Great Writers of the West: John Steinbeck and the Environment (ArtsWest 2017)


okay I think we’ll get started want to
welcome everybody to today’s event which is called Steinbeck and the environment
my name is Bruce Cain and as I take many of you in the audience know I’m director
of the Bill Lane Center for the American West this event is the third and final
for the year of our ArtsWest program. The previous ones you may know we did
one event on Jack London in the fall and then most recently we had Alex Nemerov
commenting on or talking about his book on Diane Arbus and this is our third
event we go back to literature today and talk about Steinbeck. This initiative is
one that we hope to continue next year and we’re already in a discussion about
what we will do in the and the upcoming year, but the basic idea is to do things
about culture, literature, the arts of the West. We do quite a bit, as many of you
know, on policy and and the intersection between governance and the environment,
but we felt that it would be useful and valuable for us to have initiatives in
broader areas and so we brought in the ArtsWest program and I think it’s been
very successful. We certainly have enjoyed the programs today. I, before we
get started, I want to recognize a couple colleagues who’ve been very valuable to
us both for ArtsWest in composing today’s program. First, Marc
Levin, my former colleague at Berkeley who actually came up with the idea of
doing this and provided some funding along with his husband and we really
appreciate that and Gavin Jones who was not only the initiator of this program
but actually was involved in the putting together what has become a very
successful course on the American West and Gavin taught in the first year and was
part of the faculty college team that put that course together so Gavin
is a valued colleague of ours at the Lane
Center in the American West. I also want to thank the other co-
co-hosts and sponsors Stanford University Libraries the American
Studies Program, and I see Shelley Fishkin is yes there is here, and also I
want to thank Mandy MacCalla, who volunteered her time and has done such a
wonderful job in helping us we have so many programs and so few staff that we
were really desperate on this particular event and Mandy stepped up and we really
appreciate it and we’re very grateful to her for
this organizing that she’s done to this event.
Now, following the event there will be a reception and a special pop-up exhibit
of rare books and manuscripts from Special Collections that explore
Steinbeck’s writing career and his friendship with marine biologist Edward
Ricketts so because we have such a full program we’re just going to go in the
order of the program and we’re going to skip the long bios because you have all the
bios right here and we’re going to start with Val Lopez who will speak to us
about living Steinbeck, so Val? Thank you very much and I can tell you
in all honesty, so I’m very much out of my comfort zone here. I’m the tribal chairman of the Amah Mutsun tribal band and our tribe is comprised of the
indigenous peoples they were taken into Mission San Juan Bautista and Mission
Santa Cruz. I also descend from the Rumsen tribe of the Monterey area, which
are the peoples that were taken to Mission Carmel so we talk about the
areas of Steinbeck that’s the heart of it. As a child
most of our tribal members worked in the farms and ranches of the Greater
Monterey area our tribe has been doing the type of work probably going back to
the time of the missions in the late 1700s. In the early 1900’s, our tribe
established a working agreement with a number of farmers so that we knew on
whose ranch we would be picking apricots, prunes, peaches, grapes, cotton and more. On these ranches, it was usually just our tribe that what we worked with. In
early spring we would travel to the sheep ranches and sheared sheep
so the so our elders concerti so the men could shear sheep many of the ranches
were in the Monterey and sanitary counties we also travel to ranches in
Oregon in Nevada what I noticed was that there was always people from New Zealand
and Australia who were shearing sheep with us on these ranches
if you ranchers knew we’ve descended from the missions and they were saying
we could put our tent at the property whenever we needed a place to stay
during the rainy season it was not unusual to see 13 to 15 tents lined up
when it got too wet we can move to packing sheds and stay there during my
childhood I can remember sitting behind the circle of men talking and listening
to their stories they would talk of our titled history our culture our ties to
the land and how we needed to take care of the water and Wildlife and then after
a number of beers they would tell stories of the
remembrance of a places like Los Angeles in San Francisco
after a few more beers it would talk of the war of over two and Korea on
occasion they would talk about women and when this happened I was always told to
leave my father transitions from farm labor to construction in the 50s my mom
and his children continued to work on the ranches we read it a very small
2-bedroom duplex in Morgan Hill that was across from the railroad tracks hobos
riding the train regularly knocked on our door asking for food my mom was
always ready for them she would keep the empty jars and lids from the grocery she
bought and when they came by here would fill the jar with beans and rice and
hand it to them with the future Tia’s my dad explained to us that we needed to
take care of each other growing up I didn’t know how to make friends and
trusting other people was very hard in high school I started reading and soon
discovered John Steinbeck I enjoyed Steinbeck because he wrote on
topics I understood and his reading style did not make me feel stupid which
is a big issue growing up during my senior year read Grapes of Wrath with a
lot of love and at the same time uncertainty I was confused because
signed a crow the farmworkers that I had never seen I was familiar with the term
okie but I saw very few Okies doing farm work the landlord of our duplex who
lived directly behind us was an Okie she proudly played her organ and saying
religious songs all day long I was also confused because time Rick will go farm
work as a temporary way of life and yet for so many of our members this was our
life for well over 100 two years if you and me ranch as we
worked on had farm labor houses always only jealous of the tribal families they
got to live in the houses we always say two tents or the trade houses the drying
trays one day I told her cousin how lucky he was to live in a house he told
me that there were so many rats in the house that he considered us the lucky
ones that’s my first read of Steinbeck I can remember thinking that I love that
farmworkers were being written about but I wish the sign that had written about
our tribe in our struggles I could easily easily identify to the poverty
the poverty suffering and social justice issues for our members so hunger was
seldom an issue for for us we knew many of the traditional food plants and the
men of our tribal we hunted there was no season for hunting also at the end of
each of a summer each family member would buy large sacks of beans rice and
flour and carefully store them so they wouldn’t get room
I didn’t reduce the meat in until my second year in college there is during
this time I was giving a lot of thought to the traditional values of our tribe
including the importance of having an intimate relationship with mother nature
mother earth I was also focused on how so many people seemed to value
domination and exploitation purely for profit myself as the Salinas Valley
change due to huge agricultural fields these fields came at the expense of our
indigenous foods medicines Baxter tree and many other types of plants they were
introducing pesticides herbicides and Heddy and netting that would keep the
birds out I remember listening to a farmer who proudly showed seeds that had
been covered with poison and that would kill any bird that ate it as a youth I
had a job in the Salinas Valley that required us to pick up DDT to scoop up
DDT it was coffee cans from a 55 Gerald gerald a gallon barrel and poured
it too immense sock we would then walk along and dust the plants with DDT when
we did this we didn’t wear gloves and we were without a dust mask probably what
hurt most is that they do not see the spirituality of the land in um in East
of Eden for our tribes of land water and Wildlife are our ancestors
how could anyone remove poison or shall our relatives it seems to me that the
battle of good versus evil that was written about it needs to be didn’t is
continuing and evil was winning when we listed at the lac California landscape
today we are seeing a landscape almost anywhere 99 5 101 that is 96 percent
non-native we look at our air and our water as our relatives it brings great
tennis it’s just about everyone I enjoyed reading the characters of
Steinbeck I was certain that I knew every one of them when side deck talked
to bed Ricketts I was reminded a professor Bob who liked to hang a tower
at our house and drink beer with our my dad and our tribal members professor bob
was actually a professor from San Jose State and he hated his job he loved
hearing the old stories and contributed many of his own what I remember most of
our presence of professor bob was taught with hell
there was a lot of pressure on him to be to get things published after a long day
of drinking and then having dinner he decided that he would publish a book on
Mexican food he worked with a mom another tribal member and women for the
other women for our tribe on the different recipes and then he actually
published a book I remember how much we laughed when we learned that one of the
recipes was on how the boiled beans another interesting person from the past
journey to run rod was a chef at the Capri restaurant in Morgan Hill the
Capri was the only fancy restaurant in town whenever Ron was older he always
