Monday, September 26, 2011

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen, Dreams
Seven Stories Press, 2011

A few years ago I started to read books about ecology and climate change. First I read books like Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded, that claims we can use a “green revolution” to save the earth and get rich. (It’s embarrassing to think that just four years ago this seemed to me a reasonable idea.) Then I read the more serious books, that argued that profound sacrifice would be necessary: Orr, Brown, McKibben.

Meanwhile, natural communities are destroyed at ever-increasing pace. Meanwhile, government and business are wholly unwilling to make real changes to avert destruction. They can’t even manage hollow gestures and window dressing! Meanwhile, many of the smartest and best people I know -- who appear otherwise thoughtful -- say they can’t be bothered or hide themselves away in easy nihilism or nauseating New Age vapidity.

People act as if they had someplace else to live. They appear to be waiting for an new iphone application that will save the Earth in just one click.

Now here is Derrick Jensen, every cell in his body radiating outrage, kicking in all directions in his fury. I think Derrick Jensen is wrong about plenty of things. I only wish that he was wrong about the things that matter most. He’s not wrong. He’s right: there is no reason to believe that the system of which we are a part, and which is destroying the Earth, is going to voluntarily dismantle itself for the good of all. It isn’t going to happen.

I groaned aloud when Jensen related yet another zombie nightmare but the zombie metaphor is hideously apt: what are we doing but moving in stunned lockstep toward the destruction of the basis of our own lives and spirits?

Naysayers will find this book effortless to dismiss. On page 9 he talks about how pet dogs communicate with him in dreams after their deaths. And on page 12 he’s back calling for the end of civilization as we know it.

I’ve spent enough time in Cambodia and China for my blood to run cold when I hear someone calling to remake society but – there is no other option that I see. We are headed off a cliff.

Derrick Jensen’s style is extremely casual. The chapters invite us to think and fume and dream along with him. Sometimes it seems that he can write about as fast as I can read. (At one point in the book he provides times.) I often wished that, since I had to spend so much time, he’d spent more time too. Is Jensen so revered that someone is afraid to edit? The strongest chapters are brilliant: Extinction, Fungi, The Bear, Reciprocity, Wisdom. Others could have been condensed or cut entirely. Sometimes he sounds like a visionary, other times like a peevish eighth grader. He is often brilliant. He is often downright snarky.

I am very glad I spent many days reading this book and taking notes. I wrestled and sighed, complained -- and learned a tremendous amount. I hope that portions of the book can be edited and tightened and made available to people who cannot or will not read the entire book.

As for me, I’ve taken to hauling the book around and begging people, “Could you just read the chapter ‘Reciprocity’? Please! I’ll make you tea. I’ll rub your feet. I’ll wait. Please, please! Read ‘Reciprocity’.”


Guttersnipe Das said...

Dear Babystrangeloop,

Was there a particular reason you wanted me to review the scandals of Jetsunma? I know the basics of her story, as well as umpteen other Buddhist/Hindu scandals. Any particular reason you sent me ten messages about Jetsunma? Now I'm curious. . .

G.S. Das

babystrangeloop said...

I had a run in with Jetsunma on twitter. She was hopeless. I broke off contact with her. A year or so later a friend of mine says he wanted to do Vyrutti Homa and circumnambulate a stupa somewhere up River Road. I went with him and chanted the mantras while he ladled the ghee on the flame. We went around the stupa and I was thinking "may all beings be happy". Then we had to wait for the vessel to cool and we sat on a bench. It was late and mosquitoes bit me on my face and all over while I found out on my phone that it was Jetsunma's place with the stupa and it was the 23rd anniversary of her "coronation" (too bad not of her coronary bypass or something.) Why don't people just leave me alone when I try to leave them alone?

babystrangeloop said...

I'm designing a new course entitled "Basic, Elementary, Ultra-simple Loving Kindness for Deluxe-Advanced Level Haters". I'm going to be the only one to instruct it and the only student.

babystrangeloop said...

BTW all the messages were about Jetsunma. There is a limit of 4096 characters so the message was split across multiple messages.