Assailed


"For every Space larger than a red Globule of Man's blood is visionary... And every Space smaller than a Globule of Man's blood opens into Eternity of which this vegetable Earth is but a shadow." - William Blake

• JOURNAL ENTRY •

The countless things that fit in our minds and imaginations do so because they are abstract. Abstraction is not just the corporatist's or ideologue's friend and the artist's and nature lover's enemy: it's what makes memories and knowledge portable, stories and art possible, and experiences and music had and heard by a ‘you' capable of moving through time and space into a ‘me.'

The trouble with abstraction is that the matter that surrounds us (including that which makes up living natural systems, living creatures, and ourselves) is not abstract. Much of it is also not portable. And much of the matter that is portable (redwood trees and wild salmon for instance) is irrevocably altered or destroyed when humans move it, against its will, through time and space.

Each of our actions unleashes forces latent in abstract language upon the realm of matter and living forms. This is why we need stories. Stories are matter and spirit at play. Stories, though made of language, can honor matter via an implicit cosmology portable enough to carry around in our hearts and heads. Just as a jazz pianist can pull trained instincts from his fingers and abstract knowledge from his head, then improvise an interaction with a keyboard to make music unique to time and place, so (I hope!) can a workable cosmology be extemporaneously produced to guide our interactions with creation, moment to moment, place to place.

I live in the extreme upper Columbia River system, in the Bitterroot Mountains' rain shadow, in a cottonwood and willow creek bottom between 7000-foot ridges. We call the year 2002. I've just turned half a century old. Do I possess such a cosmology?

Assignment to myself: sit down some day soon and see if you can improvise, jazz- pianist-style, a series of cosmological riffs based on what is portably you; what moves through time and space with your matter and spirit; what you have seen, heard, remembered, imagined, dreamt, and experienced to be true. . .

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DAVID JAMES DUNCAN is a father, fly fisher, conservationist, closet mystic, self-styled "compassionate activist," and author of the novels The River Why and The Brother's K, and the story/essay collections River Teeth and My Story as Told by Water. Assailed was originally published in Orion Magazine for their twentieth-year edition. Duncan's writings have received several literary awards, including the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award for Literary excellence, the American Library Association Best Books Award, and the Western States Book Award. He lives with his family in Montana, where he is at work on a novel set at the confluence of Asian mysticism and American mountains, entitled Eastern Western.