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Artifacts and Illuminations

Critical Essays on Loren Eiseley

Tom Lynch

Publication Year: 2012

Loren Eiseley (1907–77) is one of the most important American nature writers of the twentieth century and an admired practitioner of creative nonfiction. A native of Lincoln, Nebraska, Eiseley was a professor of anthropology and a prolific writer and poet who worked to bring an understanding of science to the general public, incorporating religion, philosophy, and science into his explorations of the human mind and the passage of time.

As a writer who bridged the sciences and the humanities, Eiseley is a challenge for scholars locked into rigid disciplinary boundaries. Artifacts and Illuminations, the first full-length collection of critical essays on the writing of Eiseley, situates his work in the genres of creative nonfiction and nature writing. The contributing scholars apply a variety of critical approaches, including ecocriticism and place-oriented studies ranging across prairie, urban, and international contexts. Contributors explore such diverse topics as Eiseley’s use of anthropomorphism and Jungian concepts and examine how his work was informed by synecdoche. Long overdue, this collection demonstrates Eiseley’s continuing relevance as both a skilled literary craftsman and a profound thinker about the human place in the natural world.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

A project such as Artifacts and Illuminations comes to fruition because of the support and collaboration of many people, not just those who edit and contribute to the book. We would like to thank Bridget Barry and the staff at the University of Nebraska Press for their unwavering support and professional assistance, from our initial proposal to the book’s completion. We are also...

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pp. 1-14

Acknowledged as one of the most important twentieth-century American nature writers, Loren Eiseley was a widely admired practitioner of creative nonfiction, a genre that, in part due to his example, has flourished in recent decades. Contemporary nature writers regularly cite Eiseley as an inspiration and model. General readers, as well, appreciate Eiseley’s eloquent, complex, and informative essays; devoted readers have helped...

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1. “ The Bay of Broken Things”

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pp. 15-34

When he was a boy, Loren Eiseley recalls in All the Strange Hours, he for a time had the habit of whittling small crosses out of wood, decorating them with liquid gilt, and then erecting them atop the graves of birds he’d buried in the lot behind his house. He even went so far as to inter the printed obituaries of people who had died in heroic or tragic circumstances....

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2. “ Never Going to Cease My Wandering”

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pp. 35-54

In the summer of 1926 or thereabouts, young Loren Eiseley and his friends from high school hopped a freight in California (Christianson, Fox 50–54).1 One of their number was, in the slang of Eiseley-the-boy’s favorite author Jack London, a profesh, a boy who had jumped trains in previous acts of derring-do. Perhaps in earlier years he had enticed Eiseley on short runs from the freight yards of Lincoln, Nebraska, where they were living, to...

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3. “ The Places Below”

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pp. 55-76

During the 1940s and 1950s, essayist Loren Eiseley was conscious that he was inventing a new form of nonfiction essay, one that could embrace the depths of time that geology, evolutionary biology, and astrophysics had revealed to the modern world. Trained in anthropology, with expertise in paleontology and archaeology, Eiseley often finds himself pondering the mysteries of time and space, the shifting landscapes of epic gestation,...

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4. Unearthing Urban Nature

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pp. 77-98

Loren Eiseley used the compelling landscapes of his native Great Plains as well as the arid West as both setting and subject for his poetic yet scientifically rigorous explorations of evolution, natural history, and the human condition. But as a literary naturalist, Eiseley also mined the urban environment for inspiration and recognized the importance of analyzing nature close at hand in city and suburb in a rapidly urbanizing world, in which...

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5. Anthropomorphizing the Essay

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pp. 99-122

Anthropomorphizing: the charge of my critics.” With these abrupt words, Loren Eiseley began a one-paragraph notebook entry defending his representations of animals and animal-human relationships from the attacks of real and imagined detractors. On the day of the entry -- January 22, 1970 -- Eiseley was in the midst of a productive late-career period: The Unexpected Universe had recently been published,...

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6. “ The Borders between Us”

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pp. 123-142

Loren Eiseley’s literary reputation today rests almost exclusively on the significance of his nonfiction nature essays, which deservedly stand as influential exemplars of creative nonfiction science and nature writing. However, in his early years as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, Eiseley had the reputation as an important and promising poet, and he published poetry in a range of literary journals. Most notably, his work...

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7. Lessons of an Interdisciplinary Life

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pp. 143-172

From an early age, Loren Eiseley lived his life betwixt and between various kinds of “two cultures” experiences: the two linguistic worlds of his parents’ disparate communication styles; the distinct realms of private thought and public expression; the separate but concentric spheres of personal and professional discourses; and the two intellectual and academic domains traditionally described as...

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8. Artifact and Idea

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pp. 173-182

Loren Eiseley often scrawled questions and poems in the margins of texts that he read. Indeed, two years before the publication of Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which footnotes The Firmament of Time, Eiseley wrote that “the intellectual climate of a given period may unconsciously retard or limit the theoretical ventures of an exploring scientist” (Firmament 61). Keenly aware of the limitations imposed by a...

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9. The Spirit of Synecdoche

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pp. 183-208

The way we read the past shapes our present and future, and the genius of Loren Eiseley’s evolutionary metaphors remains relevant to current cultural and ecological issues. William Zinsser describes the sixties as the “golden era of nonfiction” (56). Eiseley’s books sold well after World War II, when the reading public developed an appetite for works that dealt directly with reality, preferring nonfiction to novels and short stories....

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10. In a Dark Wood

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pp. 209-234

On a midsummer night in 1985, I sit around a campfire with a dozen other high school students on the beach of Hardwood Island in the Bay of Maine, listening to professors from Case Western and the Yale School of Forestry read an essay: “The Star Thrower,” by Loren Eiseley. Eiseley, we learn, was an anthropologist who moonlighted as one of the finest nature writers of the twentieth century. Natural history is important to us. For the last...

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11. Emerson and Eiseley

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pp. 235-250

Central to Emerson and the transcendentalists is a sense of sheer astonishment in the face of existence, a receptivity to nature as fresh and original as “Adam early in the morning” -- to steal a phrase from Whitman (Leaves 95). The invitation to witness the universe “with new eyes” was not lost on Emerson’s countless literary and philosophical progeny (Essential 39). Chief among these is Loren Eiseley, the anthropologist, author, and bone...

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12. Epic Narratives of Evolution

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pp. 251-270

In 1961 Loren Eiseley was awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for The Firmament of Time, joining the ranks of distinguished authors of natural history such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Rachel Carson, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Roger Tory Peterson. Indeed, both Burroughs (1837–1921) and Eiseley (1907–77) belong to a long list of writers who imaginatively delve into environmental explorations, forging connections to ecological...

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13. Eiseley and Jung

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pp. 271-292

In his essay “Loren Eiseley’s Immense Journey,” Andrew J. Angyal celebrates the revered nature writer’s unconventional public stance: “As Eiseley warns his readers repeatedly, he is not a spokesman for conventional science. Instead, he is a poet-shaman, a wizard-alchemist who adopts the disguise of a changeling” (70). The roots of this unorthodox self-definition are found in the depth psychology of Carl Jung. There are two central tenets...

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14. From the American Great Plains to the Steppes of Russia

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pp. 293-318

Loren Eiseley was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, under the open skies of the Great Plains, and except for a brief business trip to England in 1951, never left the American mainland (see Christianson, Fox 298). Had he traveled to the steppes of southern Russia, he would probably not have felt out of place, recognizing in the gently rolling hills of the countryside the flat,...

Works Cited

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pp. 319-334


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pp. 335-338


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pp. 339-351

E-ISBN-13: 9780803240490
E-ISBN-10: 080324049X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803234031

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012