Long Strange JourneyOn Modern Zen, Zen Art, and Other Predicaments

Long Strange JourneyOn Modern Zen, Zen Art, and Other Predicaments

Gregory P. A. Levine

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780824858056

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This book examines Zen Buddhism in the modern-contemporary world, tracing a recent history that enchants, and constrains, understandings of where Zen and Zen art, aesthetics come from and what they look like, do, and mean. This perspective diverges from that evident in writings that laud premodern Zen masterworks and master artists; gush over timeless aesthetic qualities and metaphysical states; and promote with trend-spotting flair Zen’s design appeal and therapeutic value. In contrast, this book plots a historiographical through line from sixteenth-century contacts between Europe and Japanese Zen, to late nineteenth-early and twentieth-century modernity and transnational Zen exchange driven by Japanese lay Buddhists, monastics, and intellectuals, and to the postwar “Zen boom” with its varied inflections and accusations, and more recent expressions of our “Zenny zeitgeist” such as Zen cartoons and the sale of Zen-styled products and supplies for Zen meditation. Its chapters explore moments of ecumenical exchange and spiritual discovery but also conflict over authenticity; efforts to define the aesthetic, material, and religious dimensions of Zen amid the convolutions of global modernity; and still active religious and discursive spaces of Zen and Zen art—vibrating with particular sorts of energy and specific stakes for particular and often global communities.