It wasn’t so long ago that the variety of practices known as meditation stood outside, if not quite against, the American spiritual mainstream. With heads turned vaguely toward the East, the seekers of the Baby Boomer generation moved in a territory delimited on one side by Orientalist mysticism and on the other by Sixties radicalism; the Dharma was to be found somewhere between Alan Watts’s soothing chin-beard and Allen Ginsberg’s hippie mane. Today, Buddhist mainstays like the cessation of desire and realization of the Self’s inherent emptiness compete with other productivity hacks, more likely to arrive via push notification than guru…While his philosophic constructions tend toward a sort of theatrical maximalism, in person Wallis is easy and unaffected; he looks more ex-punk than ex-professor, with a piratical ring through his left ear, and speaks in a Philly-inflected baritone. His good humor confirmed the playfulness one often suspects is dancing beneath the surface of his writing, though it also lent an unsettling charge to some of his darker pronouncements. We met in a large post-industrial coffee shop (cf. “ruins,” below) on the main drag of Philadelphia’s Fishtown.
Histories of spirituality and social movements are inseparable. Experiences of the sublime bump up against the mechanisms of the state, bureaucracy meets intimacy, and the mundane is disrupted by jubilation. The Flood explores this ongoing relationship and asks: as the waters rise, how can we help each other stay afloat?
Glenn Wallis: I guess it starts, in terms of the production of work or whatever, with this band Ruin…