409 Chapters
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37. Without Bounds

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

I desire to speak somewhere without bounds. (218)

This mysterious remark, appearing in Walden’s great “Conclusion,” evokes Thoreau’s regular employment as the village surveyor. His book seems designed to enable our own staking out of things, coming complete with tools (compasses, rulers, dividers) and measurements: the number of rods separating Thoreau’s cabin from the railroad tracks, the exact distance from his site to Concord, the width and depth of the pond, the acreage of neighboring farms and lakes. In “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” Thoreau makes punning use of his occupation by declaring “I have thus surveyed the country on every side within a dozen miles of where I live,” including, in yet another pun, “each farmer’s premises” (58). Quoting Cowper’s “Verses Supposed to Be Written by Alexander Selkirk” (Defoe’s model for Robinson Crusoe), Thoreau even supplies his own italics: “I am monarch of all I survey” (59).

Since Thoreau so often earned his living by marking his neighbors’ property lines, what are we to make of his “desire to speak somewhere without bounds”? The wish resembles another Thoreauvian longing, also characteristically expressed in spatial terms: “I love a broad margin to my life” (79). The two remarks remind us that Thoreau seemed to experience almost every kind of externally imposed rule, custom, or schedule as an occasion for claustrophobia. In Emerson’s words, “He was a protestant à l’outrance.” Some of Walden’s best critics have argued that this reflexive resistance extended to language itself, which, indeed, he often treated as something that gets in the way of living: “It is not easy to write in a journal what interests us at any time,” he once observed, “because to write it is not what interests us.” Andrew Delbanco goes further, describing Thoreau as “ultimately a despiser of culture.” “What Thoreau discovered,” Delbanco continues, “was that language itself … made him feel dead because it subjected him to the worn and degraded inventions of other minds.” Some evidence supports this position. In an 1857 letter, Thoreau seems to anticipate Flaubert’s dread of merely reproducing the banalities catalogued in his Dictionary of Received Ideas:

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12. Gerald Thurmond, “Faith’s Place” from Crossroads: A Southern Culture Annual

Edited by David Taylor University of North Texas Press PDF

Chapter 12

Gerald Thurmond

Faith’s Place

Gerald Thurmond grew up in San Antonio, Texas. He attended Baylor

University and the University of Georgia and is a sociologist at Wofford

College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He has a fascination with all kinds of critters. He is an avid birder, he keeps snakes, and, as a sociologist, he is a professional people watcher. His essay “Midnight with Elvis” won the Hub

City Hardegree Creative Writing Contest for non-fiction and was published in Hub City Anthology II. He edited, with John Lane, The Woods Stretched for Miles: New Nature Writing from the South published by the University of Georgia Press. “Faith’s Place” was previously published in Crossroads: A

Southern Culture Annual from Mercer University Press.

The white-frame house seemed much the same, but the little town around it was slowly dying. Old Calvert Street was mostly empty of traffic, and several of the stores along it were boarded up or had that hopeless look that empty, dust streaked windows give. I had traveled over 1100 miles to be here. For twenty years I had come, but now it was different.

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Medium 9780253018632

Mumbo Gumbo

IU Press Journals Indiana University Press ePub

an essay on Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972)

Madison Smartt Bell

ISHMAEL REED DATED the final page of the Mumbo Jumbo manuscript in Berkeley, California, on January 31, 1971. By that time, the great social upheaval of the 1960s had passed its peak; most people didn’t know it yet, but Ishmael Reed probably did. Popular demonstrations were helping to bring an end to the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement had won important victories, while losing a good number of its leaders along the way. Broader social structures had been severely shaken, but a real revolution was not going to take place.

Mumbo Jumbo (1972) is set in 1920s New York City, in another place and time when the forces of social upheaval looked, for a moment, like they might turn the whole world upside down. But Reed’s version is not a realistic account of that period. It is a cauldron of rattlesnake eyeball soup, bubbling with anarchic chaos—and screamingly funny, much of the time.

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Medium 9781847778772

Pon… ti… pri… ith

Ford, Ford Madox Carcanet Press Ltd. ePub

(translated by Max Saunders)

Ford wrote the following essay in French in the autumn of 1918, when he had returned from the Western Front, and was attached to the staff in Yorkshire, inspecting, training and lecturing. It appeared in La Revue des Idées in November 1918 (pp. 233–8). It was probably written as further propaganda for the Ministry of Information. But like all Ford’s propaganda, it is oblique. The editor perhaps felt it necessary to say Ford’s ‘inclinations are clearly anti-German’ precisely because the piece doesn’t read like an anti-German tract. The Germans are not even mentioned. The fighting is not directly described. What does come across is an intense elegiac poignancy, embracing both the Welsh soldiers and the French citizens who welcome them. Again, like so much of Ford’s writing, it is autobiographic, reminiscential, and impressionist: more a personal attempt to render his state of mind, than a public polemic. And, as so often, Ford expresses the effects of war on his mind – how shell-shock disturbed his memory; how grief colours his remembrance of his fellow-soldiers. He does this partly in terms of art: visionary fragments of scenes, works of art, works of literature. The whole piece is offered as a picture. Ford is a man of his times, conscious of tradition and modernity. The editor calls him a leader of the English impressionist school; and certainly Ford often styled himself impressionist, along with James, Stephen Crane, and Conrad. The sight of Flaubert’s house meant so much to him because Flaubert had always been one of the writers he admired most. Yet Ford describes his method of composition here in more modern terms: as an exercise in cubism. It was a combination of impressionism and hallucinatory collage that would become the stylistic principle of his post-war writing.

