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220 Western American Literature “Ese sol tan alto, esta eterna tierra.” “West, a low shelf of burning light, clouds, the last like an orange-hot anvil; east, the first stars showing, and night rising like water to douse the anvil.” The locale is a land of scorpions and rattlesnakes, “country of the thousand thorns . . . Agarita, catclaw, mesquite, Spanish bayonet, tasajillo, prickly pear.” The narrative is both lyric and brutal, a conflict of spirit and flesh. The treatment of rape avoids all pornographic detail: “Jensie had begged the two men, cried for them to cut her throat for her, and let her grief free. They only cut her with softer knives.” But style is sometimes a problem. Writing in the third person but through Jensie’s point of view, Vliet blends lyric eloquence and pioneer illiteracy in a not altogether successful combination. For instance, “Her hair flew in threads of bright. That was when she seen the three Mexicans. She didn’t waste no time. . . . A flush of stonesuck jugged her chest. Sudden somewhere a high wind creaked. Then her whole flesh snapped.” Though rich in imagery and striking metaphors, the style is sometimes too obstrusive and self-conscious. At first the Mexicans’ dialogue is all in Spanish. Then as Jensie absorbs their language, the dialogue gradually shifts more and more to English, though until the homeward trek, when Jensie and Bernardino open them­ selves to each other, there is very little dialogue. Her thinking in Spanish “changed the look of everything,” and her first reaction, “O never never see her people more! Never hear a sound of English! Lost! Gone barren as those canyon places she was headed for. The colorless country,” changes to an awareness of having found a new Jensie. First printed in The Hudson Review, Rockspring is not a Western for Zane Grey fans, but the discriminating reader will find it rewarding. ROBERT E. MORSBERGER, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona The Comedy of Survival: Studies in Literary Ecology. By Joseph Meeker. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. 217 pages. $8.95). A number of literary scholars have been working for some time now, trying to put together their traditional interests and methods of criticism with the insights into human nature and behavior offered by the biological sciences. There has also developed, in recent years, a feeling that ecological visions of life, and appropriate models for actual ecological living, have been described by literary artists for centuries — almost old hat, as it were. Reviews 221 Some have even argued that ecology is and has been a legitimate humanist province. But the links between literature and ecology have never been clearly delineated. Joseph Meeker’s book is a landmark text because it makes some of the heretofore missing connections. The Comedy of Survival is not so much an application of biology to literature, or of literature to biology, as it is a fresh synthesis of the two, making finally an outlook, a means of under­ standing, that transcends disciplinary specialism. This is a book we have been waiting for. Meeker’s basic thesis is that human behavior and motivation are fundamentally either “tragic” or “comic.” A personality or culture which feels alien, superior, and special — with regard to the rest of nature — and which is intensely interested in metaphysical absolutes and ideals, is termed “tragic.” Meeker is here describing, we quickly learn, the dom­ inant mentality in progressive, nature-altering, Western cultures. It is an expansionary and egoistic mentality, in which “tragic man is ennobled by his struggles, and mankind is ennobled through him.” Great emphasis is placed on individual personality and on Right and Wrong seen cosmically. The tragic view of life, Meeker believes, creates and lives on crisis. It is very much involved in the steep environmental deterioration of modern times. However, Meeker is not arguing for Arcadian man. In one of his most provocative chapters, he aligns the pastoral-escapist tradition with the tragic mentality, pointing out that pastoralism repeats the anthropocentricity and self-indulgence of man-as-separate-and-superior. The antidote is neither retreat to the Garden nor ultimate, tragic suffering and transcendence, but rather a clever, flexible adjustment to reality — a “comic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 220-222
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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