I bought Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene when I lived in Florida, but I put off reading it until now. I first heard of this book from a list of books put together by Donald Barthelme for his students and provided by Kevin Moffett in his article “Donald Barthelme’s Syllabus.” I spent a lot of time looking at that list, and I bought several of the books, although looking over the list again now, few of them ever became favorites of mine. 
I was reminded of Man in the Holocene recently by a blog I found called “Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction (a blog whose title carries more promise than it delivers). That blog calls this book the first climate change novel. And also terribly funny.
It does begin so: “It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread.” 
But that, for me, is the best part. 
Man in the Holocene is interesting because it has some features of a personal tumblr: A hundred pages of mixed up confessions and thoughts and oddities and memories. Along with some reblogs: clippings from reference books and drawings of dinosaurs. These are  compiled by a man who is stuck in his house during a prolonged period of rain, with books and crispbread alone to entertain him. 
But Tumblr does what this book does in a more fun way and so this book feels dated. Selah.
But Man in the Holocene does remind me that sometimes the rains do come and wash away everything from the surface. 

I bought Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene when I lived in Florida, but I put off reading it until now. I first heard of this book from a list of books put together by Donald Barthelme for his students and provided by Kevin Moffett in his article “Donald Barthelme’s Syllabus.” I spent a lot of time looking at that list, and I bought several of the books, although looking over the list again now, few of them ever became favorites of mine. 

I was reminded of Man in the Holocene recently by a blog I found called “Climate Change and Contemporary Fiction (a blog whose title carries more promise than it delivers). That blog calls this book the first climate change novel. And also terribly funny.

It does begin so: “It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread.” 

But that, for me, is the best part. 

Man in the Holocene is interesting because it has some features of a personal tumblr: A hundred pages of mixed up confessions and thoughts and oddities and memories. Along with some reblogs: clippings from reference books and drawings of dinosaurs. These are  compiled by a man who is stuck in his house during a prolonged period of rain, with books and crispbread alone to entertain him. 

But Tumblr does what this book does in a more fun way and so this book feels dated. Selah.

But Man in the Holocene does remind me that sometimes the rains do come and wash away everything from the surface. 

I’ve got Fred Neil’s “The Dolphins" on repeat as I write this. "I’ve been searching for the dolphins in the sea," he sings, again and again. I’m listening to him instead of the song of the locusts. Instead of the chirps of the chipmunks. Instead of the hum of the lawn mower. Instead of the crickets. 
Is it silly to listen to music that’s been crunched and stored on YouTube when there are all of these sounds? 
If not silly, This Fred Neil recording isolates me from the present. Neil recorded “The Dolphins” in 1966 in New York. I’m in Wisconsin, surrounded by lakes. No tall buildings around. No Greenwich folkies. Not even a sea.
This is the ground that David Abram approaches in The Spell of the Sensuous. He quotes Thomas Merton, “The rain surrounded the cabin… Think of it: All that speech pouring down.” He works to find the sensual  in a world driven by reason, by Descartes’s mechanical universe, by lenses that can see things that we cannot see because they are far away or because they are unbelievably tiny. 
This review will never do this book justice, or contain its richness. In one chapter Abram writes about a group of people that lives in a rain forest in New Guinea. Their language shares speech with song birds, so that the birds themselves say “Good morning” when the sun rises. This is so far removed from how many of us perceive the world. Just look at how we treat animals with utter contempt. In another he describes the Aboriginal song lines—the songs that were never written, but were passed down, that sang the world into creation. Those songs created a map of Australia, that would guide one to water and food and teach the way to be in the world. 
Abram sees the alphabet and writing as one of the major breaks between humans and nature. If you are in a place where you see rain as having speech, then many things have language. But the alphabet takes the sounds that interact with the world and are changed by the world, and turns them into abstract symbols. The abstractions multiply. Did humans then become abstractions?  
I first encountered David Abram in an interview he did with Dark Mountain. The video that the article was taken from is online about halfway down this page. In it he says, “Our culture places a primary value on abstractions, on dimensions of the real of which we have no direct visceral or sensorial experience. We are born into a civilisation that straightaway tells us that the world we experience with our unaided senses is not really to be trusted, that the senses are deceptive …” The interviewer adds, “That real reality is this mathematical layer, which you can get at, if you use the right tools to probe beneath the experience of reality.”
This book is serious. Whole chapters are devoted to the phenomenologists Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Heidegger has ten pages. But it starts with sleight of hand and magic and household spirits in Bali. That chapter you can read here.  