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An Allagash Girlhood

McNair, Wesley Down East Books ePub

Cathie Pelletier

M y maternal ancestors, Bradfords and Diamonds, were among the Loyalists who left Boston after the American Revolution and went north to settle in Canada. It was the age of Wood, Wind, and Water and England needed white pine for the masts of her ships. There must have been excited talk in the public houses, or at church, or on the docks around Chaleur Bay about an abundance of virgin pine growing beyond the untouched hinterlands of the St. John River. In 1838, my great-great-great grandparents, Anna Diamond and John Gardner, were among those given grants to cut pine for the king

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The Inheritance of Tools

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally I swore at the hammer, the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer?” We both were doing carpentry that day, but far apart. He was building cupboards at my brother’s place in Oklahoma; I was at home in Indiana putting up a wall in the basement to make a bedroom for my daughter. By the time my mother called with news of his death—the long-distance wires whittling her voice until it seemed too thin to bear the weight of what she had to say—my thumb was swollen. A week or so later a white scar in the shape of a crescent moon began to show above the cuticle, and month by month it rose across the pink sky of my thumbnail. It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father.

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16. Higher Laws

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

“Higher Laws,” a late addition to Walden, often presents Thoreau in his least modern, least sympathetic light. After the famous opening confession of his desire “to seize and devour [a woodchuck] raw,” accompanied by the appropriate lesson (“I love the wild not less than the good”) (145), Thoreau quickly embarks on a series of repudiations: hunting, fishing, animal food (“there is something essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh” [146]), wine, coffee, tea (“Ah, how low I fall when I am tempted by them!”), and even music, which “may be intoxicating” (147). He is only warming up for the big topic. Here is Thoreau singing the virtues of chastity and sounding like Dr. Strangelove’s General Ripper, with his talk of “precious bodily fluids”:

We are conscious of an animal in us, which awakens in proportion as our higher nature slumbers. It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled; like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies.… The generative energy, which when we are loose, dissipates and makes us unclean, when we are continent invigorates and inspires us. Chastity is the flowering of man. (149)

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15. Good and Evil

Robert B. Ray Indiana University Press ePub

Here are two passages, one from Thoreau and one from Nietzsche:

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any thing, it is very likely to be my good behavior. (10)

What preserves the species.—The strongest and most evil spirits have so far done the most to advance humanity: again and again they relumed the passions that were going to sleep—all ordered society puts the passions to sleep—and they reawakened again and again the sense of comparison, of contradiction, of the pleasure of what is new, daring, untried; they compelled men to pit opinion against opinion, model against model. Usually by force of arms, by toppling boundary markers, by violating pieties.… In every teacher and preacher of what is new we encounter the same “wickedness.” … What is new, however, is always evil, being that which wants to conquer and overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties; and only what is old is good.

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Once More to the Lake

McNair, Wesley Down East Books ePub

E. B. White

O ne summer, along about 1904, my father rented a camp on a lake in Maine and took us all there for the month of August. We all got ringworm from some kittens and had to rub Pond

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The Common Life

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

One delicious afternoon while my daughter, Eva, was home from college for spring vacation, she invited two neighbor girls to help her make bread. The girls are sisters, five-year-old Alexandra and ten-year-old Rachel, both frolicky, with eager dark eyes and shining faces. They live just down the street from us here in Bloomington, Indiana, and whenever they see me pass by, on bicycle or on foot, they ask about Eva, whom they adore.

I was in the yard that afternoon mulching flower beds with compost, and I could hear the girls chattering as Eva led them up the sidewalk to our door. I had plenty of other chores to do in the yard, where every living thing was urgent with April. But how could I stay outside, when so much beauty and laughter and spunk were gathered in the kitchen?

I kept looking in on the cooks, until Eva finally asked, “Daddy, you wouldn’t like to knead some dough, would you?”

“I’d love to,” I said. “You sure there’s room for me?”

“There’s room,” Eva replied, “but you’ll have to wash in the basement.”

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The Man Who Wasn’t There

Ratzlaff, Lloyd Thistledown Press ePub


As I was walking up the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d stay away.

