Hard-boiled zen: Janwillem Van de wetering’s the japanese corpse as buddhist literature

Contemporary Buddhism 19 (2):382-397 (2018)

ABSTRACTThough many studies of the contemporary Buddhist literature exist, such studies often limit their purview to canonised, ‘high-brow’ authors. In this article, I read Janwillem van de Wetering’s The Japanese Corpse, a detective novel, for how it portrays Zen Buddhism. I show that The Japanese Corpse portrays Zen as non-dualist and amoral: good and bad are arbitrary categories that impede spiritual freedom. Likewise, characters’ identities are fluid, not fixed. The novel shows this by insistently associating Zen with sex and violence, and by the use of dramatic motifs. However, the novel also excludes women, particularly Japanese women, from spiritual attainment, instead essentialising them as the sexual objects of the hard-boiled detective story. As a matrix of conflicting values, The Japanese Corpse thus turns out to be a case study of Buddhist modernism, and of challenges of detective fiction as world literature.
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DOI 10.1080/14639947.2018.1480890
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