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D A V I D P E T E R S E N San Juan Mountains, Colorado CactusEd’s MoveableFeast: APreview ofConfessions ofa Barbarian: Pagesfront theJournals ofEdwardAbbey Edward Abbey opened his firstjournal in 1946. He was nineteen years old, serving with the army in post-war Italy as a military cop. He continued the practice of writing to himself until less than two weeks before his death in the early hours of March 14, 1989. The product of those four decades of journalizing was twenty chronological volumes containing, as near as I can calculate, more than half a million words. In tone and quality, Abbey’sjournals are evocative of Hemingway’s A MoveableFeast; in volume, they’re closer to War and Peace. Ed kept his cursivejournals in hardbound, unlined, 8x10 and 5x7 notebooks, wasting no space therein, with words, musical notations, drawings and other entries frequently overflowing onto the margins and inside covers. Sadly, the three earliest notebooks—documenting 1946 through most of 1951—were destroyed by flooding while in storage at Ed’s parents’ home in rural Pennsylvania. That leaves us with seventeen chronological volumes, numbered IV through XX, covering the thirtyeight years 1951 to 1989, plus four peripheral notebooks, each devoted to a specific topic (notes for his master’s thesis on anarchy) or experi­ ence (the daily routine ofa fire lookout, a marathon desertwalk, a cross­ country research trip for TheFool’sProgress), thus running the total back Editor’s note: Edward Abbey and David Petersen were close friends, having worked together on several occasions as writer and editor (see “River Solitaire,”in American Country,July, 1987; “Plowboy Interview,” in MotherEarth News, May/June, 1984; or ‘The Happy Excesses of Cactus Ed Abbey,” in Writer’s Digest, October, 1988, for example). Abbey respected Petersen’s work, and Clarke Abbey, the writer’s widow and literary executor, chose Petersen for thejob of selecting from and presenting thejournals. Confessions ofa Barbarianwill be published by Little, Brown in 1994. 34 'WesternAmerican Literature up to the twenty-one volumes Abbey mentions in his introduction to A VoiceCryingin the Wilderness:Notesfrom aSecretJournal (St. Martin’sPress). (That introduction, incidentally—written just eleven days before Ed’s death at age sixty-two, and closing with “A farewell, then, from Abbey, on the parapet of the tower of Fort Llatikcuf, in this windblown, dust-obscured midday twilight on this third day of March in the year 1989 anno Domini”—represents the last words Ed ever wrote for publi­ cation. For a hint as to his indomitable sense of humor, turn Fort “Llatikcuf’around in your mind.) The original notebooks today stand as the backbone of the volumi­ nous (“12.1 feet, 30 manuscript boxes”) Abbey Papers at the Special Collections Library at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Although the journals, as well as most of Abbey’s other papers— manuscripts, speech texts, correspondence and so on—remain in fair to good condition, theywouldn’t long stay thatway ifhandled by too many sweaty hands. Therefore and necessarily, access to the collection is closely guarded—not one in a hundred who might wish to examine the originaljournals will be able to do so—which fact alone is amplejustifi­ cation for the publication ofa representative sampling of thejournals by a major house; Ed may or may not have kept his diaries for posterity but, knowing him, I’m sure that if anyone is going to see them, he’d want everyoneto have equal opportunity; he detested privilege. A perusal of the original notebooks suggests that Abbey did some­ thing few diarists have the emotional stomach for—he went back and read them. In evidence of this, all the notebooks contain insertions, deletions and parenthetic comments obviously added subsequent to the original writing. Moreover, Ed frequently made mention ofhisjournals’ importance to his writing. They were, after all, and are, the story of his life. His life: As Abbey the writer became gradually better known, and demand for his work steadily increased, proportionately more of his time and creative energy went into writing directly for publication, leaving correspondingly less time and energy for the journals. Conse­ quently and not at all surprisingly, journal entries are not only longer and more frequent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 33-41
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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