I’ve heard and read much commentary about the impending demise of good writing (which has been predicted for as long as words have been written down), now supposedly because of Twitter and text messaging. The poet Gary Snyder has said that texting is “abhorrent.”
I not only disagree, I think the opposite is true. I think writing in a limited space is a perfect practice for anyone who wants to write clearly, essentially, and without flab or self-indulgence. Some of the best-written, most powerful narrative journalism is being Tweeted rather than published in old media. For a fine example, see the live-Tweeting from a murder trial by Michael Kiefer, novelist and crime reporter for The Arizona Republic.
In his latest column, Jon Talton writes:
Friends keep telling me of the coming working-class revolt (Mark Thoma writes about such here). I’ll believe it when I see it. Civil insurrection is certainly likely as America continues its downward course, but it will play out with minorities burning their own neighborhoods and the whites and other better-offs retreating even deeper into suburban apartheid. The Revolution in a nation of dolts could only be caused by taking away television, video games, smart phones and cheap gasoline. Then, to the barricades!
Jizô asked Hôgen, “Where are you going, senior monk?”
Hôgen said, “I am on pilgrimage, following the wind.”
Jizô said, “What are you on pilgrimage for?”
Hôgen said, “I don’t know.”
Jizô said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”
Hôgen suddenly attained great enlightenment.
As much as I love and value the writing of Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, their example - living and farming in relative isolation - isn’t a viable one in a world of seven billion people.
What will protect the environment is not going back to the land, but going farther away from it. Urban environments are the greenest. Cities like New York and Paris are more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than any other way of living. Derrick Jensen is wrong in saying that civilization must be destroyed for the sake of the earth; it is only civilization that can save it.
Gary Snyder has written about how, in the U.S. in the 1950s, friends would hitchhike thousands of miles to visit one another, just to have a conversation.
Those days are gone, but they’ll be back before much longer.
I have a friend from the other side of the country staying with me right now. We have never lived in the same state. When we met, I lived in Tennessee and she in Missouri. She drove to Chattanooga to visit me, and then I flew to Columbia to visit her. She moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and we flew to visit each other. In the six years of our friendship, time together has been preceded by a few hours on a plane. This has been the way of it for so many people in the U.S. in recent history - planes became Greyhound buses with wings, and traveling across the nation on a plane has been as easy as taking a bus across town.
It was never sustainable. And, with peak oil and the collapse of the economy from fantasy back into reality, we will soon be returned to a sense of place. Electronic communications will continue to take the place of letters carried by plane, train or truck, but actual visits will once again become journeys.
Along with Eliot, Gary Snyder has impacted my life more than any other English-language poet. I’ve been rereading his work for more than twenty years, and it has never ceased to nourish me. So I’m looking forward to this movie.