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Urgency in Quest for Belonging: Reflection on "Sick of Nature" by David Gessner

The Unknown's picture

            One word that David Gessner used several times was “safe.” We often write within boundaries, consider human audiences, and we are constantly modifying and contorting our speech. We frame our words so that other people can understand what we are trying to explain, not necessarily so they more clearly articulate what we aim to express. I find that even when we use words that describe natural objects or settings and we assign new meanings to them or use these “ecological” words when referring to human-produced commodities, there is wildness that surfaces which is rooted in the complexity, depth, and vigor of our surroundings.

            David Gessner in “Sick of Nature” explains how contradictions enliven a text: “Of course I’m not claiming that Thoreau’s book is free of nature reverence, just that the pious tone is often contradicted – delightfully, thornily – by moments like his confession that, for all his reasoned vegetarianism, ‘I could sometimes eat a fried rat with good relish, if it were necessary” (Gessner 1). I think my own writing lacks this sense of responsibility and contradictions. We seem so afraid of holding onto two opposing ideas, even though the more I learn about my connection to my surroundings, it feels like I can not find a “one fits all,” an “eternal truth” a right answer. Though it seems that when we avoid this edginess, we are telling a convoluted truth.

            Gessner speaks of a “too certain voice” (Gessner 3). We are too sure of our ideas, too comfortable in what we have accepted. We are simplifying the elaborate entanglement. We should embrace attempts, failures, and mistakes, instead of seeing them as a divergent path to understanding, connection.

            I appreciated the constant sense of searching for wildness throughout the article. We are pushed to address “the messy side of existence” (Gessner 2). I found it extremely interesting how much emotion there was in the article. The other day we were talking about how shallow and simple our emotions are, and here Gessner constantly references a sense of eagerness, excitement, drive.

            According to David Gessner, the lack of risk and vivaciousness in nature writing has made the fantastic and miraculous seem so controlled and clear: “Nature becomes a kind of bland church, and these writers seem intent on smearing themselves with what Mark Twain called ‘soul butter” (Gessner 2). I was intrigued by how are language of ownership simplifies and dulls what we are describing.

            David Gessner claims that nature has been contorted and manipulated to benefit people’s own fulfillment and/or careers as writers: “… nature writers, ‘like vacuum cleaner salesman…scramble for exclusive territory on this oversold, swarming, shriveling planet” (Gessner 3). Why aren’t academics concerned more with sharing knowledge? People are fighting to explain a diminishing landscape. The nuanced words are not being developed, understood, recognized or articulated fast enough to explain a planet that is losing so much of what defines it, characterizes it, controls it, limits it, stretches it.

            What is the balance between pushing the limits of writing or writing wildly and keeping our audience’s attention? How much is the reader comfortable with the familiar, dull, assuredness?

            David Gessner encourages the interweaving of different subjects and modes when writing about our surroundings: “Time for a radical cross-pollination of genres” (Gessner 3). I was animated by this idea of seeing the fluidity and cross-sectionality between topics, courses, and ideas.

            David Gress in “Sick of Nature calls for nature writing to break the barrier between truths: “How about more writing that spills and splashes over the seawall between fiction and nonfiction?” (Gessner 3).  I want to explore this idea of the truth when writing about objects, systems, plants, or animals that we cannot completely understand, grasp, precisely or accurately depict.