Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Fresh Eye

For this reader, it is sometimes important to re-read books that I originally read forty years ago. That is the case with my current read: "Death Comes for the Archbishop" by Willa Cather, written in 1926.

It basically tells the story of two Catholic priests converting the "natives" and "aboriginals" to Catholicism in New Mexico and Texas in the 1850s. The descriptions of landscape and culture are superb.

But it is the recounting of the white man's ways that take my breath away, particularly in the light of today where we are somewhat more aware of what we do and the evidence of our never-ending destruction of land, sea and water is far more deleterious than it ever was back then.

"...it was the white man's way to assert himself in any landscape, to change it, make it over a little (at least to leave some mark or memorial of his sojourn), it was the Indian's way to pass through a country without disturbing anything; to pass and leave no trace, like fish through water, or birds through the air."

Also, our sense of "decoration" compare unfavourably to aboriginals wherein they contented themselves with decorating only their bodies:

"....upon their blankets and belts and ceremonial robes they lavished this skill and pains. But their conception of decoration did not extend to the landscape. They seemed to have none of the European's desire to 'master' nature to arrange and re-create. They spent their ingenuity in the other direction; in accommodating themselves to the scene in which they found themselves. This was not so much from indolence, the Bishop thought, as from an inherited caution and respect."

I wish I had taken notes back then on books I read as I've done for the last five-six years. But again, with two small children and a full time job, I'm consistently amazed at how much I did read back then.

A journey of self-education, never regretted.

29 comments:

  1. I often think of books I read as a teenager and how I probably absorbed many ideas that now shape me, even though I'd reject them if they were new to me now. I think of Captains and the Kings, by Taylor Caldwell, and how it convinced me never, ever to trust anyone completely. I often think a re-read of some of those earlier-read books would be wise, just like giving a rethink to absorbed beliefs I picked up at Sunday school but no longer am conscious of. Oh to have time to reread and rethink all these things!

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  2. OWJ - well worth going back to some of the more classical books and reflecting on the then and now aspect of our own interpretations.
    XO
    WWW

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  3. SJG:
    I absolutely adored Taylor Caldwell, she was amazingly far ahead of her time and her books would certainly reinforce her "masters of the universe" theories. We see it all around us today, the banks dictating to governments, etc.

    Yes, time is in short supply to rethink and reflect and reread.

    XO
    WWW

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  4. What a wonderful message, can be found in this book.

    I'm thinking of doing a post, on a similar topic.... How we have cut ourselves off, from the land itself, on which we live. To sad results. Hurting it, instead of living on/with it, as early people did.

    Tessa

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  5. Hmmm.....a Mohawk I knew back in the day told me how proud he was that his people wiped out the Hurons.
    Genocide maybe. There is a dark side to all this noble savage stuff but today it is not PC to mention it..Doublethink maybe.

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  6. Tessa:
    I see the tragedy out here too. Fishers of seven generations tied up in bureaucratic hell and unable to fish in the waters that were fished by their forebears. Mainly because of the greed of government in allowing massive foreign trawlers dredging rights, etc. This precious connection has been lost. Forever now I'd say.
    XO
    WWW

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  7. GFB:
    Remind me again who the "noble savages" were. What a dreadful way to describe someone.
    XO
    WWW

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  8. I really like Willa Cather. My favorite is The Professor's House.

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  9. Our ancestors have a lot to answer for but are we any better now?
    Maggie x

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  10. I love Willa Cather....my favorite is My Antonia.

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  11. Maggie:
    Well we're truly on the brink of catastrophe with our addiction to fossil fuels and endless unsustainable growth on a finite planet. We never did learn from the aboriginals about not leaving a trace, did we?
    XO
    WWW

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  12. Jennifer:
    Ah another one to revisit, thank you!
    XO
    WWW

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  13. Speaking of Antonia want to see a great film... 1996 Dutch film "Antonia's Line" quirky and totally wonderful, you won't regret searching it out and dedicating some life moments to it for sure...let me know what you think if you take it in or have already experienced :)

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  14. Also, hope all went well with the Doc and your health.

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  15. When we were young ecology, destruction etc were not part of our vocabulary. It is from about the late fifties I think that Limits to Growth and Systems Thinking started and made us aware of such matters. Today, much more people can be reached with these messages due to modern communication methods and it is good that we are able to. The native American wisdom is something that regularly keeps popping up in twitters and facebook posts.

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  16. Trying again.
    That is true. Whatever there is in me that rests content with what is I attribute to my Mexican heritage and love of the western landscape.

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  17. I wanted you to know that I'm thinking about you.

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  18. Without applying any pressure to post until you're ready to do so, I wanted again to let you know that you're in my thoughts today.

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  19. What an amazing novel. So powerful and insightful.

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  20. "It was the Indian's way to pass through a country without disturbing anything." "Their conception of decoration did not extend to the landscape. They seemed to have none of the European's desire to 'master' nature, to arrange and re-create."
    An attitude far more mature than that of the supposed "mature" civilisations we're now part of. Mindless wrecking of the landscape becomes more and more routine. And how ugly and pointless are most of the monuments and memorials that litter our cities.

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  21. Anon:
    Oh one of my favourite films, I've seen it many times - I have it on VHS!!!
    XO
    WWW

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  22. Ramana:

    Aboriginals left no mark on the earth. Colonials impacted them terribly in countless ways. I was pleased to see that environmental scientists are now consulting native elders as what can be done to save our fragile planet but I have a feeling we are far too late at the table.
    XO
    WWW

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  23. Hattie, I didn't know about your Mexican heritage, how wonderful you incorporate so many belief systems.
    XO
    WWW

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  24. Linda:
    thank you my friend, post to follow.
    XO
    WWW

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  25. Laura:
    I got more out of it now then I did then. Like many books I've re-read.
    XO
    WWW

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  26. Nick:
    Not forgetting the ugly monster homes (and summer cottages) littering landscapes everywhere and sucking energy along with the SUVS..
    We are a dismal species.
    XO
    WWW

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  27. Re noble savage. Here is a link that you might find interesting. http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/farewell-to-the-myth-of-the-noble-savage.aspx

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