assisted on doing the cooking it was Ron who introduced us to Italian French and
other types of food while we enjoy most is that whenever we were going fishing
rod would always we would always let Ron know when we got home from fishing my
dad would just give the gunnysack of fish to rod and then he’d clean him up
and cook them after a couple of hours we were called to dinner and enjoyed the
most delicious meals we could everywhere that we could never pronounce
people from many walks of life laughed enjoyed laughing and hanging out with
our tribe most people that were invited to our
house for people that my dad met at the bar I can remember that they talked
about people from a bunch of ethnicities and they always used the derogatory
terms for them they were all drunk drugs and I think this is and I think these
are the people that my dad trusted the most sy Beck raises a lot of moral issues
that have existed for the beginning of time I struggled Anna wrestled with
these in high school in college and in the years since and we struggle with
them today I wanted to let you know that I read Steinbeck from a different
perspective and he greatly influenced my my life it may have been affected a lot
that made me decide to go to college and major in English he remains my favorite
author to the state thank that was great I was interested in that
story about DDT because I wrote a book about Rachel Carson who of course wrote
about DDT in Silent Spring that was the book that kind of brought the end of DDT
in this country and but I read a lot of stories like that about people handling
pesticides with little regard for their own safety thank you all for coming out
I thought that I would try to put a little bit of context around John
Steinbeck and the environment and instead of with these dates which were
Believe It or Not kind of decisive for me in deciding to write a book about
John Steinbeck look Steinbeck’s born in 1902 this is just after the close of the
Victorian era people writing horses the Wright brothers haven’t taken off at
Kitty Hawk yet and signed by guys in 1968 just a few months before Neil
Armstrong stepped on to the moon when you think about that span of time it’s
really quite remarkable and it’s a period that we often refer to or that
has been referred to as the American Century this is the time when America
went from being kind of an adolescent frontier second-rate country to being
the preeminent superpower in the world economic political military preeminence
really took place during the time the Steinbeck lived of course is life
parallel all of that history the other thing that was happening at that time
was that there was a great explosion technology and in the sciences including
in the life sciences so in biology and in the field that really emerged after
the turn of the century called ecology there were great advancements happening
and those all impinged eventually on Steinbeck you don’t have to read this
this whole thing this is a quote from Ernst Haeckel a famous German biologist
who invented a lot of the terminologies and concepts that underlie modern
biology if any of you ever heard the phrase ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny
does that familiar to anybody no well then it doesn’t matter but he coined
that phrase it’s the idea that developing organism
go through these sort of repeat their evolutionary history in utero kind of
progressed from stage to stage it turned out to not be true but it kind of is
there’s a certain aspect of that that is true but Hegel invented or certainly was
one of the very earliest to use the term ecology to talk about as he says here
the study of all those complex into relations referred to by Darwin as the
conditions of the struggle for existence so ecology was a recognition that all
living things are related to each other and to the end to the ecosystem to the
environment that they live in by the middle part of the century this idea was
being popularized and some writers that had big audiences were starting to talk
about ecology and conservation an idea that had been around for a while sort of
in the same in the same context and one of them was Rachel Carson who I
mentioned earlier before she started started writing books about the ocean
and eventually about DDT she worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service as an
information specialist and in the mid 1940s she was assigned to write a series
of pamphlets about the new National Wildlife Refuge System these were mostly
resting areas for waterfowl that were being set aside and and the Fish and
Wildlife Service wanted people to understand why they were being set aside
and what the rationale was and what the conservation issues were in Carson who
as she always did when she worked for the government and later on when she was
a an independent writer took this idea and made it a lot more sophisticated
than it had been she was always doing work that her boss thought was too good
for the government so this series of pamphlets there about 20-30 pages long
it’s the kind of thing you would get at the kiosk at the entry to the
Environmental Learning Center at the refuge but in fact their literature and
if you ever get it there online if you ever get a chance to take a look at them
they’re really really wonderful they’re beautifully beautifully written each one
was devoted to specific one of these wildlife refuges except for this one
this was conservation and action number five and that was a more general
on conservation and incorporated a lot of these ideas about ecology that have
been kind of bubbling up over the preceding decades it’s a it’s kind of a
serial tragedy in which she recounted these episodes where species and
resources that we once considered to be so abundant that they could never
disappear under serious assault and we had learned that in fact species can go
extinct and that wildlife can be dramatically diminished and so she she
wrote about that in this one and again here the towards the end you can this is
from conservation action number five she says wildlife water for water forests
grasslands all are part of man’s essential environment because the
conservation and effective use of one is impossible except as the others are also
conserved this is a real fundamental principle of ecology which is you can’t
impact one aspect of an ecosystem or environmental area and not have some
collateral effects somewhere else in it things don’t live in isolation so it’s
interconnectedness that is important another writer working at exactly the
same time as Carson was aldo leopold leopoldovich wisconsin in madison and he
had this place he called the shack near Baraboo on the Wisconsin River it was
actually converted chicken coop and he’s seen here sitting outside the shack and
he kept the journal of the seasons and the things that happened at the shack
when he lived there and he eventually started combining these into a book that
also included some some more philosophical essays about conservation
and and about the environment and famously it was in this manuscript that
he put forward what he called a principle he called the land ethic this
is what Leopold is probably most famous for and simply stated the thing is right
when it tends to preserve the integrity stability and beauty of the biotic
community it is wrong when it tends otherwise this was a reversal of the
idea that people had for a long time which is that if you wanted to say
preserved deer or trout that what you should do is get rid of things like
birds that fed on trout or wolves or mountain wines that fed on deer this
idea that you can manipulate the environment to perpetuate the things you
wanted by the middle of the century Leopold and Carson others realized that
everything was connected and it really wasn’t that simple
Leopold sent the manuscript for this book off to his publisher Oxford
University Press and the title was great possessions and it was being edited when
he went when we can up to the shack and his neighbors grassland caught on fire
and Leopold went next door to help fight the fire and he had a heart attack and
keeled over and died and nobody noticed that he had collapsed and the fire
actually gently burned over his body where he had collapsed in the field and
as he always did he had a little notebook in his pocket and a friend of
mine and it’s in the archives at the University of Wisconsin friend of mine
that looked at it a couple of years ago told me it still smells a little bit
like smoke but Sally Poe died before great possessions was published but it
was published after he died and and Oxford worked with his heirs and they
said they loved the book they didn’t need to change anything except the title
they didn’t like the title and so the Leopold family said well what do you
want to call it and they said we’d like to call it a sand County Almanac which
you may have heard of it’s one of the pillars of environmentalism a book that
still sells extremely well today well all of this sort of popular
popularization of ecology in the environment flowed out of a lot of
serious scientific work much of which was done by this guy or at least put
together by this guy warder clyde le he was a professor at the university of
chicago and he did a lot of research also at the Marine Biological Laboratory
in Woods Hole Massachusetts and in 1931 he published this book animal
aggregations again a watershed event in the history of ecology it’s actually a
compendium of several dozen scientific papers most of which dealt with
the effects of crowding on organisms when when living things are sort of
crowded together in close proximity interesting things happen
you’d think they’d all be negative but they’re not there’s actually a lot of
beneficial effects that result from crowding and and WTO Lee had discovered
that and are helped to discover it and included it in this book this is from
animal aggregations is really interesting this is this is real
fundamental ecology animals especially sustain multiple relations with the
organisms of their environment communal life therefore is not an accidental fact
