Wild words

William Eaton has just passed on an essay, “Wild Life, Wild Mind” (from the July 31 Chronicle of Higher Ed) that seems just right as I approach the mid-point in my Thoreau seminar.

I just finish pecking that word ‘seminar,’ and leap startled to see a flotilla of yellow-green wild parrots with long tails chasing each other and alighting for rest on the discolored one-time white stucco walls of the apartments in view from my 5th story window.  I’ve heard they’re an invasion from Africa.  The contrast with rusted iron window grates and endless smatterings of air-conditioning units clinging to walls is extreme.

As if by design, they are making William’s point — or one of them: that the wild is not a place but a strange intrusion of the unexpected and un-corralable.  He adds that we can’t try to sustain these moments.  The parrots flee as quickly as they noisily arrived.  That’s linked to the Susan Sontag epigraph: “None of us can ever retrieve that innocence before all theory.”  Note, she doesn’t deny that there are moments of innocence before all theory.  She just says that they can’t be retrieved.  They can’t exactly be sought after either, though they may be of the highest imaginable value to us.  Unbidden, they speak to us.  What’s uncanny, for we who are self-starters and always getting here and there, is that they initiate, they corral us.  That’s  to see — or hear — that something addresses us.  We’re out of the driver’s seat.  We listen up or lose it.

I think Thoreau’s prose in Walden works that way. A sentence starts; we’re in the driver’s seat; no strange words or syntax (for  the most part).  A change gathers strength behind our back.  Suddenly we’re lost in the wild.  We had been comfortably beside Thoreau as he listened to a freight train rumble by, shaking the silence of the pond.  By degrees the parrots start squawking, transforming our resentment at noisy intrusion.  We refused ‘an ode to dejection,’ but who could have anticipated what gathers behind our back, this slow startle into minor transfigurations, hearing palm for summer hats, remnants of sails from ocean storms, lumber itself transformed from trees, and lime from Maine.  It’s as bad as hearing ice from Walden become a monument on  Concord Commons, and then ripple at the ankles of Holy men reciting Vedas in the Ganges.

Thoreau has the wild accost us.  And if we try too hard to stare down what’s happening, it’ll disappear: it’s an innocence before theory.

Excursions with Edward F. Mooney Pt. III

Dean Dettloff

Excursions with Edward F. Mooney

Part III: Whirling, Living, Dancing

This post is part of an ongoing series. Part I.Part II.

 Dean Dettloff:You covered a lot of ground in your previous answer, Ed, anticipating a few other questions I could have followed-up with. Your previous response ended in a reflection highlighting the pin-wheeled nature of your being, that is, while you may have distinguishable parts or facets, all of them blur together in the motion of life itself. This feeds retroactively into your discussion of teaching and intimacy, wherein your commitments to intimacy and its recovery are not put on hold when you enter your “professional” role but instead integrate wholly together as you touch the lives of students through the gifts you have been given. With this in mind and your veteran-status as an educator, what kind of advice would you have for those…

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Galileo gives us dead matter (the atom or the billiard ball) that neither grieves nor disowns grief, is gloriously free of pathos, a teeming, spinning whirl of stuff without meanings to share.

Thoreau awakens to a dawn that inspires, instructs, heartens.  He abjures spinning stuff and embraces swirling, fining fish — works to join them, his swimming totem creatures.

Thoreau delivers revelation through the mist, and invites conversion.  If my muse hears his, if his revelation becomes ours, we together behold. 

We are shattered to behold what we had hitherto only peered at or scanned or scrutinized in an ocular squint.  Revelations shatter, crush, and restore.

Something gets poetically accomplished.  These are moments to revel in.