Thursday, August 23, 2012

Kitsch and Buddhist Imagery and What It All Might Mean

It's been a few weeks since I've had a blog post.  This has been for a variety of reasons, not the least of which has to do with the strange internet conditions in the People's Republic of China, the fact that I was doing something creative at work, and that creative thing was sorely needed.

In my travels to NY this year my siblings and I were involved in settling my mother's estate.   Evidently my mother was a rather avid collector of something called "Precious Moments."

She was, I think, under the impression that these things would increase in value, kind of like the way some people would have bought Thomas Kinkade "paintings" for the same reason.   Like Thomas Kinkade, these things ooze what is commonly called "kitsch."  The Wikipedia article on kitsch describes Milan Kundera's view on the subject:

The Czech writer Milan Kundera, in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), defined it as "the absolute denial of shit". He wrote that kitsch functions by excluding from view everything that humans find difficult with which to come to terms, offering instead a sanitized view of the world, in which "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions".
In its desire to paper over the complexities and contradictions of real life, kitsch, Kundera suggested, is intimately linked with totalitarianism. In a healthy democracy, diverse interest groups compete and negotiate with one another to produce a generally acceptableconsensus; by contrast, "everything that infringes on kitsch," including individualism, doubt, and irony, "must be banished for life" in order for kitsch to survive. Therefore, Kundera wrote, "Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch."
For Kundera, "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

And this led me to the question: is Buddhist imagery kitsch? I think some imagery can be considered this way,  but not all of it can, just as some Christian imagery is definitely not kitsch, but some is.  

It is kind of interesting to me though that some aspects of Buddhist inspired arts, notably those Zen-derived, strive to incorporate some aspects of "real life," or emptiness, or wabisabi (侘寂).   

Coincidentally, there's been some discussion in the Buddhist blogosphere of something called "near enemies." 

I'll go out on a limb here and say I'm not sure there are such things as "near enemies."  There are, of course ways of being that are not conducive to the transcendence of suffering, to be sure.  And those ways of being are ways of being that just won't go - you cannot expect to be entirely rid of attachments, envy,  hatred, greed, etc. 

That's not the point, of course, the point is to transcend them.

But there is also talk of pity, indifference,  and something that is substituted for true feelings (which makes them, what, false feelings?).

I'm not sure there are such things...take pity for example.  Pity might not be the best of all possible worlds - that is pity as kindly sorrow for another, which, I'd submit recognizes a difference between the pitier and the pitied.  And it is a motivator of charity in which there is still a gaining idea (the problem with much of so-called "Christian charity.")

But I think it may be more of a continuum than a set of discrete and separate states. Pity might lead to compassion, if the pitier realizes his separateness from the pitied. 

I agree with Barbara, that it's good to have a relationship with a teacher to help. 

But one still shoulders the responsibility here. 

I may have more to say on this later. 

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