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  • Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking
  • Sean Kane (bio)
Robert Bringhurst . Everywhere Being Is Dancing: Twenty Pieces of Thinking. Gaspereau. 350. $31.95

For theorists sketching a green consciousness for the twenty-first century, Bringhurst does much of the deep historical work. His fifteen volumes of poetry reconstruct oral thought out of indigenous languages. This book of essays brings the elusive, poetic thinking of antiquity within reach - not as theory (a 'blueprint for a dream house') but more as proverb (for 'living through the day').

The book's first section amounts to a loose poetics of 'continuous coming-to-be.' Interrogating Chinese, Greek, and Navajo oral philosophers, Bringhurst affirms the ancient perception that thought is not the possession of individual human beings, but a property of reality shared among all the Earth's beings, and their thinking is poetry. The next essay describes the typical form of this animation - polyphony, that is, multiple voices singing simultaneously, not as dialogue, but with an ear to each other's independence. An erudite enlargement of this artistic and political concept yields the observation, '[T]he finest examples I know of true [End Page 488] polyphony in literature happen to be Canadian-made' (Dennis Lee, Glenn Gould's spoken fugues - to which I add Bringhurst's own compositions for two, three, and multiple voices). In the next essay, polyphony is understood as the abstract emergence called myth out of its oral and ecological settings. How to approach this 'polyhedral fragrance of light' (Guy Davenport's phrase)? Surveying extant North American myth-telling literatures, the concluding essay denominates this approach as translation, setting out its obligations and hope.

Section 2 is devoted to Bringhurst's beloved presocratics, with revaluings of Empedokles, Gorgias, and Parmenides, the last with complete translation. Then, a reflection on one of the oldest known samples of Greek writing, found on an artifact declaring, 'I am Raven's cup.' The essay refocuses the orality-literacy divide on objects speaking themselves (animism) and objects assigned resident spirits to speak for them (humanism), making Homer a humanist and the cup a being saying, 'I am.'

The third section goes to Bringhurst's own practice: his ethically flexed translations, polyphonic compositions, and chaste typography. This section is short: self-writing is foreign to the author who in his first fourteen books of poetry has never appropriated the first person singular.

Next, responses to five disparate artists. Bringhurst's humanist farsightedness and reticence is especially pronounced in this section. So is his early modernist lament for lost civilization, present and past: '[A]ll of us now are living the orphan's story,' told by Tlingit elder Elizabeth Nyman. And, like Avdo Mededovic, who recited post-Homeric epic in twentieth-century Montenegro, all of us are in the condition of war, fought on the back of the world's longest-running war, the conquest of Earth that began in the Neolithic. With a third storyteller, the wondertale artist Alice Kane, Bringhurst proposes an original etymology of fairy ('wild') to complement the one offered by the OED just before it throws up its hands ('fate'). Rootedness in place, which grounds the storyteller's art, is explored, through critic Laurie Ricou, in the literary landscape of the Pacific Northwest. A study of the ladder and dog barking at the moon image in Miró, inspired by Blake's Gates of Paradise, leads to Bringhurst quoting with approval Miró's un-Blakean 'I escaped into the absolute of Nature.'

The final section presents a translation, out of Sapir, of 'The Origin of Mind' by the Sheshaht elder Saayaacchapis. Ten beings compose an individual mind: 'He'll never get to where he's heading / if some of them are unwilling.' Polyphonic mind is discussed in a translated Navajo prayer and wonderfully realized, next, in a poetic translation of 'The Origin of Horses' by the Navajo myth-teller Cháálatsoh / Charlie Mitchell (d. 1932). As always, Bringhurst furnishes the circumstances of the original performance, as he does in the last piece, on a Haida myth studied by Gary Snyder. [End Page 489]

At issue in defining green consciousness is whether it will be a bureaucratically enforced neo-Confucianism based...


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