“Reading Emptiness” (1999)
Reading Emptiness: Buddhism and Literature (1999), by Jeff Humphries. I love this book. It’s written in favor of literature as an approach to realizing emptiness. Literature is our tantra in the West, he says. Reading literature is not a matter of getting caught up in words, for literary truth is in the act of reading, not the content. Literature, especially when we read it with this kind of approach in mind, helps counteract reification and the conception of objectivity.
Quotes from the book:
I would like to argue that literature is a privileged ground for the realization of emptiness. This is true because in reading literature there is no doubt that one is not dealing with an objective reality. To the extent that we read texts as collections of signs that can take the shapes and assume the importance of realities when we read, we directly experience the nature of emptiness, just as we do in dreams. As we realize that texts exist as literature only in the moment of reading, in the same instant in which we come into being with them as readers, we gain a direct experience of the nature of mind according to the Middle Way: the mind is nowhere to be found, neither any one of its parts nor exactly their sum. (p. 45)
…Dogen is very much a part of the Zen tradition in recognizing that discursive language is not necessary for enlightenment, yet he also grants the value of verbal expression. In fact, in the final analysis, [he] maintains that the two means of transmission are not at all separate, but are two dimensions of the same reality.” (pp. 39-40, quoting Thomas P. Kasulis, “The Incomparable Philosopher: Dogen on How to Read the Shobogenzo.”)