I’ve got Fred Neil’s “The Dolphins" on repeat as I write this. "I’ve been searching for the dolphins in the sea," he sings, again and again. I’m listening to him instead of the song of the locusts. Instead of the chirps of the chipmunks. Instead of the hum of the lawn mower. Instead of the crickets. 

Is it silly to listen to music that’s been crunched and stored on YouTube when there are all of these sounds? 

If not silly, This Fred Neil recording isolates me from the present. Neil recorded “The Dolphins” in 1966 in New York. I’m in Wisconsin, surrounded by lakes. No tall buildings around. No Greenwich folkies. Not even a sea.

This is the ground that David Abram approaches in The Spell of the Sensuous. He quotes Thomas Merton, “The rain surrounded the cabin… Think of it: All that speech pouring down.” He works to find the sensual  in a world driven by reason, by Descartes’s mechanical universe, by lenses that can see things that we cannot see because they are far away or because they are unbelievably tiny. 

This review will never do this book justice, or contain its richness. In one chapter Abram writes about a group of people that lives in a rain forest in New Guinea. Their language shares speech with song birds, so that the birds themselves say “Good morning” when the sun rises. This is so far removed from how many of us perceive the world. Just look at how we treat animals with utter contempt. In another he describes the Aboriginal song lines—the songs that were never written, but were passed down, that sang the world into creation. Those songs created a map of Australia, that would guide one to water and food and teach the way to be in the world. 

Abram sees the alphabet and writing as one of the major breaks between humans and nature. If you are in a place where you see rain as having speech, then many things have language. But the alphabet takes the sounds that interact with the world and are changed by the world, and turns them into abstract symbols. The abstractions multiply. Did humans then become abstractions?  

I first encountered David Abram in an interview he did with Dark Mountain. The video that the article was taken from is online about halfway down this page. In it he says, “Our culture places a primary value on abstractions, on dimensions of the real of which we have no direct visceral or sensorial experience. We are born into a civilisation that straightaway tells us that the world we experience with our unaided senses is not really to be trusted, that the senses are deceptive …” The interviewer adds, “That real reality is this mathematical layer, which you can get at, if you use the right tools to probe beneath the experience of reality.”

This book is serious. Whole chapters are devoted to the phenomenologists Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Heidegger has ten pages. But it starts with sleight of hand and magic and household spirits in Bali. That chapter you can read here.  

My nose is itchy. And I’m chewing two pieces of gum. Keep that in mind. 
I am tempted to write some more about Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds. I wrote about it already, yes, but a proper response would be a book. Or a lifetime. 
Instead, I read Stuart Dybek’s Ecstatic Cahoots, a collection of fifty short stories. After reading Terry Tempest Williams, and after reading Flannery O’Connor, I found Dybek’s stories to be missing any vitality. Voice, yes, but what did it mean? What did any of it mean? 
A long time ago I met Carin Besser, who, at the time, was a fiction editor at the New Yorker. She was paid by the university to read stories that had been written by the grad students and then tell us what she thought about them. 
She told me to read Stuart Dybek. I took the advice seriously because she had cowritten a song named Ada that I liked. But not seriously enough to read anything by him. This year, however, FS&G released two books by him concurrently, and I finally took the advice to read Stuart Dybek. 
I see why she said that. I had given her my story Rainbow Fish, which starts normally, gets strange, and then stays strange. “You gain your reader’s trust and then pull the rug out from under them,” she told me. 
This is what Stuart Dybek does again and again and again. Some of the stories in this collection are weird. Some are very weird. One I read twice but I still didn’t get it. 
"He wanted to imagine what the doll would feel in the time to come when she would give birth to the potato," was its last line.
I feel like I could do stories like this all of my life. But surely writing should mean something too?
But this isn’t the book’s major failing. Ecstatic Cahoots feels old, dated, even though it has been newly published. It’s a collection that could have been published in 1962. Women are prostitutes or undressed. They “give happy endings.” Men speak to each other “conspiratorially,” a description Dybek uses at least three times. There’s no internet, or 9/11, or Iraq war, or President Obama either, but its datedness comes most from its worldview. 
"I wouldn’t mind selling my body if somebody’d offer to buy," Britt, a single-mom says at the beginning of the story Transaction. She continues: "It’s not an especially original female fantasy. But besides the fantasy turn-on, there’s something attractively up-front about it. A simple transaction seems honest compared to the bullshit I’ve seen that passes for a quote ‘relationship’ between men and women."
In When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams writes about Nushu script from China. “To look at the script of Nushu is to see bird tracks, crows walking deliberately down a narrow path of snow. This is the secret script of women, used for hundreds of years in the rural villages of Jiangyong.” Nushu “was a way women could speak to themselves outside of the language of men.” 
Stuart Dybek firmly places the women in his stories inside the language of men. 

