Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quirky Stuff

I'll wager that practically none of you have ever heard of Edward Abbey. Born in 1927, Abbey may well have been the original "green warrior." This iconoclastic writer modeled his productive output on the work of Thomas Paine, and was probably as much a burr in the saddle to the establishment in his day as Paine was in his. His best known works were Desert Solitaire (a nonfiction paean to the glories of the desert, written after he spent a year as a volunteer ranger in the Arches National Monument) and The Monkey-Wrench Gang (the fictional story of a group of friends who disrupt "economic development" industrial projects in the name of the ecology).

One of Abbey's quirks was to afflict the comfortable via postcard. Ann, who like me didn't know of Abbey, was struck by the messages he left from the grave in the recent release, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast, edited by David Petersen and published by Milkweed Editions. The book is variously described as "insanely readable," and "sometimes nutty, sometimes dead-on." One of my personal heroes, Wendell Berry, contributed this: "I read him for consolation, for the comfort of being told the truth."

Rather than "sell" you on the book, let me just share on piece, short on the page, but long on a blog.

James Morgan, Articles Editor
Playboy Magazine, Chicago (2 January 1984)
Dear Mr. Morgan:

Thank you for the Christmas card. Of course I would like to write something for Playboy again, if we can agree on a topic.

At the moment I'm on page 901 of another novel, this one a sort of picaresque Rablaisian Appalachian hillbilly family saga farce and tragedy. If your fiction editor would like to tak a look, I'll type up a chapter or two of it and send it along. Ask him/her to give me guidelines as to maximum length.

But I'm also interested in doing essays and journalism, altho' not in the field of environmental issues; I am still very much an eco-freak and wild preservationist but I have had nothing new to say on the subject for years. General travel is more my line now (see my Alaska piece in the March Outside, or my next book, Beyond the Wall, also due in March or April), and social and literary commentary.

E.g., I've been making notes lately for an essay on the subject "Great Living Bores," or "The Great American Bores" or some such title. [REMEMBER THIS WAS 1984 - R.S.] My initial nominees for the list would be such folk as Jackie K Onassis, Henry Kissinger, Normal [sic] Mailer, William F Buckley and George F Will (because of their push-button opinions on any conceivable subject), perhaps Muhammad Ali (tho' he seems to be fading fast; should have thought of this several years ago), John Updike (for the rabbit story), maybe Ted Kennedy, maybe Susan "Creamcheese" Sontag (what she really wanted was to grow up to be a Frenchman), John Travolta certainly and other hack show bix types, Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale, I'm sure, will be boring us silly in the months to come, the whole line-up of the Baltimore Orioles, Bob Dylan (changing his religion every six months), James Michener, Jesse Helms, Yasser Arafat, Hugh Hefner (oops!), Pope JP II (often pictured out here in the SW as a "Pope-alope," with pronghorns), Buckminster Fuller (tho' recently deceased), Carlos Castaneda, Jerry Falwell, etc. etc. Perhaps the list is already too long.

In any case, my emphasis would be a discussion of the qualities and nature of a great public bore, as opposed to merely minor, personal and "scintillating" bores.

And then, I'm thinking of going to Abyssinia next November for an exploration of the Omoo River. I know you're not particularly interested in any more river trip journals but I'm sure I'd find much of interest in Ethiopia to write about along with hippos, crocodiles & cannibals & black Reds. If I go I may take a look at South Africa, too, and even try to get into SW Africa and the sporadic guerilla warfare said to be smoldering there.
I want to go to Australia one more time. Perhaps never to return. And if I ever finish this goddamn endless novel I plan to write a serious book about Mexico - The Smoking Volcano on our Border.

Say hello to Gonzo Gonzales for me. I've lost his address. I hear he's recently had published a novel about Mexico or something to do with the Mexican revolutionaries. Ask him to send me a copy, I want to read it, and if he does I'll send him a copy of my next book.

Sincerely, Edward Abbey - Oracle

I'm fascinated by each letter and postcard I've read. They are a mix of notes to editors, letters to the editors, governors and bureaucrats, and notes to literary luminaries of his day. I think you might enjoy it.

Postcards from Ed edited by David Petersen
ISBN 9781571312846 Milkweed Editions Sept. 2006 (Hardcover ) $24.95 296 pp.

What I'm reading: Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson ISBN 9780781139672 June 2007

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