Archive for December, 2013

In China and Tibet, and under the gaze of the global media, the four-year period from February 2009 to February 2013 saw the self-immolations of at least 110 Tibetan Buddhist monks, nuns and lay-people. Underlying the phenomenon of Buddhist self-immolation is a real and interpretive ambiguity between personal, religious, altruistic and political suicide, and political suicide within the Buddhist saṅgha specifically, itself reflected in the varying historical assessments of the practice and currently given by global Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Vietnamese monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh.

Part One of this essay surveys the textual and theoretical background to the canonical record and commentarial reception of suicide in Pāli Buddhist texts, and the background to self-immolation in the Mahāyāna, and considers how the current Tibetan Buddhist self-immolations relate ethically to that textual tradition. This forms the basis for, in Part Two, understanding them as altruistic-political acts in the global repertoire of contention.

Part One of a long essay published December 28, 2013 in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics: http://blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/2013/12/28/buddhist-self-immolation-and-mahayanist-absolute-altruism/

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Choeung Ek (Killing Field)

Poem written April 2011 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Published online Dec. 9, 2013 in PERIL Magazine #17: Dualities: http://peril.com.au/current-edition/choeung-ek-killing-field/

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Short-fiction (written Paris, 2006); published in modified form in the print journal (School of Culture and Communication, Melbourne University) antiTHESIS # 23: LIVE, November 2013:



The original piece is here:

There is a light which glances into the stream-of-vision of the paying commuters. It is the same light that travels from the silvery vaults of the Maison de la Monnaie through the protection warning-system and fibre-optic transmitters into the receptor-diodes of the mobile-phone of the man speaking in a reasonable American voice even though he stands bluntly in the middle of the pedestrian tunnel saying damage control an indefinite number of times into the phone mouthpiece.

The noise plays out not far ahead of him. At initial hearing it could be an edgy installation-soundscape, but this is not a music of the fibre-optic age, a post-industrial slithering zither of ultra-violet rays. It is neither sophisticated nor aurally fine, but the overtones move into the front of consciousness like a tireless assassin even so. It might be the creation of another race, an alien species half-insect or machine according to whichever side of the prototypical spectrum the human one still concedes to. There must be giant amplifiers positioned in odd acoustic proportion: the sound, its source unclear, seems to reach under the skin, even where it deceives the ear, and could be coming from the interior as much as anywhere in objective space.

The interior and objective space are not necessarily exclusive categories (nothing so new about that).

Damage control the man’s voice says again – of course ‘damage control’ might have any number of determinants not least the kind of patch-up jobs we are used to witnessing in Hanoi or Kabul or Baghdad. Defy me the music dares to declare in the tubular labyrinth and out through ventilation shafts and into the free air of the free (-ly bought) world.

The House of Money is an august institution whose proper identity has been protected for the purposes of this fiction by translation and transplantation into an indeterminate zone (you say place, or language, or signifier and I say yes and also real insofar as the power-conduit that exits from the gold-gilt gates reaches over the heads of the casseurs on the outskirts of town all the way to the reiteration of the words damage control in thin spidery italics underground, always underground, always spoken in a nuanced and reasonable American version courtesy of Time Warner and the men who brought you Quiet Days in an Evil Age, cf. Code 21CN of the Unattributed Act of Inattention #6J/art. 5-A).

It’s not an alarm, a re-run of…is it? Not here, after the hi-jinks in…er, confidentiality blues bl-ue-ue eyes, they say they’ve got blue eyes, not brown, under the hoods and burkhas and the AK47s stuffed inside all-purpose fatigue trousers and speaking of fatigue aren’t you all a bit goddamned tired by now? not least of this? (text, triste tropique, topos, hungry-ghost realm, pick any but pick).

