 In distinction to a pur ely juridical notion of power, one that merely prohibits action, the discourse of cool enables consumption by modulating representational strategies consisting of constraints as well as courses of action that are more overtly productive. This discourse pr produces, sustains, and circulates the discourse in a type of mutually reinforcing circular relationship. 4 Similarly, the discourse of cool is circulated by a media apparatus, perpetuating the prerogatives of capitalist power as the discourse shapes and is shaped by that power. power, the discourse of cool renders visible a whole set of strategies for participating in power. For example, by rendering cool as a visible phenomenon through the act of material consumption, the discourse of cool provides an observable rubric thro ugh e adjudicated. Foucault explains that such discourse is no lon ger built simply to be seen... or to observe the external space... but to permit an internal, articulated and detailed control to render visible those who are inside it....to provide a hold on their conduct, to carry the effects of power right to them, t o make it possible to know them, to alter them. 5 E ven as discourse produces subjects malleable to the dictates of power, it also articulates a means of power for these subjects. Through discourse, power produces subjects who can arrogate their own power by repli cating the discourse and survei ling and disciplining other subjects, reinforcing and propagating a relational network of 3 Michel p. 61. 4 Ibid ., p. 74. 5 p. 190. Foucault discusses the discourse inherent in architecture.
16 power 6 Foucault states that through such 7 Therefore, the discourse of cool offers various strategies for individuals to participate in power, by internally disciplining themselves and sub jecting others to the rubric of cool. The discourse of cool functions as a way to harness alterity and make it economically productive. In an age of mass produced and fungible products, cool has become a marker of status that suggests its middle class con sumers operate according to a non market based logi c that is not tied to capitalism Cool confers cultural capital 8 Alan Liu describes "the basic engine of cultural cool" as "the consu mption by middle class workers of forms of entertainment, journalism, and dress influenced by that part of culture excluded by definition from normal work subculture. 9 He argues that white collar workers experienced cool "through commodified forms of le isure safely tethered to the system of production." 10 Such "tethering" can be managed through mass media and advertising, which reduces alterity to merely a sign, easily consumed or easily avoided by turning a page or flipping a channel. Moreover, Liu argu es that the middle class "identified less with the actor or even action of the outsider's challenge to the system...than with the empty stage or site of the exotic on which that challenge was 6 Ibid ., p. 192 7 Ibid 8 Pierre Bourdieu, p. 69. Briefly, Bourdieu defines distinction as a means to establish primacy over other, lower social groups. Distinction is based on cultural capital, economic capital, and so cial capital all of which allow a dominant group to display its dominance or distinction. 9 Alan Liu, p. 100. 10 Ibid
17 enacted." 11 In this situation the outsider is nearly erased from any given text, leaving only the outsider's context and style to be consumed. style becomes the means of appropriating its social position of cool identity a process suggested by Dick Hebdige, Joseph Heat h, and Andrew Potter. 12 This style can be further articulated through the ethnic outsider. Such a process of identity formation based on ethnicity is underscored by what Rey Chow argues in her book The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism Chow p osits that the ethnic comes to be a trope for the protest ant t hat which protests. Often appearing in captivity and longing for emancipation, the ethnic as commodity cannot simply be understood within the parameters of an older humanism with its existent ialist logic but must also be theorized in terms of the forces of an inhuman, capitalistic logic, the roots of which, as Max Weber argues, can be traced back to religion to the tradition of Protestantism. 13 Chow asserts that theorizations of ethnicity of group achieving consciousness as both commodity and non commodity victimized yet able to transcend commodification. Ultimately, this account situates the victim as 14 Chow then argues that, for Weber, this account of resistance and protest is central to the capitalist spirit: 15 She adds, "What is proclaimed to be human must also increasingly take on the significance 11 Ibid ., p. 103. 12 Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, A Nation of Rebels Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style 13 Rey Chow, p. 23. 14 Ibid ., p. 47. 15 Ibid
18 of a commodity, a commodified spectacle." 16 Such is the way that representations of religion come to be a foundation for commodification by seeming to continually replenish what appears most human within us. For postwar America those most human components have become those seemingly non American non capitalist elements, represented by what is increasingly portrayed as the most humane religion, Buddhism. The expansion of capitalist representations into the area of religion fits well with nomy, of people) to the irrational. Weber argues that as a culture moves toward increased rationalization, there is a subsequent or concomitant move toward the irrational, which is manifested in the increasing prevalence of three qualities aestheticism, eroticism, and brotherliness. 17 Representations of religion, in particular, function as a way to recoup brotherliness, and quite possibly the other two qualities. All major world religions stress some vision of brotherliness, whether it be through Christi kindness and compassion, among others. Buddhism has functioned effectively as a marker of aestheticism and eroticism because of its representations in, for instance, T he Dharma Bums in which the religion functions as a justification for free love. Presented as the last bastions of humanity sexuality, art, and fraternity are exactly what appear to resist commodification. Yet this humanity, through its proliferatio n as a style, increasingly takes on the form of commodification. Brotherliness as a value derived from religion also serves a further purpose. The representation of brotherliness can function effectively as a means of subduing and 16 Ibid ., p. 48. 17 Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociolog y
19 erasing potential threat s from the ethnic, and even gendered, other. Because Buddhism is already well known as a religion of pacifism and compassion, thanks in part to writers such as the Beats, representations of otherness connected with Buddhism portray the other in similar ter ms That is, brotherliness as a value defuses ethnic and gender tension and differences by supposing that we are all one, and that the lone desire of the other is merely to fulfill our (American) desire. Indeed, the idea of brotherly unity is a common mi sconception of what Buddhist enlightenment means. Because our desires institutionalized greed and consumerism purveyed by capitalism. Brotherliness has in protest as the modus operandi it a discourse of alterity structured in. Buddhism is portrayed as resistant to commodification and thus pure, while also seeming defiled. In the words of Slavoj believed that the desire for penetration an d "the notion that the ultimate pillar of Wisdom, the secret agalma the spiritual treasure, the lost object cause of desire, which we in the West long ago betrayed, could be recuperated out there, in the forbidden exotic place." 18 hat colonialism was not only the assimilation of 19 The binary status of representations of Buddhism, therefore, come to offer a space for an American audience to criticize the Cold War consensus and later 18 Slavoj p. 67. 19 Ibid ., p. 68.
20 Chinese geopolitical maneuvers, even as it offers an opportunity for Americans to profit. Chow argues, "It is incumbent upon us to understand the historical affinity between Protestantism and capitalist entrepre neurship as such, an affinity whose rationale may work, business, and profit one will generate." 20 In this way, the use of the ethnic religion as protest comes to sym bolize the fundamental, even metaphysical, difference between the protester and what is being protested. Yet such protesters themselves have much to gain through the use of the ethnic, when such representations come to be parlayed into cool and subsequent ly profit. Chow concludes, "In this boundless capacity for moral self production, expansion, and proliferation, ethnic captivity thus transubstantiates, its lines of flight readily morphing and merging flows." 21 P articularly through the media, the discourse of cool negotiates a position that makes profitable the exploitation of ethnicity, here Buddhism, thereby strengthening the flow of global capital. But where the discourse of cool tethered putative resistance to consumption into acts of productive consumption as part of the American postwar mandate to fight communism, the post Cold War era has seen a different imperative focused on the rising economic powers of Asia. In the post Cold War era and without a clear international superpower against which to identify, America has been portraying itself and its businesses as benevolent to Asia, a nascent area of globalization. Yet, when ideologically necessary, China becomes the antagonist, especially in regard to Tib et and economic issues. By positioning Asia, and especially Tibet, as innocent and in need 20 Rey Chow, p. 49. 21 Ibid
21 of rescue, the United States can create a narrative structure that represents itself as a China. The imperialist nosta lgic representation re creates an identity in which the United States has a clear raison The discourse of cool has represented Asia, and especially Tibet, as a commodified spectacle with a dual position of both purity and in need of saving by Ameri can capitalism and its technology, in cultural products such as films and advertisements. These films and ads imply that Americans are or can become cool, because we can consume or save the others of the world. Central to this articulation of American the "fantasmatic" hold that Tibet has on the United States, suggesting that the Asian nation has become "a screen for the projection of Western ideological fantasies." 22 politically only increased European longing and added to the fantasy about life in the 23 portrayed as people leading a simple life of sp iritual satisfaction, fully accepting their fate, liberated from the excessive craving of the Western subject who is always searching for more, AND as a bunch of filthy, cheating, cruel, sexually promiscuous primitives." 24 Such a representation undertakes of the United States. 25 Either way, as a representation Tibet can be used to justify 22 Slavoj 23 24 Slavoj 25 Renato Rosaldo, p. progressive change, putatively static savage societies become a stable reference point for defining (the
22 economic expansionism; America can rational ize selling the Tibetans its products if the Tibetans are Using Buddhism, the discourse of cool authorizes mult iple positions. This proposed discourse of cool offers a useful model to study the ability of capitalism to re work threats into economically productive activity, but perhaps it may appear too monolithic and overdete rmined mass culture tend to represent consumers as being manipulated by transnational capital, as theorizations and to gesture to how actual practice may limit the applicability of these models. Indeed, I would characterize the Buddhist performance of appreciation as one practice through which individuals enact resistance. While my later chapters on films discourse of cool suggests, I try to avoid the assumption of a totalizing reading that offers ethnographic reading would more effectively characterize the interstices through which texts interpellate audiences as subjects in ways that maximize the benefits for their backers within a capitalist system whose mantra is profit. As retailing magnate John I know that half of my advertising doesn't work. The Buddhism Meets Cold War Consumerism While economic, imperial and religious concerns clearly shaped the representations of Buddhism i n the U.S. in the late nineteenth century, the aftermath of
23 World War 2 left new imperatives and challenges for capitalist America and how it dealt with what was foreign as it faced off against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Victory in the war had pla ced the U.S. in the clear position of lone capitalist superpower, and it also solidified the myth of American beneficence, as state serving the general interests of all: economic expansion, national sovereignty, global peace, and security the m 26 Yet as Nikhil Pal Singh notes, the more accurate picture of the U.S. w as as 27 Nevertheless, the myth would be invoked again and again during the Cold War as a means to provide cover to market expansionism, promoted as a means to battle the spread of communism. The extreme tensions of the Cold War, pitting capitalism against communism marked a stark shift in American politics to the right. In the fight against the communist menace Cold War rhetoric ideologically positioned the consensus American as a white, bourgeois, heterosexual Protestant man the so called Cold War consensus identity and above all as a citize n who supported the ongoing proliferation of the capitalist marketplace that would establish American might. It was capitalist America that represented good, freedom, and plenty, as Vice President Richard Nixon explained to Soviet General Secretary Nikita 26 Nikhil Pal Singh, p. 159. 27 I bid
24 alternative to communism, as it re envisioned the political entity of the nation increasingly in depoliticized, individualistic, and market based terms. 28 The threat of communism to capitalist America set the tone for a conservative s of the early part of the decade T he discourse of the period reduced political identities to two hard or soft according to Kyle A. Cuordileone While McCarthy and other conservatives made much of thos e liberals who were soft on communism, the dualism was really established by The Vital Center by Arthur Schlesinger Jr, which went on to dominate political thinking during the early Cold War period. 29 The terms hard and soft became gendered stand ins for those masculine virtues that would strengthen the country against communist aggression and those femi nine vices that would weaken it. ndered anything less than that soft, timid, feminine, and as such a real or potential threat to the security of the nation explains Cuordileone 30 While this ideology positioned Americans as needing to be tough in the international sphere, mass consumpti on was being encouraged at the same time domestically. certain masculine values that could be used in practice. H ard stances on communism claimed the high ground for representing th e real. A fter having suffered repeated attacks from hard stance conservatives, the late 1940s saw a shift in liberal sentiment to a hard stance that purported to deal with the communist reality. 28 Lizabeth Cohen, p. 4. 29 Kyle A. Cuordileone, pp. vii viii. 30 Ibid ., p. vii.
25 e liberal intelligentsia as leading liberal thinkers Communism, and held any position short of an unequivocal rejection of Communism to be hopelessly soft and sentimental, argues Cuordileone. 31 T he ideological alignment that went on during the period across the political spectrum between the real and masculinity, and the sentimental and femininity drove the establishment of an aesthetic ideology of realism. Suzanne Clark also notes how realism b ecame equated with violence in the early Cold War period T he tensions of the period created a form of political realism that pretended to ahistorical truth. Then literary critics metamorphosed such political realism into literary realism and the literary canon congealed, with scholars privileging ideologies of realism over sentimentality 32 As America pursued military ventures in Asia, most notably in Korea and Vietnam, in the name of fighting communism, the Buddhist spirituality of the region became inc reasingly popular domestically. As Christina Klein shows, in the postwar period Asia became of new strategic interest to the U.S., as the nation developed its military, economic, and political power on the continent. In the Cold War, it was essential that the capitalists secure Asia before the communists did. Therefore, it became necessary to understand these Asian cultures, and so middlebrow culture produced a sentimental knowledge about Asia that negotiated for its consumers a path of affiliation and diff erence with those cultures. 33 Between the demands for realism and the impetus for sentimentalism, literary figures such as the Beats took a romantic turn to 31 Ibid ., p. xi. 32 Suzanne Clark, p. 10. 33 Christina Klein, p. 12
26 Buddhism in part because it promised to reveal the unadulterated, non marketable nature of reality. As the power of communist countries grew across the world, the domestic rhetoric reflected the seeming ineffectiveness of U S actions. With the Soviet Union taking over eastern Europe and gaining access to nuclear weapons, and China falling to Mao Tse Tun accuse the U.S. government of being infiltrated with communist spies, who were 34 Such rhetoric was easily c onnected to fears of effeminacy for both the nation and its men, and then subsequently to fears of homosexuality. T he McCarthyite witch hunt for communists led as well to the dismissal of hundreds of homosexuals from the State Department. McCarthy charged their infiltration to previous soft Democratic regimes, connecting liberalism with homosexuality, and playing on fears of a rampant American sexuality that threatened to weaken the nation. 35 Richard J. Corber goes on to argue that Cold War ideology positi oned Americans who dissented from consumer capitalism and the bourgeois ideals of property as homosexuals who weakened the nation in the face of the communist threat a 36 He wing political activity by the discourses of national security enabled Cold War liberalism to emerge as the only acceptable 37 Homosexual male 34 Kyle A. Cuordileone, p. xi. 35 Ibid 36 Robert J. Corber, pp. 2 3. 37 Ibid ., p. 3.
27 writ ers then saw themselves as a potentially subversive force that could shake at its foundations the supposed consensus of the heterosexual white male 38 The con servative movement in the 1950s attempted to restrain the potential ideological depredations of hom osexuality, in the name of strengthening capitalism and so national security. T his sustained emphasis on American s to consume as a means to create a bulwark against communism resulted in a reformulation of the nature of American citizenship. The politica l notion of citizens as citizens gradually shifted to one in which citizens were also conceived as consumers, or what Cohen calls the purchaser as citizen 39 Along with this shift, a notion of individualism began to develop through which one assisted the n satisfying personal material wants actually served the national interest, since economic recovery after a decade and a half of depression and war depended on a dynamic mass argues Cohen. 40 In effect, consumption became a means to articulate the nation's democratic values. This ideology persisted throughout the Cold War, and individualism was increasingly and rabidly expressed through a market economy. The political dimensio n of citizenship was gradually erased in favor of a market expansionism that increasingly formulated the citizen as exclusively a consumer, in a process that Cohen calls the consumerization of the republic. 41 Yet, if consumerism were to be the means to defe at communism, the masculinized, nationalistic ideology of the era ground hard against an America that had 38 Ibid ., p. 4. 39 Lizabeth Cohen, p. 8. 40 Ibid ., p p 8 9 41 Ibid ., p. 15
28 long been encouraged to see consumption as a feminizing activity. Adding further tension was the ongoing pursuit of leisure. Mass magazines of the er a helped re structure consumption in ways that were economically and sometimes socially desirable Periodicals such as Life and purchaser as citizen... simultaneously fulfilled personal desire and civic obligation by 42 Such popular outlets scorned excessive saving. Male oriented magazines such as Playboy first published in 1953, also helped defuse the tension between masculinity and consumption by suggesting how men could consume and still be masculin e. Pictures of naked women assured readers of their heterosexual virility as they were told how to set up the perfect bachelor pad. Within the Cold War consensus framework, it makes sense then that Barbara Ehrenreich deemed Playboy a fundamentally conser vative magazine 43 Although non consensus identities were made invisible in the mainstream, they nevertheless seemed to offer the possibility of challenging the domestic capitalist hegemony Expressions of non consensus identity then seemed to articulate p rotest, but that protest was often also a means to gain economic enfranchisement. Cohen demonstrates how African sites of consumption, effectively aiming for political rights by demanding equal ec onomic individual rights in a free capitalist marketplace and then successfully securing those rights, moreover, only reinforced the legitimacy of the capitalist order as a way of 42 Ibid ., p. 119 43 Barbara Ehrenreic h, pp. 50 51.
29 44 Other expressions of non consensus identity could function similarly, with the chance to gain access to goods. That Ginsberg promotes his own homosexuality or that the Beats turn to African Americans and Buddhism to articulate dissent suggests how they took advantage of the ability to protest and so gain literary and economic currency. I nterest in Buddhism among American authors, especiall y the Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Gary Snyder and Charles Johnson indicates how they sought to challenge capitalism by turning to non consensus practices, even as such protest could be re circulated for profit via the discourse of cool. Green as a Capitalist Analog As the rapid economic expans ion of the 1950s and 1960s faded, high economic growth became harder to foster. Under the pressure to consume, personal savings had been whittled away and consumer debt had increased. Toward the end of this era, a mass green movement and sustainability di scourse began to emerge in part through the efforts of poet Gary Snyder, who has used Buddhism to critique rampant consumerism. In the last 10 years, the green movement has gained wider currency, especially through the efforts of American corporations, n ot as a means to develop sustainable practices, but rather as one to generate more profits. The discourse of cool circulate it for the purposes of generating more capital. The development of a mass green movement and sustainability discourse in the last 40 years has occurred during a period in which the ability to expand American consumption in systemically safe ways has continually decreased. David Harvey points 44 Lizabeth Cohen, p. 1 8 9
30 to the period around 1973 as a key moment in which capital controls were relaxed in response to slowing economic growth. 45 That move offered a means for consumers as well as corporations to increase their credit, effectively allowing greater consumption in the present at the expense of futur e consumption. But, although per capita credit continued to expand from the 1970s on (and had been expanding prior, but more slowly), 46 data from the Federal Reserve indicate that a more marked and longer lasting ascent of credit as a percentage of GDP beg an only in the early 19 80s, 47 in response to further financial deregulation. From that period onward, consumer credit as a proportion of gross domestic product continued to skyrocket, and consumption was increasingly shifted to the present, as evidenced by increasing and sustained levels of household debt that match the rise of credit. 48 At the same time, because the ability to increase domestic consumer demand was becoming more difficult and increasingly reliant on credit, business had to focus on ways to m aintain profit growth. All else equal, that meant cutting costs, which entail ed cheaper inputs some combination of cheaper capital, cheaper labor, or cheaper physical material. Pressures have been brought to bear on each aspect, for example, through an increased supply of credit, increased productivity so that redundant labor can be laid off, and military intervention in economically sensitive areas of the world (i.e. oil producing). This increased focus on cost as a driver of profit an overarching 45 David Harvey, pp. 62 63. 46 Charting the Economy 47 Mark J. Perry. Prof. Perry provides numbers from the Federal Reserve that show the steady ascent of credit as a percent of GDP. 48 Charting the Economy
31 ma ndate for high efficiency occurred in the same period that sustainability discourse was becoming prominent. This temporal overlap suggests the importance of the business mandate for efficiency on the spread of sustainability discourse as a mass phenome non, especially as investing in energy saving devices and processes. Yet, tho se actions are clearly driven by their own profit and efficiency concerns. Ultimately these initiatives are designed to stoke demand by lowering the price points of consumption, making the firm itself more comp etitive even as it promotes a pseudo environm entalism that is still based on rabid consumption, only with the guilt of environmental destruction greenwashed away by a discourse of cool that promises to eliminate constraints on consumption. These recent economic strategies increasing the supply of credit, resources or labor are supply side interventions into the capitalist economy. These strategies focus on increasing demand only indirectly, either by lowering prices or by providing the financial means to consume. On this point a confluence of capitalist and Marxist concerns appears the importance of supply side interventions. Typically, Marxist theory has focused on the exploitation of labor by a capitalist class and has attempted appropria tion of the means of production. Weber diagnoses the problem of capitalism as primarily one of overaccumulation too much capital and not enough investment opportunities. 49 49 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
32 Though Harvey reads Rosa Luxemburg as endorsing underconsumption as the fundament al instability of capitalist economies, he asserts that few theorists would overaccumulation as fundamental. 50 Yet, the mere fact of oversupply is not enough to cause instab ility; there must be desire (or demand) for more capital. How would investment opportunities exist without (ever increasing) demand for new or different goods? As Harvey points out, one means would be accumulation through dispossession, namely forcible mi litary imperialism to open up markets for exploitation, both from the standpoint of supply and demand. 51 Nevertheless, even if all productive capacity were appropriated, economic growth could not occur without sustained increases in demand. As practiced by corporations, sustainability comes to represent not a type of environmentalism, but rather a more efficient capitalism, with an ever greater shifting of profit from labor to investors. Buddhism and the Post Cold War Era Since the end of the Cold War the use of Buddhism in the discourse of cool has shifted remarkably. While the religion was used previously as capitalist critique, recent uses of Buddhism in popular media such as films and advertisements have been increasingly directed by capital. Without the need to maintain the Cold War consensus identity, Buddhism has become a means to articulate that myth of American beneficence and superiority, below which is the self interested ideology of market expansion. Such popular incarnations of Buddhism show the religion supporting high 50 David Harvey, pp. 138 139. 51 Ibid ., p. 139. Harvey also later posits his own model for sustainable investing, which involves a temporal spatial shift of capital. Such a strategy involves moving capital from geographical areas of relative liquidity to less liquid areas and/or investing money that has a relatively long payback time, for example, in education or inf rastructure.
33 technology and the ideology of individualistic control that undergirds it, both of which are branded cool. W ith the decline of the Soviet Union, the new focus of American interest has become Asia, especially China, with all it s attendant threats and opportunities. With a population four times that of the United States (1.3 billion to 310 million), consumption, and the nation has already begun to make its influence felt, albeit primarily on a regional scale. Nevertheless, China now presents itself as a major competitor for strategic world resources, as Harvey concludes. 52 As investment funds flow increasingly to China, so do critical commodities suc h as steel, aluminum, and perhaps most importantly oil. The recent spike in petroleum spot prices is due at least tomobile comprises such a relatively large portion of economic activity. The oil issue combined with a political twist also played itself out in a Chinese takeover bid of Unocal in 2005. CNOOC, an oil company 70% owned by the Chinese government, made a tender offer for the American owned petroleum concern. U.S. legislators quickly raised a hue and cry over the deal, lest the Chinese have so much control over the strategic asset as well as a government foothold on domestic soil. After over a month of intense political heat in The purchase of such strategic assets was often compared to the furor surrounding the Japanese acquisition of significant assets in the U.S. during the 1980s. Characterizing the difference between the Japanese buying spree, which was accompanied by much American horror, with that of the Chinese today, financial 52 Ibid ., p. 77
34 journalist Irwin M. Stelzer writes, Japan was not a rival for influence in Asia, or in the world; Ch ina is. Japan was not a major competitor for scarce resources such as oil; China is. Japanese companies were privately owned; China's acquirers are state run entities. Japan is a democratic country, and by and large an American ally; China most definitely is not. Japan did not engage in the wholesale theft of intellectual property, China does. Japan did not buy strategic assets: ownership of New York real estate has no implication for national security; ownership of oil resources does. 53 To further undersco with the promise from socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that oil that had been diverted from the United States would be re routed to the Asian power. 54 M ore recently, China has struck a deal with Brazil for access to decided to use its state resources to convert its major companies into important multinationals part of an aggressive policy of projecting Chinese power on a global 55 As it strikes deals across the world, China increasingly positions the renminbi as a global currency the economic centrality that comes with that title. The growing downward pressure on the dollar is palpable, as China negotiates deals with third party countries such as Brazil curren cy in trade. The Financial Times headline stokes the fear of such realignment 56 53 Irwin M. Stelzer 54 Ibid 55 Ibid 56 Jonathan Wh eatley
35 d rawing rights as an international reserve currency. This clear diminution of American power has occurred concomitantly with greater resistance from Asian nations and others to American hegemony in the financial As Harvey suggests, one possible American response to this decrease in hegemony is to shore up its power (e.g., control of Middle East oil resources) through military force. Harvey sees such a move as ultimately recapitulating the fall of the Soviet Union due to excessive military 57 Harvey proposes another alternative namely, a renewal of social and physical infrastructure and a re distribution of wealth but argues that this strategy would operate in violent conflict with the long reigning dominant oligarchy in America, and thus is untenable. 58 Popular representation comes to gloss over this potential military conflict as an expres sion and recapitulation of the myths of American nationhood, myths that include the inherent goodness of America as well as manifest destiny, but on a transnational scale. Will the discourse of cool negotiate a me ans to profit from this tension? 57 David Harvey, p p. 80 81. 58 Ibid ., p 76
36 CHAPTE R 2 BUDDHISM GETS FRAMED So ran a line from the New York Journal in 1893 1 While it might seem at the zenith of its vogue in the U S at the end of the twentieth century and s tart of the twenty first, Buddhism has a history in America that stretches back at least as far as the early 1840s when Ralph Waldo Emerson made selective use of Buddhist tenets for his eclectic philosophy Thomas Tweed notes, of major eastern religions Buddhism first interest in it 2 As the first American man of letters to take a serious look at Buddhism, Emerson gave intellectual cachet to the religion, even as he counterintuitively tried t o draft an American identity capable of nation building from it. Writing at a critical moment of capitalist solidification in the U.S., Emerson felt deeply the need to re work a spiritualized American identity using Buddhism in the context of a burgeoning market economy that threatened to profane America. figures later deployments of the religion for a more mainstream American audience. Such deployments include the contested representations of Bud dhism at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, in which American exposition organizers and Japanese proponents of Buddhism vied to present the religion. Connecting this landmark event and the major subsequent deployment of Buddhism via the Beats was D .T. Suzuki the most important conduit for Zen to the West and a critical influence on the Beats. From 1 Thomas Tweed, p. 28. 2 Ibid
37 the late 1950s and with a little help from the Beats, Buddhism exploded into popular culture, with prominent exposure in films such as Kundun and The M atrix and even on in U.S. culture as a counterpoint to capitalism, a look at some of the first uses of the religion can become particularly enlightening for understanding its deployment in the present moment. Morgenlandfahrt : Reading Eastern R eligion v ia E urope received ideas of his period and place by purposely importing Buddhism, i n a type of controlled dissent that is consonant with what Thomas Tweed sees as the guiding theme of American adoption of the eastern religion in the nineteenth century. 3 Tweed details the range of ways that Buddhism made its way into Puritan New England a nd delves into the numerous societies and the serious, if not always comprehending, treatment that the religion received from its American devotees. Tweed argues that Buddhism offered Americans of the time an opportunity to dissent from the mainstream Chri stian culture, but in a way that limited the potentially revolutionary character of dissent. That is, people who took up the flag of the eastern religion would relate its concerns directly to those of the dominant culture, translating Buddhist ideas into t erms represent the protest a cri tique of a provincial, materialist culture, a culture that he wanted to expand to include higher goals such as non marketability, as the nation work ed its way across a 3 Ibid
38 sel f made man, who was supposed to be resistant to the effects of consumption, a common ideology in antebellum America. The appearance of Buddhist texts in the hands of Ralph Waldo Emerson came as the result of the extensive European colonial system, which s ought to produce knowledge of the East. A variety of texts from India came to the nineteenth century U.S. by way of Europe. In particular, scholars and travelers of England, France, and Germany were taken with Indian thought, and translated some of the fi rst Indian works into western languages. According to Dale Riepe, the first sustained scholarly study of Asian thought started in France in the eighteenth century, and matched ongoing work in Britain by Sir William Jones and Charles Wilkins, translators of great Sanskrit texts of India into English. Institutions such as the cole des Langues Orientales Vivantes and orientalist societies in Paris and London furthered interest in and study of the mysterious East. By 1844 American speakers of French could peru 4 Such French works played up the supernaturalism in Indian thought, and Buddhism and Hinduism were viewed through this lens, in works such as the Bhagavad Gita Riepe points out that American tr anscendentalists were influenced by French thinkers, most especially by Burnouf, and 5 Because of this filtering thro ugh Europe, Indian thought is associated with German idealism, English spiritualism, and 4 Dale Riepe, p. 19. 5 Ibid ., pp. 19 20.
39 French eclecticism, according to Riepe. 6 It was in such a colonialist mediated context that young Emerson came to the religions of India. According to Riepe, Emerson was first exposed to Indian thought in the 1820s, at the insistence of aunt Mary Moody Emerson. She gave her twenty something nephew the religious works of Ram Mohun Roy, a founder of Neo Hinduism who was an early Indian voice arguing against the Christian bigotry of the British. 7 the Edinburgh Review and Asiatic Journal during the 1820s and 30s. 8 John G. Rudy argues that Emerson was probably aware o f Buddhism as early as 1833, following his attendance at a Burnouf lecture series at the College Royale de France. The scholar 9 In 1835 Emerson wa s aware of Buddhism, yet not thoroughly enough to distinguish the tenets of Hinduism from those of Buddhism, nor to which religion the foundational text of the Bhagavad Gita belongs. 10 According to John McAleer, in 1837 Emerson then began a comprehensive s late of readings on a range of religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism, and Zoroastrianism and by 1845 considered himself sufficiently a master on the subjects. 11 relied on secondhand sources. For example in an 1845 letter Emerson states that he awaited the arrival to Concord of the Bhagavad Gita parts of which he had studied without actually 6 Ibid ., p. 24. 7 Ibid ., pp. 10 11. 8 Elisa beth Hurth, p. 230. 9 John G. Rudy, p. 221. 10 Dale Riepe, p. 35. 11 John McAleer, p. 463.
40 holding the complete text. 12 f Course of the History of Modern Philosophy (1852) from lectures given in Paris in 1828 29. 13 This point notwithstanding, Emerson did have some experienc secondhand sources, Rudy traces such foundations to Burnouf but also to 1842 44, when Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were publishing selected passages from various oriental texts in Th e Dial. Thoreau handled most of their efforts on Buddhism. 14 At the earliest in the mid 1840s Emerson had at least a passable knowledge of a Buddhism inflected heavily by European sentiments, and was arguably the leading exponent of such thought among his contemporaries. The dissenting spirit that American readers such as Emerson saw in Buddhism came from a number of sources. First, the European flavor of Buddhism, based on an already exoticized Asian religion, must have produced a cosmopolitan and decaden t appearance in the face of a Puritan inspired mid nineteenth century Massachusetts. during the period, 15 savage, half 12 John G. Rudy, p. 220. 13 Dale Riepe, p. 36. 14 John G. Rudy, p. 9. According to Rudy, The Dial issue appeared in January 1844, with the work titled The Preaching of B uddha The work included aphorisms from a French translation of White Lotus of the Good Law and featured in the front matter a passage on the origin of Buddhism by Burnouf. Rudy states, merica of a distinctively Mahayana sutra 15 Dale Riepe, p. 20.
41 industrialized and tensions with India mounted. 16 By exploiting the various sentiments su rrounding Buddhism, Emerson could define himself oppositionally to the capitalist culture and express his belief in non marketable truths, as against than the increasing materialism encouraged by Protestantism. As Max Weber argues, Protestantism ideologica lly supported the accumulation of worldly goods as a sign of divine favor; 17 by challenging the religious basis of such an ethos, Emerson questioned its material consequences. In a journal passage dated Oct Nov 1845, he makes a case for Indian philosophy: The East is grand -& makes Europe appear the land of trifles. Identity, identity! friend & foe are of one stuff, and the stuff is such & so much that the variations of which t existence is its name. 18 East belie his true motivation in this passage the attempt to justify a kind of intellectual/religious incorporation of the East. A typical western response to Buddhism focuses on the unity of experience created by its practice, which Emerson clearly expresses. In fact, Buddhism remarks that phenomena are interpenetrative not a u nity and not not a unity too. 19 but this defense is also a preliminary justification for a consumption of the other. If friend son clearly prefers 16 Ibid ., p. 11. 17 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 18 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals pp. 348 349. 19 Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhi sm p. 67.
42 ring 1859 he expresses the there in China, were the same principles, the same grandeurs, the like depths moral & 20 The author disregards the marked differences in Christianity and words mask an egotism that sees the world as a reflection of itself. As Emerson remarks in The Young American : 21 Cur iously, by positioning himself as a dissenter from New England culture on the basis of such eclectic thought, Emerson engages in a similar logic to that of the acquisitive materialism that he attempts to critique. Riepe asserts that Emerson, like other Ame rican idealists, wanted to join the advantages of a spiritual community with the strengths of a pragmatic world. Emerson could not envision a political straightjacket for a country developing with the rapidity of America. So he emphasized what Americans c ould learn from other civilizations. He believed we could learn much from the wisdom of the Indians, especially in those affairs where they kept a firm hold on the realities that transcend the phenomenal. 22 Yet, as McAleer argues, Emerson incorporated int o his own philosophy those elements 23 This privileging of intellectual commercial culture, yet his eclectic quotation of eastern religious texts offers a similar model of consumption. Emerson took exotic ideas and purposely played with the 20 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals p. 484. 21 22 Dale Riepe, p. 38. 23 John McAleer, p. 464.
43 appropriation and consumption, and the eclectic taste sh ould be seen as the most advanced style of consumption in a developed market. Civil War America witnessed the ris e of the self made man an icon that emerged with a concomitant 24 upon the varied directions of his reading. Since the nineteenth century saw consumption marks a consumption of texts that threatens to profane him. Ashworth further points out ine consumption eating, drinking, smoking, sexing, and reading 25 of subject. As Emerson says in The American Scholar 26 One way to redeem such consumption occurs in crafting a strong spiritualized American identity that re values reading. Emer son also tries to shore up reading as a spiritual activity by the rigorous subject matter it consumes, such as foreign religion. In reading Thoreau as profoundly concerned with masculinity, Suzanne Ashworth presents a model from which to view ection of Buddhism, and other Asian religions, as the subject of study. 24 Suzanne Ashworth, p. 179. 25 Ibid ., p. 180. 26
44 Thoreau believes reading can be redeemed from mere mass consumption, she argues, through serious reading practices that challenge the intellect. Similarly, In Quotation and Originality quotation confesses 27 but later he explains, 28 Because the great writer adduces proofs in his own writing of his specifically hig h literary reading, his consumption of texts can be seen as a method to evoke and re because it leads directly to spiritualized production, or as in The American Scholar 29 numerous ways. By taking ideas from Buddhism, Emerson makes reading/consumption an activity that is primarily concerned with the highest spiritual ideals of New England Christian culture. Moreover, even as he dissents from his culture, he relates his choices he seems to revoke the materialism of American consumer c ulture, paradoxically, given his previous defense of quotation in capitalistic terms. Implicitly, Emerson affirms the logic of consumption as character forming. proposes a model of the consuming and totalizing self, which can neatly do the work of nation building. Despite his advocacy of Buddhism, the self that Emerson proposes is not well tuned with the nondual tenets of the Asian religion. Buddhism proposes that phenomena are b oth unified and many they interpenetrate yet are distinct. The 27 Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 179. 28 Ibid ., p. 185. 29
45 tendency of the western practitioner is to seize on the unity of experience that Buddhist practice offers, to the detriment of plurality. Through a realization and actual feeling of this inte state in which one is united with all things and yet remains distinct from them. 30 Thus one does not experience the universe by consumption but by relinquishing the borders of wh at one considers the self. In contrast to such a nondual experience, Emerson expands the borders of his self through his eclectic formulations. As Robert Samuels but rather to re enforce the unity and sameness of the subject by identifying the self with 31 Thus by consuming the natural realm one can seemingly achieve the images, for instance, purity and wholeness, that one projects on to it. In this way Emerson finds himself among the nature and religions that he seeks to incorporate into his self. Emerson offers a totalizing vision of the self as the universe in an oft cited and provocative passage from his essay Nature He states : Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part o r particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental. To be brothers, to be acquaintances, master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. 32 The passage seems to indicate that the speaker has transcended the limits of his ego in 30 See Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism pp. 50 53. 31 Robert Samuels, p. 162. 32 Ralph Waldo Emers on, p. 10.
46 five clauses; in fact, egotism has not vanished. So great is the total ization that even reestablish the self in the form of a linguistic and visual center 33 Social relationships, which are vital in Buddhism, 34 are completely negated in favor of a boundless ego that must contain a 35 Here nature mirrors the self in the classic western word game of claiming to destroy the ego even while re 36 Buddhism a nd Manifest Destiny? In Experience Emerson bravely declares 37 Such sentiments seem to clearly indicate the idolization and idealization of the West as the destiny of the U.S. Still, when it comes to supporting the expansion of the U.S. in eclectic thought models nation formation, throughout his lifetime he expresses hesitant doubts about the project of manifest dest iny. At times Emerson supports the idea because he sees a continent that has the chance to realize a spiritual nation, and he conceives the land of opportunity primarily in spiritual terms. Emerson also wavered during Texas secession from Mexico in the mi d 1840s. 38 However, in an entry from 33 Robert Samuels, p. 165. 34 See Peter Hershock, 35 36 Ibid 37 p. 485. 38 Gay Wilson Allen, p. 443.
47 long view even as he fights against expansion: The question of the annexation of Texas is one of those which look very differently to the centuries and to the years. It is very certain that the strong British race which have now overrun so much of this continent, must also overrun that tract, & Mexico & Oregon also, and it will in the course of ages be of small import by what particular occasions & methods it was done. 39 growing nation, although the onus for such violent expansionist efforts is clearly placed 40 Eclecticism pro vides the ideological support for this process of nation building and its attendant consumption of land and people along the lines of the anthropological strengths of both spec ies while breeding out the unwanted qualities. Indeed, Christy Vedanta system, he s only that which he could accept and mix successfully with his inhibitions and 41 The idea of mixing not only relates to the model of dissent in which one addresses concerns t o the mainstream, but also to the practice of crossbreeding to produce strength, at least figuratively. Indeed, Emerson actually believed that British 39 Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson Volume 9 p. 74. 40 David M. Robinson, phenomenon than modern readers would expect or hope, presenting this process of colonization and Am erican Civilization and how the author handles typical imperialistic assertions of superiority while noting its limitations. 41 Arthur Christy, p. 182.
48 42 T he project of incorporating the foreign culture offers a spur to national competitive instincts t o realize hybrid vigor by appropriat ing the strengths of the foreign. Buddhism as a Capitalist Ideology? the self mad e man in a democratic made masculinity was a white, middle consequen ce, manhood was no longer a matter of family ties, craft traditions, or communal status. In the midst of economic booms and westward expansion, men could 43 Like the promises of seemingly unlimited land and unfettered economic opportunity, Buddhism provides a way for the American to make himself, to protest. Although derived from a remarkably different Asian context, Buddhism is partly materialist or sp iritual. Buddhism offers the opportunity for Nirvana literally in the here and now through extensive and devoted meditation. Interestingly, Buddhism also holds out the possibility of instantaneous enlightenment a sudden flash of insight which might be reconciled with capitalistic conceptions of providence (winning the lottery, for example). In contrast to a Puritan heritage that offers the possibility of salvation to only some people, Buddhism presents Emerson with the opportunity to be the godhead t he the ultimate self made, self reliant man. 42 Malini Schueller, p. 170. 43 Suzanne Ashworth, p. 185.
49 19 th Century Interest i n Buddhism Emerson's interest in Buddhism frames much of the later 19th century's preoccupation with it. Thomas Tweed cites three key inflection points between 1844 and 1912 in the development of American interest in Buddhism. As Buddhism emerged into American culture, interpreters emphasized similarities in Buddhism and Catholicism or between Buddhism and other non Christian religions. Tweed posi ts 1858 as an inflection point in discussions of the religion, and not es how interpreters emphasized Buddhism's distinctiveness from other religions, often by characterizing it as a religion of negation or nihilism. By 1879 public discussions of Buddhism were on the upswing, and "Buddhism became increasingly attractive to many of the spiritually disillusioned just as 44 Public discussion of Buddhism peaked from 1893 -the date of the Columbian Exposition to 1907. 45 The Columbian Exposition of 1893 helped the popularity of Buddhism exploded, and Tweed argues that "no single event had more impact." 46 In the decade or so leading up to and subsequent to the Columbian Exposition, a variety of writers stoked America n interest in Buddhism. British writer Edwin Arnold published The Light of Asia in 1879, and told the story of the Buddha in free verse, noting similarities between the lives of the Buddha and Jesus. The book was a tremendous success and is estimated to have sold between one half million and one million copies in the U.S -a figure that ranks it comparably to the sales of Little Lord Fauntleroy Ramona and possibly Huckleberry Finn 47 Arnold's sympathetic account of 44 Thomas Tweed, p. xxxii. 45 Ibid 46 Ibid ., p. 31 47 Ibid ., p. 29.
50 the Buddha's life received "enthusias tic" reviews by the New England intelligentsia, including William Henry Channing, George Ripley, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. 48 More publication Buddhism in Translations in 1896. Among such scholars were Protestant missionaries who, in their accounts of Buddhism in American periodicals, shaped a generally negative impression of the religion. Nevertheless, such hostile reception, especially to popular sympathetic interpret ations to Buddhism, contributed to the ongoing discussion of the religion in America. 49 One of the most important groups in popularizing Buddhism was the Theosophical Society. The Theosophists helped direct American attention to Buddhism, when Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky took the formal vows of Theravada Buddhism in Ceylon in 1880, promising to take refuge in the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha (the Buddhist religious community). Their public conversion perpetuated further interest in the rel igion, even as Olcott dismissed its significance, instead indicating that they had long been Buddhists. After this public commitment to the religion, Olcott published Buddhist Catechism and the Theosophical Society published the periodical The Theosophist which often featured sympathetic takes on the religion. Other Theosophical periodicals such as The Path explored the religion further. Tweed notes the importance of periodicals in promoting the widespread debate about Buddhism. 50 Treatments of Buddhism a ppeared in more specialized periodicals as well as more mainstream publications. The West Coast featured two English language 48 Ibid 49 Ibid ., p. 32. 50 Ibid ., pp. 30 31.
51 Buddhist magazines, The Buddhist Ray (1888 1894) and The Light of Dharma (1901 1907). The former periodical seems to be the firs t Buddhist magazine in the U.S. and merged occult themes with more typically Buddhist articles. The Light of Dharma was a higher quality and more influential publication, with some of the most prominent Asian authors on Buddhism appearing there, including D.T. Suzuki, Soyen Shaku, and Dharmapala. Noted American sympathizers also appeared there Olcott, Paul Carus, and Maria deSouza Canavarro. Japanese authorities on the religion were also prominent. While the Journal of the American Oriental Society pr ovided scholarly and philosophical takes on Buddhism, popular periodicals such as Atlantic Monthly and Overland Monthly also featured treatments of the religion. Also dealing with Buddhist topics were a range of Protestant magazines, including Biblical Wo rld Christian Literature The Andover Review and The Baptist Quarterly 51 Also involved in the debate were more liberal and religious radical periodicals such as the new Dial Unitarian Review Arena and Christian Examiner 52 One of the most interesting stagings of Buddhism in the popular press occurred in Open Court published between 1887 and 1936, which was the successor magazine to The Index The Index was the publication of the Free Religious Association, which consisted of New England religious libe rals and radicals for whom Unitarianism was too constraining. The editor of Open Court Paul Carus, arranged an interview between Soyen, John Henry Barrows, a leading Protestant minister behind the Parliament of Religions at the Columbia Exposition, and Fr ank Field Ellinwood, a Presbyterian lecturer in comparative religion at the University of the City of New York. Carus was upset 51 Ibid ., pp. 31 33 52 Ibid ., p. 33
52 about a lecture given by Barrows at the University of Chicago in 1896, so he invited Soyen to defend the religion. Tweed explai ns, He would respond himself, Carus explained, but Barrows might counter by citing bias Si r Monier Monier 53 To avoid the problems of language frequently encountered in debates with non native Carus did verbally concede that Soyen had to make his own case. Ultimately the January 1897 issue of the magazine featured the debate among the three men. Until about 1907 pieces about Buddhism continued to appear in the magazine, which had the stated goal of reconciling science and religion and promoting tolerance. 54 This staging in American media suggests that Asian practitioners of the re ligion had some agency in how they represented Buddhism, even if that took place in the larger context of American debates. Buddhism Twice Told A key moment in the passage of Buddhism from Asia to the United States ligions, a part of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The exposition offered Japanese Buddhist priests and laymen the opportunity to present Japanese Buddhism to an interested American public and scholars. This fact suggests the ways in which Orient alism does not tota lize the representation of the Other, even as the larger exposition participated in American 53 Ibid 54 Ibid ., pp. 32 33
53 nationalistic, religious, and racialist agendas. From its foundations the Columbian Exposition was intended as a display of American global asce ndancy offering a representing the culmination and expansion of European culture argues Judith Snodgrass T th anniversar y of 55 At the numerous exhibits of art, science, and technology, the U.S. could demonstrate its technical capabilities and superiority proving that it had finally come of age and had developed into a modern technolo gical opportunity to reaffirm their collective national identity in an updated synthesis of prog r 56 A similar forum, the Auxiliary Congresses, of which to The hegemonic ideology of the exposition was supported further by symbolic architectur e, a proposed Dome of Columbus. The dome, which was never built, featured United States sitting atop the world, and Europe, symbolically in decline, toward the bottom. 57 As Sn ideology of manifest destiny, 58 which would soon be expanded to the Pacific Ocean with Parliament of Religions the stated purpose was brotherhood and goodwill, the objective 55 Judith Snodgrass, p. 21. 56 Robert W. Rydell, p. 4. 57 Ibid ., pp. 21 22. 58 Judith Snodgrass, p. 23.
54 of the exposition clearly was to demonstrate the American superiority that would bring such values to the world. T i n American Protestant Christian superiority. Snodgrass shows that because of such beliefs the parliament displayed all other religions as merely inferior versions of w ith all that implied in terms of late nineteenth century presuppositions of evolution, 59 Like Rydell, 60 Snodgrass argues that the parliament became a conscious display of Social Darwinist 61 Rydell presents a similar view, noting that in their design expositions give scientific credibility to widespread racist attitudes, helping build popular support for foreign and domestic policies. 62 While organizers situated the Japanese presentation rhetorically to show Western dominance, the Japanese delegates fought this positioning in their exposition displays. domestic political and religious situation, as well as its econom ic situation vis a vis the U.S Informing this inte rcultural exchange was the larger issue of power relations between Japan and the U.S., and the West generally. Early on in Japanese and American relations, U.S. military superiority forced the Japanese hand, when 59 Ibid ., p. 1. 60 Robert W. Rydell, p. 40. 61 Judith Snodgrass, p. 2. 62 Robert W. Rydell, p. 6.
