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The TV Sutras
by Dodie Bellamy
Ugly Duckling Presse, $18 (paper)
Belief can be all-consuming, as can doubt. In The TV Sutras, Dodie Bellamy offers a complex balance of the two and is delightfully consumed by both. In the first section—the sutras themselves—Bellamy uses the medium of television to divine a series of inspired aphorisms. In the tradition of mystic sages, oracular Bellamy turns on the TV after meditating in her San Francisco apartment, narrates the first scene that appears, and interprets its spiritual significance in a commentary. “Savor each moment in this festival of evanescence,” for example, seems to refer to a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. The longer prose section, “Cultured,” chronicles its narrator’s decade-long membership in an unnamed New Age cult. It begins neatly enough, describing the cult’s vague, esoteric teachings and matching polyester outfits. But over the course of its marvelous pages, the “cult” expands, and no institution (academic, religious, political, or poetic) is spared its association. It’s unclear to what extent the wild events in “Cultured” are autobiographical, and it doesn’t matter. Bellamy’s deliberate ambiguity about her own involvement brilliantly enacts the well-wrought self-mythologizing of the cult figures she describes. Her tender critiques of culthood emerge from the vantage points of teacher and student, sincere seeker and corrupt leader, wise poet and gullible Kool-Aid drinker. Bellamy’s conceptual/lyrical narrative eschews genre and clear authority with wit and intimacy that make the reader feel like an old friend.
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