Friday, October 10, 2014

Revision 1

Madison Kraemer

Mr. Adam Johns

English Comp 0200

10 October 2014

Abbey’s Hidden Mysticism

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. Following this definition, Abbey is most definitely a mystic. From beginning to end in Desert Solitaire, his style of writing is a prime example of his spiritual mysticism. All the individual chapters in the book are short essays that are tied together from one chapter to another.  Whether he writes about nature, animals, or even death, Edward Abbey always finds a way to express his true mystical feeling and viewpoints in each chapter of his writings.

While reading Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s mysticism was quite obvious, but where did it stem from? I think Abbey’s mysticism in Desert Solitaire stemmed from his early life and his family’s beliefs. His unorthodox upbringing and tendency toward unconventional attitudes was partly shaped by his father, Paul Revere Abbey. Paul was an acknowledged atheist and socialist who subscribes to the journal Soviet Life. He was married to a woman named Mildred Postlewaite Abbey. She was a schoolteacher, a church organist, and a liberal. Although his mother had some effect on his view, his Father’s beliefs have drastically affected his viewpoints and beliefs on life.

His father’s influence had carried on with him throughout the rest of his life before writing Desert Solitaire. His past experience in the military has also impacted his spiritual views of nature and mankind. The military left him with distrust with for large institution and their regulations. During this same time period, which was the 1960’s, people believed that the world was going to end. This was a pivotal time period that sparked Abbey’s reason for his mystic writings.

An online dissertation called “Unearthing the spiritual message in Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” written by Pamela Jacobs-Pearce expresses how Abbey has created a veneer to bury his spiritual message within Desert Solitaire. She writes, “Abbeys spiritual message is also cloaked by Abbey’s prevailing objective throughout the book to convince the reader to object emotionally and morally to the destruction of wilderness,” (Jacobs-Pearce 9).  Pearce’s writings indicate that “Abbey’s anguish over the destruction of [the] canyon is his underlying motivation for this textual exploration of expressing his mystic experience and his persuasion of the reader to understand it,” (13).

The first chapter of the book, “The First Morning”, Abbey’s writings showed the first showings of his hidden mysticism within Desert Solitaire. In this chapter, 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). His use of God in this specific passage shows that Abbey wants to be all alone 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. His philosophical writings of God throughout the entire chapter and other parts of the book lead me to believe he is a true mystic.

Abbey’s use of God in his writings does not mean that he has a deep passion for a specific religion, rather he expresses his spirituality in many different ways in Desert Solitaire. His writings show 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 in his writings have 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,” (Abbey 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’s comparison between the man’s death, which is considered a natural death, and an artificial, civilized death shows his belief in the all-natural afterlife. He 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 and hidden messages within the text. His unique way of writings is what leads the reader deeper into the book so he can fully express his spiritual mysticism.



Works Cited

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

Jacobs, Pamela. Unearthing the Spiritual Message in Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. Thesis. University of North Texas, Aug, 1998. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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

1 comment:

  1. I’d like more about your viewpoint in the thesis. What is the significance of Abbey’s mysticism? What does recognizing it accomplish for us?

    Paragraphs 2 & 3 needed citations. All sources need to be cited, always. There is a bit of wiggle room for common knowledge - simple, basic facts - but you’re treading on thin ice here - this is borderline plagiarism, and you need to be more careful in the future. This seems to be your source for at least part of this information: - even some of your wording is similar. Show more care in the future!

    Your one cited source isn’t used very effectively. What point are you really trying to make here?

    Your interpretation of Abbey is ok, but this is ground that numerous people in the class have been over several times. You use only a very limited portion of the text, and indulge in long quotes for no apparent reason. For instance, you quote a whole paragraph, more or less, without really doing anything with it.

    What’s absent here, ultimately, is doing anything beyond simply offering some evidence that he was a mystic. That would have been fine for a rough draft, but understanding the importance or significance of that mysticism was more important in the revision. Why does it matter? What are you trying to learn or convince us of through his mysticism? There’s nothing here to clarify what you’re trying to accomplish here.


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