It's small wonder that in our postmodern world we gravitate toward spectacle and image. Perhaps we're in a transition era to radically new paradigms, but, as the December 2011 issue of Harper's Magazine makes clear, we continue to present ourselves with more dilemmas, more questions, than answers.
Novelist-physicist Alan Lightman makes the case in his article, "The Accidental Universe," that reality may be more accidental that we've ever imagined. Both superstring theory and the theory of eternal inflation predict not one universe, as has been the Platonic dream for ages, but a mulitverse – an infinite set of universes, some theoretically dead in the abstract, many more variations of ours, many of these life-building and -supporting, some not. This makes the idea of an intelligent plan behind creation rather unlikely, our universe a randomly-positioned one.
This sort of unsatisfying end to thought processing finds artistic representation – art-imitiates-life-imitates-art-style – in Joyce Carol Oates' story, "The Good Samaritan." Oates, probably the most astute writer of short fiction today, tells us through her narrator of finding a woman's wallet on a train. As Oates builds her story, alternating it with the narrator's history, her narrator returns the wallet to the wife's husband. The husband reveals that the wife is missing – but how? Why? In the end, the suspense Oats builds spins down to nothing – a cold case, now all but forgotten.
This is the current state of affairs on Planet Earth, it seems – perhaps not devised by idiots but, as Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, "…a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Admittedly, such lists turn out to be advertising ploys, but there are at least three books here that intrigue me…
Zeniths & Zephyrs – Mountain Peaks and Soft Breezes
Recently, my good friend and writing colleague Rachel Riggsby handed me a copy of this anthology of Appalachian writing. It was put together by a member of the Appalachian Authors Guild, Doris Musick, and as with most anthologies, it was a one-time affair.
I have the advantage of knowing several of the writers included here, so I knew what to expect as I opened and began to read. Still, there were surprises – inventive turns of phrase, twists of storytelling. The pieces here are not urbane, complex and overly sophisticated works, nor were they intended to be. Each is a piece, a remnant, of Appalachian history and culture, pieced together into something greater, as might be a quilt at the foot of a bed in a Tennessee or Virginia B&B.
This collection is a simple one, refined in certain aspects, left rough-hewn in others – as are the Appalachian lives it depicts. As such, it's just the sort of writing you would read if you want to understand Appalachia.
Stephen Colbert: "Thanksgiving is a magical time of year when families across the country join together to raise America's obesity statistics. Personally, I love Thanksgiving traditions: watching football, making pumpkin pie, and saying the magic phrase that sends your aunt storming out of the dining room to sit in her car."