I purchased Edward Abbey’s posthumous collection of journal extracts entitled Confessions of a Barbarian (ed. Petersen, Little, Brown & Co., 1994) in April of 1997. Here are some journal jottings inspired by it.
From the notebooks of Paul Brunton to the journals of Ed Abbey – from one world to another. Each of us inhabits his own world. You're damned lucked if in a lifetime you meet two or three kindred souls who can enter, even if only a few steps, into one's own world. The common world in which we meet with many is but the lowest common denominator of our private spheres of meaning.
Abbey bears the marks of an undisciplined man, undisciplined in mind and in body. A slovenly reasoner, a self-indulger.
Paul Brunton, Ed Abbey, Whittaker Chambers, Gustav Bergmann . . . mysticism, nature, politics, ontology . . . . The wild diversity of human interests and commitments. It never ceases to fascinate and astonish me.
Ed Abbey: a romantic, the makings of a quester, but swamped by his sensuality. Held down by the weight of the flesh. The religious urge peeps out here and there in his journals, but his crudity is ever-ready to stifle any upward aspirations.
Abbey: the sex monkey rode him hard night and day. But did he want to throw him off? Hell no! Augustine wanted to be chaste, but not right away. Abbey did not want to be chaste. Can an incontinent man gain any true and balanced insight into the world and life? Lust, like pride, dims the eyes of the mind, and eventually blinds them.
The sex monkey in tandem with the booze monkey, a tag team tough to beat.
Which is more manly, to battle one’s sensuality like Augustine, or to wallow in it like Abbey? Is it cock and balls that make the man? Clothes? Social status? Money? Political power? Big truck? (Abbey: "The bigger the truck the smaller the penis.") Or is it that weak little Funklein, the fragile germ of divine lght that we carry within?
The crudity of Abbey, the elevation of Thoreau.
Abbey: a tremendous sensitivity to the beauties of nature and music, but larded over with an abysmal crudity. Half-educated, self-indulgent, willful. But he knows it, and a tiny part of him wants to do something about it, but he can’t. His base soul is too strong for his noble soul. Goethe’s Faust complained, “Zwei Seelen, ach, wohnen in meiner Brust, und der einer will sich von den anderen trennen!” Abbey could have made the same complaint about two incompatible souls in one breast.
Abbey: proud of his sensuality, his big dick, his five children whom he thinks are just darlings while meanwhile holding that others should not be allowed to procreate. A misanthrope – but not when it comes to himself, his family, and his friends. A tribalist of sorts.
The battle between the noble and the base. In Ed Abbey, the base usually wins.
Ed Abbey made a false god of nature. There is no god but Nature, and Abbey is her prophet.
As for his writing, I'll take it over the social phenomenology of suburban hank-panky served up by East Coast establishmentarians such as John Cheever and John Updike.
It is a commonplace that the grammatical form of a sentence is no sure guide to its logical form or to the ontological structure of the chunk of reality the sentence is about, if anything. For example, 'Kato Kaelin is home' and 'Nobody is home' are grammatically similar. They both seem to have the structure: singular subject/copula/predicate. But logically they are distinct: the first is singular, being about Kato Kaelin, America's most famous houseguest, while the second is existentially general. The second (standardly interpreted) is not about some dude named 'Nobody.' What is says is that it is not the case that there exists a person x such that x is at home. It is not about any particular person.
So grammatical form and logical form need not coincide.
It interests me (and may even interest you) that one can make both affirmative and negative assertions using sentences in the interrogative mood. What is grammatically interrogative need not be logically interrogative.
Suppose someone asks whether God exists. A convinced theist can answer in the affirmative by uttering a grammatically interrogative sentence, for example, 'Is the Pope Catholic?' An adamant atheist can answer in the negative by a similar means: 'Is there an angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon?' (Example from Edward 'Cactus Ed' Abbey.)
