Date of Award


Degree Type



Bryce Traister


How do you study texts as a Buddhist? How do you reconcile Buddhist notions of a text’s impermanence (anitya), insubstantiality (nihsvabhava, sunyata), and dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) - notions that destabilize any conviction that a text is an entity capable of supporting predication - with literary study, which operates under the assumption that not only are texts entities (objects of study) but also that discovering new predicates about them is one of the most valuable and significant things you can do with them? Moreover, how do you reconcile the goal of Buddhist practice - the cessation of suffering (duhkha) - with a form of study that, from a Buddhist view, clings to metaphysical notions that perpetuate the conditions for suffering? In short, you don’t. Instead of reconciling Buddhist and critical practices, this thesis explores and enacts a kind of Buddhist reading practice, which, in theoretical and methodological terms, grows out of an encounter with Madhyamika Buddhist analyses of reality, Dogen’s Zen Buddhist conception of texts as provisional and instrumental, Richard Rorty’s notion of “strong textualism,” and Gary Snyder’s rip rap juxtaposition practice. I construct the thesis out of interconnected meditations on Snyder’s works, Mahayana Buddhism, the psychology of elegies, Monet’s aesthetic practice, and ajumble of secondary topics. What links this rip rap of topics together is an emerging Buddhist reading practice that reveals and engages with the insubstantial nature of phenomenal objects of study. What the thesis discovers is that the objects of traditional literary study - texts, authors, national literatures, genres - are all dependently originated, impermanent, and ultimately empty of substance or self-presence. These phenomena, it argues, are not stable enough to support our scholarly desires for predicative knowledge about them. They do not exist in and of themselves, separate from the contingencies of any particular reading performance. The thesis is significant from a Buddhist soteriological point of view. In effect, the work proposes that studying phenomena as inherently existing objects is an activity of tanha (desire, grasping) that inevitably sustains the conditions for suffering. Buddhist iii reading seeks to dissolve those conditions by revealing the emptiness of our objects of knowledge.



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