On Saying “Fuck” Occasionally
Posted by Glenn Wallis on June 1, 2011
My project at this blog is to encourage creative criticism of Buddhist material. One assumption of mine, of course, is that to engage in truly creative criticism, it is necessary to form a relationship with Buddhist material such that it is no longer “Buddhist material:” it is simply yet another colorless bulk in the heap of human possibilities. It is thus as mere bulk that “Buddhism” gains admittance to the history of ideas. That is to say, it gains admittance as a commoner, as a mere sop of us hoi polloi, akin to drinking beer or planting pansies in the summertime. It precisely does not gain admittance–as it and its custodians would have it–as a high and mighty ens sacra. Now, to deny a sacred entity its precious status is, of course, the very definition of blasphemy. So, apparently, creative criticism is a form of blasphemy, whereby certain acts–conceptual and affective in nature–are performed that are unthinkable to the devout. In the pages (upper bar), posts, and comments of this blog , I articulate some of the acts that I feel are necessary in order to commence the kind of creative reordering that I imagine.
At a minimum, I think that what I call aporetic inquiry is necessary. Let’s say that you are interested in engaging in aporetic inquiry. How might that work? The process goes something like this. Contentedly ensconced within Buddhism’s thaumaturgical refuge, you find yourself soothed by tradition’s self-proclaimed “compassionate” charism. A sufficient apprenticeship with an attitude of appreciative acceptance is a necessary precondition for the work I have in mind. But, for whatever reasons, at some point you discover within yourself a dissonant ring. On examination, you hear this ring as the resonance of a complex of disturbing emotions and thoughts: perplexity, puzzlement, confusion, disappointment, and loss. You discover, to your surprise, that Buddhism leaves much to be desired. It postures as the giver of solutions, as the harbinger of peace. It may answer many questions, but, you are beginning to realize, it all too often does so in a facile and hasty manner. It even encourages superstitious belief and new forms of neurotic attachment. And in the meantime, it is creating many questions which it seems impotent to answer. What will you do? Having found yourself incidentally and unexpectedly exiled from the pure dispensation, you may, of course, abandon the project altogether and wander on your way. Another possibility: you engage the bewildering aporias that have opened before your unsuspecting mind.
As both an example of, and spur to, creative criticism, in this post I present an interview with Camelia Elias. Elias is, among other things (links at the end of the post), the founder of EyeCorner Press, “an independent publisher devoted to printing a host of difficult-to-classify writings, including creative academic writing, and poetic fragments and aphorisms,” as the interviewer states in the Biblioklept article. Elias’s comments illuminate openings toward new horizons in writing about Buddhism today. She inspires the clearing of new ground. Elias says, for instance, that EyeCorner Press “came into being as an act of anarchism, if you like, a form of resistance against the idea that academic work must be measured not only against its own standard, but also against the standard that idiotic governments sets for measuring, and hence controlling, intelligence, creativity, and freedom.”
Who sets the standard for writing about Buddhism today? I would say that there are three culprits: academic institutions; mass market publishers, such as Wisdom Publications, Parallax Press, Snow Lion Publications, Shambhala Publications, and Windhorse; and the big three glossy magazines, Buddhadharma, Tricycle, and Shambhala Sun. I will present a thorough critique of these standard bearers/gate keepers in the future. For now, I will just offer the view that the writing performed under their aegis is, by turns, myopic and irrelevant (academic); derivative and conformist (the publishers); and anemic and Pollyannish (the magazines). My main criticism, though, is that Buddhist writing of all varieties is just so damn boring. It borders on cant. The same lame tropes over and over again, the same vacuous idioms, the endless platitudes, the be-happy! bullshit at every turn of the page.
Do you want to help change this situation? Yes? I know of no better advice for kicking out the jams than this from Camelia Elias: “then make sure that you won’t be afraid to say ‘fuck’ a few times, provoke the establishment, or show what an idiotic idea the idea that the democratization of writing means adopting a non-offensive stance is.”
A delectable excerpt before you go to the original post at Biblioklept.
So, perhaps, if we should watch over anything, then, it should be over how to keep the road clear of ‘purity.’ We need to make sure that the erroneous way to knowledge will not be blocked, for it has great potential for the ways in which we think of creative strategies as alternative approaches to all things high and mighty. Shouting Eureka in the ditch of error can often prove to be more valuable than when it is done on top of the mountain of truth. Its value resides in the idea of approach over and above the idea of solution. I find the idea of providing solutions to all things, life and love alike, as thoroughly tedious. What we promote at EyeCorner Press is going through the sewage and seeing sublime light at the end of it. Our intellectual integrity is defined along the philosophy of play, a ludic form of anarchism and fearlessness. We learn more when we don’t issue ultimate and final injunctions against ourselves, sabotaging the very creative spark in the process. Hence, we don’t take ourselves seriously, we don’t presume to change the world, and we are not impressed. The only thing that impresses us is a creative approach, not a solution. The premise for this statement is based on the words of the Ecclesiastes: “this too shall pass.”
Pretty fucking Buddhist, huh?
To read on, please visit my new favorite site Biblioklept.
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