Thus in this situation the theist expresses the indicative proposition that God exists by uttering the interrogative form of words, 'Is the Pope Catholic?' while the atheist expresses the indicative proposition that God does not exist by uttering the interrogative form of words, 'Is there an angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon?'
How labile the lapping of language upon the littoral of logic!
There is no denying the charm, the attractive power, of incoherent ideas. They appeal to adolescents of all ages. Edward "Cactus Ed" Abbey writes, "I sometimes think that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and that only rock is real." Well, Cactus Ed, is this thought of yours an illusion too?
Cactus Ed's thought is a conjunction of three sub-thoughts: man is a dream; his thoughts are illusory; only rock is real. If our thoughts are illusory, then each of these sub-thoughts is illusory too, and Abbey's clever formulation refutes itself. But this won't stop Abbey or his admirers from finding it attractive. Man, and especially the literary type, is a perverse animal. He will believe anything and say anything, no matter how false. He will assert himself even unto incoherence. He will not be instructed.
Thus if I were to run this little argument past Cactus Ed and his admirers they would most likely snort derisively and call me a logic-chopper. Their misology would make it impossible for them to take it seriously. You see, literary types are too often not interested in truth, but in literary effect, when it should be self-evident that truth is a higher value than literary effect. But it is more complicated than this. Abbey is trying to have it both ways at once: he wants to say something true, but he doesn't want to bother satisfying the preconditions for his saying something true, one such precondition being that the proposition asserted not entail its own negation.
This from an astute reader commenting on the Hell post:
'No angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon'
Does this not refer to doxastic uncertainty rather than a fatuous equation of God with something material? This is how I interpreted it when I read it. More in the vein of: why venerate something tenuous in lieu of a Lucretian reality? Not a profound solution by any means, but an almost noble one if lived humbly-- not sensually. Although , I suppose this is an agnostic take on the phrase. ( I've been reading too much of Montaigne!)
Thanks for exposing me to Henryk Gorecki . Do you know of Arvo Part?
I love Arvo Part, and Montaigne too. But onto the issue you raise. To quote Cactus Ed himself, "Is there a God? Who knows? Is there an angry unicorn on the dark side of the moon?"
Now it would be foolish to try to discern in the scribblings of Ed Abbey anything very clear or precise or carefully thought-through. But it seems clear to me that Abbey is likening God to an intramundane object much as Bertrand Russell likened him to a celestial teapot. In so doing, both demonstrate a profound ignorance of what sophisticated theists mean by 'God.' They are not talking about a being among beings, let alone a material being among beings. (Deus est ipsum esse subsistens, et cetera.) But you focus on the epistemic side, with justification, as the quotation shows.
Accordingly, Abbey is suggesting that, regardless of the nature of God, the evidence of his existence is no better than the evidence of the existence of an irate lunar unicorn, a lunicorn if you will.
But please note that questions about the evidence for something are connected to questions about the nature of that something. The existence of a lunicorn would be strongly disconfirmed were a a bunch of lunar modules to fail to detect the presence of any such critter. But no number of space probes could disconfirm the existence of God. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was surely talking nonsense when he reported that he saw no God during his famous suborbital flight. The empirical undetectability of God no more tells against his existence than the empirical undetectability of the square root of pi tells against its existence.
So while Abbey's remarks do have an epistemological flavor, they cannot be divorced from their metaphysical import.
But there is also an axiological side to it, which may be even more important. Abbey is implying that it doesn't much matter whether God exists or not. He could have added 'Who cares?' after 'Who knows?' to his list of questions. After all, it is of no great moment whether there are any lunicorns or celestial teapots out there. My happiness cannot hang on that. The meaning of life does not stand or fall with the existence or nonexistence of such things.
Abbey's aphorism sums up the atheist attitude quite well. Does God exist? Who cares? Who cares whether there is some weird extra object in the ontological inventory? And how would you know anyway? "Bartender, another round!"