Samantha CallDr. Adam Johns
Seminar in Composition
Half of a Human
Edward Abbey, in Desert Solitaire, has a mysticism that allows him to think it is possible to move beyond human constructs, while still remaining human, in order to see nature in its true form. Abbey recognizes that human gluttony and arrogance hinder the connection he seeks to have with nature, but also finds that he does not wish to extinguish from himself the parts of humanity that bring him joy. In this sense, he is stuck in a trance off half-mysticism where he wants to be part of nature but also part of humanity. Abbey is in conflict with himself, desiring to be a part of the aspect of humanity that is not destroying his beloved nature and struggling to maintain the companionship that society offers him. His belief that he can separate the good in humans from the bad may be his own special form of mysticism.
Abbey is a living paradox. He hates humanity in some ways but is deeply drawn to it in others. While constantly condemning people for their faults, he also finds it necessary to praise them for their good qualities. He demonstrates this with his description of a man named Viviano Jacquez, writing that “he is completely and dependably unreliable. But, in his favor, he is inexpensive; he is economical; he works full-time seven days a week…” (85, Abbey). Jacquez is seen by Abbey to be flighty and unreliable, but Abbey can’t help but be drawn to his work ethic and his simplicity. These are characteristics that Abbey believes propel human beings into being able to connect with nature. However, Jacquez’ erraticism is indicative of an inability to truly appreciate what is around him and take in what the job and the world have to offer him. Any hope that he may have had of reaching a spiritual connection with nature is lost due to his embodiment of undesirable, at least in Abbey’s eyes, human traits. The good always coincides with the bad, but Abbey thinks that he can separate those aspects of humanity to help him achieve closeness to nature.
Abbey’s mysticism stems from his belief that he can eliminate the destructive and greedy characteristics of humanity from himself in order to see nature in its simplest form. As Abbey begins his time in the wilderness of Arches National Park, he describes the relationship he hopes to have with nature, stating that he would like “to be able to look at and into a juniper tree…and see it as it is itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities…” (6, Abbey). This presents the major issue for Abbey. He wants to see the tree and nature in general through nonhuman eyes, though human eyes are the only ones he has to look through. It is in basic human nature for people to watch the world around them and use their experience to shape how they perceive new things. Abbey wants to defy this basic nature and see the wilderness in a nonhuman way, even though he is only equipped with human eyes, a human sense of smell, and the human breadth of experience. Abbey, like Jacquez, has good qualities, but also has limitations that make it impossible for him to achieve his goals. He is striving to go beyond his own nature to see something that perhaps humans were not meant to see.
As hard as Abbey tries to separate his desirable human self from his undesirable human self, he is unable to do so in the end. He can isolate himself in the desert and claim to be happy with just himself, but that delusion is shattered because he is unable to detach himself from his needy human nature that makes him crave human interaction. While preparing to leave Arches, Abbey proclaims that he “grows wary of nobody’s company but [his] own,” and desires to “…hear the wit and wisdom of the subway crowds again…” (265, Abbey). He has had countless adventures in the park, which he relishes, but still cannot disconnect himself from the very human desire of companionship. By being unable to detach the human needs he sees as a hindrance to his spiritual connection with nature, Abbey proves that humanity is not something that can be dissected and pieced back together like a puzzle.
Humanity is what it is. You take it as it has evolved or you still take it as it has evolved; there isn’t another option. To take away greediness or presumptuousness would make you incompletely human, something which Abbey is not willing to do. His mysticism, in which he believes that he can be human while simultaneously expelling humanity from within him, is shattered by his surrender into normal society once again. Being a human evokes the limitations of humanity, of which one cannot escape.
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Touchstone, 1990. Print.