The desert is a singular place for Abbey, unparalleled. He agrees that seascapes or mountains may have a similar grandiose quality, but overall, the desert offers what Abbey wants most, solitaire without solitude. A place to develop his obscure mysticism, Abbey says that the desert, unlike other landscapes, "lies there like the skeleton of Being, spare, sparse, austere, utterly worthless, inviting not love but contemplation) (p 240). To Abbey, the desert is a being who cares not whether you live or die, but lets you decide which to choose. It is simply a collection of severely dehydrated atoms, waiting and being broken down little by little. "The desert says nothing," there is no constant reminder of waves or whirling snow clouds, only silence and mystery. So how, given the devoid landscape of the desert, could Abbey develop a whole mysticism, a whole philosophical machine constructed at every rivet against modern religions and cities from a barren wasteland littered with juniper trees? Could these same thoughts have developed elsewhere? Is a desert the only hard and true mysticism?
The second quote is also from page 240
In “Terra Incognita: Into the Maze,” Edward Abbey attempts to apply the work of various composers to the spirit of the desert. According to him, “we can find a certain resemblance between the music of Bach and the sea; the music of Debussy and a forest glade; the music of Beethoven and (of course) great mountains.” He says that the music of Baroque composers is restricted to “cathedral interiors only.” Jazz isn’t applicable either, as it is born of the city. Abbey then references composers of the Second Viennese School, specifically Arnold Shoenberg and Ernst Krenek, and claims that their music most resembles the desert. Their compositions are decidedly very dissonant; they utilize a technique that Shoenberg pioneered known as the “12-tone technique,” wherein all notes of the chromatic scale are equally represented. The products of this technique are very peculiar, “inhuman,” according to Abbey. I liked this reference because even though it is quite obscure, it’s a creative method of communicating the vibes of the desert, and upon further research can enhance the reader’s understanding.
Funnily enough, that last chapter about Abbey returning to civilization strongly supported my suspicions regarding the meaning of his misanthropy in the story. More specifically, I argued that because Abbey himself represented humanity in the story, his misanthropy is representative of that half of human nature that resents the modern world, its urban life, and so on, in favor of the wilderness, a world of (true and absolute) freedom and danger. Because the hate is representative of transient emotions and not a literal, genuine hate, of course they're going to intense and fickle in equal measures. In the final chapter, Abbey outright admits that he does miss civilization, a glimpse of the half of human nature that does seek 'civilization', a world of safety and routine. He even goes on to list the ordinary everyday things he misses about the city, something I was honestly surprised to see him do (though on hindsight, it shouldn't have been surprising). But simply put, this solidifies my conviction that Abbey's hatred is less literal and more symbolic, because now we have the other side of the coin that would be truly contradictory if both sides were completely literal.
Although the book as a whole is very interesting, I heavily enjoyed the final chapters of the book. In the beginning of Desert Solitaire, Abbey really only observes the exterior surface of nature ,where as towards the end, he actually gets to explore the interior, in depth, portion of nature. I thought these final chapters were very entertaining to read because I could thoroughly visualize every adventure Abbey went on, from Havasu to The Maze. On his adventures, we could really understand how dangerous and difficult it was to fully explore nature. For example, in the chapter "Havasu", Abbey explores a part of the Grand Canyon where he encounters many obstacles such as when he "swam [through] the stinking pond [...] pushing heavy scum away from [his] face,", and when he had to climb back up the walls of the canyon to return to base, (Abbey 202). Abbey's detailed writings of his adventures showed me how dangerous nature can really be.
The last paragraph on page 216, at the conclusion of the chapter "The Dead Man at Grandview Point," sparked my attention. Abbey appears to be disappearing within his grand surroundings, almost becoming one with the landscape. Has Abbey reached his goal--to fully understand and unify with nature? And has it, after all, taken a touching experience shared between humans (death) to obtain it? Earlier in the chapter, right before the rangers carry the dead man out on a stretcher, Abbey claims, "the world--the human world--is waiting for us, calling us back" (Abbey 213). I believe this small moment in the novel is tremendously important for Abbey, as it finally brings together the two forces he has been struggling with--mankind and nature, as is further developed later in the chapter with the concluding paragraph. I am not sure if this can be considered a resolution but it seems as thought the tensions of the novel are at peace.
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I found the parallels drawn between humans and wildlife in this section of Darwin’s work very interesting. Since Darwin had to be careful not to offend his contemporaries, I found it surprising that he compared the invasion of plant species to the invasion of human species, mentioning both within a couple of pages of one another. Darwin expressed that he had never seen “an invasion on so grand a scale of one plant over the aborigines” (107, Darwin). In this case, the recently introduced “prickly plants” moved into a new land where they consumed up the native population. While he didn’t say it explicitly, Abbey observed the same of the Spanish invaders and Native Americans. When the Spanish came into the New World, they attacked the Native Americans on their own soil, like the prickly plant did to the naturally occurring plants in the area. While most of the other comparisons in this section are aimed at providing the evidence for the basis of his ideas about adaptation and evolution, I believe that this comparison could be seen as a narrative on human nature as well. Darwin is adept at sneaking in his own personal opinions in his otherwise scientific writing.
