Saturday, November 1, 2014

Analysis of "Buddhist Barbie" by Denise Duhamel

Poem found here:  "Buddhist Barbie" by Denise Duhamel

So everything depends on how to interpret the last two lines of the poem.  I've been going back and forth on how I feel about it.

However, let's start in the beginning.  The poem starts out with an informational tone:
     In the 5th century B.C.
     an Indian philosopher
     Gautama teaches 'All is emptiness'
     and 'There is no self'

This is the conceit of the poem in which the Barbie figure responds to.  I think the build up here is the response and the informational tone is more of the "straight man" premise to the "humorous response.  Note how this section is a quatrain and how the next part (still within the same stanza) is a quatrain as well:

     In the 20th century A.D.
     Barbie agrees, but wonders how a man
     with such a belly could pose,
     smiling, and without a shirt.

The first line referencing time feels like an inversion of what would be normally stated, "In the 20th century" with the A.D. being superfluous, but the A.D. is important to this section to continue the connection between Barbie and Gautama.

When the Barbie figure agrees, the question that always runs through my mind is how this figure interprets the phrase "All is emptiness" and "There is no self."  In some ways, I can take this as a very cynical approach to see Barbie as a vapid nobody dress up doll with no concrete personality or self at all -- just the imposed one by people.  I feel this is a set in stone case for the end with the exception of the last two lines.

It's how you interpret the last two lines, "with such a belly could pose, / smiling, without a shirt."  Yes, this could add to the vapidness of the barbie, but my question to myself is "emotion, acceptance, attachment to the body doesn't that fulfill a person or rather go against the mantra of 'emptiness'"

And then backtrack, Barbie is the perfect representation of Buddhism based on the quotes, "All is emptiness" and "There is no self" based on my definition, and, weirdly, Gautama doesn't represent this in his depiction, rather the opposite -- everyone knows Gautama's self as a big bellied smiling man.  How can there be emptiness with a beggar bowl in the hand.

What I'm trying to write is not to dismiss the last two lines of the poem as something vapid and characteristic of the materialistic Barbie, maybe Barbie, through her observation, is the epitome of Buddhism.

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