This is a narrative of the research and thinking process that got this project off the ground. It’s not any kind of a finished product. The ideas are not complete, the learning is not finished. I’m sure they never will be.
Here’s a line I found in an article about the composer John Luther Adams, in the New Yorker:
“Richard Serra talks about the point at which all your influences are assimilated and then your work can come out of the work.”
I can’t possibly say these are all my influences — and I don’t know how I could ever get to that point — but I clearly have been assimilating influences and working to internalize them.
The finished products of this work (so far) are found under the heading of “Outcomes” (tab above and category in the sidebar to the right) and on the site Waterways, which holds the book manuscript derived from this research.
A few clues to what’s in each chapter of “The Narrative”:
1. I Tackle the Water Project and It Squirts Out of My Grasp
(that seems to speak for itself)
2. I Avoid Work
Selected wisecracks about the books brought to Prince Edward Island for purposes of water research.
3. I Finally Read a Book
The beginning of an encounter with Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West, by Donald Worster.
4. Subject to Distractions
Events in P.E.I., and the rest of Worster. A can of worms gets opened: the question of man’s relationship with nature. Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner.
5. Time to Buckle Down
Water and the American agrarian dream. The Whole Foods Eucharist. Water and values. A point of view begins to emerge.
6. The Mall and the Otter
Unexpected discovery of nature (?) — a wetland — in the midst of the Bangor Mall. The ambiguous transitional zone, the marginal space (for which this blog is named). A new layer of this project, in the physical world.
7. I Get In Over My Head
A mind-boggling flood of internet-based research leads to a mighty difficult article on the biological definition of life. The beginnings of an effort to think ecologically, leading to a realization that this may require a complete rethinking of certain assumptions.
8. I Stick My Toe in the Sea
An amazing proposal to “restore” the Salton Sea. The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina leads to thoughts about what to do in southern Louisiana.
9. Time to Stretch the Legs
An urban stream in Cambridge called Wellington Brook, and another called Mill Brook in Arlington. The beginnings of an effort to understand the epistemological thinking of Magoroh Maruyama.
10. I Take a Flying Leap
A rash effort to say what all this has added up to so far.
11. Return to Bangor Mall
Further explorations of the surprising and beautiful wetland.
Back home, an attempt to connect Maruyama, metaphor, and measurement.
A wander along the Little River, into Belmont to Little Pond, where remarkable creatures are sighted.
12. Seattle and Salmon
The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River, by Richard White. Another angle on man’s relationship with nature (and salmon). Brief reprises of Worster, Reisner, and Maruyama. A local wetland and the Japanese aesthetic called wabi-sabi.
13. The Chilean Biologists
The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. A book that proposes the modest project of going from the origin of life on earth to human consciousness and the self, via biology. Some mind-boggling and counter-intuitive ideas swim to the surface.
I visit some white geese by the Charles River and install some new hens in the back yard. More reflections on the ideas of Maturana and Varela, leading to the issue of human agency, or lack thereof, and the notion that our culture is embroiled in a contest of competing fictions about us and the world around us.
15. The Problem Tells You Where to Search
First of two sections about a major ongoing shift in contemporary science, which is moving us away from the Newtonian particle-interaction metaphor as the explanation for everything. This section is mostly about Robert Rosen’s book Life Itself and the argument that there is not enough causality in the Newtonian system to account for the aliveness of living organisms.
16. Western Thought on Fast Forward, cont.
I try to improve on my speedy tour of intellectual history, first delivered in #10, with a great deal of help from Ecology, the Ascendent Perspective, by Robert Ulanowicz. More about leaving Newton behind, and what ecology might be telling us about the function of art.
17. Regroup and Begin Again
Taking stock after seven months, at the halfway point of sabbatical. Sticking point, turning point. Meditations on how to proceed, with help from Gregory Bateson.
18. The Open Frame
Reflections on visual art and the meaning of framing it lead to thoughts about how I want to frame the world around me; this in turn suggests possible connections between my novels and the content of this project.
19. When Nothing Is Done, Nothing Is Left Undone
Many thoughts converge. A complicated intellectual journey leads to a move that is different in kind.
20. Farther Out on a Limb
Self larger than consciousness, the theatre of personal reality, the ego’s dream of omnipotence, blindness to the existence of limits. What “non-action” might mean: thinking through nature.
This page has the following sub pages.
- 1. I Tackle the Water Project and It Squirts Out of My Grasp
- 2. I Avoid Work
- 3. I Finally Read a Book
- 4. Subject to Distractions
- 5. Time to Buckle Down
- 6. The Mall and the Otter
- 7. I Get In Over My Head
- 8. I Stick My Toe in the Sea
- 9. Time to Stretch the Legs
- 10. I Take a Flying Leap
- 11. Return to Bangor Mall
- 12. Seattle and Salmon
- 13. The Chilean Biologists
- 14. Meanwhile
- 15. The Problem Tells You Where to Search
- 16. Western Thought on Fast Forward, cont.
- 17. Regroup and Begin Again
- 18. The Open Frame
- 19. When Nothing Is Done, Nothing Is Left Undone
- 20. Farther Out on a Limb