Sunday, December 29, 2013

Barry Lopez - A literature of hope

If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it's to contribute to a literature of hope

I had been aware of Barry Lopez's work for some time. However, it was the publication of Home Ground: Language of American Landscape (Lopez and Gwartney) that finally got me launched into reading his work. 

Last night I finished About this Life and found it rewarding. There are many aspects I admire, but most notably is the inclusive sweep of his vision, curiosity and respect. In reading this is struck me that he is a multimedia artist. He might disagree (in this book he specifically addresses his reasons for ending his work as a photographer), but what I mean is that his writing - for he is indeed a writer, his media is words - is somehow deeply infused with photography, ceramics, the physicality of being outside. The full sensual experience evoked by his writing is quite rare to find in writing.

[Non-european cultures] did not separate humanity and nature. They recognized the immanence of the divine in both. And they regarded landscape as a component as integral to the development of personality and social order as we take the Oedipus complex and codified law to be. (p.12)

I've found that the most dependable way to preserve these possibilities [the human "desire to love and be loved, to experience the full fierceness of human emotion, and to make a measure of the sacred part of one's life."] is to be reminded of them in stories. Stories...offer...patterns of sound and association, of event and image. Suspended as listeners and readers in these patterns, we might reimagine our lives. It is through story that we embrace the great breadth of memory, that we can distinguish what is true, and that we may glimpse, at least occasionally, how to live without despair...." (p.13)

If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it's to contribute to a literature of hope...I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns. (p.15)

If I were to now visit another country, I would ask my local companion, before I saw any museum or library, any factory of fabled town, to walk me in the country of his or her youth, to tell me the names of things and how, traditionally, they have been fitted together in a community. I would ask for the stories, the voice of memory over the land. I would ask to taste the wild nuts and fruits, to see their fishing lures, their bouquets, their fences. I would ask about the history of storms there, the age of the trees, and the winter color of the hills. Only then would I ask to see the museums. I would want first the sense of the real, to know that I was not inhabiting an idea. I would want to know the lay of the land first, the real geography, and take some measure of the love of it in my companion before I stood before the paintings or read works of scholarship. I would want to have something real and remembered against which I might hope to measure their truth. (p. 143)

I've long been attracted to the way visual artists like Robert Adams imagine the world. The emotional impact of theri composition of space and light is as clarifying for me as immersion in a beautifully made story. As with the work of a small group of poets I read regularly--Robert Hass, Pattiann Rogers, Garrett Hongo--I find healing in ther expressions. I find reasons not to give up. (p.225)

Barry Lopez gives me this gift as well - the gift of not giving up. He helps me find ways to stay open and aware in the midst of neglect and destruction. His writing is indeed a literature of hope.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Surviving the Ivory Tower

Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González and Angela P. Harris examines the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women in academia. Through personal narratives and qualitative studies, the contributors expose the challenges they face as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America. Presumed Incompetent encourages a continued discussion of race, class, and gender by presenting the cultural and structural challenges experienced as well as concrete and constructive strategies for fostering healthier campus climates for all.

“It is important to remember that the mere admission of some women to most institutions has not mean the elimination of subtle forms of exclusion or mistreatment of them. Indeed, typically, when any form of prejudice (such as sexism or racism) is labelled as unacceptable, it does not simply vanish; rather, it tends to take increasingly subtler forms, thus protecting the prejudiced person from both social and legal accusation of prejudice.” 

This book offers big picture context and data as well as advice on practical techniques of how to handle job interviews, how to apply for promotions and tenure, etc. A final chapter gives suggestions for ways individual women, and women in groups, can work to improve the situation at their own institutions.