Words

Vanishing Things

In search of the sacred

Attend

What: Rob Lewis reads from The Silence of Vanishing Things

When: 7 pm Thu., Oct. 12

Where: Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Cost: Entry is free

Info: http://www.villagebooks.com

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What if rather than proclaiming “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have a scientific study?”

What if rather than invoking a “table of brotherhood,” he invoked sociological statistics?

What if rather than calling out for all people to join hands and sing to be “free at last,” King called out for “mitigation of racial impacts?”

Well, we can assume his speech would’ve never galvanized a nation to face the stubborn demons of its slaveholding past. The rampant destruction of the natural world around us calls for a similar moral clarity, and a similar spiritual ambition, yet when we talk about it we do so in the objective vernacular of science, and more recently, technology.

Rather than referring to sacred sources for our arguments, we refer to scientific ones. Rather than describing the situation through the clarifying imagery of symbols and metaphors, we do so with the obscuring objectivity of numbers. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that even in the midst of a sixth planetary extinction, the environment still polls at the bottom of voters’ concerns.

Despite mountains of data, there remains a strange human silence around the most profound spasm of biological collapse we humans have ever encountered. I call it the “silence of vanishing things,” which is the title of a book I am self-publishing through the Independent Publishing Program at Village Books.

The Silence of Vanishing Things asks a simple question: Where’s the howl? Through three essays and 60 poems it attempts some sort of answer by looking at the question through the lens of language, calling for a sacred, more poetic narrative to help break the silence and engage the human spirit in the fight of our times.

It also seeks to break down the false categories that separate humans from the rest of creation, for the only place where we’re actually separate is in our heads. And since language is only a context for action, it celebrates activism, with a personal account of a largely unreported vigil by “kayaktivists” in June 2015, aimed at the Shell Arctic drilling vessel, Noble Discover.

One thing The Silence of Vanishing Things doesn’t do, I hope, is point accusingly at science or environmentalism. Although I dislike the word (for reasons explained in the book), I consider myself an “environmentalist.” And I greatly admire the scientists out there working like mad to understand what we’re doing to this earth and to warn us of the dire situation we’re creating. The problem is not in the effort, but the language. We need a new story, and fast.

Am I naive to think words can change the world? No, but we don’t need to change the world. We need to change ourselves, and that is the work of language. Consider this observation of Mother Teresa, “Words lead to deeds, they prepare the soul, make it ready…”

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