My nose is itchy. And I’m chewing two pieces of gum. Keep that in mind. 

I am tempted to write some more about Terry Tempest Williams’s When Women Were Birds. I wrote about it already, yes, but a proper response would be a book. Or a lifetime. 

Instead, I read Stuart Dybek’s Ecstatic Cahoots, a collection of fifty short stories. After reading Terry Tempest Williams, and after reading Flannery O’Connor, I found Dybek’s stories to be missing any vitality. Voice, yes, but what did it mean? What did any of it mean? 

A long time ago I met Carin Besser, who, at the time, was a fiction editor at the New Yorker. She was paid by the university to read stories that had been written by the grad students and then tell us what she thought about them. 

She told me to read Stuart Dybek. I took the advice seriously because she had cowritten a song named Ada that I liked. But not seriously enough to read anything by him. This year, however, FS&G released two books by him concurrently, and I finally took the advice to read Stuart Dybek. 

I see why she said that. I had given her my story Rainbow Fish, which starts normally, gets strange, and then stays strange. “You gain your reader’s trust and then pull the rug out from under them,” she told me. 

This is what Stuart Dybek does again and again and again. Some of the stories in this collection are weird. Some are very weird. One I read twice but I still didn’t get it. 

"He wanted to imagine what the doll would feel in the time to come when she would give birth to the potato," was its last line.

I feel like I could do stories like this all of my life. But surely writing should mean something too?

But this isn’t the book’s major failing. Ecstatic Cahoots feels old, dated, even though it has been newly published. It’s a collection that could have been published in 1962. Women are prostitutes or undressed. They “give happy endings.” Men speak to each other “conspiratorially,” a description Dybek uses at least three times. There’s no internet, or 9/11, or Iraq war, or President Obama either, but its datedness comes most from its worldview. 

"I wouldn’t mind selling my body if somebody’d offer to buy," Britt, a single-mom says at the beginning of the story Transaction. She continues: "It’s not an especially original female fantasy. But besides the fantasy turn-on, there’s something attractively up-front about it. A simple transaction seems honest compared to the bullshit I’ve seen that passes for a quote ‘relationship’ between men and women."

In When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams writes about Nushu script from China. “To look at the script of Nushu is to see bird tracks, crows walking deliberately down a narrow path of snow. This is the secret script of women, used for hundreds of years in the rural villages of Jiangyong.” Nushu “was a way women could speak to themselves outside of the language of men.” 

Stuart Dybek firmly places the women in his stories inside the language of men. 

Last year I was living in Iowa City and I drove to the co-op. And while I drove Terry Tempest Williams was on the radio reading from When Women Were Birds. After I park, I didn’t leave the car. I kept listening. And I would have kept listening for as long as she was on, until evening, if necessary. 
I `was having my breath taken away by her voice and I didn’t know who she was. 
It was a recording of her reading at prairielights, which you can listen to here. 
Many things happened after that. I left Iowa. I arrived in California. I left California. I moved to Wisconsin. And every now and then her voice would pop into my head.
"There is nothing more demeaning to women than to have a man define the laws that will govern our milk and blood. Milk and blood. Why these two words? Because milk—as in cow as in breast as in semen as in any substance that nurtures and nourishes at once—is at the heart of pleasure. Because we drink deeply. Because we drink deeply out of need and desire. Because blood, as in flow as in menses as in moon as in cycle, means I am not pregnant. Because what every woman understands each time she allows a man to enter her, Life could be in the making now.” 
And her voice came back to me when I saw her name on a handout for a class Katrina is taking on nonfiction writing. This time I brought her home and lived with her for a few days.
Williams writes about a peregrine that flew so close to her it cut her face. She writes about playing the songs of the humpback whale to a classroom of children. She writes that she got disciplined for that. She writes about her mother and how she died of tumors caused by nuclear fallout from the bombs the government was testing in what they considered wasteland. Bombs that they knew already worked. 
She writes about wildness.
She writes with great voice and she talks about voice in this book. I remembered how when I was younger the writing teachers would praise my voice. I never thought much about this compliment. “They are only saying this because they don’t know what else to say about this piece,” I thought.
Until I took a Japanese class and my Japanese teachers too said I had a great voice. Then I knew there must be something there to come through in a language I barely knew. 
But Terry Tempest Williams quotes someone in this book. “Once you know that you have a voice, it’s no longer the voice that matters, but what is behind the voice.” 
I saw in that line the reason I’ve hesitated to spool out little stories filled with voice, because there was no point to do so until I became more than just what I was taught. I had to become myself. And to find humility and  seek understanding. 
I’m getting there. 

