Agents of uncertainty

Mysticism, scepticism, Buddhism, art and poetry


Through an analysis of many different examples, Danvers articulates a new way of thinking about mysticism and scepticism, not as opposite poles of the philosophical spectrum, but as two fields of enquiry with overlapping aims and methods. Prompted by a deep sense of wonder at being alive, many mystics and sceptics, like the Buddha, practice disciplines of doubt in order to become free of attachment to fixed appearances, essences and viewpoints, and in doing so they find peace and equanimity. They develop ways of living with impermanence and the unexpected by letting go of adherence to dogmatic beliefs and by suspending judgement. In common with many artists and poets they act as agents of uncertainty, actively disturbing the routines and habits of day-to-day thought and behaviour in order to demonstrate how to maintain a sense of balance and spontaneity in the midst of life’s difficulties. Topics explored include: being and self as process; mysticism and language; scepticism and dogmatism; Buddhism, interdependence and emptiness; Daoism and impermanence; dialectics of doubt in art and poetry. Written in a lively and accessible style, accompanied by drawings and photographs by the author, this volume is aimed at scholars, artists, teachers, and anyone interested in philosophy, religion, art, poetry and ways of being.
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Biographical Note

John Danvers is an artist, writer and academic currently based at the University of Plymouth, UK.

Review Quotes

”This is a clear, at times beautifully written series of reflections on traditions of ‘sceptical mysticism’ within both Western and Eastern religious, literary, and philosophical traditions. The writer is at once an academic and an artist, and the commentaries- largely related to the Christian and Buddhist traditions- ar interspersed with careful illustrations and passages from his own life and experiences, making this book both informative and a beautiful excerise in meditative thinking and practice. It would be an excellent book to offer students or those seeking an introduction to the practice and literature of mysticism. […] This book is an excellent example of literature and religion living in final harmony in the coincidence of opposites. I am grateful for it.” - David Jasper, University of Glasgow, in Literature & Theology, 2013, pp. 1-2
“Drawing from an extraordinary range of sources – mysticism, skepticism, philosophy, Buddhism and art – this highly original and provocative book articulates how a human life that has taken leave of the habitual certainties of religion and metaphysics can flourish in a vital and creative way. Agents of Uncertainty offers a tantalizing vision of a postmodern, post-creedal spirituality that shines through the work of many leading thinkers and artists of our time.” - Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
“In this wide-ranging exploration of mysticism, scepticism and artistic practice, John Danvers joins the distinguished company (Stephen Batchelor, Don Cupitt and Mark Vernon spring to mind) of those who are trying to encourage us to wake up to life as it is. The agents of uncertainty guide us towards acceptance of the contingency of reality, tracing a path between nihilism and unquestioning and outdated belief, while Danvers own artistic illustrations in word and line beautifully counterpoint the intellectual enquiry.” - Dr. Gay Watson, author of Beyond Happiness and The Resonance of Emptiness
“A wonderful tekst — rich in insights, poetry and creativity and at the same time deeply meditative” - Martine Batchelor, author of The Spirit of the Buddha and Women on the Buddhist Path

Table of contents

mysticism, language and postmodernism
Buddhism and Daoism: sceptical mysticism
the contrarium: a dialectical seesaw
living with uncertainty: art and its making
a drawing together