Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mysticism in Desert Solitaire

Ruthie Cohen
Dr. Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
23 September 2014

Mystic Meditation: a Cleanse of Corruption

Abbey, narrator and protagonist in his novel Desert Solitaire, is a true mystic as he sets out on a journey of isolation in which he aims to cleanse himself of human corruption. Refuting a tourist accusing him of hating all of humanity, Abbey clarifies that he “was not opposed to mankind but only to man-centeredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man” (Abbey 244). There are numerous examples throughout the text in which Abbey scorns the selfish and ignorant characteristics of modern society, this resentment therefore pushing him to a state of solitary meditation.
In the chapter Industrial Tourism and the National Parks, Abbey is angered by the threat of modernization creeping its way into the Arches National Park. In particular, Abbey expresses his disdain for the use of cars:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.” (Abbey 51).

Upon the arrival of engineers whom he discovers are paving the way for roads within the park, Abbey’s rage lasts several pages. His fear of technology infiltrating the natural beauty he is immersed in, in addition to his prior need to rid himself of such exploitation, shows his overall resentment towards evolving society rather than the individual. On page 58, at the conclusion of the chapter, Abbey describes the landscape, seemingly put at ease by the simplicity of his natural surroundings. In this instance, the intimidation of cars taking over “my [Abbey’s] desert world” is the catalyst for Abbey’s withdrawal.
Abbey’s story involving the terrible fate of Mr. Husk and his family--an analogy for the corruption of mankind and superiority of nature--is another example in which the narrator’s hatred for modern society leaves him with a self-inflicted burden to purge himself of such demoralization. In his “fruitless search for a fool’s treasure” (Abbey 68), Mr. Husk ends up the victim of a manipulative, greedy man named Mr. Graham. Ironically, the moral of the story implies that the thing that truly destroys man, apart from the powers of nature, is man himself. This element of the analogy further leads Abbey to distance himself from man and his corrupting ways, using nature to purify himself. Abbey is a mystic, as he sees a divine presence within nature, wishing to access it through isolation.
Toward the end of the novel, in the chapter Episodes and Visions, Abbey scorns yet “another clown with a scheme for the utopian national park” (Abbey 247):

“Hire a crew of pretty girls, call them rangerettes, let them sell the tickets and give the campfire talks. And advertise, for godsake, advertise! How do you expect to get people in here if you dont advertise? Next, these here Arches--light them up. Floodlight them, turn on colored, revolving lights--jazz it up man, it’s dead.” (Abbey 247).

Despite his admitted exaggeration, Abbey has a valid point in criticizing the extremities of advertising in a modern capitalist society. With an impatient and cynical tone comparable to an elderly man, Abbey expresses his frustrations with the modern, particularly American, pastime of abusing nature for selfish gains such as profit, amusement and convenience. His reference to “Disneyland National Park” draws irony to the use of such parks--intended to show off the beauty of nature for tourists--for recreational waste. 
The spiritual elements of Abbey’s journey of isolation, characterized by his utter awe and praise of nature, defines Abbey a mystic. His devotion to nature and desolation, although challenging at times, is a sacrifice Abbey makes on behalf of mankind. By the end of the novel, has Abbey achieved this goal? I would argue that he has certainly succeeded in immersing himself in wilderness, segregating himself from the corruption of the “urban” world, however, has this had any impact on the rest of society? Given the power of an author to influence his readers, perhaps Abbey has gotten his message across. Certainly as a result of his mysticism, Abbey has created an intimate and conflicting relationship between the tensions of nature and mankind.

Works Cited

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. New York: Touchstone, 1968. Print.

1 comment:

  1. A minor point - very, very few people would categorize the book a a novel. That's a nitpick, though - your introduction is effective.

    There's an oddity to your structure. You pick fairly focused evidence which explain, I believe, basically his critique of American or of western civilization (which connects to the background critique of western philosophy). He attacks greed, he attacks and media and advertisement, he attacks the illusory desire for wealth, etc.

    But does one need to be spiritual, or be engaging in cleansing meditation, in order to say that American is too fixed on money and success, too controlled by advertisement, too careless with natural resources? Your evidence says much about Abbey, but it's not really about his spiritual journey. I think it successfully delineates his politics & activism without really getting at the spiritual element of his beliefs. Your thesis implies that you're going to be focused on meditation, cleansing, etc. - but what you do is much simpler and less ambitious.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.