it’s a normal constant universal fact again one of the foundational concepts
of ecology well wcl II had a student when he was teaching at Chicago and
named Edie Ricketts and Ricketts didn’t finished school at Chicago but he
certainly took a lot of the ideas that he learned from Ellie when he moved to
Pacific Grove and eventually opened a biological supply shop on cannery row
Ricketts would become the model for doc in the book cannery row by John
Steinbeck and more significantly he became very very close friends with
Steinbeck in the 1930s when they met in Pacific Grove and it they ultimately
collaborated on a wonderful book of true ecology called the Sea of Cortez which
another one of our speakers is going to be telling you about today but I got
into I got onto Ricketts because Rachel Carson’s third book was a book about the
intertidal zone on the Atlantic seaboard and she modeled that consciously on Edie
Ricketts book between Pacific tides which had been published in 1939 and was
another really important ecological work in that he for the first time looked at
an ecosystem that’s so much taxonomically that it didn’t look
species by species he look at the type of seashore it was in the zone that it
was in with respect to the tide and the surf and and then look to see what kinds
of things lived in those zones and Carson used a similar a similar
principle in in her book the edge of the sea which was published in 1955
well I got interested in sign back through Rachel Carson and through Adric
assets or the through line for me and and Steinbeck felt like a real natural
fit to me because I’m interested in science and the environment and Natural
History and writers so I look for people like that to write about and I’m going
to just say kind of quickly broad overview how the environment manifests
itself in Steinbeck’s work it’s kind of two categories really one what he
referred to once as the ecology of humans which he thought had been sort of
underappreciated in literature and that probably meant a number of things he had
these ideas early on even before he met people like Ed Ricketts and Joseph
Campbell and Richard Alvey people that really were part of this intellectual
stew and Pacific Grove that was going on in the nineteen thirty that certainly
his thoughts on the subject expanded but very early on in his career he was
interested in how human beings interact with each other and he eventually called
this or this was an aspect of something he called phalanx theory yeah and the
idea in the Phalanx is that when people are grouped together they form a sort of
super organism that’s like and many individuals come you know form a larger
super individual that has its own consciousness its own history its own
instincts its own volition the the collective is it’s more than
just being the whole being more than some of the parts the whole is actually
becomes an entity unto itself and this is the theme that recurs quite often in
Steinbeck it’s a little bit analogous to this if you think of the group as being
made up of individuals it’s sort of equivalent to the idea that your body is
made up of individual cells each each cell is alive and unto itself but in the
body there are all these emergent emergent properties that make make for a
human being that is much more complicated and has many more aspects
from the cell it shows and again this is the Phalanx the ecology of humans is a
theme that recurs many many places I am Steinbach whether
it’s a workers union or a group of migrants or even just a family like the
Joad family making its way across the country I’m going to just read a little
short thing here from the Pearl the Pearl is the story of a Mexican young
Mexican fisherman who finds a large pearl that he expects will change his
life and it does enzyme doing that in many unexpected ways one of the things
that happens to kinda the fisherman is that as soon as he discovers this pearl
its news everywhere in the town he lives even without any effort on his part to
tell people about it and this is an example of the Phalanx the town a town
is a thing like a colonial animal a town has a nervous system and a head and
shoulders and feet a town is a thing separate from all other towns so that
there are no two towns alike and a town has a whole emotion how news travels
through a town is a mystery not easily to be solved news seems to move faster
than small boys can scramble and dart to tell it faster than women can call it
over the fences before kind of and Juana and the other fishers had come to kind
of brush house the nerves of the town were pulsing and vibrating with the news
Cano had found the pearl of the world so the town again as an individual a kind
of super organism unto itself that first sense is great a town is the
thing like a colonial animal colonial animals are complicated entities that
are made up of many similar ant coral would be a good example of a colonial
animal so an individual coral joins with many other individual corals to make a
coral head and if you wanted to carry the if you wanted to extend it beyond
that you could look at the reef as a kind of even larger group that forms out
of the corals the other way that the environment sort of appears in
Steinbeck’s work and this is probably the most the more interesting to me is
in this acute sense of place he has now all writers try to
fix their stories in terms of location and and and to write about the places
where the action unfolds for Steinbeck this was extremely important and one of
the interesting features about it is how often it was the same place in Steinbeck
sign deck was born in Salinas in the Salinas Valley
and he never let that image go away held on to it for his whole life
and it recurs in his work again and again and again you see valleys
sometimes it is literally the Salinas Valley other times it’s different
California valleys that are somewhat like it and the valley is a place in
Steinbeck that is it’s interesting it can be a place of safety of solace it
can be a fertile place a productive place but it’s always balanced on this
knife’s edge between dry times and wet times and so the valley can be
transformed from lush to barren and from heron to lush depending on the
availability of the rain and this is important to sign back because he was
alert to the conditions of this environment that his characters had to
endure Valley shows up over and over again the Salinas Valley literally in
East of Eden and in the story the Costanza mums but you see valleys in to
a god unknown and in many other works it is a recurrent theme it is Steinbeck
grounded in the place he was from and of course in his greatest work The Grapes
of Wrath the joke family starts out on the plains of Oklahoma but they had for
a valley the Central Valley of California and they leave behind a
drought the harshest imaginable kind of conditions or at least the harshest
imaginable until in the end they arrive in California and at the end of the book
we’ve moved from drought to flood and the and the Joads are being the Joads
are left in the lurch at the end of The Grapes of Wrath I’m going to close with
just I’m just going to read a little bit about the valley because I think it is
so I can find it a little excerpt about
Steinbeck’s Valley in the California winter after the Sun is down and the
land has gone dark the night air descends from the mountains that flanked
the Great Central Valley and settles over the fields and two leaves below
when conditions are right the cold air forms the fog so dense that you cannot
see your own feet on the ground these clogs can last for days and sometimes
fill the 450 mile length of the Valley to the west of the Gavilan Mountains in
Monterey County near the ocean lies another smaller Valley once it had been
an arm of the sea 90 miles long and shaped like a sword it follows the
course of the Salinas River as it runs northward toward Monterey Monterey Bay
the valley is flat between the goblins and the Santa Lucia Mountains had
separated from the Pacific here a different fog comes in summer when
inland heating draws in a marine layer of cooler moist air from the ocean this
sea born fog is not like quietly on the land but seeps over the folded hillsides
rising and falling along the river bottom when the fog comes in the
mountains out once thawed comes and the mountains and the outside world
disappeared it’s like being in a dream but the gray mood does not last the
light returns the scene changes the fog’s lived day by day the mountains
turn from blue black at dawn to pale gold under the Sun and the endless sky
and the fertile earth of the valley floor is lined with rows of lettuce some
a mile long so that’s not Steinbeck that’s me that’s the those are the
opening lines of my book about John Steinbeck which tells you that when I
think it’s tine back I think about the valley and I’ll stop there thank you hello I’m Sarah Wald and I want to start
by thanking bill Lane Center for the American West and Gavin Joan and Mandy
McCullough and pretty hey Myer and so many others whose labor made this event
possible and allowed for me to join you today it’s really an honor to be able to
speak on this panel of scholars and writers whose work I deeply admire and
to discuss an author who’s fascinated for me fascinated me for so long I’m
going to talk about The Grapes of Wrath and the environmental issue that brought
me to the Grapes of Wrath was the alternative food movement and looking at
critiques of industrial agriculture and the role of land and race and
citizenship in that discussion so I titled my talk today we ain’t foreign
which is from The Grapes of Wrath and it references the white Dust Bowl migrant
like the Jose and I selected this phrase because it gets at the politics of
belonging and citizenship that I see at the heart of sine Beck’s novel so what I
want to outline for you today is how race and citizenship depended on notions
of land ownership of California during the Great Depression and how John
Steinbeck then navigated this discourse my argument is that notions of race and
