Thursday, July 31, 2008

Against Artifacture

The Contrary Goddess’ condensed version of a passage from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: a season in the wilderness, the chapter called “Cowboys and Indians Part II”:

There are lonely hours. How can I deny it? There are times when solitaire becomes solitary, an entirely different game. To escape I live more and more in the out-of-doors.

Strange as it might seem, I found that eating my supper out-of-doors made a difference. Inside the trailer, surrounded by the artifacture of America, I was reminded insistently of all that I had, for a season, left behind; the plywood walls and the dusty venetian blinds and the light bulbs and the smell of butane made me think of Albuquerque. But taking my meal outside by the burning juniper in the fireplace with more desert and mountains than I could explore in a lifetime open to view, I was invited to contemplate a far larger world, one which extends into a past and into a future without any limits known to the human kind. By taking off my shoes and digging my toes in the sand I made contact with that larger world -- an exhilarating feeling which leads to equanimity. In the midst of such a grand tableau it was impossible to give full and serious consideration to Albuquerque.

“Albuquerque” there obviously being a symbol for a more universal “civilized” human state of being. And I must say that I love that word, “artifacture”.

In another place, a different chapter called “Industrial Tourism and The National Parks”, Abbey says:

A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches -- that is the right and privilege of any free American.

“Free American”, that is me. It is not the western desert for me, but the wild southern highlands and the cussedly independent culture that this land requires. I resent the artifacture, I do, and the never relenting pressure to buy into it, even just some of it, a little of it. I don’t care if that artifacture is the corporate uniform or the make-up and blue hair and dog collar of the rebel against the corporate, I dislike them both equally for they are the same coin.

I look forward to the end of the world as we know it, I do. I do that without being a doomsdayer for I do not see it as doom or as salvation. I cannot look out into the broader world, off of my mountain here, without seeing the seed of destruction growing in the fertile ground of degradation. Rome is burning. It simply is.

But that does not equal unhappiness or destruction for me and mine and the things I hold as holy (family, community, earth/air/fire/water, spirit). I dig my toes into the manure and touch a much larger world, a non-artificial world, where community and hair color are not manufactured out of pretense but simply exist as they are; where getting together with others means that something is accomplished at the end of the day, something tangible, something additive, something like supper; where looking past what is easy to what is good is actually, really, truly valued; where if you are idle, or deliberately stupid, or too terribly hard to get along with, you are likely to be hungry and this is not a tragedy or something that anyone but you needs to do anything to fix. In other words, I choose not to fiddle while Rome is burning.

In another section of “Cowboys and Indians Part II”, Abbey says, “The Navajos are people, not personnel; nothing in their nature or tradition has prepared them to adapt to the regimentation of application forms and time clock. To force them into the machine would require a Procrustean mutilation of the basic humanity.” The adaptation to the machine has mutilated all of humanity.

There is no way out of the machine while you are in it. The only way out is to step out. There are steps to take to be ready (to think you are more ready), to get closer (to believe you are closer), but there is no way out but to step out. And there is no way back in except to fail. And there is no reason to fail except to not be free, and to not want to be free. The artifacture of symbolic Albuquerque is intoxicating and some people like being intoxicated but it is that world that is failing and that I do not mourn.

We stepped out, onto this farm on the side of this mountain. We stepped out and made our own ramada under which to eat our supper.


Heather said...


Awesome words, lady.

Jami said...

Thank you. You have helped me answer my own soul-deep question, one I have been pondering for what seems like such a long time. "The only way out is to step out." Kind of the Contrary Goddess' version of "Just Do It."

Beautifully written, and thank you again!