Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Passage and a Poem: David Abram and Wallace Stevens

I've mentioned this before, but I'll bring it up again because this is the basis for this particular post.  I would be reading something, and a passage would immediately bring another book or passage or poem to mind.  Sometimes the link would be obvious, while in others it would be remote or even invisible.  This is the passage I was reading when the poem popped up, distracting me to the point I had to stop reading and muse on it for awhile.  

Each thing organizes the space around it, rebuffing or sidling up against other things;  each thing calls, gestures, beckons to other beings or battles them for our attentions; things expose themselves  to the sun or retreat among the shadows, shouting with their loud colors or whispering with their seeds; rocks snag lichen spores from the air and shelter spiders under their flanks; clouds converse with the fathomless blue and metamorphose into one another; they spill rain upon the land, which gathers in rivulets and  carves out canyons; skyscrapers slice the winds and argue with one another over the tops of townhouses; backhoes and songbirds are coaxed into duets by the percussive rhythm of the subway beneath the street.  Things "catch our eye" and sometimes refuse to let go; they"grab our focus" and "capture our attention," and finally release us from their grasp only to dissolve back into the overabundant world.  Whether ecstatic or morose, exuberant or exhausted, everything swerves and trembles; anguish, equanimity, and pleasure are not first internal moods but passions granted to us by the capricious terrain.
-- David Abram --
from Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology


This is the poem that immediately came to mind when I began the passage above.
 Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

-- Wallace Stevens --

Well, anybody see the link here?  Did you think of something else when you read the passage?  If so, let me know.  I would be interested in learning what memory that passage brought to mind.

One other question:  what does the following sentence fragment suggest to you?
--anguish, equanimity, and pleasure are not first internal moods but passions granted to us by the capricious terrain.

 Who is David Abram?
"David Abram is an American philosopher, cultural ecologist, and performance artist, best known for his work bridging the philosophical tradition of phenomenology with environmental and ecological issues. Wikipedia

What is his book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, about?
"'This is a book about becoming a two-legged animal, entirely a part of the animate world whose life swells within and unfolds all around us. It seeks a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth rather than blinding us to it. A language that stirs a new humility in relation to other earthborn beings, whether spiders or obsidian outcrops or spruce limbs bent low by the clumped snow. A style of speech that opens our senses to the sensuous in all its multiform strangeness,' writes David Abram, a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher."

For a little more about the book, go here:


  1. I'd have to ponder longer to consider the linkage/connections, but I think anything that sends you back to Wallace Stevens inexplicable poem is a lovely catalyst. Sometimes I think pondering is the reward in itself. Answers, explanations, and explications just don't matter. The means rather than ends are important. Does that make sense?

    1. R.T.,

      Yup, makes sense to me. The journey is far more important than the destination, or so it seems to me.

  2. Postscript: Again, I'm reminded of Romanticism, which must sound very weird.

    1. R.T.,

      On the contrary, it makes perfect sense. Wasn't it during the Romantic era that poets first began to notice nature in itself--when mountains became sublime, instead of just another obstacle to overcome?

    2. Indeed. Nature was capitalized in the Romanticism vocabulary.

    3. R.T.,

      And spiritualized (if there is such a word).

    4. R.T.,

      Yes, that's a legitimate word.