citizenship are highly entangled with sine Beck’s notion of land and land
ownership that’s not because Steinbeck invented such constructions but because
they were part of the common cultural sense of the period a cultural common
sense that he had to navigate in order for his work to be legible for a larger
public representations of the dustbowl migration during the Great Depression
challenged popular representations of the nation’s march towards a better and
brighter future and this place farmers turned into exploited farmworkers Dust
Bowl migrants became a particularly important representation of the Great
Depression their plight suggested the failure of America’s rural fantasy and
they suggested the failure of Jeffersonian agrarianism Jeffersonian
agrarianism you might recall is that notion that the ideal citizen is the
land owning farmer and according to Jeffersonian logic farmers are
self-sufficient which leads to economic independence and that economic
independence leads to political independence thus is important for
democracy but there’s also a moral angle so Jefferson’s idea was also that
farmers were the chosen people of God and that farmers are particularly moral
people and thus the moral guardians of a nation in a certain way they’re more
moral than the rest of us and Jeffersonian agrarianism has long been
at the heart of our ideas about what it means to be a good American citizen and
I would argue in popular culture and social movements it continues to perform
that role today just look at for two-pole a or Dodge Ram and see the
American farmer still being called out as sort of the moral center of the
nation through the late 19th and early 20th centuries California played a
particular role in fulfilling our nation’s Jeffersonian fantasies many
boosters positioned it as America’s Eden according to our nation’s frontier
mythology prosperity resulted from the availability of land white settlers
could find a place to farm and with work they could build a successful life for
themselves California with its bountiful fields show this greatness its abundance
was seen as revealing God’s blessing on us expansion around the continent so if
that’s what’s going on in the popular imagination and the national
conversation what is it then mean to have all of these farmers failing in the
middle of the country in terms of the public images that circulating and then
being unable to get land and unable to become farm owners in California people
like John Steinbeck Dorothea Lange Paul Taylor and Carrie McWilliams told the
nation a really different story about California their books articles and
photographs showed hard warming hard-working displaced farmers pouring
into California only to find themselves with expendable farm workers with no
chance of owning land or even of feeding their children the Dust Bowl migration
as a failure of America’s rural fantasy challenged a broader understanding of
the relationship between whites citizenship and land ownership in the
popular imagination the Dust Bowl migration suggested a Christ
in white land ownership this crisis in white land ownership became a crisis in
white identity and white citizenship and Great Depression writers on both the
left and the right responded to this crisis Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
was one of many responses that navigated this crucial connection between
whiteness citizenship and land ownership in his novel when white farmers lose
their land and are forced to become farm workers their whiteness becomes
questioned by those around them and you’ve read this novel recently you
might recall seeing at a gas station where somebody compares the white Dust
Bowl migrants to guerrillas using a racialized language their whiteness is
becoming they’re losing it with their land in the text not in their own health
conception but in the perceptions of those around them this threat to dusk
for migrants whiteness is depicted in multiple texts from across the political
spectrum the ideological connection between land ownership and whiteness was
so strong in this period that landless farmworkers could become not quite white
they were in danger of losing their access to whiteness with their land
right sort of reinforcing idea of whiteness is a kind of property and
privilege authors and advocates responded to this crisis and white land
ownership and white identities in pretty different ways based on where they were
on the political spectrum as you might imagine conservative authors and
advocates especially those affiliated with The Associated farmers tended to
question the whiteness and the citizenship fitness of Dust Bowl
migrants this is a strategy we see happening and works like heart rafts The
Grapes of grass gladness and Ruth’s comfort Mitchell’s of human kindness and
both of these works the right kind of Dust Bowl migrants do gain land and
establish their rights the privileges of white citizenship but those who are lazy
or too easily swayed by devious communists are the ones who end up
landless impoverished or to blame to their own misfortune in contrast to dis
approach some authors in the last year’s the crisis in white land ownership to
expand notions of citizenship and the rights to land ownership to black
Mexican Japanese and Filipino farmers and farm workers they used outrage over
the displacement of white dustbowl migrants to argue that Mexicans
Pino black and Japanese farmworkers had just as much right to citizenship and to
land as displaced white cessful migrants this is the work being done for example
in Sonora Bob whose names are unknown and Babs were her white decibel migrants
realize the unfairness of their of the exploitation faced by the workers of
color around them as they become racialized that people start using terms
like Okies and they start think about what that means they start realizing and
sympathizing with the black and Filipino workers in the fields around them and
these white workers realize that their own best hope for bettering their
conditions would be to follow the leadership of workers for color workers
of color who are four positioned in the novel as far more experienced resisting
racism and exploitation John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath follows a path
that’s distinct from both of those options The Grapes of Wrath responded to
the ideological crisis by affirming the whiteness of Dust Bowl migrants and
questioning the citizenship fitness of farm owners so it sort of cast doubt on
how prop what kind of proper citizens are Americans that farm owners are the
novel’s power comes in part from its affirmation of Dust Bowl migrants
whiteness and its contention that white Americans should be farmers not farm
workers the novel relies on migrants whiteness to invite those who deny them
land a renewal of American democracy according to sign Beck’s novel requires
restoring White’s Eskil migrant status as land owning citizen what the novel
does is unintentional it underlines underlying its racial logic is a
sentiment that white citizens deserve land but that’s actually what I find so
interesting about the novel because Steinbeck didn’t set out to write a
novel in which people of color were outside of the nation-state he wasn’t
trying to justify their exploitation or to move them from the right in what she
was writing about what he set out to do with defend white gospel migrants in
many ways and the novel explicitly in many ways attempts sympathy for the
non-white workers and put brings them into into the novel pages in ways that
weren’t happening and works like Ruth’s comfort Mitchell’s novel and yet because
it can’t quite escape the common cultural constructions around race to
this end ship and land ownership of its pier
it unintentionally relies on and reifies problematic understandings of races and
ship and land so actually end up being the grapes draft is a cautionary tale
and as a cautionary tale and ended up reshaping how I read contemporary
environmental works like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for example
so let me take a step back to address three specific points without the novel
directly first I want to provide some examples of how the novel establishes
the Joads whiteness and their sense for citizenship as a way of demonstrating
the right to lands second I want to talk about the way in the novel depicts the
owners unfitness for citizenship and American democracy as a way to show
their unfitness as landowners and finally I’m going to talk about the
implications of the strategy for the future of the people or man’s self that
sign back and visions for California and ultimately for the American nation I
would argue that the construction of both the jobs whiteness and their
citizenship at the novel’s core and at the core of the novel’s depiction of
proper land ownership The Grapes of Wrath establishes the Joads americanist
as a way to establish their fitness for citizenship establishing fitness to
citizenship is central to establishing land ownership so the collective
narrator explains we ain’t foreign seven generations back
Americans and beyond that Irish Scottish English German one of our folks in the
revolution and they was lots of our folks knew Civil War both sides
American so with roots in the American Revolution and Northern Europe before
that the novel assures readers of the Joads whiteness as a family the Joe’s
embody the nation’s official history from revolution to the novel’s presence
including both sides of the Civil War in telling this history the novel
emphasizes the connection between the characters past and the nation’s past
and the consequence of that we read the Joads future as the nation’s future we
see that continuing onward it’s part of depicting the judge as a conic Americans
their past epitomizes the mythic path of the American West the Joe’s are
descendants of pioneers and their relationship to the land evokes this
problematic pioneer mentality the collection collective narration explains