She’s Bosnian (no prizes). Sits like a lame duck on the concrete floor with the mind-curdling gadzook between her legs as if she has given birth to a wailing serpent of ancient Illyria, the placental mess nearby, where the ticket-barriers are, trying to get through. Perhaps it is a love-song, perhaps to the damage-control man, but he isn’t listening, not right now (again no prizes, trying to get through to you), and other voices beckon – from HQ, the bunker, Mr. Big’s leather armchair, Xanadu, where you will. The dear duck doesn’t even bother with a hat out for coins or, presumptuously, paper notes. She just plays – gratis-like, sawing away for blind life, straight off the mountains. (It ain’t Easter for nuthin’, folks.)

The bow she uses has, perhaps, five or six actual hairs, but they are industrial-strength mythical human wire from the superhuman old races of Dalmatia or Carpathia or Georgia, where old men and women live the longest. The most beautiful thing is the unbowed sound-plus-body coordination, where she leans into the micro-tonally raised, then diminished, drone-note – it is a monster’s wail, a Frankenstein cry – beautiful as an idiot-infant’s eye left to weep on a highway by midnight overpass lights.

Then she swings back, heavy old-woman dugs following the line of inarticulate least resistance: it’s a single note, and she has a single tooth in her head, a single pure idea guiding her single unadulterated wish which is to live in the world, with the others, the strangers, the intergalactic youth swarming round her in tinted shades, not least the damage-control man himself.

And so she saws. She could be sawing an umbilical cord attached to that same humanity, or a birch-tree trunk from the old country, or the deep wound of war she has left behind there. It is a single-stringed instrument played with a few hairs by a single old woman who will die within two or three years of it, or less. The commuters look askance because they imagine they smell diarrhoea or vomit escaping from under the peasant skirts, the cobbled shoes, the heavy thighs that lumpenly sit turned-in under the shadows of the barrier-gates (always a barrier, always a gate). There is something a little unsavoury about the old woman’s (chinny-chin-chin) hairs, and the fact that she can’t manage to raise an actual tune, a tune of more than a single, living ground-note from the rudimentary single-stringed instrument. Where has she come from anyway? Shouldn’t she be home in her village, celebrating Easter with flammable spirits and gypsy wars and gambling and guns and mafia picaresque exploding around her? Not here – this is a different world, that’s all, not a judgement. (The saw-music is still loud and clear, its great godfearing laughter raining down stage-left between the tattered poster-bills and Brazilian boys sharing out the deal).

So that the American agent is curious, finally. Time to move into action-mode. Is that really diarrhoea I can smell? Don’t they pay someone to keep these places clean? Jesus save-them-from-themselves Christ. He even sings: we gotta get outta this place, sotto voce, not quite in tune, but reasonable, even so, the portable phone mouthpiece dangling under the jowls. KFC still on his breath. There’s a few  minutes left, left to kill. Take your time, Joe. Have a shoe-shine on the way out. Arab boy, cute as country-pie.

The most extraordinary thing is no-one would ever know how purely and superbly articulated it was. Some kind of disastrous freak accident, a hatchet-job, sheer evil-minded horse-play – the Brazilian boys, or students, the casseurs from the outskirts for that matter, all the Arabs. All the Arabs in the place, you couldn’t find enough front-end loaders to dump them.

The man moves toward the ticket-barriers, and it’s odd, but she stops playing, just as he passes (the chin-hairs, flowered skirt, the old Bosnian stink of it), and drops the little token of appreciation into her lap. The eery hawking saw-music suddenly become a silence that breaks out into the air above open ground. Like an encore, the silence, just for him. As if she knows, even as she wonders what she’s gleaned this time. (No-one else does, ever will).

He’s already half-way down the main street when the explosion bursts the innards out of the underground. No more of the godforsaken music, at least, a small blessing on Easter Day. Just pieces of old Bosnia on the shattered walls, a map of old, parti-coloured Europe, for the memory. She’ll be a saint, bless her heart.

And the American accent – a decoy, bluff, pretty transparent really. Not really a true-to-God American – no such thing. No see no blood, no shed no blood, where the chopping gets done.

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