There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world. But given a story to enact that puts them at odds with the world, as yours does, they will live at odds with the world. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now."Many years (almost two decades) ago, I started to read a book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Unfortunately, my adventures into reading at that time were interrupted by a divorce and a blown back disc. Eventually, that book found itself lost, like torn papers tossed out to the ocean waves. Where and when I do not know. It also seemed to sink under the waves and deep into the dark caverns of my memory.
The other day a message in a bottle rose to the surface of my brain's worn internal hard drive containing a reference, a name: Daniel Quinn. The bottle hung at the edge for awhile until I serendipitously discovered online an open letter by D. Quinn to members of the Occupy Movement. And a mention of book title: Ishmael. And then the bottle regurgitated its message.
A brilliant instrument of literary prose, the book is published by the narrator in the novel, who is a student of an unorthodox teacher; a gorilla. Through the dialogue between the narrator and the gorilla, Quinn explores mythology and how our individual and collective mythologies shape who we are and what we have become. The integral component in all of this, however, is how it also informs what we do to ourselves, others around us -human and non-human- and the world we all share. Quinn challenges readers to question; themselves and all that unfold around us. Question the stories.
Over the years, Ishmael has now evolved into a series of three or four associated novels. They are not the typical fiction which most are familiar with. Unless you have read William Gibson's Necormancer, or are a fan of the now cult movie BladeRunner. Although the two former media are often shoved into the genre of cyberpunk, they, like several of Quinn's books, reflect the new tribalism. However, rather than the typical derogatory perspective of tribalism, it is a new (yet ancient) cultural story that is now unfolding around the world. And not necessarily a bad thing, either. (read his open letter linked above)
Regardless, the Ishmael trilogy may not offer the escapism that many fiction readers open book covers for. Instead, Quinn's writings make readers think. No, invite you to think. And, who knows, it may change your own stories.
Ishmael is now at the top of my reading list. In fact, the ecology and desert books may have to sit with bookmarks while I revisit an old friend.
"The invisibility of success
When things work, the forces that make them work are invisible. The universe at large is a notorious example of this. It took a towering genius to recognize the laws of motion and universal gravitation that now seem almost boringly obvious to us. Newton’s genius was precisely the genius of seeing that which is so evident as to be unseeable. Every advance in science makes manifest a working that is cloaked by its very success. The dancer’s admonition is Never let them see you sweat. When it comes to the laws of the universe, this admonition becomes Never let them see you at all: make them deduce your existence. And indeed the laws of the universe are never directly observable, so we have no other way of discovering them except by deduction. What works in the living community is similarly cloaked by its success. The basic laws of ecology have the beauty and simplicity of a fairy tale, but their existence only began to be suspected a century ago."
Fragment from Daniel Quinn book Beyond Civilization
Labels: book reviews