grandpa took up the land and to kill Indians and drive them away and
PAH was born here and he killed weeds and snakes the suggestive equivalents of
conquest killed the Indians and cultivation kill weeds and snakes fits
with a frontier model of settlement in u.s. settler colonial and frontier
traditions white settlers claimed ownership over the land because they saw
themselves improving the landscape in contrast the perceived negligence of
Native Americans the white families labor was seen as making the land
productive so when the jobs claimed ownership of their homestead through
improvements wrought fights their hard work their participating in this
problematic literary conventions of frontier narrative in addition to
establishing the Joads whiteness that their heritage and participation as
settling of the frontier and genocide of native people
The Grapes of Wrath carefully constructed the Joads whiteness against
blackness references the blackness and to black slavery hasta novel there are
no black characters in The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck however repeatedly
references slavery and black blackness the owners comparison of the white
cessful migrants to black myself and because the dustbowl migrants are
constantly jockeying and making derogatory references to blackness the
white dustbowl migrants themselves are repeatedly distinguishing themselves
from black people and blackness is a way of establishing their whiteness and as a
way of trying to acclaim a sense of citizenship and a belonging and it’s
right to land so in the books opening Tom bonds with a white truck driver in
order to catch a lift the truck driver is not supposed to give rides but Tom
says to him basically give a ride give me a ride or you’re someone who
quote any rich bastard could kick around so he establishes a sort of class-based
relationship that’s become cemented through their whiteness when the driver
responds by telling this racist joke to Tom that really sticks with Tom and he
keeps trying to remember later in the novel to tell other people but can’t in
another scene as Dessel refugees gather around the campfire they relate an
incident about a white woman but a lady back home won’t mention no names who
gives birth to a black child and that racist antidote turns on the migrants in
ability to quote hunt out the presumably black father these shared racial
antidotes not only link the migrants to one another through white
but they communicate the Joads whiteness to the reader so the references to
blackness are actually sense central to how whiteness becomes legible in the
tale text and it separates the white migrants who are being positioned as
black slaves by the white owners in California from black slaves by having
the white migrants themselves make that distance happen the other thing my novel
does is treat white migrant farmworkers as an entirely distinct category from
all other farmworkers immigrant farm workers native farm workers black farm
workers they’re considered a totally different group white migrant workers
are repeatedly called Outlanders and foreigners by better-off Californians
who see them as less than whites because the text gives all this previous detail
of their actual Americanists the accusation of foreignness rings really
falsely right we’ve had pages and pages of how they’re from the revolution
there’s both sides of civil war so they’re sort of established as not
foreigners but the same treatment is not given to non-white workers in the text
the narrator explains quote the imported slaves although they did not call
themselves slaves chinese-japanese mexican filipinos they live on rice and
beans the businessmen said they don’t mean much need much they wouldn’t know
what to do with good wages well I look how they live why look what they eat and
if they get funny deport them so I want to be clear we’re not supposed to read
this literally the tone suggests to us that the owners are telling lies right
that we’re not supposed to believe that they wouldn’t know what to do with good
wages but the narrative doesn’t contradict the lies the way it does for
the white migrants and I think what’s happening here is that Steinbeck’s novel
is suggesting that while those lies may work against foreigners they will not
work against white Americans so that in the novel the white owners are telling
lies about everybody but the non-white workers are positioned to serve helpless
to combat those lies in a way that the white workers sign back to the work for
them of combating those lives it’s notable that sign back simply ignores
the Mexican Filipino and Japanese workers who are also present in
California’s fields at this time and also up the native workers there’s
one half Cherokee character jewel other than that Steinbeck chose to make
all of his farm workers white just as he transforms the racial identity of a lot
of the Mexican and mexican-american strikers that he uses for models in a
dubious battle some of the serta that Steinbeck strategically highlighted
worker whiteness believing a national audience is just going to be more
sympathetic to white workers it seems equally likely that Steinbeck
truly believed that white workers are going to successfully unionize and
change how farmworkers as a group were treated this is a incorrect assumption
historian Vicki Ruiz as among others have done work showing that actually
white workers were among successful migrants were among the least likely to
unionize the least likely to go on strike they really believe they need to
get residency and vote whereas Mexican and Mexican American workers had a
family history of radicalism often from the Mexican Revolution and thus were
actually far more likely to go on things like wildcat strikes but what sign back
the believes this comes out as well in his text the harvest gypsies is very
common among white progressives of the era including Kari McWilliams so it’s
not unusual that he would believe this and his novel depicts these foreign
workers as a non threat to the agricultural industry as the narrator
explains quote the imported serfs were beaten and frightened and starved until
some went home again and some group fears and were killed or driven from the
country and the farms grew larger and the owners fewer so the resistance these
workers offered fail to stop or even slow industrial agricultural growth but
in contrast the white workers are positioned as this unstoppable threat to
California’s agricultural industry their exploitation becomes the grounds for a
new American Revolution right in that famous passage in the souls of the
people The Grapes of Wrath are filling and growing heavy heavy for the vintage
Steinbeck constructs white workers potential militancy against a false
detection of non-white worker passivity and complicity and labor exploitation
according to the novel white workers then are entirely distinct from all
previous workers and all other workers that are working alongside of them
because they alone have this revolutionary potential as a result
they’re white citizenship their proclivity democracy and their
Jeffersonian heritage so while it’s doing this it is also questioning the
American myth of California’s farm owners the novel depicts the owners of
unamerican in part because their distance from
actual agriculture we’re told now farming became an industry and the
owners followed Rome although they did not know it the statements and
accusation Americans desire an emulation of Greek democracy not the fall of a
decadent and Imperial Rome Steinbeck represents California under the rule of
its owners as ultimately outside of the US for example the government camp where
the drove jobs are treated court like people we’re told here quote this here’s
the United States not California the lack of democracy and respect for white
American citizens such as the Joads mark the owners oligarchy is unpatriotic
additionally the owners relationship to nature sets them apart it’s less
American than the Joads who have this continuing Jeffersonian
relationships in nature the owners quote imported serfs
they’re moving towards a feudal relationship with the land they quote
farm on paper and they forgot the land the smell the feel of it and remembered
only that they owned it remembered only what they gained and lost by it
in contrast the Joads formally worked their own land and they aspire to own
land again and contrast these unamerican landowners and these foreign non-white
workers Steinbeck paints the Joads and other white cesspool migrants is
Jeffersonian democracy efforts on a democracy’s true heirs the joes and
other migrants are deeply connected to the land their community and their
culture is built into the soil they till tenant farmers think this land this red
land is us and the flood years and the dust years and the drought years are up
when the Joads abandoned their homestead they abandon a certain sense of
themselves how can we live without our past how will we know it’s us without
our past their relationship to the earth connects them to their history their
memory and their identity moreover the novel repeatedly reminds readers that
despite changes to their situation their Jeffersonian qualities remain so the
jobs are always have these and all the duffl migrants attacks of these inherit
Democratic proclivities that show up all the time so when they’re still on land
before theirs they have squatting circles to which the
men perspective ma cracy as several literary critics have commented about
and on the road this democracy has changed but it still exists
Steinbeck writes gradually the techniques of world building became
their technique then leaders emerged then laws were made then code came into
being democracy is springing organically from
these roadside campsites Grapes of Wrath depicts the urge toward self-government
is intrinsic but threatened by this loss of land so this development of a
collective white class consciousness is central to the migrants ability to
change conditions in California and acquire land at the novel’s beginning
