Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Week 3 Prompt 1

Madison Kraemer
Mr. Adam Johns
English Comp 0200
24 September 2014

Mystical Abbey

Is Edward Abbey a mystic? Webster’s dictionary describes a mystic as a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge. The word mysticism is defined as a belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities. Following these definitions, Edward Abbey is most definitely a mystic.

In the first chapter, “The First Morning”, Abbey makes many references to God in relationship to nature. He writes,

 ''I go into the desert not only to evade the clamor and confusion of this country's cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a nonhuman world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.'' (Abbey 6).

 This passage shows that Abbey believes that he is living in “the center of the world, God’s naval, Abbey’s country, the red wasteland,” (4). Abbey wants to be all alone, in the wild, with nothing but what God has created. He wants to be surrounded by every non-human aspect you can imagine and leave any trace of industrialism behind. He wants to explore the world the way God wanted it be and enjoy every feature it has to offer.

Abbey’s use of God in his writings does not mean that he has a deep passion for a specific religion. I believe that his writings show his many traits that make him seem to be an animist, one who believes that non-human entities, such as animals and plants, possess a spiritual essence. In the chapter “The Serpents of Paradise”, his use of spirituality seems to give animals human characteristics by means of personification. He personifies the mourning doves in the nearby crevices by writing, “Hello…they seem to cry,” (16). When Abbey “befriends” a gopher snake, he describes his relationship with the snake as similar to the relationship between a “man and his dog” (21). Towards the end of the chapter, I noticed that Abbey personifies the two snakes by saying “I feel their presence watching over me […],” (21). A snake cannot simply watch over you, rather he is stating that the snakes impacted himself to the point where he will never forget the relationship. When describing his spirituality with animals, I find it very hard to not “summarize” his viewpoints because the personifications that are used need the explanation of the story in order to be understood. I believe his use of personification has forced his own definitions of life onto animals, which signifies his writings as mystical.

Another aspect of his spirituality in his writings is the use of death. Abbey believes that dying in the wilderness is “better than the slow rot in a hospital oxygen tent with rubber tubes stuck up your nose, prick, asshole, with blood transfusions and intravenous feeding, bedsores and bedpans and bad-tempered nurses’ aides – the whole nasty routine to which most dying men, in our time, are condemned,” (83). In the chapter “The Dead Man at Grandview Point”, the writing of the tragic death of the man symbolizes how nature can simply engulf you. Even though this poor man has died, Abbey writes “He had good luck – I envy him the manner of his going: to die alone, on rock under the brink of the unknown, like a wolf, a great bird, seems to me very good fortune indeed. To die in the open, under the sun, far from 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,” (212-213). Abbey wishes that he could die the way this man did, alone in the heart of nature, the way that every man should die.

Abbey’s mysticism is not only found in just the chapters I choose, but throughout the entire book. In one way, shape, or form Abbey writes his mystic views in almost every chapter by the use of personification, similes, hyperboles, metaphors, etc. Desert Solitaire not only describes the ecosystem of the wilderness in Utah, but the mystical views Abbey portrays on his adventures and journeys through the beautiful outdoors.



Works Cited

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire; a Season in the Wilderness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. Print.

"Mystic." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. You give two definitions of mysticism - which one are you really interested in?

    After reading through, I'm not really sure what you find interesting in this question. You move from an idea that closeness to nature can be a kind of mysticism, to arguing both that he finds spiritual meaning in animals rather than specific religious practices, and that his ideas about death have a mystical dimension.

    You're probably trying to do too much here. You also lean too hard on the beginning of the book - by now you should be engaged with it in greater depth.

    What I *liked* best was your discussion of animals. But could you sustain that idea? Does it work well at the end as well as at the beginning? What does it *mean* to connect spiritually with animals? What does that tells about how we should understand his mysticism?

    Short version: too much breadth (in topics), not enough depth (both in your exploration of those topics and in the parts of the text you covered).


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