What Happens Here Can Only Happen Here

“A particular place in the land is never, for an oral culture, just a passive or inert setting for the human events that occur there. It is an active participant in those occurrences. Indeed, by virtue of its underlying and enveloping presence, the place may even be felt to be the source, the primary power that expresses itself through the various events that unfold there.” – David Abram

The modern world often obscures the importance and influence of a place because in knowing about the events of many places at the same time via news and social media, we often focus on similarities while ignoring the differences. It’s human nature, I think, to look for common themes and even to copy those we like best leading, among other things, to build the same stores and restaurants across the country because they are profitable by virtue of being known as well as a comfort to both the residents and those traveling through town. Homogenizing everything we can not only destroys local culture and exciting differences but makes for a very sterile way of life by trying to translate the culture of another place into our place where that culture is unnatural.

(I digress when I say that I don’t like this practice, especially when traveling and finding mostly chain restaurants dominating the scene to the detriment of local culture and local restaurants. I can’t imagine visiting New Orleans, for example, and only eating the same fast food I eat at home.)

If you read and/or write magical realism, you know already the importance of the place where a real event or fictional story is set, and in knowing, that one understands how the place helps shape the events that happen there. Those events cannot happen anywhere else–no matter how much people might try to copy them–because they depend on the place’s history, culture, geography, and other factors that are unique. One tries through his/her writing to communicate this to the reader subconsciously rather than overtly. You can’t say “The swamp didn’t like Jim.” But when Jim goes into the swamp in your story, you can give the impression that this is true–or that Jim is scared of the swamp and acts differently than he would act if he weren’t scared of it.

It’s hard not to think of the exchange between Luke Skywalker and Yoda, when Luke asks (about the swamp), “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”

This is true everywhere even though most people won’t acknowledge it.

In looking for similarities between shootings and other crimes, commentators are quick to compare a crime in one place with a crime in another place. They often refer to these as “copycat shootings.” But that can’t be true even if the second perpetrator was aware of the first and wanted to duplicate it. He/she lives in a different environment–the Great Plains as opposed to, say, the Everglades–and part of his/her motivation is copying, a factor that wasn’t involved with the first crime.

Focusing on the real or imagined copycat nature of an event will usually lead investigators astray. Storytellers know this and honor the influence of the place on what happens in that place rather than the extraneous fact that similar events might have happened somewhere else. In magical realism, we understand that what happens here can only happen here.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series. This Kindle set includes all four novels in the series.

Words in good order are a treasure

As I re-read Amanda Coplin’s The Orcharist (2012), I’m reminded–as I always am when I read a great book a second or third time–of the treasures the author’s words present that might be overlooked the first time through by reader’s focus on the plot.

David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) speaks of the languages of the forest that most of us miss because we either don’t understand them or aren’t paying attention. In addition to animal tracks and calls, there are things that move (leaves blown across the sand, for example) that are another language we could learn if we wanted to understand the planet.

When I took a typesetting course in college as part of my journalism degree, the professor said that the best way to learn about a new typeface was to take a printed copy of it and trace every letter on an overlaid sheet of tissue paper. To know type, you need to see all of the thick and thin places, the ascenders and descenders, the legibility of the face on the page, and whether or not the type works best for headlines or text.

When we pay attention to a novel on a second or third reading, rather like noticing the language of a forest or the personality of a typeface, we see more than we saw the first time we read it. I’ve read The Prince of Tides and A Scot’s Quair at least five times, and each time I find a new nugget of gold or a hidden diamond. I usually let a fair amount of time go by before I’ll read a book again. That tends to make it seem newer when I pick it up for another reading.

I see on the Internet that some people track the number of books and their titles each year. I’m not sure why. I guess that’s okay, though it might emphasize quantity over quality, including making it harder to insert time in the schedule for re-reading one’s favorites.

Reading a book once seems to me to be similar to buying anything else and using it only once. Okay, maybe it’s not similar at all. But once the book is there on the shelf or on the display in one’s Kindle library, it still has things to say to us.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

 

 

Event: The Environmental Crisis and the Living Quest of the Embodied Psyche, a dialogue

Two of my favorite authors, Patricia Damery and David Abram, will present a dialogue entitled “The Environmental Crisis and the Living Quest of the Embodied Psyche” on Friday, February 10, 2012, 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. at the The David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way Berkeley, CA 94704. The event is hosted by the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. Click here for tickets to the event.

Event Description from the Institute

Dammery and Abram

David Abram is a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher whose lyrical evocations in his books, The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, have captivated a generation of readers. Patricia Damery, an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute, first learned to love the land as a child growing up on a farm in the Midwest and now farms a Biodynamic ranch in Napa, California. Patricia’s memoir, Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation, as well as her novel, Snakes, address the preservation of our connection to the environment and explore the interconnected fabric of consciousness.

She and David Abram will explore the interplay of the embodied psyche and the destruction of whole ecological systems. What is the nature of the challenges with which we are presented? Is there evolutionary potential? This dialogue promises to be generative and exploratory in spirit—a truly unique event.

A Few Personal Thoughts

I cannot help but notice the fact that this event is taking place less than a mile from the house I lived in when I was born. However, my current residence is 2,168 miles away and, travel, food and lodging expenses being rather high, I’ll have to hope the event is recorded and then released as a video or printed transcript. The environment, I think, is our first duty. It is, so to speak, not only our nest but the nest of many thousands of other lives who are depending on a common-sense and loving collaborative effort with humankind to protect the place where we are born and live out our lives.

The  books by David Abram and Patricia Dammery celebrate our community nest. What a wonderful evening their dialogue will be. I am happy to echo the words Patricia wrote in a recent blog post: “Please enter this dialogue with your presence! Never has it been so important to renew our conversations with the not-human and the natural world. David is a lively and thoughtful speaker, and we are very fortunate to have him this evening in the Bay Area.”

Malcolm