We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

Cudgels Against Indifference:
Buddhism, Post-Secularism, and the Orient in the New York School of Poets;
Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary: A Creative Portfolio

MAJUMDAR, SOUMYAROOP (2022) Cudgels Against Indifference:
Buddhism, Post-Secularism, and the Orient in the New York School of Poets;
Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary: A Creative Portfolio.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

Full text not available from this repository.
Author-imposed embargo until 21 November 2025.


The Cold War saw American politics shift to an increasingly religious footing, with the US conceiving of itself as, in the words of a 1950 Cold-War document NSC 68, a ‘spiritual counter-force’ to the godless Communist threat. The influx of Zen Buddhism in the 1950s, in particular the socially engaged form of Buddhism that was enthusiastically taken up by artists of liberal or left-wing sympathies, posed some difficult questions for a country that wished to be seen as a haven for religious freedom. Scholarship on the Beats’ open identification with Buddhism has been substantial, but the first-generation New York school of poets, who were characteristically evasive, as John Ashbery declared, in their ‘avoidance of anything like a program’, performed an indifference to Zen that has slipped under the radar of criticism. My thesis considers the works of John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara to study their more circumspect engagement with Buddhism during the Cold War. The circumspection, as I will demonstrate, is the corollary of tensions between art and religious ideology, given that Buddhism was both an aesthetic as well as a vehicle for countercultural sentiments. At the same time, the poets were mindful of the modernist tendency to secularize art and the dangers of decontextualising a historical ethical practice, and so they presented a range of attitudes towards religion, wilfully, often begrudgingly, embodying—and even denying having inadvertently embodied—Buddhist meditative forms. I do not wish to recast the New York poets’ aesthetic as committedly Buddhist but, instead, show how they related to contemporary Buddhist evangelism, denying overt influences by excluding cultish tones, and complicating how Buddhism was being received in the West at the time.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:new york school poets; buddhism; post-secularism; orientalism; cold war; zen; john ashbery; frank o'hara; kenneth koch; barbara guest; beats
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Nov 2022 14:39

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter