216 Chapters
Medium 9780253000958


Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two blacktop roads, broken by frost and mended with tar, running from nowhere to nowhere, cross at right angles in the rumpled farm country of northeastern Ohio. The neighborhood where they intersect is called Wayland—not a village, not even a hamlet, only a cluster of barns and silos and frame houses and a white steepled Methodist church. Just north of Wayland, the army fenced in thirty square miles of ground for their bomb factory, and just to the south the Corps of Engineers built their reservoir. I grew up behind those government fences in the shadows of bunkers, and on farms that have since vanished beneath those imprisoned waters. Family visits to church began carrying me to Wayland when I was five, romance was carrying me there still at seventeen, and in the years between I was drawn there often by duty or desire. Thus it happened that within shouting distance of the Wayland crossroads I met seven of the great mysteries.

Even as a boy, oblivious much of the time to all save my own sensations, I knew by the tingle in my spine when I had bumped into something utterly new. I groped for words to describe what I had felt, as I grope still. Since we give labels to all that puzzles us, as we name every blank space on the map, I could say that what I stumbled into in Wayland were the mysteries of death, life, beasts, food, mind, sex, and God. But these seven words are only tokens, worn coins that I shove onto the page, hoping to bribe you, coins I finger as reminders of those awful encounters.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253000958

The Mystique of Money

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Anyone who pays attention to the state of the planet realizes that all natural systems on which human life depends are deteriorating, and they are doing so largely because of human actions. By natural systems I mean the topsoil, forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, atmosphere, the host of other species, and the cycles that bind them together into a living whole. By human life I mean not merely the survival of our species, although in the long run that will surely be in question; rather I mean the quality of our existence, the prospects for adequate food, shelter, work, education, health care, conviviality, intellectual endeavor, and spiritual growth for our kind far into the future.

So the crucial question is, Why? Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way, individually and collectively, as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course. It may be that on average we humans are too short-sighted and dim-witted to take stock of our situation and change our behavior. It may be that evolution has ill-fitted us to restrain our appetites. It may be that selfish genes and tribal instincts prompt us to define our interests too narrowly, excluding regard for people whom we perceive as different from ourselves, not to mention other species and unborn generations. It may be that the otherworldly religion preached so fervently across our land has convinced many believers that Earth, indeed the whole universe, is merely a backdrop for the drama of human salvation, destined to evaporate once the rapture comes. It may be that we have been so stupefied by consumerism and around-the-clock entertainment that we have lost the ability to think clearly and take sensible actions. It may be that global corporations have achieved such a stranglehold over the mass media and the political system as to thwart all efforts at reforming our way of life. It may be that the logic of capitalism, based on perpetual growth, is incompatible with a finite planet. It may be that preachers, pundits, pitchmen, and politicians have deluded us into thinking that financial wealth represents real wealth.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253011992

2. From the Pages of Brivnshtelers

Alice Nakhimovsky Indiana University Press ePub

The twin themes of mobility and modernity are ubiquitous in brivnshtelers published at the turn of the twentieth century. Young men and some young women travel to the big city for education or work, encounter its temptations, and suffer from loneliness and homesickness for their friends and family. While the city is presented in both negative and positive terms—it is a threat to the maintenance of Jewish tradition, but also the locus of economic and educational opportunity—the shtetl is not a preferred alternative. Those who have moved away from small towns may have a nostalgic memory or two, but they are quick to point out the lack of vitality and opportunity that drove them to leave home.

An early manifestation of modern thinking appears in a satirical letter from the earliest brivnshteler published in the Russian Empire. Letters 1–2 (“A German Jew Writes to a Polish Jew Asking for the Hand of His Daughter for His Son”) mock Polish Jews for being backward. The Polish father rejects a good match for his daughter with a German Jew because of superstition (the in-laws have the same first names) and his fear about his daughter having to dress in more modern clothing.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253356864

37. Without Bounds

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

I desire to speak somewhere without bounds. (218)

This mysterious remark, appearing in Walden’s great “Conclusion,” evokes Thoreau’s regular employment as the village surveyor. His book seems designed to enable our own staking out of things, coming complete with tools (compasses, rulers, dividers) and measurements: the number of rods separating Thoreau’s cabin from the railroad tracks, the exact distance from his site to Concord, the width and depth of the pond, the acreage of neighboring farms and lakes. In “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Thoreau makes punning use of his occupation by declaring “I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live,” including, in yet another pun, “each farmer’s premises” (58). Quoting Cowper’s “Verses Supposed to Be Written by Alexander Selkirk” (Defoe’s model for Robinson Crusoe), Thoreau even supplies his own italics: “I am monarch of all I survey” (59).

Since Thoreau so often earned his living by marking his neighbors’ property lines, what are we to make of his “desire to speak somewhere without bounds”? The wish resembles another Thoreauvian longing, also characteristically expressed in spatial terms: “I love a broad margin to my life” (79). The two remarks remind us that Thoreau seemed to experience almost every kind of externally imposed rule, custom, or schedule as an occasion for claustrophobia. In Emerson’s words, “He was a protestant à l’outrance.” Some of Walden’s best critics have argued that this reflexive resistance extended to language itself, which, indeed, he often treated as something that gets in the way of living: “It is not easy to write in a journal what interests us at any time,” he once observed, “because to write it is not what interests us.” Andrew Delbanco goes further, describing Thoreau as “ultimately a despiser of culture.” “What Thoreau discovered,” Delbanco continues, “was that language itself … made him feel dead because it subjected him to the worn and degraded inventions of other minds.” Some evidence supports this position. In an 1857 letter, Thoreau seems to anticipate Flaubert’s dread of merely reproducing the banalities catalogued in his Dictionary of Received Ideas:

See All Chapters
Medium 9781574416367

A Father’s Scars For Creigh Deeds, Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions

Gayle Reaves, Editor UNT Press ePub

See All Chapters