Unreal Nature

February 27, 2015

Ringed by the Indifference of the Watching Stars

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… I would play for man more fiercely if the years would take me back.

This is from the Prologue to The Invisible Pyramid by Loren Eiseley (1970):

… Like John Donne, man lies in a close prison, yet it is dear to him. Like Donne’s, his thoughts at times overleap the sun and pace beyond body. If I term humanity a slime mold organism it is because our present environment suggests it. If I remember the sunflower forest it is because from its hidden reaches man arose. The green world is his sacred center. In moments of sanity he must still seek refuge there.

If I dream by contrast of the eventual drift of the star voyagers through the dilated time of the universe, it is because I have seen thistledown off to new worlds and am at heart a voyager who, in this modern time, still yearns for the lost country of his birth. As an anthropologist I know that we exist in the morning twilight of humanity and pray that we may survive its noon. The travail of the men of my profession is to delve amid the fragments of civilizations irretrievably lost and, at the same time, to know man’s enormous capacity to create.

But I dream and because I dream, I severally condemn, fear, and salute the future. It is the salute of a gladiator ringed by the indifference of the watching stars. Man himself is the solitary arbiter of his own defeats and victories. I have mused on the dead of all epochs from flint to steel. They fought blindly and well against the future, or the cities and ourselves would not be here. Now all about us, unseen, the final desperate engagement continues.

If man goes down I do not believe that he will ever again have the resources or the strength to defend the sunflower forest and simultaneously to follow the beckoning road across the star fields. It is now or never for both, and the price is very high. It may be, as A.E. Housman said, that we breathe the air that kills both at home and afar. He did not speak of pollution; he spoke instead of the death that comes with memory. I have wondered how long the social memory of a great culture can be sustained without similarly growing lethal. This also our century may decide.

I confess that the air that kills has been breathed upon the pages of this book, but upon it also has shone the silver light of flying thistledown. In the heart of the city I have heard the wild geese crying on the pathways that lie over a vanished forest. Nature has not changed the force that drives them. Man, too, is a different expression of that natural force. He has fought his way from the sea’s depths to Palomar Mountain. He has mastered the plague. Now, in some final Armageddon, he confronts himself.

As a boy I once rolled dice in an empty house, playing against myself. I suppose I was afraid. It was twilight, and I forget who won. I was too young to have known that the old abandoned house in which I played was the universe. I would play for man more fiercely if the years would take me back.




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