Last year I was living in Iowa City and I drove to the co-op. And while I drove Terry Tempest Williams was on the radio reading from When Women Were Birds. After I park, I didn’t leave the car. I kept listening. And I would have kept listening for as long as she was on, until evening, if necessary. 

I `was having my breath taken away by her voice and I didn’t know who she was. 

It was a recording of her reading at prairielights, which you can listen to here

Many things happened after that. I left Iowa. I arrived in California. I left California. I moved to Wisconsin. And every now and then her voice would pop into my head.

"There is nothing more demeaning to women than to have a man define the laws that will govern our milk and blood. Milk and blood. Why these two words? Because milk—as in cow as in breast as in semen as in any substance that nurtures and nourishes at once—is at the heart of pleasure. Because we drink deeply. Because we drink deeply out of need and desire. Because blood, as in flow as in menses as in moon as in cycle, means I am not pregnant. Because what every woman understands each time she allows a man to enter her, Life could be in the making now.” 

And her voice came back to me when I saw her name on a handout for a class Katrina is taking on nonfiction writing. This time I brought her home and lived with her for a few days.

Williams writes about a peregrine that flew so close to her it cut her face. She writes about playing the songs of the humpback whale to a classroom of children. She writes that she got disciplined for that. She writes about her mother and how she died of tumors caused by nuclear fallout from the bombs the government was testing in what they considered wasteland. Bombs that they knew already worked. 

She writes about wildness.

She writes with great voice and she talks about voice in this book. I remembered how when I was younger the writing teachers would praise my voice. I never thought much about this compliment. “They are only saying this because they don’t know what else to say about this piece,” I thought.

Until I took a Japanese class and my Japanese teachers too said I had a great voice. Then I knew there must be something there to come through in a language I barely knew. 

But Terry Tempest Williams quotes someone in this book. “Once you know that you have a voice, it’s no longer the voice that matters, but what is behind the voice.” 

I saw in that line the reason I’ve hesitated to spool out little stories filled with voice, because there was no point to do so until I became more than just what I was taught. I had to become myself. And to find humility and  seek understanding. 

I’m getting there. 

The cicadas are rattling in the trees. I’m having coffee. I finished Bento’s Sketchbook today, but I find myself thinking about something Paul Kingsnorth said in Dark Mountain

"Build refuges… Ask yourself, what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm?" 

I understand him to mean the storm of progress, of information, of monoculture. The profaning of the entire world through the absence of meaning. The rise of the profiteer. 

The profiteer, Berger says, has “small eyes which examine everything and contemplate nothing. Ears extensive as a database, but incapable of listening.” (p. 147)

That quote comes from the end of this curious book. Berger says he was given a sketchbook and it struck him immediately that it was the philosopher Spinoza’s. He fills it with sketches, with quotes from Spinoza’s Ethics, with monologues on drawing and writing. He tells the story of a Cambodian he meets at the swimming pool they both frequent. He gave her a Japanese ink brush. 

"The Chinese master Qi Baishe loved drawing frogs, and he made the tops of their heads very black, as if they were wearing bathing caps. In the Far East the frog is a symbol of freedom.” (p. 123)

I started reading John Berger last year, although I had known of his Ways of Seeing since I was at college. Vi gave me a copy of his book G., but at the time it looked and sounded puzzling to me. I’m still hoping that copy shows up in one of the crates of books my mom has been sending me from my library at her house. 

I have often been taught that something must change in a story. Characters must change. I now find this blurry with nearsightedness. It’s the reader who must change in a story. What is the point otherwise? Berger asks the same question here. “Where does the story deposit those who have followed it, and in what frame of mind are they?” (p. 71)

Is there a refuge to be built there? In the story that guides one away from the path of the profiteer, the tyrant, and the bully, and towards the frog on the pond and the peasant in the field? I hear chipmunks rustling in the ferns outside my window now. I’m going to go watch them. 

