The Dude Koans

Private Detective Visser: The world is full o’ complainers. An’ the fact is, nothin’ comes with a guarantee. Now I don’t care if you’re the pope of Rome, President of the United States or Man of the Year; somethin’ can all go wrong. Now go on ahead, y’know, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help, ‘n watch him fly. Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else…. That’s the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas, an’ down here…you’re on your own.

Blood Simple, the first film by Joel and Ethan Coen, debuted on this day in 1985 — above, the opening narration from Private Detective Visser. The Coen brothers’ dozen highly praised movies have attracted commentary from all angles, the book-length studies going well beyond filmcraft, with Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and The Dude getting a lot of the attention. Jeff Bridges, the actor who played The Dude in The Big Lebowski, collaborated with Bernie Glassman on The Dude and the Zen Master, an exploration of the abiding wisdom offered by “the Koan brothers”:

Koans are Zen stories that only make sense if you can see that life and reality are different from your opinions about them. Most of the famous ones were written in China a long time ago.
Bernie went on: “The Big Lebowski is filled with koans, only they’re in the ‘parlance of our time,’ to quote the Dude.”
What are you talkin’ about, man? What do you mean?” I asked him.
“It’s filled with ‘em, like: The Dude abides — very Zen, man; or The Dude is not in — classic Zen; or Donny, you’re out of your element, or That rug really tied the room together. It’s loaded with ‘em.”
“Really?” I said.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.