On our final day of class, in concluding discussion of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (a novel, as the title suggests, involving scanning and surveillance), I introduce Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and Michel Foucault’s theory of “panopticism,” applying the latter to the architecture of the digital classroom, the Zoom environment in which we’ve worked this past year due to pandemic. After ascent from Plato’s Cave in search of higher states of consciousness (Plato’s text being the one with which the course began), we lay bare the medium of our being-together as a class. I speak as one there in a cell with others. Here we are, I say: “Gallery View.” I call awareness to the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.” Through Dick’s title, I then trace us back to 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul stresses the importance of “charity” or love. Without it, he writes, one is but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” In its final moment, then, the course ends thus: with a synthesis of Zen and a kind of gnostic-psychedelic reimagining of agape. One must accept the prison, or at least return to it willingly, despite knowing that one will likely be misunderstood and crucified — but only so as to impart through the medium of one’s being the words “Love one another”: a message of congeniality and goodwill.
I sit on a chair and think about karmic cycles as seasons for healing. Days have rhythms, bracketed blocks of time given to care, work, and play. By the latter I mean hermetic time of inner listening, when days allow. Books about “space” turn up on shelves across from me. Books on art and architecture: Topologies, Delirious New York, The Situationist City. Further off, a book called Spaced Out. What am I seeking, up there on those shelves? Am I seeking a teacher — one who I hope will appear in my life when I’m ready? Gary Snyder studied the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism with a teacher in Japan. Of course Snyder himself is a teacher as well. I find myself reading about American Zen pioneer Ruth Fuller Sasaki. Snyder worked for Sasaki during his time in Kyoto in the late 1950s. She’s the one who sponsored his first trip to Japan.
The Ray Smith character in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums uses his Beat Zen Buddhism as a cover, an intellectual veil behind which to hide a misogynistic fear of women and of post-WWII white heteronormative domesticity. What is the source of this fear? He seems torn throughout the novel between desire for solitude and desire for something like family or companionship or community. The novel’s great utopian figure for this desired community is the “floating zendo,” a network of mountaintop monasteries strung across the Americas to sustain the wandering bhikkus of the coming “rucksack revolution.”