55 Commodore Matthew Perry entered Japanese po rts with an armed fleet and a letter to the Japanese emperor from U.S. President Franklin Pierce. After the show of military power, a few years later the U.S. had open ed Japanes e markets to the West, a move that also unlocked refueling ports for American t rading vessels on the way from San Francisco to Shanghai, as Tweed notes. 63 isolationist policy led to instability, and ultimately the rise of the Meiji administration, which favored more open relations with the West 64 Forced to accept treaties that made it subservient to Western powers, Japan 65 sm. The that by presenting Buddhism in this forum, Japan could show the western powers some of its cultural superiority, and cultivate national pride at home in the Meiji re vival of Buddhism. 66 The Buddhism that appeared in the U.S. at least at the Columbian Exposition reflected the political, religious, military, and economic situation between the U.S. and Japan in the years leading up to the exposition. Although the Or ientalist critique often presumes that the West one sidedly manipulates eastern culture through its own ideas, 63 Thomas Tweed, p. 28. 64 Ibid 65 Judith Snodgrass, p. 2 66 Ibid
56 Snodgrass demonstrates that the Japanese themselves had a consciously political agenda in officially presenting Buddhism to the U.S. Japanese del egates introduced not Northern or Southern Buddhism the two forms recognized by western scholars but rather Eastern Buddhism, which had been forged in the crises of the Meiji period and by the conscious determination to deliver a version of Buddhism fo r the contemporary nation. 67 The Japanese repackaged this Buddhism on the basis of the West as the standard of modernity. 68 Snodgrass later shows that the creation of Eastern Buddhism which viewed prior forms of Buddhism as flawed. worked form of Buddhism reflected certain nationalistic aims. Argues Snodgrass, n Japan alone, the one Asian nation, the Japanese claimed, intellectually and spiritually capable of comprehending its 69 This new Buddh ism was exported to Hokkaido beginning in the 1870s as part of increasing Japanese imperialism, and was used to form the cultural basis of many cities in the region. 70 Meiji religious world was the attempt by thinkers of various orientations to construct a transcendent notion of Buddhism that might include all sectarian and doctrinal divisions 71 Ketelaar goes on to claim that even after this construction of a transcendent Buddhism failed in the early 67 Ibid ., p. 1. 68 Ibid ., p. 115. 69 Ibid ., p. 198. 70 James Edward Ketelaar, p. 543. 71 Ibid ., pp. 543 544. is.
57 20 th century, the patriotism and social conscientiousness elaborated by this new Buddhism continued on strongly. 72 Such a nationalistic inflection in presenting Buddhism reflect s the Japanese preoccupation with a chieving an equal footing with the West, but also shows the understanding that the West would consume whatever might be used to express dominance, even if such dominance were only expressed by consuming the other. Therefore, the type of Buddhism at the exp osition reflected larger political, religious, and economic discourses not only of the U.S., but also of Japan. The presentation of Buddhism to the U.S. also refle cted Japanese domestic concerns. An older, family temple based system of Buddhism that had predominated in Japan was suppressed during the Edo period, and during the mid Meiji period the flourishing of Western science and Christian culture led many Japanese to decry this form of Buddhism as unscientific. 73 In the presentation of their newly re worked Buddhism, the Japanese government wanted to encourage the support of Buddhism from the Western educated elite of Meiji Japan, according t o Snodgrass. D elegates presented Eastern Buddhism as the incarnation of the highest truths of western philosophy and religion. 74 With an understanding that modern science was in tension with traditional Christianity, the delegates positioned Japanese Eastern Buddhism as the best religion for the contemporary world. While the conference was designed to show the superi ority of Christianity over all world religions, the Japanese aimed to present the superiority of Eastern Buddhism, with a second primary objective of 72 Ibid ., p. 546. 73 Tamamuro Fumio, p. 504. 74 Judith Snodgrass, p. 198.
58 impressing the domestic Japanese with the positive reception of the religion in the West. 75 The importance furthering Buddhism in the U.S. should not be underestimated. Although U.S. economic, military and cultural concerns clearly shaped the structure and content of the Columbian Exposition, the Japanese presentation o n Buddhism built an important foundation for later development of the religion in America By generating sustained interest in the religion, the forum provided the groundwork for parliament speakers to return later on lecture tours in the new century. For Patriarch Soyen Shaku read papers at the parliament and then subsequently made multi year tours Soyen in 1905 1906, and Dharmapala in 1897 and from 1902 to 1904. Soyen even published his le ctures in 1906 under the title Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot Probably more important U.S. 76 Even as a Zen layman, Suzuki became a key individual in promoting Buddhism in the U.S., especially during an eig ht year trip to America around mid century Suzuki influenc ed Beat writers, who would take the rel igion as a basis to establish an anti capitalist discourse According to Tweed, Dharmapala also strongly influenced the direction of Buddhism in the U S hav ing founded the American branch of the Maha Bodhi society in 1897. The organization quickly spread in a few years to have branches in major American cities such as Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. 77 While political, economic, and military consideratio ns affected the Buddhism that Americans 75 Ibid ., p. 3. 76 Thomas Tweed, p. 31. 77 Ibid
59 significant foothold in the U.S., from which it would later attain even more widespread appeal, especially around the mid 20 th century resisted the depredations of capitalism on the individual, a framing that the Beats later adopted. In his article The Zen Sect of Buddhism published in 1906 7, Suzuki claims that the religion thrived in Japan because it debuted during an efficient military government. Moreover, Suzuki makes pointed gestures toward the degenerating effects of capitalism, showing that Buddhism presents meditation and mental discipline not just w 78 79 And Lawrence Buell notes that Emerson ge 80 From nearly its first direct positi oned at least in part, as a way to mitigate the effects of capitalism. Interestingly, order effects on the representation of Buddhism in America. 78 D.T. Suzuki, p. 265. 79 Ibid 80 Representative Men
61 CHAPTER 3 KEROUAC AND GINS BERG: THE SUPERMARKE T OF BUDDHIST IDENTI TY On the eve of the publication of On the Road author Jack Kerouac visited New York City. He was there to witness the reception of his novel, a review of which was to appear in The New York Times Times critic Gil bert Millstein praised the work and compared its author to Hemingway. 1 Kerouac was about to become the voice of a rever." 2 In the immediate wake of his genre and generation defining novel, Jack Kerouac became a celebrity. Soon, he was making an appearance on Nightbeat, one of the first talk shows on the fledgling medium of television. 3 Interviewers were clamoring to know about the so called Beat Generation that formed the basis of the novel. In early 1958, Time magazine sent out a photographer to shoot Kerouac for a pending book review. 4 Newly formed Playboy magazine was interviewing Kerouac, and Playboy tor Esquire was buying from Kerouac, as was Pageant 5 The more ostensibly literary The Saturday Evening Post was soon paying Kerouac $1,350 for articles. 6 Steve Allen, Norman Granz, and Bill Randall had offered the author three separate contracts to read his work on LPs. 7 1 Bob Kealin g, p. 23. 2 Ibid 3 Ibid ., p. 24. 4 Ibid ., p. 35. 5 Paul Maher Jr. p. 356. Maher notes that Esquire purchased a baseball story from Kerouac for $400, while Pageant paid $300 for its story. 6 Bob Kealing, p. 24. 7 Paul Maher Jr., p. 368. Gerald Nicosia, p 565. According to Nicosia, Kerouac bragged to Lucien Carr about working with the millionaire Allen.
62 knew what that was." 8 Not long after they hit the mass media, Beat poets were finding and 9 Indeed, Kerouac had become so popular that even Hollywood was looking to bring him to the silver screen. Warner Brothers offered Kerouac $110,000 for the film rights to On The Road but Kerouac's agent firmly hel d out for $150,000 when word of Marlon 10 One Twentieth Century Fox exec wanted to re work the novel with the car crash death of capitalize on the real life death of 11 As part of the offer, Warner proposed that the good looking Kerouac play the novel's protagonist, Sal Paradise. 12 In the en d, Tri way production company bought the movie rights to the novel for $25,000, and MGM picked up the movie rights to The Subterraneans at $15,000. 13 In the haste to capitalize on such media publicity, Kerouac's publisher, through Macolm Cowley, rushed the author to compose another work that dealt with the Beat Generation, a book that soon became The Dharma Bums. 14 Kerouac drafted the novel in ten sessions at the end of 1957, and consumed massive quantities of amphetamines to sustain him in the effort. 15 Wit hin a year from the debut of On the Road to the publication of the Buddhist influenced The Dharma Bums Kerouac had been taken up 8 Bob Kealing, p. 24. 9 Graham Caveney, p. 95. 10 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 164. 11 Ibid ., p. 164. 12 Ibid ., p. 27. 13 Steve Turner, p. 179. In the end Francis Ford Coppola ended up with the movie rights (209). 14 Ann Charters, p. 293. 15 Ba rry Miles, p. 219.
63 by the consumerist public and capitalist media that he seemed to rail so hard against in the earlier book. In total, from 1 957 to 1959 he published six novels and a book of poems, which had been stored up from when no one wanted to publish him. As Kerouac 16 ed into cool. Whereas Allen Ginsberg's celebrity took a bit longer to be established in the mainstream media than Kerouac's, it was no less enduring. Although Bradley Stiles asserts that Ginsberg was uninterested in fame, 17 much evidence suggests the contr promotion and visibility, and his willingness to be a forthright public poet and activist m 18 Certainly the seminal event poet recited his long form poem Howl Provocation -and subsequent celebrity -were key elements in the work of Ginsberg, whom David Sterritt calls "the most insistently public figure of the core Beats." 19 The publication of Howl was met with obscenity charges, an outcome that was not unexpected by Ginsberg and poet publisher Lawrence F erlinghetti, who had already contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in case the work had trouble passing US 16 Gerald Nicosia, p. 564. 17 Bradley J. Stiles, p. 70. Steve Turner, pp. 167 168. Turner notes that Ginsberg was always carrying a camera and ho a rded press clippings (169). That Ginsberg was a lifelong and vocal proponent of Kerouac to anyone who would listen -and most especially himself through Kerouac. One of the best means of self promotion is to promote others (as Dylan also did for the Beats), especially good marketing advice in a rapidly expanding market for celebrity. 18 Steve Turner, p. 167. 19 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 131.
64 customs on the way from its British publishers. 20 After a tortuous series of proceedings, finally Judge W. J. Clayton Horn ruled the book not o bscene, but the experience highlighted Ginsberg as a political and social rebel who was concerned with overturning typical capitalist values, as Sterritt argues. 21 Turner posits that Ginsberg was well aware of what the practical outcome would be for himsel f -22 Indeed, such rebellion occurred against the literary establishment and its strictures on self promotion and commercialism. Raskin agrees that tactics such as disrobing were an attempt to court the mass media, but argues that for Ginsberg they were a complement to the spirit of fun with which he imbued his performances. 23 In this way, Ginsberg transforms public space into a realm where leisure activities are perm issible, even desirable. Such a pedigree positioned Ginsberg well to be taken up by the 1960s counterculture, and, in particular, by Bob Dylan, who took advantage of Ginsberg's image as a rebellious poet. As Richard E. Hishmeh argues, using various media Dylan and Ginsberg crafted their relationship consciously and publicly with Ginsberg appearing in, among others, Dylan's album Bringing It All Back Home and D.A. Don't Look Back The latter work features what is called the first rock video, for Dylan's song Subterranean Homesick Blues which takes a key Kerouac word and showcases Ginsberg in the background and even hints at his 20 Th e obscenity case put Ginsberg and Ferlin ghetti in interesting company: a round the same time Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was battling obscenity charges for publishing pictures of naked women. 21 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 131. 22 Steve Turner, p. 16 7. 23 Jonah Raskin, pp. 175 respect for Howl but her of poetry, he was behaving unpoetically by prom and after seeing his picture in Mademoiselle ch energy
65 part, Ginsberg mentioned Dylan in his work Beginning of a Poem of these States which the singer discussed future media collaborations with Ginsberg. 24 Hishmeh argues, "Together, these events comprise the foundation of a public friendship that would be as carefully constructed and consciously manufactured as any marketing or publicity strategy in today's corporate entertainment industry." 25 Moreover, Dylan told Playboy It was Ginsberg 26 Dylan admitted that regeneration. 27 The upshot of this sponsorship for Ginsberg: "It is around 1965 when Ginsberg really begins t o make this transformation from strictly a poet to a cultural icon. Ginsberg's friendship with Dylan provided the catalyst that facilitated his movement into mainstream recognition from a new generation of youth culture. His affiliation with Dylan allowe d Ginsberg, with some acumen, to dabble in mediums [sic] beyond just poetry." 28 could be relied upon to give a good quote, an embodiment of sexual, political, and artistic dissidence. 29 Such dissidence became the Ginsberg brand. status as subversive cultural icon continued until the e nd of his life In 1993 Ginsberg appeared in a Gap ad campaign (as did Kerouac arou nd the same time ). Ginsberg sits cross legged in with his arms in 24 Richard E. Hishmeh, pp. 395 396. 25 Ibid ., p. 395 26 Ellis Amburn, p. 342. 27 John Tytell, Naked Angels p. 20. 28 Richard E. Hishmeh, pp. 396. 29 Graham Caveney, p. 120.
66 his lap, Buddha like. He's wearing gap khakis, and the ad simply reads, repeatedly, 30 With his rebellious persona, Ginsberg takes a step that could be read as selling out. As a putative subversive, he does that which should not be done -argues in the case of Dylan's appearance in an early 19 such a move is perfectly consiste countercultural iconoclasm, the act of promoting tabooed consumption becomes an act of rebellion itself. 31 Ginsberg had to defend his appearance on the grounds that his fee went to good causes. 32 Re gardless, as is the case with the adoption of Kerouac by capitalist stance -derived strongly from Buddhism -is reworked as cool by capitalist representation. To construct their critique of capitalist America Kerouac and Ginsberg turn to Buddhism to offer an alternative system of values and vision of life. Following century framing of Buddhism, as explained in the introduction, Kerouac and Ginsberg take up Buddhism with similar aims. They position the religion as finally revealing the real nature of reality one that is non capitalist -by highlighting competing Buddhist notions of rationality, individualism, and non attachment. By relying on Buddhism to provide an alternative, non weste rn rationality, these Beat writers suggest that rationality per se is not the problem, but rather western rationality deployed in the service of capitalism. Rather than overthrow the notion that there is a real world, as Buddhism advocates, 33 these Beat wri ters reify the notion of the real with their 30 Ibid ., pp. 395 396. 31 Ibid ., p. 4 0 4. 32 Jonah Raskin, p 176. 33 Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhism p. 56.
67 representation of Buddhism as a kind of super rational practice and invoke Buddhist non attachment as a defiant and libertinist individualism that is allegedly not beholden to capitalist mandates. As John Tytel 34 To examine how the Beats use Buddhism to support their already freewheeling s works dealing with Buddhism, especially The Dharma Bums The novel emphasizes how he deploys the foreign religion as cultural critique, in a process of conflating the ethnic with protest. For instance, in The Dharma Bums notion of non attachment to avoid the work to consume lifestyle of the era. Along with a rationality that sees only the irrationality of consumption, non attachment forms the backbone of his critique of consumer capitalism. At the same time he uses non att achment as a rationale for a kind of nihilism of alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, and masculine libertinism suggesting Rosemary aggressive expression of heterosexuality bec omes validated by an expansionary 1950s capitalist economy. 35 Non evidenced in Old Angel Midnight Desolation Angels and Satori in Paris deploy Buddhism similarly. This chapter will also examine some early works of Allen Ginsberg, who 34 John Tytell, Naked Angels p. 26. 35 Rosemary Hennessy, p. 22. Hennessy argues that by distorting social relations and organizing affect in specific ways, capitalism sets out legitimate and illeg itimate ways of experiencing feeling, with the result that certain sexual practices are proscribed (e.g., homosexuality), while others are accepted and promoted (e.g., heterosexuality).
68 deployed Buddhism in a like manner to Kerouac. In making a critique of capitalism he reifies the notion of rationality as foundational, using Buddhism as support. Ginsberg critiques modern America in numerous works that exhibit the destructiveness of capitalism on people and the environment. With Buddhism, Ginsberg seeks to challenge consumerist culture, bringing a new set of values to the mainstream, but perpetuates the process of consumption that he would like to critique, by invoking an identity based on a range of religious practices, a kind of shopping at the marketplace of religious spiritu ality, especially Buddhist spirituality work Buddhism acts as a rejuvenating force to counter the evils of capitalism. Critics have often read the Beats as espousing a po sition that is irreducibly antithetical to the consensus bound, capitalist era of the 1950s. Omar Swartz asserts that Kerouac stood for a less materialistic outlook, and Paul Portugs reads Ginsberg similarly. 36 Critics such as Swartz and John Tytell take t he Beats at their word, that they were primarily a spiritual movement and their work opposed the dominant capitalist values of the time. 37 wisdom literature, one that takes the form of the spirit ual quest but that is not really articulated against the pro capitalist push of the 1950s. 38 resentment against American consumerism and technology as predisposing him to an 36 Omar Swartz, The View from On the Road : The Rhetorical Vision of Jack Kerouac (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999), p. 25. Later, Swartz highlights a 1995 Volvo ad that references Paul Por tugs, The Visionary Poetics of Allen Ginsberg (Santa Barbara: Ross Erikson Publishers, 1978), p. 45. 37 Omar Swartz, p. 92. 38 Nancy M. Grace, p. 22.
69 interest in Buddhism since it already fit his preconce ived romanticized worldview; that is, Buddhism acted more as a graft onto a prior belief structure. 39 Others such as Robert Hipkiss see Kerouac faithfully representing Buddhist doctrines. 40 On the other hand, some critics such as Paul Goodman interpreted t he Beats as conservative and as merely altered mimes of the status quo, 41 Buddhism as just another fascination for the ethnic that can avoid work. 42 A closer reading of texts by Kerouac and Ginsberg reveals sig nificant complicity with the capitalist position that they ostensibly critique. 43 While critics typically read the Beat project as a reaction against the confining norms of 1950s America, Manuel Luis Martinez argues that such a dualistic reading elides ho 44 Martinez writes: The Beats, in constructing a consciously individualistic aesthetic and politic, a nonbourgeois ethic, created a libertarianism that precluded any meaningful communal ef fort, thus weakening any effort at society wide change. The result is an endorsement of an atomistic individualism that must conform because its recourse against systemic forces is inadequate. The conscious decision to the hands of reactionary politics in the same way the democratic theories and views of the individual that Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman popularized were used to justify westward expansion and reckless laissez faire capitalism. 45 39 Isaac Gewirtz, p. 15 5. 40 Robert A. Hipkiss, p. 66. 41 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 103. Sterritt also n o tes that Mad magazine lampooned the Beats as conformists, with the same uniform of alleged non conformity. 42 ation of Buddhism represented just another attempt understanding of Buddhism betrays his understanding of Buddhists as fellaheen, particularly when contras 43 Barry Miles, p. 201. Curiously, at just the moment that Kerouac becomes most interested in Buddhism s politics were about as far right wing as was possible, short of joining the 44 Manuel Luis Martinez, p. 8. 45 Ibid ., p. 49.
70 The Beat project was articulated through ethnicity, but focusing his studies on the n bourgeois conformism. Rather he suggests the Beats participated in a long tradition of dissent the prerogatives of the self 46 A s Sterritt notes, the Beats proposed simply the replacement of one set of style with another that was perhaps more elastic but nonetheless normative. 47 precisely this function as a foundation for individualist privilege an d style. This individualist privilege has clear free espoused dismissal of the market. Martinez argues that the trope of physical movement in Beat works functions most centrally as tacit support for the free market an d the ability to take on liminal identities, but that the Beats fear true marginality and its strictures. 48 This fear of the other often re appears when the Beats express a purportedly non egoic Buddhist consciousness that alleges to have transcended the d ualisms of the 1950s such as capitalism/communism and white/non white. In works that purport to have eschewed such dichotomies, as Stiles argues for Ginsberg 49 and I suggest for The Dharma Bums a third identity is formed at one remove that neatly encapsulates such differences as mere stylistic variance. While the 46 Ibid ., p. 28. 47 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 103. 48 Manuel Luis Martinez, p. 91. 49 Bradley J. St iles, pp. 110 112.
71 nez. 50 As a result, communalism as a strategy for the Beats, posits Martinez, becomes marginalized. 51 Although he shows that Ginsberg participated in r e affirming a pro market individualism Martinez argues that the poet ultimately accepted communalism, in part because of his already marginalized status as a homosexual Jew. I would argue while his earlier poems do participate in the dynamic Martinez critiques. However, M artinez is, rightly, less charitable to Kerouac. For the Beats, religious difference becomes another freedom of choice a means to express white identity. Although their appearance in the mass media seems antithetical to their stated eth(n)os, the writer s espoused some of the same values of mass media that promulgated a co nsumption based ethos. T he mass media appear to be central in the distribution of (at least part of) the Beat ethos not only in the 1990s Gap ads and such, but also in the period befor e Hollywood had been playing on the Beat type since the end of the war, and gestures toward The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause 52 Yet even if their type was portrayed in such films, the films pl ayed more on the angst of that 19 50s generation without exactly naming the Beats. The Beat sensibility was not simply some clean discontinuity with the rest of American culture, but also a product of that culture. When the Beats were dealt with specificall y, Hollywood parodied, mocked, or otherwise misrepresented 50 Manuel Luis Martinez, p. 91. 51 Ibid ., p. 51. 52 David Sterritt, Screening the Beats p. x Beat Girl and A Bucket of Blood as well as more mainstream offerings that featured and mocked Beat inspired characters such as Bell, Book, and Candle and Funny Face He also notes the emergence of Beat like characters on TV: in Route 66 and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis with its beatnik Maynard G. Krebs. Sterritt also highlights a range of other creative projects that took the Beat project seriously, including Shadows The Connection (xi ).
72 them. 53 own ends even before the Beats had hit nationwide fame, and were plenty willing to continue their coverage after ward as well. 54 Regardless, such treatment pulled the Beats into pop culture even as it primed bourgeois Americans to reject the movement. Such mass media also included P layboy founded in 1953, which unabashedly addressed upwardly mobile middle class men and showed them how to live in the consumer society as well as how to consume -cars, travel, parties, and most apparently, women. As Barbara Ehrenreich has noted, the Beats envisaged similar patterns of leisure consumption, 55 but for an audience of men w position on sex, showed men how to travel (on the cheap), and how to enjoy the ues Bill Osgerby, Playboy savoir faire 56 What better models for the youth oriented subculture than the globe hopping Columbia dr opouts who formed the nucleus of the Beats? Well before the Beats became a widespread phenomenon, Playboy had seized on its formula for success promote masculine middle class leisure. Only after Playboy 53 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved pp. 140 than the actual na ture of the Beat sensibility, Beat related movies tend o conflate wildly divergent (and (143). 54 Tom Clark, p. 178. Clark points out that Mademoise lle took publicity shots of several Beat figures, including Kerouac and Gregory Corso. Corso provided Kerouac with a crucifix for the shoot, but the Life and other popular magazines continued to trumpet the Beat lifestyle after the Beats had achieved national fame. 55 Barbara Ehrenreich, p. 60. 56 Bill Os gerby, p. 140.
73 had been in print for four years did Kerouac fina lly land a publisher for his much rejected On The Road (c omposed in 1951 ; published in 1957 ) in the midst of economic recession. It was almost as if the dour economic climate demanded the leisure of middle snowballed into commercial demand for other works (many of which had been drafted much earlier) as well as The Dharma Bums which had been written to order following On The Road success. Bums showed the Beats in swinging San Francisco, but even Playboy s dated its Bums representation (in the form of Japhy 57 Paradoxically, the Beats achieve d the postwar American dream of rabid consumption and leisure by refusing to pa rtake in the rat race. They beca me coo l by stating their protest of capitalist protocol. Yet, the Beats participated in the much larger deployment of individualist, consumerist values that they purported to critique. 58 This result seems apt for a movement that typically relied on fictionalizing their own lived experience, such that the authors themselves became the heroes of their works. Incredibly, in the late 1950s FBI director J. Edgar Hoover proclaimed that the Beats posed a larger threat to the U.S. than did the communists. 59 If in earnest, such a radical mis reading indicates an underestimation of the power of discursive practices to re who could profit by the radicalist image. 57 Ibid ., p. 131. Osgerby cites 1956 as one of the earliest examples of the Playboy bachelor pad, which made frequent appearances in the magazine for more than two decades. 58 Barry Miles, pp. 217 218. Miles notes how Alan Watts claimed res autobiography, which Watts argues progressed from pseudo intellectuals to the Beats. Miles notes that Beat Zen, Square Zen and Zen bei 59 Jonah Raskin, p. 202.
74 Buddh ist S tyle S aves America Although Kerouac had already disavowed his personal commitment to Buddhism by the time of their writing, his thinly veiled fictional autobiographies The Dharma Bums (1958) and Desolation Angels (1965) deploy Buddhism as a critique against capitalis t America. 60 In Bums Kerouac uses the character of Japhy Ryder, an alias for Gary Snyder, as the key proponent of the religion, while the roman a clef puts Ray Smith, sugge sted in interviews that Kerouac deliberately embellished the Ryder character to fit his tale. 61 As a logger from Oregon, Japhy is portrayed as having quintessential masculine features, for example, strength and strident heterosexuality, which his practice of Buddhism seems to augment. For Japhy, Buddhism comes to be the means to combat the Cold War consensus, but a close reading shows how Kerouac reveals the ambivalence to consumerist culture. Indeed, what Japhy and by extension Kerouac seem to argue against is not the substance of material culture, but rather the style, a point that Hebdige, Heath, and Potter stress is the real meaning of subculture. Buddhism, therefore, offers a new style, a Beat aesthetic, for rationality, individualism, a nd non attachment. As the novel that is most often cited as the definitive description of the Beat Generation, The Dharma Bums shows the movement's interest in Buddhism, but Desolation Angels takes up the narrative thread almost where Bums leaves off, exp loring in greater detail the narrator cum with Buddhism and his subsequent disillusionment. 60 Gerald Nicosia, p. 531. Nicosia states that Kerouac no longer claimed to be a Buddhist by 1957, before he had drafted The Dharma Bums 61 Paul Maher Jr., p. 380.
75 contrasts the character against middle class Ameri ca. Tytell finds this easy 62 At a party with other Zen Lunatics, as Kerouac labels the Beats, Japhy drinks heavily and presents his social vision: See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bum s refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least fancy new cars, certain hair o ils and deodorants and and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even million s of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men go about writing poems that happen to appear in their h eads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures. 63 Here, Japhy posits Buddhism as a new and very male rationality that is allegedly more rational than that which has formed the basis of capitalist America. In contrast to the new vision of rationality based on Buddhism stresses the idiocy of working, especially fo r "all that crap they didn' t really want anyway." H is justification seems to rely on the idea of karma, with the phrase "work, produce, consume" reiterated in order to suggest the cyclical and imprisoning nature of such consumerism. In contrast, Japhy seem s to provide the utopian dream of those in the middle class rat race no work, only free time and leisure, and a nod to the Playboy ideal This vision appears as the diametric opposite of those bound by their desire to consume 62 John Tytell Naked Angels p. 171. 63 Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums pp. 97 98.
76 novel has multiple valences. First, he's suggesting the crazy nature of those figures, such as Japhy and Ray, who get drunk, party, and refuse to work, who are supposedly ca st in the mold of Han shan, a 9 th century Chinese Buddhist poet. The juxtaposition of Zen and Lunatics seems to operate as a justification for their behavior a modus 64 The phrase ties their unhealthy conduct (such as drug use) to the religion, implicating Buddhism in their libertine practices. 65 Oddly, it's exactly this lunatic behavior that is being extolled as rational. Second, Kerouac also uses the phrase ironically, in the sense that middle class America will view their antics. Against the background of the Protestant work ethic, the dharma bums look like lunatics. appropriation of the term. Third, the pursuit of spirituality in the form of the "do nothing" mentality of Buddhism mu st seem inane to capitalist America. Yet Kerouac holds up this mentality as supremely rational, even the foundation of what is real, in contrast to what he sees as the beliefs of middle class America. The new vision of rationality afforded by Buddhism -which seems to be -seems to perpetuate the very over rationalization that the Beats ap parently protest, in a move echoing e to rationalization. At the same time, by proclaiming that they do nothing, the characters extol the 19 50s ideal of leisure time. Also consider Japhy's vision of the ideal Zen Lunatic -with poems appearing in his head "for no reason" and performing "str ange 64 occasionally drunk to excess, [Kerouac] interpreted this as a license to indulge his alcoh olism, a self 65 Steve Turner, p. 214. Turner even notes how Kerouac compares drug use to meditation in his poem How To Meditate
77 unexpected acts." The Zen Lunatic appears as a model of irrationality, or at least non rationality. Kerouac's invocation of Buddhism's "do nothing" mentality shows how he is mis reading this key aspect of the religion and even conflating Buddhism with other Asian religions. While in The Dharma Bums of the Protestant work ethic, in Desolation Angels he provides a different gloss on this term, suggesting that the Buddhist doctrine allows him a rational way "to dream all day." 66 work, Wu Wei a Chinese term in the Taoist tradition. In Chinese, the word literally means do nothing but it signifies a state of attention in which ind ividuals feel as if they were doing nothing; that is, they have achieved such a developed state of non egoic consciousness that they experience their actions as if the actions were the manifestation of some other will. Therefore, the standard definition im plies by no means a practice of literally doing nothing. In Angels Kerouac as narrator writes that after coming down from the mountain he intended to be "a man of contemplations rather than W u Wei ) which is a way of life in itself more beautiful than any, a kind of cloistral fervor in the midst of mad ranting action 67 Moments later he adds, hilosophy that does allow me to dream all day and work out chapters in forgotten reveries that emerge years later in 68 This characterization of the do nothing lifestyle seems starkly at odds with that 66 Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels p. 247. 67 Ibid 68 Ibid
78 presented in Bums Here he uses the do no thing mentality as a rational way to the religion has become a "cloistral fervor," which is strangely paradoxical in its insistence on passion, because as a Buddhist Kerouac says that he wants to avoid passion. Later, this fervor transmutes into dreaming all day. Kerouac also notes the beauty of the do nothing practice, showing his interest in the stylish Buddhist aesthetic. In either case as rationale for doing n othing or for doing whatever he wants Kerouac an ambivalence toward it, suggesting that the author is not against m aterial objects but rather their style. For example, Japhy rants against "cars, at least fancy new cars, certain hair oils and deodorants." Here he draws a distinction between used cars and the stylishness and showiness of the new models. Similarly does he deal with "certain" hair oils, clearly leaving open the option that some types are acceptable. Even the "visions," a subtle indication and revalidation of the psychedelic influence of the milieu. This ambivalence is almost lost in the rambling and passionate style of his ranting, which continues without a full stop, only commas, to mark the phrases. It's almost as if such passion is meant to cover his ambivalence, with the constant flow of words staunching all potential criticism and all commitment, even to a phrase. Up for question here is not whether Japhy despises consumerism, although at first blush it does appear so. Rather, given that Kerouac holds out Japhy as the figure in the novel to be emulated, it seems that readers should be copying Japhy's method of protest. As a
79 self styled member of the counterculture, Japhy enacts a protest that concerns fashion 69 hitchhiking or the cross country joy rides undertaken by the Beats are fashionably acceptable, unlike the commute of the 9 to 5 drudge. For Japhy, Buddhism offers an alternative to the Protestant work ethic, which forms the ideo logical basis of American capitalism, according to Weber. Indeed, consumerism is notably absent in the passage, with its insistence on spirituality, happiness, and "visions." Perhaps such a move aims to avoid fundamental and materially based concerns such as hunger and thirst, which would interrupt and thwart the vision. Rather than work, the archetypal dharma bum would take part in a "rucksack revolution," putting into practice the Buddhist ideals according to Japhy. These ideals include making everyone happy and free, presumably instantiating the Buddhist practice of non attachment, although this practice is not explicitly referenced. Kerouac contrasts such ideals with the mundane existence of the middle class of the 1950s. The dharma bum seems to be al ways at play, "making young girls happy and old girls happier." Implied in such Buddhist play is recreational sex, which is dealt with more explicitly elsewhere in the novel, in particular the yabyum scene. Moreover, given the phrasing, Japhy seems to im ply that such a Buddhist inspired rucksack revolution is strictly a heterosexual male endeavor and perhaps one of only university educated white individuals as well. One of the most interesting uses of Buddhism in the novel is as a justification for recrea tional sex, even orgies. Weber points to just such an eroticism as the result of 69 Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums p. 14.
80 rationalization, and so it becomes reified as an enduring expression of what is essentially human. Kerouac presents such eroticism rather soon in the novel, providing had a lot more to learn, too. Especially about how to handle girls incomparable Zen Lun 70 In the scene that follows, Japhy explains to Ray and Alvah Goldbook (the Ginsberg figure) the sexual process that he enacts with Princess. temples of T ibet. It's a holy ceremony, it's done just like this in front of chanting priests. People pray and recite Om Mani Pahdme Hum, which means Amen the Thunderbolt in 71 Soon Alvah a nd Ray are also involved, and all four participants agree to make a recurring appointment for the orgy on Thursday nights. Here, Kerouac uses Buddhism to provide a religious and metaphysical pretext for the orgy, a practice that stands in direct contrast to the sexual prudishness of Protestant America. Such practices are not typical in the Zen school; however, Japhy turns to Tibetan Buddhism to bolster his sexual practices. Yet, a page later, narrator Ray Smith refers to the practices as "Zen Free Love Lu nacy orgies." 72 This conflation of terms suggests how the religion is being appropriated for a Buddhism justified consumption and control of women, in this case seducing a young college student with the exoticism of the practice. Japhy confirms the idea o f consumption when he talks about the practice further, using diction with strong capitalist overtones: 70 Ibid ., p. 16. 71 Ibid ., pp. 28 29. 72 Ibid ., p. 30.
81 used as holy concubines in temples and sometimes in ritual caves and would get to lay up a stock of merit and they meditated too. All of them, men and women, they'd meditate, fast, have balls like this, go back to eating, drinking, talking, hike around, live in viharas in the rainy season and outdoors in the dry, there was no questi on of what to do about sex which is what I always liked about Oriental religion. And what I always dug about the Indians in our country.... 73 e women earned "stock" because of their subservience to the sexual demands of the men. The phrase "were taken and used" offers the women little agency. In fact, merely because of their sexual subservience, they are termed bodhisattvas, enlightened beings The sentence structure suggests that meditation for these women -one method of obtaining merit in Buddhism is merely an afterthought. Here, Buddhism acts as a justification for taking sexual advantage of women, since that is what "playing at being As ian" is all about. That Japhy undertakes most of his sexual Playboy Rogue and Satan 74 achelor pad eschews obvious markers of middle class consumption. approaches Buddhism and justifies his position in life. Consider how Japhy says that he takes on the values of a You know when I was a little kid in Oregon I didn't feel that I was an American at all, with all that suburban ideal and sex repression and general dreary newspaper gray censorship of all our real human values but and when I d iscovered 73 Ibid ., p. 31. 74 Bill Osgerby archetypal bachelor pad of the 1950s. Magazines such as Rogue Satan and Escapade followed Playboy ce for their male readership. Note the magazine names that conno te unrepentant non conformity.
82 Buddhism and all I suddenly felt that I had lived in a previous lifetime innumerable ages ago and now because of faults and sins and that lifetime I was being degraded to a more grievous domain of existence and my karma was to be born in America where nobody has any fun or believes in anything, especially freedom. That's why I was always sympathetic to freedom movements, too, like anarchism in the Northwest, the oldtime heroes of Everett Massacre and all.... 75 a phrase that already suggests his disingenuousness toward a serious practice seems to immediately allow him to recognize his reincarnation, one of the more exotic aspects of Buddhism. Through the various phrases, he re works his life in Buddhis t terms. The act of vocalizing the Buddhist ethnic functions as a symbolic protest against the Cold War consensus, namely the suburban ideals of capitalist America and its cheerleaders who suggest that the nation is, in fact, the leader of the free world. Buddhism, Japhy implies, will return to us "our real human values," echoing the notion that religion, especially Buddhism, offers a wellspring for that which is most human within us. Japhy hints that his real attraction to Buddhism is its anarchic qualit y, the fact that it appears to have no rules or proscriptions on behavior, a position that might be conventionally termed irrational. an extension rather than a c ondemnation of consumerist behavior. This use of the Buddhist other to articulate dissent from the Cold War consensus and capitalism participates in stereotyping, but also projects a hybrid national identity. This national identity incorporates the Bud dhist other but by means of speaking for it. The Dharma Bums has no culturally raised Buddhists, but instead has white converts explicate the religion. Swartz provides an apologia for Kerouac: while he admits that Kerouac portrays all non white ethnicitie s paternalistically, he claims that such 75 Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums p. 31.
83 depictions are never malicious and that, rather, Kerouac poeticized life generally. 76 77 Stiles arg ues that Kerouac does stereotype the ethnic (referring, in his case, to the fellaheen) but that it is not borne of class distinctions but rather interiorized from pop culture. 78 root of his narratives while continually decentering him in those moments when he 79 80 That Kerouac participates in such ventriloquism is fitting for an author whose novels are all fictionalized accounts of his own life using variously named but similar identi ties and move so fluidly among them that these characters come to represent the multiplicity of a straitjacketed America in which non whites are not allowed to represent themselves. Rather than merely decentering the speaker as Grace suggests, rticulations of ethnics establishes a center (the author) that becomes ever more centralizing to the locus of articulated (and decentralized) ethnic voices. proposed by C how, in which minorities are figured as either innocent or corrupt and against which America as a nation is formulated. This trope appears later in Satori in 76 Omar Swartz, p. 87. 77 David Sterritt, Screen ing the Beats pp. 17 Song of the South (1946), not to mention King Hallelujah (1929). 78 Bradley J. Stiles, p. 86. 79 Nancy M. Grace, p. 44. 80 Ibid
84 Paris crafted a Chr istianity that could subsume Buddhism. He explores this hybridity directly, but briefly, in The Dharma Bums In Chinatown Japhy and Ray approach an African American woman preaching to an ambivalent throng of Buddhists. When Japhy suppressed by this schism we have about separating Buddhism from Christianity, East from West, what the hell dif 81 in erasing the difference between the religions and creating a hybrid religion a move that typically causes the erasure of the other. Stiles notes the ability of such a religious formulation to be easily assimilated into American culture. 82 notebooks, Gewirtz suggests that Kerouac had started integrating the religions by 1955, and even had begun to think of Buddhist trinitarianism, which Gewirtz thinks may have mitigat ed his hostility to Christianity in the 1950s. 83 begun to see Buddhism as the spiritual paradigm in which Christianity could be enfolded 84 Toward the end of the 1950s, Kerouac returned to a primarily Christian outlook with some Buddhist 81 Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums p. 114. 82 Bradley J. Stiles, p. 91. 83 Isaac Gewirtz, pp. 162 163. 84 Ibid ., p. 167.
85 no tion of soul within a Buddhist frame as but one example. 85 suggests powerfully the narrative of hybrid identity in which the other is subsumed and gradually erased. Ginsberg : Eclectic A ffinities Allen Ginsberg first approached Buddhis m through the essays of D.T. Suzuki in Spring 1953, while he was studying Chinese painting. 86 with Buddhist texts were not particularly enlightening, and he found his Buddhist 87 With reading sugges tions from Kerouac such as Buddhist Bible Dialogues of Buddha Ginsberg studied further in 1954 and 1955, and still found Buddhism to be difficult and meditation impossible without a mentor to guide him. 88 In that same period, ac cording to Bill going nowhere with his practice. 89 However, Portugs claims that Ginsberg took a bodhisattva oath around this period, and Stiles says that the poet was a self proclaimed Buddhist since the early 1950s. 90 Yet, Tony Trigilio notes that Ginsberg often 91 Jonah Raskin cites the influence of Buddhism on Howl (1955) as suffusing the poem with the theme of life as suffering, 92 but that influence is really subsidiary at best and 85 Nancy M. Grace, pp. 156 157. Grace also notes that in the mid 1950s Kerouac read Christian theologians and mystics as well as Buddhist documents. 86 Ann Charters, p. 191. 87 Bill Morgan, p. 157. 88 Ibid ., pp. 175, 198. 89 Ibid ., p. 178. 90 Paul Portugs, p. 70. Bradley J. Stiles, p. 98. 91 Tony Trigilio, pp. x xii. 92 Jonah Raskin, p. 228.
86 m in the 19 50s was to use Buddhist terminology in his work. 93 Even as late as the mid 1960s 94 It was only much later that Ginsberg began to more seriously practice Buddhi sm and incorporate it more strategically in his work. Ginsberg toured India in 1962 63, hitting Bombay and Delhi, where he met up with Gary Snyder. Ginsberg also met the Dalai Lama, and toured opium dens and red light districts, according to Caveney. 95 In Consciousness movement, and helped various eastern gurus publicize themselves. 96 Not until 1972 did Ginsberg take the form al vows of Buddhism and begin to take Mind Breaths featured some of the techniques he learned. Ginsberg decided to be mentored by Lama Chgyam Trungpa Rinpoche 97 Trungpa was known for his heavy drinking and womanizing, which were not forbidden in his branch of Buddhism, according to Morgan. 98 99 simultaneously [worked] actively to undermine the authority of lineage 93 Tony Trigilio, p. xii. 94 Ibid ., p. xiv. 95 Graham Caveney, p. 103. 96 Bill Morgan, p. 432. 97 Graham Caveney, p. 150. 98 Bill Morgan, p. 494. Tony Trigilio, p. x. 99 Bill Morgan, p. 494.
87 according t o Trigilio. 100 project undermines communal change in favor of a pro market individualism. Nevertheless, Ginsberg became disciplined in sitting, sometimes up to 9 hours a day. Caveney argues that d uring this period the poet alternated between actions based on the desire for anonymity and those based on self advertisement. 101 In fact, not long before his death, Ginsberg called then President Clinton to see if the nation might honor him with some type o f literary lifetime achievement award. 102 in the 1950s approaches Buddhism as protest. While Buddhism is represented as a rejuvenating force to the evils of capitalism, his poems suggest that the eclectic use of religion might heal the damage of capitalism, when such eclecticism itself seems an effect of late capitalism, as Richard Peterson, Roger Kern and Pierre Bourdieu argue. 103 They posit that a move toward eclecticism characterizes postwar elites; no longer does appreciation for specific genera typify the cultural elite. In his poetry of the 1950s, Ginsberg distinguishes himself as eclectically religious and as the poet laureate of the counterculture, and perpetuates the logic of consumption that he would like to critique As Buddhist rebellion, exoticism, and countercultural style. In poems such as A Supermarket in California (1955) and Sunflower Sutra 100 Tony Trigilio, p. x. 101 Graham Caveney, p. 152. 102 Jonah Raskin, p. 208. 103 R. A. Peterson and R. M. Kern, pp. 900 907. Kern and Peterson document the change in atti tudes of highbrow snobbishness fit the needs of the earlier entrepreneurial upper middle class, there also seems new business Pierre Bourdieu, p. 3.
88 (1955), Ginsberg evokes his disgust with industrial and commercial capitalism, and their depredation of the physical and spiritual world. In Supermarket the narrator takes an evening stroll to the local supermarket. Along the way he apostrophizes Walt Whitman, a poet well among other things, the narrator enters and what 104 The natural world has been 105 open corr idors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen 106 Although the speaker does not buy anything, he nevertheless takes food and eats, suggesting that the way around the consumerism is outright theft based on individual caprice. Ginsberg re works the word possessing not as an expression of owne rship but as one of consumption, with an implied sexual connotation as well Here the poet suggests that the move toward a commercial culture in property to sell has led to networks of regulating authority. These networks have left the author paranoid about such control. For the homosexual Ginsberg, following in the footsteps of the homosexual Whitman, the homogeneity of the Cold War consensus identity seems particularly structured by capitalism, Whitman provides Ginsberg an image of a rebellious life that 104 Allen 105 Ibid 106 Ibid
89 models h ow the latter poet may be able to articulate his sexuality as a counter to capitalism. The imagined discussion with Whitman continues, when the narrator says, 107 While through out his life Whitman explored America on foot and investigated the land, the narrator is left with the absurd experience of an odyssey in the supermarket in order to explore the natural world. Ginsberg suggests that overgrown and bland commercial culture h T we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home 108 I n contrast to the bourgeois home with its car and other technology, the poet and Whitman use their own feet to walk leisurely to their lovelorn cottage, which is bereft of socially acceptable heterosexuality. By the juxtaposition of images, Ginsberg sugges a nation that has lost its spiritual grounding in its pursuit of property connects At issue, at least in the final example, is the style of consumerism. Whereas Supermarket provides a narrow spectrum of spiritual consequences of capitalism, in Sunflower Sutra Gi nsberg elaborates on the depredations of industrial culture to the physical and spiritual world, suggesting, even in the title, a move toward religion, especially eastern religion. T he Sanskrit word sutra connotes a sermon, in particular one from the Buddh a a use of diction that positions the poet as Buddha like 107 Ibid 108 Ibid
90 Ginsberg sets up this poem early as a sermon on industrial culture. In the poem, the speaker, ostensibly Ginsberg, is sitting and crying alongside a locomotive with Jack Kerouac, who spies a sunfl 109 110 The speaker clearly highlights the destruction of the physical also bespeaks of its destruction by industrialism smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken 111 The speaker suggests that the specifically in ethn icized terms, as suggested below. In an apostrophe to the sunflower, Ginsberg takes particular aim at modern modern all that civilization spotting your crazy 112 Yet the sunflower somehow eludes this des truction, at least in its interior, much like dualistic representations of the uncommodifiable/pure ethnic that Chow presents. In this first passage, part of the valorization of the sunflower includes its irrationality, its "crazy golden crown." In descri 113 Since that time, the sunflower has taken on the characteristics of the industrial capitalist culture to which it has been ex posed. 109 Allen 139 110 Ibid 111 Ibid 112 Ibid 113 Ibid
91 Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive? You were neve r no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower! 114 The use of the second person voice here allows Ginsberg to fulfill the mission of sermon, by speaking directly to the reader while ostensibly speaking to the sunflower. He suggests that the essence or sou l of the sunflower is finally distinct from that of its milieu. In a dual move, the passage characterizes both the ethnic and American cultures. The sunflower is represented as corrupted by modern American culture and yet somehow also uncorrupted, much li ke the ethnic positioning that Chow describes. Its skin has been darkened by industrial culture, a move that pointedly suggests the darker skin tones of non white races. A homily format recapitulates well the representation of America as highly advanced, modern, and morally superior, even as the format purports to condemn its subject. The format implies that it is sophisticated Americans who can warn the ethnic other of the dangers of such modern contrivances, lest they lose their human qualities, especia lly their irrationality their "crazy golden technological development of developed countri es. 115 In the process of criticizing industrial culture, Ginsberg allies the Beat movement (originally white men) with the marginalized ethnic. Like the ethnicized positioning of the sunflower, Ginsberg envisions the university educated (Ivy League, even) B eats as 114 Ibid 115 Renato Rosaldo, p. progressive change, putatively static savage societies become a stable reference point for defining (the
92 the darkened skin of non white ethnics, and then specifically highlights so me group with the first person plural pronoun. Ostensibly that group is the audience, but it could also be the speaker and Kerouac, who was named early in the poem. Therefore, the poem appeals for an understanding of the Beats since they have ethnicized themselves, a rhetorical tactic that strategically marginalizes the Beat movement as much as it asks for acceptance. This tactic is also prevalent in Howl experiences at Columbia are interwoven with the marginalized experiences of black America. 116 To properly conclude the homily, Ginsberg finishes with the moral, setting it off y naked accomplishment 117 Through the use of the first person plural pronoun, Ginsberg also positions the reader as inherently and fundamentally resistant to industrial corruption, a position that recapitulates the stereotypical characterizations o f the ethnic delineated by Chow. While suggesting that the way out of capitalism is through religion, the poet seems to rely on an idea of essence that transcends the physical, an idea more in keeping with the Christian ideal of soul than the putatively Bu ddhist ideals of the poem. Portugs suggests that the poem provides a vision of inspired vision of 116 Gordon Ball, p. 243. Ball also notes the mlange of African America with other mystical traditions such as kaballah in Howl 117 Allen 139
93 118 More telling ly Merrill points out tha t an earlier poem in the same volume, In back of the real foreshadows Sunflower Sutra but uses even more blatant Christian elements to understand the industrial condition of America. 119 In Sunflower Sutra the consumption of religion plays out in how Buddh ist terms come to represent western metaphysical and ontological ideas of the soul, such as its existence and its eternal nature. As Stiles notes that the existence of the soul was 120 This seems less like a transcendental Buddhist insight but rather an excuse and even to corruption and "golden sunflowers inside." While Sunflower Sutra sug spirituality as a way out of the materialism of capitalism, in Kral Majales (1965) the poet moves more directly toward religious eclecticism as an answer to the materialism, antagonism, and dualistic pol iticking of the Cold War. However, such eclecticism seems to be derived from the advance of capitalism, as R. A. Peterson, R. M. Kern, and Bourdieu posit. Eclectic religion offers a means to stress the elements laid out by Weber fraternity, aestheticism, and eroticism increasing rationalization of more and more of life. Each of these elements is clearly present in Kral Majales. In a typical move, Ginsberg fictionalizes some true event that happened to him namely being named the King of May 1965. In the poem, Ginsberg foregrounds his act 118 Paul Portugs, pp. 54, 76. 119 Thomas F. Merrill, pp. 100 101. 120 Bradley J. St iles, p. 95.
