17 July 2013

John Dewey on Temporary Disorder and the Vogue of Immediacy.

I found a paperback 1958 printing of John Dewey's Art as Experience (1934) on the library sale shelf for fifty cents. This passage jumped out at me as I thumbed through it this afternoon:

"The live creature demands order in his living but he also demands novelty. Confusion is displeasing but so is ennui. The "touch of disorder" that lends charm to a regular scene is disorderly from some external standard. From the standpoint of actual experience it adds emphasis, distinction, as long as it does not prevent a cumulative carrying forward from one part to another. If it were experienced as disorder it would produce unresolved clash and be displeasing. A temporary disorder, on the other hand, may be the factor of resistance that summons up energy to proceed the more actively and triumphantly. Only persons who have been spoiled in early life like things always soft; persons of vigor who prefer to live and who are not contented with subsisting find the too easy repulsive. The difficult becomes objectionable only when instead of challenging energy it overwhelms and blocks it. Some esthetic [sic] products have an immediate vogue; they are the "best sellers" of their day. They are "easy" and thus make a quick appeal; their popularity calls out imitators, and they set the fashion in plays or novels or songs for a time. But their very ready assimilation into experience exhausts them quickly; no new stimulus is derived from them. They have their day -- and only a day."

From Chapter VIII, "The Organization of Energies," page 167.

15 July 2013

Gifted or Not, The Poetry of Place

From Wallace Stegner's The Sense of Place:

"No place, not even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we will call poetry. What Frost did for New Hampshire and Vermont, what Faulkner did for Mississippi and Steinbeck for the Salinas Valley, Wendell Berry is doing for his family corner of Kentucky, and hundreds of other place-loving people, gifted or not, are doing for places they were born in, or reared in, or have adopted and made their own."

See there? It says gifted or not. Anyone can do it. All of us, by invoking the places that we love, can produce the poetry borne of that love. Let it seep. Let it heave. Give it graciously to everyone. Emplace yourself in the language of that love, in the geography of that emotion. Give yourself over to the poetry of your favorite places. Big, small, or otherwise. If it's special, let us know.

10 July 2013

Discovering a Sense of Place

Invoking Wendell Berry, (“if you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are"), and including readings by many others (e.g., Wallace Stegner, Mary Pipher, Aldo Leopold, Daniel Coleman, Scott Russell Sanders, Susan Cerulean, etc.), the Northwest Earth Institute offers a "Discovering Sense of Place" online course.

It looks like over 11,600 people have taken the course. Other topics include voluntary simplicity, addressing climate change, sustainable systems at work, etc.

Any Topophilian readers ever taken a NEI course?

09 July 2013

Of Horses and Men (and Women)

"The outside of a horse brings out the best of the inside of a man."

These wise words were spoken by my dad's cousin's wife's father, a man I've never met. But they get straight to the value of working with animals of all kinds -- to "bring out the best" in our own humanity. Animals can bring us to a place of inner peace difficult to find among people.

Place is something "out there" no less than it is something on "the inside of a [hu]man." We bring to spaces our own set of feelings and thoughts. Places become special because we feel differently having been there. Perhaps like being in a horse barn. Or a good (healthy) dog kennel. Sharing these places of grooming and training, love and respect, deepens even further the sense of being part of something special. Horse people know what I'm talking about (yet I don't even come close to being one).

The quote above, from 90 year old Vince Crawley, came from an AgriNews article highlighting the Murray County Classic draft horse show I'm planning to attend this weekend, part of the North American Six Horse Hitch Classic Series.

I'll be trekking from south central Wisconsin to far southwestern Minnesota. The drive across southern MN is one I made with my family hundreds of times as a kid. My parents grew up in the county seat of Murray County, Slayton, MN. Talk about a sense of place. There's something very distinct about visiting the place where your parents (and in my case, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins...) are from.

This weekend I'll take my daughter there and we'll watch a dozen different teams compete. I'll take a crack at describing it when I get back.