Saturday, May 31, 2014



The TV Sutras by Dodie Bellamy
(Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, 2014)

The TV Sutras braids inspired wisdom received through a television with memoir and fiction in a profound investigation of spiritual experience.

The TV Sutras is in three parts.  The first part, “The Source of the Transmission,” is a procedural note about how the “TV Sutras” were created.  The second part comprises 78 “TV Sutras” with commentaries. “Cultured,” the third part (a memoir/fiction hybrid), is an extended meditation on cult experiences and the author’s spiritual journeys.

Bellamy explains that

“In receiving The TV Sutras I attuned myself to messages that are broadcast into the living room of my San Francisco apartment.  My method: I do a half-hour yoga set while watching the DVD Peaceful Weight Loss through Yoga.  Then I turn off the DVD player and TV, sit cross-legged on the floor, facing the television, and meditate for twenty minutes.  I breathe in, wait, breathe out, wait, breathe in, wait…try to accept whatever arises, internally or externally.  I do not close my eyes because closed eyes equal duality, I’ve been told, while open eyes equal oneness.  When my mind wanders, I say to myself ‘thinking,’ and refocus on my breath.  When I finish meditating, I crawl off my cushion and turn the TV back on.  Words and images emerge.  There’s a flash of recognition and my hand scribbles furiously: I transcribe the first words that strike me, then briefly I describe the scene from which the TV sutra arose.  I take a breath, scoot against the wall and quickly write my commentary.” (14)

Here’s a typical TV Sutra:

Find everything you want with name brand products up to 70% off.  Every day.
Woman opens a small earring box, and the screen fills with jewels.

The treasure chest is not elsewhere, not something you need to strive for.  Be present and it will open for you.  The slightest things can have enormous potential if you focus your attention on them.”

The largest portion of the book is the “Cultured” section.  It’s magnificent and fully situated in the mess of everyday life.  Which goes to the heart of Bellamy’s  ambitions:

“Kevin turns back to the computer and begins typing.  He’s writing about New Narrative, how it reclaimed what was considered vulgar in poetry.  New Narrative Dodie versus New Age Dodie.  Can one ever stop embarrassing the other?  Dare I reclaim what’s considered vulgar in spirituality?  Bring on those crazed ascetics rushing from the forest to the Ganges, slaying any hoi polloi who step in their path!  Bring on crucified Jesus oozing blood and horror.  Bring on those horny gurus who fuck their students into enlightenment. Understand your attachments, your aversions, and your indifference, and love them all.” (106)

It’s important to note that The TV Sutras does not come across as having been written tongue-in-cheek.  There’s no flippancy, no broad winks to the reader.  There is, rather, an earnestness—a desire for revelation.  A desire, even, for unflattering self-revelations.  It’s a book written with an open mind and open heart:

“Once when I parodied sheeplike followers, my Buddhist Teacher lover asked, ‘What about the beauty of belief?’  This is the one true thing he ever said to me.  Beliefs should not be judged as true or false or ludicrous or reasonable.  Beliefs should be judged like art or women or sunsets—by their beauty, by the x-factor that makes us fall in love with them.  Belief should spasm our hearts with desire.”  (226)

I am in love with this beautiful book.


Tom Beckett's latest book, Dipstick(Diptych), is now available from Marsh Hawk Press.

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