Weschler Moments

January 22nd, 2008 at 3:47 pm

In the books I’ve been reading lately, I’ve had some serious, what I call, Weschler Moments, occurrences of strange connections named for the author’s book Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences.

In quite possibly the best book of last year, if not ever (seriously, this book is my scripture), Clive James explains the reason for his great book’s title, Cultural Amnesia: “One of the intentions of this book is to help establish a possible line of resistance against the cultural amnesia by which it suits us to forget that the convulsive mental life of the twentieth century, which gave the United States so much of the cultural power that it now enjoys, was a complex, global event that can be simplified only at the cost of making it unreal. If we can’t remember it all, we should at least have some idea of what we have forgotten.”

Arriving at a similar theme of western amnesia is Robert Hass, who in his latest collection of poetry, Time and Materials, has a poem called “I Am Your Waiter Tonight And My Name Is Dmitri.” Early in the poem, it goes like this:

……….There is probably a waiter
In this country so clueless he wears a T-shirt in the gym
That says Da Meat Tree. Not our protagonist. American amnesia
Is such that he may very well be the great-grandson
Of the elder Karamozov brothers who fled to the Middle West
With his girl friend Grushenka – he never killed his father,
It isn’t true that he killed his father – but his religion
Was that woman’s honey-colored head, an ideal tangible
Enough to die for, and he lived for it: in Buffalo,
New York, or Sandusky, Ohio.

And in The World Without Us, Alan Weisman relates the tragic irony of how Korea’s DMZ, one of the world’s most dangerous places, has become one of its most important by providing inadvertent refuge for wildlife that might have otherwise disappeared. Animals like Asiatic black bears, Eurasian lynx, musk deer, Chinese water deer, yellow-throated marten, an endangered mountain goat, and the Amur leopard all cling to life in this person-less tract of precious land.

Robert Hass also weighs in on this delicate tragedy with the poem, “On Visiting The DMZ At Panmunjom: A Haibun,” in which he laments humanity’s failure to comprehend and properly categorize large numbers, mainly those of our dead lost in bloody battle. The poem concludes:

The flurry of white between the guard towers
- river mist? a wedding party?
is cattle egrets nesting in the willows.

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