This week I read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood for the second or third time. Only it felt like the first time. I would like to think this is because a book, especially a book like Wise Blood, can cast a spell to lock up its heart if the reader is not prepared for the journey.
I’m sure this is not true. I was lazy in the past and Wise Blood caught me now in a less-lazy moment. Wise Blood will shake off the lazies like fleas from a caboose. There’s no fluff. No redundancy. I’m not even sure there’s a line you can skip without getting lost. 
I had read it before because I was in a fiction class that had taught her story A Good Man is Hard to Find. I wanted more by O’Connor and found it in a fifty-cent copy of Wise Blood with a cartoon car and a cartoon floozy and a cartoon Hazel Motes and a cartoon “Church Without Christ” banner on the cover. 
The second time I read it, I did so because Padgett Powell told us to read by O’Connor, “Stories, Blood, letters, and Mystery of Manners.” I don’t think I fully removed myself from the idea that Wise Blood was about a cartoon car and a cartoon Hazel Motes and a cartoon floozy and a cartoon church, however, because I was much confused by all the talk about gorillas and MVSVEMS and potato peelers and some crazy guy named Enoch. 
This time I had Thomas Merton in Raids on the Unspeakable tell me, in his prose elegy for O’Connor, “The key word to Flannery’s stories is probably ‘respect’… Having peeled the whole onion of respect layer by layer, having taken it all apart with admirable patience, showing clearly that each layer was only another kind of contempt, O’Connor ended up by seeing clearly that it was funny, but not merely funny in a way that you could laugh at. Humorous, yes, but also uncanny, inexplicable, demonic, so you could never laugh at it as if you understood." 
In workshop, Padgett Powell told us, “Write like that,” after reading to us from Miss O’Connor’s Greenleaf. I’ve been wondering while reading Wise Blood, whether or not I should write like that. Or even how. I don’t know if I believe in something enough to do that. One thing I noticed, though: The characters are corporeal. In Lee Klein’s essay on Literary Citizenship he says that  he “felt confounded” by Shane Jones’s Light Boxes because the books lack of characterization meant its characters did not engage him. (He goes on to say, “for a while I enjoyed picturing 6’8″ Sixers forward Thaddeus Young as the hero.”)
In Wise Blood, everyone has a shape. In the first paragraph we see Hazel Motes’s train companion: “She was a fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor.” I suspect Shane Jones’s lack of character descriptions come from wanting to be relatable to all and not wanting to offend by being particular. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but now I see such choices as being condescending to the reader and perhaps indicative of a writer that doesn’t know what he is saying. 
Flannery O’Connor couldn’t have written any of what she did without a clear sense of herself and a clear idea of the characters that she could measure against others. 
In one of her letters she writes about Enoch from Wise Blood as if he is there with her in the flesh:
"Me and Enoch are living in the woods in Connecticut with the Robert Fitzgeralds. Enoch didn’t care so much for New York. He said there was no privetcy there. Every time he went to sit in the bushes there was already somebody sitting there ahead of him. He was very nervous before we left and somebody at the Partisan Review told him to go to an analyst.” 
Write em like that. Write em so they bleed.  

This week I read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood for the second or third time. Only it felt like the first time. I would like to think this is because a book, especially a book like Wise Blood, can cast a spell to lock up its heart if the reader is not prepared for the journey.

I’m sure this is not true. I was lazy in the past and Wise Blood caught me now in a less-lazy moment. Wise Blood will shake off the lazies like fleas from a caboose. There’s no fluff. No redundancy. I’m not even sure there’s a line you can skip without getting lost. 

I had read it before because I was in a fiction class that had taught her story A Good Man is Hard to Find. I wanted more by O’Connor and found it in a fifty-cent copy of Wise Blood with a cartoon car and a cartoon floozy and a cartoon Hazel Motes and a cartoon “Church Without Christ” banner on the cover. 

The second time I read it, I did so because Padgett Powell told us to read by O’Connor, “Stories, Blood, letters, and Mystery of Manners.” I don’t think I fully removed myself from the idea that Wise Blood was about a cartoon car and a cartoon Hazel Motes and a cartoon floozy and a cartoon church, however, because I was much confused by all the talk about gorillas and MVSVEMS and potato peelers and some crazy guy named Enoch. 