94 of composition, telling that he is composing the poem in an airplane as he was being deported from Prague to England. The poem begins by faulting both factions of the Cold War at eyeglasses and lying policemen and the Capitalists proffer Napalm and money in green 121 tangle the Just man 122 Here Ginsberg suggests that in this worldwide struggle neither superpower is right both have committed atrocities in the name of furthering their own cause. After discrediting both sides of this dichotom y at some length, he sets up a third alternative an eclectic religious identity characterizing the Beat hipster that is now opposed to both feel and love one another versus you calculate and brut alize 123 In the poem, Ginsberg references religion in a variety of ways and hints at the Buddhist Middle Way as an intermediate ground between the Cold War factions. Indeed, the title Kral Majales which means the King of May in Czech, suggests the pagan origins of a spring ritual to celebrate the re birth of life. The speaker avers that the King of May disrupts the capitalism/communism dichotomy through his natural, human, and erotic power; in effect, it his well developed relig ious based humanity that will cut through the Cold War dichotomy. To support his assertions, Ginsberg again offers a Whitman power of sexual youth, and I am the King of May, which is indu stry in eloquence and action in amour, and I am the King of May, which is long hair of Adam and the Beard of 121 Allen 355 122 Ibid 123 Thomas F. Merrill, p. 149.
95 124 The King of May comes to represent and celebrate areas of life that are human and that cannot easily be reduced to an economic syst em, such as rather than military action, which characterized both sides of the Cold War. Finally, the King of May also represents features that have no economic analogue, but that are disruptive to a conservatively minded social order of the Cold War era l ong hair and beard which suggest the fertility of humanity or eroticism. Ginsberg goes on to suggest his eclecticism and its relationship to the King of Buddhist Je w who worships the Sacred Heart of Christ the blue body of Krishna the straight back of Ram the beads of Chango the Nigerian Shiva Shiva in a manner which I 125 Here the poet combines religions from across the world, suggesting the inherent o ne ness of the religious ethos, and the fraternity among major religious divisions. The speaker says that not only is he part of this syncretistic religion, but that he himself has invented the practice. Ginsberg seems to posit as a solution to capitalism namely, an eclectic religious identity that which capitalism has encouraged. The poet finishes in a similar vein, suggesting how he occupies a liminal or hybrid space, even a Middle Way, between competing factions. Having been kicked out of Cuba and I am the King of May, the Marxists 124 Allen 355 125 Ibid
96 have beat me upon the street, kept me up all night in Police Station, followed me thru Springtime Prague, detained me in secret and deported me from our kingdom by airplane. Thus I ha 126 Through his criticism of American capitalism and Russian backed communism, Ginsberg is symbolically in the interstices of the polarizing Cold War factions. As the poet flying in the sky, Ginsberg literal 1950s transformation of t he idea of political freedom into the market based notion of relationships in which language mediates the boundaries between absence and presence while valorizing ind 127 Even as Ginsberg posits an eclectic religious identity that is supposed to transcend the Cold War dualism, he still instantiates an individualist identity as central to any such resolution. This third way seems to recapitulate the identity politics that he would like to critique, merely at one fixed identity that purports to be unfixed, or egoless. As Stiles penetratingly observes in other Ginsberg works, 128 based identity an effect that Emerson similarly perpetua In the process of creating his third way, Ginsberg valorizes his identity as countercultural rebel, an image that has had a long shelf life. promote (in a dual valence) was tremendous. At the time 126 Ibid 127 Tony Trigilio, p. 182. 128 Bradley J. Stiles, pp. 110 111.
97 of the Czech festival that he describes, Ginsberg was lauded among students, caf society, and the literati, according to Gordon Ball. 129 Ye t, Ginsberg virtually crowned himself the King of May, when Czech writer Josef Skvorecky declined the title just before the ceremony due to illness. In Staromestske Square Ginsberg was conferred the honor before 100,000, but his reign was short, after the Secretary for Cultural Affairs 130 Caveney writes, mirror image of American foreign policy, the need to find new frontiers (expansion being 131 T his irony is not ironic at all, but rather exemplifies the bility to self promote accrued massive benefits (monetary and otherwise) to himself. Upon his return to Prague in 1990, Ginsberg was presented with the King of May crown that the Communists had taken from him. 132 Satori in Paris : Ameri cans (and French Canadi ans) as E thnics of his last novels, Satori in Paris (1966) which, despite its title, offers little reference to the religion and certainly nothing so much as an obvious endorsement. In fact, Turner is Catholicism. 133 Told in a rambling and incoherent stream of consciousness style, the story foregoes the fictional pretense of other Kerouac works. In Satori Kerouac relates 129 Gordon Ball, p. 245. 130 Graham C aveney, p. 115. 131 Ibid ., p. 116. 132 Gordon Ball, p. 245. 133 Steve Turner, p. 196.
98 his drunken journey to France to discover his aristocratic heritage, and lures the reader in with a McGuffin. He sets up the story by saying that in France he had a satori a Japanese term that denotes an enlightenment experience and then proceeds to declare his ignorance of exactly why and how this satori came to be, challenging the audience to find the experience that caused his satori Much as he does with Buddhism, the author takes on the mantle of French ness and rejects h is American background as a means to suggest his outsider, and thus rebellious, status. Whereas such a move might work in an American context, with the audience reading the turn to France as a rejection of American values, in France the gesture seems empt y of meaning in the rebellious way that Kerouac intends it. In the novel, after a period of attempting to showcase his insider status as a French speaker, Kerouac reverts to his Americanisms in order to distinguish himself from the French, in the process coming to the realization that being American is also an ethnic category. This realization is exactly what his satori consists of, yet the author ineffectiveness in altering th e behavior of the rapidly declining and increasingly inebriated real life Kerouac. While Kerouac comes to some understanding of the ineffectiveness of deploying the ethnic as rebellion, he nevertheless re ethnicizes his discovery by the use of the Japanes assumptions of various ethnic identities 134 -illustrates how Kerouac is creating a hybrid national and individual identity, one that igion making. Kerouac begins the novel by explicitly connecting satori with his travel to Paris, 134 Nancy M. Grace, p. 44.
99 again invoking one of the most expensive modern luxuries and noting how "rich" his experience was. But he expands this connection with satori to a host of ot her things. Kerouac starts: Somewhere during my 10 days in Paris (and Brittany) I received an illumination my pattern for another seven years or more: in effect, a satori : the Ja panese word for "sudden illumination," "sudden awakening" or simply "kick in the eye." Whatever, something did happen and in my first reveries after the trip and I'm back home regrouping all the confused rich events of those 10 days, it seems the satori w as handed to me by a taxi driver named Raymond Baillet, other times I A.M., other times I think it was Monsieur Casteljaloux and his dazzlingly beautiful secretary (a Bret onne with blue black hair, green eyes, separated front teeth just right in eatable lips, white wool knit sweater, with gold bracelets and perfume) or the waiter who told me Paris est pourris 135 And he continues on with explanations by listing other possible causes of the enlightenment experience. 136 In keeping with the thematic trends of The Dharma Bums Kerouac connects Buddhist enlightenment with two of his favorite subjects travel and sex. From his extensive description of the genesis of the satori which goes on well after the passage cited above, it seems that Kerouac has developed his enlightenment simply by being in France, rather than through some extensive meditative practice. Indeed, this characterization seems consisten t with a typical theme of travel country and feels newly liberated from confining cultural practices. This setup of the novel evokes another characteristic travel narrativ e, in which one has experienced paradise amidst the ethnic other. Yet despite all this supposed conviction that he has 135 Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris & Pic pp. 7 8. 136 satori suit of juxtapositions of words that startled, which Ginsberg pulled from Cezanne.
100 experienced enlightenment, Kerouac calls the events "confused," seeming to imply not only his extensive drunkenness on the trip but also the irrationality of his experience, much like events in The Dharma Bums Enlightenment has rarely been represented as a confused event. Kerouac relates his experience to a specifically American audience, since this audience is likely to see Kerouac's tr ip as a form of social protest, as suggested above. In fact, at the end of the three page first chapter Kerouac seems particularly aware of his audience, especially his American audience, involuntarily mentioning his concern for them when he discusses whe ther his novel -"if it's ever translated it all" -will appear in France. He's worried whether his mention of the real name of the cab driver might cause problems for the Frenchman. Kerouac implies that an American audience simply won't care who the c ab driver is, but he is more concerned about representing the encounter as some type of enlightenment. Therefore, the positioning of the cab driver allows Kerouac to articulate his rebellion, his cool, by finding enlightenment in the prosaic, albeit forei gn prosaic. This theme of the prosaic is reiterated by the names of several working class jobs that appear in the first chapter, perhaps reflecting the growing working class sentiments in Europe in the mid to late 1960s. Moreover, to further express his distance from contemporary American tourism, Kerouac makes sure to mention how he avoided the Eiffel Tower I n fact, he makes a point of apostrophizing the reader and criticizing him/her for assuming that he would visit such a tourist clich. Instead, on the way to his hotel he swings by La Madelaine, a Catholic Church. In the passage, Kerouac also clearly connects sex with Buddhist enlightenment. As in T he Dharma B ums where Buddhism acts as a means to articulate a rebellion
101 against Protestant American s exual mores, this passage suggests Weber's comment on eroticism and aestheticism as a reaction against over rationalization. In his description -"dazzlingly beautiful" but pushes p ast this aesthetic description, which need not imply sexual interest, to one that is more erotic in nature. To this end, he highlights her hair and eyes but also significantly her "eatable lips" and perfume. This representation of woman as consumable see ms particularly apt in the Playboy era. With her gold bracelets and wool sweater, she has the perfect bourgeois baubles for the jet setting bachelor (and divorc) Kerouac. Kerouac distinguishes himself from the typical American tourist by represen ting h imself as knowledgeable about French culture, in part through his ancestry. His characterization illustrates how he takes on multiple ethnic identities fluidly, in his observation of two incidents between Americans and French in a cafe. He juxtaposes the in the paragraph immediately before. First, he explains that he's attending the Opera, and then while eating, he expounds upon how the French eat, showing the niceties of 137 Here, counten ance to not experiencing Notre Dame or "a cherry tree in blossom in the sun with pretty girls on his lap and people dancing around him" or "some small cafe they told him about back in Glennon's bar on Third Avenue." 138 The American tourist curses the 137 Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris & Pic pp. 38 39 138 Ibid ., p. 39.
102 French barman and "stalks out in poor misunderstood raincoat and disillusioned rubbers -139 That such an American tourist with typical expectations ends up disillusioned, and even poor, serves to highlight how Kerouac is somehow authentically French and able to long before, Kerouac had been enjoying "the famous cafes on the boulevard... watching Paris go by, such hepcats the young men" the cool life of the bon vivant. 140 Kerouac's second encoun ter with ignorant Americans fares no better, but nevertheless serves to effectively foil the worldly writer. In the same cafe Kerouac spots two American teachers -from Iowa, he says -141 This mocking tone for the Americ an heartland continues as Kerouac infers that the pair "apparently got a hotel room around the corner and aint left it except to ride the 142 The women approach the barman asking for some oranges, but in Engli barman does not understand. But rather than speak the language, the women proceed 143 After he packs up the fruit, the barman re Trois francs cinquante 144 Kerouac writes, "In other words, 35¢ an orange but the old gals dont care what it costs and 145 Kerouac's follow up comment reveals in two ways his alleged insider status in France. First, he understands the language, a fact which is highlighted throughout the 139 Ibid 140 Ibid ., p. 23. 141 Ibid ., p. 39. 142 Ibid 143 Ibid ., p. 40. 144 Ibid 145 Ibid
1 03 novel. Second, he can translate currency, seemingly quickly, navigating the costs for himself and his readers deftly. However, he also contrasts the relatively well off position of the women with that of himself. By using this juxtaposition in an elaborate analogy, Kerouac constructs a trade off between speaking the language (being an insider) and emain unable to communicate with the barman. Finally reduced to incompetence, one woman decides to hold out her hand and allow the barman to take the proper amount, and "the two ladies burst into peels of screaming laughter... and the cat politely removes three francs fifty centimes from her hand." 146 Such inane feminine behavior is contrasted with the recognition of his cool. Immediately after this scene, Kerouac shows his connec tion to the barman, and thus his insider status, by asking what's good at the restaurant. These incident with the two American women, or so Kerouac seems to suggest. As a traveler in search of his ancestry in France, Kerouac highlights his ethnicity, in particular his French ness, but also represents himself as being of international descent. Before the two encounters with Americans mentioned above, the author has already set himself up as international, albeit in a lighthearted and fictional way. For example, in one ramble he writes, outa Mongolia on a pony: Genghiz Khan, or the Mongolian Idiot, one 147 He playfully co ntinues to trace his world Khans, and before that Eskimos of Canada and Siberia. All goes back around the 146 Ibid 147 Ibid ., p. 25.
104 world, not to mention Perish the 148 This litany of ethnicities serv es as a reminder of how Kerouac is employing the exotic as a means to distinguish himself. Just before these lines, the author notes how he had gone out to a concert with 149 Each of these instances works as further evidence that Kerouac is cool because he enjoys the ethnic and therefore protests mainstream America. Again, the American centralizes ethnic cultures in himself the trope of hybrid identity. Kerouac highlights his fluency in French, and explicitly connects such ability with his satori To show his real French ness and thus cool in front of his American audience, Kerouac feels he must appear fluent. He writes, "Maybe that's when my Satori took place. Or how. The amazing lon g sincere conversations in French with hundreds of people everywhere, was what I really liked, and did, and it was an accomplishment because they couldnt have replied in detail to my detailed points if they hadnt understood every word I said." 150 Kerouac is clearly proud of his speaking ability, However, his defiant tone suggests that he is ill at ease with his imputed French identity. H e confirms this supposition when he mocks his former American teachers of French language who laughed at his accent, by including quotation marks around the word teachers. Yet, this quality of French ness seems to be dropped immediately in the next paragraph. Kerouac writes, "Suffice it to say, when I got back to New York I had more 148 Ibid 149 Ibid ., p. 24. 150 Ibid ., p. 46.
105 151 Here, Kerouac seems to realize the ephemeral nature of such posturing as ethnic. He shows that even in Am erica there are regional differences that abroad to find distinction. This realization is borne out further when Kerouac ventures to Brittany and endures a drunken, rai ny, and almost sleepless night on the streets of Brest. Immersed in provincial France for just one day, he develops homesickness and yearns to return to Florida, foregoing the goal of his journey. Apparently, his French ness does not extend much beyond th e borders of Paris although he ha s spent much nature of adopting the ethnic, he nevertheless is unable to act on his alleged satori couching such a realization in Buddhist terms, yet another ethnicizing of his experience, reifies the problem of representation that he seems to disclose. Kerouac ties the novel together in a kind of karmic circle, ending where he began, with a discussion of the cab driver Raymond Bai llet and how he whisked Kerouac to the Orly airfield. Left unsaid is how exactly the experience with Baillet constitutes any type of satori Au contraire the experience seems to support the ce on working on a day of rest as a sign of his enlightenment. On the way to the airport Kerouac insists that they stop for a beer. When they leave the bar, they jump into the cab and resume the trip. Kerouac writes, "He tells me his name, of Auvergne, I mine, of Brittany." 152 Again, even until his final moments in France Kerouac is attempting to establish his French identity. Finally they reach the airport and the cab driver briskly removes the bags and 151 Ibid 152 Ibid ., p. 118.
106 climbs back into the car. He speaks in French, whi ch the author translates thus: Not to repeat myself, me man, but today Sunday I'm working to support my wife and kids And I heard what you told me about families in Quebec that had kids by the twenties and twenty fives, that's too much, that is Me I'v e only got two But, work, yes, yowsah, this and that, or as you say Monsieur thissa and thatta, in any case, thanks, be of good heart, I'm going. 153 Kerouac makes a special point of mentioning that Baillet is speaking French, in order to highlight Kerouac ection to the French. G iven his pointedly un French diction, at least the diction Kerouac ascribes to him, the cabbie appears as a mlange of different cultures himself, suggesting how Kerouac tries to valorize hybrid identity. The passage might be interpreted to mean that Kerouac finds his satori in over words at the end of the passage suggests a preference of action over speech, a typical Buddhist injun f or a sizable tip, in which case he is representing the traditional Buddhist value of that this pa ssage displays the human compassion that Kerouac was seeking in Catholicism and Buddhism throughout the novel and his own life, as he mentioned Catholicism against i 154 Catholicism and Buddhism both stand in distinction to the Protestantism of America, a country that had elected its first Catholic president only six years before the novel was published. 153 Ibid 154 Ibid ., p. 69.
107 development. Yet, in the passage, Kerouac places special emphasis on the word work k is motivated by his love and concern for his family, an existential situation that Kerouac sees as sublimating onerous work. Baillet even has to work on the day of rest, Sunday, which Kerouac notes by name. Therefore, the passage asserts work here in the guise of the working class as a means of achieving divine favor, or even enlightenment. Similarly, Michael Hrebeniak notes this collar anti Bohemianism and elevations of Amer 155 Indeed, in the last years of his life, Kerouac saw the New Left as a Communist plot to cripple the United States. 156 In Satori in Paris podge of religions echoes Ginsberg's eclectic consumption of religion and the exploding eclectic spirituality of the mid to late 1960s, which expressed its contempt for bourgeois culture. Buddhism as J ustification for t he Beat S tyle Well before Jack Kerouac was recognized as stylistically innovative, Allen Ginsberg praised him in the dedication to "new Buddha of American prose, who spit forth intelligence ...creating a spontan eous bop prosody and original classic literature. 157 Spontaneous Prose, was elaborated in short form works such as The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose abandonment of 155 Michael Hrebeniak, pp. 132 fades, Kerouac reverts to the folksy proletarianism o f his parents and unleashes the latent hostility toward 156 Steve Turner, p. 203. 157 p. 126.
108 158 This style has been documented as influenced by jazz and Buddhism, as Ginsberg implies above. 159 Y Buddhist Bible from the San Jose library, although at least one critic posits an earlier date. 160 Nancy Grace puts the date even earlier, at 1950, at which Kerouac begin a serious study of Buddhism (and points out that this study was before On The Road was drafted), 161 d in Some of the Dharma from 1953 to 1956. 162 For his own part, Kerouac himself The Life of Buddha by Ashvaghosa in early 1954. 163 Hrebeniak adds that Kerouac attended D.T. s 1953 lectures at the New School, while Sterritt says that Kerouac discovered Buddhism during his time at Columbia, but admits that it might have been in 1952 or 1953 in the Lowell library. 164 As the datelines of most critics indicate, even before that inte rest in Buddhism, Kerouac had drafted one of the most stylistically innovative works 158 John Tytell, Naked Angels p. 142. 159 David Sterritt, Screening the Beats p. 57. Ste Regina Weinreich, pp. 42 43. 160 Paul Maher Jr., p. Steve Turner, p. Buddhist Bible The Gospel of Buddha Robert A. Hipkiss, p. 64. Hipkiss cites January 1954. 161 Nancy M. Grace, p. 79. 162 Ibid ., p. 133. Still later, Grace returns to the date of early 1954 at the San Jose library (147). 163 Barry Miles, pp. 194 196. Miles notes how Kerouac discovered the Buddhist Bible as a means to fight the quack spiritualism of Edgar Cayce, which the Cassi dy family was increasingly adopting. Gerald Nicosia, p. 451. Nicosia refers to the same date as Miles, but also indicates that Kerouac may 164 Michael Hrebeniak, p. 236. Dav id Sterritt, Screening the Beats pp. 48, 114.
109 in his oeuvre, On The Road in 1951 The various myths of its spontaneous composition are well documented. The book had trouble finding publishers, until 1955, when Viki ng decided to take a chance on it, and only after major revisions did it finally appear, in 1957. Such expurgations included passages describing sex between the fictionalized Kerouac an d Neal Cassady personae. A n unexpurgated version of the original On th e Road has recently been published. Yet if Kerouac's literary debt to Buddhism is well noted, it is also at least partially mis had been absorbed years before Kerouac perf Buddhism only bloomed well after he had substantially developed Spontaneous Prose, a technique that dates to at least as early as 1948. 165 Tytell insinuates as much too, when he notes that Mahayana Buddhism re affirmed 166 suggesting that influenced the further development of the Kerouac style, and it did -as a means to draw the irrational into language, to explore the farthest b ounds of literary expression and to bolster his capricious style with a well developed system of religious and critical practice. In short, Buddhism provided Kerouac with justification to do anything or as ure, coming in from under, crazier the 167 These elements are present in the work Old Angel Midnight Despite the fact that its influence on Kerouac came only later, Buddhism lends itself very well to the Beat mythos of the desperately frantic Keroua c pounding away at his typewriter for days at a time to captur e the spontaneous moment free of literary 165 David Sterritt, Screening the Beats p. 57. 166 John Tytell, Naked Angels p. 74. 167 David Sterritt, Screening the Beats p. 58.
110 artifice. Ginsberg too was fascinated by the immediate experience, as he searched for Portugs argues that Ginsberg undertook a spontaneous Essentials of Spontaneous Composition before his desk. 168 And both authors attempted improvisation before literary audiences, although Ginsberg did not improvise a poem until 1971. 169 Not only does Buddhism emphasize the immediacy of experience but it also validates that immediacy with transcendental significance and stresses improvisation. Such improvisation was a key aspect of the best jazz players too. More significantly, such a technique gains legitimacy and power in a world dominated by mechanical reproduction. The emphasis on Buddhist inspired improvisation, therefore, seems to offer a defense against the capitalist system of representation. Sterritt makes a similar argument for the improvisational emphasis of studio technology puts a premium on off the cuff spontaneity, which may be regarded 170 By using Buddhism as a rationale for improvisation, Kerouac and Ginsberg attempt to restore the spontaneous qualities that are destroyed by mechanical reproduction even as they craft their own cool personae. Yet, highly ironically, Kerouac and Ginsberg are performing this improvisation in even without the demands from editors, su ch as their insistence on cuts for On The 168 Paul Portugs, pp. 56 58. 169 David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 197. 170 Ibid ., p. 63.
111 Road 171 172 known penchant for note taking and writing journals, even as action was occurring, sp ontaneous prose seems less spontaneous than an act of repeated (and perhaps masterful) practice. Similarly, during the composition of Howl Ginsberg repeatedly revised his work over a period of months, even as Kerouac sat by as his writing coach and lambas according to Sterritt and Raskin. 173 Gewirtz notes that Kerouac had written and re written his texts assiduously, citing drafts of journals and short stories. 174 Kerouac and Ginsberg achieve cool by mystifying the process of literary creation with Buddhism. In Old Angel Midnight Kerouac investigates a style that is often virtually impenetrable due to its seemingly irrational conjunction of words. The text begins, "Friday afternoon in the universe, in all directions in & out you got your men women dogs children horses pones tics perts parts pans pools palls pails parturiences and petty Thieveries that turn into heavenly Buddha." 175 This passage seems to suggest, along typical Buddhist lines, that everything is Buddha nature. At the st art of the text Kerouac quickly orients the reader to a theme, a common literary strategy, despite the unconventional grammar and mechanics and seeming incoherence. But consider how y Corso Dash dash dash dash mash crash wash wash mosh posh tosh tish rish rich sigh my tie thigh pie in the sky Poo on you too, proo the blue blue, 171 Ibid ., p. 196. 172 Ellis Amburn, p. 243. 173 Jonah Raskin, p. 168. David Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved p. 197. 174 Isaac Gewirtz, p. 188. 175 Jack Kerouac, Old Angel Midnight p. 1.
112 176 In this latter passage incoherence and t he irrational seem almost as if they are leading to the Buddha a valorization of the irrational that Weber sees as concomitant with increasing capitalist rationalization. Kerouac uses Buddhism as a philosophical justification for the irrational approach of his famed spontaneous prose style. Through such passages, Kerouac interprets Buddhism as a religion that validates any individualist style, especially those that are irrational or offbeat. This mis reading opens the door to the creation of innumerabl e styles that can be later marketed and mined for profit, in the process of crafting a consumption based ethos of individualism. Kerouac and Ginsberg as Avant garde C apitalists? Despite their stated and avowed resistance to capitalism in various works, K erouac and Ginsberg exemplify some of the very same values of consumption -perhaps the most interesting ambiguity of their position. While Kerouac and Ginsberg enumerate the contradictions of the feuding capitalist and communist worldviews, they subtly instantiate capitalism through their literary and life styles. Although their appearance in and even courting of the mass media seem antithetical to their stated ethos, they inherently espoused some of the same leisure oriented values of magazines such as Playboy by emphasizing their consumption of alcohol, travel, and sex, for example. That the Beat lifestyle should be so complementary to what Barbara Ehrenreich sees as the fundamentally conservative Playboy indicates that this lifestyle functions less a s a protest against capitalism and rather more like a comment on its exaggerated style. 177 It is the Beats who achieve cultural capital through the 176 Ibid ., p. 24. 177 Barbara Ehrenreic h, pp. 50 51.
113 seemingly turning away f rom what was socially acceptable. While Ginsberg and Kerouac were busy expressing a critique of capitalism, they were also, perhaps unwittingly, building personas that could later be rendered cool by the mass media. Here, it is important to remember that ethnic as protestant does not require authorial intention in order to profit. That such images come to be profitably circulated, exploited, and canonized seems itself to be sufficient evidence that the repres entation of the ethnic has an important symbolic function vis vis the Cold War consensus. As portrayed in works by Kerouac and Ginsberg, the Beat lifestyle mirrors many of the values espoused by magazines that taught men of the 1950s and 1960s how to enj oy leisure, such as Playboy, but also Rogue, Satan, and Escapade Playboy attachment ethos. Even in its title, Playboy insists on a boyish escapist fantasy of leisure, opposing it against the more serio us dogma of work, responsibility, and traditional manliness that were bourgeois men how to be and remain real men despite the feminizing influences of mass culture, as Bill Osgerby argues. 178 Playboy promised a lifestyle to men who could consume and afford to consume the right way. The magazine was immediately successful, quickly selling out its first issue run of 70,000 copies, and it went on to record monthly sales of ov er 4.5 million copies by the late 1960s. 179 As part of its mission to show men how to be men, the magazine published several contributions 178 Bill Osgerby, p. 121. 179 Ibid
114 from Jack Kerouac in the late 1950s as well as the article The Beat Mystique a long discussion of the Beat phenomenon even while Playboy 180 To the January 1965 issue of the magazine Kerouac contributed a story about a hitchhiking experience in which a young blonde woman picks him up. 181 Despite the misgivings of executives, Playboy helped make the Beats cool by re working their personas into commodities. Ginsberg. This representative Beat man ostensibly valued many of the same practices that the bourgeois man would. Fulfilling the supposedly repressed desires of the middle class man Kerouac portrayed the lifestyle of libertinism and casual sex. Whereas Kerouac and Ginsberg detailed a life of drinking an magazine provided its readership new cocktails, new jokes to tell between sips, and toppers, chrome cocktail shakers and push button olive gra 182 Appealing to desires of the bourgeois consumer, the Beats portrayed a life of constant travel across the U.S. and the world invoking one of the most expensive luxuries of consumer capitalism. Ginsberg in particular was among the most vagabond, t raveling repeatedly across the country, and making trips to India, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, England, among many others. Kerouac is noted too for his extensive trips, detailed most famously in On the Road where the characters crisscross America, as well as to Mexico, Morocco, and France. As for Playboy 180 Ibid ., p. 184. 181 Paul Maher Jr., p. 317 182 Bill Osgerby, p. 130.
115 dealing with the 183 Similar to the drug use espoused in Beat literature, the Playboy Foundation funded the creation of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in the 1970s. 184 So, whereas Ginsb erg and Kerouac took a verbal stand against capitalist culture, they promote some of the Playboy would extol. 185 So, does the Beat rebel reject the mainstream values wholly and establish a completely new system of values, or is this figure really the harbinger of the same order, bringing capitalism to as yet untouched areas? Or perhaps it is the system of capitalist representation that brings such ostensibly countercultural values into play? As the life and work style ready to be exploited in the capitalist system rather than a strategy to overcome it. Indeed, Ginsberg and Kerouac gain cultural capital because they are able to master this form in an er a when it was first emerging as a marker of distinction. As Turner million, and On the Road remained a film prospect with a movie mogul like Coppola. 186 For an individual su ch as Ginsberg, who profoundly criticized the dominant orders of enormous power of capitalism to re work even intractable objects into its circuits of 183 Ibid ., p. 138. 184 Ibid ., p. 191. 185 Ibid ., pp. 133 134. Osgerby also highlights the importance of technological gadgets for Playboy: as bulky and cumbersome, the 1960s concept of the precise, appears much later in connection wit h Buddhism, as I discuss in Chapters 5 and 6. 186 Steve Turner, p. 209.
116 consumption. In fac t, it poses a much more powerful question: is it possible to even frame a popular debate or critique that seriously challenges this dominant order? Gary Snyder seems to think so.
117 CHAPTER 4 GARY SNYDER: BUDDHIS M AS ECOLOGY AS COUN TERCAPITALISM One of th e most prominent Buddhist parables involves the Zen Master Hui Neng who, when asked to explain a sutra, pointed to the moon. He stated, "Truth can be moon, but do not confuse my finger for the moon." In essence, Hui Neng admonishes practitioners against taking the form of a gesture as the ultimate realization of ineffable truth, a reading that D.T. Suzuki affirms. 1 tradition of the referred to, since to refer to the Void as a concept is automatically to fall into the error o f 2 Similarly, by pointing to the moon through his poetry, Gary Snyder models not only the form of enlightenment, but also one of the key practices to develop it keen observation. Through this fo cus, Snyder provides the means for readers to avoid mistaking the finger for the moon, that is, for reifying a gesture, object, or experience as ultimate Buddhist truth. Effectively, Snyder uses words to highlight the inadequacy of words. As a member of t he San Francisco Renaissance, Gary Snyder brought serious study of Buddhism to the attention of Beat figures such as Jack Kerouac and Allen 1 D.T. Suzuki, pp. 64 65. Suzuki describes those who grasp at the moon thus: "[T]hey are gazers at a special object which can be picked up among other relative objects and shown to ot hers as one points at the moon; they cling to this specific object as something most precious, forgetting that this clinging degrades the value of their cherished object because it is thereby brought down to the same order of being as themselves; because o f this clinging to it and abiding in it, they cherish a certain definite state of consciousness as the ultimate point they should attain; therefore they are never truly emancipated." 2 Jody Norton, p. 62.
118 Ginsberg. 3 W hile such Beats consciously drop the name of Buddhism into their texts in effect using it as a code wo rd for the exotic or other Snyder often fashions his work to reflect Buddhist experience without such overt reference to the religion As Jody Norton syntax of his tex ts in order to inscribe the essential Zen Buddhist perception of the identity of sunyata (Emptiness) and tathata (suchness, objective reality) in the form of 4 While Snyder is personally motivated by the non attachment and rationalist sensibili ties of Buddhism that would put consumer capitalism in stark relief, in many of his poems he does not deploy an outright attack on consumer capitalism, to challenge the capitalist paradigm. In this way and in contrast to the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg studied here, Snyder models for the reader the experience of insight that Buddhist meditative practice develops. As he says in the Afterword to Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems his job is without into 5 3 The Beats and San Francisco Renaissance should be seen as more or less distinct movements despite life alter ego of The Dharma Bums Japhy Ryder. The Beats developed as an East Coast phenomenon in the areas su with the work of primary Beats such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, and Burroughs. This footnoted example is but one of the many ways in which they differ. As Da intellectually lazy creation of antholog David Rivard, pp. 5 9. Patrick D. Murphy, p. identification with the them together. part of the early sociological and cultural effec Dana Goodyear, p. 71. 4 Jody Norton, p. 41. 5 Gary Snyder, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems p. 67.
119 has allowed Snyder to cause the most conditional of conditional re alities language 6 In his poetry Buddhism is not a buzzword that connotes cool, but rather becomes a mode of perception from which the reader can become grounded enough to understand the depredations, e specially on the environment, posed by capitalist rationalization. Critics have noted the influence of Ezra Pound on Snyder, both in subject and style, but Snyder goes much beyond Pound in his use of nature. Jacob Leed notes that Snyder eschews the flower y poetic style and focuses closely, economically, and 7 Ayako Takahashi points out that Snyder represents objects directly as the Imagists did, but that, unlike Pound, Sn yder uses 8 Kern too cites influence suggesting Snyder turns to the primitive in a typically modernist vei n. 9 e of Buddhism is not simply primitive; instead, it informs a poetics that seeks to linguistic, pre linguistic, pre verbally visualized or 10 His poetry emphasizes seeing and tries to pull the visible into lang uage. A s the poetic leader of an ecology movement who employs Buddhism as a th eoretical and practical bolster, Snyder uses h is experience in the Zen tradition to reflect his ongoing commitment to the religion not just as a rhetorical or textual device in 6 Jody Norton, p. of this inequivalence has led Snyder to level the usual structural hierarchy of poetic texts, so that his poems take place as much within their 7 Jacob Leed, p. 190. 8 Ayako Takahashi, pp. 315, 318. 9 Robert T. Kern. Ori entalism, M odernism, and the American Poem pp. 221 223. 10 Ibid ., p. 223. Snyder quoted here.
120 his poetry but as a lived practice Whereas Kerouac and Ginsberg (at least in his earlier works) argue against the style of consumer culture, Snyder focuses often on 11 For Snyder, the practice of Buddhism lead observing nature humans can determine their place in the natural realm and alter their conduct so that the environment is not destroyed. Therefore, at his best Snyder attacks capitalism by re focusing his efforts concretely on a new and proper relationship with the environment, rather than directly attacking the system of relations (or even objects) that constitutes capitalism, because he work threats into further consumption. status as just one among many natural phenomena, yet also according it a sense of place wi 12 For Snyder, overcoming capitalism involves re establishing a proper relationship with the environment, and that can be accomplished through a Buddhist practice of close observation. The author criticizes economies t hat are not close to the land, and therefore, are unsustainable. D espite the increasing contemporary prominence of susta inability discourse at a mass scale, Snyder remains relatively inconspicuous, defying the easy mass media commodification of the Beats Whereas the Beats actively participated in the creation and exploitation of marketable personae, Snyder orients his focus toward a practice that informs ecology. Nevertheless, the ecology ethos -one that many firms realize makes them more competitive is being rendered cool at least partially, by capitalism 11 Tim Dean, p. 494. Dean notes the absence of jeremiads against cultures in early Snyder, such as Riprap even as the Beats were busy banging the drum against America. 12 Ibid ., p. 490.
121 The Practice of the Wild (1990) Earth House Hold : Technical Notes & Queries to Fellow Dharma Revolutionaries (1969) and Mountains and Rivers Without End the last a poem cycle that was begun in 1956 before its final fully realized publication in 1996 While many of incorporating it into their structure), his essays often do, in order to substantiate Buddhism as a religion with nation changing implications. For example, several essays in Earth House H old employ Buddhism as a means for social engagement and activism, a common use of the religion as it is practiced in the West. 13 T he essays of The Practice of the Wild espouse similar themes while making only few explicit references to Buddhism. Mountains and Rivers Without End poems such as The Market but also the r ejuvenative power of Buddhist practice, in Endless Streams and Mountains Rather than dropping the name of Buddhism as a code word for counter capitalism, the latter poem subtly shows Snyder instructing the reader on how to not mistake the finger for the moon. Snyder and S ustainability Snyder has been engaged in Buddhist practice for over 50 years. While much of movements, a fact that shaped his early politics. His gr andfather was an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, 14 and his mother belonged to a trade union. 15 His father was a union organizer on the Grand Coulee Dam project, and Snyder himself 13 Richard Seager, p. 104. Seager details American Buddhists opening a Yonkers bakery that employed New York City. 14 Bob Blanchard, p. 28. Barry Hill, p. 118.
122 became a member of the left leaning Marine Cooks and Stewa rds union at 18. 16 As an undergraduate at Reed College, Snyder began practicing sitting meditation. 17 During graduate work at Berkeley, Snyder studied Asian languages and spent summers as a lookout for the U.S. Forest Service. 18 His time in the Bay area wa s also marked by weekly meetings with Kenneth Rexroth in which they discussed Orientalist matters, from about 1952 to 1955. 19 All the while Snyder was preparing himself seriously, both mentally and physically, for the role of Buddhist practitioner and so great was his 20 Because of his an knowledge. 21 In 1956 he travelled to Japan to practice Rinzai Zen, a sojourn that lasted the better part of 12 years. While there, he lived intermittently in the temples of Shokoku ji and Kaitoku ji, became a disciple of Zen masters, undertook koan and m editation practice (up to 10 hours per day), and translated and studied Japanese texts. 22 Although Snyder self identifies as a Zen Buddhist, he has explored a variety of 16 Dana Goodyear, p. 67. 17 Patrick D. Murphy, p. 5. 18 Barry Hill, p. 118. 19 Timothy Gray, p. especially Ginsberg and Kerou 20 Ibid the mystery of the East. In fact, as San Francisco Renaissan ce Orientalism hit a fevered pitch, Snyder Later (535), Gray shows that Snyder eventually participates in some of th serious practice: ety of reactions, from the homoerotic desire of Kerouac, to the white intellectual anxiety of [Lew] Welch, to the xenophobia characteristic of a long line of white West Coast laborers fearful of losing their jobs, to his own slightly amused self evaluation 21 Ibid ., p. 22 Bob Blanchard, p. 29. Dana Goodyear, p. 68.
123 sects, including Soto, Yamabushi, Jodo, and Kegon. 23 With such serious devotion to this practice and his long stay in Japan, Snyder became a vexing figure to the dilettante ish Beats, as Gray convincingly argues. 24 When Snyder returned to the U.S. in the late 1960s, he settled in northern California. Soon after Snyder became a poetic force i movement. At the birth of green activism Snyder started to be recognized as a serious public intellectual, and the era saw him at many environmental conferences. 25 He has been recognized for his work, with several awards includi ng the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for Turtle Island and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, in 2008. Despite these prominent awards, Snyder is virtually unknown among a broad audience. Snyder is still actively involved in the ecology movement and advocates bioregio nalism, a practice of re inhabiting a geographical place in ways that promote the true long term sustainability of the natural habitat. Snyder has put this strategy into action by founding, with his neighbors, the Yuba Watershed Institute. The organization operates a joint management of 3,000 acres of local public timberland, in conjunction with the Bureau of Barbara Pa parazzo, p. 106. Paparazzo notes that Snyder saw many ancient landscape scrolls in the Buddhist temples of Kyoto, during his time in Japan. 23 Patrick D. Murphy, p. 16. 24 Timothy Gray, p. ed a stir among the Beats and then a good deal of tension when it was realized that he was indeed very serious in The Dharma Bums desire for a multicultural bohemian icon. mystery of the East without becoming totally Asian himself. Snyder can only fulfill his mission as semiotic sign of Orientalist fantasy if he straddles the color line his Beat friends have dra notes how Ray Smith, protagonist of Bums indicates the extent to which the for reified it into a commercial style. 25 Dana Goodyear, p. 72.
124 Land Management. 26 Such actions and statements contrast markedly with the sustainability discourse represented by the mass media and corporate entitie s. 27 Amid all the mass media discourse of sustainability, ecology, and who could be rightly considered the poetic voice of ecology are virtually nonexistent. Snyder has never been rendered mainstream cool and remains virtually unknown among the broader public -although he does have his loyal coterie of admirers. In contrast, Kerouac and Ginsberg continue to be seen by the broader public as truly countercultural. That much of the popular discussion protests that perpetuate and augment the flow of capital. The centrality of the notion of protest to the green movement can be easily compared to that of ethnic captivity voiced by production, expansion, and proliferation, ethnic captivity thus transubstantiates, its lines of flight readily morphing and merging 28 Popular sustainabilit y discourse centers on selling things, maintaining current levels of consumption, and even increasing desire for products. 29 and non attachment has not been assimilated into the mainstream, while pr actices such 26 Bob Blanchard p. 30. 27 Ibid ., p. 31. Blanchard as well notes the contradictions in sustainability rhetoric even as natural resources are being drained into capitalist economies. 28 Rey Chow, p. 49. 29 Consider much of the discourse and solutions provided for the problem of global warming or skyrocketing petroleum prices. The proposed solutions usually focus on reducing the loc al cost of consumption, i.e., more efficient engines, light bulbs, etc. In effect, efficiency gains reduce the cost of consumption, which encourages further consumption, since one can consume more at no greater cost. Such solutions appear rational only a t the local level, whereas at the global level these solutions have a multitude of ironic consequences, including exacerbating the very problems they were designed to fix. What is rarely demanded, even by self proclaimed environmentalists, is a fundamenta l change in behavior, which is exactly what Snyder proposes.
125 position is radical enough that it calls into question the foundations of consumer capitalism, making it difficult for a hegemonic representational apparatus to re work the poet as cool. It is precisely a t this p oint that Gary Snyder makes an intervention with Buddhist practice, emphasizing non attachment as a means to combat personal craving (and so capitalism) and decrease imperialism, which to him is also fi depredations of the natural environment. 30 As Allan Johnston notes, the Marxist critique is, for Snyder, deficient because of its anthropocentric focus and its neglect of those 31 Perhaps not surprisingly, then, in some works Snyder yokes capitalism and Marxism together into the same tradition, a point that I will discuss later. Endless Streams and Mountains The volume Mountains and Rivers Without End which is c magnum opus and his contribution to the modernist long poem, opens with the poem Endless Stream s and Mountains But Snyder prefaces the entire book with an epigraph th century founder of Soto Zen and the author of the Treasury of the True Law (or ), who writes: If you say the painting is not real, then the material phenomenal world is not re al, the Dharma is not real. Unsurpassed enlightenment is a painting. The entire phenomenal universe and the empty sky are nothing but a painting. 32 extended drafting, especially du e to his Mountains and Rivers Sutra according to 30 Allan Johnston, p. 121. 31 Ibid ., pp. 121 32 Gary Snyder, M ountains and Rivers Without End p. ix.
126 Murphy. 33 of what the book as a whole discusses, but especially what Snyder does in Endless Streams and Mountains Here Snyder es chews the easy name dro pping of Buddhism into the text; he instead opts to show the keen eyed observation that is developed through Buddhist practice and that allows the development of non attachment and egolessness. Snyder relates typical Buddhist themes, in particular the theme of interdependence, which takes the form here of the indistinguishability of art and life, the observer and the observed. 34 Snyder begins the poem by narrating very closely a scene of nature along the riverside, and specifically f oregrounds the act of observation, albeit subtly. He writes, Clearing the mind and sliding in to that created space, a web of waters streaming over rocks, air misty but not raining, seeing this land from a boat on a lake or a broad slow river, coasting b y. The path comes down along a lowland stream slips behind boulders and leafy hardwoods, reappears in a pine grove. 35 Snyder does give subtle clues that there is an observer watching the whole scene. For the mind and sliding into that created 33 Patrick D. Murphy, p. ama as an organizing principle for the book. 34 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere p. condi tioned by sense organs and sense objects without in some degree also conditioning them. And while the Buddhist teaching of interdependence does not insist that this mutual conditioning is always and invariably symmetrical, it does rule out drawing sharp on that are comprised in the total environmental situation. It also means that degraded environments are necessarily correlated with degraded patterns of consciousness 35 Gary Snyder, Mount ains and Rivers Without End p. 5.
127 meditator begins practice. Similarly, the observer is not quite aware of his observational position; perhaps he watches from a boat Snyder also provides a seemingly observer less perspective through more subtle techniques such as using verbals (i.e., gerund like constructions that instantiate an action, but without a subject) instead of typical subject verb conjugations. Such a stra tegy allows Snyder to elide the subject, and in effect, suggest that events are simply happening, a point that Norton also makes. 36 For performing the action. But soon even this tenuously present observer disappears from the poem, and it's as if the "created space" narrates itself, for instance, in the second stanza. The elements begin to live as themselves, with the path showing movement or implied 37 with the wildernes 38 Kern too notes the ability of the speaker to subordinate himself to what he observes. 39 Indeed, the passive observation embodied in these first stanzas evokes typical Buddhist tropes of rivers as metaphors for life and life "coasting by." Through this instability of the observer and his subsequent absorption into the scene being narrated, Snyder evokes 36 Jody Norton, verbs with verbals. Use of these two forms of ellipsis enables the poet to present activity not in terms of 37 Barry Hill, p. 123. 38 Ayako Takahashi, p. 320. 39 Robert Kern, p. 128.
128 a Buddhist experience without calling it such by immersing the audience in the keen observatio n too. Snyder evokes a spatial dimension in this poem that is implicitly Buddhist. The in which observed phenomena do not re ly r). Through penetrating observation the Buddhist idea of emptiness is discovered, a realization that creates the space for all action to occur. As a result, the path suddenly animates itself imagery, that de emphasizes intellection a key Buddhist stance, Norton argues. 40 Such generalized imagery also allows the reader to avoid being caught by details and so remain in the flow of the scroll. Anthony Hunt notes the importance of space to the Sung Dynasty landscape specifically Buddhist dimension. He 41 The epigraph from s the importance of this spatial dimension to the poem in which space, whether conventionally real or representational, is always a location of potential enlightenment. Therefore, Snyder attempts to rework the explicitly Buddhist space of the landscape sc roll into the form of the poem, for example, through ambiguities and verbals that gesture toward the cleared, the various represented spaces lose their neat demarcations and begin to merge and interpenetrate. This relative erasure of the narrator participates in what R.J. 40 Jody Norton, p. 46. 41 Anthony Hunt, p. 21.
