Unreal Nature

August 21, 2015

That Wide, Animal Stare

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… They slunk on, cruel as man’s past …

This is from The Night Country by Loren Eiseley (1947; 1971):

… nothing is more brutally savage than the man who is not aware he is a shadow. Nothing is more real than the real; and that is why it is well for men to hurt themselves with the past — it is one road to tolerance.

The long history of man, besides its ennobling features, contains also a disruptive malice which continues into the present. Since the rise of the first neolithic cultures, man has hanged, tortured, burned, and impaled his fellow men. He has done so while devoutly professing religions whose founders enjoined the very opposite upon their followers.

… Not many months ago I chanced to be lecturing at a university whose grounds adjoin a depressed area of slums. After the conclusion of the class hour I sauntered out into a courtyard filled with sunshine and some fragments of Greek statuary. As I passed by the inner gate I was confronted by a scene as old as time. Approaching me along the path upon which they had intruded by squirming through a hedge, was a ragged band of children led by a sharp-featured boy with a bow. The arrow he held drawn was pointed with tin. Instinctively we both paused — I because I feared for my eyes. There was no more human recognition in the face of the leader than I might have received from a group of hunting man-apes on the African savannah.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] We measured each other as mutually powerful and unknown forces, best to be avoided. The band drew in unconsciously about its leader and veered aside, with that wide, momentary animal stare haunting me as they passed. Before my eyes there marched a million hears of human history, and I was a stranger and afraid, although, in my own lifetime, I had made that formidable passage from the caves and sewers of my childhood to this deceptively quiet campus across which these ghosts of long ago now persisted in passing. There was no humor in them, no real play. They slunk on, cruel as man’s past, deadly, with the bow poised and the sharp, observant eyes alert to spy out any helpless thing.

My most recent previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.

-Julie

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