I approached Dodie Bellamy’s The TV Sutras as any acolyte would. The author of notorious works such as Barf Manifesto, the buddhist, Pink Steam, The Letters of Mina Harker, Cunt-ups, and Cunt Norton (in which she transforms the 2nd Edition of the Norton Anthology into porn), Bellamy had me at her title. But I didn’t expect to be a sucker for her unique brand of indoctrination.
Stage 1: Buoyancy (combined with a bubbling sense of hilarity)
The sutras, 78 of them, draw us into Part One of the book. Under the enumerated mandalas are what Bellamy calls her “transmissions.” Received after meditation and turning on the tube, she describes a clip from daily programming. Some are “silent sutras” in which she details a quick slice of TV schlock without any dialogue. Others are commercials (including those for tampons, orange juice, and bladder medications). Sutra #16 goes like this:
Who says you have to have 12 periods a year on the pill.
Montage of young women repeating, “Who says.”
Under each sutra, Bellamy provides her masterful commentary. For Sutra #16, it is: “Each of us progresses, unfolds at our own speed. There is no set route. Acknowledge and follow your own rhythm. Trust your own experience/authority over societal expectations/programmatic doctrine.”
Bellamy perfectly adopts the pontificating tone of New Age tomes with facility and wit. The commentaries are often so sharply incisive, we wonder at her intent. Sutra #55 is a scene of a clerk being blown away by a rifle-toting thief with the following disjunctive (and to my mind, hilarious) commentary: “Resist limiting projections. Be focused, tune into your true intentions, and proceed. Clarity of intent will carry you through.” She can’t be serious, we think, and yet, gradually, say at Sutra #60, they start to make a strange sense and tumble forth trance-like. The sutras end with a scene from (we learn later) a Woody Allen film:
It’s personal management. The key word is “personal.”
Man and woman walking in the park, man talking.
Commentary: Structures are helpful, but in the end you need to carve out your own path.
Did you hear the gong sound?
Stage 2: Idolization
At this point, I’m all in. The second section of the book details Bellamy’s sprawling autobiographical examination of her 10-year absorption in a New Age cult as well as a speculative exegesis on the nature of revelations, sects and the relationship between monomaniacal leaders and their followers. After describing her method for the sutras, Bellamy wonders: “can meaning arise in a depressed middle-aged writer sitting on her living room floor, wearing knit pajama bottoms patterned with hot pink peonies?”
Bellamy’s writing in the quasi-memoir portion of the book (we’re never quite sure about the truth of it, truth being so slippery) is alternately funny, self-deprecating, real, and hot. She captures the sexually and sexily explicit details of love affairs with Nance (from puberty to young adulthood), Ned, (a psychopathic sixth initiate in the cult), and Dietmar, (the waffling German) as well as the Buddhist teacher who talks little of Buddhism, but can do the nasty in “sacred tantric” positions.
At the heart of her inquiry is why she couldn’t extract herself from the sect. “Cults are sticky as chewed gum,” she writes. Despite her encounters with the deeply flawed leaders who have charisma in front of crowds, but deplorable qualities one-on-one, for Bellamy the ultimate pull was a vulnerability she couldn’t find elsewhere: “In the cult I loved people in a way I’ve not experienced since. It’s hard to love people in the let me see your CV before I decide whether or not to talk to you arts world.”
Stage 3: Identification
Anyone who has flirted with mystical insight can relate to Bellamy’s catalog as a seeker:
Things I’ve done since the cult: I took psychic development classes… talked to psychics on the phone; saw a psychic person to have my chakras cleared… I took classes… on the Yoga Sutras—when we were assigned to choose a yama or niyama and practice it, I chose for a week to not say tacky things about people and failed miserably.
As you can see, Bellamy renders her own flaws as evenly as she does those of others. Ultimately, she lets go of irony to look squarely at her search for meaning—and by extension, our search for meaning. If the Master is doing her work well, then hopefully, we’re at
Stage 4: Recognition
As she says, “The sutra process is the opposite of accepting things as they are, highlighting instead the instability of knowing.” Bellamy’s life story demonstrates that the Woody Allen sutra about finding our own path will hold true. In addition to reading the text for hot scenes of Master-Disciple sex, I encourage you to read to the climax, where, in gorgeous, epiphanic writing, Bellamy looks even more deeply at why we look for meaning—a project that, in itself, becomes quite a pleasure.