each character more or less looks after their own interests ma looks after the
family’s interest and over time the importance of the family breaks down the
passage is often quoted ma states used to beef the family was first ain’t so
now is anybody and critics often talk about this as a move in the text from I
to we and the narrator explains this is the thing to bomb this is the beginning
from I to we and it’s this new collectivities this new we that
threatens to create a new societies but I think this prompts the question who is
the we in the novel what is this new collective identity being formed what
does it mean to position this particular group of white migrants Ed’s the weed
that’s going to bring America into fruition in this particular moment right
in the in 1939 the de migrants are displaced white US citizens treated like
foreign non-white slaves rather than consenting free white labor as such
they’re prevented from realizing the privileges of their citizenship at the
same time the owners who deny them those rights are marked as an American and the
owners are depicted as having stolen California and I would mention they’re
not depicted of having stolen California from Mexico or from native peoples but
from the truly American settlers like the Jones and they transforming it into
a none American landscape thus the white stuff full migrants emerged not only as
the novel’s true Americans but as California’s great hope to restore
itself to greatness and Maude prophetically proclaims we’re the people
so I would argue that completely unintentionally Cybex vision of the
people or man’s self doesn’t clewd the black Asian and Latino farmers
and farm workers that he’s encountering when he’s doing his research the text
repeatedly refers to white owners with potentially part of the citizens the
migrants are going to create we’re told quote the quality of owning
freezes you forever into I and cut you off forever from the weed white owners
had the opportunity to be part of this new American unity but were cut off
through their self as individualism and fascist behavior but the Asian the
latina seblak migrant workers in the we’re never included in the growing we
to begin with the novel response was a threat to Dust Bowl migrants white
citizenship by envisioning a collective white underclass that may reclaim this
land but in doing so they capital it capitalizes on a presumed slippage
between the category of citizen of American and the category of white and I
want to ask you how might the grapes of wrath’ read differently if sign but
consciously and explicitly included black Filipino Mexicans or Japanese
farmers and farm workers in the novels we instead it reaffirms the Joads of the
essence of the people and it relied from this and reifies this racial logic of
land ownership so I want and by saying again I think it’s highly unlikely
Steinbeck meant to create a racially exclusive narrative there’s a lot of
evidence suggests that that was not at all it is attention and that would
probably be quite offended by the idea that that is the consequence
he was truly outraged at the injustice that such white Duskull workers face so
I think what we can learn from The Grapes of Wrath is the importance of
consciously attending to raise a nation in the understandings of land and that
when we ignore the racial implications of environmental thoughts we do so at
our own peril or really at the peril of social and racial justice some social
movements today and I would argue that many critiques of industrial agriculture
do this unintentionally make the same ideologically of mistake
we need to ask ourselves when we’re not explicit about who we are including in
the we who are we excluding and what is the consequence of that exclusion thank
you thank you and I’m also writing a book
about Steinbeck and one thing I’m discovering as I’m doing my research is
that he’s deeply experimental writer he often gets dismissed as a middlebrow
writer but I’m discovering that you know he’s really experimental in fact at
times he’s he’s downright weird and a lot of these experiments are connected
to his environmental thinking and so that’s what I want to talk about a
little bit today and if Steinbeck’s always had an uncomfortable position in
the academy and amongst academics then early reviews from prominent East Coast
critics were largely responsible for that opinion this is Edmund Wilson’s
review of Steinbeck’s the long valley from 1940 a very dismissive view of the
Californian Steinbeck in many ways though Edmund Wilson was not wrong many
of the stories in the long valley are about plants and animals and indeed the
collection includes one of American literature’s most widely read stories
about human animal interactions that is the Red Pony but what made these early
readers critical I think makes Steinbeck particularly relevant and particularly
timely as a thinker today that is in many of his stories and in his novels he
works actively to deconstruct the human as a central dominant normative category
of analysis he works at times to highlight the dangers of our speciesism
the dangers of our tendency to privilege our species above those of other species
he’s a pioneer in many ways in considering humans as a speech
and exploring forms of agency that is forms of power beyond the human subject
so this is a huge subject in Steinbeck and there’s not a lot of time to talk
about it today so what I want to do is give you a brief introduction to three
of these non-human states of consciousness or perhaps awareness would
be a better term I’ll look very briefly at the way that
Steinbeck constructs them in a series of representative passages and I call them
the animal the vegetable and the mineral and I’m going to be asking you to
multitask a little bit today I’m going to be showing some passages on the
screen I’m not going to in the interest of time I’m not going to be reading them
out but you can you can all multitask right isn’t it just sort of inherent now
like my children can do it so I’m consuming that you’ll be able to do that
okay animal you’re all I’m sure aware and
remember the story of the Red Pony or at least first story in that collection the
gift it’s the story of little Jody Tiffin he’s given the gift of a Red Pony
gabilan he carefully trains it under the Disciplinary eye of his father but
Gavilan gets distemper after getting wet in the rain despite the promises of the
farmhand Billy book to cure him gabilan gets worse and eventually heads out of
the stable one night to die and I want to focus on the final scene of the gift
the scene where Jody follows the pony and confronts a group of buzzards who
here’s a Steinbeck and his Red Pony that he was given by his father as a boy Jody
heads out and confronts the group of buzzards who begin to feast on the dead
animal and here is the moment at the end of the story it’s an extremely jarring
moment it’s an extremely violent moment at the end of what many people consider
that be a children’s book in which Jody has a
kind of hand-to-hand face-to-face a fight with a group of buzzards who
eventually kind of vomit putrefaction in his eye and various other gruesome and
grotesque moments it’s a scene in which it’s as if Jody is
entirely empty of interior human emotion he becomes pure behavior it’s as if
we’re given the animals point of view that in a scene such as this the
categorical distinction between a human and the animal begins to collapse
buzzards are a brotherhood they have elbows they have mouths and they have a
power of detached observation that brings Jody into view as the subject and
Jody himself likewise becomes an animal he reverts to some primal instinct on
the one hand the human subject always so fragile always so prone to shame
throughout the Red Pony performs a heroic act at this moment
Jody founds his humanity over a humiliated animal object yet the animal
is also a threat to the human this is a moment of Equalization a shared agency
if you focus on the highlighted line here what is calm and fearless is it the
red eyes looking into Jody’s faith of those calm and fearless or is it the
face of Jody are we given the perspective here of the Buzzard or of
the human both of them are represented simultaneously as that question of
agency is merged this moment is continuous with the story as a whole
it’s a story in which animals have interior ‘ti animals have minds emotions
intentions yet humans seem merely conditioned reactors to environmental
kin additions bundles of habits and
behaviors this may be a shockingly violent moment to us described in
compulsive detail yet to Jodi it’s continuous with the world in which he
lives it’s not so weird after all to be having a fight with a group of buzzards
it’s a world in which his father’s violent discipline is equivalent to
abuse the point is that Jodi sees the Buzzard and his father at exactly the
same level they are similar threats to the integrity of his salford it’s
another form of equalization between human and animal the story ends with the
father’s rather ridiculous lying to Jodi the buzzards didn’t kill the pony don’t
you know that it’s a misperception of what’s going on Jodi is not responding
rationally to an environmental situation he may be driven by feeling but it’s not
human feeling it’s more a condition of feeling animal the father can’t see how
Jodi would feel but in a sense we can the story prepares us to see from
another perspective one the pressures the species divided to the extent that
the human as rational integral intentional begins to break down vegetable my second state of awareness
but Steinbeck experiments with in his short stories here I’d like to focus on
the first story in the Long Valley the chrysanthemums especially with regard to
a very art effect that the story seemed to have on its readers Steinbeck writes
to a friend about the chrysanthemum it is entirely different and is designed to
strike without the readers knowledge I mean he reads it casually and after it
is finished feels that something profound has happened to him although he
