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Submitted by KimberlyBrown on Mon, 7/16/2012, 9:51am
A recent article in the New York Review of Books suggests that many of the greatest works of literature, (particularly modern literature), wouldn't have been written if their authors were Buddhist. The writer, Tim Parks, believes that the all the attention non-Buddhists and non-meditators place on their thoughts results in the creation of narratives that focus on confusion, chatter, and suffering. He cites Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground with its depressed and sullen narrator; Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway and its tormented veteran with PTSD, and believes that Hamlet's inability to make a decision or take an action is the result of getting caught up in his conflicted thinking.
Mr. Parks' idea for this article followed his participation in a ten-day meditation retreat. He writes:
It's all too evident how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection...
But you can also choose not to go that way. You can decide that your mental chatter is not after all so damn interesting; the second arrow declined. How else would these people around you have learned to sit so still, for so long and in such serenity? Imagine Dostoevsky’s man in Notes from Underground, or Beckett’s Unnameable, or Thomas Bernhard’s narrator in The Loser at a meditation retreat, learning to be silent, learning to sit still, learning to put to rest the treadmill of reflection.
I don't know what would happen to literature if we all became aware of our suffering and learned to work with our minds. I suspect we'd write a lot more poetry. And maybe our stories would be more other-centric - what would an interdependent novel look like? Does Cloud Atlas count? (I always thought Proust's Search for Lost Time was very Buddhist -- its central concern is the nature of suffering, and it concludes with a realization of impermanence, dukkha, and non-self.) Even in the Buddhaverse, will our tales continue to reflect the narrative nature of being human? Or will they be endless recursive loops into infinity, ala Borges and his Library of Babel?
PEACE TO EVERYONE EVERYWHERE!
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by Eman Nep