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the buddhist

By Alan Gilbert

A year ago when I was writing for Harriet during National Poetry Month, I blogged about a reading given at White Columns here in New York City by Tim Griffin, Kevin Killian, and Dodie Bellamy. In my post I described Bellamy as “among the most significant underrecognized and underappreciated writers working today.” These things are relative, of course; I was once shocked when a publisher quoted to me the number of copies the average Dennis Cooper novel sells—let’s just say it was much less than I imagined. Yet to me he seems recognized and appreciated.

What I find potent in Bellamy’s work is a concern with class, feminism, performed subjectivities, and trangressive sexuality rendered in imaginative hybrid poetic-fictional forms. If someone wants to give me a grant or fellowship, I’d love to write a book on why art/poetry is necessary and the relation of this—or not—to healing (yes, that unfashionable topic among art and poetry world cognoscenti). Or to put it more politically, what are the spaces of resistance to, and healings from, arbitrary exertions of power? I feel as if Bellamy’s interests have moved in this direction as well, if recent writings (such as the story “When the Sick Rule the World” she read at White Columns last April) and her excellent blog are any indication.

Bellamy recently used her blog to document the end of a romantic entanglement, and these entries have now been published by Publication Studio. The book includes photographs and material not posted online. Here’s the publisher’s description: “While ending an affair with a Buddhist teacher, Dodie Bellamy wrote about it simultaneously on her blog. This experiment in writing in extremis explores nuances of public shame, the vagaries of desire and rage, and Bellamy’s confusion over the authenticity of group and individual spirituality. What is personal, what is public? In the electronic age, can anybody tell the difference?”

Entitled the buddhist—intentionally lower case (see page 39)—the book begins with Bellamy and the buddhist fucking in a hotel room and proceeds to cycle through spells of elation and abjection, with more veering (as in much of Bellamy’s work) toward the latter. “This is what I do, I push things until they break.” Which is—as Bellamy knows—very un-B/buddhist of her. After this introductory vignette the book moves through a chronological series of blog entries that creatively mix mundane aspects of everyday life with reflections on art, the past, pop culture, while sprinkling—in non-narrative sequence—details (that are more like reflections) about her relationship with the buddhist. Photographs of poets, Neil Young, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa, etc., create a smart interplay of image and text.

How does it all end? It’s obvious from the first page that the relationship is doomed, and Bellamy says as much early on, “Of course it ended badly.” But the conclusion itself is hardly the point. The process is existential.

You can order the book in paper or electronic format here.

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Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by Alan Gilbert.