— Hughes Mearns

WHEN I FIRST HEARD NORTHROP FRYE’S MONIKER for his childhood deity, “the Old Bugger in the Sky,” I laughed at the dead-on characterization of the god I also grew up with — and at the same time winced, knowing that most of my kin would consider it blasphemous. Frye believed that no one in the western world could be considered educated without having read Shakespeare and the Bible. The “fifteen-minute world” that hatched me (a cousin calls it that for the time it takes to drive through) gave us a bit of Shakespeare and a great deal of Bible, and to this day my tongue is heavily accented by the Authorized King James Version.

I catch myself muttering at the Invisible Man who stopped me from taking what Pam Lawson offered under a full moon at midnight in the water of Pike Lake, when we were nineteen and only the two of us were there. And today the old man can still drown out a robin’s trill on an Easter Sunday stroll; for guilt, as Garrison Keillor observes, is the gift that keeps on giving.

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Silent Night

Lloyd Ratzlaff Thistledown Press ePub


It was just before Christmas. She was fourteen years old. She had left a note where her mother, but not her father, would find it, and had gone to sit on a bridge for two hours deciding whether to jump. What finally got her off the bridge, she said, was repeating doggedly to herself, “Just because my old man is an asshole doesn’t mean I have to die.”

When we met, one of the first things she told me was, “I used to be able to deal with my black holes by painting, but I can’t even do that anymore.” I had often pondered for myself the futility of repressing the death impulse, since everything that lives, dies; but I thought of what painting had meant to her, and asked, “What if you don’t take the suicidal impulse literally? What if it’s a symbol of an old way of life coming to an end, so something new can be created?” She replied instantly, “That’s it exactly — something in my soul wants to die.”

Christmas, we know, is the worst time for depressed people. The world is at a party, and they have not been invited. Many who go to the bridge don’t come back. But this girl survived the holidays, and in early January we met again. She spent most of that hour talking about her schizophrenic grandmother — how the rest of the family couldn’t understand her, yet she herself was a good friend of Grandma’s, and the two of them had no trouble whatsoever in conversing. Then, as the bell was about to ring, she said, “But I have to tell you a dream I had the other night.”

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Staying Put

Scott Russell Sanders Indiana University Press ePub

Two friends arrived at our house for supper one May evening along with the first rumblings of thunder. As my wife, Ruth, and I sat talking with them on our front porch, we had to keep raising our voices a notch to make ourselves heard above the gathering storm. The birds, more discreet, had already hushed. The huge elm beside our door began to sway, limbs creaking, leaves hissing. Black sponges of clouds blotted up the light, fooling the street lamps into coming on early. Above the trees and rooftops, the murky southern sky crackled with lightning. Now and again we heard the pop of a transformer as a bolt struck the power lines in our neighborhood. The pulses of thunder came faster and faster, until they merged into a continuous roar.

We gave up on talking. The four of us, all midwesterners teethed on thunderstorms, sat down there on the porch to our meal of lentil soup, cheddar cheese, bread warm from the oven, sliced apples and strawberries. We were lifting the first spoonfuls to our mouths when a stroke of lightning burst so nearby that it seemed to suck away the air, and the lights flickered out, plunging the whole street into darkness.

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Medium 9780253020659

Conclusion: “White Sea of the Middle” or “Wide Sea to Meddle In”?

Hakim Abderrezak Indiana University Press ePub

The works discussed in Ex-Centric Migrations provide a vision not solely of the other but of the other continent as well. Maghrebi works that treat the notion of clandestinity have presented the European Eldorado in its declination from “a country of light” to a land of disillusionment. It is the latter vision that has been the focus of the contemporary cinematic, literary, and musical productions examined here. In response to the old notion of Eldorado (the French one), which bred mythical stories that emigrants brought with them on their short visits back home, artists have crafted a “new” Eldorado—the Maghreb. The latter construction is a core theme in music such as Raï n’b and in films such as Bensalah’s Il était une fois dans l’oued. This conception of the “new Eldorado” tackled explicitly via musical and cinematic representations is an original one, which lies in sharp contrast to the portrayal of the global South as a place that individuals desire to leave.

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Medium 9780253019028

Over Seas

IU Press Journals Indiana University Press ePub

Mer d’Asphalte. ©2012 Rym Khene.

KOFI WAS LOOKING over the whitewashed walls of the Elmina Castle. Three centuries before, he might have seen a row of desperate Africans, shackled together and exiting through the narrow Door of No Return. They would have shuffled across the beach and boarded a ship whose crew would have given some of them to the sea and sold the survivors in the Americas. But on that day the beach was teeming with fishermen and fishmongers. Men, their upper bodies chiseled by years of battling the sea, dragged in gigantic nets laden with fish and rubbish while women waited impatiently with deep enamel basins in hand, their eyes trained on the day’s catch, poised to haggle with the weary fishermen.

They didn’t come to the castle to see the dark and airless slave dungeons but to stand on the rampart overlooking the sea and boyishly fantasize about when they, too, would cross the expanse of foamy water to America.

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