129 42 and it contrasts sharply with the constantly re s transparent eyeball which I discussed in Chapter 2 These first two stanzas begin to lay out Snyder's claim of the indistinguishability of art and life, the observer and observed. Snyder spends the first half of the poem laying out the scene that begi ns above, and aside from showing the observer as he settles in, the author never breaks the aesthetic distance. Then, about halfway through the poem Snyder breaks that distance by saying that "the watching boat has floated off the page 43 Here, Snyder us es the boat to symbolize the observer, who has just finished verbalizing the painting on an ancient Chinese scroll. Only after the narrator has finished relating this highly realistic scene does he mention that the scene he has just described appears as a painting upon a scroll, that it is, in fact, not a real scene. Rather, this ekphrastic poem details a 12 th century ink on silk hand scroll from the Sung Dynasty, which is named Streams and Mountains Without End ( shan wu chin ). 44 This subterfuge under scores the Buddhist theme of the indistinguishability of art and life. been created by humans. So long as we believed the scene was real, we treated the scene with a certain respect that we would not accord to merely a fiction. Therefore, 42 R.J. Schork, ncy to reply to high modernists such as Pound and Eliot, but he argues the poet takes on the personae of no nhuman forms so as to criticize anthropocentrism. 43 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 6. 44 Barbara Paparazzo, p. 107. Paparazzo ex pl ains the origin of the poem. Also, the Chinese translation landscape
130 Snyder, ultima tely shows these distinctions to be impermanent, a key element of the 45 Kern too suggests that Snyder is concerned with the interdependence of and being in 46 Later in the poem Snyder will re affirm this realization of interdependence with another experience, essentially the final epiphany of the poem. In the second section of the poem, after he has revealed that the first section is a painting upo n a scroll, Snyder again traces the interplay of the observer and the observed. In particular, he stresses how the observer is an active component in making meaning out of that which is observed, in this case, the scroll. He suggests that what seems objec tive is never just given, but rather the observer actively contributes to the experience. To illustrate this interplay, Snyder details some of the commentary that appears on the scroll: Wang Wen wei saw this at the mayor's house in Ho tung town, year 1205 Wrote at the end of it, has no original intentions Mountains and rivers These miraculous forests and springs? Pale ink Later that month s omeone name Li Hui added, 45 David Rivard, p. 6. Barbara Paparazzo, p p 107, 109 46 Robert Kern, Us, p. 128.
131 and chickens; Everybody cheerful in these peaceful times. But I why are my tastes so odd? I love the c 47 In a move that would seem blasphem ous to the Western art world, those owners who have succeeded the original artist have affixed their names to the text, a tradition in East Asian landscape painting. 48 Thi s emphasis on the commentary illuminates the relational aspect to the work of art i n which the observer creates meaning as well as the artist. These commentaries show a work of art that is living, rather than one that has been reified and fetishized into a priceless commodity, a point which is particularly salient, since Snyder later re veals that he is in the Cleveland Art Museum. Here, observers have applied their own comments on the work of art, which further develops the piece. The comments have become an integral piece of the critical and experiential framework that actually comprise the work. Through this structure, Snyder shows the Buddhist theme of the indistinguishability of art and life, observer and observed. Snyder also explores similar Buddhist themes in the content of the commentaries, which appear like koans, without explic itly naming them Buddhist. For 49 In this commentary Snyder equates the world of art and the real world by comparing the fo rests and springs with the ink on the silk canvas, again suggesting the indistinguishability of real and created space. Snyder implies that, like the artwork, the real world has some author, but the 47 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 7. 48 Barbara Paparazzo, p. 111. Paparazzo explains the tradition. 49 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 7.
132 author is absent, leaving the observers to determine the significance of their experience as they work through the artwork. Yet, this situation is different from typical postmodern exclusively in either the work itself or in t he observer. Rather, it is the relational expression of some middle way between these poles that determines meaning. 50 The commentator notes that "the Fashioner of Things has no original intentions," and thus, the value of experience is never given, but ra ther worked out among the participants (the artwork, the artist, and the observers) a typical Buddhist worldview that is based on the principle of the emptiness of all things. 51 the real ones or those painted on the canvas, they're the spirit of each individual who observes the artwork closely. Snyder's inclusion of the second commentary provides a new facet of the artwork. While the first commentary is more explicitly spiritual, the second seems to be focused on th e material, especially that which seems banal or lower class. On this piece of artwork hanging in a museum, a sacred place for high culture, the second observer notes the people are satisfied with the noise of animals. The speaker notes his "odd" tastes, and his love for "the company of streams and boulders." 52 Yet, this observer is not looking at streams and boulders but at representations of them. Again, Snyder is toying with the typical Western division of art and life. Also, with this 50 Peter Hershock, R einvent ing the Wheel p 233. allows the importance of authorial intent, of coherence analysis, and comparative criticism in determining what a problematic text or event means, the final resort is always and ex plicitly p ractice or conduct itself 51 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere understood that all things should be seen as arising interdependently, but also without any fixed nature, in an ongo ing fashion, with troubling liabilities in any particular situation, and in consonance with always revisable patterns among the intentions and values o 52 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 7.
133 commentary, Sn yder is displaying the incongruity of such proletarian tastes in an Americ an art museum, which is a symbol of the commodification of high culture. Snyder explores this commodification of art particularly by citing commentaries on the scroll that note the h istory of its observation. So, the comments began in 1205 with Wang Wen lo added a commentary, which was followed in 1332 by a note from Chih seventeenth century one Wang 53 Snyder clearly shows the piece of art as a living text, in which the observer and the creator have key parts to play in the interpretation. Toward the end of the sc roll the text mentions a significant change in the development piao owned it, but didn't write on it or cover it with seals 54 This change signifies the key alteration in the history of th e work. Significantly, it's a collector, presumably someone who sees art as an investment, who begins the process of commodification. The scroll notes, "From him it went into the Imperial collection down to the early twentieth century. Chang Ta so ld it in 1949. Now it's at the Cleveland Art Museum, which sits on a rise that looks out toward the waters of Lake Erie 55 By including these supplementary comments from the scroll, Snyder shows how humans reify that which they revere. Significantly, it 's the Chinese who begin this process; Snyder does not stereotype them as being innocent of the abstraction of relationships into objects that forms the basis of commodification. But neither does America escape a critical comment, since the scroll is hous ed in the Cleveland museum, therefore perpetuating the process of commodification. 53 Ibid ., p. 8. 54 I bid 55 Ibid
134 Snyder implicitly critiques this abstraction of the scroll into by juxtaposing it against his understanding of fluidly interacting relationality, and he suggests how the perception of commodification itself helps enable s that process. In the third and final section of the poem, he shows that, regardless of the commodified state of the artwork, the motifs represented in it continue beyond the bounds set by those m inds intent on reification. Snyder even hints as much in the final clause of the of the museum. The water comes to symbolize the continuation of the scroll beyond the strictures of the art museum. Unlike land, which can be settled, water is unstable. Indeed, in its formlessness and in the way that it is shaped to whatever container holds it, the water represents ineffable and formless truth, continuing a traditional B uddhist representation of water. According to Snyder, the proper understanding and enduring nature of existence lead to freedom from objectifying phenomena. Snyder explores the motif of water as formless truth in the third and final sections, in which all material elements in the scroll and thus the real world take on characte ristics of water. As important is the interplay between the water elements and the normally stationary objects, such as boulders and mountains. The narrator describes the scroll o nce again: Step back and gaze again at the land: it rises and subsides Ravines and cliffs like waves of blowing leaves stamp the foot, walk with it clap! turn, the creeks come in, ah! strained through boulders, mountains walking on the water, wat er ripples every hill.
135 -I walk out of the museum -low gray clouds over the lake -chill march breeze. 56 The most stable element, the land, takes on wave forms by rising and subsiding, while the ravines and cliffs embody waveforms more explicitly, alb eit of leaves. To highlight the important interdependence and indistinguishability of all elements both in the painting and in real life -Snyder shows the commingling of the water and the land. While boulders strain the creeks, mountains walk on wate This interpenetration echoes a key motif in traditional Buddhist literature, namely that mountains depend on rivers, while rivers depend on mountains. Yet these spaces become ultimately nondistinct. Hunt argues that Snyde r incorporates elements of Noh ), 57 which highlight the increasing activity of the speaker as he leaves the trance like state and emerges into everyday consciousness. Likewise, nature appears freshly alive and active, b oth in the scroll and outside, marking To further highlight the theme of interdependence, Snyder shows the narrator exiting the museum, and it's as if he is enterin g the same world represented on the scroll, though the experience differs from that represented on the scroll. Regardless of the boundaries of the museum, the water continues, although in a different, real form. After witnessing both the created and real space of nature, the narrator seems inspired to begin his own creation. The narrator channels the spirit of the water, calling on the "sunken rivers" to "come again/ stand by the wall and tell their tale 58 Then, to once again stress the sameness of rea l and created space, the narrator mentions the process 56 Ibid 57 Anthony Hunt, p. 12. 58 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 9.
136 the path, sit the rains,/ grind the ink, wet the brush, unroll the/ broad white space:/ lead out and tip/ th e moist black line 59 Snyder concludes the poem thus: Streams and mountains never stay the same [author's emphasis] 60 Snyder suggests that, although the streams and mountains maintain continuity through the various boundaries of life, including those of the mind, they are altered in the process and are continually in flux. Wendell Berry refers to such constant flux as travel, and notes that the motif recurs throughout the poem, even in the origins of the scroll which has moved from China to the Clevelan d art museum and even then into the mind. 61 Here Snyder reiterates the Buddhist themes of impermanence and emptiness, doctrines that lend themselves to the avoidance of reification, and calls into question the given notion of reality as more or less fixed. 62 through the relinquishment of the ego that intends to allow things to be as they are and to speak for themselves, the representation of reality is always mediated through an au thor. (And the language itself is yet another medium.) David Barnhill rightly argues s 63 As such, Snyder intends to function as a shaman, rendering the voices of the natural world, rather than simply speaking for it. This process has an 59 Ibid 60 Ibid 61 Wendell Berry, p. 149. 62 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere p. 7. 63 David Barnhill, p. 124.
137 explicitly political dimension for Snyder, since nature has no representative i n government. Snyder writes: relate to those objects we take to be outside ourselves non human, non intelligent, or whatever. If we are to treat the world (and ourselves) bet ter, we must first ask, how can we know what the non human realm is truly like? And second, if one gets a glimmer of an answer from there how can it be translated, communicated, to the realm of mankind with its courts, congress, and zoning laws? How do w e listen? How do we speak? 64 65 are, such a project is fraught with concerns. How doe s Snyder have (or take) the ability to speak for others or through others, even those others who are unable to speak, for this point, especially from feminist and Native American camps, who feel that their voices are being wrongly appropriated. 66 Snyder has often been attacked for his use of women in fairly stereotypical ways. push toward a monology by seeking to control the inner non desire to control. 67 Kalter poi of women as well. 68 Tim Dean also sees the issue in a similar light and discusses how 64 Gary Snyder, The Old Ways p. 9. 65 Tim Dean, p. 482. 66 Ibid ., pp. 489 490. 67 Susan Kalter, p. 13 68 Ibid ., p. 26.
138 ly elides the question of gender and suggests that, although he 69 this point when claims on gender. For some of his other poems that do not necessarily take the approach of Endless Streams and Mountains Snyder has been accused of selectively appropriating Buddhist a nd Native American practices, a borrowing that, Bron Taylor suggests, 70 Similarly, Leslie Marmon Silko, Wendy Rose, and Geary Hobson take exception to whiteshamanism a practice of white writer s appropriating Native American culture and through its use claiming that their writing has a healing function, an argument that points squarely at Snyder. They insist that such writers are inauthentic and demand that these writers rely on their own tradi tions and culture, rather than stealing that of Native Americans. 71 Yet, while these critics assert that Snyder should use his own culture, they tend to essentialize Native American culture as fixed and impossible to understand or experience for those who are not Native Americans. Such a defense of culture seems to perpetuate the representation of ethnic culture as one that can never be (or at least should never be) meaningfully appropriated. In response to such criticisms, Snyder 69 Tim Dean, pp. 178 179 70 Bron Taylor, p. 185. Taylor ultimately takes a moderate position on the appropriation of cultural prac tices, noting that some exchange can be good and that mixing is an inherent part of religious exchange. 71 David Barnhill, p. 117. pp. 489 490. Dean explains the positions of Silko and Hobson.
139 seems to make a univers alist gesture, but one that nevertheless seems rooted in the specificity of place. Snyder defends himself thus: Ultimately we can all lay claim to the term native and the songs and dances, the beads and feathers, and the profound responsibilities that go with it. We are all restore the land one must live and work in a place. To work in a place is to work with others. People who work together in a place become a community, and co mmunity, in time, grows a culture. To work on behalf of the wild is to restore culture. 72 Snyder asserts that practices such as shamanism are a longstanding cultural expression, a fact that precludes any one group from claiming priority on them. Instead, Snyder focuses on the relational nature of place, in which community must develop. assumes total difference, Barnhill argues that Snyder appreciates the practices of hat can add functional value and that he has a responsibility to learn from such practices. 73 From this perspective, Barnhill suggests, shamanism is a form of 74 Such a re orientation requires the subordination of the ego and has the possibility to transform cultural interactions from merely binary exchange into virtuosic relationships; Dean argues similarly. 75 Barnhill cites Patrick Murphy ect of developing another mode of human behavior, one founded on relational anotherness rather than alienational otherness, an affirmative praxis necessary in this time of 72 Freeman House, p. 234. 73 Dav id Barnhill, pp. 125, 127. 74 Ibid .,, p. 125. 75 being a form of self dispossession rather than self dispossession that comes with opening the self to otherness, particularly the
140 trans formational praxis is not limited to feminism, and it has been central to Snyder from 76 Yet, even if it has been central, as I believe it has, and derived from his Buddhist experience, that need not mean that Snyder is applying such a pract ice evenly. As Kalter suggests, Snyder has a tendency to create stereotypical depictions of the feminine, 77 especially in his essays. Some critics point to Snyder as a kind of neo Romanticist following in the footsteps of Emerson. Nick Selby, for instance, rooted in Romantic notions of the sublime 78 Selby suggests that Mountains and Rivers enacts "a romantic model of individualism, the outsider who is at one with nature" 79 tic subjectivity that privileges the 80 For him, Mountains and Rivers becomes a Nature essay, which creates a model of all encompassing nationalism. Yet, as I have suggested through a reading of that scene in Chapter 2 Emerson consistently rearticulates his self identity even as he claims to have erased himself. (and eye) is always present, and his gaze becom es exactly what Selby and others have asserted -the spectatorship of the subsuming self. Emerson's gaze contrasts sharply with Snyder's keen observation. As suggested by the close reading of Endless Streams and Mountains above, Snyder's observation bec omes not a model for colonialist explorations, but rather a vehicle for appreciation, egolessness, and letting 76 David B arnhill, p. 136. 77 Susan Kalter, p. 41. 78 Nick Selby, p. 42. 79 Ibid ., p. 45. 80 Ibid ., p. 46.
141 be, or enlightenment. 81 Selby, oddly, even admits that the identity of Snyder's observer is unstable. 82 tinuous and distinct from the Romantics and hardly a longing after unity with nature. 83 To the extent that his spectator acts as ervation that demonstrates the ultimately illusory, even if temporarily a nd conventionally real, nature of the boundaries of self and other, as Ayako Takahashi and Jody Norton similarly argue. 84 The Old Dutch Woman as an example, 85 86 Moreover, unlike Romantic representations of the sublime, Snyder's observer is not struck dumb or awed into worshipful silence at the enormity of nature. Instead, through careful attention S nyder's observer discovers a place -neither superior nor inferior -within nature that mankind can occupy while letting nature be. Letting nature be also entails not simply personifying nature in the Romantic vein but letting it voice 81 Jody Norton, p. 47. n anthropocentric, dominant/subordinate relatio 82 Nick Selby, p. 47. 83 Patrick D. Murphy, pp. 144 145. Murphy emphasizes the differences in the projects of Thoreau and Snyder: Whereas Thoreau focused on being away from mankind in order to be reunited with something with escaping to some Edenic ideal. 84 Ayako Takahashi, draws upon nature as an other without discriminating from the self Emerson's romanticism. Jody Norton, 85 Robert Kern, Orientalism, Modernism, and the American Poem p. 227. Kern discusses the interplay of neither imposition of the self upon the other, nor, for that matter, surrender of the self to the other but an acknowledgme 86 Ibid ., No Nature directly and playfully references Nature. le also invokes Buddhism as well.
142 itself as much as possible a move that Snyder ultimately makes. Dean mentions the human, but argues that Snyder avoids this step through the impersonality of his voice. 87 As Selby notes, 88 but that's merely a more recent example of the finger pointing toward the moon. observe and appreciate. Buddhism and P rotest To substantiate his critique of capitalist America, Snyder turned to Buddhism, which he felt offered a healthy and sustainable model on which to base American culture. Although Snyder does sometimes employ the trope of the Protestant ethnic as 2 he shows and explains the value of Buddhist practice in undermining some of the fundaments of capitalism, through a practice that seeks to undo the self/other binary to merely another example of the deployment of the Protestant ethnic, as is often the case with Kerouac and Ginsberg. For example, in the essay Buddhism and the Coming Revolution 89 This exper ience of poverty comes directly out of the practice of meditation, which teaches non attachment. By practicing non attachment, Snyder suggests, we appreciate that which we already have and so do not crave more. Appreciation entails not an abdication of mat erial goods, but rather a re orientation of conduct such that the ongoing attachment to goods becomes unnecessary a direction rather than a position. In 87 Tim Dean, p. 482. 88 Nick Selby, p. 58. 89 Gary Snyder Earth House Hold p. 92.
143 response, Weber might argue, as he similarly does in Protestant Ethic that such poverty leads to su rplus capital, which can then be used for the further expansion of the economy. 90 supply of capital but rather by increasing desire or demand for myriad new products. As Buddhism would argue, such desire is mitigated or eliminated by active appreciation or keen observation, 91 which Snyder duly attempts in much of his poetry. That Snyder proposes a practice inimical to sustained increases in consumerism is borne out by his lack of populari ty, even today. While Dana Goodyear suggests that into the university classroom, at Harvard, for instance, Snyder is more resigned to the percentage of my poetry requires for a scholar to become more acquainted with Native American and East Asian thinking. It is considered somewhat marginal to mainstream 92 Kern too mentio the 93 Yet Snyder is well aware of how his categorization as nature poet marginalizes him from tr aditional academic study, even as called a nature poet is like being called a woman poet, as if it were a lower grade of 90 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 91 Peter Hershock, R einventing the Wheel p. 181. Hershock relationships of mutual contribution depends on shifting our awareness from an orientation toward control to that of appreciation. In the absence of such a shift, our relationship with things eventually comes down t 92 Cited in Dana Goodyear, p. 73. 93 Robert Kern, Orientalism, Modernism, and the American Poem p. 249.
144 94 Such categor ization has thus, in some sense, cut Snyder off from the larger body of canonical work that is more properly called Literature and that is, therefore, worthy of study regardless of authorship. The Market in Endless Streams and Mountains eschews the easy den unciations of Ginsberg and Kerouac, it is nonetheless more effective for the practice. Another poem in Mountains and Rivers Without End illustrates just such concern in much more openly critical terms. In the poem The Market Snyder highlights the markets of five different cities, in order to detail their destructiveness and depravity. In the process, the market comes to symbolize, much as it does in typical economic parlance, the larger capitalist syste m. Indeed, the word market through metonymy, sense, it is the city, rather than a panoply of goods, that is being sold. Snyder begins with two American cities, whose markets appear relatively innocuous, before moving on to describe markets in Saigon, Kathmandu, and Varanasi (also known as Benares). The progression from the tidy and even glamorous markets of San Francisco and Seattle and on to that of Varanasi marks a descent into the chaos of the human and natural world, and Snyder suggests how the brutishness implied by capitalism is mystified by a faade of glamour in America. In particular, Snyder critici zes the power of capitalism to equate all products through the system of exchange value, since this system levels the natural diversity of the world into a chaos of mere economic equivalencies. 94 Dana Goodyear, p 73. Goodyear cites Lawrence Buell at Harvard Uni versity as a prominent critic who has begun to teach Snyder as part of the eme rging field of eco literature.
145 Snyder begins the poem in the United States, where the market of San Francisco sees "John Muir up before dawn/ packing pears in the best boxes/ beat out the others -to Market/ the Crystal Palace 95 Snyder's use of Muir operates ironically; as a noted opponent of capitalism and proponent of environmental conservati on, Muir sought to avoid capitalist profiteering on nature. Yet, here Muir functions as a leading retailer in, a -to Market/ the Crystal Palace" to offer a dual vale nce: the word Market can act as either a noun or verb. First, as a known, the Crystal Palace functions as the specific incarnation of the market. In the second sense, it's as if Muir himself is marketing the Crystal Palace, making it and by extension, t he entire process of consumerism -more acceptable. The ironic appearance of Muir underscores a common representation of the capitalist marketplace as inherently natural as well as tremendously pure, clean, and even glamorous, as evidenced by Snyder's use of the phrase "Crystal Palace." The original Crystal Palace was constructed in London to house The Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased the products and technologies of the world. San Francisco also had its own Crystal Palace, which housed a variety of merchants, but the repetition of the image suggests how the U.S. has taken over the role of dominant hegemonic power from the British. With its images of the palace and "the best boxes," the market of San Francisco appears neat and tidy, especially in contrast to subsequent markets. In the next market, that of Seattle, the glitz of San Francisco seems to be erased and replaced with what is the first in a series of problems. The narrator tells the story of ke and "broke all nine bottles 96 He 95 Gary Snyder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 47. 96 Ibid
146 notes how much he paid, "ten cents a quart," in order to contrast the current situation with "when we had cows 97 The narrator's family turned to the market for basic subsistence needs only after their own cows became unable to lactate, as evidenced by the lines "one cow once/ lay with milk fever 98 The narrator and his family seem to be implicated in the process of market development, since milk fever is preventable with proper diet. Their inattention to the require ments of their environment, namely their cows, necessitates a turn to the market and its subsequent commodification of all objects. Associated with this market development is ecological decline, as the family attempts to extract more milk than the cow is able to produce, leading to its milk fever. Here Snyder suggests the process of karma, in which inattention is succeeded by a situation in which resources are only impoverished further, and therefore leads to further inattention in a cycle ad infinitum. Indeed, Buddhism scholar Peter Hershock argues that greater reliance on markets signals the impoverishment of dramatic resources to cope with a troubling situation. Hershock posits that the market instantiates lack or wanting, 99 which seems to be evidenced in the poem by the nine broken bottles. The poem proceeds to Saigon, in which Snyder produces his strongest critique of capitalism. Snyder critiques the power of capitalism to level all objects into a relationship of exchange value. This process leads to a system in which even the environment and humans are transformed into objects that can be traded. As Snyder is describing the process of people going to market in Saigon, he lays out a series of exchanges that enable the market: "Valley thatch houses/ p almgroves for hedges/ ricefield and thrasher/ to white rice/ dongs and piastre/ to market, the/ changes, how 97 Ibid 98 Ibid 99 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere pp72 73.
147 100 These lines describe the components or inputs of the marketplace, and Snyder makes interesting use of double entendres to h ighlight his point. While the field and thrasher are transformed to white rice, the money dongs and piastre head to market. The word dong can symbolize a currency as well as a minority people of Vietnam, suggesting exactly the type of commodification t hat Snyder critiques. Moreover, the word dong operates as slang for penis implying further the oves for or a strategic move to diversify products, that is, palmgroves as a supplement to rice. Snyder also puns on the word change as both money and personal development, challenging assumptions about the efficacy of exchange as a means of changing our selves. Through these double entendres Snyder shows how the environment and humans have been objectified into tradable products. Using a colon, Snyder finishes with the que stion of change, which he answers more directly in the section on Kathmandu. In the fourth section of the work, the market of Kathmandu, Snyder shows the sheer absurdity and chaos of an economic system that equates all products and objects through exchange value. He brings out the complexity of such a situation and the human inability to understand the exchange value of money. Snyder writes, Seventy five feet hoed roads equals one hour explaining power steering equals two big crayfish = all the buttermilk you can drink = twelve pounds cauliflower 100 Gary Sn yder, Mountains and Rivers Without End p. 48.
148 = a lay in Naples = beef = lamb ribs = Patna long grain rice, 8 pounds = piecing off beggars two weeks = a christmas tree = a taxi ride carrots, daikon, eggplant, green peppers oregano white goat chee se = a fresh eyed bonito, live clams a swordfish a salmon a handful of silvery smelt in the pocket 101 Snyder lays out myriad products in equivalency, suggesting how the capitalist system equates any type of product or object through the exchange value of m oney. Snyder interlinks work, such as hoeing or explaining power steering, with food, sex, and natural life. In effect, Snyder produces a kind of global network in which everything can be equated, even the word equals which seems to readily morph into it s symbolic equivalent. By this process of equivalence, both the human world and the natural world are commodified. Bodies become labor and products, as exemplified by the phrase "a lay in Naples," which represents the literal prostitution of humans to t he system of commodification. Through a line break that separates Patna from its most famous product, rice, Snyder even suggests that the city of Patna, rather than its product, is up for sale. Here, the metonymic use of Patna further symbolizes the proc ess of equivalence that the market brings. Similarly, the natural world in the form of fruits, vegetables, and fish take s on a functional economic equivalence, and Snyder is quick to explain in the example of "fresh ture is alive. The 101 Ibid ., p. 49.
149 glorification of consumption. All this bounty finally boils down to that which has components of this list, which have value in and of themselves as parts of a functioning ecosystem, have become valueless outside a system of trade, that is, they have been commodified. In this section Snyder also explores the sordid workings b ehind the scenes of this global network of commodities. He writes of "meat scum on chop blocks/ bloody butcher concrete floor 102 is closed/ the cleanup comes/ equals/ a billygoat pushing throu gh people/ stinking and grabbing a cabbage/ arrogant, tough,/ he took it they let him / Kathmandu -the market 103 Here Snyder plays off his previous diction by using the word equals to describe the cleanup: the globalizing network has produced a natu ral world that takes back by force that which has been commodified. Indeed, Snyder uses the word cabbage for its multiple meanings as a vegetable and as slang for money. This double entendre reinforces the theme of the commodification of nature. Snyder concludes the section on Kathmandu thus: "I gave a man seventy paise/ in return for a clay pot/ of curds/ was it worth it?/ How can I tell 104 Snyder suggests here that, absent some global system of equivalencies, he has no ability to measure the value of an object. It seems that even the use value of the curds has been sublimated to exchange value, since a common measure of food would be its nutritive value or perhaps its taste. The last two lines set up what appear to be two questions, yet Snyder 102 Ibid ., p. 50. 103 Ibid 104 Ibid
150 only punctuates one as such. Through the lack of a question mark in the second line, he indicates that he has no ability to answer the question; it becomes merely a rhetorical statement. The final section of the poem occurs in Varanasi (or Benares), which lies on the Ganges and is considered a holy city by Hindus and Buddhists. The city is known as the utter chaos, taking up where Kathmandu left off. He writes, "They eat feces/ in the dark/ on stone floors/ one legged monkeys, hopping cows/ limping dogs blind cats/ crunching garbage in the market/ broken fingers/ cabbage/ head on the ground 105 Here nat ure has taken over the market, but has been substantially disfigured. In this holy city, the human has been destroyed. Punning again on the phrase cabbage head as money vegetable, and ignorance Snyder suggests that commodification poses a hazard to human life. In a karmic circle, the market has created the conditions of its own destruction. This human destruction is reiterated in the penultimate stanza, when the speaker talks of the street/ penis laid by his thigh/ torso/ turns with the sun 106 Not only does the market harm human life but also the prospects for reproduction, echo ing the growing evidence of the pernicious effects of industrialism on humans and their environment. Despite this critique of the market, Snyder implicates himself in the process of the 105 Ibid ., p. 51. 106 Ibid
151 poem with a short statement: "I came to buy/ a few bananas by the Ganges/ while waiting for my wife 107 He juxtaposes the holy river of India against the destructive development of the market. Importantly, the speaker notes his own presence and that h e has observed the scene that he has just narrated, implicating himself in its existence. This move ties the speaker inextricably into the destruction of Varanasi, not just as a mere observer but as one whose presence conditions that environment, replicati ng degraded environments are necessarily correlated with degraded patterns of consciousness 108 Or to put it in the words of Hui 109 As Buddhism would ar gue, his presence at Varanasi is finally not distinct from the destruction that he observes, impl y i ng that Snyder is critiquing his own motives in traveling as well as the travel industry generally, since he foregrounds his presence there. Yet Snyder take s this implication further, by suggesting that his purchase of bananas ties him more directly to the chaos created by the market. Essays of the 1960s: Earth House Hold For all his subtlety in later works, Snyder seems to engage more overtly in the trope o f the protestant ethnic in essays from the 1960s. As an essayist, Snyder often pointedly suggests how Buddhism can and should lead to social revolution. This objective falls within a common theme in the deployment of Buddhism in America, and is even consi stent with many of the earliest American interests in Buddhism, during the 19 th century: the use of the religion for social change, such as prison outreach, social 107 Ibid 108 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere p. 16. 109 Peter Hershock, R einventing the Wheel p. 130. Hershock quotes Hui Neng from the Platform Sutra
152 justice and the mitigation of imperialism. 110 Snyder readily admits t his change of direction for the religion. In several of the essays of Earth House H old ( Buddhism and the Coming Revolution Passage to More Than India and Why Tribe ) Snyder eschews the Cold War binary, and instead posits a practice of meditation that, he says, allows humans to reach their full potential as a liberated society of individuals. As important for Snyder is the positive ecological impact that such a social change would have. Yet in the essay Why Tribe Snyder seems to essentialize what he calls the Great Subculture, d efined by the author as virtually any non mainstream religious group throughout recorded history, including Buddhists and Native Americans. Snyder valorizes the Great Subculture because he views it as resistant to the destructiveness of capitalism and as the propagator of socially unacceptable truths. recent return to the U.S. in the late 1960s In the midst of the hippie and drug cultures of San Francisco in that era, S nyder seems to write to an audience that would already revolution in the wind men 111 In the essays of Earth House Hold rhetoric clearly plays its message toward such an audience. Here Snyder more overtly participates in the trope of the Protestant ethnic, or as Murphy more specifically puts it: 110 Thomas Tweed Richard Seager, p. 35. Seager mentions the efforts of Henry Steel Olcott, a disaffected Presbyterian and one of the first American Buddhist converts, who helped Buddhists in Sri Lanka defend themsel ves against American and European Christian missionaries. James William Coleman, The New Buddhism pp. 227 228. Coleman highlights more recent interest in reaching out to prisoners and meditating with them, and notes the larger interest in charity and socia l causes. Ken Jones, pp. 173 184. Jones devotes an entire chapter to delineating the contemporary practice of socially engaged Buddhism in America. 111 Patrick D. Murphy, p. 53.
153 imistic perception of the possibility of swift cultural change is very American and very non 112 In Buddhism and the Coming Revolution Snyder re articulates the religion for an American audience that has an extensive history of social protest. Af ter describing the basic tenets of the religion, the author then criticizes it because it does not pay attention individuals 113 In fact, he pushes the criticism further b accept or ignore the inequalities in tyrannies of whatever political system it found itself under 114 In such a situation of complete passi vity, Snyder argues, the Buddhist emphasis on compassion the real heart of the religion would be lost. Therefore, Snyder justifies the relatively new use of Buddhism for social activism in America. From here, Snyder elaborates on his vision of the cu rrent state of the world, showing in negative terms how Buddhism can be used for social change. In particular, Snyder avoids the too easy Cold War dualism, criticizing both capitalist and communist positions. He writes, The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern 112 Patrick D. ays in Earth House Hold also demonstrate that Snyder had then as he continues to have at the end of the millennium a very detailed, long range vision for the future of an American society that if it were to come into being would not be recognizably Am that time still holds relevance in his mind for the future can be seen by his decision to include nearly two thirds of Earth House Hold in The Gary Snyder Reader published in 113 Gary Snyder, Earth House Hold p. 90. 114 Ibid
154 societies Communist included cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them. 115 Snyder lays out what is at stake in this drama, and suggests through his critique how Buddhism will end the stimulation of greed, desire, hatred, and ecological destruction that are fostered by capitalist and communist practices. Indeed, Snyder ties Buddhism to mountains of junk being pumped into the mind by the mass media and supermarket universities. The belief in a serene and generous fulfilment of natural loving desires destroys 116 While Snyder uses Buddhism to underwrite his vision of social change, the author is clearly indebted to Marxist thought, and he admits as much in the essay Why Tribe 117 In Buddhism and the Coming Revolution he ex plains that his responsibility to 118 He even cites the IWW slogan, 119 While borrowing ideas from the labor camp, Snyder ultimately seems to reiterate the commonly held American value of harmful individual behavior defending the rig ht of individuals to smoke hemp, eat 115 Ibid ., pp. 90 91. 116 Ibid ., p. 91 117 Ibid ., p. 1 14 early Taoism, the I Ching and the yin yang theories. From Taoism it is another easy step to the philosophies and mythologies of India vast, touching the deepest areas of the mind, and with a view of the ultimate nature of the universe which is almost identical with the most sophisticated tho ught in modern physics Why Tribe ). 118 Ibid ., Snyder, p. 92 119 Ibid
155 peyote, be polygynous, polyandrous or homosexual. Worlds of behavior and custom long banned by the Judaeo Capitalist Christian 120 While Snyder does appear to follow along the lines of the traditional Ame rican conception of individualist freedom, he qualifies his statement with the word non harmful which would rework a host of traditionally accepted American practices that he as a Buddhist views as detrimental. H e draws a sharp distinction between valuin g atomistic individualist freedom as an end in itself, a position heavily endorsed by American capitalism, for instance, and freedom as a means to some end that is not simply the expression of individual libertinism. Yet, paradoxically, the use of drugs m arijuana and peyote, which Snyder defends, can be quite harmful. This contradiction is never resolved. Interestingly, he categorizes the Western tradition as both capitalist and Marxist, suggesting these ideologies operate dialectically. As I suggested ea rlier, both systems focus heavily on controlling the means of production, without focusing on, for Snyder, the much more important task of establishing a proper social relationship with the natural world. Snyder seems to reject the ideological basis for mu ch of the communist and capitalist positions, even as he himself affirms the value of some of their ideals or at least re works them in new ways. Therefore, he attempts to work out a middle way between this Cold War dualism. Again, in closing the essay, Sn yder presents a vision of social change that is radically at odds with the prevailing Cold War norms and that is underwritten by integrated world culture with matrilineal d escent, free form marriage, natural credit 120 Ibid
156 communist economy, less industry, far less population and lots more national parks 121 In expl icably, Snyder transitions from the compassion of Buddhism to this specific vision of social utopia. He leaves unanswere d the question, for instance, of why matrilineal descent would encourage and sustain social revolution. Indeed, in this rhetorical move he seems to essentialize women, a specific instance of a general problem that occurs in the essays Passage to More Than India and Why Tribe vision of less industr y and population is prima facie beneficial for the environment, how Buddhism supports this specific vision and causes it to occur is unclear, since, as Peter Hershock writes, the Buddh ist canon includes no specific environmental ethics. As a caveat, Hershock notes the historical nature of western conceptions of the ecological intentions, and acti 122 In Passage to More Than India and Why Tribe Snyder elaborates on a specifically American version of what he calls the Great Subculture or the Tribe Written in the context of the late 1960s hippie movement, these e ssays show Snyder valorizing the movement for its spiritual ideals and its resistance to capitalism. The Great Subculture, as defined by the author in Passage consists of a whole range of spiritual seekers who are marginalized in their respective eras. Snyder explains, This subculture of illuminati has been a powerful undercurrent in all higher civilizations. In China it manifested as Taoism, not only Lao tzu but the later Yellow Turban revolt and medieval Taoist secret societies; and the Zen 121 Ibid ., p. 93. 122 Peter Hershock, Buddhism in the Public Sphere pp. 14 15. strat a of Buddhist traditions or in the context of later Mahayana, Theraveda, and Vajrayana traditions, critical attention has always been given to carefully attending to and appropriately responding to situations in such a way as to clear them of karma conduc ive to further suffering or trouble. Currently prevailing conceptions of the environment and the forces assailing it are endemic to our particular place in a pattern of value intentions actions that is in many ways uniquely symptomatic of ou r own times
157 Buddhists up till early Sung. Within Islam the Sufis; in India the various threads converge to produce Tantrism. In the West it has been represented largely by a string of heresies starting with the Gnostics, and on the folk level by 123 Snyder compa be seen in the same lineage, the author argues, because they live communally and use marijuana and LSD for spiritual purposes. In this passage, Snyder essentializes these various subcul tures as resistant to the mainstream. This type of binary formation plays out further. Indeed, it seems as if anything non mainstream can be counted as a Protestant ethnic as somehow resistant to capitalism. Snyder valorizes the spiritual practices of Native Americans, in particular their use of narcotics to obtain visions. He also lauds the Brotherhood of the Free Spirit as well as the gypsies of Big Sur, who have the works of Zen Buddhist D.T. Suzuki in their camps out in nature. Snyder even has a term for the portion of white America that is allegedly resistant or Japan but who think a great deal about the wisdom traditions have remarkable 124 Even users of hallucinogens are members of those resisting capitalism. Snyder is clearly making appeals that would ring true to an audience of late 60s hippies who espoused social revolution. Why Tribe continues much of the same representation of ethnic people and practices as resistant to capitalism, but at times Snyder shows he is aware of the too easy dualism of resistance/mainstream. For example, of m ovements that are resistant 123 Gary Snyder, Earth House Hold p. 105. 124 Ibid ., pp. 108 109.
158 in Bengal, Quakers in England, Tachikawa Siberian Shamanism and Magdalenian cave painting; through megaliths and Mysteries, astronomers, ritualists, alchemists and Albigensians; gnostics and vagantes, right down 125 Earlier he mentions the European gypsies as members of the deviationists a nd many Trotskyites 126 Spiritual practice clearly underlies much of what he sees as resistant, but he focuses nevertheless on subcultural religious practices. deepest non 127 S ubsequently he criticizes Buddhism (and Hinduism) as being institutions [that] had long been accomplices of the state in burdening and binding 128 indeed, one that already presupposes the ultimate failure of any subcultur e that becomes mainstream. Still, at times Snyder does avoid the wholesale conflation of the ethnic with resistance, as in his depiction of Buddhism and Hinduism as distinct from their historical m and Hinduism is not as societies 129 Nevertheless, Snyder generally portrays the ethnic in terms of its ability to resist the 125 Ibid ., p.115. 126 Ibid ., p 113. 127 Ibid ., p. 114. 128 Ibid 129 Ibid
159 mainstream, especially capitalism. For the Snyder of Earth House H old Buddhism mind, thus abolishing the that 130 Therefore, he seems to recapitulate the trope of the protestant ethnic. The Etiquette of Freedom The later part of Snyder's oeuvre, such as the collection The Practice of the Wild showcases the systems based thinking that comprises the author's environmental consciousness. While Buddhism still plays a key role in informing his environmentalism, Snyder shows his erudition across a broad range of life sciences, and successfull y integrates the rel igion with insights provided by the scientific disciplines. For example, in the essay The Etiquette of Freedom Snyder argues that we should turn to nature and study it in order to develop a more complete picture of what constitutes freedom and to see how current socioeconomic practices oppose this vision of true freedom. While such a project is prone to essentializing nature as some undefiled other to capitalist exploitation, as is typical of many Beats, Snyder eschews this easy dichotomy and argues that wildness characterizes all natural systems and constitutes the basis of true freedom. Snyder carefully redefines the words wild and free according to his new valences, well aware of their consumerist connotations. In contrast to the clichd visions of an "American dream phrase" or "an ad for a Harley Davidson," Snyder proposes that true freedom consists in taking on "the basic conditions as they are -painful, impermanent, open, imperfect -and then be grateful for impermanence and the 130 Ibid ., p. 116.
160 freedom it gran ts us. For in a fixed universe there would be no freedom." 131 Snyder here recapitulates the Buddhist vision of existence, with its insistence on the lack of a fixed identity as the guarantor of true freedom. Similarly, he defines the word wild in terms th at are consonant with a systems and Buddhist worldview: "The world is nature, and in the long run inevitably wild, because the wild, as the process and essence of nature, is also an ordering of impermanence." 132 So for Snyder, the wild constitutes a self or dering system whose relationships are continually in flux, and the author notes how popular conceptions of the wild consistently have negative connotations in civilized societies -that exploit natural processes and found world views that are based on fixity. 133 Along typical Buddhist lines, in this essay Snyder takes pains to show the indistinguishability of nature and human culture. On this reading, everything is natural -"New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy." 134 B ut natural systems, especially human systems, can cut themselves off from the rejuvenative power off the wild by refusing to recognize its power. Snyder proceeds to detail how modern civilizations define wildness as an absence of some positive characteris tic: Of animals not tame, undomesticated, unruly. Of plants not cultivated. ... Of societies uncivilized, rude, resisting constituted government. Of individuals unrestrained, insubordinate, sensuous, dissolute, loose. 135 Such definitions rely on the those that can be controlled and negative those that cannot be. This process then 131 Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild p. 5. 132 Ibid 133 Ibid 134 Ibid ., p. 8. 135 Ibid ., p. 9.
161 alienates civilization by definition, and subsequently in practice, from the wild. Appropriately, Snyder offers definitions of the wild that express its values in positive terms: Of animals -free agents, each with its own endowments, living within natural systems. Of plants self propagating, self maintaining, flourishing in accord with innate qualities. ... Of societies -societies whose order has grown from within and is maintained by the force of consensus and custom rather than explicit legislation. Primary cultures, which consider themselves the original and eternal inhabitants of their territory. Societi es which resist economic and political domination by civilization. Societies whose economic system is in a close and sustainable relation to the local ecosystem. Of individuals -following local custom, style, and etiquette without concern for the standa rds of the metropolis or nearest trading post. Unintimidated, self reliant, independent. "Proud and free." 136 It is just such wildness, according to Snyder, that modern metropolises such as New York City and Tokyo are missing, because unlike other natural environments they are more or less completely intolerant of nonhuman creatures. Such a natural environment extirpates the inherent self ordering that occurs in wild systems, a move that results in the destruction of human wholeness. As part of that pro cess, the wild becomes commodified and its value becomes expressed always in human terms. Meanwhile, as Snyder points out, the wild has been moved to and set aside on public lands, which comprise just 2% of the United States. 137 Using this Buddhist inspired model, Snyder takes to task the Enlightenment thinkers, in particular, upon whose ideas the modern mechanistic system of production is based. He notes that Descartes, Newton, and Hobbes ("all of them city dwellers") rejected the organic world in favor of "sterile mechanism and an economy of 136 Ibid ., p. 10. 137 Ibid ., p. 14.
162 138 For Snyder, the central irony of the Enlightenment project and its hysteria over eliminating chaos is that it simply re created what it sought to eliminate, only more powerfully. Snyder writes: "Instead of making the world safer for humankind, the foolish tinkering with the powers of life and death by the occidental scientist engineer 139 Rather than accepting the necessarily relational aspect of th e wild, contemporary civilization has sought to impose its own will through control. Importantly, Snyder is also careful to point out how the Chinese too had become removed enough from the wild to aestheticize it in landscape poetry by the fifth century A .D. The Renunciation of C ontrol as True F reedom dichotomy of the civilized and the wild, we m ust first resolve to be whole." 140 Such a process would entail surrendering the notion of control as a fundamental value i nforming our mechanized culture. This move that the ability to control is coterminous with f reedom. Berry suggests that similarly Mountains and Rivers Without End in its syntax, structure, and organization 141 Snyder aspire s to an ethos of appreciation that renders the value of control as just one more among a suite of options for engaging the world wholly, as opposed to the karmically and systemically reinforced use of control 138 Ibid ., p. 19. 139 Ibid 140 Ibid ., p. 23. 141 Wendell Berry, p. 153.
163 because everything seems out of contr ol. The r e intervention elides the Cold War dualism of capitalism and communism, and their fundamental disagreements about who gets to control production. That Snyder remains virtually unknown among the broader public, despite his rela tive importance in the San Francisco Renaissance and in the coterie of the media darling Beats, indicates that his interrogations of the notion of control and of market based economics are anathema to the larger capitalist apparatus that thrives on the sal e of control oriented technologies as the incarnation of freedom. Therefore, Snyder is difficult to re fashion as cool, even as sustainability discourse comes into increasing prominence in the mass media. The marketing of control as freedom and the use o f Buddhism for this purpose will be examined in films and advertisements in Chapters 6 and 7 respectively.
164 CHAPTER 5 CHARLES JOHNSON: BUD DHISM AND THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK In describing the purposes and ability of art, Charles Johnson elaborates on a pos ition that has much Buddhist resonance: I can't deliver another human being to you on the page. But I can deliver an aesthetic experience on the page that you can undergo. And who knows? you may be moved by it. So what, then, is a book? I've decide d, finally, that literature is, at best, just a finger pointing at the moon, as Zen writers love to remind us. It isn't can't be the moon (or reality) itself. An interpretation of the moon, certainly, one more or less accurate and provisionally usefu l. 1 Much like Gary Snyder, Johnson undertakes a mission of pointing to the ultimate truth as understood by Buddhism. Unlike Snyder, Johnson does not pursues a representation of enlightenment through the act and art of observing closely R ather he construc ts novels that incorporate Buddhist themes and narrative structures. Of particular importance for Johnson are questions of race and identity, and he uses Buddhism to interrogate traditional static formulations of racial identity, whether they derive from a white hegemony or black cultural movements, ultimately to conclude that there is no such thing as identity or race because there is no ego: I personally don't believe in the existence of the ego. I think it's a theoretical construct. There's no empiri cal verification for it at all. And if there is such a thing as identity, I don't think that it's fixed or static; it's a process.... That identity, if it is anything at all, is several things, a tissue of very often contradictory things, which is why I p robably have a great deal of opposition to anything that looks like a fixed meaning for black America. 2 for black Americans that might allow them greater economic en franchisement and the rampant consumerism that he sees as the result of full enfranchisement. Thus, using Buddhism to advocate for a non racialized human identity, Johnson pursues a middle 1 John Whalen Bridge, "A Conversation with Charles Johnson and Maxine Hong Kingston," pp. 73 74. 2 Jonathan Li 100.
165 way that encourages neither a full reliance on a black identity nor uncritical acceptance of consumerist practice. Johnson and Buddhism The basic critical delineation of Johnson has largely been set. According to John Whalen Bridge, critics over the last 25 years have generally described Johnson as: an artist focused o n integration, in the wake of Ellison a writer who uses comedy and parody to bring readers to some type of liberation, "a liberation tha t is often compared to the Buddhist regulative ideal of a black male author who purposefully eschews any classificatory schema 3 should be seen as complemen perspective allows him to remain aesthetically fresh and innovative, rather than becoming a genre writer. Indeed, some of Johnson's first experiences with novel writing showcase the damaging inf luence ("misery filled protest stories," he calls them) of mimicking naturalist authors such as James Baldwin, Richard Wright, and John A. Williams. 4 Later, more mature novels such as Oxherding Tale and Middle Passage become what James W. Coleman calls "m ulti 5 and they avoid the Black Arts themes and aesthetic that Johnson finds so constraining. In describing some short stories, critic Gary Storhoff describes 3 John Whalen 4 Virgini a Smith, p. 659 5 Oxherding Tale 632.