does not know what nor how it has had that effect on several people here it’s
a story about a youngish but childless married couple the story focuses on the
wife ELISA who seems to be throwing all of her maternal energies into some very
frantic gardening and weeding especially her desire
to grow huge white chrysanthemums there one day an itinerant tinkerer rolls by
offering to fix some pots and this leads to an extended conversation between
ELISA and the tinkerer about the nature of gardening were one of Steinbeck’s
favorite subjects this is the moment in which ELISA attempts to describe her
reaction to close personal contact with the world of plants it’s as if she’s
attempting to define what can only be described as plant mindedness after all
we share much of our DNA with plants like us plants breathe as they move they
sexually reproduce she’s attempting to explain and describe a plant alight
point of view that’s not quite expressible in human language it’s a
state of being cure body pure bro pure growth a state of life not formed in
opposition to animal death it’s a mindlessness a state of being
without risk you can’t do anything wrong she says it’s a release from human
values altogether it’s a state or a condition of passive receptivity it
becomes a state of pure bliss as she attempts to articulate it further later
an almost orgasmic state of existence again her words are working at the very
limits of consciousness the very limits of what language can express it’s a
moment of intense connection between human and animal just as at this point
in the story her hand goes out towards the leg of the itinerant tinkerer
attempting like a root to stretch out horizontally and touch and connect with
him she drifts into plant mindedness again when he leaves in this particular
moment in which her head is thrown back the scene comes vaguely into her eyes as
if she seems to be like a plant facing towards the Sun speaking in a mystical
language of plants that’s a bright direction that’s a glowing there and
again after getting ready to go out with her
at the end of the story she sits stiffly down her eyes rarely blinking gazing at
a thin band of sunshine like a plant she seems to be gaining her energy from the
Sun virtually photosynthesizing as a character so the weird impact of this
story as I read it then is an attempt to answer a question what is it like to be
a plant through the imagination Steinbeck is attempting I think to cross
an interspecies barrier in a profound way to describe what it’s like for a
plant to be a plant and we see this again at the very end of the story ELISA
strips herself down scribbs her body and then poses herself naked in the mirror
it’s significant that she touches the water tank like a plant she’s attempting
to root into the energy it absorbs and holds to find nutrition it’s also a
self-consciously photographic scene it’s opposed nude and we can think of it
finally we can think of this moment finally alongside the photographs of
Steinbeck’s contemporary and neighbor Edward Western based in Carmel at the
time the Californian photographer here is a famous photograph perhaps the most
famous and nude photograph from the 1930s a photograph of Weston’s wife
Karis Wilson its attempt an attempt to represent a pure non-sexual body an
ELISA is in a similar way posed as pure surface a body as if it were pure
vegetative existence and Western himself juxtaposes human bodies with the bodies
of vegetables not to sexualize the vegetable as many viewers thought who
viewed his images such as this one on the right pepper number 30 but he
photographed them to reach a pure vegetative purity he wrote of the
visionary effect of his pepper one of his many vegetable photographs quote it
has no psychological attributes no human emotions are a rare
this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in their conscious mind
it’s an entry in other words into the plants point of view an attempt shared
by Western and Steinbeck to become vegetable reaching into a pure Universal
sexuality free from human desire a passive being in pure form an
unexploited ideal relationship to nature finally mineral there’s not much time to
say what I mean by this hmm and I’m not suggesting that Steinbeck is attempting
to imagine what it’s like to be a rock but there is an attempt to imagine a
planetary consciousness in Sea of Cortez Steinbeck’s experimental science
textbook co-authored with Edie Ricketts that I think Mary Ellen is going to say
some more words about and bill also mentioned that is it’s an attempt to
imagine the consciousness of the largest rock of all that is the one on which we
live and it becomes I think Steinbeck’s most explicitly environmentalist
experimentation there’s much in Sea of Cortez that ties into my argument for
example the attempt in Sea of Cortez to cross the interspecies divide to give
voice to the animal other through totalistic description and hence to
reach an awareness of humans as a species among species interconnected
into the whole it’s a book about life for sure but also most profoundly it’s a
book about death about extinction in passages like this we feel the vibrant
interconnection of life as the possibility of differentiation between
species collapses yet such descriptions are also part of a process in which the
human is pushed out of the picture these descriptions lead to a self forgetting a
falling out of time quote our minds and eyes went so deep
into it that size and identity were last words themselves in Co Cortez evaporate
through observation as they enter the pattern of the Gulf see if Cortez is
remarkable as many others have noted for its awareness of the earth as a speck in
the cosmos for its shift in scale its encounter with deep time which
recognizes the inevitability of human extinction the way that we are getting
pushed out of the planet just as the human is pushed out of descriptions such
as this hence the descriptions of species are always connected to death
for Steinbeck it’s full of moments of killing the preservation of specimens
the creation of still lies a death that finally contains other possibilities
possibilities that have found in the Native Americans that Steinbeck
encounters in the Gulf they represent for him in a somewhat
idealized romanticized and somewhat problematic vision they represent an
absolute there’s stillness these are the possibilities of death found in his and
Ricketts theories of non teleological thinking recognizing simply what is
countering the teleological with the holistic with a deep participation in
the whole a living into nature which is captured in many of the shell
photographs in Sea of Cortez in the display along the left here that I hope
you’ll get a chance to look at later you can see some of the shell photographs
from Sea of Cortez it’s an attempt to conceptualize a condition in which quote
the laws of thought must be the laws of things unquote those are the words of
the philosopher John II love food and very influential on Steinbeck and
particularly Ricketts it’s an ultimate passivity and egolessness a falling out
of narratives of progress all together to live only in description of course
this is merely an idea and it’s one full of contradictions the living death of
the Native Americans that Steinbeck encounters is far from ideal but it’s
still an attempt to theorize an ultimate Posthumus and
extinction of the person altogether that may be integral to our long-term
survival to become objects rather than subjects it’s something like perhaps
what the writer Roy Scranton has called learning to die that is learning to let
go of a certain way of life learning to let go of identity of success progress
learning to shift toward an anti capitalistic non teleological mindset to
survive in a carbon fuel capitalism speeding the earth toward climatic
catastrophe thank you hi wow this is so interesting there’s so much interesting
stuff from each of these talks it’s fun to be here
so I’m going to talk about the Sea of Cortez that’s kind of gotten the you
you’re kind of already oriented to it from from both bill and Gavin so the
total picture is a phrase that Ricketts used a lot to describe kind of a way of
trying to comprehend species in this macrocosmic and microscope microcosmic
way at once and in the when he focused on species and then also as a kind of
concept for integrating humanity and human thought and human interest like
poetry history literature and music with biology so I’m going to talk about the
Sea of Cortez which is this co-created book by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts
and you can see the subtitle says as leisurely journal of travel and research
with the scientific appendix and of them on the marine animals of the pen a
McDonald province though this pen a McDonald province was something that
Ricketts basically named so this Sea of Cortez was published in 1941 it’s about
600 pages long and about the first 270 pages of it are a narrative of their
expedition and expedition that dynamic and Ricketts took to the Sea of Cortez
and then the the remaining pages is a species catalog so it’s it’s a they went
to collect species along the Gulf of California this was an area that was
unknown to Western science at the time so nobody had really ever done any kind
of inventory of what kind of species lived there and rickets was a an
intertidal marine biologist and amateur so that was his particular interest but
there were a few other extenuating circumstances to this to this book
Steinbeck had just published The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 and it was a huge huge
success it was a blockbuster bestseller he got an audience of people reading it
who didn’t normally read books but he was also equally reviled and criticized
for his portrayal of people as animals and he kind of was at his wits end his
marriage was also breaking up and he was declaring a moratorium which didn’t last
very long on writing fiction and he said I’m not writing fiction anymore science
is the new thinking and I’m going to write science and this was not
