Tom Pepper’s original idea was to publish an e-mail interview with me to mark the half million hit mark on the blog. That number came and went, and we were still carrying on our conversation. That’s what it is, really. It started out as an interview but quickly became a two-way dialogue. And that’s how it should be.
Tom Pepper (TP): To begin with, what did you hope to “get conversation going” about? Who did you imagine the interlocutors might be?
Glenn Wallis (GW): I wanted to initiate an intervention, like you do with a wayward alcoholic. The blog would be the space where all of us concerned relatives gather together with Buddhism and confront it with questions like “do you see what you’ve become? how can you continue like this?” We’d tell Buddhism, “you’re hurting yourself and embarrassing all of us.” You know, and, “you have so much potential, yet look at you!” We wouldn’t let Buddhism leave the blog until it vowed to sober up. As you can probably tell from this account, I expected interlocutors who had two basic qualifications. One, they had been hanging out with Buddhism for a long, long time, getting drunk with it, maybe. Two, they, too, were eventually fed up with Buddhism’s poor behavior. I assumed that many of Buddhism’s old friends were growing as tired of its dual personality as I was—both its monotonous, bossy, grumpy traditional side and its facile and fawning contemporary side.
TP: You were supposed to be working on a book at the time, right? Did that have anything to do with starting the blog? To keep the book project moving? To escape it?
GW: I had just abandoned a project that several major publishers had been showing interest in. It was a biography of the Buddha. I had spent a good year on the proposal for this book. The more I researched it, however, the less feasible the project seemed. In fact, I began to think that it was outright irresponsible to pursue the biography at all. There are simply no reliable data for the kind of marketable reconstruction the publishers wanted to see. I realized a few things at this point. I began to question my previous liberal humanist attempts to “translate” Buddhism into a contemporary western idiom. That project is not in itself so bad; it’s just drastically incomplete. What was lacking was a critical component. So, I actually wrote up a version of the proposal that combined an honest assessment of the data with my own critical analysis of what it all meant to us today. Let’s just say it was not a pretty picture. That Buddha is just too dark and ascetic for the likes of us modern American happiness seekers. It would be like replacing your Aunt Betty’s painting of smiling, big-toothed, white-faced, wavy-haired Jesus with Georges Rouault’s sad-eyed, brooding, filthy, and tormented Christ. So, my agent and I agreed to put the whole thing to rest. But it was in that charged atmosphere that the blog was conceived. Continue reading ““This is a rich disagreement!””