Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire

Fall 2015

Presenter: Hayden Knisley

Desert Solitaire is a unique manifesto for the environmentalist movement, even if it preaches one man’s sometimes problematic and idiosyncratic view of the importance of nature and wilderness (that is, if we follow along the lines of Michael Cronon). Its author, Edward Abbey, was a huge voice in the early phases of the movement in the United States and his writings inspired many people to take up the battle for the “wilderness” and the National Parks of America.

Edward Paul Abbey, environmentalist and author of Desert Solitaire. Abbey died in 1989, his last words being : “No comment.”

Abbey’s Views on Nature:

Throughout the book, Abbey follows these major threads (and a few minor ones) concerning wilderness/nature. Through a series of frank arguments and anecdotes he tries to express why wilderness/nature is important to him, why it should be important to the reader, and how we should treat nature. Let it be noted that many of these threads of thought are never outright stated, instead they are woven around each other and through each other, sometimes changing, sometimes doubling back and sometimes simply dropped. In a way, Abbey writes very much like the tumultuous and dangerous nature that is so near to his heart. That is to say, this is in no way a linear study guide of Abbey.

  • Nature as a Refuge:
    • Personal Liberty and Freedom
      • Choice in the wilderness
      • Some strange political arguments…
    • Sublime and awe inspiring
      • Time scales and difficulty of access
    • A place for reflection
    • Eartheism
  • Isolation
    • Technology/culture as isolating humans from nature
      • Industrial Tourism
    • Isolation from technology/culture as a way to connect to nature
    • Nature/Culture Dichotomy
  • “Pure” nature, or The Pristine Myth
    • The “Noble Savage”
      • Humans as becoming native
    • Humans and animals as kindred
      • Anthropomorphism?
      • Population control
        • Environments and supporting population–“…a city where there should be no city…
    • Custodians and symbiosis
      • “God provides”
      • A man from Cleveland…
      • The well
        • Progress? Of what type?
  • Romanticizing Nature
    • DANGER!
      • What kind of danger and why?
    • Nostalgia
    • Exploration and “the Unknown”
      • And also the fear of “the Unknown”

I think this fits very much in line with what Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

I think that this should be more than enough to speak about in class. I am more of an idea first find quote after kind of guy, so anytime in class please feel free to take all of us to the text.

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