166 several currents that run throughout Jo hnson's oeuvre and contends, of material objects entirely independent of the conceiving mind, in the social constructions of race and identity that we supposedly take for gra nted, to remind the reader of the metaphorical nature of reality, and of his/her part in the creation of reality. 6 Although Storhoff focuses specifically on the influence of George Berkeley's Idealist metaphysics on two of Johnson's stories, the range of philosophical thinking that informs Johnson's aesthetic position is much broader, as Storhoff has argued elsewhere. Such influences include Du Bois, Heidegger, Hegel, Husserl, Ricoeur, Fanon, Merleau Ponty, and Sartre, argues Linda Selzer in describing an other Johnson work. 7 Ashraf H. A. Rushdy has also shown the influence of phenomenologists, while Johnson himself has weighed in on the influence that Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Vedanta have had on his life and work, a position supported by much criti cal work as well. 8 P erhaps above all is the influence of Buddhism: Johnson began daily meditation practice in 1981, and now translates Sanskrit works on Buddhism from the Devanagari originals. 9 Johnson has even referenced his novels in Buddhist terms, ca lling Oxherding Tale The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (Hui Neng), a key text of Zen Buddhism. 10 That Buddhist influence too is evidenced in the quote above, and the religion forms the spiritual basis for Johnson' s critiques of capitalism and racial identity. 6 Gary Storhoff, p. 543. 7 Linda Selzer, "Master Slave Dialect ics, 114. 8 Ashraf H.A. Rushdy, pp. 372 373. Charles 5. Rudolph P. Byrd, p. 307. n in Oxherding Tale William R. Nash, p. 5. Nash notes the heavy influence of Buddhism and phenomenology on Johnson. Jonathan Little, p. 8 0. 9 Charles Eye," pp. 4 5. 10 Rudolph P. Byrd, p. 305.
167 As should be evidenced in the wide variety of his antecedents, Johnson has advocated a position that integrates Western philosophical and creative traditions with the concerns of African Americans, in order t o forge innovative work from African American artists. To this end, Johnson uses intertextuality extensively in his works, as many critics have noted. 11 This strategy highlights a key Buddhist theme that Johnson wants to reiterate -the interdependence of all individuals. John Whalen Bridge argues that Johnson incorporates the figure of the dharma bum (primarily a white, middle class male tradition) into his novel Dreamer 12 The Beat character in the novel is just as dilettante ish in his interest in easte rn mysticism as the characters that Kerouac describes. Barbara Thaden, among others, states that Johnson uses the plot and structures of a variety of genres, such as the romance, the sea story, the epic, and the slave narrative, as well as consciously usi ng the work of mentor John Gardner as a model and engaging in historiographic metafiction. 13 Johnson has also employed forms such as the picaresque, the adventure story, and the confession narrative, and has refashioned Homer, Melville, and Defoe as well a s Douglass. 14 Rudolph P. Byrd shows how Johnson relied on Jean Toomer and Ralph Siddhartha and Kaku an Shi The Ten Oxherding Pictures a key work in Zen Buddhism play an even more central role in the construc tion of his own novel Oxherding Tale 15 Little too notes the influence of the Buddhist work. 16 Thaden argues that Johnson often subverts such genres, intentionally 11 William R. Nash, p. 30 expand the possibilities open to African American artists. 12 John Whalen Bridge, "Waking Cain 512 13 Barbara Z. Thaden, p. 754. 14 Daniel M. Scott III, p. 646 15 Rudolph P. Byrd, pp. 307, 316. 16 Jonathan Little, p p 8 2 83.
168 17 For examp le, she suggests that in Middle Passage The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to challenge the traditional slave narrative 18 19 Retm an bequea 20 Through a theory and practice of intertextuality based on his Buddhist understanding, Johnson plays with and refashions the tropes of many genres into a discussion of Buddhist experience. For example, Johnson credits hi classically defined moksha 21 Black I dentity Johnson has rejected movements that seek to establish and elaborate a specifically black identity, such as the Black Arts Mo vement and Afrocentrism. Johnson 17 Barbara Z. Thaden, p. 75 7 18 Ibid ., 19 Sonnet Retman, p. 418. 20 Ibid ., pp. 420 421. Re tman argues that slave narratives are carefully constructed performances meant against slavery, the narratives presented a carefully constructed public self to a predominantly white, female audience. This representation reflected the values of abolitionist Americans would find most compelling and, accordingly, was shaped out of the most popular literary genres of the day, the picaresque and the sentiment al novel. The narratives argued for abolition in at least two ways: They 21 Aida Ahmed Hussen, p. 240.
169 briefly dallied with the Black Arts Movement in college, following a 1968 lecture by Amiri Baraka, the founder of the Black Arts Movement in 1965. 22 As the artistic arm of the Black Power Movement, Black Arts demanded a blac k aesthetic that would reject white defined aesthetic standards and be controlled by the black literary community, as a means to effectively represent the concerns of black Americans. Cynthia A. Young also cites Amiri Baraka as one among many 1960s leftis ts whom she calls the U.S. Third World Left -interconnections between U.S. minorities and Third World majorities in a moment of 23 Young notes how this group emphasized the commonalities between urban communities of color and Third World communities in order to create a common framework and struggle with those in the Third World. Baraka was one of n of black Americans, and argued that, therefore, armed resistance was the path to liberation as it had been in other colonies. 24 Young also adds that while this movement was productive, it also s, a set of projections and 25 This reduction of humans to icons is exactly the abstraction that Johnson would like avoid through his integrationist perspective. Soon after his introduction to the movement Johnson rejected the position, accord ing to Nash, because of his training in philosophy and Buddhism. 26 Johnson has characterized the goals of the Black Arts Movement as replacing "white hegemony with 22 William R. Nash, p. 19 23 Cynthia A. Young, p. 3. 24 Ibid ., pp. 4 5. 25 Ibid ., p. 12 26 William R. Nash, p. 1 5.
170 27 Elsewhere, Johnson has criticized the mo vement for not "answering enough questions. It wasn't going deep enough in terms of investigating phenomena.... our relationship to the environment, for example, 28 That lack of depth also informs is familiar with the positions of Marx, having taught him as a doctoral teaching assistant. While he finds Marxist critique of capitalism to be useful, Marx's ultimate solution to social and economic problem s is untenable, for Johnson. 29 Selzer notes that in the transmutations involved in commodity fetishism, Johnson exposes the logic of a racial economy in which discriminatory social hierarchies are reified in the black body, taken as a living representative of social inferiority." 30 xts posit that "under the spell of commodity fetishism, all social relations tend to take on the form of material relations." 31 Rushdy argues similarly. 32 While undertaking reforms that create the proper social/relational aspects is important to Johnson as a prescription relies on a conception of the proletariat as somehow distinctly different from (and better than ) their bourgeois oppressors an identity politics that Johnson flatly rejects. 27 W 28 29 Michael Boccia, p. 201. 30 p. 264. 31 Ibid ., p. 260. 32 Ashraf H.A. Rushdy, p. 377.
171 And as for Afrocentrism, Johnson has nationalism. 33 Molefi Kete Asante explains Afrocentrism as an interrogation of western values that masquerade as universal values. Afrocentrism instead seeks to place 34 35 While Asante admits to the charge of essentialism, h e asserts that Afrocentrism seeks to establish a cultural nationalism in the ways that dominant hegemonies do, and presents the hypocrisy inherent in the request that subalterns refrain from doing what the culturally powerful do. 36 Asante even goes as far as saying that contemporary literary thought cannot be applied, whole 37 application of phenomenology and even Buddh ism to the experiences of African Americans. Johnson has received flak, especially from a certain segment of the Left, for his refusal to participate in the activity of solidifying a specifically black identity, for instance in the projects of the Black A rts Movement. For such views Johnson has been called a conservative, and several public disagreements on the role of the black artist with Henry Louis Gates and Toni Morrison have "aroused suspicion of Johnson on the Left," according to Whalen Bridge. 38 F or critics such as Timothy Parrish, Morrison invokes an 33 S.X. Goudie, p. 119 34 Molefi Kete Asante, p. 2. 35 Ibid ., p. 11. 36 Ibid ., p. 13. 37 Ibid ., p. 173 38 John Whalen
172 African American identity that is a hybrid of other American identities and 39 S.X. Goudie also notes the icy critical reception that Johnson's novel Middle Passage garnered in the five years following the National Book Award in 1990 -just a single article, (other than reviews and short fea tures related to the award), 40 despite the fact that Johnson was the first African American man since Ralph Ellison to win the award. 41 Jonathan Little even suggests that maybe Gates has excluded Johnson from lists of important black writers based on Johnson 42 Johnson has even faced ostracism from colleagues and friends following the publication of his book Turning the Wheel 43 But Johnson is not pursuing some type of reactionary paradigm, in which slavery is forgotten or disremem bered. Hussen suggests rather that Johnson does see some solely 44 Jonathan Little agrees, stating that Johnson is all too well aware of white racism. 45 But by focusing exclusively on 39 Timothy L. Parrish, p. 82 40 S.X. Go udie, to it, some within the critical community appear to favor banishing the work and perhaps Johnson himself oudie also notes several comments from the 41 William R. Nash, p. 130 42 Jonathan Little, p. 15. 43 John Whalen Turning the Wheel may have cost me a few old friends in the book world. Since receiving their copies, other writers (I'll name no names), some black and some white academic and literary colleagues, haven't said as much as y are, in fact, as deeply afraid of Buddhism as my old teacher Gard ner once was. I think as well that their perception, ideas, or believes about me -who I am, what I think, what I stand for -have been roughed up a little. Or more than a little. And 44 Aida Ahmed Hussen, p. 245 45 Jonathan Little, the cherished eighties Reaganist belief in a color blind society that refuses to acknowledge the impact of
173 in the words of James W. Coleman. 46 And Johnson has been no less adamant about abdicating his role as a voice for his race: I was not put here on this earth to spend my time educating white people. I was put here to create art. If it educates people, g reat. But that is not the role I can inhabit in this society. I can't, because it's a funny kind of service you're doing and it's still subservient to whites in a particular way. I just can't do that. That's 'm not a racial spokesman. You have 47 Elsewhere, Johnson has noted how being identified specifically as an author on racial subjects tends to marginalize writers. 48 As Lorraine Ouimet argues, Johnso 49 Johnson refuses to be caught on the twin barbs of the debate over racial identity. E ven if too much has been made of Johnson's diff erences, he still participates in some of the broad trends, such as reclaiming community, that have characterized African American novels in the last 40 years. Phillip Page explains that during this era, such novels "document the spiritual and psychic dis integration that accompanies the loss of community and cultural heritage as well as the redemptive possibilities of reaffirming such ties." 50 Johnson also participates in what Page calls "the tradition of 46 p. 634. Oxherding Tale as an antithesis to such narratives. 47 John Whalen Bridge, "A Conversation with Cha rles Johnson and Maxine Hong Kingston," pp. 82 83. 48 Ibid ., p. 81. Johnson states, "How about being labeled Asian American or African American? I had long talks with August Wilson, and some of them were very illuminating. August keeps promising that he 's going to boycott certain bookstores in which you find his plays and they're over in the black literature segregation, apartheid, in book store 49 Lorraine Ouimet, p. 33. 50 Philip Page, p. 5.
174 for 51 For Johnson, this theology largely ta kes the form of Buddhism. E ven through a non Christian orientation, Johnson participates in a trend delineated by Page as emphasizing "a future that will redress the tribulations of the past and the injustic 52 W comparatively little has been said about how his vision might obscure feminist concerns. Being and Race 53 A few other critics such as how moksha or release, Siddhartha 54 Lorraine Ouimet too notes that Oxherding Tale and Middle Passage locate freedom, salvation, and wisdo m 55 Taking a cue from Elizabeth Muther, who notes how Johnson uses the lead female character in Middle Passage as comic capital, 56 fem inine subjectivity. Buddhism as P rotest Whereas the status of blacks as outside the Cold War consensus seemed to establish them as protesting and therefore as cool, at least according to the Beats, the Civil Rights movement attempted to establish economic enfranchisement for African 51 Ibid ., p. 17. 52 Ibid ., p. 19. 53 William R. Nash, p. 49 54 Rudolph P. Byrd, p. 312. 55 L orraine Ouimet, p. 47 56 Elizabeth Muther, p. 649
175 Americans. Johnson considers the C ivil R ights movement as profoundly spiritual in nature and tries to offer an alternative to capitalist America, by turn ing to Buddhism, which he thinks presents another, spiritual orientation to African Americans. Johnson seeks to extend the goals of the Civil Rights movement from a necessary, but more vulgar, concern with economic matters to a focus on ultimate freedom that would be presented in Buddhism. By challenging the ontological/metaphy sical effects of American capitalism with Buddhism, Johnson aims to provide another potential se l fless identity to black America and America as a whole. Unlike Kerouac and Ginsberg who often deploy the religion as a marker of cool, Johnson emphasizes the value of Buddhist practice as a means of achieving ultimate freedom. Through his practice that seeks to undo the binary formations of black cultural nationalism Johnson shows and explains the value of Buddhism in undermining some of the bases of capitalis m, for example, in Turning the Wheel in which he explains the basis of Buddhist practice. Nevertheless, at times he seems close to deploying the trope of the protestant ethnic along the lines sketched out by Chow. Johnson's insistence in Turning the Whee l that black Americans should eschew the easy materialism of America suggests how blacks are, in some ways, still being positioned as resistant to commodification and therefore cool. Turning the Wheel : Essays on Buddhism Turning the Wheel (2003) offers a m lange of essays in two sections that range but that usually dissect the experience of African Americans in reference to these topics. Whereas the second section deal s only very desultorily with Buddhism, the first section explicitly takes up that perspective to discuss questions of social justice, a distinct change from a long tradition of African Americans using Christianity to
176 interrogate such issues. In the first s various essays the value of Buddhist practice, and how it can impact the politics, economics, and social geography of the nation. In these essays, he points out how Buddhism can be used to undergird a syste m of equal civil and economic rights for African Americans. At the same time, he argues how Buddhism can be used to combat some of the most destructive aspects of capitalism. nd theories of narrative, in particular, how the experiences of African Americans have been detailed in American belles lettres The title of the book refers to the phrase, common in m dharma the phrase has multiple valences. The title has a historical referent the ultimate teachings of Buddhism and the truths to which they refer. The title also makes a metaphorical comment on what Johnson is attempting to do in his book, namely, show the value of Buddhist practice for contemporary America. Thus, Johnson is turning the wheel, or fulfilling his role or duty, by writing the book for his audience. Such a move is oriented toward bodhisattva action, or action with the intent to lead others to enlightenment. By fulfilling his Dharma, Johnson believes he is undertaking bodhisattva action. That Johnson is tremendously invested in Buddhism is made clear by the title, but throughout the book Buddhism does not operate merely as a convenient rhetorical device. In fact, Johnson views his practice of Buddhism as one of the tools that has allowed him to survive and be creative as a black American in a Eurocentr ic society. In
177 a black American and an artist, I would not have been able to successfully negotiate my last half century of life in this country. Or at least not with a high level of creative productivity, working in a spirit of metta toward all sentient beings, and selfless service 57 Johnson argues convincingly that Buddhism has had a practical benefit for him after years of study, and that the religion is n ot simply a means to be cool. He 58 He notes how he ivilized of possible 59 For Johnson, the practice of Buddhism is a means to radical fr eedom, but not just for the practice because it leads to a community that esteems its members and that offers them freedom. imself rhetorically as the spiritual successor to the great leaders of the African American civil rights movements. In particular, he focuses on their efforts and achievements as means to an end, that of political and spiritual freedom, rather than emphasi zing some vision of the American dream as sacrificed so much and for so long, and ou r dreams of a life of dignity and happiness for 57 Charles Johnson, Turning the Wheel p. xvi. 58 Ibid ., p. xvii. 59 Ibid ., p. xviii.
178 our children were tied inextricably to a profound and lifelong meditation on what it 60 does he mean by the word free ? He tack 61 Johnson then goes on to explain how Du Bois cautioned his audience of NAACP members aga 62 Freedom for African Americans, argues Johnson, cannot be simply libertine consumption and the acceptance of bla cks as worthy consumers. Or, as Johnson later states, "The Dharma is, if nothing else, a call for us to live in a state of radical freedom." 63 realizes its profoundest, truest, an d most revolutionary meeting." 64 Yet Du Bois focused greatly on economic enfranchisement for African Americans, for instance, through his emphasis on black owned cooperatives as a means to realize fiscal power without succumbing to the corruptions of capita lism. 65 In making his point, Johnson seems to almost In a similar vein Johnson turns to Martin Luther King Jr. and his sermon ads King from a Buddhist framework, which he does later in several essays, even as King reads from 60 Ibid ., pp.. xiii xiv. 61 Ibid ., p. xiv. 62 Ibid ., p. xv. 63 Ibid ., p. 14. 64 Ibid ., p. 57. 65 Lizabeth Cohen, p. 49
179 reminds his listeners of the biblical proverb that one reaps wh at one sows. Johnson 66 enfranchisement is not enough. Like King, Johnson critique s American materialism, and even goes so far as to reference parenthetically the shenanigans of Wall Street in 2002, ostensibly the massive corruption and greed that led to the downfall of Enron. In this way, Johnson responds to Du Bois and King by situat ing the practice of Buddhism as a potential alternative orientation for black America. For Johnson, Buddhism offers a counter to the materialism promoted by capitalism, and, as importantly, a different orientation on the notion of freedom. Therefore, to secure the promise set forth by the great civil rights leaders, African Americans must continue to push toward ultimate freedom, which is promised by Buddhism. To concretize this point, Johnson notes various black Americans (such as Alice Walker, Tina Turn er, and bell hooks) who are currently practicing Buddhists. Buddhism B attles C apitalism or Meditation Instead of M ediation While Johnson does provide Buddhism as an alternative orientation for African Americans, he also sets up the religion as countering capitalist destruction of individual potentialities, especially of black Americans. In two essays from Turning the Wheel a and how Buddhist practice would counter it. The former essay deals with the valuable yet difficult training of meditation, and how it affects the process of reading and writing. In the latter essay, the author explains in 66 Charles Johnson, Turning the Wheel p. xvi.
180 expert detail the meaning and value of the Eightfold Path, a Buddhist map of eight practices that point the way to enlightenment. aware of every 67 Such mindfulness is at odds with commercial interests intent on mining attention energy for profit. Johnson writes, Sadly, for most Americans, that kind of concentration and nonattachment... i s elusive, particularly in a TV oriented and movie drenched carnival culture that produces a short attention span in a population relentlessly bombarded by trivial distractions and weighted down by ego baggage -elusive, that is, until one learns to caref 68 Johnson postulates meditation as a counter to the media's funneling of attention energy into the maintenance of globalizing corporate networks. This media apparatus seems directly implicate Johnson, meditation would lead to an experience of nonattachment, in which the individual no longer feels the pull of material goods. But he implies further benefits as the individual p ractitioner develops: the dedicated practice of meditation would lead to a decrease, if not an outright cessation, of media viewing, thereby limiting the attention energy being siphoned to support corporate networks. This critique of media continues in "R Johnson enumerates and explains the eight orientations of the path. Among these orientations is what Johnson terms Perfect Speech Under this injunction, the Buddha instructs his followers to use language to help end suffering and illusion, rather than perpetuate them. After explaining the meaning by quoting the Buddha, Johnson links 67 Ibid ., p. 35. 68 Ibid
181 Waste not the time with empty words in light of how in America, and elsewhere i n the world, we daily abuse the power of language, diminish and trivialize it and use talk as merely another form of entertainment, or a way to amuse ourselves and others: to pass the time or simply fill 69 While Johnson is al so gesturing toward other abuses of language, he clearly points at the media as well, especially electronic media, which are often viewed as nothing more than entertainment, amusement, or companionship for idle hours. Here, words operate as a detriment to Buddhist mindfulness, and the inducement to continually speak and/or listen mines attention energy that can be sold by media corporations, propping up a globalized corporate world. If words and entertainment detract from mindfulness, individuals have no opportunity to examine their interdependent nature, the realization of which, for Johnson, would limit attachment to material goods. For Johnson, this abuse of language debilitates the efforts of those using words to bring enlightenment, those "pointing t o the moon." Johnson also implicates capitalist media in the propagation of violence, especially as it relates to African Americans, as entertainment and recreation, since profit motivates the production of such "talk." If we were to practice Perfect Sp eech Johnson contends, it would be a step toward his vision of a society that fostered the development of every individual. He writes, "All my life I've wondered what it would be like to live in a society where, instead of men and women insulting and tea ring each other down, people in their social relations, and even in the smallest ways, held the highest intellectual, moral, creative, 69 Ibid ., p. 17.
182 70 Johnson's vision, then, seems predicated on the elimination of the capital ist media apparatus, since it is one of the most pervasive purveyors of destructive talk and of violence. Johnson demonstrates that Buddhism offers some direct traction on the propagation of capitalism. Reading Black E xperience as Buddhist O ne o f the more interesting and problematic rhetorical moves that Johnson makes is to re read black experience through a Buddhist filter. In several essays in Turning the Wheel Johnson positions the realizations of African American figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Je an Toomer, and Martin Luther King, Jr as Buddhist insights. At best, such a move has the ability to position Buddhism as the fundamental insight into human nature, since a Buddhist, Johnson argues, underlies the suffering and experiences of such figures. At worst, such a move threatens to destabilize and trivialize the meaning of Buddhism, since the specific insights of these figures are decontextualized from their (often Christian) roots. The verbal expression of interdependence, for example, is neithe r a sufficient nor necessary condition for establishing that something is Buddhist. For instance, modern biology and quantum physics (and many other disciplines) recognize interdependence as a key modus operandi, but they are clearly not Buddhist. For th ese reasons, Johnson's rhetorical move proves problematic. understanding of interdependence to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. He begins the paragraph with a quote on Buddhist ontol ogy from Thich Nhat Hanh, a well known Vietnamese Buddhist monk whom King recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich 70 Ibid ., p. 18.
183 71 In Buddhism, this aspect is t ied directly to Emptiness and is its corollary; all phenomena are relational in nature and therefore empty, or vice versa. Consider how Johnson connects King to this Buddhist understanding: All beings are relational and appear, as Dr. Martin Luther King J r. put it during the tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all who was bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is c reated for us by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Than at the table we drink coffee, which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs, we are beholden to more than half 72 position that Johnson had just presented. In effect, King explains the Buddhis t worldview offered 73 King explains the process of interdependence stylistically and powerfully, but, as suggested before, interdependence is recognized in many disciplines as a fundamental systemic working. Buddhism has no correct to say that King supports modern ideas of quantum physics, since such science relies heavily, even fundamentally, on notions of interdependence. 71 Ibid ., p. 9. 72 Ibid ., pp. 9 10. 73 We Only th
184 that are imported from across the world. For those who provide us their products, we explicitly and almost exclusively on economic interdependence, stressing the value to everyone of integrating b lacks into the broader economic world, since everyone is benefited or short changed by their inclusion or exclusion, respectively. In short, through his explanation, King gestures toward economic globalization or interdependence not spiritual interdepend ence as the goal for African Americans. At best, King only implies the spiritual element through the complete interdependence of all things, at least in this passage. Yet, to further solidify his spiritual interpretation amid all this economic rhetoric rights, King argued, were just the beginning of a struggle that revolved around housing, 74 In his b id to connect King to Buddhism (oddly through Gandhi), Johnson decontextualizes for the inclusion of African Americans in the broader economy. This re positioning and re interpretation of King are at least somewhat ironic and more so, given the persiste nt economic marginalization of blacks. Johnson has to walk a tight line here. Whalen Bridge notes Johnson's displeasure with the black cultural blames America as a whole for 74 Nikhil Pal Singh, p. 13.
185 Whalen Bridge also notes the curse of canonization for King, and that despite the ubiquity of images of King, the nonviolence and integration that he pro moted have been largely ignored. 75 Yet a political identity is what may allow African Americans to gain some measure of economic equality, even as it expands the penetration of the capitalism. That Johnson recommends spiritual succor in a non politicized identity when earthly delights are not possible smacks uneasily of the use of Christianity as a means to subjugate or internally discipline slaves and former slaves. Johnson makes a similar rhetorical move later on, although he positions King less egregi ously and ties him into the Buddhist understanding less directly. As Johnson argues that committed Buddhists eventually see the necessity of social action for the 76 Such will, [Johnson] believe[s], share the dreams stated by Dr. Martin Luther and moral q 77 Unlike in the previous passage, here Johnson attenuates the connection between King and Buddhism, linking them together because they share the common values of love and nonviolence. Johnson d oes not try to use either Buddhism or King as an underpinning for the other. Instead, the second passage stresses the complementarity of the two worldviews, a move that seems more Buddhist in its insistence on harmony and mutual 75 John Whalen 76 Charles Johnson, Turning the Wheel p. 26. 77 Ibid
186 contribution. This latter positioning avoids the awkwardness of the previous passage and its virtual declaration of King as Buddhist. Johnson reads the suffering induced by the slave experience as leading to the specific insights of 20th century black American life and the movem ent toward political freedom and subsequently Buddhism. In "A Sangha by Another Name" Johnson summarizes the slave experience, from coming to the New World to the actual life in the United States. Then, despite the laws propounded by the Emancipation Pro clamation, Johnson states, well into the 20 th century, black life consisted of Jim Crow laws, "disenfranchisement, anger, racial dualism, second class citizenship" and citing W.E.B. 78 Johnson uses this synopsis as a way to frame black experience as suffering, and to show how all black Americans were primed for the specific relief of suffering offered by Buddhism. Amid such suffering, the author posits, black Americans turned to Christianity, or had it foisted upon them by white Americans in order to make them docile. Yet, Johnson argues that African Americans greatly expanded upon the Christian Church and used it as a means to realize social aims and freedom, even if in the afterlife. Johnson then characterizes the Christ ian Church as dualistic and thoroughly Western, in order to position Buddhism as the next step in the moral vision, which "partitions the world into good and evil, h 79 Such a formulation is based upon "an immortal soul that no worldly suffering can harm" and 80 For Johnson, as a Buddhist, such a dualistic cosmology is necessarily incomplete. Johnson concludes: "Ch ristianity, in part, made 78 Ibid ., p. 47. 79 Ibid ., p. 49. 80 Ibid
187 black Americans a genuinely Western people, on the whole identical in their strivings and sense of how the world works with Northern Europeans in the Judeo Christian tradition." 81 Johnson uses this characterization of the similari ty of ontological/ metaphysical beliefs as an indication that black Americans have been too closely assimilated into the white Judeo Christian tradition and its attendant problems, especially its over concern with material objects. To counter this over c oncern and posit a distinct and distinctly spiritual direction for black America, Johnson turns to the work of W.E.B. Du B ois, namely his speech "Criteria of Negro Art." In the lecture, Du Bois suggests to his audience of NAACP members that what they real ly desire is not the "tawdry and flamboyant" but rather "a 82 To emphasize the spiritual dimension of Du Bois, Johnson recites his 83 He re, Johnson shift s the dialogue of black rights from the demands for economic equality and opportunity to those for spiritual transcendence. Johnson writes : Du Bois urged them not to let their ennobling journey to greater freedom degenerate into a selfis h, vulgar hedonism, or a desire for the ephemeral baubles that the least enlightened member of WASP America so jealously guarded. No, I do not believe he saw freedom's fulfillment taking the form of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, or Andy Warhol's 15 minut es of fame, or in the egoistic pursuit of things cheap, banal, and self centered. 84 W ith this shift, Johnson, and Du B ois before him, re align the Civil Rights movement and black identity as profoundly spiritual/existential in nature. In effect, the goal of equal rights becomes an opportunity to redress fundamental spiritual wrongs of the 81 Ibid 82 Ibid ., p. 50. 83 Ibid 84 Ibid ., p. xv.
188 (white) Western world and bring to the table a distinctly harmonious worldview that recognizes the sanctity of everyone. This re alignment is of particular importa as the invocation of Civil Rights principles and ideals, especially the idea that people should not be viewed as things Du Bois as an advocat e of neither assimilatio nist nor segregationist tendencies. Singh argues that Du Bois blended the civilizationist rhetoric of 19 th century black nationalism wo 85 For Singh as well as for Cynthia A. Young, Du Bois linked the struggles of African Americans with the oppressed in other countries, connecting the practice of anti imperialism with anti racism. 86 Such a move resounds well with Johnson's previous comments on avoiding the commodification incumbent in capitalist systems of production and consumption, which threaten to reduce the individual and the racialized individuals into a commodity. In the same essay, Johnson contin ues to establish the Civil Rights movement as fundamentally (alternatively) spiritual in nature. Yet, here, despite his earlier insistence on Buddhism as the spiritual direction for black Americans, Johnson seems to engage in equivocation: any alternative spirituality seems to play an acceptable role in the spiritual liberation of African American intellectuals at least since the early 20 th century have turned to Eastern spiritualities. He writes, "As early as the 85 Nikhil Pal Singh, pp. 212 213. 86 Cynthia A. Young, p. 2.
189 1920s, some black Americans were quietly investigating Far Eastern philosophies such as Hinduism and the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of Buddhism after 87 Johnson goes on to note that Toomer studied and taught the philosophy of George Gurdjieff for several summers in Europe. As Johnson notes, Gurdjieff offers "an original restatement of esoteric wisdom influenced by Tibetan and Sufi teachings," which was called the Fourth Way. 88 Unexplainably, seemingly any type of Eastern spirituality becomes an alternative for black Americans to explore their identity, a move that appears to replicat a means to protest. Johnson further ties Toomer to a Buddhist understanding by reading some of the Essentials Although Johnson has just shown how Toomer studied a derivative of Sufi and Tibetan teachings, he now connects him explicitly to Buddhism. Johnson writes, I was in part a product of language, which can conceal as much as it reveals about the wo transitory. He was no stranger to the renunciation of an illusory, empirical ego. 89 Johnson's reading of Toomer as Buddhist is, at best, half supported. Some of Toomer's phrases might also seem equally representative of a postmodern or poststructural view, for example, the I 87 Charles Johnson, Turning the Wheel p. 50. 88 Ibid ., p. 51. 89 Ibid
190 seem most distinctly Buddhist interdependence and the illusory ego although he does later ci 90 That Johnson briefly slips into an equivocation in which any alternative Eastern religion is acceptable for African Americans suggests the extent to which he earnestly desires to re read the Civil Rights movement as profoundly interested in spiritual matters over material ones. Such a desire is further borne out in his novels Middle Passage and Dreamer Middle Passage as the Middle Way In at least one essay, Johnson comes quite c Afrocentrism that he had previously rejected. That Johnson envisions blacks as having deeper spiritual roots than white culture is evidenced in his essay "A Sangha by Another Turning The Wheel He writes, "Can anyone doubt that if there is an essence an eidos to black American life, it has for three centuries been craving and a quest for identity and liberty, which, pushed to its social extremes, propelled this pursuit beyond the relative, conceptual reali ties of race and culture to a deeper investigation of 91 Such a positioning seems close to both traditional stereotypical depictions of blacks as inherently more spiritual than white America and o stand for protest against mainstream (white) America. In the same essay, Johnson seems to reinforce this point when he talks of his award winning novel, Middle Passage In describing the African tribe called the Allmuseri, who form the central cargo a board an America bound ship, Johnson admits 90 Ibid 91 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 47.
191 that they are "a rather Buddhist African tribe." 92 In the novel, the Allmuseri rebel and overthrow the captain, ultimately taking charge of the ship, and try to return it to their homeland. This representation s eems to position Buddhism and Africans as forces that threaten the symbolically named American ship Republic the slaving vessel on which civilizes the impulse for rebellion. F or example, a type of Buddhist understanding comes to the narrator and protagonist Rutherford Calhoun and allows him to return to what he had previously seen as an overly domestic America and even marry his former lover, from whom he had initially run. Jo hnson uses the novel to highlight slavery not just as a historical physical condition but also as a mental condition that can affect all humans, regardless of whether they are physically enslaved. That position is echoed by many critics, including Elizabe th Muther and Barbara Thaden. 93 Retman also notes how 94 Johnson incorporates Buddhism into the text in a variety of different ways. Perhaps most interesting is h is use of doublin g to highlight how class roles and physical characteristics such as skin color are illusory phenomena that mask an interdependent reality. The theme of interdependence is further deepened by Johnson's extensive use of intertextuality, a hallmark of his st yle. Critics Marc Steinberg and Helen Lock note 92 Ibid ., p. 55. 93 Elizabeth Muther, p. 655 Muther wri unanswerable, makes him the stepchild of the Republic freed from slavery only to find himself without Barbara Z. Thaden, p. 75 7 state of mind 94 Sonnet Retman, p. 429 Oxherding Tale position follows on to Middle Pass age
192 Johnson's reliance on Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno 95 Steinberg and Tuire Valkeakari points out that Johnson goes so far as to use Melville's characters from that story as Allmuseri ship mutineers 96 Valkeakari too notes the connection with the 97 itle does double duty as well, with middle passage having resonance not only as a historical event/practice of slavery but also as in its invocation of the Buddhist middle way. Brian Fagel notes the Amer ican is placed in the middle of the rest of the crew (white and black, captain and crew, slave and free). Fagel writes: externally imposed exclusion and internally realize d difference. This mode of subject 98 Ultimately, each group rejects the African American freedman. That isolation in the middle leads to the ental as well as physical phenomenon. As a result, the existential condition that Calhoun faces on board the ship comes to represent not just the fate of one man but rather of all mankind. Such a universalizing process, however, has a tendency to erase th e particularities of any given individuals, and it should be noted that the ship both crew and cargo -was dominated 95 Marc Steinberg, p. 376. Helen Lock, p. 54. 96 Marc Steinberg, p. 37 8 Tuire Valkeakari, p. 229 97 Ibid ., p. 248. The connection with Melville is particularly fascinating inasmuch as Melville becomes interested in Buddhism late in his life, altho ugh Valkeakari does not mention this point. 98 Brian Fagel, p. 626.
193 Johnson introduces Calhoun as an individual wh o longs for the exotic experience and shies away from domestic society. As the narrator, Calhoun reveals that he lives in 99 Just a moment later, he admits that he i perception and the nerve 100 female admirer, Isadora, tri es to win him. H e is turned off by her conventional attitudes: "Don't be common. Comb your hair. Be a credit to the Race. Strive, like the Creoles, 101 Calhoun balks at these middle class values; instead, he prefers a life of thievery and a dventure amid the demimonde of the Crescent city. He insists on not becoming what his brother had become 102 When he is blackmailed into marrying Isadora, he refuses and turns to the sea, inadvertently s towing aboard a slave trading vessel bound for Africa. 103 Calhoun eventually must resolve this conflict between the selfishness of his own desi res and the social demands of a larger community. Aboard the vessel, Calhoun comes to learn that adventure takes on imperialist and capitalist overtones. Calhoun soon meets the epitome of adventuring Captain Ebenezer Falcon of the Republic whose vesse l stands for America and its republican, imperialist, and capitalist ideals. Even the name Ebenezer as in Scrooge, seems to 99 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 1. 100 Ibid ., p. 3. 101 Ibid ., p. 9. 102 Ibid 103 Elizabeth Muther, p. 652
194 like and imperialist character, having vast stores of knowledge and treasures from across the world. The narrator notes that the captain was reputed to know seven African languages and had the ability to learn any new language in just two weeks. He adds, He'd proven it with Hottentot, and lived among their tribe for a month, plundering their most sacred religious shrines. He'd gone hunting for the source of the Bardo Thodol -this, after stealing the only scroll from a remote temple in Tibet and if the papers can be believed, he was a patri ot whose burning passion was the manifest destiny of the United States to Americanize the entire planet. 104 In his search for the root of the Nile and theft of the Tibetan scroll, Falcon embodies exactly the ideal of Western penetrat narrator later reveals that Falcon is hording, in his cabin, a vast storehouse of similar treasures from across the world. These artifacts included "Etruscan vases, Persian silk prayer carpets, and port 105 The narrator explains unambiguously the processes propell financiers, powerful families in New Orleans who underwrote the Republic to stock Yankee museums and their homes with whatever of value wa s not nailed down in the nations he visited To bring bac k slaves, yes, but to salvage the best of their war shocked cultures too." 106 Significantly, Johnson connects such adventuring with imperialism, and Falcon's personal practice of subsuming the Other, whether physically or intellectually, reflects the larger national practice of manifest destiny. Therefore, 104 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 30. 105 Ibid ., p. 48. 106 Ibid ., pp. 48 49
195 Falcon embodies the traditional imperialist ideals of American civilization and its emphasis on the expansion and arrogation of the self. Johnson expands on and critiques the psychology of such an indiv idual bent on subsuming the Other. To portray these insights into Falcon's character, Johnson has Falcon became a pirate and slave trader amid a capitalist climate tha t financially rewarded such behavior. He writes, "In a dangerous world, a realm of disasters, a place of grief and pain, a sensible man made himself dangerous, more frightening than all the er ludi of the Hard Life." 107 In this passage, Johnson sets up the world as a place full of suffering, a fundamental Buddhist understanding, in order to later contrast his portrayal of Falcon. Using the words sensible and accidents ironically, Johnson sugg seems to critique the Nietzschean vision of strength as subsuming the world by becoming more clever or diabolical. Moreover, the quotation of acci dents suggests that Falcon brings misfortune upon himself through his self serving actions. Johnson continues the critique in the following paragraph, intimating that Falcon is a vision of Emerson. Through such a comparison, Johnson criticizes one of th e key strands of American psychology entries, the narrator concludes that Falcon possessed a few of the solitary virtues and the entire twisted will of Puritanism: a desire to achieve perfection; the l oneliness, self punishment, and bouts of suicide this brings; and a profound disdain for anyone who failed to meet his nearly superhuman standards. He attributed his knack for survival in uncertain times to a series of exercises he developed, written in L atin, French, and Greek -for he 107 Ibid ., p. 51.
196 thought simultaneously in all three languages -108 Although he does not mention Emerson by name, Johnson's suggestion is clear with the the lat ter of which is perhaps Emerson's best known essay. For Johnson, the rational individualism proposed by Emerson, if taken to its logical conclusion, leads to psychological desolation and corruption, with the concomitant desire to subsume everything into o neself. By mentioning three great philosophical languages, Johnson even implicates much of the Western philosophical lineage in the privileging of the rational individual as sacrosanct, and even again suggests a critique of Nietzsche with the use of the word superhuman In fact, out of context the passage could almost pass as a description of Nietzsche. Later, the narrator describes how Falcon inures himself to hardship by toiling while other sailors slept, training himself to endure extreme heat and co ld, and view, came from an Icarian, causa sui impulse I found difficult to decipher. Not 109 Again, Johnson points out the individualist underpinnings of Falcon's conduct, which obliquely evoke from his essay Self Reliance Therefore, through his portrayal of Falcon as the culmina tion of American ideals of individualism and rationalism combined with capitalism, Johnson sets up America and thus the Republic as ripe for a revolution, especially a Buddhist one. Johnson underscores the infeasibility of the Western 108 Ibid 109 Ibid ., p. 52.
197 conception of th e self through the death of Falcon at the hands of the Buddhist Allmuseri tribe. To contrast and contend with the overly individual focus of Falcon, Johnson portrays the Allmuseri tribe, whom Falcon has bought for a pittance of commercial goods, as emblems of some Buddhist understanding, which is, however, never specified as Buddhist. For example, Johnson shows the tendency of the Allmuseri to see events or people in irreducibly particularist terms and as elements of flux, a typically Buddhist understandin g and experience of the world. This practice is explained by 110 pitulate the technique that Gary Snyder uses to elide the perceiving subject, as I discussed in the previous chapter, to make it seem as if events simply talked to his tribe smen it was as if the objects and others he referred to flowed together like water, taking different forms, as the sea could now be fluid, now solid ice, now 111 Through such descriptions, Johnson suggests that the Allm useri have the ability to experience reality not as reified accretion reference to water here also connects the tribe to Buddhist imagery, since water is a traditiona l symbol of impermanence and flux in Asian Buddhist cultures. Johnson further highlights the contrast between the Allmuseri and Falcon through other differences in their languages that characterize their various ontological 110 Ibid ., p. 77. 111 Ibid
198 perspectives. When Calhoun seek s to learn about the Allmuseri language and finally does witness the pictograms that comprise the language, he says that he is able only to 112 meaning and relation to oth er characters 113 Here, in an attempt to provide a Buddhist flavor, Johnson suggests the completely relational nature of the language, especially how it resists any type of piecemeal understanding; in short, meaning can only be grasped intuitively as a whole. This position is further clarified as deconstructing things into discrete parts, which probably explained why the Allmuseri had no empi rical science to speak of, at least not as we understood that term. To 114 In order to counterpoint the views of Falcon as a representative American who holds analytic rational knowledge above all, Johnson describes the Allmus eri in terms that showcase their unity, through their language, science, and overall worldview. More to the point, these elements are shaded with a Buddhist color in order to highlight the foibles of the American intellectual tradition. The Allmuseri are u sed as a double for American culture even further through their heritage, which seems to be an amalgam of various cultures across the world. Such a multi cultural positioning challenges the traditional Cold War consensus of America as a nation of white, ma le Protestants. It also suggests, as Chow argues, how ethnicity is being used to shape a protest against the white consensus. Calhoun explains the origin story of the Allmuseri thus: 112 Ibid 113 Ibid ., pp. 77 78. 114 Ibid ., p. 78.
199 at portion of India later called Harappa, where they blended with its inhabitants, the the Olme art techniques resembled Brazilian capoeira ceremonial dance. 115 The description of their genealogy begins with India, almost as if that region were the origin of the Allmuseri; only later is it made clear that they came from the west coast of Africa. This representation plays off the stereotypical representations of India as the land of mysticism and, of course, as th e birthplace of Buddhism. M uch more interestin g is the conflation of ethnicities that marks the Allmuseri, almost as if they come to represent all non white races in their protest. Also noted is their use of capoeira, which ue of rationalization. This positioning of the Allmuseri as a kind of Ur ethnic resonates with their key action in the novel the overthrow of the leaders and the assumption of control. Here, their position as ethnics, and especially as Buddh ists, seems to validate their desire to be free from oppression. propagated by the formation of racialized identities. Johnson takes great pains to stress the unified vision of the Allmuseri, because this characterization is essential if the author wants to argue that the slave trade has objectified the tribe into a racialized Other. materialism of t he West. I wanted this to be the most spiritual tribe imaginable. I wanted 116 Elsewhere, Johnson has 115 Ibid ., p p 76 77. 116 Marian Blue, p. 135.
200 117 As Scott argues, Johnson needs to keep 118 Through an economic process that denies the possibility of agency and interiority to this s ubsequent ability to do violence to the white crew. As Selzer argues, "As embodied subject, Johnson suggests, the Other is capable of his own objectifications of transgressing the boundaries of self and of remaking the world according to his own needs, 119 Johnson suggests that the divide created by such racialized identity is maintained not simply by whites but also by blacks and by a cycle of violence that continues to perpetuate the myth of a distinct identity based on race. For exa mple, the author stresses the fact that not only white investors had engaged in funding the slave trade on board the Republic but also at least one black investor, namely Papa Zeringue, whose involvement is exposed at the end of the novel. Helen Lock als o notes how the reversal of roles of slave and slave trader recapitulates the theme of doubling that flows throughout the novel, suggesting that these individuals are actually each other. 120 Nash and Little presciently note how the Allmuseri undertake a pur ging of white culture on the ship and that these actions represent an extreme form of black cultural nationalism. 121 Through this structure Johnson suggests that racial identity is 117 118 Daniel M. Scott III, p. 647 119 Linda Selzer, p. 113. 120 Helen Lock, p. 56. 121 William R. Nash, p.144 Jonathan Little, p. 14 8
201 yet another mask of illusion and that the exploitation of racial identity ca n result in power and profit for a select few individuals who choose to do so. While it may seem that Johnson acts as an apologist for the Allmuseri's violence, his position is more nuanced. Johnson suggests symbolically that ongoing racial violence thre atens to scuttle the American republic, an action that is represented by the sinking of the Republic following the Allmuseri's mutiny. While such physical violence aboard ship may be expected, given the psychic violence (and later physical) created by rac ialized identities, it nevertheless is unjustified for Johnson. Instead, Johnson suggests through the experiences of one of the few survivors, Rutherford Calhoun, that the path out of the quagmire of racial identity requires a practice and acceptance of n on identity, a position that would allow the racial divide to heal. Virginia Smith agrees and notes how Johnson dramatically re figures the Afrocentric work of John A. Williams in order to stress the importance and integration of both African and American heritage in healing black Americans. 122 Moreover, Johnson's opening setting of New Orleans also suggests the racial hybridity that he valorizes. Although Johnson suggests how Buddhism might be used as a basis for revolution as in the case of the Allmuseri, he also implies that Buddhism is a force that can ultimately civilize or tame the savage. Narrator Rutherford Calhoun serves as the best example of this dynamic, with Johnson casting his experience on board the Republic in terms that are reminiscent of Bu was freighted with personal suffering. In addition to witnessing the mistreatment and deaths of many Allmuseri, Calhoun lost his hair as well as his teeth. During the course of just over two months aboard the ship, Calhoun has adopted a seemingly Buddhist 122 Virginia Smith, pp. 669 672.
202 123 These words echo the tradition al Buddhist vows to show compassion and loving kindness, through which the welfare of all is protected. 124 Calhoun continues: had adopted left me unattached, like slaves wh 125 seems to gesture back to effects. But is Johnson arguing for simply a replace ment of Calhoun's earlier behavior with an Allmuseri mentality? Page cautions against such a view because it has the must adopt the Allmuseri position as one of many wor ldviews. 126 Lock argues that Johnson never resolves the paradox of dualism and that each side must continually 127 Barbara Thaden suggests that Johnson show 128 Appropriately, then, Calhoun continues to 123 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage pp. 186 187. 124 Peter Harvey An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics p. 104. 125 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 187. 126 Philip Page, p. 131 127 Helen Lock, p. 64. 128 Barbara Z. Thaden, p. 764.
