In an excerpt from his upcoming book on Leonard Cohen, Matthew Remski explores the uncomfortable ties between Cohen and his controversial zen mentor Roshi:
It was strange that Cohen and I both disappeared into ashrams at the same time. At least he was at the right age for it. He seemed to be quitting a global identity, withdrawing into silence and his campy apocalyptic songs to come. I was milking my reluctance to really participate in things, and consoling myself of the consequences. But I think we were both enthralled by charismatic teachers who offered a radiant and ambivalent image of patriarchal yet revolutionary confidence that seemed to allow us to relax into obedience and hiding, even as it validated our resentments. For so many men, the spiritual path is a road for those who don’t know how to be their own fathers, who crave to relive the crisis of clashing with authority, to retest themselves, perversely enthralled by the strange virtues of the bully. There’s an erotic self-hatred in it: it feels good to rub yourself raw and then to rub yourself away against an absolute. It feels like justice, like what you deserve.Remski goes on to clarify the nature of the acolyte-mentor relationship:
Tension is key. The tension of not knowing whether he will embrace you or castigate you. As a devotee, you need him to reject you as much as he accepts you, or the acceptance will not feel as sweet. We’re not talking about intersubjective relationship here, in which a dyad mutually feels and receives and responds to each other’s needs. We’re talking about an emotional and power imbalance that thrives on the teacher seducing through concealment, and the student desperately craving what is hidden, and only occasionally seeing it, and taking any attention at all as a sign of love. Part of me wonders if Cohen fell in love with the type of man he himself was to many of the women in his past.