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A Year in the Wilderness. In the wake of this anniversary, numerous tributes to Abbey and his books appeared, reflecting at length on the importance of his writings.
This type of possession of wild lands is the opposite of what Abbey wanted, but when people—specifically white people—yearn for possession, they assert their power.
I first read him in when I was a twenty-three-year-old rookie interpretive ranger at the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
I swooned at his tributes to secret red-rock canyons and agreed with his sentiments about the urgency of preserving wild lands. But his two-dimensional portrayal of women, in which their role is to serve as sexualized objects owned by men, deeply disturbed me.
Gaping at this monstrous and inhuman spectacle of rock and clouds and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me.
I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally, as a man desires a beautiful woman. The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, … the only paradise we ever need….
The wilderness, to Abbey, is also unmistakably female and available for such possession by men. Take this description of his summertime daydreams in Arches: Here again, a woman is sexualized, an anonymous provider of intimate services to men, exclusively for his pleasure.
Perpetual harm occurs when men who endorse such sexism and racism are eulogized without qualification or reflection. How do we reckon with these contradictions in ourselves and in the work of our literary heroes? Is it worth the trouble to explore these liminal spaces?
I asked these questions of myself while camping in a remote section of Arizona at the tiny primitive campground of Navajo National Monument that Abbey portrays in his eco-warrior novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang.
I pictured Abbey himself camping exactly where I had placed my sleeping bag, writing by moonlight as he sat at the very picnic table upon which I had boiled spaghetti noodles. Can we accept the rationale that Abbey was a product of his time to excuse his sexist writing?
If achieving equality among all people is our goal, we must acknowledge the sexism, chauvinism, and racism of male writers, both living and dead. What Abbey valued in wilderness remains important, but real wilderness is gender-neutral.Edward Abbey essays Edward Abbey was born in in the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania.
He was the oldest of five children born to a family of Scotch-German descent. His anti-capitalist father was a trapper and logger with Marxist leanings; his religious mother was a school teacher.
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