203 describe his new understanding in seemingly Buddhist terms, a reading that Little supports. 129 e a cultural mongrel, and transformed the world into a fleeting shadow play I felt no need to possess or dominate, only appreciate in the ever extended present. Colors had been more vivid at sea, water wetter ice colder 130 Calhoun describes his experienc e as one appreciation for the Allmuseri and took on some of their understanding but must also contend with his (white) American heritage. This hybridity is exemplifie d further when Calhoun uses capoeira to take down one of the capitalist slave traders. has d eveloped non attachment, which is complemented by his ability to appreciate his situation. As the typical practitioner of meditation experiences, his perceptions become much more intense and focused. His experience on board the ship, which is characteriz ed in terms that recall Buddhism, frames his subsequent return to America and his final comments on his experience show how this erstwhile thief can now be tamed or domesticated so that he can live in America. Hussen notes a similar trend in Oxh erding Tale marriage, property ownership, and a patriarchal nuclear family. 131 When Calhoun does return to America, he is able to integrate into the larger society, by marrying. After the Republic is taken over by the Allmuseri, the boat roves around the Atlantic Ocean. When it capsizes, Calhoun is set adrift and is finally fished 129 Jonathan Little, p. 13 8 130 Charles Johnson, Middle Pa ssage p. 187. 131 Aida Ahmed Hussen, p. 241
204 from the ocean by one of the capitalist backers of the original voyage, the black Papa Zeringue. Pa pa is set to wed Isadora, whom Calhoun had previou sly refused to marry. B trading, Calhoun is able to free Isadora and then marry her -a doubling that recapitulates sexual aggressor that Calhoun had previously stated that he wanted -yet another by her forward mann back, reducing the velocity of my desire, its violence, and in place of my longing for feverish love 132 Buddhist unde rstanding has replaced his previous grasping for experience of any type; now he feels full with whatever appears and is seemingly able to appreciate it, without trying to force it to change to his desires. Whalen Bridge notes how Johnson's story hews close ly to the archetypal Buddhist story of leaving home in order to find enlightenment and how Calhoun's sexual abstemiousness is "almost heretical" for a late 20th century American writer. 133 Calhoun's position on sex is all the more heretical given the overem phasis on sex in black masculine identity formations of that era. He recognizes that his desire for a certain order does violence to the world, even sire was too much of a wound, a rip of insufficiency and 134 experience has given him some Buddhist understanding of suffering, so has it also 132 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 208. 133 John Whalen p. 254 134 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 208.
205 reduced those elements in him t hat attempt to resist typical middle class ideals of respectability. As evidenced by his marriage and apparent abdication from thievery, Calhoun has been tamed by his new Buddhist understanding and is seemingly able to integrate into the broader social ord er. Johnson resolves the central economic aspect of materialism (in the form of capitalism and slavery) that stands at the heart of the novel by transforming it into a social issue. This resolution of the economic through the social has some consonance w establish a proper relationship and even intimacy with the wild as a means to combat capitalism. But are these economic tensions truly resolved in the novel through th e social? If the protagonist seems content to return to and integrate into the social order, how that might actually be accomplished, either socially or economically, by an African American in pre Civil War America remains unclear. The novel ends with a vision of social harmony as only a negatively represented possibility ; that is, the actual integration of Calhoun into society and not just his marriage to his erstwhile lover cannot be represented. In the bedroom scene that closes the novel, even the ir relationship is shown outside the bounds that social and economic constraints would thrust upon African Americans of the period. Muther suggests that this open ending allows Johnson to avoid the too easy middle class marriage plot (suggested also by Is marketable revisable non materialistic meaning of their relationship. 135 But this idyllic scene of social intimacy that seems to shut out the rest of 135 Elizabeth Muther, p. 656
206 and also represents the resolution of materialist tensions. Oddly, such seclusion seems to support one of the most common charges against Buddhism, namely, it s non involvement in worldly affairs. But, again, are these materialist tensions truly resolved through the social? Whereas Johnson suggests an affirmative answer to that question, the treatment of Isadora at the conclusion belies another position, one in which economic tensions are defused only end demonstrates multiplicity and decenteredness, and Fagel posits that the colonialist notion of home loses its luster of nostalgia for Calh oun. 136 Tuire Valkeakari reads the commitment to the kind of partnership and interbeing that neither of them has 137 Little too suggests that Calhoun has overco me his sexism. 138 But a closer reading that takes gender into account shows something that is ultimately at odds with these positions and corroborates the gender essentialism that Retman sees in Oxherding Tale 139 While Isadora lies quietly against Calhoun, the narrator of the last half year overtook us. Isadora drifted toward rest, nestled snugly beside 140 As suggested here and in previous passages, intimacy and complete ness seem to be present in the final scene of the novel, at least for the male narrator. F or Isadora, who becomes an object of exchange between Papa and Calhoun through the act of 136 Mar c Stein berg, p. 37 7 Brian Fagel, p. 627. 137 Tuire Valkeakari, p. 248. 138 Jonathan Little, p. 153. 139 Sonnet Retman, p. 432 Retman argues that Johnson engages in an essentializing of women, especially through their ability to bear children, in Oxherding Tale 140 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 209
207 bride to be for Papa, she now becomes the bride to be for Calhoun. Interestingly, the nomenclature (Papa) suggests the economic transfer of women from father to son in law that feminists have long highlighted. In fact, at the end of the novel Calhoun seem s desire. Oxherding Tale that p 141 That gendered resolution does appear to continue from the former novel to the latter. Calhoun reads Isadora as a reflection of his own Buddhist experience, and her sexual passion from just moments ago becomes sublimated into some de ep spiritual she and I wanted most after so many adventures was the incandescence, very chaste, of an embrace that would outlast the 142 Rather than transcending desire categori cally, Calhoun desire. Appropriately, then, in this passage Calhoun literally speaks for Isa dora, expressing her wants. The economic transaction of Isadora from man to man becomes the means through which Calhoun attains his putative social resolution. Muther writes of in 143 141 Aida Ahmed Hussen, p. 249 142 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage p. 209 143 Elizabeth Muther, p. 650
208 creates 144 Ironically, the economic and psychological conundrum of slavery is merely displaced from men onto the woman, Cool as a State of M ind cacy of a Buddhist position on capitalism and race issues has achieved a measure of renown. Or perhaps not, if the strategy of protesting both sides leads to even mo re capital. Johnson has provided a ne w reading on these issues that support s both sides even as it criticizes each. Like the protagonist of Middle Passage Johnson occupies a middle ground that is not simply the revocation of either side, but rather is a p rofound reorientation based on the Buddhist notion of non identity. enthralled by a capitalist vision of freedom connoted by the ability to do whatever you want whe never you want requires duty, humility, and the renouncement of self identity has been largely ignored by an American audience that reads itself as the protectors of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. For an audience that increasingly derives meaning and defines its identity partly a state of mind sounds refreshing and is easy to subscribe to (and surprisingly sim ilar to The Matrix this pursuit of cool, for Johnson, is still part of the identity politics that is slavery. 144 Ibid
209 CHAPTER 6 COOL PROJECTIONS : THE ART OF FILMING B UDDHISM On the eve of de buts by two Tibet inspired films, a 1997 Entertainment Weekly s the many American media celebrities who have worked for the cause: Richard Gere, who first embraced the Tibetan cause almost 20 years ago, is hopeful. Gere, Harrison Ford, and Ford's wife, Kundun screenwriter Melissa Mathison, have been working on behalf of Tibet longer than most in Hollywood, but now they have company: everyone from Oliver Stone, Paul Simon, George Lucas, Ethan H awke, Uma Thurman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Lisa Henson, and Goldie Hawn to musicians like the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, Philip Glass, Natalie Merchant, Michael Stipe, and Bjork. And many in the Tibet movement, including U.S. based Tibetan refugees, American a ctivists, and Tibet House founder Robert Thurman, say there is little downside to the wave of Tibet chic. 1 Hollywood has come out en masse to support the beleaguered Asian nation. As Tibetan photographer have had no voice. Now H ollywood is giving them a voice. 2 life ro le. The framing of the question sets up a theme th at endures through much of the recent mainstream cinematic accounts of Tibet: if Hollywood is saving Tibet, what is it saving Tibet from? Indeed, this framing opens a host of other questions as well, such as: How will Hollywood save Tibet? And at least as Indeed, as Richard Turner notes, around 1997 Hollywood was out of favor with Wall Street and needed revenue growth 1 Dana Kennedy, p. 42 2 Ibid
210 more than ever 3 Even Martin Scorsese r 4 Recently Hollywood and the media generally have shown great interest in Tibet which has been documented extensively by Orville Schell and others 5 While news industry has produced films such as Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet that de al explicitly with the China Tibet confrontation and others that deal more obliquely with the conflict, such as Little Buddha Ostensibly, such coverage often highlights the human rights abuses that China has perpetrated and is perpetrating on the homelan d of the well as the violation of fundamental human rights. Yet, why more than 40 years after did Tibet begin to gain attent ion from American film studios and audiences? reception of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize stirred international attention, which David van Biema highlights as the emergence of American interest in Tibet. More significantly, with t he end of the Cold War, China has emerged as a serious power that may contest the global economic hegemony of the United States. 3 Ibid 4 Amy Taubin, p 264. 5 Orville Schell David Van Biema, p 72. Van Biema defines glitterati, and highlights such celebrities as Richard Gere and Adam Yauch, the latter who helped organize two Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the la te 1990s. Philip P. Pan, p. A17. college educated Chinese in the prosperous cities in the east, Tibet is the cool place to visit and all s these Chinese are interested in Tibet for the same reasons so many Americans and Europeans are: They see this isolated region of snowcapped mountains as a simpler, untainted alternative to the pressures of modern life
211 Dibyesh Anand notes the political history behind much of the noninterest in Tibet, which t in maintaining their own colonies, the United support of China from other communist nations 6 Anand specifically highlights the end of the Cold War as the turning point at which the United States began to engage Ch ina on the issue of Tibet. 7 American anxiety over the growing economic might of the Chinese is mitigated by strategic representation in a dual move by purifying Tibet and demonizing China. Dibyesh Anand non regimes and structures of power 8 In their various productions, studios invested tens of millions of dollars to tell tales about Tibet. Perhaps the most interesting and consistent motif among the films is the innocence and purity of the ravaged Tibetans, especially those Buddhists who want nothing more than peace, or so the story goes 9 With a well known ability to re position images as fashionable and cool, the films cast the tiny Asian nation as one that, through its innocence and purity, can redeem cynical capitalist America. 10 to put it in Hollywood terms 11 Such films reflect the dilemma of East West representations, with Tibet and its cultural practices seeming to offer salvation to America reflecting a dualism of captivity/freedom that Rey Chow and Dibyesh Anand 6 Dibyesh Anand pp. 82 83. 7 I bid ., p. 83. 8 Ibid ., p. 130. 9 Donald Lopez, p 228. 10 Donald Lopez, e Orientalism p. 38. 11 Orville Schell, p 206. Schell also this tendency.
212 critiqu e. 12 Finally, such representations of the China Tibet conflict mitigate an American identity crisis over its global role after the defeat of the co mmunist Soviet Union. A s reflected in these films and elsewhere inn o cents of the world 13 To establish American hegemony recent films have used Buddhism as a means to underwrite western individualism, but more specifically through the western technological lineage of control. Although specifically Tibet focused films sho w the emergence of American style technology in the Asian nation, the forms are relatively unsophisticated and old enough that such technology appears nonthreatening. Following in the earlier footsteps of Emerson and others, films such as The Matrix posi tion the religion as a fundamentally individualistic practice tha t reveals to the individual the nature of reality allegedly beyond the capitalist quotidian. These films represent Buddhism as endorsing technologies of control and especially of violence, and they show individuals using these technologies to control every aspect of their existence exactly as they desire it In the process, Buddhism becomes conflated with portrays such control as a transcendenta l revelation as the final insigh t into reality. T his ultimate control doing that which i s beyond the quotidian is valorized as cool. Because it purports to reveal ultimate reality (and is so represented) and thus provide s this omnipotence, Buddhism comes to stand as the ne plus ultra of cool. Reality is represented as the escape from capitalism and thus cool even as it tethers such activity to capitalism. 12 Rey Chow, p 39 Dibyesh An and, p 49. 13 Eve L. Mullen. Mullen the Westerners featured in our popular stories are inevitably
213 Representing the China Tibet C onflict The key element that allows Tibet to take on this ot herworldly cachet is its intimate association with Buddhism, which, if you believe the films and previous representations seems to have structured every interaction in the nation. While David van Biema claims that recent Tibetan inspired films are more po litical than religious, Tibet is represented as a land of alterity, and Buddhism that provides that alterity. 14 Dibyesh Anand notes the representational materialism and violence of modern times, a sanctuary of thos e disaffected with modernity and seeking peace and wisdom 15 is, the representational schema surrounding Tibet], especially in the second half of the twentieth century, has disproportionately emphasized Tibetan r eligiosity 16 The representations of the innocent and peace loving Tibetans against the Chinese make the tragedy more profound, since the religion and the Dalai Lama promote nonviolence even in the face of extreme violence, an ethos that inspired director Martin Scorsese in his production of Kundun 17 represented (and in many cases, continues to be represented) as an undifferentiated mass of godless communists overwhelming a peaceful land devoted to ethereal p 18 This representational structure is key to the creation of an American self identity after the Cold War, but this structure is of rather recent extraction. For many years the Buddhism of Tibet was seen as an inferior form especially 14 David Van Biema, p 72. 15 D ibyesh Anand, p. 42. 16 Ibi d ., p. 82. 17 Jim Sangster, p. 18 Donald
214 among the Victorian British who searched for an original, pure Buddhism. Over time the rma, sometimes as its most direct 19 That representation shifted following the 19 70s] came to exalt Tibet, just at the moment of its invasion and annexa tion of China, as a pristine preserve of authentic Buddhist doctrine and practice. Unlike the Buddhisms of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, Tibetan Buddhism was now seen as uncorrupted because it had not been tainted by Western domination 20 That change in the perception of Buddhism is reflected in contemporary representations of Ti bet, as explained by Mark Abra a nd people whose chief attribute is their perpetuation of a pr emodern, preindustrial, preconsumer, and nonviolent ethos and way of life 21 These representations position Tibet as resistant and yet subject to the commodification of capitalism. In fact, the Dalai Lama has been inclined to encourage this perception of Tibet as uniquely peaceful and spiritual in order to further the independence movement of the diaspora as well as himself 22 easy narrative of American dependence on Tibet, even as it e nables the United States to envision itself as a savior to Tibet. has been destruction occurring from 1949 and throughout the 1950s Rodney Gilbert and Mikel 19 Donald Lopez, e Orientalism 39. 20 Ibid ., p. 38. 21 Mark Abramson, p. 12. 22 D ibyesh Anand, p. 101.
215 Dunham demonstrate the rather br utal occupation of the mountain country. According to Dunham, after the takeover China incorporated the most populous areas of ethnic Tibet. Following a failed uprising in the mid to late 1950s and his expulsion in 1959, the Dalai Lama moved his administ ration to Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government in exile remains to this day. In such historical accounts, t religious culture has been particularly salient. Since it took the reins of Tibet, China is reputed to have com mitted all kinds of atrocities against the Tibetans and their culture. In addition to a wholesale redistribution of land from estate owners to farmworkers, one of the most extensive depredations of Tibetan culture were the extended attacks on the Buddhist monasteries and the monastic system. According to Dunham, the Chinese condemned a monastery if even just one monk was known as a resistance collaborator. This c ensure resulted in monks beating other monks, and the arrest of high lamas and other monaster y authorities and their subsequent deportation to labor camps. The Chinese seized or destroyed monastic estates. Just one year after the Chinese had expelled the Dalai Lama, they had closed or destroyed nearly 95% of some 6,000 monasteries in Tibet prior to 1959. much of the offenses took place well before Hollywood took an interest in the conflict. Today, with all military resistance crushed, much of the China Tibet conflict surrounds the cultural geno cide that many say the Chinese are perpetrating on the Tibetan culture by providing economic incentives for ethnic Chinese to move to the region. Now, ethnic Tibetans make up only a minority in their own homeland 23 The Chinese government is using economic development as a means to more fully integrate 23 Mikel Dunham, p. 405.
216 Tibet into China, and consequently destroying what untrammeled native culture remains. Indeed, the Chinese are even pr omoting Tibet as a kind of theme park for western tourists as well as their own citizens. Pan notes that over 720,000 Chinese visited Tibet in 2002 up 30% from 2001 compared to just 140,000 foreigners 24 According to Dunham, the central attraction of such tourism is Tibet's well known monasteries, many of which have been modestly rebuilt by the Tibetans under the watchful eye of the Chinese. "This provides the Chinese with an excellent propaganda tool for Westerners.... Bringing tourists into Tibet a major economic consideration for the Central Government means creating showcases of religious tolerance 25 Dunham notes, however, that everything is very well controlled and the number of monks in any monastery is quite small. Whenever a monastery g ains a following, the Chinese administration shuts it down and expels its residents. China has turned the Tibetan monasteries to effective economic use: the Johkang monastery attracts many Westerners who pay admission and even more if they want to snap ph otos inside the sacred compound. Atop the monastery is a vending machine offering Coca Cola to those enjoying the skyline of Lhasa a city that offers "a modern, typically ugly Chinese concrete sprawl replete with smog, karaoke bars, and brothels 26 Seem ingly, Tibet has become a tourist destination. China seems able to turn Tibet and the interest in the region as a spiritual destination to its own profit. The Chinese government is encouraging tourism to the area with a recently constructed railway line f According to an AP report, in 2006 the train conducted some 2.5 million tourists to the 24 Philip P. Pan, p. A17. 25 Mikel Dunham, p. 405. 26 Ibid ., pp. 405 406.
217 southwestern province, a gain of 36% over the prior year. A recent Tibetan produced ill ruin its Buddhist culture, and stated, "Such a drastic increase in tourism will surely overwhelm this destination, which is considered to be a place of spiritual power, mental purification and transformation." 27 The railroad also proves valuable in min ing, with China transporting out such key commodities as iron, copper, and zinc, to stoke its red hot domestic industries 28 This is something apocalyptic about it, as if the Tibetans, long conservators of a timeless wisdom in a timeless realm, have been brutally thrust from their snowy sanctuary into history, where time is coming to an end and with it, their wisdom 29 Even by exploiting its exploitation of the region, China has been able to profit, in effect, recirculating its gains in the country. Cool and the R epresentation of Tibet The threats of g rowing Chinese dominance are de fused or mitigated for the broader American public by filmic repres entations of Buddhism Film is establishing quite a few advertisers, many filmmakers have warmed up to using Buddhist images since the Cold War. Such imagery provides the products with a sense of the exotic, production the movement of investment to Asia, the sweatshop labor, and the hollowing out of American manufacturing. 27 Matthew Rosenberg 28 Ibid 29 Donald Lopez 42.
218 The move of consumers to acquire cool typ ifies the process of penetration that the East. The films here represent the people of the East (especially Tibetans) as innocent, pure, nave, trusting, uncorrupted, and even uncivilized, in the positive sense of the United States. In the post Cold War era and without a clear international superpower against which to identify, America has been portraying itself and its businesses as benevolent to Asia, a nascent area of globalization. Yet, when ideologically necessary, China becomes the antagon ist, especially in regard to Tibet and economic issues. By positioning Asia, and especially Tibet, as innocent and in need of rescue, the United States can create a narrative structure that represents itself as a China. The imperialist nostalgic representation re creates an identity in which the United States has a clear raison argument of the dual image of the ethnic as both v examines the "fantasmatic" hold that Tibet has on the United States, suggesting that the Asian nation acts as foundation for Western fantasies 30 Donald Lopez agrees, noting Tibet] politically only increased European longing and added to the fantasy about life in the land 31 This point echoes he binary nature of typical representations with Tibetans 30 Slavoj 31
219 represented as both liberated from craving and deeply d esirous. 32 Either way, as a representation Tibet can be used to justify economic expansionism; America can their simplicity. The binary status of representations of Tibet provides consumers the opportunity to manipulate their own image depending on whether they want to feel like a protector or an innocent. As it makes its way th rough the mass media, Tibet, and Asia generally, increasingly becomes a commodified spectacle with a dual position of both purity and in need of saving by America and its technology. Films displaying Buddhist images imply that Americans are or at least can become cool, because we can consume the others of the world. Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet : Americana in Shangri La For American moviegoers interested in the decades old China Tibet conflict, the watershed year was 1997, which Richard Seager calls issues 33 A conflict of such longevity rarely gets much press, let alone big budget Hollywood films. Yet that year saw the October release of Seven Years in Tibet which starred Brad Pitt as Austrian mountain climber Hei nrich Harrer. Directed by Jean as well as his friendship with the young Dalai Lama during the turbulent era of the early 1950s. The same period is also explored in a wel l received December release, Kundun directed by Martin Sc orsese, which details the Chinese takeover of Tibet. 32 Ibid ., p. 64. 33 Richard Seager, p. 117.
220 The appearance of such similar films within a short time f rame underscores how capital intensive films sought to take advantage of American and even western interest in the conflict, and how they helped shape and produce knowledge of China and Tibet through the use of Buddhism. 34 Dibyesh Anand writes that Seven Ye ars in Tibet Kundun played a crucial role in highlighting Tibet in the Western popular imagination. It brought to the attention of consumers of Hollywood that there is/was a place called Tibet 35 Both films purport to authentically re create t he story of Tibet in the conflict. To accentuate the realism of their works, Scorsese and Annaud took great pains to use Tibetan actors whenever possible; the castlists detail many performers whose only screen credit is their respective film. By register ing the film in such a realist mode, the directors have already attempted to elicit the credibility necessary to narrate the conflict and thus their trustworthiness. In fact, Scorsese claims that he edited the picture 36 Such a gesture toward realism allows the films to more persuasively convince their audiences and shape broader nationwide perceptions of the conflict even if realism, as Scorsese admits, is less a question of factual authenticity th an a representation that consciously allows To underscore the suggestive power of realism, it should be noted that members of the Kundun production, including Scorsese, were banned from Tibet by the Chinese 34 Orville Schell, p. 32. Following the theme of Americans assisting the downtrodden, Schell mentions the film Dixie Cups allegedly produced by Steven Seagal, about a CIA intervention in Tibet in the 1950s and 1960s. 35 Dibyesh Anand, p. 64. 36 Gavin Smith. p. 239.
221 government. excommunication from the nascent world power, and then subsequently carried out the threats. 37 about privately to li 38 The Chinese ban blesses Scorsese as well as problems in his filming of Seven Years with the Chinese government opposing his efforts to shoot in Himalayan nations abutting Tibet. When he moved the production to Argentina, the Chinese tried to pressure the Argentine government. In the end, Annaud was designated persona non grata in China. 39 Well aware of the potential dangers of backing its pictu re, Sony Pictures took care to promote the film as an adventure flick and even cut back its marketing effort. 40 By providing such cachet to the films through new place of America in the world order is as the defender of the innocent. Yet, despite their supposed authenticity, as Abra mson argues, the films perpetuate much of the traditional stereotypes of Tibet 41 37 Richard Turner, p. 42. Jeffry Ressner. China from its Asian satellite to placate Beijing. And sources told TIME that last year Universal Pictures and reportedly other studios turned down the chance to distribute Kund un for fea r of upsetting the Chinese The L ion King brought in $3.6 million in China last year, and the soundtrack sold 1.4 million copies. There are three Disn film distribution and possibly even a Disneyland China Joyce Barnathan, p 51. Barnathan notes in 1997 that China banned new Disney projects in the nation. She writ up and running but Disney wants greater access for the Disney fledgling TV market is already generating $4 billion a year in advertising revenues 38 Donald Lopez, 39 Richard Corliss, p 82. 40 Thom Geier, p 57. old benefit screenings for 41 Mark Abramson, pp 8 12, p. 9.
222 The films also shape American perception of the conflict th rough their casting of the Dalai Lama. Their casting choices create a similar representation of Tibet but the choices also suggest varying levels of innocence for the Buddhist Tibetans. For instance, Seven Years in Tibet uses just one actor, Jamyang Jam tsho Wangchuk, a fresh faced adolescent Tibetan, in the role of the Dalai Lama for most of the film. His intended age in the film is 14 years old. In contrast, Kundun uses four different Tibetan actors, all with substantial time in the film, although the role of the young adult (18 year old) Dalai Lama does occupy most of the screen time. By focusing on such a narrow and earlier time in the conflict, the former film imputes a greater innocence to Tibet, since it uses the relatively young Jamyang. The ch aracter is made palatable to American ideals of beauty by the use of an actor with a winning smile full of perfectly straight teeth. Through such casting the film suggests that in its invasion China is really attacking a nation full of innocent Buddhist c hildren, and it will be the West, through Heinrich Harrer, that will guide and potentially save them. In contrast, Kundun shows the conflict occur primarily with the Dalai Lama as a young adult, which reduces the overemphasis on China attacking a defense less nation led by a child. Rather, the film shifts the portrayal to one where the Chinese attack the peace loving and innocent Buddhists of Tibet as emphasized in the opening title w place in a post communist world is to protect the innocen ts of the world, whose status is connoted by Buddhism. This conclusion seems even more apt given that the marketer of the ideology of innocence par excellence Disney bankrolled the project. In fact, in
223 him about the project was its sense of simplicity point of view 42 Donald Lopez also notes that the politics of the film are those of the Free Tibet movement 43 Kundun appeared amid a wave of interest in the China Tibet conflict, even as it produced knowledge of the clash. Although Scorsese claims that he did not want to make Tibet into a perfect Shangri La and seems well aware of the fraught internal politics of Tibet, 44 45 a position with which Mark Abra mson agrees 46 M for the nonviolence of Buddhist Tibet is capitalist America, and notes the proliferation of emotional and superpowers 47 In fact, the director points to the irony and hypocri sy of the United States accusing China of human rights abuses when America had recently waged the first Gulf War 48 Appropriately enough, Kundun hungry L as Vegas in Casino and Scorsese 49 Ultimately, he has said that inspiration for the film was ce in this 42 Jim Sangster, p. 225. 43 44 Amy Taubin, p 259. Gavin Smith, p. 239. t interested in the romantic, emotional view of Tibet, La, that there were 45 Donald Lopez, 230. 46 Mark Abramson, p. 8. 47 Amy Taubin, p. 257. 48 Ibid ., p. 264. 49 Gavin Smith, p. 245.
224 50 While the director seems well aware of the contradictions of making a moralizing gesture, he nevertheless posits Tibet as a potential fulcrum around which American identity can be shifted. From the start, the film lays out a dualistic representation of Asia along the lines that Chow describes either pure or depraved. In the opening titles, Scorsese presents the character of the competitors, already suggesting the good ver sus evil nature of the conflict. The opening titles state, "In a wartorn Asia, Tibetans have practiced non violence for over a thousand years. The Dalai Lama is their ruler. He is the human manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion." These opening lin es stress the singular purity and innocence of Tibet amid the brutality of medieval Asia. The Tibetans are characterized as nonviolent, even extremely so. While the titles do not mention China by name, they suggest to Asia a savage quality, which distin guishes the rest of the continent from the uniquely peaceful Tibetans. Indeed, it is the ferocious who have anointed the Dalai Lama, as the titles make clear: "The sons of Genghis Khan gave the what subtle analogy, the titles compare the empire communist Chinese of the mid even have enough good sense to recognize the Dalai Lama's wisdom. Here the film seems to emphasize that even some of the most brutal warriors in history were able to recognize the wisdom of the Tibetan approach to life. Early on, the film uses some scenes that seem almost to replicate scenes in American households in order to relate to a capitalist American audience that likely has 50 Ibid
225 no or very little knowledge of Tibet. For instance, some early scenes depict the egotism of the young child who will grow up to become the next Dalai Lama. At a meal that suspiciously resembles a traditional sit down dinner in an American nuclear family, the boy begins to demand a seat at the head of the table, shouting at the father: "Me, me, me!" After the mother coaxes the father to trade chairs with the young boy, an older brother, who is a Buddhist monk, states, "He will grow up all wrong." The dramatic irony of this statement and scene suggests how an American audience is likely to view the At once, he appears as the spoiled brat, but t his display of egotism showcases the boy as special, one of the chosen, who can order whatever he wants and get it. This behavior mimics th e consumerist ethos of the most privileged Americans, who can purchase whatever they want whe never they want it. In effect, egotism becomes a sign of divine favor. The boy's egotism continues as he makes further demands that seem to emphasize that he is pure and clean. When the father exchanges seats with the boy, he laments to his wife, "Only you can touch his food. Too clean. Everything just so." She replies, "So what's the problem?" Another brother responds, "He thinks he's clean." Then the boy demands of the family to tell his story, to which they all groan. The young boy yells, "Again Me." Then he makes an animal's roar at the family. His sister obliges and tells the story of his birth and how he didn't cry at all. This characterization of the boy as pure and yet bestial and by proxy the Tibetans too re that such stereotypical representations are flawed, since the characterization really represents the needs of the American audience. Besides the
226 American style family dinner, such American needs are shown in the physical features Their visages are very photogenic, with soft features, light and clear complexions, and no wrinkles -a sharp contrast to stereotypical photos of Tibet (e.g., those from National Geographic ) that show intensely wrinkled and weather worn individuals. Th e American desire for purity and cleanliness is brought to the fore early. The film melds the idea of property rights with a Buddhist ritual to determine whether the young boy is, in fact, the reincarnated Dalai Lama. When a Buddhist lama visits the famil y home in search of the next Dalai Lama, he stumbles upon the boy. As is mine." After answering a question right, the boy is given the beads. Again he yells, "Mine," an d begins to play with them. The mother spies what is happening and returns the beads to the lama along with an apology. T he film mimics what could well be a typical American scene, with the young boy asserting his rights to property. But the melding of property rights and Buddhist ritual continues in a subsequent scene that tests the boy to further determine whether he is the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. A group of lamas has returned to the house late one night with the selection of material goods. The boy is tasked with selecting the things that are his -that is, the things that belonged to him in his life as the previous Dalai Lama. The lama praises him each time he selects something that belonged to him. When he finally picks up a carved sti ck and before he receives praise, the boy yells, "This is mine. Mine, mine, mine, mine." For the first time, the head lama reverently calls him Kundun As the father walks in on the scene and looks disapprovingly at the mother, the boy points the stick at him and says more calmly,
227 "This is mine!" Reproved by her husband, the mother promises the boy that she will get him a better stick. This scene mixes in the American capitalist experience of consumerism by having the boy reiterate his stance of posse ssion over the various material goods. He determines which belong to his previous identity and which are merely copies of his previous articles. When the boy does stake his claim to the stick, the mother promises something better to assuage his demands f or things, in a typically consumeri st vein Their similar desire to claim possession over things allies capitalist America with this Tibetan boy, and therefore Tibet as a whole. The film also uses special shots to play to the American desire to be a speci al individual, a desire which has been heightened by capitalist media. After the lamas determine that the boy is the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama, they present him to the public. The shots of this introduction initially occur from the first person perspective of the young boy. The audience experiences the immense adoring crowd staring back from all sides. Only after a few moments does the film take a new shot that shows the wonder of the boy to the crowds, but soon again it returns to the first pe rson perspective. Similar first person shots appear throughout the film whenever the Dalai Lama appears before crowds. In these first person shots the film makes it appear that the Tibetans are worshipping the American audience. These shots help ally the American audience to the besieged Tibetans, an d suggest more subtly how Tibet reveres America. Such first person shots also help an American audience overcome the different religious perspective of the Tibetans, making reincarnation less controversial W hether
228 the religion is acceptable is less important than the overall representation of Tibetans as a n innocent people. In such scenes this ethos is reinforced by showing the throngs worship ing the young boy, a situation not wholly unlike that of the you ng Jesus in Christianity. This portrayal of Tibetans as worshipping a young child shows them as devout but also quite simple, and even confused, to many viewers. This representations mark s the Tibetans as a people that have somehow eluded the depraving g rasp of capitalism due to their (exotic) Buddhist beliefs. A fter it has taken great pains to establish their representation as fundamentally pure, the film also shows the depravity of the Tibetans in brief glances, especially as sexually promiscuous pri mitives, in The film structures glances into the inner workings of the Tibetan monastic system as if the procedures were shameful secrets. For example, after the boy is officially named the next Dalai Lama and taken into a monastery, he o of money. The film sets this scene up as an accidental discovery by the boy. As he is meeting room, where a gr oup of lamas are debating how much money and land the from the boy to the brief but in tense debate over the question of reimbursement. In the process, one lama criticizes another absent lama who, he implies, has retreated to be with his many concubines. Then, the film cuts to another shot of a friendly lama discovering the unintentionally prying boy and shooing him away quietly, lest he be discovered by the debaters. In contrast to previous representations of the Tibetans as
229 pure and simple. this scene represents their dealing in wealth matters in such a way that it appears not as somethi ng natural and necessary, but as something shameful and in need of hiding. Moreover, the scene allies this impression with a comment on sexual licentiousness, which intensifies the general sense of the depravity of the monastic system. Although Lopez app 51 the The Dalai Lama and Western T echnology One of the big shifts in the representation of Buddhism in America has been from its use as anti capitalis t critique to pitchman for capitalism. Particularly salient has been the alliance of representations of Buddhism with technology, the product of capitalist innovation. This trend is perpetuated in Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet, which portray the 14 th D alai Lama as entranced by western technology, a positioning that is show the youth exhibiting a great interest in telescopes, cars, and film. Such interests intersect non Tibetan world. In each film the West is represented as a place of vast knowledge and technological goods, while Tibet is demonstrated to be a place of innocence, if not outrig ht ignorance. This dual representation places the American audience of such films in a position of being envied for its knowledge and material possessions. 1940s and earl y 1950s, they permit a 1990s audience to laugh at the inexperience of Tibetans with technological goods and machine culture. Such a setting reinforces the 51 Donald Lopez, p 230.
230 the sense of The setting of the films pushes the idea of Tibetans as the very forms of life they intent ionally altered or destroyed 52 In this ideologically constructed world of ongoing progressive change, putatively static savage societies become a stable reference point for defining (the felicitous progress of) civilized identity 53 54 Abra mson concurs, noting a simi lar waypoint for Tibet as a stable referent. 55 Also, Dibyesh Anand highlights how the historical Harrer viewed Tibet in nostalgic terms 56 of the present and legitimized control in the name of modernity 57 This sense of superiority is further enhanced by the level of technology that the Tibetans use, a level that is a function of the setting. Since the Tibetans have trouble using even the simpl est technologies from decades past, they are risible and in need of American guidance, especially due to the threat from their hostile neighbor to the north. At the same time, the film allows the audience to nostalgically see its own innocence in a previo us era and relate that to the Tibetans, who will learn, with the spread of capitalism, to become like 52 Renato Rosaldo, p. 69. 53 Ibid ., p. 70. 54 Ibid ation, and then yearn for more stable worlds, whether these reside in our own past, in other cultures, or in the conflation of the two. Such forms of longing thus appear closely related to secular notions of progress. When the so called civilizing process destabilizes forms of life, the agents of change experience transformations of other cultures as if imperialist nostalgia 's force resides in its association with (indeed, its disguise as) more genuinely innocent tender recollections of what is at once an earlier epoch and a previous phase of life 55 Mark Abramson, p. 11. Abra mson notes some of the perpetuation of images of Tibet vis a vis British sts, however, and became increasingly isolated and non threatening, its image as an alpine haven of nonviolence and spirituality became The Lost Horizon 56 Dibyesh Anand, p. 64. 57 Ibid p. 31
2 31 The simplicity and innoc ence of the Tibetan Buddhists are revealed most n and amusement by western technologies. Kundun reveals these interests in a bald faced way through a short collection of related scenes. One of the first scenes shows the boy driving an old fashioned car, outdated even for the era represented in the film The brief shot ends in an off screen crash indicated by the crunch of metal. A similar representation occurs in Seven Years in Tibet as the Dalai Lama climbs in an old fashioned car, and pretends to drive, while Harrer provides the noise of shifting gea technological progress as they position Tibet as simple and even backward, since the Dalai Lama cannot even drive a simple automobile, let alone the complex and commonplace contraptions found in late 20 th century America. As suggested before, the nature of the setting plays to representations that invoke the simplicity of the foreign country which demands the protection of America. In Kundun technology comes in other more basic forms, which in a ny case seem to aid the Tibetans. One evening while he is attempting to read a Buddhist scripture, the Dalai Lama is brought a gift, an electric flashlight. Instantly he clicks it on and off, examining how it works. Then he uses the flashlight to illumi nate the scripture that he's reading: "Then at the time of midnight the bodhisattva saw clear light. Then he saw in a single instant the three states of existence the past, the present and the future purified by the clear light. Then sitting at the t ree of enlightenment he conquered all the devils." Using the resonance of several words connected to light, the film implicates western technology in the process of Buddhist enlightenment, invoking quite literally the
232 idea of scriptures being illuminated. It's as if western technology has enlightened the Buddhist practitioner. Indeed, it seems as if western technology will bring an end to the "devils," which is understood at this point in the film to mean the Chinese invaders. Another scene shows the Da lai Lama digging into a darkened room full of technological goods. There the boy discovers a projector (another iteration of the flashlight) a telescope as well as a plethora of other undisclosed things advisors. Soon, the boy seemingly ensconced in his palace in Lhasa activities that he is normally not allowed to participate in. film projector re affirms his interest in outside affairs is re affirmed by his excitement over the film projector, which is set up immediately after it arrives Soon the boy watches pictures from western mass media. The boy stares agape at the events occurring in the world beyond Tibet, namely those events that comprise the most significant events of western history. For instance, a few minutes later the Dalai Lama watches film of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. specter characterizes him as inno cent. Here the film obliquely connects the widespread belief in the necessity of American atomic weapons to defeat a past Asian aggressor representations paint the Dalai Lam a as one who is deeply interested in outside affairs but needs the knowledge of the world, especially of the West. It is American technology that provides the means to such knowledge for the simple world leader. Even a pocket watch sent as a gift from Pre sident Franklin Roosevelt suggests the play of technology. This portrayal of the Dalai Lama is reinforced and elaborated in Seven Years in
233 Tibet When Heinrich Harrer first meets the Dalai Lama, the boy asks him if he likes movies and then expresses his desire to build a movie house. He then commissions Harrer to build the cinema, since the Austrian knows how a film projector works and alluring to the Dalai Lama, who ex presses his desire to understand a variety of western things that seem exotic. For instance, he says with great zeal that he wants to know about Paris, France; Molotov cocktails, and Jack the Ripper. While such subjects would be found prosaic by an Ameri can audience, t response serves to re kindle the pride of a jaded American audience for knowing about subjects that are found novel by others Moreover, such subjects seem to position America, and the West genera lly, as places of great violence and depravity and in need of the wisdom of the East. Even Paris, which seems the most innocuous of the three subjects, has a history of libertinism that might make it seem sinful. The conflict between western technology and Tibetan culture becomes expressed in the actual construction of the movie house, and suggests the utter simplicity of the Tibetans. As Harrer begins to dig the foundation of the movie house the Tibetan workmen who assist stop digging because they are harming earthworms 58 mother. Please no more hurting." This stance is re emphasized by a short shot of another worker shaking his head. Harrer pulls down his hat in disbelief and disgust. 58 Mark Abramson, p 11. Barbara Stewart. Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun as well as their mocking of the former for its flawed and slavish devotion to Tibetan Buddhists.
234 ignorance of Buddhist customs. When the Austrian petitions t o the Dalai Lama, the boy explains to him the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation and why the Tibetans earnestly believe that the worms should not be harmed. Dalai Lama: But, you see, Tibetans believe all living creatures were their mothers in a past life. So we must show them respect and repay their kindness, and never, never harm anything that lives. You can't ask a devout people to disregard a precious teaching. possibly [laug hter] I'm sorry. But we can't possibly rescue all the worms if you want the theater finished in this lifetime. Dalai Lama: You have a clever mind. Think of a solution. And in the meantime, you can explain to me what is an elevator. When he hears the explanation, Harrer cannot even control his laughter at the seeming mocks the religion in his laughter, his diction mocks the Tibetan Buddhist belief in reincarnati on, and all the worms cannot be saved it the theater is to be completed "in insult, but the improper syntax of his second reply indicates his subordinate position to the Austrian, who speaks proper English even though it isn't his first language. In the end, the stalemate between western technology and Tibetan culture is seemingly resolved when Harrer decides to have Buddhist lamas sort the worms from the unearthed d irt. The lamas carefully transport the worms via bowls to another area of ground where they are again buried. The film makes careful note to use a close up to detail the extreme care, even tenderness, with which the monks re bury and water the worms. Fr om the close up of a monk burying a worm, the camera pans up to a
235 medium close up shot of a serious lama making a prayer gesture Once they overcome this complication, the y soon complete the cinem a house. T his interaction between western technology a nd t he Buddhist Tibetan culture invites the Western audi ence to laugh along at the overwhelming simplicity of Buddhism, which marks the Tibetans as uniquely innocent. This theme is elaborated when the Tibetans enter the cinema house during its trial run. Af ter Harrer generates power by using an old fashioned car, he can run the projector, casting light on to the blank screen in a godlike act. When the Tibetans see the light t capture the rays. While this scene again positions the Tibetans as simple and sense. M o r e interestingly, the film projects a stereotypical image of the Tibetans while its putatively advanced and sophisticated western audience finds the projection of light on a screen just as amusing, and has even paid f or the privilege of watching this film. The film, therefore, also mocks the wes tern audience even as it interpel lates them as powerful. However, the film does not explicitly play up this irony. The West as Protector of the I nnocent East Seven Years In Tibet structures its narrative to represe nt the West i s looking to guide and protect the East in a paternalistic gesture, even as the West will be humanized by the East. By using a series of long cross cut scenes at the start of the film, director Jean Jacques Annaud implies that Harrer is looki ng for the young Dalai Lama before he ha s ever heard of the boy. Whereas the start of the film shows Harrer leaving his pregnant wife in order to climb the Himalayas,
236 wife filing for divorce and his son rejec t ing him. Harre r hikes through the mountains in what first seems like an aimless quest, but the film suggests, through crosscutting, that his journey is fated to end with a meeting of the boy Dalai Lama. For instance, in one scene in the mountains as Harrer speaks of hi s son to his traveling companion Aufschnaiter, the scene cut s to the young leader Intercut with such scenes are extremely long shots of the snowy mountain landscape and other similarly beautiful s cenes, a format that de emphasizes the human and stresses the incommensurable and spiritual aspect of Tibet. Harrer virtually disappears in the landscape. These shooting and editing technique s demonstrate how Harrer is on a spiritual journey for a son, an d that son seems to be the holy boy of Tibet paralleling the search for a religious savior that Christian America could u nderstand. Such crosscutting repeats throughout the early stages of the film in order to emphasize the element of fate, but it also s uggests how the strong West will find the weak East and guide it, a mission that Harrer spends much of the rest of the film undertaking. As suggested through the various events of the film, the Dalai Lama, and by extension Tibet, come to fill the spiritua p 59 uch prote ction of the weak East evidenced by the imposing corporeality of the adventurer who demands to be free from all constraints at suits climbing 59 Eve L. Mullen. Here, Tibet becomes the exalted, valuable culture in contrast to the murderous, demonic China. The Westerner who has played his part in the defense of p ristine Tibet is cured of his emotional ills by Tibet's wisdom and can now return a whole man to his own life in Europe. And we, the audience, have experienced one Westerner's rescue of Tibetan culture, now immortally archived in written text and Technicol
237 a mountain that has fascinated the Austrians. The various examples of his ruggedness during the climb reinforce h is masculinity especially during a scene where his own crampon has caught him in the leg and yet he has pushed on. Soon, an avalanche and brutal snowstorm force the party of climbers to give up their quest, and not long after they are found by the British and taken prisoner as a result of World War 2. Th e film further shows evinced repeatedly here, as he attempts numerous reckless escapes, even thro wing himself again and again on a barbed wire fence in protest of his captivity. Such scenes represent the Austrian as fearlessly masculine embodying a western ideal the cross cuts continue to suggest his impending fate as he moves ever closer to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. After Harrer escapes from the POW camp, he travels around the mountains and plateaus of India and Tibet with his erstwhile POW companion and mountaineer, A ufschnaiter. The film displays landscape scenes of great untouched beauty, with crystal clear rainbows and waterfalls. In a monologue Harrer describes his greater the Harrer slowly loses the damn it all roguishness that characterized his earlier self. Literally the land of Tibet has provided y of the Dalai Lama. As the editing indicates that he approaches ever closer his destination comments position Tibet dualistically as a paradox that he, as adventurer, has come to
238 fashioning of the experience of time in capitalist societies marks him as transcending the situation of the harrie d and time strapped bourgeoisie of the West. He has entered a land where time is (seemingly) no longer money, where the essence of existence is no longer boiled down to a commodity. As such, his purification consists of shedding some of the mindsets of c apitalism. Yet, when Harrer enters Lhasa, he exemplifies the logic of (market) penetration foreigners, it was more attractive to enter entered by westerners many times before. His words indicate that he really attempts to agalma uline man demands a (nearly) virgin people to fulfill his desires. Speaking of Lhasa, he continues, only what other westerners have not done. Indeed, that was the logic behind his original mountain his behavior, much as novelty drives mature capitalist economies even as he wants to fill a key spiritual void The film also shows Buddhist Tibet as a place of novel and exotic women, who will civilize and humanize the male explorer. During the early days of their stay in Lhasa, Aufschnaiter and Harrer become smitte n with a seamstress. The woman has
239 the men strip to be measured for new suits, an act which exposes the typically western masculinity of actor Brad Pitt as he stretches out for measurement. His abs ripple in the cross light, and the film suggests subtly that the woman is measuring his masculinity. She also measures his less conventionally attractive companion, who receives no such screen time for his less than stereotypical masculine physique. While typical Hollywood films emphasize that typically weste rn masculine traits win the woman, here the convention is flipped on its head only to prove the reverse Buddhist Tibet humanizes the western masculine explorer. Whereas she snubs the overly aggressive and conventionally masculine Harrer, the seamstress falls for the explorer who has exhibited unassuming humanity throughout the film. This characterization of Tibet as human occurs due to the Buddhist outlook of Tibet A fter Aufschnaiter marries the seamstress, Harrer visits them in their new house, a Tibe tan facsimile of American middle class of being rejected for the less mascul ine Aufschnaiter. The seamstress rebukes him for his feelings by using a typical Buddhist Buddhism humanizes the aggressive and sou lless westerner. Yet as the aggressive Harrer is increasingly inculcated into Tibetan ways, so does Tibet seem to take on stereotypical characteristics of middle class America. In addition to the typical middle class house with a sizable plot of land, Se ven Years story abode. Meanwhile, the pair of newlyweds listens to music on the radio, and at
240 Christmas they invite all the Tibetans over for a special celebration of western st yle dancing and the requisite Christmas hymns, such as Silent Night Such easy cultural putatively trouble free acceptance of American culture indicates how such culture subtl y penetrates into Tibet, and how the Tibetans willingly accept it, valorizing American production. This move suggests how the film seeks to mitigate American tensions with the Tibetan other and ally the audience to a nation beleaguered by its Chinese neig hbors. In this context, the Buddhist principle of non resistance comes to stand for Another scene in Seven Years elaborates on how American spectatorship instantiates itself into the film alter ing th e representation of Tibetan s that is more consistent with materialist attachments The following scene takes advantage of growing western familiarity with the highly decora ted sand mandala, the sometimes weeks long creation of Buddhist monks. Mandalas are typically made from colored sand, and in their circularity represent the totality of existence. When completed, they are displayed briefly and then washed away with water by the monks, to symbolize the impermanence of all things a key Buddh ist tenet. In the film, the Tibetan Buddhists are preparing a mandala in the expectation of the arrival of three Chinese generals, who emptive surrender. As they walk through the large hall, they deliberately traipse through the mandala, scuffling their boots as they pass and ruining potentially weeks of work. At its destruction, a collective gasp goes up from the body of monks who are there to witness onference. Yet, this response is paradoxical, since the
241 mandala is a symbol of impermanence, and the monks most of all would see this action as just another example of that principle, even if the action was disrespectful. This representation, therefo re, indicates American spectatorship and indeed outrage at gives American viewers an outlet to vent their feelings at the Chinese disparagement of the simple and innocent Buddhist culture. Kundun also indicates how the West will protect Tibet from the depredations of the Chinese. In a move to outrage a hetero normative America and even ally it with Tibet, the film characterizes the aggressive China as effete and homosexua l, and even pedophiliac, which Mullen also argues. 60 This move reinforces stereotypical representations of Asian men, as suggested by Sheridan Prasso and Elaine Kim. 61 When the Dalai Lama goes to Beijing to meet with Mao Zedong, he is taken in a modern auto mobile with power windows, which he moves up and down repeatedly. Soon, he what initially appears to be a personal summit. At first, they both sit at either end of the couch, and Mao begins telling the Dalai Lama in a roundabout way how Tibet must surrender and join the Chinese republic. The film represents Mao speaking in English, which offers a convenient excuse to give him an effeminate and stilted voice. Moreover, his dilatory manner of speaking makes him appear stupid. Various shots focus on shined shoes, tailored and pressed trousers, and his immaculatel y detailed 60 Eve L. Mullen. played with a creepy villainy bordering on pedophilia toward the young Dalai Lama and his innocent nation. Protagonists and antagonists, good guys and villains, are firmly established. He depicts the Dalai Lama as a perfect being, echoing the orientalist's projection of the superhuman, that is, perfect citizens under a perfect leader. 61 Sheridan Prasso. Elaine Kim.