This time I had Thomas Merton in Raids on the Unspeakable tell me, in his prose elegy for O’Connor, “The key word to Flannery’s stories is probably ‘respect’… Having peeled the whole onion of respect layer by layer, having taken it all apart with admirable patience, showing clearly that each layer was only another kind of contempt, O’Connor ended up by seeing clearly that it was funny, but not merely funny in a way that you could laugh at. Humorous, yes, but also uncanny, inexplicable, demonic, so you could never laugh at it as if you understood.

In workshop, Padgett Powell told us, “Write like that,” after reading to us from Miss O’Connor’s Greenleaf. I’ve been wondering while reading Wise Blood, whether or not I should write like that. Or even how. I don’t know if I believe in something enough to do that. One thing I noticed, though: The characters are corporeal. In Lee Klein’s essay on Literary Citizenship he says that  he “felt confounded” by Shane Jones’s Light Boxes because the books lack of characterization meant its characters did not engage him. (He goes on to say, “for a while I enjoyed picturing 6’8″ Sixers forward Thaddeus Young as the hero.”)

In Wise Blood, everyone has a shape. In the first paragraph we see Hazel Motes’s train companion: “She was a fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor.” I suspect Shane Jones’s lack of character descriptions come from wanting to be relatable to all and not wanting to offend by being particular. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but now I see such choices as being condescending to the reader and perhaps indicative of a writer that doesn’t know what he is saying. 

Flannery O’Connor couldn’t have written any of what she did without a clear sense of herself and a clear idea of the characters that she could measure against others.

In one of her letters she writes about Enoch from Wise Blood as if he is there with her in the flesh:

"Me and Enoch are living in the woods in Connecticut with the Robert Fitzgeralds. Enoch didn’t care so much for New York. He said there was no privetcy there. Every time he went to sit in the bushes there was already somebody sitting there ahead of him. He was very nervous before we left and somebody at the Partisan Review told him to go to an analyst.” 

Write em like that. Write em so they bleed.  

This book is terrific. When I was young, Ursula K. Le Guin’s name, I’m ashamed to say, freaked me out. I’m sure Disney caused this anxiety of mine with their own Ursula. But I’ve hatched. Moved on. Tucked her books into my napsack and squealed with some glee when the sea turtles showed up. 
I picked up The Lathe of Heaven because I’ve been reading back issues of Dark Mountain, a British journal dedicated to ‘uncivilization’. Their manifesto contains items such as, “Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will attempt to step outside the human bubble.” And “We will celebrate writing which is grounded in a sense of place and time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.” 
Their journal is filled with interesting nonfiction. And truly awful fiction. 
But the ideas and opinions in their pages are gold to anyone seeking a narrative outside of the mainstream. Some people think that the answer to the problems that technology and industrialization have brought to us, is more technology and industrialization. Are we to say, “Hurry quick, technology,” while we go through the hottest June on record and the sixth extinction. 
In the first issue of Dark Mountain, there was a suggested reading list. Le Guin was on this list, appearing with John Berger and Mary Shelley. I added several of her books to my reading list. When I popped in at the bookstore, none of those books were there, but this book was. 
And it had sea turtles on the cover. 
And it quoted the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu. 
Being a good Taoist and aquatic-species fanatic, I bought it immediately. I read it on the train in Chicago and stashed it in my satchel while walking around the Art Institute. (I saw the Magritte show, but to be honest, I was there for the Hockney.) 
But the book is good. What is a dream and what is not a dream. It’s sort of about this: “Once upon a time, I Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu. Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again. But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu.”  
It’s also about the ground shifting constantly below you. How a “problem” can be “solved”, but really it will still be there, in a different form. Or how “solving” one “problem” will lead to other “problems.” I put “solved” and “problem” in quotes because I pretend to be a “good” Taoist. 

This book is terrific. When I was young, Ursula K. Le Guin’s name, I’m ashamed to say, freaked me out. I’m sure Disney caused this anxiety of mine with their own Ursula. But I’ve hatched. Moved on. Tucked her books into my napsack and squealed with some glee when the sea turtles showed up. 

I picked up The Lathe of Heaven because I’ve been reading back issues of Dark Mountain, a British journal dedicated to ‘uncivilization’. Their manifesto contains items such as, “Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will attempt to step outside the human bubble.” And “We will celebrate writing which is grounded in a sense of place and time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.” 

