Posted by: beansai | October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day Book Review

Dwellings by Linda Hogan

“A change is required of us, a healing of the betrayed trust between humans and earth. Caretaking is the utmost spiritual and physical responsibility of our time, and perhaps that stewardship is finally our place in the web of life, our work, the solution to the mystery of what we are. There are already so many holes in the universe that will never again be filled, and each of them forces us to question why we permitted such loss, such tearing away at the fabric of life, and how we will live with our planet in the future.” – Linda Hogan, Dwellings, p. 115

    Linda Hogan has an amazing ability to blur the lines of traditional thought, melding different religions and systems of belief together with science, psychology, and those undefined aspects of our existence that some call spirituality in a non-religious sense. This is what I want; an in-between state of being that softens the hard-edged language of science and the frigid rules of religion, I want that place where my mind is released into it’s natural state of being, even though it is so convoluted with my compartmentalized, modern lifestyle of concrete and metal. I want to cross the boundaries between human existence and nature, I don’t want the lines I hide within to define me. This is the language that Linda Hogan speaks in, without bias or hate toward any one way of thinking, traditional or otherwise, scientific or not. The issue isn’t how we define that part of us that is drawn toward the earth, but how we react to it, and the bitterness of it all is that too often we ignore our own inner-calling to the land, and ravage it instead, without thanks or even a thought of what we have done. Obviously such behavior is more common with some cultures over others, and our dominant belief systems can encourage these (self)destructive tendencies, but in the end, it is up to the individual whether or not they listen to the cry of the natural world.

    Linda Hogan calls into question, not only our actions against the land, but our beliefs toward it. She discusses the fact that many beliefs (especially in Western cultures) are linear and therefore result in an apocalypse. We’ve become this self-fulfilling prophecy. If the world is simply counting down to destruction, what then is the point of respecting its limits, what then is the point of preserving life? In this way we work toward the end our beliefs/myths have always proclaimed, even though this was not always the case for many other cultures in earlier times of living with the land. She defines this as the place where death equals grief and loss, because there is no cycle of time, just a beginning and an end, a coming and a going ; we do not believe our existence is cyclical like the seasons, we are boxed in by our own narrow-minded definitions of life and death.

“We need new stories, new terms and conditions that are relevant to the love of land, a new narrative that would imagine another way, to learn the infinite mystery and movement at work in the world. It would mean we, like the corn people of Maya, give praise and nurture creation.” – Linda Hogan, Dwellings, p.94

    Some people might have difficulty accepting Hogan’s use of religious language, with references to god, gods, spirituality, etc. It is driven into our heads that these terms can mean only one thing; they are one-sided, single-faced. Too easily these words draw up images of an old man in the sky with a flowing white beard looking down on us, burning bushes, water shifting into wine, a transparent version of ourselves floating into the clouds as our physical self hides beneath layers of soil, what we call the soul, the spirit. I think Linda Hogan intends to redefine our perception of this language, bring new depth to the words we have put limits on, to display their multi-faceted reality, just like she encourages a new way of thinking about the earth. I think this is why the language of so many cultures, so many beliefs, inter-mingle throughout her book, and none of them hold strictly to the definitions we have weighed them down with, and in this state, they do not clash and fight with one another. For me this is a release from the conventional and allows me to build off of my existing knowledge, even in the midst of its bias.

    Dwellings presents the reality of our distorted perceptions about nature and other species on this earth. In a gentle, yet urgent voice, we are encouraged to look into ourselves and discover why we have lost our connection to nature, why we force it to exist so far away from us and then only as a slave to our means. This book is not saturated with scientific intensity that reaches beyond the intelligence of day to day people, like myself and neither is it skewed toward one religion or another. This is the voice of one person, bringing her knowledge and experience with nature, to a wider audience, because she has a love for the planet, and she recognizes the importance of nature, and all its animals, to us beyond just the physical need.

    At one point Hogan presents a scene where she has gone to Ely, Minnesota in hopes of seeing the endangered Timberline Wolves. She has joined a group of people with the same goal that come from a variety of backgrounds and are there for a variety of reasons. At one point the group meets up with a scientist that is researching the wolves, and in the back of his truck are the bodies a few wolves that passed away from one reason or another, and she notices that all of her group members have a desire to touch the fur of the wolves, and even remove their gloves in the frost-bitten air to do so. This need to touch species different from our own, speaks mounds of our desires to reconnect all the ties that we have severed from the natural world. Hogan expresses it as, “What need we humans have, a species lonely and lacking in love. These are gestures reserved for animals because the distance between one human and another is often too great to bridge.”

    According to Hogan, in order to fully repair the physical damage we have done to the earth, we also need to repair ourselves internally because there is a “spiritual fragmentation that has accompanied our ecological destruction.” This disassociation in the mind, that we can control nature and manipulate it to our means without hurting and destroying it, is a misconception. Dwellings breathes life back into the earth and reminds us that it is living and breathing, just as we are, and that we are slowly and painfully killing it. Though, it is only slow in relation to our life-span, in relation to the earth’s existence, its deterioration is happening rapidly.

    Through these stories, Linda Hogan brings in the strong influence of her Chickasaw heritage, adding another element to the depth of her language. It carries the weight and wisdom of ancestors from long ago, that learned the life of the land by listening and watching. Nowhere does she demand that we all change what god we believe in or give them up entirely, rather, the reader is drawn into her fluid, poetic world, where there is life everywhere, and even a complacent understanding of death, the realization and acceptance of its necessity. Linda Hogan has brought magic and life back into the world with this book and her intimate language that easily reveals our vulnerabilities and gives us the strength to look them straight on.

    Since I have never been a scientifically inclined person, my initial concern, when it came to finding a book to review for Blog Action Day, was that I would be lost in the factual language of scientists, or bored by the mundane details that would fail to move or inspire me. I wasn’t worried that their points wouldn’t be valid, or that the subject matter wouldn’t be moving, but I was afraid that I would fail to see the strengths of such a book, and therefore give a lack-luster review. When I stumbled across Linda Hogan’s book, Dwellings, tucked away amidst all these other nature books, I was ecstatic, and knew instantly that I would be using this book for Blog Action Day. Her poetic and emotionally charged language means it is hard not to be effected as you read.

    Perhaps though, this type of book, when it comes to matters of the environment, is not sufficient enough for you in the department of facts and scientific evidence. Then let me recommend documentaries like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” or “Who Killed the Electric Car”, which you can read about in my review “The Inconvenient Truth of Who Killed the Electric Car” from a while back.

    If you’d like to read another review on one of Linda Hogan’s fiction novels let me recommend Solar Storms (a moving novel that also brings to light the conflicts between modern man and nature).

*All quotes in this review are taken from the book Dwellings.
Published: 2007
Publisher: W. W. Norton
Opyright: 1995
Style: Paperback
Pages: 159
Category: Nature

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Responses

  1. Pardon my lateness on commenting on your Blog Action Day article, but I think you really hit the nail on the head when choosing how to express and include your blog in the event.

    I enjoy the way you use quotes.

    Thank you for sharing this book with us.

  2. Hehe, I’m glad you enjoyed it. As I was trying to find a book to read and review, I had a huge concern about doing a book that was on the heavier side of science, since that has never been my area. What can I say, I’m artsy and go by how I feel…yadda yadda yadda…so I’m glad you found this fitting, because I certainly found it to be a better fit for myself. 🙂

  3. Well that is what Blog Action Day is all about. Making the subject present in your own fashion. And as I said before, LitBit went about it in a completely decent and fitting manner. It should be made aware that issues are brought up in literature, including fiction.


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