Abbey reveals a lot to us in the final chapters of the book. My favorite chapter was probably "Episodes and Visions." It seems to me that a lot of questions about where Abbey stands when it comes to his feelings towards humanity were given a clear answer on page 244 when he said, "I was not opposed to mankind but only to man-centeredness, anthropocentricity, the opinion that the world exists solely for the sake of man... and not to civilization but to culture." Like many of us suspected, Abbey's apparent misanthropy was not towards people, but towards the ideals of people. He hates the destructive decisions our culture has instilled in us to move towards "progress" which often leads to things such as industrial tourism. According to Abbey's definitions of civilization and culture on page 246, culture is a thing that can corrupt civilization. His views are clearly laid out in this chapter leaving little to question about his feelings throughout the book.
I thought that Abbey shared a unique perspective on death, or more precisely, the transition from life to death, in the chapter "The Dead Man at Grandview Point". He talks about how he envies the manner in which the (now dead) man dies. Abbey writes "...to die alone, on rock under sun at the brink of the unknown, like a wolf, like a great bird, seems to me very good fortune indeed. To die in the open, under the sky, far from the insolent interference of leech and priest, before this desert vastness opening like a window onto eternity- that surely was an overwhelming stroke of rare good luck" (Abbey 267), and from this quote, it is easy to see what makes Abbey such a unique person. Anyone I know, while not exactly enthusiastic about dying, would want to go in their sleep, calmly and peacefully. While this is the same as the manner that Abbey describes, the similarities end there. Anyone I know would most likely prefer to die in their own house, having lived out all of their healthy years. All they would care about is comfort and companionship in their final hours. For this man, his last hours were spent in blistering heat, along with an unquenchable thirst. "Uncomfortable" would be putting it lightly. The man died utterly alone, except for the sparse wildlife that wanted nothing more than to use him as their next meal. While this sounds like a dreadful way to go, Abbey has a special perspective, and this along with his powerful and convincing writing style turns the situation on its head. This is just one example of what Abbey does throughout the book, which is turning what seems like a bad or bland scene, and turning it into a good or lively one. The Arches is a great example. Nobody gives the desert a second thought, but Abbey writes an entire book on his experience with it in a way that makes readers rethink their perception of the desert.
Possibly my favorite passage in the book and by far the funniest is the ongoing, first paragraph on page 233, where Abbey is criticizing a family. Abbey is not afraid to give quite the advice to the mother, “yes, leave the old lady and those squawling brats behind,” just to leave the car. This is just part of quite the rant on people who don’t want to get out of the car. Abbey takes his job so literally that he compares a car to a can, as he is the can opener. For someone who isn’t much of a people person, he does get pretty worked up over a car. The irony is strong in this passage and Abbey even points it out by saying the dessert is “rich in irony”. Overall, this passage just stood out to me because if I saw this happen in real life, it would be an “oh damn” moment.
I think that the chapter Episodes and Visions really sheds some light on Abbey’s beliefs about society and humanity as a whole. It was interesting how he started the chapter by having a tourist ask where the Arches National Monument is, as well as replying with “I don’t know, mister. But I can tell you where it was” (232) By doing this, the author indicates that the national monument is no longer a park, but the newest symbol of industrial tourism. I took this to mean that the park is now nonexistent in Abbey’s eyes, especially due to the fact that it was destroyed by the human idea of progression. I also think he sees Utah and all of the nature within the state as an ironic stage for society, as he elaborates upon when he says “good red Utahn dust, rich in iron, rich in irony” (233). This is because he finds it strangely funny how the state with so much iron in its sand would be destroyed and ruled by machines made out of the same substance. It is a unique perspective and adds to portraying how Abbey’s feels towards what is happening to the environment. Additionally, I found it very interesting how the tourists he interacts with in this chapter are the perfect symbols for human society and industrial tourism, as is seen when he judges every person for their way of life. It is an extremely well done chapter that shows how Abbey sees the disintegration of nature, and inadvertently, his life.
