Friday, May 28, 2010

Ed Abbey

Why I like Ed Abbey. He's not a naturalist, an outdoorsman, whatever. He's a philosopher, and much of what makes his writings both entertaining and difficult is a particular understanding of human knowledge. Abbey understands that the dead ends of human knowledge and action end in paradoxes and contradictions. Rather than fight them out to a painful and suicidal ending, he accepts these contradictions and plays with them. This is the direct opposite of what Alexander Supertramp did.

He recognized that we humans are the despoilers of wilderness. But he also recognized that he loved the wilderness and loved to spend time 'out there.' So you can either try to go completely feral, as McAndless did or you can retire to the sofa to the playtation. Abbey recognized it, and promptly said that everyone else after him should stay home.

This kind of activity pisses everyone off who doesn't recognize what old Ed's doing. Ed is simply recognizing the problem and being honest. All the REI shoppers in the world know that pushing into the wilderness, driving hours to climb a crag or hike a trail, living atop a mountain in a state forest, all of them know that this behavior is destructive to the wilderness and to the oil base. At least if they're honest with themselves. But they're doing it anyway. Ed is just telling the truth.

The problem with the Southwest is all the people moving out there. Ed is from PA. 'Shut the door behind me' he says. And pisses more people off. Ed complains about immigration, knowing that his scotch-irish hillbilly ancestors did not come from the Sioux or Chippewa. But it's all the same play of paradox and contradiction. In my opinion, that is the key to his writing.

He loves wilderness, and distrusts civilization. Very deeply American. But he is also aware of the problems of dualistic thinking that sets humans apart from and against nature. Because we humans are of nature, civilization for all its good and bad, is part of nature too. Which is why he can write about the towers of Manhattan, the crunch of oyster shells under the boots at the oyster bar. Again, if you think he is a nature writer, this is frustrating. How can you dig the mess and slime and insanity of wintery manhattan while cursing it at the same moment? He is a hypocrite!

Of course he is. He knows that. We all are. He's a philosopher who recognizes that there really are no answers to these paradoxes and contradictions. Instead, he is stepping beyond that rational analysis dead end, and moving beyond into something more existential, if less rational.

Music is a higher revelation than philosophy (Beethoven - according to my sister at least)

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