Introduction by Way of William Empson's Buddha Faces

Sharon Cameron

in Impersonality

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780226091310
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226091334 | DOI:
Introduction by Way of William Empson's Buddha Faces

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Writing on the “fantastic” slowness of the Noh theatre, William Empson, who had lived in Japan and China during the 1930s, noted the distinction between the “music of the Far East” and European music. Empson characterized impersonality as “the other half of the truth about the world.” His fascination with Buddhism as “a viable alternative to the Christian-Sacrificial ethic of the West that he so deeply scorned” did not arise from Buddhism's pessimism but from its credence in impersonality—the fact that Buddhist doctrine “does not believe in the individual.” Empson's capacity to make available his persistent sense of both the strangeness and the seduction of impersonality, as he encountered it in the music and doctrines of the Far East, is even more visible in the mixture of curiosity and powerful sympathy that vitalizes his descriptive analyses of Buddha faces. In the Pali suttas, the sentience Empson prized in Buddha faces is systematically uncoupled from individuality.

Keywords: William Empson; impersonality; Buddha; Buddhism; Far East; suttas; individuality

Chapter.  8053 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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