Rochelle's Reviews > Desert Solitaire

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
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's review
Jan 05, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: nature
Read in January, 2009 , read count: 2

All of the often contradictory reactions to this book tell me that it is not an easy book to pigeonhole. Part eulogy to a lost love (see chapter on Tukuhnikivats:Island in the Desert), part eulogy to a doomed wilderness (Glen Canyon dam project) and the potent possibilities of the bygone "frontier" epoch (to which is added in somewhat angry despairing tones his lament for an America mired in the senseless squander of an immoral war and the shortsighted expenditure of its natural resources through unquestioned development and privatization), this book manages to be at the same time richly panegyric. In other words: "There's a lot goin on in here, folks." It could be read as a cultural essay, an environmental text, a map of how "we got to where we are now" as a nation, or heir to Ginsberg "who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed
with a sudden flash of the alchemy of the use
of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the vibrat-
ing plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space
through images juxtaposed, and trapped the
archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun
and dash of consciousness together jumping
with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human
prose and stand before you speechless and intel-
ligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet con-
fessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm
of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,
yet putting down here what might be left to say
in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
suffering of America's naked mind for love into
an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand
. I am not going to excuse Edward Abbey's sexist remarks, but they are, when examined carefully, a smokescreen. So, I don't entirely buy them either. I think his attempt to come off as a curmudgeon (which he probably practiced assiduously) is, when balanced against, say his soliloquy on the Desert in "Episodes and Visions", a clumsy, obvious device. He truly delights in baiting conventionalism whether it is in religion, viewpoint, or culture. He urges a complacent citizenry to awaken to wonder. The worst thing about this book may quite possibly be his attempt at poetry in the chapter titled "Water." He wishes to incite in the reader a thirst to explore, not just the wilderness without(what there may be left of that) but the deep question within. Who are we? Why are we? Does any of it have meaning ultimately? This struggle with the great zen koan of the desert tugs at him and he does not really tie up the ends of his questioning so neatly that he pretends to answer it for anyone. I have been in some of these places he describes and his love for it and knowledge of it is deep and fiercely felt. Much more was left out than was said. Definitely a book to be savored and revisited.
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