Their journal is filled with interesting nonfiction. And truly awful fiction. 

But the ideas and opinions in their pages are gold to anyone seeking a narrative outside of the mainstream. Some people think that the answer to the problems that technology and industrialization have brought to us, is more technology and industrialization. Are we to say, “Hurry quick, technology,” while we go through the hottest June on record and the sixth extinction

In the first issue of Dark Mountain, there was a suggested reading list. Le Guin was on this list, appearing with John Berger and Mary Shelley. I added several of her books to my reading list. When I popped in at the bookstore, none of those books were there, but this book was. 

And it had sea turtles on the cover. 

And it quoted the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu

Being a good Taoist and aquatic-species fanatic, I bought it immediately. I read it on the train in Chicago and stashed it in my satchel while walking around the Art Institute. (I saw the Magritte show, but to be honest, I was there for the Hockney.) 

But the book is good. What is a dream and what is not a dream. It’s sort of about this: “Once upon a time, I Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu. Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again. But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu.”  

It’s also about the ground shifting constantly below you. How a “problem” can be “solved”, but really it will still be there, in a different form. Or how “solving” one “problem” will lead to other “problems.” I put “solved” and “problem” in quotes because I pretend to be a “good” Taoist. 

The Songlines I read because of a bag of chips. 
I was in Pennsylvania at a Wa Wa, about to leave for Canada with Kevin. And there, next to the hot dogs, were these chips with the word UTZ on them. “That’s funny,” I thought, “There’s a novel called Utz.” I only knew that book because I read about it in John Gray’s Straw Dogs. That book I was reading, because I had seen Gray’s Immortalization Commission in the science section of Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa. 
But after seeing Utz, the chips, I found a copy of Utz, the novel. I read it last year while I was in California. It’s a short book, but a good one, about a figurine collector. 
Recently, though, I found myself reading another book called The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. Its subtitle is Perception and language in a more-than-human world. Abram writes about the relationship of nature to language. The rain has a voice. The breeze has a voice. Birds, of course, have a voice. And our voice joins with them—sometimes literally, since he talks about a language that incorporates bird songs into its vocabulary. The hermit thrush’s whirring phrases that sound at night make the words, sook’eeyis deeyo, which translates to, ‘it is a fine evening.’
But Bruce Chatwin, who wrote Utz, the novel, shows up in The Spell of the Sensuous, writing about the Australian aboriginals and their songlines. These are songs which name a route over the country, describing the features of the land with stories to go along with each. I put Abram aside for a while to read The Songlines. 
That is the full route to get to The Songlines. I could have traced back how I found Prairie Lights or why I might have been looking in the science section, but we’d get mired, soon thereafter, with details of my grade school, the color of my hair, and the time I got sick and had to eat nothing but baby purée. 
The Songlines is good, but abbreviated. He went to Australia to learn about the songlines. That’s the first half. The second half is a collection of notes he took in a moleskine notebook about nomadism and violence. 
Berserk, he informs us, is a word that comes from the word bearskin. He theorizes that early humans weren’t violent against other humans, but violent against predatory animals. Enormous cats. In sparring, then, one would play as the predator so that others might practice. That one would then go berserk against the others. 
Chatwin’s other notes follow a muse that says humans aren’t inherently violent, they are defensive. And the one’s that are sedentary are more violent, or meaner, than those who are moving. The same, he finds, with migratory birds compared to non-migratory, territorial birds. 
Towards the end, there is this: 
"Wendy said that, even today, when an Aboriginal mother notices the first stirrings of speech in her child, she lets it handle the ‘things’ of that particular country: leaves, fruit, insects, and so forth.
"The child, at its mother’s breast, will toy with the ‘thing’, talk to it, test its teeth on it, learn its name, repeat its name—and finally chuck it aside.
“‘We give our children guns and computer games,’ Wendy said. ‘They gave their children the land.’” 

The Songlines I read because of a bag of chips. 

I was in Pennsylvania at a Wa Wa, about to leave for Canada with Kevin. And there, next to the hot dogs, were these chips with the word UTZ on them. “That’s funny,” I thought, “There’s a novel called Utz.” I only knew that book because I read about it in John Gray’s Straw Dogs. That book I was reading, because I had seen Gray’s Immortalization Commission in the science section of Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa. 

But after seeing Utz, the chips, I found a copy of Utz, the novel. I read it last year while I was in California. It’s a short book, but a good one, about a figurine collector. 