242 nails. While Mao declares to the young leader that religion is the opiate of the masses, he coughs and wheezes as he daintily puffs on a cigarette. Then he edges closer on the sofa to the Dalai Lama, in a move reminiscent of typical representations of dating ar ound the meeting. Finally, the scene ends with Mao escorting the Dalai Lama out to his waiting car, where the audience might reasonably expect a goodnight kiss. Although Scorsese says that he based his depiction of Mao description of him 62 th e stereotypical transposition of Asia still occurs. In this scene Scorsese portrays China as achieving modernity in an almost exactly inverse way to that of America, in regard to economic system and sexual behavior. For example, take the represen tation of the Chine se as modern The Chinese car with its power amenities, the almost and leather suggest the growing modernism of China. Even here the growing, resource hungry Chinese are material istic 63 The Chinese are seemingly threats to the capitalist modernism of the United States. Therefore, the film helps structure China as an enemy to not just Tibet, but capitalist America, since China rejects basic American freedoms because of its communist doctrines but yet appears to compete with America after a capitalist fashion. The representation of Mao in homosexual, and even pedophiliac, terms marks him as repugnant for a hetero normative America, and would allow the audience to relate ever more closely with the beleaguered Dalai Lama and Tibet. This portrayal fits well within traditional American representations of Asians, as Prasso writes, as being 62 Amy Taubin, p 260 63 Donald Lopez, p 229
243 -or spineless, emasculated wimps, or incompetents 64 Prasso continues: "Thi s lightness of being portrayed can be seen historically in the descriptions of Asian male leaders such as Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong and now even of Kim Jong Il. It seeks to minimize the Asian male as a threat." 65 Such popular filmic representations of ef feminate Asians also included that of Charlie Chan, as Kim notes. 66 Against this Chinese threat, the film portrays America as the rough and ready savior to the beleaguered Dalai Lama. The film indicates that Americans are always just on the verge of coming to assist Tibet, but they never arrive. masses, a repetition of Marx, resounds poorly as comm unist ideology in America, as Protestant based denominations insist on their own prer ogatives and many Americans see freed om to practice religion as one of the paramount human rights. As Lopez moved from the Japanese to Chairman Mao and the communist s. 67 68 benighted, adopts, almost as if redemption is to be found in preservin g for the world a imperialist nostalgia 69 The antagonism over religion between the Chinese and Tibetans becomes yet another reason to assist the peace loving Tibetans. 64 Sheridan Prasso, p. 103. 65 Ibid ., pp. 103 104. 66 Elaine Kim, p. 36. 67 Donald Lopez, 68 Ibid ., p. 229. 69 Ibid
244 The West as Producer of K nowledge Edward Said argued that Orientalism produc ed knowledge about the East as a protection of the East occurs through education, according to the film. In Seven Years in Tibet the West comes to stand for unlimited worldly knowledge, whereas the East, in the guise of the Dalai Lama, comes to represent the ignorant aspirant to such fundamental knowledge. The film presents only one means for the Dala i Lama to learn anything of the outside world Heinrich Harrer. For example, in order to teach bedroom floor. Then he has the young monk name the land masses and countr ies. In one scene, Harrer praises the boy for correctly naming Antarctica, and the boy beams with the praise. However, next he mis names Iceland as England, and receives a mocking "tsk, tsk" from Harrer. In another scene, set along the bank of a runnin g river, the foreigner explains, using a globe, how time zones function, in response to the boy's question. The film seems to suggest that the Dalai Lama's only means to get the necessary tools to be a successful world leader is to develop a connection to the West, since his own Tibetan leaders seemingly can't teach him even the fundamental geography. This pattern repeat s throughout the film, with Harrer providing the young Dalai Lama with knowledge that would be considered commonplace among the citizenry in the West, let alone the leaders. These representations of Tibet suggest not only its simplicity, but the absolute necessity for it to rely on the West for education and guidance in the international arena. The film represents the West as a storehouse of vast knowledge, which Tibet seemingly does not have Since his first meeting with Harrer, the Dalai Lama has
245 bombarded him with questions on what Westerners would consider the most mundane and hackneyed subjects. After a geography lesson by the river the Dalai Lama grasps almost derisively, and responds quite seriously, "What else do you want to know?" The response seems to imply that the Westerner knows all, and merely parcel s out that knowledge for the Dalai Lama, and the East. Th e film reinforced this conclusion by cutting immediate ly to the next scene, in which Harrer is setting up a radio for the boy, media." The Dalai Lama sounds thrilled to be able to get news "from all over the planet." Again, it is technology that provides the means to such knowledge for the simple leader. T he cable generation of the 1990s would likely shrug at the primitive tec hnology of radio, which so fascinates the Tibetan. In a close up shot, t as needing the West's knowledge. Such a representation situates the West in a position of power over the Ori ent, since its knowledge is both necessary to and intensely desired by the East. Here, the desire of Tibet acts as a reciprocation and inversion of our very own desire, a representation that The film seems to invoke the simplicity of the Tibetans in yet another scene, but doubles this representation to show the dual nature of Tibet as both ignorant and mystically knowledgeable As the tension with China is building and before the invasion, the Tibetans spot a awakens from a ni ghtmare in which the Chinese brutally ravage his country. Using
246 dramatic i rony, these representati ons act dualistically to position the Tibetans as both simple and ignorant and, at the same time, mystically knowledgeable. On one hand, the Tibetans seem foolish because they rely on superstitious techniques to predict the future, such as dreams or the o bservance of natural events, methods which have been discounted by western scientific rationalism. On the other, for all their supposed simplicity and ignorance, the Tibetans make an accurate forecast of the future; China is indeed about to invade and des troy the nation. Their ancient wisdom seems capable of magical feats of prophecy, in contrast to the cynical rationalism of the West. Keanu Reeves: the Buddha from Zen to N ow Another pair of films in the 1990s helps illustrate the transmigration of Buddhi sm from its Asian context to a technologically driven capitalist America. While very different in budget, subject and popular reception, the films are similar in that they use actor Keanu Reeves as a savior figure to show how Buddhism will save an America hollowed out by capitalism. May 1994 saw the American release of Little Buddha 70 Produced by French industrialist Francis Bouygues and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, the film details not on ly the enlightenment of the Buddha but also the selection of the next high lama of Tibet from Bertolucci selected Reeves, as he explains, half Chinese and Hawaiian, so I met him and decided in three minutes. How? He emanates 71 70 Martha Sherrill, p. G1. 71 Ibid a movie on Buddha with Keanu
247 Whereas Little Buddha cost from $30 35 million to make and earned back some $5 million, The Matrix dominated the box office f or some time scoring an estimated $460 million worldwide on a budget of $63 million 72 Directed by brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski, The Matrix deals with the escape of Neo (n Thomas Anderson) from the titular threat that mimics capitalist America at t he end of the 20 th century. Using a pseudo Buddhist enlightenment, Neo blasts and thinks his way out of the existential dilemma posed by the Matrix, even as the film itself advances an ethos of control oriented technology and mass media that underwrite th e fictional world. In both movies Buddhism offers American audiences a novel subject that seems to represent a critique of capitalism and a new way to exist, allowing the films to re coup the religion as cool. Moreover, the continuity of Reeves as a maj or Buddhist character (the Buddha and Neo) in each film demonstrates the (oddly) fluid transition of Buddhism enabled by a sprinkling of Hollywood stardust and editing magic into a technologically advanced capitalist America. 73 America Protects the Little Buddha, or the Conrads G o into the Heart of D arkness A box Little Buddha tells the story of the Conrad family of Seattle, whose son Jesse has been selected by Tibetan Buddhist monks as a possible reincarnation of their teacher Lama Dorje. The film offers a dual read somewhere tha t Keanu Reeves is half Western, half Chinese and Hawaiian, so I met him and illustrations and Indian epic movies, pop art, the things you see on the walls of th e tobacconist of Vishnu and Krishna what it is, except pure kitsch 72 Box Office Mojo 73 Just as interesting, Brad Pitt star of Seven Years in Tibet was original l y offered the role of Neo Surfer cool (and seemingly vacuous) Reeves fits better the stereotypical image of Buddha like cool than known Hollywood act (along with actor Richard Gere) in a DVD series called Discovering Buddhism which discusses the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism.
248 plot (1) the discovery of Jesse and his subsequent visit to Bhutan to determine if he is the reincarnation and (2) the life of the Buddha, which is intercut into the modern day narrative by the intra moments during the film. Such a dual structure contrasts the America of today with the legendary India of the past, presenting as literal fact the various exotic myt hs of the an over simplification of complex metaphysical ideals, which Claretta Tonetti also posits 74 In the contemporary time of the plot, modern Asia is shown exclusively in simil ar terms: technologically and economically primitive and rooted in time tested and simple Buddhist traditions. In the film, Buddhism acts as a cure for a spiritually bereft America, suggesting how the religion will heal the scars and identity crisis of po st Cold War capitalist America. Indeed, Martha Sherrill and Bertolucci himself suggest that much of his motivation for the film is a sublimation of his desire for a socialist utopia. 75 Moreover, the film seeks to ease American anxiety over Asia, a region t hat is nebulized by the variety of exotic references to its various countries. Yet, in a film where the American boy ultimately returns to America as rejected aspirant, Tibet must always be kept at a distance, as Eve Mullen argues, lest it threaten to over whelm an anxious capitalist America. 76 That distance releases the tension built into a story in which Asian Buddhists seek to convert an American boy. Much as the two previously analyzed films do, Little Buddha invokes realism as a 74 Claretta Tonetti, p. 249. 75 Martha Sherril l, p. G1. Bertolucci states The dreams you are no longer allowed to have with socialism. Maybe 76 Eve L Mullen. nonmaterialis t culture of selflessness, but it is nicer to return home to our comfortable luxuries and familiar
249 means of establishing its credibility to an American audience. The film opens with a ground the stor y in actual fact, and thus legitimate the story for an American audience, reincarnation in terms that could be accepted by Christian Americans. These words set up the incredible events that take place in the first few minutes of the film, during which a lama visits first the playground and then the home of Jesse Conrad, a ten year old whom Lama Norbu believes is the reincarnation of his master, Lama Dorje. Clad in his conspicuous Tibetan Buddhist robes, Norbu first approaches the mother who watches portrays him as the equivalent of a shyster. A few days later, he and a few colleagu es pay an unannounced visit to the home of the blond and well to do Conrads, to reveal to the boy that they think he is the reincarnation of their master and to try to convince him to travel to Bhutan to determine whether he is the reincarnation. These va rious scenes suggest the unorthodox and almost cultish method of the lamas in approaching an American family to let their son become Buddhist. The opening words help assuage some of the anxiety of such an unusual and unnerving situation by grounding it in the real. Various dialogues also treat American anxiety over Buddhism by stress ing the basic sameness of the Tibetan monks and Americans, but also the elevated status of Americans. When the lamas first visit the Conrad house, they make a prayer gestur e to the white women Lisa Conrad and her housekeeper as they enter and state that it is
250 suggesting how an i deal bourgeois family of Americans copes with the quotidian by not paying attention to it In the background, a boy flits through but out of focus, making just a littl e noise that created mask of a red rat, which his mother tells him to remove. Norbu, however, asks about the mask and tells him that sm with a child like simplicity and improvisation similarity to Americans as well as their harmlessness. The film further plays up a estheticism as a means to engage the Asian other through its subsequent focus on sand mandalas and other elaborate and colorful Tibetan Buddhist artifacts. Such artifacts does not. The wording helps downplay dissimilarity between American religious practice and Tibetan Buddhism as it explains the basic function of the building. While paintings become nothing but a newly admired style. The film evinces f urther similarities between Americans and Tibetan Bud dhists to assuage American anxiety. For example, a medium long shot shows a lama wearing jeans and a denim jacket a symbol of American style. Another instance occurs when
251 esse, a book that function s much like a Christian Bible. Though the diction suggests the book threatens to proselytize the young boy. T hese conservative fears are realiz ed in a later scene, when, after reading from the book, the boy takes a meditation pose. Nevertheless, the storybook provides an apparently innocent and child like framework, on the last word. This framework can allow the American audience to interact with the religion without threat, on the basic level of narrative. This move to experience the an American audience that is likely as poorly versed in Buddhism as Jesse, the storybook acts as an intra representations of ancient India access into modern America. While the fil m shows Jesse reading the book and consuming the life of the film later shows that the Buddha took an arduous journey to achieve enlightenment, here it plays up the exotic nature of his origins using special effects. Tonetti comments: philosophy t hat is antitheti 77 The extended scene shows the ornamented elephants and many beautiful servants. At various times the film portrays a 77 Claretta Tonetti, p. 250 251 Bertloucci states sublime moment of the Buddhist illumination were reall y a great s Tonetti interprets this comment as joking, but it seems prescient, and indicates the conflation of technology and the mystical, magical, cool experience.
252 tree ben ding down to shade her and a baby elephant hugging her. Then she painlessly gives birth to the Buddha, who appears fully conscious and strong enough to stand on his own legs. He speaks his mantra of saving all beings from suffering, and as he walks, lotu s blossoms spring from the ground. Moreover, in a move to assuage American a Jesus, although he was born much before. more than illust 78 But t Buddhism as something fantastical and beyond the ordinary logic of the rationalized late capitalist era. Slumming with the Buddhists Little Buddha dhism and trip to Asia as "slumming," in which their high wealth and technologic al American background contrast with the relatively poor Asians. The editing of the film helps magnify this contrast. For example, when Lama Norbu tells Jesse about how the B uddha's father tried to keep him from suffering by retaining him inside his palace, the scene reverts to contemporary time, in which Jesse's father is attempting to prevent Lama Norbu from taking Jesse to Bhutan. Only after the father hears about the deat h of his brother does he decide to allow Jesse to go with the lamas. Here, the life of the Conrad family mimics the life of the Buddha, a recapitulation that establishes the s piritual primacy of Buddhism. T he film reiterates this connection when Jesse an d his father actually go to Kathmandu. In this depiction the film posits a binary vision of Asia as both intensely wealthy and destitutely poor. When Jesse shares his Nintendo Game Boy with a local boy, Raju, 78 Ibid ., p. 251.
253 game system a nd runs away. Raju runs after his brother. As Jesse chases them and inadvertently gets lost in the city, he comes across almost the exact shot of endless toil that the young Buddha did with m erely a few changes. Jesse wanders through the streets and se es the "real" Nepal, and he becomes disoriented and bewildered. Only when Raju returns the Game Boy does the frightening experience for Jesse come to an end. After the theft of the video game the virtue of the Nepalese is called into question, but the sp iritual virtue of Raju is restored when he returns the system. Such slumming re affirms America's status as technologically advanced, especially since the films show Asians as intensely desiring and craving "our" material goods, (despite the fact that Ni ntendo is based in Japan). In its depiction of Jesse sharing his Game Boy with Raju, the film represents America as beneficent and friendly to Asian others, in spite of their possibly destructive desire to be like us. By setting up the Conrad family in a position similar to the Buddha's experience, the film universalizes and therefore exculpates American desire from predatory intent. In effect, America begins to occupy the representational space and position of such "pure" Buddhists, a switch that echoes Asia, they also establish the marked differences that make America superior. The Matrix ool The power of capitalist representation to feed on protest, as Cho w argues, is no more evident than in the The Matrix (1999) million its first weekend of release, and its phenomenal post cinema distribution is credited with helping the fledgling DVD industry overcome consumer ma laise at yet another new entertainment medium to buy. Less than six years after the original film,
254 two sequels were spawned and the series had become a cult and mainstream classic. What made the supposedly rebellious film so popular not just with the mo vie going public but also critics and scholars? Popular with younger audiences for the groundbreaking visual effects, the film showcases dodging sequences and the wall scaling martial arts fighting scenes. Another factor must be its h andlin g of intellectual ideas, a treatment that has provided much grist for the mill of academia. Indeed, this combination of intellect and line action movies that are devoid of any determined to put as many ideas into the movie as we could 79 Such ideas include a strong critique of contemporary capitalist America and its vapidity, using an eclectic mix of philosophy and religion, including Buddhism, with Neo as the savior of the Zion rebels. Rachel Wagner and Frances Flannery Dailey elaborate the formalistic parallels between the religion and the film. 80 These ideas sustain the film beyond the fleeting experience of a standard act ion film, and resonate with the zeitgeist of contemporary America. While such ideas may explain the popularity of the film, they only begin to suggest what makes the movie so compelling to its disciples. The appeal of this jeremiad to America lay in its ability to re work the notion that individual resistance is not only not futile but beatific and cool. The film amply demonstrates this representation of cool by the styles of filming and acting. Using massive amounts of capital and high tech filming tec hniques, the film paradoxically represents technological culture as the enemy 79 Christopher Probst, p. 32. 80 Rachel Wagner and Frances Flannery Da iley, p 259.
255 even as it shows the putative resistance movement using such technologies. By re fashioning technology as resistant to capitalism and therefore cool, the film propagates some of the same ideologies that it purports to critique. The discourse of cool neatly sublimates those protesting energies of its spectatorship into higher box office figures, ation and transcendence of its characters in a cynical future that resembles today has achieved spectacular success. As with the Star Wars trilogy before it, The Matrix presents a band of human rebels in con flict with a distinct evil. Wher e as begins in the adventure land of outer space, in the latter film rebellion begins in the strangling embrace and Anderson, must break free of a world where being an hour late for wo rk could cost you parceled and rationalized office of cubicles that America sees that are no more inviting and no less insipid. For inst ance, the nightclub scene shows the kind of bland existence led inside the Matrix. As the music of Rob Zombie blasts on like at the bar, while Anderson himself acts as a wallflower until the assertive Trinity comes along to speak with him. As paradigms of (post)modern culture, the depictions of these spaces resonate well with an audience jaded by their shallowness. h and meaning, a world that is represented by a kind of vulgar Buddhism. Ultimately, i The Matrix
256 inclusion of Buddh ism in the film, in distinction to the Christian narrative that is seen by many critics, such as Colin McGinn or the entwined religious traditions seen by Rachel Wagner and Frances Flannery Dailey. 81 A few critics, such as Hubert L. Dreyfus and Stephen D. Dreyfus, argue against any religious underpinning to the film at all. 82 James L. Ford explains much of the work in terms of its formal similarity to Buddhism and notes various aspects of the story that can easily fit into such a savior narrative. 83 Similarl y, Paul Fontana presents the obvious formal parallels with Judeo Christian mythology and cites the warm reception that certain Christian viewers have given the film. 84 Fontana and Ford note the limitations of their formalist readings. 85 In its promise of the efficacy of rebellion the film posits two worlds one is illusion, while the other is real and substantial. As Andrew Gordon argues, the film presents a worldview that dates back at least to the nineteenth century Romantic version of this conflict betwee n appearance and reality 86 Rational arguments aside, the film still feels emotional resonance and its undisputed popularity suggest the extent to which Americans feel alienated from the world and have set their sights on another seemingly more pe netrated. By appealing to the fascination for rebellion or transcendence, the film itself acts as a way for capitalism to create cool and so to re instantiate itself. 81 Colin McGinn, p 63. Rachel Wagner and Frances Flannery Dailey, p 259. 82 Hubert L. Dreyfus and Stephen D. Dreyfus, p 84. 83 James L. Ford 84 Paul Fontana, p. 160. 85 Ibid ., p. 178. James L. Ford, p. 140. 86 Andrew Gordon, p. 87.
257 The elements of rebellion and transcendence, then, form a compelling base for the work mysticism. Unlike Christianity, whose main figur e Jesus is mentioned by name in the film as an epithet for Neo, eastern mysticism has a much more shadowy presence. And yet a lthough the film does not explicitly mention Buddhism, quasi mystical elements, including suggestive language, strongly suggest the religion. In part these quasi mystical elements are the inheritance of kung fu movies that have made their way west into a new breed of action film. Surely a movie that shows the savior figure loaded with high tech weaponry blasting his way into a govern ment building is hardly a Buddhist narrative, a contradiction that Wagner and Flannery Dailey note. 87 While the movie may wear the cloak of Buddhist mythology, it presents the religion as supporting the ethos of violence and control oriented technological c ulture that are valorized as cool Numerous aspects of the film suggest a Buddhist interpretation. The film introduces Neo by name and tells the audience that he will be the savior of this world before Neo actually appears on camera The first glimpse o f this putative hero occurs as he slump s over his desk asleep, listening to music and surrounded by the trappings of consumer electronic culture. News of Morpheus the leader of the rebel forces, flickers into the sleeper. The words Wake up, Neo flash onto a blank computer screen and the character awakens as if controlled by a higher force. Anderson quite literally experiences enlightenment and awakening here, suggestive of the Buddhist epiphany to a new identity. Although later the film indicates that Anderson has been trying to understand the Matrix, at this point he begins to take it seriously and accompanies a 87 Rachel Wag ner and Frances Flannery Dailey, p. 100.
258 few acquaintances to a nightclub after seeing a white rabbi t tattoo and a previous allusion to it on the computer screen. With ideas such as the white rabbit, the film takes up pagan mysticism (and a Lewis Carroll allusion) early in the film, and often throughout the narrative pagan mysticism intertwines with a mo re explicit Buddhist mythos. Through the mise en scene the film presents a universe of suffering in bland capitalist America that has to be overcome. Of the few scenes in public locations in the portion of film time. Here Neo toils in the corporate America of cubicle offices alongside colleagues who point him out to Agent Smith, the prime antagonist and leader o insurgency forces. When on the same morning the hero oversleep s and arrives approximately one importance of the Metacortex company above employee interests. The film emphasizes the nature of the corporate space with the almost nauseous green tone that permeates these scenes as well as the ominous dark lighting. The green filter suggests not only working there. The use of shots in this scene also sets up Neo as a prisoner of the corporate world. As the agents approach Neo in his cubicle (a symbol of the style less and uniform corporate world), a high angle shot captures completely in the frame the full body of the protagonist hunching down to escape no tice, reinforcing the notion of the series of slightly low angle, medium shots of the approaching agents suggests their relative powerfulness, but the angles are just bel ow level, more subtly indicating their
259 power. As Neo scampers surreptitiously past the agents, a series of shots at waist level, positions the character much like a rat wending its way through the maze of cubicles, here he then escapes through the window. Here t he film comments less on some future world than on the contemporary corporate world with its impersonal treatment of employees. That Anderson is initially enmeshed in this soul less world and then transcends it resonates with an audience enthralled by the mundane stupidities and inequities of the same capitalist system. Much of the seemingly everyday dialog has mystical overtones tha t resound with Buddhist thought After Anderson arranges to meet Morpheus, hi s assistant Trinity picks him up and the car pulls out. When she attempts to scan him for a bug, Anderson vehemently disagrees, and her fellow conspirator Switch asks him to leave the car. He road path or way are all suggestive of a mystical outlook. Indeed, the ancient Chinese word tao is often translated in any of these three ways. The film visual ly puns on the word road by having Neo open the car door to look out into a soul less urban or industrial cross street that runs to nowhere and is drenched in rain. This wordplay suggestive of eastern rpheus. When Neo and Morpheus first meet, their conversation strongly suggests a despairing seeker who is looking for a way out of the suffering world. Morpheus approaches Neo from a frame of reference to the Matrix that Neo cannot yet comprehend because he has not experienced the real world firsthand. To Neo it seems Morpheus speaks in riddles like representations of mysterious Asia, and somehow
260 knows why he has come to him. In fact, Morpheus informs him exactly why. Morpheus: You have the look of a in fate, Neo? Neo: No. M: Why not? N: M: Let me tell you why you like a splinter in your mind drivin g you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you N: The Matrix? The language here is pointedly suggestive of a mystical experience. Morpheus seems to be the well versed Zen teacher who is able to see instantly what ails Neo, while Neo the reference to a splinter suggests those people who are compelled to practice Buddhism. When practitioners are on the verge of enlightenme nt, such a metaphor is often used to describe the desperate feeling that pushes them further, until they experience awakening. Matt Lawrence also argues that this immediate experience of the real world characterizes the film as Buddhist. 88 Although it doe s exhibit diction that correlates to a Buddhist experience, crystal ball. The wording is open and suggestive rather than concrete and pointed. Viewers can easily fill in the blanks with their own experiences and feel that they are being directly addressed by the film. Vague compulsions and feelings and searching out a higher power are redolent of a faux spirituality, which real life shysters often exploit for commercia l gain. An intertwining of tawdry mystical experience with 88 Matt Lawrence, p 128.
261 elements evocative of Buddhism again occurs in this scene. Morpheus verbally seduces Neo to his side with his pseudo mystical language and his understanding when Neo expresses his feelings about exactly what Other explanations of the Matrix sound as if they situate the filmic world in Buddhist terms, but they reiterate American preoccupations with freedom and control. The Matrix is described much like samsara the endless cycle of re births and suffering that the unenlightened must undergo by Morp heus just before Neo enters the real world: Morpheus: You can see it out your window or on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, or go to church or when you pay your taxe s. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. Neo: What truth? M: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for you r mind. In this first formulation of the Matrix, dual worlds emerge the Matrix world of never e battleground for have a social component that shape identity straints on the behavior of the individual; amidst a social backdrop, individuals are constantly reminded that they are not simply free to do whatever they feel like doing. These restraints clash with the ideology of individualism promoted by control orie nted technology, indeed, by the
262 general experience of life in the late 20 th century, where there is a greater push for freedom and control. Therefore, for an audience in the thrall of an insidious consumer capitalism this description might sound like a fa ir diagnosis of their spiritual dilemma Morpheus refers to Neo as a slave. H e uses the term bondage which echoes not only slavery but the use of debt financing and credit cards as a means of affording the luxuries of late capitalism. As is well docume nted, Americans are increasingly bound by their spending with usurious credit cards. Since it allows rebelli on against such a restrictive lifestyle, Buddhism sounds like it promises a realm where everyone can do whatever they feel like doing the asympto tic vision of capitalist freedom. T he film presents the daily life of the rebels as semi Buddhist in nature, a point that Wagner and Flannery Dailey also make 89 After Neo arrives in the real world and his startling revelation on the nature of reality, he joins Morpheus and his crew aboard the Nebuchadnezzar. On board the ship they lead a monastic life and live according to some traditional Buddhist rules. T heir organization resembles something of the sangha the collection of practitioners that first gath ered around the Buddha, and which today is any organized group of both lay and ordained Buddhists. The inner circle who have escaped the Matrix sport shaven heads, while the women wear close cropped hair both are traditional hair styling in a Buddhist mo nastery. The rebels lead a spartan lifestyle with the suggestion that they are vegetarians, consuming only a fortified must do so on the sly one of the first hints that One other sequence in particular reveals how the film intertwines Buddhism and the Western ideology of control. As a critical segue into the final section of the film, Neo 89 Rachel Wagner and Frances Flannery Dailey, p 281.
263 visits the Oracle to try to receive confirmati on that he is the promised savior the One are making a trio of alphabet blocks hover in the air, while a boy plays at bending spoons by concentrating on them. The boy sits in what appears to be the lotus position, traditionally used in meditation, and sports a shaved head and robe suggestive of eastern religion. Before him lie tan gled and twisted spoons. As the boy focuses, the head of the spoon revolves 360 degrees, reflecting Neo as it moves. The intra diegetic music of wind chimes suggests the mystical and revelatory nature of this act, and the boy hands the spoon to Neo, who examines it carefully. Before he is called to the Neo begins to bend the spoon, the chimes kick in again, suggesting that these individuals are living in a mystical realm. Here the film presents a strange conflation of Buddhism, control, and one of the most well known hoaxes of the 20 th century. While the spoon bending boy is attired in a Buddhist robe, he performs a trick made famous by conman Uri Geller in the 1970s. 90 Second, the whole setup of visiting the Oracle in her apartment in what a ppears to be the ghetto suggests a cheap, fly by night psychic of today. This scene is reminiscent of a scene in Little Buddha where Lama Norbu speaks with the Buddhist Oracle to determine who is the actual reincarnation of a former lama. Finally, the b 90 Cecil Adams. G eller managed to convince millions of people that he had some special psychic ability to bend spoons or other forms of m etal merely by concentrating on them
264 Neo suggest a Buddhist mysticism, particularly to an audience not particularly well His words echo a well known Zen koan as Glenn Yeffeth and Lawrence n ote 91 self is contradictory to a total Buddhist reading, because Buddhists see the independently existing self a s yet another illusion. The final showdown between Neo and the agent s of the Matrix represents Buddhism as a doctrine that embodies ultimate control. On the run from Agent Smith, Neo ducks into a room only to be confronted by his nemesis, who blasts him in the chest and then follows him out into the hall to finish the job. With the help of Trinity, who has already warped back to the real world, Neo fully realizes the illusory nature of the Matrix and revives himself to finish the agents. In order to det ail this mystical experience the filmmakers effectively use the mise en scene enlightenment. After Neo has died, the film shows Trinity chastely kissing Neo and in the background sparks fly during her short monologue that he must be the One. Indeed, sparks fly right on her words I love you Neo resumes breathing, and a monitor symbolically shows his heart beating again. From the real world Trinity commands him to get up and yet he responds from the Matrix, suggesting that, for him at least, the border between the two worlds is bridged. Beatific music plays throughout, as Neo 91 Glen Yeffeth, p. 253. Yeffeth cites the koan as follows: Two monks were arguing about the temple flag forth and coul d not agree. Hui Matt Lawrence, p. 129.
265 arises and the agents try to gun him down. After realizing the nature of the Matrix, he has new powers. The film literally shows the whorls as Neo slows the bullets f ired at him from the agents and then stops the bullets as if they were frozen in time. Then the film presents what the Matrix looks streams of flowing data in the shape of the visible Matrix world. Neo is amazed by his new abiliti es, and responds to the physical attacks of Agent Smith effortlessly, while time seems to slow for him. As he kicks his enemy down the hall, his leg remains nearly frozen in space. Then Neo literally runs through Agent Smith, who explodes. When the came ra returns to Neo he is flexing his body and the Matrix flexes with him, suggesting his oneness inside the computer construct. He breathes deeply and with equanimity, and rests his hands in a seemingly Buddhist pose. Lawrence describes the situation thus manipulate them effortlessly mine] 92 The powers that Neo obtains are not unlike those that a Buddha is reputed to obtain after breaking the bonds of karma. Such a being becomes omniscient omnipresent and able to respond to all situations virtuosically and effortlessly. Lawrence similarly describes this scene in Buddhist terms, as the embodiment of the ideal of wu wei action through non action 93 In fact, the enlightened being develops a new relationship to time. Likewise a Buddha can see the world in terms of its flux, its unceasing impermanence, much as Neo experiences the Matrix. The final shot in this scene, a close up enlightenment is experienced carefu l observation of the breath with meditation. After 92 Matt Lawrence, p. 189. 93 Ibid ., p. 179.
266 his enlightenment Neo is perfectly calm and his previous worries have been vanquished. Buddhism as Ultimate C ontrol As suggested before, The Matrix was created in the context of a well capitalized Hollywo od system that is itself ensconced in consumer capitalism within a western, control oriented society. These contexts manifest themselves in the portrayal of Buddhism. Ford rightly argues that one central aspect that gives this movie a Buddhist flavor is that the main ch aracter must rid himself of ignorance about the true nature of reality 94 However, the film leaves out major elements of the Buddhist worldview as Ford is s impermanence, interdependence, or emptiness in the dialogue of The Matrix 95 Rather, Buddhism comes to be represented as a means of ultimate control over the world. As shown in the film, the mystical experience gives us some power to control our environment or defeat our enemies directly. Lawrence notes that technological overdevelopment forms the apocalyptic setting for the film and suggests how the over aggressiveness of technology has led to the destruction of nature 96 While such a bias may come from the kung fu heritage which the Wachowskis used for elements of their film, more likely it comes from the expectations of an American audience already intent on seeing an action film or an audience predisposed to control oriented methods of dealing with the world. For example, the scene where Neo and Trinity storm the 94 James L. Ford, p. 137. 95 Ibid ., p. 138. 96 Matt Lawrence, p. 176.
267 government building packed with high tech firepower suggests that the film relies o n generic expectations and not really on a Buddhist ethic of non violence or non action. suggesting Rather, the scene showcases the desire of an American audience for control in any way that might express its "indisputable" and unrepentant individuality, much as intercut shots show Morpheus somehow withstanding a chemical that should make him putty in the hands of his torturers. The shot contrasts how a typical au dience member is de individualized by modern security measures and how a cool person would deal with the situation. As Neo enters the building through a revolving door, a low shot in slow motion focuses exclusively on his black boots and his steps move in time to an industrial sound much like a sledgehammer. Before him stand the nondescript but threatening guards who will scan his bag, but he nonchalantly places the bag on the conveyor belt -a move that marks him as rebelliously cool, since the audience is unable to make such a gesture. Only after he passes through the scanning device, which sounds off, does the shot reveal his face, which is clad in cool black sunglasses. Then in the standard protocol a guard approaches him and asks him to remove all metallic objects from his person. Neo flashes open both sides of his duster to display the whole panoply of his black weaponry. The guard swears, and Neo leaps into action with a kung fu thrust to his chest. Then in slow motion he begins a choreographe d ballet in which he slaughters the guards with his machine guns. After he annihilates all but one of the guards, Trinity enters and guns down the last one. She also sports black sunglasses and is dressed in
268 black leather or latex. She tosses the spent weapon aside in an insouciant gesture, as if to say that she is so cool that she doesn't need that symbol of power anymore. T hey have plenty of other guns. In the following shot, the camera backs away from the pair who stand defiantly with weapons drawn waiting for the backup guards, who race toward the lobby. The guards are dressed as if they are Marines and fan out into the room settling behind pillars. They draw their heavy machine guns and shotguns, and point them toward the camera. One yells, "Fre eze." Neo and Trinity calmly turn to one another as if debating the issue, and then dodge. Machine guns blast at them. As Neo dodges, he pulls two handguns. In a slow motion shot, he returns fire while moving behind a pillar. The slow motion shot char acterizes him as nonchalant, the epitome of cool under fire. A techno score accentuates the bullets streaming from their weapons, suggest ing their control of the situation. The walls of the building crack under the relentless gunfire, yet Neo proceeds to blast the guards in a calm and cool choreograph. Meanwhile, Trinity is dodging bullets on the other side of the lobby. She makes a gravity defying run up the side of a wall, while bullets tear up the wall behind her. She then flips over in midair to th e safety of a pillar. With the techno score behind them and in slow motion to accentuate their nonchalance, Neo and Trinity continue to make such maneuvers until they dispatch all the guards. The scene ends with the pedestrian sound of an elevator ding a nd the almost a series of actions that highlights how powerful the duo are. This sequence highlights not only genre expectations for an action film but also for control oriented solutions, solutions that are
269 represented as cool since they defy the quotidian experience. On the one hand, the sequence showcases the immense technological firepower of the rebels and their unapologetic use of such weapons for their individual goals. On the other hand, the sequence also shows how in control of their bodies that they are -enough to perform acrobatics as they're being shot at. Moreover, their acrobatics defy fun damental laws of physics, position ing them as cool. I n any case, as they enter the lobby to be vetted by the guards, their actions contrast starkly with the standard app roach that everyone must take in such a situation. Rather than submit to the de individualizing process of security, Neo expresses his indi viduality through control, by blowing away the guard. In the process he becomes cool through control, which has been allied with Buddhism throughout the film. Indeed, the film posits a world where control resides as the central guiding value, a position t hat reflects the Western lineage of technological control. The film seems to conceive of the Buddhist principle of the ignorance of the nature of reality in specifically dualistic terms. So, for instance, Morpheus explains the nature of the Matrix comput er construct and Neo picks up on it very quickly, almost as if the experiential reality were a fact that had been memorized and could now be cited as knowledge rather than ignorance of the subject. This commodification of knowledge reflects the growing ne cessity of information in late stage capitalist economies and the subsequent fetishization of information. Ignorance in the Buddhist sense is not just a factual lack but a whole series of sedimented processes and behaviors karma that usually must be worked through rigorously and methodically with meditation. Instead, the film generally presents the
270 western notion of factual ignorance, underscoring it by arts training. While no cyber version of meditation 97 that formulation obscures the commodification of knowledge. Historically the eastern martial arts have had significant ties with Buddhism, and both demand extensive concentration and dedication. However, instead of a dema nding practice built up over years, the film presents the kind of quick fix and consumerist mentality prevalent today arts training is a versi on of meditation, then these skills and enligh tenment can simply be downloaded into a person wholesale. Instead of years of wholehearted devotion to the practice, the film manifests a western, control oriented view on enlightenment that colors Buddhism in every shade of its capitalist heritage. Atten tion Energy as F uel for the Matrix / The Matrix In its critique of modern society, The Matrix presents a vision of human enslavement that relies on the willing attention of its victims. While Morpheus explains that the machines are using humans for bio el ectricity, a process that Peter B. Lloyd says, violates fundamental physical laws 98 T he world of the Matrix a ctually relies on the attention energy of humans to anchor them inside the media construct that is the Matrix which the film already conceives as a pernicious, always on virtual reality. As such, the film presents a critique of media culture, even though the film is a tremendously successful part of that culture. Yet this critique is always already reworked into the circuits of representation tha t also render it a protest that can be re sold. Such a media protest always routes the attention of spectators into the global circuits of mass media 97 James L. Ford, p. 138. 98 Peter B. Lloyd, p. 104.
271 and global capitalism, transform that attention into profits. The absolute necessity of attention energy for the continuance of global capitalism can be thrown into relief by a Buddhist critiq ue. Buddhism scholar Peter Hershock calls the diversion of attention energy from local environments and toward the maintenance of mass media and the corporate structure the colonization of consciousness 99 Hershock argues that such a critique begins wit h the notion of human attention as fundamental to life and w ell being. Only when attention energy is focused on a problem can it be effectively solved. By bestowing at tention energy in dless to say, if mass media siphons that attention from the immediate environment, it cannot be put to work in that local area, let alone in skillful ways. C orporations attention energy like a natural resource. Then they peddle solutions inattentiveness to him/herself. Mass media leads to, among other things the export of attention from the local to the global in support of a growing global consumer culture. By focusing attention on media, t he discourse of cool allows this process to act more efficiently. In order to enunciate its protest and t herefore capture more attention energy, the film analogizes the machines as the corporations of today, and science fiction does nothing if not talk about the problems of today in the guise of the future. T he similarity Agent Smith underscores this analogy 99 Peter Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel p. 6.
272 wearing the traditional business attire. The connection of the fascist Rhineheart with the central antagon ist allies corporate capitalism with evil. The Wachowskis also make their protest by transforming the original colors of the iconic Warner Bro ther a move that suggests the greed of the corporation. They delib erately foreground their complicity in the circuits of power even as they give a resounding gesture of disgust a very public one that most So The Matrix is compelling because it supposedly promises rebellion or transcendence from a s tate where corporate interests dominate. Yet one must partake in the mass medium, either film in the cinema or DVD/VHS at home, in order to receive allows the mass medium t o attract a fuller spectrum of attention energy more effectively. Rather than constituting a destabilizing critique of capitalism, such a protest increases its reach. Simply look at the hype and success surrounding The Matrix sequels. In sum, the asympt otic condition of our current consumption of mass media exists in the Matrix 100 generated dream world built to does not function repressively, but rather by our own volition and desire Humans colonize themselves and commodify their consciousness; the machine is us, in a quite literal way in The Matrix 101 100 Kevin Warwick, p. 203. Warwick suggests that The Matrix world may be a vision of our f uture. 101 As suggested by karma, such a process of colonization will continue until we are able to skillfully use our attention energy and use it within a (local) system where the pos itive effects of attention come back to us and are not siphoned into globa l networks where that energy is used to maintain the autocrac y of the corporation. A s the products and means of such global networks, mass media technology predis poses us to use attention in promoting values inherent in that technology. And to the extent t hat any technology uses as its foundation computers which are based on binary code, an obvious duality we can expect the propagation of that duality, and the consequent ignorance and suffering based on the conceit that the
273 The promise of transcendence from capitalism instantiated by The Matrix belies its actual production of a capitalistic worldview. For example, take the fashion industry spawned in the wake of the first film: black sunglasses a la Neo sprouted everywhere, while the black dusters of the band of rebels became a cool item. While the film proclaimed a message of revolution, it sparked remark able sales. As the co option of Buddhism as part of this media onslaught suggests, capitalist representation re works images into benign consumables. Specifically, Buddhism is re figured as an ideology of control, in distinct contrast to the practices prom oted by the religion. Indeed, such representations begin to reflect Arthur C Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This trend of portraying Buddhism as the ultimate form of control, and thus magica l, continues in more recent films. For example, The Last Mimzy (2007) relates the story of two children who were contacted by humans of the future. By returning a rabbit shaped, high tech Mimzy to the past, the future humans seek to have their ancestors tu rn away from the ecological damage that has torn their world apart. When becom says Roger Moore. 102 With abilities such as teleportation, telepathy, and levitation, the children are soon suspected of being tulkus Buddhist adepts, by their school teacher who has recently returned from Nepal. Through the final scene, the film continues self is fundamentally differe nt from others. This belief is the root of ignorance according to Buddhism, and it is literally built into digital culture. 102 Roger Moore, p. C5.
274 displaying their supernatural abilities as what allows them to save the future. Like the practices of control that it seeks to critique, the film uses Buddhism to provide an ethos of control that simply tries to re orient the direction of control, rather than critiquing the ideology of control. By continuing to turn Buddhism into a religion that promotes control, such cinematic representations revoke the notion of anything inherently problematic in the practice of control, and therefore the technological lineage of America and the West derived from such a practice. Instead, technology becomes the ultimate form of cool. Conclusion In the period immediately following the Cold War, the United States turned to filmic representations of Buddhism as a means to evoke its self identity as a protector of (capitalist) freedom vis vis the growing economic power of China. In order to portray itself this way America has used represen tations focusing on the putative innocence and purity of a Buddhist Tibet that has been ravaged by an aggressive China. Films such as Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet display this innocence and aggressiveness very overtly, clearly allying the United States just learning about technology. The Little Buddha operates in a similar fashion, suggesting how the United States will save a tiny Buddhist Asian nation (here, Bhutan) while that nation revives the spiritual roots of America. The most recent of the films The Matrix most explicitly details the connection between Buddhism and the growing technological culture of America. Here, more than in any of the other films, a vulgar reading of Buddhism comes to undergird t he production of American cool, which discourse intends to promote consumption and so strengthen the United States. Much as in the Cold War period itself, the representational response to an eminent national threat is to encourage the spread of capitalism especially an American dominated
275 capitalism. A similar, but still more overt, process occurs in advertisements using Buddhism, which is discussed in the next chapter.
276 CHAPTER 7 ADVERTISING BUDDHISM : CONSUMING THE EXOT IC AT HOME In the article "Zen in the Balance: Can It Survive America?" Helen Tworkov delineates some of the major trends in the postwar adaptation of Zen Buddhism in today is whether the Americanization o f Zen now under way is a necessary process of become a justification for the co optation of Zen by secular materialists 1 In the 19 80s, ame solidly middle class 2 As I argued in the previous chapter, the recent explosion of Buddhism into domestic mass media has much to do with American preoccupations with China, especially Chinese economic expansionism, even as it re affirms U S economi c development in the post Cold War world. But in the last few years, this trend has become even more explicit, with images of Buddhism being represented as a source of perceived value that is, cool -in mainstream advertisements. 3 film, a medium sought out actively by willing theatergoers, to advertisement, which often has a wide and unspecific reach, suggests how preponderant and deep the tension involving China and Asia generally really runs. The proliferation of advertiseme nts invoking Buddhism suggests how "solidly middle class" that the marketing of Buddhism as cool has become. Whereas the use of Buddhism as a pitchman for capitalism is relatively recent, Buddhism was often popularized in the U.S. as an anti capitalist cri tique from the 1 Hele n Tworkov, p. 56. 2 Ibid ., p. 54. 3 One example of this explosion: Don Lattin explores the proliferat Don Lattin.
277 fringes, back to Beat writers such as Kerouac and Ginsberg, and even as early as the first serious American reader of Buddhist texts, Ralph Waldo Emerson. The change reveals a key characteristic of capitalism its ability to re work seeming ly competitive and anti consumerist discourses into economically productive representations. If cool has become a way to restructure and transform the threat/opportunity that China presents to the United States, when did this discourse take Buddhism as a means to this end? The use of Buddhism for capitalist ends has shifted since the end of the Cold War. With the demise in 1990 of the Soviet Union, the "evil empire," to use President Reagan's phrase, the United States lost a clear foil for itself. Amer ica no longer had a communist menace; in fact, that which the nation had defined as good and a bulwark against communism capitalism was proliferating across the globe. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War the expansion of capitalism around the globe to heretofore closed economies created a situation in which the capitalist paradigm had little perceived threat. Now it is precisely those newly developing capitalist nations that pose a threat to the dominance of American capital. While jobs are often o utsourced to a variety of Asian nations, China has come to be the pre eminent example of a rising Asian economic power. China's rapid economic climb, which has occurred in approximately the last 30 years, threatens the United th economically and politically. Somewhat ironically, the threat to the United States has been the overwhelming growth of China as a quasi capitalist power. On the one hand, American investors and others have recently made fistfuls of dollars by investing in the Asian nation, and stand to make substantially more
278 in the coming decades. Yet, on the other, blue collar labor has been particularly threatened by the low prices of Chinese labor but white collar classes are increasingly challenged by China too Tales of outsourcing jobs to Asia have proliferated in America, whose jobs are perhaps most threatened by the practice. This dual challenge that China presents immense economic opportunity for an investor class and seemingly grave existential threat to the unmonied classes must be managed by strategic representation, along the Orientalist lines that Edward Said laid out. Said writes, "The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a comple x hegemony 4 But with China seriously challenging American hegemony, how might the ideological formation of Orientalism or some new variant maintain the perception of American dominance? As American jobs and investment are increasingly outsourced to Chi na, and Asia generally, the process of capitalist representation comes to highlight the economic opportunity for American investors and mitigate the material thr eat for American labor. Within this context Buddhism as a generic marker of Asia, especially C hina, is deployed in the most ubiquitous medium with the largest reach to the common American advertisement. This global capitalist competition presents a serious threat to United States economic dominance. For ex ample, at the end of World War II the United States 5 S ome predictions indicate that the U.S. and Canada share of world output will fall from 30% today to 19% in 2050. Meanwhile, economic growth in developing economies is staggering, with Ch ina leading 4 Edward Said, p. 5. 5 John Kunkel, p. 33.
