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Note EDWARD ABBEY, 1927-1989 When, on March 14, 1989, Edward Abbey died from internal bleeding at the age of 62 in Tucson, among the other things he left behind were the 19 books he wrote, his unedited journals and letters, an old red Cadillac conver­ tible, a television set that he had blasted with a rifle and turned into an object d’art, three ex-wives and three grown children, his membership in the NRA, a fetching and intelligent widow named Clarke Cartwright, and their two babies, five-year-old Rebecca and two-year-old Ben. He also left a hole in the American literary scene about the size of the combined states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Ore­ gon, and Nevada. Which isto say that no one has written more ardently ormore passionately in defense of the American West than Abbeydid. Certainly, no other American writer has acted more courageously to save what can be saved of our remaining wilderness than he. To put it mildly, however, Abbey was much more than a writer and an activist. He was an irrepressible force. An influence. An inspira­ tion. And a threat. In particular, he threatened the meanness, filth, violence, and misery visited upon our shrinking world by the likes of Exxon, Mobil, Amax, General Motors, Wall Street, the Pentagon, Westinghouse, and various bureaus of the federal government. (That’s one reason the FBI kept tabs on him.) “I don’t know if we can prevent the eventual industrialization of the West,” he wrote Tom McGuane in 1979, “but we can slow it down, ifwe make a fight, and in delay may be our best hope. Passive non-resistance, on the other hand, merely hastens the destruction. If we love our country, how can we refuse to defend it?” “He was so smart,” as Gary Snyder recently put it, “that even when he was (I thought) wrong he was damned near right.” In fact, Abbey’s genius (as Snyder hints) may reside most clearly in his contrariness and literary cussedness. He steadfastly refused to be what other people desired to make him. No movement or cause, no matter how sacred, ever passed beyond the range of his sense of humor. Indeed, as Wendell Berry asserts, “the more solemn and sacred” the cow, the greater Abbey’s temptation to ridicule. He gleefully fired rounds, for example, at feminists and conservationists alike, infuriating con­ firmed enemies on both sides but also provoking (as he intended) followers and fans. No one, it seemed, was ever safe, least of all Edward Abbey, whose outrageous pratfalls he often reported with laconic, deadpan humor. 152 Western American Literature And because he made us laugh, because he risked telling all the truth (straight out as well as slantwise), because he dared to think for himself— to literally become and remain a free-thinker—and because he had the ability to make us think, something about Abbey’s life and his work took on heroic qualities. “That’sall I ask of the author,” he says in “A Writer’sCredo,” “to be a hero, appoint himself a moral leader, wanted or not. I believe that words count, that writing matters, that poems, essays, and novels—in the long run—make a difference.” But what if they do not? “Then,” says Abbey, “in the words of my exemplar Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the writer’swork is no more important than the barking of village dogs at night.” In Abbey’s view, “all those in the word trade who simply go with flow, who never oppose the rich and the powerful, are no better . . . than Solzhenitsyn’s village dogs. The dogs bark; the caravan moves on.” JAMES R. HEPWORTH Lewis Clark State College * * * * * As the official airline of the Western Literature Association, Delta Airlines is offering a deal on transportation to the October 11-14 meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Using the gateway city of Spokane, Washington, Delta has agreed to supply to WLA members a 5% discount on any special or discounted fare, or 40% off the full fare. The official travel agency for the WLA this year is Adventures in Travel of Tallahassee, Inc., 3380...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 151-152
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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