Recently, though, I found myself reading another book called The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. Its subtitle is Perception and language in a more-than-human world. Abram writes about the relationship of nature to language. The rain has a voice. The breeze has a voice. Birds, of course, have a voice. And our voice joins with them—sometimes literally, since he talks about a language that incorporates bird songs into its vocabulary. The hermit thrush’s whirring phrases that sound at night make the words, sook’eeyis deeyo, which translates to, ‘it is a fine evening.’

But Bruce Chatwin, who wrote Utz, the novel, shows up in The Spell of the Sensuous, writing about the Australian aboriginals and their songlines. These are songs which name a route over the country, describing the features of the land with stories to go along with each. I put Abram aside for a while to read The Songlines

That is the full route to get to The Songlines. I could have traced back how I found Prairie Lights or why I might have been looking in the science section, but we’d get mired, soon thereafter, with details of my grade school, the color of my hair, and the time I got sick and had to eat nothing but baby purée. 

The Songlines is good, but abbreviated. He went to Australia to learn about the songlines. That’s the first half. The second half is a collection of notes he took in a moleskine notebook about nomadism and violence. 

Berserk, he informs us, is a word that comes from the word bearskin. He theorizes that early humans weren’t violent against other humans, but violent against predatory animals. Enormous cats. In sparring, then, one would play as the predator so that others might practice. That one would then go berserk against the others. 

Chatwin’s other notes follow a muse that says humans aren’t inherently violent, they are defensive. And the one’s that are sedentary are more violent, or meaner, than those who are moving. The same, he finds, with migratory birds compared to non-migratory, territorial birds. 

Towards the end, there is this: 

"Wendy said that, even today, when an Aboriginal mother notices the first stirrings of speech in her child, she lets it handle the ‘things’ of that particular country: leaves, fruit, insects, and so forth.

"The child, at its mother’s breast, will toy with the ‘thing’, talk to it, test its teeth on it, learn its name, repeat its name—and finally chuck it aside.

“‘We give our children guns and computer games,’ Wendy said. ‘They gave their children the land.’” 

I drew the backyard. I drew the front yard. Invite me over and I’ll draw your lawn too. I don’t know foreshadowing or churroscurro. I mean chiaroscuro, of course. But churros!, you say. Katrina is watching Orange. I was reading John Berger. “Stories walk like animals or men. Every step is a stride over something not said.” I am having wine. Before this, I fed Katrina a cherry. 

Rain. Speech. The world of buildings.

"Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By ‘they’ I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness. 

"The rain I am in is not like the rain of cities. It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound. It covers the flat roof of the cabin and its porch with insistent and controlled rhythms. And I listen, because it reminds me again and again that the whole world runs by rhythms I have not yet learned to recognize, rhythms that are not those of the engineer.

"I came up here from the monastery last night, sloshing through the cornfield, said Vespers, and put some oatmeal on the Coleman stove for supper. It boiled over while I was listening to the rain and toasting a piece of bread at the log fire. The night became very dark. The rain surrounded the whole cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside! What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible, perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world, the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows! 

"Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks, I am going to listen.

"But I am also going to sleep, because here in this wilderness I have learned how to sleep again. Here I am not alien. The trees I know, the night I know, the rain I know. I close my eyes and instantly sink into the whole rainy world of which I am a part, and the world goes on with me in it, for I am not alien to it. I am alien to the noises of cities, of people, to the greed of machinery that does not sleep, the hum of power that eats up the night. Where rain, sunlight and darkness are contemned, I cannot sleep. I do not trust anything that has been fabricated to replace the climate of woods or prairies. I can have no confidence in places where air is first fouled and then cleansed, where the water is first made deadly and then made safe with other poisons.

"There is nothing in the world of buildings that is not fabricated, and if a tree gets in among the apartment houses by mistake it is taught to grow chemically. It is given a precise reason for existing. They put a sign on it saying it is for health, beauty, perspective; that it is for peace, for prosperity; that it was planted by the mayor’s daughter. All of this is mystification. The city itself lives on its own myth. Instead of waking up and silently existing, the city people prefer and stubborn and fabricated dream; they do not care to be a part of the night, or to be merely of the world. They have constructed a world outside the world, against the world, a world of mechanical fictions which contemn nature and seek only to use it up, thus preventing it from renewing itself and man.” 

—Thomas Merton, in the first three pages of Raids on the Unspeakable