279 the pack at official estimates of 10% per year. China will 6 From approximately 1991 China began to receive significant increases in foreign direct investment. 7 Such increases are positively correlated with increased eco nomic activity, which included the many manufacturing jobs that had been outsourced from America I ncreases in FDI in China occurred just as the Cold War ended. From this period on, Buddhism has increasingly emerged in America in highly visible, large scale and capital intensive projects. Such projects have included the numerous big budget films sponsored by major studios and directors that cam e out in the 1990s, as I highlighted in the previous chapter. These projects also include the much more penetrating tentacles of advertising, especially in the last 10 years. Admittedly, in the ads that I analyze below, there is no specific mention of Budd hism. After all, the ads are hawking products, not religion per se. Rather, the ads deploy meditating figures who could be from other Asian religions that feature meditation as a primary component, such as Hinduism or Jainism. Most important to my readin g is that the meditating figure stands in for Asia. Indeed, the conflation of religious traditions can work even better for the purposes of demonstrating the opportunity/threat paradigm for Asia as whole I that the form or style of an ad But Buddhism is the only pan Asian religion of significance; it is the only religion that can come to represent, as a whole, the Asian 6 Alliance Trust 7 Chinability.com
280 threat/opportunity, including China, India, Indonesia, and others. So t his sudden emergence of meditating figure s into American mass culture over suggests that Buddhism is being deployed as a symbol of Asia generally, but especially China. Unarguably China has a more diverse religious background than simply Buddhism (Taoism and Confucianism among others), but representations appearing in America to motivate consumption or defuse anxiety need neither acknowledge this diversity nor portray it. G iven the well known ascendancy of China that has been promulgated in the mass media, the sight of meditating figures in ads most clearly references this fastest growing Asian nation. In the 21 st century, as China's economic reach grows, advertisers ha ve begun to more widely adopt Buddhism as a marker of cool to ease American middle class anxiety over the specter of China, even as they promote sales from China and thus its economic development. Moreover, recent ads conflate Buddhism with control orient ed technology, aligning the religion with the Western technological lineage and the spread of capitalism generally -a theme that I highlighted in films in the previous chapter. This promise of control also helps mitigate such middle class anxiety. Fina lly, the ads often employ a gender component to mitigate this anxiety, namely, displaying primarily female figures engaged in meditation. This feminization of the religion makes it less threatening and therefore more consumable, in a process that has them atic antecedents in Orientalist representations. China and the Post Cold War W orld wealth. Europe seemed ready to exploit the Asian nation in any way possible. N ow,
281 through weste rn investment, China is poised to be a serious threat to America in economic terms. One of the most enduring representations of China has been as an economic market that seemed to offer countles s riches. Well into the 20 th century, the colonial powers, e specially Britain, worked to open Chinese markets, often under the threat of military force. The Opium Wars of the mid 19 th century saw Britain (and France in the Second Opium War) face down China and subsequently impose its will, forcing China to pass opi um through its borders. These conflicts led to others, such as the 1899 1901 Boxer Rebellion, that shared the common theme of market exploitation. 8 The United States also saw China as a trading partner, beginning economic relations in the 1780s 9 With his 1972 trip to China, President Richard Nixon began to normalize diplomatic relations with the Asian nation, a move that opened trade with the U.S. Nixon had long taken a hard line on communism, and his diplomacy helped America gain some influence in the r egion. With Mao's death in 1976, China took a decidedly capitalist turn under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. Soon after his ascension, the nation began to eliminate collectivized agriculture, allow fluctuating prices, develop stock markets, open itself to foreign investment, and generally pursue typical capitalist economic policies. Since 1978 the Chinese GDP has increased tenfold. Sporting blistering growth rates of nine to 11% annually China ranks approximately third among the biggest economies of t he world. However, in terms of purchasing power parity, which is a normalized accounting of what goods and services a country can afford, 8 One of the most notable 19 th century American displays of force in Asia was, of course, Admiral Matthew Perry's opening of Japan to broader Western trade in 1853. The Japanese were terrified of the superior mil itary technology anchored off Tokyo (then Edo). Perry also proposed occupying Taiwan (then Formosa) for reasons of military and natural resources. 9 Christina Klein, p. 24.
282 China ranks a clear second, surpassing even Japan by a two to one margin 10 The disparity highlights the fact that Ch ina has not allowed the renminbi to fluctuate freely on the open market, instead opting for a relatively fixed currency pegged to the dollar that tilts foreign investment in its favor. In the last 15 years or so, China has really begun to emerge as an eco nomic who now shower the country with foreign direct investment (FDI). In fact, since opening to FDI in 1980, China has taken an increasingly large share of foreign direct investment, and even displaced the U.S. as the top recipient in 2002. 11 Recent gains have come on clear surge in FDI began around 1991, follow ing Guangdong and Shanghai. 12 In 2006, China garnered over $69 billion in FDI and maybe as much as $72 billion. 13 Yet the broader public and press have erroneously chided China and India id American and European investment into developing markets, rather than vice versa. 14 Indeed, many other nations have invested substantially more in the U.S., as an OECD report makes plain. 15 Yet now, as currency from trade flows ever more unequally its w ay, China is presented as a threatening specter to the U.S. Consider the economic case: a s of November 2007, the Chinese Central Bank held some 1.4 trillion U.S. dollars in 10 Pocket World in Figures p. 26. 11 Bizasia.com 12 Chinability.com 13 International H erald Tribune Chinability.com 14 Hans Christiansen, Andrea Goldstein, and Ayse Bertrand 15 Ibid
283 currency reserves. 16 Such a horde of dollars gives the Chinese significant leverag e over U.S. economic policy. Some economists have argued that the recent home buying boom in the United States could only occur due to the fact t hat t he Chinese were willing to keep accepting dollars, as exorbitant trade deficits with China widened. T he A merican trade deficit has proved to be a thorny issue between Beijing and Washington, with the Bush administration having asked for the renminbi to float freely on currency markets, in order to mitigate the deficit. China has refused to concede. In fact, when U.S. policymakers made a threat of sanctions for the refusal, it was rumored selling its dollar denominated assets in order to devalue the dollar. 17 Such a policy would be self defeating, as David H arvey notes, since it would undermine those American consumers that China relies on to buy its exports. 18 Nevertheless, with the value of the greenback continuing to plummet on world markets, the Chinese are inclined to slow their intake of dollars, instead opting for more stable currencies such as the euro. 19 of military action in the post Cold War era have been reflected in self representations of America. Increasingly, repres entations of the other have been integrated into a imperialism since Vietnam has worked steadily to import the world and to render global differences aspects of the US nation in short, to internalize and hypernationalize 16 P. Parameswaran 17 Ibid 18 David Harvey, p. 72 19 Irwin M. Stelzer
284 transnational issues 20 understanding the other as an alternative to outright militarism or Americanization. 21 While such a strategy may seem to pr opose a liberalist ideology of acceptance, in effect it provides a means for military aggression to continue. relationship between cultural or free trade imperialism and military imperialism mediated by way of a culture of fear capitalist products and encourages, rather than diminishes, military conflicts in the places of international diplomacy 22 Popular representation comes to paper over this military conflict as an expression and recapitulation of the myt hs of American nationhood, myths that include the inherent goodness of America as well as manifest destiny, but on a transnational scale. In this context, as a symbol of China and Asia generally, Buddhism offers an ideal cover for American expansionist po licies, whether they be military or economic. The deployment of Buddhist images at once seems to argue for the growing multiculturalism and peace loving nature of the U S with respect to Asia, defusing popular concerns that the U S might have a religiou sly sponsored motivation for its putative need for America, and they portray an America that is willing to accept an identity that contains elements of the Asian other. 23 Buddh ism has a reputation as the and compliant religion of the Oriental other, in distinction to Islam, since the former has been promoted as a religion of peace and simplicity and has often been associated with women in American mass media. By using su ch acceptably tame 20 John Carlos Rowe, p. 39. 21 Ibid ., p 51. 22 Ibid ., p 44. 23 Contrast that with the explosiven Islam motivation in its active involvement in the Middle East, a region which is conceived of as uniformly Muslim.
285 images of the Asian other, namely Buddhism, these representations take part in what a term that connotes the deployment of racial stereotypes such that white culture is always in a p osition of control over other races. 24 The enduring non violence of Buddhism is often highlighted as one suggesting how the U S can proceed on a course of hegemony Advertisement as O piate Advertising offers a na tural complement to the work that film is doing to establis h identity of the Cold War (white, middle class Christian), these cultural producers have begun to associate Buddhi st imagery with western products, especially high tech products, or technoluxe. Such imagery provides the products with a sense of the exotic, production the movement of inve stment to Asia, the sweatshop labor, and the hollowing out of American manufacturing. While film provides Buddhist imagery to those who want to see it, ads distribute the imagery to almost all, suggesting that ads are the final stage in the representation al deployment of Buddhism to America, since marketers feel that the religion is palatable enough for a broader audience. A ds from the middle part of this decade have been deploying Buddhist inspired iconography and circulating it among images of women, lu xury, and wellness. Such a move suggests that Buddhism can now be associated with mainstream consumption, in distinction to its postwar development, among the rhetoric of the Beats, for example, 24 Frank Chin and Jeffery P. Chan, pp 65 79.
286 who represented the religion as a bastion against capitalism. In general, the Buddhist imagery connotes a range of stereotypical associations with the East. C onsistent with abundance of the East are up for sale, and can be recovered by c onsuming what's cool. Many of the following ads are in keeping with luxury advertising in general, which often present s a minimalist aesthetic to bolster the perceived association of Buddhism as a religion based on simplicity, abstemiousness, and self abne gation. This minimalism also functions as a way to stress the ethereal nature of the product the sense of completeness that the luxury product always promises the consumer and emphasizes the extreme closeness and accessibility of the product to the con sumer. Marketing the Commodity as E thnic T he most penetrating and ubiquitous of media pestilences, ads function well as a means of establishing and distributing possible new subjectivities or styles. They associate images with products in a social context They mark the emergence of new cultural phenomena into the full blown mainstream. And they are everywhere -the usual figure is that people are exposed to some 3,000 ads per day. They show people how to consume and produce meaning from their consumption in the words of James Twitchell. 25 As such, ads present us with the range of new identities that are up for sale. In a media saturated world that is starved for new and different images, the exotic or ethnic is the course du jour since those characteris tics can be portrayed as novelty. And if, as many cultural theorists argue, identity formation occurs oppositionally, the consumption of a foreign religion can function as an effective means of marking oneself as different, as cool. 25 James B. Twitchell, p 68.
287 While ads that featur e Buddhist imagery may not explicitly highlight China, many implicitly deal with American middle also more subtly highlight the opportunity for the investor class. Since the audience of mass media magazi nes consists of an American middle class that knows, often from first hand experience, the economic perils that China presents, the ads need not explicitly mention China. Its specter is already heavily felt among the audience. Rather, the ads seem to foc us universally and explicitly on the positive representations -the cool products that China produces or how the ethnic others are not significantly different from Americans, for example. Similarly, Buddhism can act as a marker of China as well as of bro therliness, imputing the quality to the nation and consequently soothe anxieties. For a capitalist class that has the disposable income to invest in such quickly developing economies, such ads implicitly highlight China as a place to be exploited and deve loped. Despite China's seeming absence from the ads, its influence can be felt symbolically through the representation of meditating (female) bodies. Ads d eploying Buddhism in popular magazines have used the forms of women almost exclusively to flog thei r goods. Such a representational tactic dovetails with the imperatives to make Buddhism less threatening and therefore more consumable, and to bolster, through such consumption of the exotic, American self i dentity This has many antecedents in Orientalist discourse, and continues in a similar vein in these advertisements. Allying women with modern representations of Buddhism continues an Orientalist tradition of linking the East with a gender that has been traditionally maligned in the West as inferior, subordinate, and non
288 the long history of objectification into the notion of a product for sale. These bodies are often young, toned, and tan ned, and display stereotypical markers of available sexuality such as long hair. Moreover, they are approachable and unthreatening since they appear only singly and alone. Even when these ads display silhouetted meditating forms, they make clear that the f orm is feminine by accentuating breasts, hips, and hair. This reduction of an individual woman to a mere form reinforces the idea of Buddhism The display of women in such ads also meshes well with the types of products being hawked, namely, luxury goods. By juxtaposing women and luxury, these ads play on the stereotypical representation of women as consumers in general, but especially of such products. The consumption of luxury has traditional ly had associations with effete and otherwise impotent culture, as has been the case with many Orientalist representations of Asian culture. The Orientalist discourse of excess portrayed the East as a location so brimming with opulence that every need and desire could be met, in a fit of debilitating consumption. This representation is consonant in particular with the Ritz Carlton advertisement featured later. In short, by using women, these ads invoke a spectator who can negotiate the anxiety produced by China through the process of consuming the Asian other, namely, via Buddhism. ife focuses on Asia shows its lush qualities. As Edward Said argu es in Orientalism such representations of "the Orient" position the region in terms that are ad vantageous for the West. F or example, the mythification of Asia as a place of great wealth serves as an ideological bolster for America's rabid investment in t he region. This history
289 dovetails well with the ad industry's use of Buddhism, which is most frequently associated with the luxury segment. At first blush, the connection seems absurd a marriage between Buddhism, a religion that expresses an ethos of n on attachment to material objects, and marketing, which seems to apotheosize such attachment. The synthesis lies in the nature of luxury marketing and how it appeals to its audience, as well as in broader demographic trends within the U.S. marketplace. Re cently luxury companies have become hot commodities. Appealing to upmarket consumers, they churn out profits year after year, and are remarkably immune, though not completely, to wider economic downturns. In fact, so effective is the strategy that many com panies are re working their marketing and business plans. So goods spending some $400 billion of a total $1.9 trillion consumer spending in the U.S. Compare that to the measly 2% growth rate of overall consumer outlays 26 New Luxury, a term coined by BCG consultants Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, is taste, and aspiration than oth reach 27 Luxury, then, includes such traditional products as travel, clothes, and jewelry, but also includes technoluxe those products that have a strong technological component. But the ultimate extrava gance in this postmodern age is time to relax, a position that Twitchell echoes when he claims that time is the fourth major category of luxury, behind food, homes, and clothes. 28 26 Mike An gell, p. B3. 27 Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske, p. 7. 28 James B. Twitchell, p 59.
290 According to the researchers, the target of New Luxury companies is the growi ng class of middle market consumers, those who make between $50,000 and $200,000 per year. To have a successful product in this space they argue, a good must engage the customer emotionally. Emotion this is the foundation of the new luxe, say Silverstei n and Fiske. As such, this vision provides a strategic model for companies to thrive, and provides a business case for why advertisers of the technoluxe or opuluxe life might turn to an eastern religion that promises transcendence of mundane existence. And here is where advertising comes to the fore to make its appeal with Buddhism, suggesting a luxe life with the rigors or spiritual dimension of religion. Indeed, luxury functions as the non plus ultra of the mundane world. The success of the New Luxury p aradigm illustrates how the discourse of cool is deployed and how it reinforces marketing at this stratified level. Normally, purchasing L uxury marketing reverses this paradigm, askin g higher prices for a product that is sometimes materially less than what a consumer would ordinarily acquire. Part of what e xplains this exchange is the Veblen effect, in which the demand for a product increases because it has a higher rather than a lowe r price. Part of New Luxury also, no doubt, relies on the snob effect, in which consumers buy a product simply to be exclusive. In such a paradigm, price becomes the value of the product. In either case, this inversion of the quotidian logic of purchasing lends itself to the discourse of cool, which re fashions economic practices that would be untenable for the vast majority of consumption.
291 The association of Buddhism with this category is not as counterintuitive as it might first appear. The strategies for advertising luxury reside at a singular po sition in the marketplace, due to the extreme nature of the product itself. The desire for luxury is a yearning for fixity, for completeness. Purchasing that top of the range deluxe good means there is nothin g beyond. The journey (for transcendence) is over. No other ostrich skin handbags. C ompleteness and fixity are feelings traditionally associated with religion, so with th e arrival of the life non plus ultra comes this wealth of connotations with the Great Beyond, the sacred. Like luxury, Buddhism promises to realize a state of complete fulfillment. After reaching the point of top end consumption the material beyond has c eased. Not just keeping a product before the public eye, luxury advertising functions at this mythic level. For many people consumption has become a vehic le for experiencing the sacred. S o argue Russell W. Belk, Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry, th e authors of The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior That luxury ads often this mythic component. The otherworldly experience of the sacred is the exact s piritual analog to the material experience of cool as extra capitalist, experiences that intersect religious pilgrimage is a traditional form of sacred travel, a part of any touring involves to bring back a part of the sacred experience, place, and time. The objectified result is
292 frequently a photograph or souvenir 29 For luxury goods as sociated with Buddhism, the quest is to bring back, in commodified form, that experience which is liminal and transcendent Marketing luxury, then, revolves around sacralizing the object to be s old (already built of commodity fetishism. Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry note a list of the properties of sacredness, which play themselves out in luxury spots. In particular, three e lements sacrifice, contamination, and kratophany pertain to luxury products. Sacrifice entails an act of abnegation in order to purify oneself for the sacred object, for instance, the exorbitant prices of luxury goods 30 31 As a religion often assumed to be self abnegating, Buddhism functions well here to imbue an ad with the idea of sacrifice. Contamination, the authors define as the ability to transfer sacredness and profanity through contact with the revered good, such that possessing it confers its be nefits on the owner 32 Last, kratophany is the powerful but ambivalent feeling created from both the strong attractive and avoidance tendencies of the sacred 33 This observation suggests phenomena such as affluent Americans denying their status as luxury c onsumers even as they increasingly consume pricy organic and health foods Also, Buddhism can act here as a symbol of atonement, as the consumer is attracted to the product but needs a symbolic blessing or affirmation on his/her consumption. The prevalenc e of luxury advertisements in the medium of print is undergirded 29 Russell W. Belk, Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry Jr ., p. 12. 30 Ibid ., p. 6. 31 This element is clearly related to the Veblen effect, where the demand for a pro duct increases because 32 Russell W. Belk, Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry Jr p. 6. 33 Ibid
293 by the representational constraints of such products and the ideological demands of requirements of the l uxury product status. Locked in a seemingly eternal position of sumptuousness and high status, the subjects of print advertisements display the fixity of position that characterizes the archetypal luxury ad. Often, such ads depict a model posed in oddly constrictive positions that literally seem to lock the subject into place. Indeed, this point is reinforced in advertisements featuring a meditating figure, where the subject appears locked in a sitting pose. Moreover, print in contrast to a more dyna mic medium, such as television functions well to illustrate how the product While such ads frequently depict a lone model enjoying the high status connoted by the product, this status can only be enjoyed in a social context, giving the lie to the an intangible good as the primary ware, a static medium is more able to capture the nuances of this social good tha n a dynamic medium, which would function better for products that have grosser advantages, for example, movement. Because the appeal of truly upscale luxury (as opposed to middle market upscale) relies on NOT flaunting the brand or expense, print provides the sufficiently "educated" consumer the ability to recognize the finer details that define such products and their social (or at least financial) betters. S uch ads also educate middle class consumers on how to recognize the luxe brands. Therefore, the medium of print lends itself effectively to the advertisement of luxury products. Since the discourse of cool is based on a logic of alterity that is, the advertised
294 product does something new and different from the mainstream product that it promises t o supersede it meshes well with technology goods, which promise a music. Such technoluxe is often marketed by using Buddhism to suggest the new the idea that the innovation operates according to a new logic. In fact, the technology product reiterates the same techno logic of its milieu, just to a than escaping t higher standard of control that themselves come to be seen as quotidian as they proliferate. Because the discourse of cool relies on the representation of alterity and that the fact that a lterity can rapidly diminish as the product succeeds, cool begins to produce the conditions of its own propagation. That is, the discourse of cool becomes a self reinforcing process once it has reached some critical threshold, whereby people buy another p roduct because the one they currently have has lost its cool Buddhism Made Me C ool Within this framework, this chapter analyzes ads that showcase the amazing plasticity of capitalism in reworking economic thr eats through representation. Such ads deploy Buddhist inspired images in the nexus of luxury, technology, and leisure, and often use exclusively women for the reasons previously mentioned. A typical advertisement in this style would feature a woman medita ting in the lotus position with arms resting on her thighs, and facing away from the camera, for example, the American Express ad shown earlier. Often she looks out on a blue sky, a mild seashore, or something similarly serene, as a luxury product is subtl y insinuated into the picture.
295 standardized thematic approach -individualized transcendence -to the religion that is intended to bleed value to the product. Several other ad types have also been included. A mailed out advertisement for the American Express Hilton HHonors platinum card portrays a similar theme of consuming a peaceful and simple Asia The card promises not just unlimited consumption, but al so that highest of l uxuries, time. The stereotypical elements are present: the meditating woman facing primarily away from the camera staring out onto a serene beach with placid water. The sky is neither too bright nor too cloudy, and the skyline seems to merge subtly and t ranquilly with the similarly colored waterline. Note also that the woman is alone, which aims to suggest that she is unhurried and "untethered" from the wider capitalist world. The ad directly invokes Asia in a number of ways. First, it shows a series o f pavilions that line the coast. The thatched roofs of the pavilions and the palm trees suggest South east Asia and this impression is reinforced by the flowing draperies that are tied to the pavilion legs as well as the bamboo curtains that hang from the east of the pavilions. Indeed, the side of the advertisement confirms the impression that this is Asia with the words "Beach Bale This ad indicates that America and Americans are benevolent to an innocent and luxurious Asia, represented here by the island of Bali, which is known for its Hindu and Buddhist heritage. This mark of the Asian other sharply contrasts with the (unmistakably western) blonde hair of the sitting woman, who rests her right arm on her right knee in the unmistakable pose of meditation. Her white workout uniform, which subtly implies her sexuality even as it suggests the rigor of her exercise, represents her
296 innocent nature. This color scheme also links her to the white race, stressing it as one that is superior and leisured. Her involvement in the scene and that she is at a "resort and spa" suggest that she (and by extension America) has no other goal than to peacefully enjoy the abundant luxuries that Asia has to offer. These luxuries include suspicio usly American style markers of leisure. The fairway like grass, palm trees, beach, and unhurried relaxation all suggest the pursuits and leisure time activities of the American moneyed class. Moreover, luxury is further indicated by the credit level of th e card platinum. The pleasure produced by such consumption is subtly insinuated by the rounded border between the picture and the taglines below. This border suggests a smile, which is a frequently represented characteristic of Buddhist monks. Like oth er advertisements in this vein, this spot for a credit card creates a style that the audience can inhabit, if only briefly. This advertisement in a print format serves to create time for the consumer by severing her consumption and time from the general flow of time, which is precisely regulated in capitalist economies. The representation creates a timeless atmosphere, in idea of cool. Indeed, no one else appears in the advertisement at all, suggesting that economic activity is not occurring at all. Yet, paradoxically, it's the American Express card that makes possible such "buying on time." The credit card promises the dream of being untethered, but only by forestallin g the day of reckoning. Also interesting is the card's name, American Express, which suggests the consumption habits of its users and the speed of their demands. The name contrasts sharply with the representation of Asia as slow and outside capitalist ti me. In some quite limited sense, the credit card
297 functions as a time machine, seemingly creating time for its users. In this ad, the benefit of the card is represented in quite literal terms. The credit card offers an entre into how advertisers' exhorta tions to consume use a pseudo Buddhist mantra to further their own ends. Ads and media generally -one must consume as much as possible right now. The media representations of Buddhism support such a as a motivation to shift consumption to the present. This proverb is deployed as analogous to buying on credit. Like other representations of Buddhism in the mass media, this mantra becomes a hollow echo of the Buddhist ethos of appreciation, and promote American consumption now. T he relatively sophisticated device of c redit predominates in highly developed markets where growth in consumption has slowed, and is used to stoke current consumption at the expense of future purchases. Used to an extreme, credit can function like a black hole, singularizing the past, the pr esent, and the future, suggesting the all consuming process of Emp ire proposed by Hardt and Negri. E ven time is brought to bend under the mandate of profit when capitalist expansion into geographic space no longer offers a sufficient exteriority for monet ary gain Meditating for P rofit Another spot also plays upon American anxiety about wealth. An ad for in the November 2007 Gourmet magazine, which describes itself a of good with the
298 complex financial world that it seeks to steer the audience through. Much like other ads featuring Buddhism, this one shows a meditating woman whose identity is obscured, in this case as a uniform white silhouette with stereotypically flowing hair. The color -innocence and naivet about the financial world. It also suggests the race of the likely audience for the words are answered by words in black that seem to come from off the page, as indicated by the black leading line, as if the woman were experiencing some epiphany or enlightenment that came from nowhere or from some unseen authority. The words and along with the the words below these images. This ad shows bourgeois dis ease with the financial/economic world, which seems ever more complex as globalization oc curs. The ad highlights women, in fits with empirical evidence that demonstrates that women feel more uncomfortable than men with financial matters. As a global fi nancial services company, Prudential suggests that it understands the marketplace, especially the global marketplace, and can patriotism and loyalty to its American custome rs, the ethnic element is suggested by meditation, which is also associated with calmness, as indicated by the black words. The short dialog stresses the theme of the product, and it also conflat es Buddhism and
299 capitalism in a neat pun. The off screen voi find her inner peace which could also be read as her inner piece This pun illustrates the central use of Buddhism in the ad as justification and means to obtain goods Luxury L eisure W hile later ads associate Buddhism with high priced high tech, this next ad, from Elle connects Buddhism with the high priced luxury of the Rit z Carlton Spa. A meditating woman faces away from the camera the typical positioning and gender of those who m editate in luxury ads in the middle of a cavernous but empty room. The woman's arms seem to suggest that she's commanding something to be done. This impression is reinforced by trick photography that suggests an approaching waiter actually carries the company that serves the consumer. The tagline reads, "The sudden disappearance of worldly cares. It's our pleasure." The religious theme continues below the picture: "Therapy for your soul n ot only comes from the hands of the masseuse, it comes from the world renowned service of the Ritz Carlton. Treat yourself to a soothing mixture of relaxation and rejuvenation." The design of the ad reflects the minimalism and neutral color scheme typica lly associated with the brand, but also suggests the non materialist and affective moderation of Buddhism. This ad mitigates American tensions with Asia by stressing how the (Asian) luxury of leisure time via meditation will become a part of middle class A merican life. Ads of this type play on the idea that the ultimate luxury for the harried bourgeoisie nowadays is time to relax. This ad functions well as a stereotypical example of a luxury ad that uses Buddhism, since the religion is often deployed in w ellness and spa ads.
300 Often such ads use a female subject meditating, while facing away from the camera as if to de emphasize the humanity and instead stress the position of the subject, and her status. Such a design, as Liu argues, emphasizes the positi on as for sale. 34 By re message: Buddhism offers respite from the demands and cares of the world, as the system that is putting so much pressure on American workers. Yet the woman is no more untethered than Buddhism is a patron of consumption. Again, the static nature of print advertisement helps accentuate the feeling of detachment for the viewer of the ad, and in the process defuses American tensions with Asia. Rico, which touts meditation on a hotel ledge as reason to vi sit the island. This plug appeared in Shape and generally fits the luxury category as delineated in the previous ad, with a few minor differences. Like the stereotypical luxury ad using Buddhism, a woman sits alone, in the quite difficult full lotus posture a position that should indicate her advanced practice but instead merely imputes her value as unique and exotic. In the background are the requisite natural features that promote peace nearly pristine flora and the ocean extending to the horizon. That the woman faces the camera marks this ad as unusual fo r luxury spots. The text anchors this ad in the luxury category: Legend has it, in 1508 Ponce de Len came to Puerto Rico in search of the Fountain of Youth. Five centuries later, millions of women follow his lead. With its luxurious world class spas, fin e restaurants, casinos, and three hundred miles of tropical beaches, who can blame them? As in the Ritz Carlton advert, seemingly economically non productive leisure activities 34 Alan Liu, p 103.
301 are encouraged and represented spas, sunbathing, and meditation in the var iety of pictures. This ad is permeated by a capitalist vision of individualism that re works the abnegation and rigor of Buddhism into consumption. This individualism is at the heart of cool, but it is represented neatly within the bounds of acceptable co des, like the range of safe "adventure" activities portrayed at the bottom of the ad. The style of this ad comes to attract an alternative audience seeking cool, as Hebdige might argue. For instance, the woman appears to wear no bra, and her hair is pull ed fully behind her head and not showcased, unlike in other ads. Moreover, her location is unclear. She seems as if she's perched atop a hotel roof, but in any case she meditates in an atypical locale. Like her quite odd full lotus posture, this woman c omes to represent an shore." Physically, she differs from the many typical tanned supermodels who frolic in other ads, with their big breasts and made up faces, although she is also tan. Not that she is intended to be unattractive rather the contrary but her attractiveness is supposed to lie in her cool individualism and putative lack of vanity. Such characteristics decide that she should sport wrist and ankle bands of seemingly native manufacture, while she actually goes outside without make up. Meanwhile, her veined arms intend to show her decidedly un feminine demeanor. Such a style of protest ant individualism marks the associated luxury product as exotic and coo l. As in the last ad, the representation of meditation here functions as a way to show how the beleaguered middle class American will successfully incorporate the rising Asian economic influence. Again, this ad's design emphasizes the position of the
302 fem ale subject as for sale, as Liu might argue. Through an image of a woman alone on a hotel roof (?), the representation of meditation proposes how the audience can escape from the globalizing economic system, paradoxically with a purchase that has a rela tively large economic impact. Even as the ad touts Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, it hints at the increasing power of Asia via the representation of Buddhism. g competitive pressures that have come to dominate middle class life, in part from the ongoing economic pressure from China. Meditation functions here as exactly the opportunity to relax from that anxiety in a location unassociated with that anxiety, as d oes the massage featured in one of the inset pictures. Somewhat ironically, taking the position of the Asian other through meditation becomes a means to assuage the anxiety produced by that other. But the woman undertakes this position in a locale that p oses no economic threat to the United States, and one that is indeed beyond the dichotomy of developed America and developing China. Furthermore, the static nature of print advertisement complements the sense of detachment and fixity that this luxury produ ct is supposed to produce, helping defuse the American viewer's anxiety over greater competition from Asia. The other side of the representational coin appears in images of Asia as primitive and in need of American technology. Here the real life tensions between the United States and Asia are mitigated by an ad that implies that many Asians want what is cool about America, and that America will provide its freedoms to these Asians. Featured in Fortune this spot for Cisco shows a g roup of Buddhist monks, primarily young monks, along with their teacher, crowding around a laptop computer on the steps of a
303 monastery entrance ile the ad is supposed to take place in India, the monks are dressed like the outcast Tibetans who flash upon TV screens across the world and are representatives of Buddhism par excellence on the media stage. Indeed, one young acolyte sports glasses compar the previous chapter, images of Tibet are used as a fulcrum to differentiate the oppressive Chinese from the freedom loving Americans. To emphasize that the (Tibetan) consumer is now free and in control of even ts, and sets the style, the text In the post Cold War era and without a clear international supe rpower against which to identify, America and its businesses are portrayed as benevolent to Asia, a nascent area of globalization. Appropriately appearing in a business magazine, this ad ns) do accept American cultural and technological hegemony and the penetration of its media technologies even down to the stereotypically reclusive monks. In a typical move, the ad conflates Buddhism with expansionist capitalist ideals. The diction of t he text of vast system of wires and chips that commodify what is human, via spectacle. Indeed, the ad puns on the word goal : "Where a goal is as close as the nearest scree n." The ad
304 states quite clearly that the expansionism of its media apparatus is its goal -tethered to the economic system via the global media apparatus. Yet, ironically, the ad is showcasing wireless internet technology, which is being deployed to untether its analogized to the liberating practice of Buddhism, and in the process the consumer is geographically unbound. representation of Asia fits well within Chow's argument of the binary image of the ethnic has on the United States, suggesting, like Said, that the Asian nation has become a screen for Western fantasies. 35 In a bid to spread Cisco technology, the ad depicts America as being envied by the world's others. The theme o f youth culture dominates, reinf association with high tech and cool. This representation mimics the situation in the United States, where young people drive the adoption of consumer electronics, in order to develop their own cool as a counter to psychological anxie ties. Indeed, the young Buddhist monks seem to want earnestly to be involved in the consumption of media products. They are being inducted into the brotherhood of consumption by the United States, which is educating Asia about its technology. The Americ an viewer of the ad would be most analogous to the rhetorical position of the teacher who is indoctrinating his young pupils into how to use the medium. He holds the laptop computer didactically, and the boys crowd around him. This positioning 35 Slavoj
305 marks the American audience as part of the innocence of Asia, and strives to renew the wonder with which now cynical and media saturated Americans first experienced the media. process in development of developed nations. 36 The mysticism associated with the East seems to offer a pure and undefiled experience to the product, but instead the same western logic of (marke reflect the psychological demands of 37 Donald Lopez agrees, noting, surrogate 38 Orville Schell and Dibyesh Anand echo that position. 39 By positioning Asia, and especially Tibet, as innocent and in need of rescue, the United States can create a post Cold War narrative structure that represen globe. This ad implies that we as Americans are cool, because our products are consumed nay, demanded by the others of the world. In this ad, innocence seems to be the value on sale, but the sense of cultural 36 Renato Rosaldo, p. 70. progressive change, putatively static savage societies become a stable reference point for defining (the felicitous progress of) civilized identity 37 Slavoj 38 Donald Lopez, 39 Orville Schell, p. 309 accessible, Tibet has grown ever more virtual, while the many vi rtual environments of our modern world the increasingly elaborate and bizarre holodecks on which we find ourselves have gained a greater purchase on our time and real lives Dibyesh Anand, p. 60 been the imagination of Tibet as a land of mysticism and fantasy where most events are romantic, extraordinary, and absolutely different from anything in the West
306 superiority, technological advantage, and civilization are also for purchase. In the West's transaction of the East this dual nature both sides of the representation is being auctioned. As it makes its way through t he mass media, Tibet increasingly becomes a commodified and virtual spectacle like the soccer match that the monks are watching -with a double position of both purity and in need of saving by America and its technology. Americans are or at least can become cool, because they can consume the others of the world, in a process of hybrid identity formation. In the next ad, for the Creative Labs Zen media player, Buddhism in the form of the word Zen functions as a marker of the exotic or ethnic in orde r to generate cool. This spot from Cosmopolitan highlights the word Zen as central, with a wheel of hands urchasing this product is like the completeness of being enlightened. Indeed, the circle represents fulfillment or wholeness, even suggesting the mandala form. As in the American Express ad above, the border between two sections of the ad curl upwards, as if in a smile, the common feature of Buddhas. The positioning of the viewer as gazing heavenward alludes to the ethereal and divine nature of the player. In a possible conflation of Asian religions, the six hands might also belong to the Hindu god Shiva Meanwhile, another marker of China the panda bear appears on one of the devices. Note that the hands could be perceived as ethnically and gender diverse. The connection between Zen and a music or video device is particularly apt, sistence that style or technique is how subculture reworks technology to its own individual (and unproductive) uses. We often consider our preferences in
307 music and film to be a direct reflection of who we are, especially among the youth culture to whom thi s product is marketed. Liu argues that style "must be understood to fuse consumer fashion with producer sensibility that in every instance in the way one dresses, walks, talks, or drives there is an exact adjustment to be made between technology and te chnique 40 To that list should be added the way one listens and stresses the underlying idea of individuality so central to cool and consumerism. If mass produced techno logy, such as the Zen player, routinizes our experience, then one way to invoke technique is by controlling what we hear and see and how we control our experience of seeing and hearing by plugging in the accompanying earbuds. The ad confronts the Ameri can viewer with the option to consume the cool MP3 player as a means of appropriating the Asian other. The ad plays on (potentially) Asian ethnicity by displaying hands of varying skin colors, but the faces of such others are simply cropped from the page. As mentioned above, the ad displays another marker that uniquely connotes China, the panda bear, which has a popular, and false, reputation as a gentle and innocuous creature. Such an image serves to portray China as similarly inclined. In addition, th e mandala form provides another marker of Asia that the viewer can visually consume. By offering consumption of the other as an option, these images defuse the tensions of a middle class American audience that sees China as threatening its standard of liv ing. It's almost as if the threat of Asian production must immediately be transformed into coolness in order for the product to be consumed. Yet, and that brin ging back that piece of Asia solidifies one's position as transcendent, as 40 Alan Liu, p. 102.
308 Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry might argue. A similar process occurs in a Sony ad that also attempts to bleed value from Buddhism, and in the process implicates the religion in the pr oliferation of controlled oriented goods. This print spot from Rolling Stone features teenage golf phenom Michelle Wie sitting in a meditati ve posture. One hand holds a golf ball, while the other, using a Buddha like palm upward gesture, insinuatingly pr esents the Sony Cybershot digital camera to the audience. The background accentuates Wie almost as if she were an awakening Buddha: the golf clubs form leading lines to her, and two circular forms highlight her in two planes, mandala like. Unlike many ads that deploy meditating impute further cool to the product. Like the Creative Labs ad, this one stresses the individuality of the mass produced high tech good, again sug must come in to moderate technology. In the upper right, the punctuated words further heightened through the text, which harps on the phenome nal success of the 18 year old golfer. As in the ad for the Zen MP3 player, this ad highlig hts ethnicity as a means to def to many ads showing a meditating woman facing aw ay from the camera, and traditional American femininity is emphasized by the pony tail draped over her right shoulder. The omes to represent and align with the protesting and demanding youth culture, and consumer culture generally, which aims to do
309 whatever it wants, whenever it wants. By playing on the idea of Wie's ethnicity as aligned with American ideologies of individuali sm and control oriented technology via consumer electronics, the ad stresses the similarities of the ethnic and American while suggesting the difference of the ethnic. Wie is a natural born American of Korean descent, and that heritage is visuall y evident specifically plays upon her Asian background by placing her in a meditating pose a move that seems to disregard Wie's American citizenship and reiterates the notion of the ethnic as a perpetual foreigner, a by product of the America as hybridity narrative. The use of her ethnicity shows a predisposition on the part of visual technologies for overemphasizing what is visual in nature. Luxury Soul F ood As one of the major categories of luxury, food has a special position reserved in the luxe pantheon. As such, the right kind of food can represent one's own superior taste and serve as a marker of high class. One recent way to use food as a marker of high class has been the consumption of organic foods. This trend plays into the following ad for Nature's Path Organic Optimum Zen cereal, which appeared in the Spring 2007 edition of Yoga Life Organic Foods, according to the ad. Stephens sits on a meditation mat in the full lotus position, feet over thighs, and with hands balanced on her knees. The box of cereal is positioned exactly where her legs cross, covering her groin, suggesting her sex uality even as it obscures it and conflating the consumption of the product with consumption of her. The position of the box, right in the center of her body, implies the balance that awaits those who consume the cereal, their own "Zen moment." Above her floats the line "Enjoy a
310 Zen Moment Every Day." The font of the word Zen seems to have an exotic Asian character. The interplay between the foreground and the background helps highlight for the audience how the cereal will indeed allow one to "enjoy a Ze n moment," by playing on the ethnicity and gender of the subject. The background consists of a montage of a flower and two indistinct men in a meditating pose, suggesting that Stephens is that she has spiritually flower, which act as leading lines, drawing attention to the woman's head. By using typical Western iconography for depicting a saint, the ad s uggests that she is enlightened. Indeed, her first name means light in Hindi. Most importantly, the leading lines call attention to her possibly Indian descent, although it may well be Caucasian or even Hispanic, or perhaps one of a range of other ethnic ities. This rhetorical move of ambiguity is intended to attract the likely audience of white women who want to distinguish themselves. This ambiguity is reinforced by her closed eyes, so that the audience cannot see their color. Furthermore, ambiguity is also created by the woman's name, which is prominently displayed above the cereal. It consists of a Hindi first name combined with an Anglo last name. Her ambiguous ethnic status can make her more appealing to the audience, suggesting the cereal can dis tinguish them but not so much that they are forced to take on the characteristics of the other. As suggested earlier, ethnic difference is positioned as a multicultural narrative of hybridity. This balance between "protest" and mainstream acceptance also her femininity.
311 The ad clearly places her femininity on show, but not to an extent that it detracts from the primary message to buy the cereal. Yet in an attempt to reach the audience, the ad, again, balances the portray al between overt femininity and what is called the "natural" look. The woman's stereotypical natural and unadorned look seems to fit the theme of Buddhism, in contrast to mainstream depictions of the feminine that emphasize physical characteristics. The ad still does display markers of the stereotypical American feminine. For instance, the woman's dark brown hair lies in a typically American hairstyle. The photograph, taken from the front, almost suggests the woman has closely cropped hair, which may be too extreme for many women that fall among this youngish audience. Therefore, the ad makes it clear that this woman is still feminine, with the ponytail obviously pitched forward over one shoulder to suggest her continuing femininity after using the prod uct. Similarly, she apparently wears no makeup, but nevertheless is quite attractive and physically fit. The light brown of her skin could well be its natural tone or may be a healthy tan, a fashion trend that has been consistently popular over the last few decades. In sum, this ad takes great pains to attract an audience with a style that seems to protest but that is also safely within the bounds of mainstream style. Like the luxury product that it promotes, this ad promises to mark you as upper class, not least of all because it is organic, as is prominently displayed. Cool Hybridity Appearing in Oprah the following ad publicizes a Jeep Compass with a pastiche meditating figu re perched on top. The figure is composed of urban infrastructure, such as an apartment complex, a stop sign, and a phone, among others. Perfectly aligned left to right, the foreground image reflects the Buddhist ethos of being centered. Here, the
312 creators imply that like the supposed individuality of the Jeep, whose characteristic grill is the recognizable and idiosyncratic mark of the brand, the figure can experience the city with style and individuality. T he text supports this interpretation: it tells the audience ndividuality, the colorful figure a visual representation of urban, industrial culture contrasts with the faux, gray cityscape behind it. Yet the figure is composed of the same urban stuff. This ad implies that the Jeep will give the consumer the style and individuality that is key to cool. The ad promises a subject position that is like the Jeep in the ad set upon a stage, where postmodern media culture has suggested that reality seems more real. This spot manages the global conflict with Asia throu gh the concoction of the figure. The image suggests alterity in a quite literal way, through the humanoid figure that is composed of non human things, such as a newspaper dispenser, while recapitulating the idea of the multicultural narrative of hybridity Its component pieces are, upon closer inspection, quite familiar pieces of an American city, with a few script. Also, around the neck hangs a medallion with a Chinese sym bol that means om a sacred symbol in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The left knee even has a sign in French for a cleaner. This mixture suggests the globalized market that comes to constitute our self created consumerist identities. As a meditating figure invokes Asia, where American carmakers and even global carmakers are rapidly shipping parts production for their automobiles. But the car is well known as an American brand. Quite literally, the car is neither exclusively American nor As ian, although American vehicles are increasingly composed of parts that have this mixed
313 identity. Through a figure showing a colorful composition of alterity that seems to embody the idea of having fun in the city, the ad shows consumers how managing the globalized marketplace, especially with an Asian powerhouse such as China can end in fun and profit Buddhism as C ontrol As I suggested for films in the previous chapter, current representations of Buddhism in mainstream ads ally the religion with the pra ctical value of c ontrol and transcendence As a strategy, control seems to offer a means to combat what one finds objectionable. The final ad associates control as an element of Buddhist practice, Appearing in Cosmopolitan this ad publicizes a product that allows women to be in command of their menstruation using b irth control. While the ad gives few details on the product other than that it allows control, it insinuates Buddhist practice somewha t subtly. Beneath the clear blue sky, a woman sits barefoot in a meditation like posture on a mat atop strewn rocks, in a natural setting all typical elements in an ad that invokes Buddhism. The rocks even suggest a Zen influenced Japanese garden. Like the subject in the ad for Puerto Rico, this woman supports a tank top and hair that is pulled behind her head. Strangely, while out in this pure natural setting its purity along with Buddhism are used to invoke the pure feeling created by the product the woman has her laptop computer. Presumably she is using the internet, but fr om what access point is unclear. I n any case, she models what the ad tells the audience to do to find more information. This ad depicts control as an unquestioned strategy in dealing with what one finds distasteful or unpleasant. While the ad shows the strategy at the individual level, it
314 also implies its use at the national level in dealing with the objectionable. This advert portrays a typical w ermitting the user to manipulate experience as she sees Here, the ad literally invokes control as cool, as that which helps you get through the summer. Throug h products that inculcate the value of control, no longer must the audience put up with something they find repugnant, whether that be menstruation or increasing competition from Asia. As the Zen MP3 player would allow, experience can simply be changed to what one finds pleasant, however transitory. On the metaphorical level, control is cool because it allows consumers to do what they want when they want. At the same time, for individuals the practice of control seems to offer a means to combat the Asian other. However illusory and ineffective this strategy in practice, at the level of representation it provides a means of reducing American anxiety, and follows in the tradition of the Western technological lineage. The E nd( s) of C ool Buddhism The use of Buddhism in marketing may still continue for some time. Since cool relies on alterity, it seems as if Buddhism will eventually lose its ability to represent cool as it becomes increasingly mainstream. D espite its increasing presence in American media, as of now Buddhism still has a perceived oppositional or ethnic character
315 attached to it, and because capitalism thrives on protest, the religion can still provide distrust of speech foresees such problems with representation. America's recent marketing campaign s present a strange contradiction in the ends to which Buddhism is put and its actual practice. By mining the value of Buddhism for the purposes of consumption and control ori ented technology, advertising undermines the religion's implicit critique of consumer capitalism. "Buddhist practice does not lead to the extraction of value but its restoration," writes Buddhism scholar Peter Hershock 41 Since technology incorporates an i deology of control over our lived environment, "such technical processes rely not only on better leveraging our physical or mental powers, but on marshaling or gaining useable access to previously unavailable or contrary forces 42 Such an ideology contras ts with a Buddhist ethos of appreciation and cooperation that come directly out of meditative practice. Hershock notes, "Buddhism offers us a viable ethics of resistance to the societal dictates of control biased technology 43 While the religion emphasiz es appreciation of our circumstances as a means to combat craving for material goods, its representation as the incarnation of the values of technoluxe completely inverts this stance. "In short," writes Hershock, "we condemn ourselves to entirely fashiona ble lives 44 Cool ? 41 Peter Hershock, Reinventing the Wheel p. 132. 42 Ibid ., p. 13. 43 Ibid ., p. 132. 44 Ibid ., p. 14.
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331 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH James F. Royal completed this dissertation as part of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Florida, a degree that he completed in 200 9. Previous to that, he worked in Germany for Ford Motor Company for three years. He earned a Master of Arts in English at the University of Florida in 2000. Prior to that, he completed a Bachelor of Science in management at the University of Florida. He n ow works for The Motley Fool as a financial e ditor and analyst.