Philosophical writing sucks, and reading it often feels like wading through a molasses of obscurantist bullshit from another planet. Which is why when Noah Cicero quotes the likes of Sartre and Nietzsche in his newest book, Blood-Soaked Budda/Hard Earth Pascal, I could hear a mental train that used to be running so smoothly come grinding to a halt.
Blood-Soaked Buddha is a Buddhism-flavored collection of philosophical musings by someone who is essentially an average Joe. Noah Cicero quotes and refers to several texts of Buddhist and Western origin, but a reader of philosophy doesn’t become a worthwhile philosopher because of how many books he’s read. Noah Cicero knows this. Blood-Soaked Buddha is a brief, physically unimposing, unpretentious and, most appealingly, self-conscious book.
“I am writing this for no reason.
I don’t know if I have a right to write this book, or if it’s even permissible.”
These are the first lines of this book. This is the perspective from which it is written. And it is our perspective.
Noah dispenses blasts of thoughts and insights whose occasional lack of novelty is always charming, never frustrating. The lack of conceit in his voice renders even his intellectual duds endearing rather than insulting. Blood-Soaked Buddha is the philosophical book we would write, if we had to. But could most of us deliver the most pedestrian of platitudes in such a way that it feels like a rejuvenating breath of cold air coming down from a mountain, as Noah does? I don’t think so.
Blood-Soaked Buddha isn’t an abstract book about bodies and spaces and the fundamental matter of human existence, at least not when it’s at its best. It’s an attitude pamphlet. It’s the voice of a friend who read a lot of interesting books and has a new mindset he’d like to share with you. Rarely do Noah’s findings cut deeper than learning to appreciate the world around you for what it is, while it is; allowing things to pass; and having respect for perspectives other than your own. But when it comes to these kinds of ideas, I can’t think of a better medium to absorb them through than a modest 4×6 book of 191 pages, written by a voice that strikes such an incredible balance between the knowledgeable and the humbly knowledgeless, the spiritual and the tangibly applicable.
Occasionally he gets lost in a rabbit hole of his own design, attempting to codify various cliques of people and set in stone their universal traits, attempting two proofs of God (though still with the disclaimer that he’s doing it “for fun”), or declaiming lengthy fables to illustrate easy-to-grasp human weaknesses. Can we blame him? These aren’t the failings of a professional philosopher, some lofty, powdery intellectual. These are the failings of one of us. I’m much more interested in watching one of us try and fail two proofs of God than I am in reading anything in any philosophical canon. Not every writer can skate by being light on revelation by publishing in pamphlet-size and downplaying their own significance in a prefatory note, but Noah Cicero has done it.
“What if you had to live for eternity with your current shitty attitude?”
This is the only thing it says on the back cover of Blood-Soaked Buddha, and the central question of one of its most compelling moments. What if you got to heaven and could only find things to complain about? What if you got to Hell and met a new friend?
A copy of Blood-Soaked Buddha in your bag is a good step on the road to becoming the person who meets a friend in Hell.