Eiseley

"The Star Thrower"

"The Innocent Fox"

Friday, March 9, 2018, Time: 1:15 - 3:15

Location: Northbrook Library - Civic Room

See below for PDF versions of the essays.

Loren Eiseley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977) was an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s. He was a “scholar and writer of imagination and grace,” whose reputation and accomplishments extended far beyond the University of Pennsylvania where he taught for 30 years. Publishers Weekly referred to him as "the modern Thoreau." The broad scope of his writing reflected upon such topics as the mind of Sir Francis Bacon, the prehistoric origins of man, and the contributions of Charles Darwin. Eiseley’s reputation was established primarily through his books, including The Immense Journey (1957), Darwin's Century (1958), The Unexpected Universe (1969), The Night Country (1971), and his memoir, All the Strange Hours (1975). Science author Orville Prescott praised him as a scientist who “can write with poetic sensibility and with a fine sense of wonder and of reverence before the mysteries of life and nature.“ Naturalist author Mary Ellen Pitts saw his combination of literary and nature writings as his "quest, not simply for bringing together science and literature... but a continuation of what the 18th and 19th century British naturalists and Thoreau had done." From his obituary in the NYTimes: “The anthropologist wrote of the need for the contemplative naturalist, a man who, in a less frenzied era, had time to observe, to speculate, and to dream.”
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For this week's discussion, I've chosen two of his most famous  essays (there are many), "The Star Thrower" and "The Innocent Fox" from his collection, The Unexpected Universe. 
Poet W.H. Auden wrote, "The main theme of The Unexpected Universe is Man as the Quest Hero, the wanderer, the voyager, the seeker after adventure, knowledge, power, meaning, and righteousness." He quotes from the book: 
"Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war... Mostly the animals understand their roles, but man, by comparison, seems troubled by a message that, it is often said, he cannot quite remember or has gotten wrong... Bereft of instinct, he must search continually for meanings... Man was a reader before he became a writer, a reader of what Coleridge once called the mighty alphabet of the universe." Evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky described Dr. Eiseley as "...a Proust miraculously turned into an evolutionary anthropologist...", and science fiction novelist Ray Bradbury wrote glowing reviews of many of his books including this one. ... "Here he writes from a naturalist's perspective on the unexpected and symbolic aspects of the universe. Read about seeds, hieroglyphs on shells, the Ice Age, lost tombs, city dumps and primitive Man. The underlying theme is the desolation and renewal of our planet's history and experience."

"The Star Thrower": The essay tells of Eiseley walking along the beach early one morning in the pre-dawn twilight, when he sees a man picking up a still-living starfish off the sand and throwing it into the sea. Eiseley remains observant and subdued, but skeptical; he has seen many "collectors" on the beach, killing countless sea creatures for their shells. 
Later, after some thoughts on our relationships to other animals and to the universe, Eiseley returns to the beach:

..."On a point of land, I found the star thrower...I spoke once briefly. "I understand," I said. "Call me another thrower." Only then I allowed myself to think, he is not alone any longer. After us, there will be others...Perhaps far outward on the rim of space a genuine star was similarly seized and flung...For a moment, we cast on an infinite beach together beside an unknown hurler of suns... We had lost our way, I thought, but we had kept, some of us, the memory of the perfect circle of compassion from life to death and back to life again."


"The Innocent Fox": In this autobiographical essay, Eiseley looks back on his life as a naturalist and his search to understand nature and himself: 

"I did not realize at first what it was that I looked upon. As my wandering attention centered, I saw nothing but two small projecting ears lit by the morning sun. Beneath them, a small neat face looked shyly up at me. The ears moved at every sound, drank in a gull’s cry and the far horn of a ship. They crinkled, I began to realize, only with curiosity; they had not learned to fear. The creature was very young. He was alone in a dread universe. I crept on my knees around the prow and crouched beside him. It was a small fox pup from a den under the timbers who looked up at me. God knows what had become of his brothers and sisters. His parent must not have been home from hunting...Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones, the wide-eyed, innocent fox inviting me to play, with the innate courtesy of its two forepaws placed appealingly together, along with a mock shake of the head. The universe was swinging in some fantastic fashion around to present its face, and the face was so small that the universe itself was laughing. It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for the careful observance of amenities written behind the stars. Gravely I arranged my forepaws while the puppy whimpered with ill-concealed excitement. I drew the breath of a fox’s den into my nostrils. On impulse, I picked up clumsily a whiter bone and shook it in teeth that had not entirely forgotten their original purpose. Round and round we tumbled for one ecstatic moment. We were the innocent thing in the midst of the bones, born in the egg, born in the den, born in the dark cave with the stone ax close to hand, born at last in human guise to grow coldly remote in the room with the rifle rack upon the wall."

A young fox, gnawing on some chicken bones may be a metaphor for himself.  In fact, author Gale Christianson entitled his biography of Eiseley Fox at the Wood's Edge

RSVP to philip.zawa@gmail.com / 312.404.3593 by March 2, 2018

 

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Philip Zawa,
Feb 20, 2018, 10:29 AM
Ċ
Philip Zawa,
Feb 20, 2018, 10:30 AM
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