In a first go at making it in academia I tried graduate school in English. At the time, the mid-nineties, my colleagues liked to embed art in the historical moment along with other texts. The author acted as some sort of filtering conduit for the historical moment. Many of my fellow students also embraced a certain amount of post-modernist questioning of whether one could separate oneself from the interpretation. In the act of reading, we change the text – sort of a quantum spin on lit-theory. As one might imagine, the competing definitions got people into quite a tizzy. Both are pretty good ways to ruin a good read.
Nevertheless, I often worry about how much the artist matters for my reading of the art. Much beautiful art comes from the minds of unsavory characters. I like Dharma Bums, but Jack Kerouac probably smelled pretty bad, and not in the “I’ve been exercising” way. I think more in the “I’ve been sleeping in my clothes in my car” kind of way.
I got to thinking along these lines because of what I saw this morning on my ride to work: Symplocarpus foetidus. Skunk cabbage flowers always pop up early in the spring, so mid-March is in no way surprising. Usually I expect to see the angry little flowers poking through snow or matted leaves in the forest. This time I saw them in a foul little trench beside route 47. All along the sides of the road are bottles of sugary drinks, cigarette boxes, wrappers and of course beer cans. I get the feeling that some of Hadley’s residents still think it’s OK to toss your fast food bags out the window.
The skunk cabbage is unfazed. It poked through. “Life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories. Life finds a way.” This line comes most famously out of Jeff Goldblum’s mouth in Jurassic Park, but Michael Crichton wrote it in the novel of the same name. And here is the rub, I love this line. I think it is apt as all hell. “Life” will prevail, though often particular “lives” will not. As I am at pains to point out to my students, individual does not equal species. Individuals do not evolve.
Michael Crichton, in the face of abundant evidence denied global warming. Nevertheless, the line above summarizes what really should scare us about the reality of climate change. Life will find a way, but we will probably get left behind. A warmer climate will bring diseases from the tropics to the once temperate regions. Dengue is on its way. Viruses spread as do the newly emerging antibiotic resistant bacteria. Yes, indeed life will find a way. The flowers will bloom and the bacteria will flourish, but will we?