Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abbey on Contradiction

Emma Sullivan
Dr. Adam Johns
English Composition 0200
24 September 2014
Abbey on Contradiction
I decided I should meet Abbey in a place I figured he would feel most comfortable and uninhibited to talk about his writing amongst the lightly bustling city of Pittsburgh—so naturally I chose Schenley Park:
“So Abbey, one thing I was challenged with when reading your work was the contradictory opinions you often expressed. Specifically, how you feel about people in general. You clearly want people to come to untouched places like Moab, and experience nature without the restrictions of modern convenience. Yet, is it conceivable that if people were to start traveling like this more often, that you would not appreciate places like Moab as much because they would no longer be ‘solitary’ or nearly as solitary as they once were when you explored them?”
“Well, I suppose you could become technical and say that the desert is such a large place that it would take an enormous amount of people to cause it to become ‘crowded’. However, as is inferable, I want people to come to these places and leave with the mentality that we need to stop messing with nature and start exploring it. I suppose, if everyone were to leave with this mentality and go about it without much use of modern convenience that I could not object to this on principle. Yet, one of the things I so appreciate about nature is the solitude in being away from society.”
“So, what do you say in response to this quote found towards the end of your book where you say; ‘Look here, I want to say for godsake folks get out of them there machines, take off those fucking sunglasses and unpeel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras!’ (Abbey 233). Especially because we see you just a few chapters later using a car in your travels to The Maze, and a few chapters before with Newcomb, whom you mentioned wanted to photograph your travels. After making this statement, and then blatantly going against your own words of not wanting people to bring or use  things like cars or cameras, what is your explanation for this?”
“Well, keep in mind that I was not enthusiastic about the car. For example, I articulate this through saying things like ‘he [Bob] grinds on in single-minded second gear,’ in response to my request to get out of the car and be outside (Abbey 252). I did not show a great deal of enthusiasm about the use of it; however, it was necessary for that particular venture. There are exceptions to everything. We even see this in nature. I myself even made friends with a snake! I think each new situation and opportunity has to be looked at separate from the rest.”
“Would you consider yourself to have been a tourist yourself in nature? On one hand we see you in chapters like “Water” and “Havasu” expressing quite an authority on nature and even survival, yet on the other hand you equalize yourself with the tourists in your final chapter ironically named “Bedrock and Paradox” when you say, ‘Who am I to pity the degradation and misery of my fellow citizens? I, too, must leave the canyon country, if only for a season,’ (Abbey 265). This was another contradiction I struggled with, because it deals with both your alleged misanthropy and your love of nature.”
“I suppose I too am I tourist in nature. If not, what else would I be? I am certainly not an animal, and as much as I think I would like to become one with nature in a way that only a creature like Moon-Eye could, I think the great equalizer between my fellow tourists and I is that at some point, we all have to leave. I don’t consider myself to be a tourist in the sense that I am inept in my skill to survive with minimal help from modern advances, unlike my fellow humans. However, in the face of nature we are all tourists, for before us, that’s all there was.”
“Interesting. I have but one final question to ask of you, aside from those stemming from the nature of your contradictions. In the chapter ‘Episodes and Visions’ in the context of you conversing with the tourists you say, ‘Tell the truth, they never believe you,’ (Abbey 234). Is this a statement that goes for the entirety of the book as you wrote it?”  
“Well, depends on who’s reading it I suppose. Are you one of those tourists? Do you believe me?”

Works Cited

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Your first paragraph reminds me of the ironically named "Lake Solitude" in Grant Teton national park, which is visited by many, many people...

    I see two primary ideas here. They are related, but only up to a point. First, you are interested in the idea that maybe he's not interested so much in literal solitude (which may or may not be practically obtainable) but maybe in the idea or even the simulation of solitude? Maybe I assume too much - but you are beginning to wonder what solitude really means. It's a good question, and well worth an essay by itself.

    You also are interested in the idea that Abbey is himself a tourist, and in the implications of that idea. Of course, he constantly attacks tourists; he also does repeatedly call himself one, so you are engaging with one of the more persistently interesting contradictions at the heart of the book.

    Your ideas are good, and have the potential for multiple worthwhile essays. Not really focusing on one central question, though, is a bit of a cop-out. You had the material for multiple good essays but stepped back from developing a true argument.


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