Skip to Main Content (Press Enter) Toggle side nav
Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde by Ellen Pearlman
Add Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde to bookshelf
Add to Bookshelf

Nothing and Everything – The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde

Best Seller
Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde by Ellen Pearlman
Paperback $21.95
Apr 24, 2012 | ISBN 9781583943632

Buy from Other Retailers:

See All Formats (1) +
  • Apr 24, 2012 | ISBN 9781583943632

    Buy from Other Retailers:

  • Apr 24, 2012 | ISBN 9781583943793

    Buy from Other Retailers:

Product Details


“In this eminently readable treatise, Pearlman, a founder of the Brooklyn Rail and early contributor to Tricycle magazine, explores Zen Buddhism’s influence on the post-WWII American avant-garde, focusing on its practitioners, students, and resultant artistic movements. Beginning with the public classes of noted Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki, Buddhism was disseminated throughout the arts in America by Suzuki’s famed pupil and composer, John Cage, as well as through the work of the Abstract Expressionists, the Beats (e.g., Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac), and Fluxus artists. Pearlman’s study also touches on how Eastern cultures viewed the transplantation of their religious beliefs into the American arts, especially in the wake of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima—the author notes that while America’s artistic elite were embracing Zen Buddhism, artists in Japan were trying to move away from the school of thought, whose institutions were viewed as militaristic and corrupt. Given the book’s brevity, Pearlman’s survey is remarkably extensive.” —Publishers Weekly

“This fantastic book deftly illustrates and uncovers the direct Buddhist influence on America’s twentieth-century avant-garde. A fascinating series of truly American stories brought to life with amusing and colorful anecdotes, and a true pleasure to read.” —Peter Hale, director, Allen Ginsberg Estate
“Ellen Pearlman’s book is meticulously researched and an exciting read; Kerouac would be delighted.” —John Sampas, executor, the estate of Jack Kerouac

The American avant garde’s encounter with Buddhism is the subject of Ellen Pearlman’s episodic narrative, Nothing and Everything (North Atlantic Books 2012). Though Pearlman aims to discuss the influence of various Buddhist traditions on the post-World War II art scene in New York City during the years 1942–1962, her focus is primarily on Zen. Much of the book profiles the career of the Japanese scholar D. T. Suzuki, recounting his early life in Japan, his experience teaching at Columbia University, and his influence on artists, including the experimental composer John Cage. One memorable scene in Pearlman’s recounting of East–West encounters took place on a summer day in 1957, when the writer Jack Kerouac and his friends Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg visited D. T. Suzuki in his Upper West Side apartment. Suzuki served green tea while they talked nonsensically and composed haiku. As the Beat poets departed, the Zen scholar yelled to them, “Remember the tea!” to which Kerouac replied, “Key?” —Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly
“Zen thinking permeates Western arts: the mid-century pivot to Eastern influence is a truism of previous generations, but curiously absent from contemporary mastications of history. Ellen Pearlman gets it all right: Nothing and Everything is the perfectly balanced lesson—art, and change, and friendship.” —John Reed, novelist, book editor of The Brooklyn Rail

“Pearlman’s book works to trace the rippling, whirling influences of Buddhism on some of the most important American artists of the twentieth century. She describes groundbreaking performances, the cross-pollination of the European Dadaists, and the particular Buddhist principles that resonated most deeply with American artists. Artists, avant-garde aficionados, and those interested in the influence of Eastern thought on the West will be thankful to Pearlman for tracking and cataloguing the leaps that made the splashes that cocreated avant-garde.” —ForeWord Reviews
“The influence of Buddhist philosophy and aesthetics on the American avant-garde is one of the great untold stories of modern art. Ellen Pearlman helps illuminate the way by charting relationships which sparked some of the most important exchanges in American art and thought.” —Alexandra Munroe, author of The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860­–1989
Nothing and Everything brings insight and fact to an important Buddhist teacher whose life and work profoundly influenced the leading members of the avant-garde arts community. Pearlman’s adept writing is a pleasure to read as well as informative about matters that too often are glossed over in accounts of the work of John Cage and those whose work has surrounded him and moved on. A solid reference.” —Pauline Oliveros, author of Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice
“Ellen Pearlman has done the heroic work of bringing the extraordinarily powerful and radical ‘conjunct’ between Buddhism and the American avant-garde into intelligent scrutiny and focus. It’s a tale that needs telling, one that educates as it elucidates. This is the mysterious koan of any time: why the experience of mortality and impermanence inspires such lucid contrapuntal energy and passion for artistic endeavor. We are here to disappear. Let art guide the way and stay awhile.” —Anne Waldman, poet; co-founder and professor, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Naropa University
“The avant-garde is not ahead of its time; it is in it. Ellen Pearlman’s book about the ripple effect Buddhism had in American contemporary art is a time capsule filled with treasures.” —Michael Goldberg, director of the D. T. Suzuki Documentary Project
“Ellen Pearlman reveals an amazing truth about the American avant-garde: that much of its freshness comes from ancient Zen philosophy and meditation! Nowhere else is this important story told so clearly.” —David Rothenberg, author of Survival of the Beautiful and Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes
“When D. T. Suzuki began to teach ‘Buddhist Philosophy 101’ at Columbia University in 1952, his class was like honey to bears among New York artists and poets, who had never met an authentic Zen Buddhist. Unknowingly, Suzuki was an important influence on the development of abstract expressionism and Beat-generation poetry. Nothing and Everything tells the story of how the seed of Zen was planted in rich, creative American soil. —Denise Lassaw, daughter of sculptor Ibram Lassaw

“Like fresh footprints after a newly fallen snow, Zen and Buddhism left mindful and distinct imprints upon the post–World War II avant-garde cultural scene in New York City. Nothing and Everything leads the reader through an odyssey of social and cultural upheavals in this post-war time and the artistic responses that burst into creative expression in art, music, dance, literature, and media. Through extensive research and interview, Ellen Pearlman explores the influence of Buddhism upon the creative milieu and how it altered the course of imaginative interpretations in the ‘new reality’ of mental awakenings. An insightful read and an invitation for continued scholarship where the arts and Buddhist philosophy interweave.” —Cathy Ziengs, Buddhist Door International

“Ellen Pearlman vividly captures the feeling of spontaneity and freedom with which the American avant-garde sought mu and experienced suchness.” —Laura Hoffmann, Artforum magazine

“If you’re interested in exploring the syncretism of modern Western culture and ancient Asian philosophy, Nothing and Everything will give you a fine kickstart.” —LitKicks

Nothing and Everything looks at the strong influence Buddhist traditions and ideals have had on the art style of avant garde—looking at particular artists of the period, their Buddhist influences and how it manifested in their work. … Nothing and Everything is a strong addition to art history and Buddhist study collections.” —Midwest Book Review

Looking for More Great Reads?
21 Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read
Get the latest updates from Ellen Pearlman
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
By clicking SIGN UP, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to Penguin Random House’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
Something awesome is on its way.
Back to Top