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Reviews Beyond Geography;The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness. By Frederick Turner. (New York: Viking, 1980. 329 pages, $16.95.) Frederick Turner grew up in south Chicago, a full-fledged member of what he calls “a rootless, restless people with a culture of superhighways precluding rest and a furious penchant for tearing up last year’s improve­ ments in a ceaseless search for some gaudy ultimate.” He has produced a book-length essay on the spiritual malaise of Western civilization. He begins by examining the history of the ancient Near East, birthplace of the religion that has shaped the Western mind — Christianity. He scans historical texts with an eye for “the revealing detail” — the choice kernel of fact that bolsters and amplifies his understanding of how Americans lost their sense of place, and, with it, their spiritual comfort. Going back that far is necessary, Turner thinks, because the attitudes European settlers brought to the New World “are in a real measure traceable to the struggles of the Ancient Near Eastern peoples with their marginal and tricky environ­ ment.” “In comparison with Europe and the Americas, the conditions for largescale agriculture (in the Near East) were severely limited,” Turner says. As people moved from nomadism to the cities, they came to view their natural surroundings as a formidable obstacle to the comfortable, settled existence they sought. As they developed ways to wall out their hostile surroundings, they lost their spiritual ties to the land. “The locus of divinity shifted to the sky and the irrational, violent gods who dwelt there,” Turner explains. Land-taming technology became as important to these people as their ancient spiritual ties had been. Once having lost the fervor inspired by the original revelations, their religion became routinized dogma. What filled the growing spiritual vacuum? A lust for exploration and conquest, Turner says. As he sees it, the New World adventurers helped satisfy the psyche of a civilization gone spiritually sour. Western civilization outstripped and encircled other cultures not because of innate superiority, but due to its excruciating emptiness. The conquest of the New World was hardly the end of the West’s destructive “ceaseless searching,” however. Turner goes on to present primary Reviews 143 accounts of the quests of such idols as Christopher Columbus and Buffalo Bill — only to knock them soundly off their dusty pedestals. More recently, increasing numbers in this society have tried to turn back to the earth for spiritual sustenance. The resistance they’ve encountered is understandable, Turner says, since they are at odds with centuries of cul­ tural tradition. At the same time, Turner sees the land advocates as a logical outgrowth of that tradition and implies that their numbers are likely to grow. “Only when the New World had been pruned and leveled so that none need fear becoming lost in it, and its remnant natives had been disarmed and corralled could Europeans begin to rest easy in their possession. And it was at that moment in our history that we began to experience the spiritual enormity of what had been done here,” Turner says. Few readers will swallow whole Turner’s analysis of the Western men­ tality. He’s too quick to condemn Christianity, too ready to embrace the cultures it conquered and too eager to ignore evidence that might challenge his contentions. But readers may very well find themselves questioning attitudes about certain episodes of our history that they swallowed whole at some earlier time. They’ll certainly enjoy the vivid writing with which Turner places his worrisome chinks in America’s armor. JOAN NICE, Lander, Wyoming Good News. By Edward Abbey. (New York: Dutton, 1980. 242 pages, $5.95.) Good News is a novel of the Apocalypse, with its setting in and around a dying Phoenix of the post-industrial, post-Christian world. The world-wide technological machine has collapsed, and in America, the wealthiest nation of all, “the harshest changes came to the few but precarious, monstrous cities that had once appeared, briefly, in that nation’s arid West . . . .” Now, in Phoenix, all is in ruins: coyotes slink through the empty streets where cacti grow from cracks in the asphalt (as vines sprout in the streets...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 142-143
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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