Looking at Desert Solitaire as a whole, Abbey’s style of writing clearly changes from the first half of the book to the second. However, Abbey’s intentions and organization do not change. In the first half Abbey is very uplifting. His style of writing makes the reader wanted to travel into the wilderness. An example of this is in the chapter “Solitaire” when Abbey talks about the stars, “Stars which are usually bold and close with an icy glitter in their light – glints of blue, emerald, gold […] the arches and the cliffs and the pinnacles and balanced rocks of sandstone (now entrusted to my care) have lost the rosy glow of sunset and become soft, intangible, in unnamed unnamable shades of violet” (13-14). When we move on to the second half of the book, his writing style appears to be somewhat flat. In the chapter “Terra Incognita: Into the maze” Abbey talks about the geography of southern Utah and the physics of rock climbing. At the beginning of the book Abbey is very poetic and inspiring. Towards the end of the book Abbey moves to more factual writing. He transitions from purposefully inspiring the reader to simply describing events. He begins to focus on advising the reader to accept his opinions.
For me, the chapter "Havasu" shed a new light on Abbey for a couple of reasons. The first being that it's one of the few looks we get outside of Abbey's present life, and the second that it's also one of the few times we see Abbey being quite vulnerable in nature, both physically and emotionally. Here, Abbey finds himself in a serious survival situation--and he panics. This is unparalleled by anything else he writes of in terms of his life being threatened. At times he experiences scares of dehydration or fatigue, but here he quite literally is ready to say goodbye to life. He cries, feels doomed, yet finds his way out of it triumphantly, leading to even more emotion. He even ends off the chapter saying "It was one of the happiest nights of my life," (Abbey 205). A classic Abbey paradox, but also a solidifying moment for us that this was some sort of a pivotal moment for him. Perhaps a time where he felt nature was both his greatest enemy, yet also his best friend. Also we need to keep in mind that he is quite young here and consider the fact that this memory plays a role in some form in Abbey's attitude towards nature as we see it in the book.
My biggest struggle at the end of the book is did Abbey achieve his goal? It appears in the ending chapters that he has fully emerged himself as "one with nature" but is he satisfied? Did Abbey grow through his adventures to love mankind? This I don't believe he will ever truly achieve. I'm just curious if Abbey still feels that he can or has?
Throughout “Terra Incognita: into the Maze,” Abbey is a tourist exploring different areas of his inhabited land. Abbey and the waterman are in a Range Rover, a manmade gadget, driving around the barely touched nature of Utah, creating tire trails and releasing destructive gasses into the atmosphere. Along the way Abbey sees a tourist entry that reads, “keep the tourists out,” responding, “as fellow tourists we heartily agree (Abbey, 252).” This section supports our discussion in class that Abbey doesn’t hate every man or all men, but he hates the negative stigma of mankind.Consistently throughout this book and again early on in this chapter, Abbey discusses the vast amounts and various types of juniper trees scattered throughout the desert. Convinced that there had to be some significance surrounding the tree, I researched and discovered that a juniper tree symbolizes, “a great journey having taken many twists and turns,” along the way, which accurately represents Abbey’s time in desert solitaire. Abbey has taken a trip through a beautiful area of the world, an area that people go out of their way to visit, and he has gotten a lifetime of experiences from it. I would say that the twists and turns would correlate to Abbey’s continuous inner conflicts between independence and dependence on societal expectations and gadgets and human-hating vs. human-loving."Tree Symbolism and Meanings | Symbols & Interpretations." Universe of Symbolism. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2014.
I thought it was interesting how in the chapter The Dead Man at Grandview Point Abby uses his love for coyotes to introduce the story of the dead tourist they find. Abby starts off by describing the night and sound of coyotes, but this quickly turns into him talking about how we need more coyotes in the world then people. At one point he says “We need coyotes more then we need, let us say, more people, of whom we have already an extravagant surplus, or more domesticated dogs, witch in all fairness could and should be ground up into hamburger and used as emergency food, to raise their spirits and perhaps improve the tenor of their predawn howling” (Abby 209). I for one cannot help drawing the parallels between dogs and people when Abby says this. At first I thought it was harsh and unsympathetic. I saw this kind of harshness again in the dialogue between the people caring the body back off the path to the ambulance. Abby then goes onto say he doesn’t always feel “diminished” after every man’s death (214). He explains that it was natural for this man to die. He talks about the circle of life and how this mans death makes room for another. Now we can look back on his merciless attack on dogs and understand he just wants the circle of life to be restored. What we thought was cruel becomes an understandable act against our societies interference. I also can compare Abby’s methods to Darwin’s. Darwin jumps from seemingly unrelated topics in order for us to make our own more general conclusions just like Abby is doing here.
The last sentence of the book really bothered me. The fact that he spends so much time writing about how people don't spend enough time in nature and in the end he doubts if he's going back or not. It just bothers me that he would write an entire book and still not come back. But even in the end he subtly attacks the actions of his fellow human beings. I felt the ending was anti-climatic in a way just because he's not in nature but it also kind of fits the book because he's leaving his prized possession behind.
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