necessarily a new idea to him as I think Bill pointed out Steinbeck studied
marine biology right here at Stanford and then he and Ed Ricketts were great
friends and Ricketts whole interest was as a marine biologist Ricketts was
interested in in the fauna itself but he was also interested in making some money
so he they collected almost six hundred specimens even though there’s only like
there’s there’s fewer of that in the species catalog and as they collected he
sent them out to two universities mostly to labs that bought them from him and he
made about $12,000 from specimens that he sold there’s many more specimens that
they collected that Ricketts sent out to professionals all over the all over the
world to identify when he did not know what the species were and some of those
sitting in museums today has still not been identified so ten years later the
book was reissued as the log from the Sea of Cortez and in the middle of the
middle one some sometimes the book cover has
being the narrative portion of the Sea of Cortez the report of the Steinbeck
Ricketts expedition in the Gulf of California
so in those ten years a lot happened Ricketts most profoundly died he had he
was hit by a car his car was hit by a train and he ran afoul of he was
probably well it was an accident Steinbeck’s editor had never liked that
specimen catalog never wanted it to be attached to the narrative and so he
prevailed on Steinbeck let’s take that off of the book and reissue it and we’ll
give it another chance in the marketplace so Steinbeck went along with
that and they republished it and now this is basically the book that you buy
when you go to the book store it’s the log from the Sea of Cortez and then you
see in the orange book cover that Steinbeck wrote an appreciation of his
friend Ed Ricketts upon his death that’s now included as kind of an afterword to
the book so my point today is that in looking to define and inquire and query
what this total picture might be the really useful part of what Steinbeck and
registed together is a species list which is you can still get it but it’s
not normally sent out as part of what what they did together so I’ll go back
to that why I think that so who was Ed Ricketts this is Ed Ricketts bent over
there in Alaska collecting and here he is I think that one is off the coast of
Carmel here he is with a giant squid this picture was taken by Ralph Bush mom
who was actually a famous invertebrate zoologist whose daughter is Vicki Pierce
who is also a famous invertebrate zoologist and this picture I went and
heard Gavin or maybe you showed it to me I said Gavin called this kind of an
American romantic image and I think there is something about Ed Ricketts
that even when he was alive he was very charismatic and people adored him and
they still do he has quite a following there are Facebook pages dedicated to Ed
Ricketts there’s scores of documentaries made
about Ed Ricketts it would seem people who loved Ed Ricketts really want to
make films and there are those who don’t like who
don’t like rickets relationship with Steinbeck all that much so as as bill
pointed out Steinbeck model some characters and some of his novels on
rickets and these are kind of wise man characters kind of mouche characters
that’s the right way you say that word and and some of the real devotees of
rickets don’t like that at all they think he was a really a very serious
scientist and that that is not a good way to portray Ed Ricketts this is the
name of a bar you can go to right now in North Beach called doc doc rickets I
think this illustration is a little funny because he certainly never did any
deep-sea diving he bent over in the tide pools but a couple of lines down in this
about our bar he this the the owners say in his lab night after night he hosted
writers artists scientists philosophers musicians and locals and this is the
spirit of Ed Ricketts like everybody into the party like let’s all talk and
he was very open source kind of guy and everybody felt comfortable with him and
not judged and he was interested in lots of everything but he made a living
selling specimens and this is a picture of a 1929 catalog of specimens for sale
from the Pacific biological laboratories and here’s just a random pay it’s not
it’s not randomly organized at all but I chose this randomly because I like the
way the pictures looked but this he organized his his catalogue by phylogeny
so phylogeny is body type and after Darwin made his big earth-shattering
observations about how life-forms come into being scientists generation of some
generations of scientists set to understanding how new life forms come
into being and you can trace an evolutionary pattern of new life forms
by their morphology Zoar body shapes and this is still works today to a certain
extent they’re not completely but all the kind of tide pool guides and any
kind of introduction you might want to tide pool creatures at this time was
laid out this way by phylogeny and when you actually go into a tide
pool to look at creatures there that phylogeny isn’t going to do very much
good to orient you to what you’re looking at not whatsoever those
different body forms also represent very very vastly different places along their
lineages some and they’re found in all sorts of different places so this is a
leather star that’s off I think I took this picture and off the coast of Half
Moon Bay when you actual invertebrates this is a scallop this picture Ed
Ricketts would have liked this because it’s covered with all sorts of other
creatures kind of illustrating that community idea that Ellie had introduced
to Ricketts this is an octopus sometimes we you can see red octopuses that are
small off the coast right here and thank you to Matt James in the back for
telling me what this is it’s a ten of four so these are what you find in that
in the tide pools are invertebrates and the way that the ecology of the tide
pool works is indeed a microcosm of the way other ecosystems work terrestrial
life forms all life forms do have a common ancestor as Gavin alluded to and
all of them issue forth from the oceans all of other terrestrial landforms came
marching up from from the water and all of the lineages that we can trace back
can still be found in the tide pool you can see every phylogeny staring you in
the face as one biologists put it to me about about the type Bowl so when 1939
when when Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath Ricketts published his own
magnum opus between Pacific tides Stanford University Press published it
took them a long time to publish it because he did something that was indeed
revolutionary and instead of presenting the tide pool by phylogeny he presented
tide pool organisms by where they live is it ecological concept that happens to
be very practical and if you get into tide pooling people will still tell you
go get this book by Ed Ricketts it’s really wonderful so you know it was
written a long time ago but it has a lot of very basic information in it and
and it’s very enjoyable to read it so the expedition to to the Sea of Cortez
this these are some pictures from from that on that’s Carol Steinbeck I guess
up on the the right there who is Steinbeck’s wife and having a very tough
time during this six-week voyage and on their Steinbach with the captain of the
boat Tony berry and then the whole gang who that took the expedition Carol is
the only woman so the book Tony Barry kept a log that from the
journey the six weeks and so did Eadie Ricketts and you can actually read at
Ricketts version of of what they did in this book breaking through essays
journals and travel logs with Ed Ricketts and I that Kathryn Roger edited
and I really like to read Ricketts take I mean he’s the one telling the story as
it’s happening so then Steinbeck took Ricketts tale and
he retold it in his own Steinbeck way this is the Western flyer itself these
pictures are from like about a year or two ago and this book boat has been
under restoration for a long time and like Ed Ricketts it also has its own
charisma that it’s exerting over the over the years and here is the pathway
that they took so I’m going to read you a short short couple of little excerpts
just to kind of give you a sense of why so many people well the point of my
story here is that but generations of marine biologists have fallen in love
with this book and they have used it as a Bible and an inspiration to go and go
to the Sea of Cortez to explore it for themselves and they have also used it to
resurvey the Sea of Cortez and to verify and compare what they find there with
what Steinbeck and Ricketts found there and why would so many marine biologists
love this book our own interests this is from Steinbeck
our own interests lay in relationship in relationships of animal to animal it
seems apparent that species are only commas in a sentence that each species
is at once the point and the base of a pyramid that all life is relational one
merges into another groups melt into ecological groups until the time when
what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life barnacle
and rock rock and earth earth and tree tree and rain and air and then he goes
on and it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious most of
the mystical out crying which is one of the most prized and used and desired
reactions of our species is really the understanding and the attempt to say
that man is related to the whole thing related inextricably to all reality
known and unknowable so just in this one paragraph and there’s many paragraphs
like this in this book all of these huge themes are grappled with and integrated
so and a lot of this is very very relevant today and has been relevant for
decades so this understanding of life life’s relation both Philo Jed
phylogenetically through the through the evolutionary history of how life-forms
have come into being and then ecologically how species interact with
each other and in the environment and then Ricketts words from his his a
travelogue basically his little trip of ours was becoming a thing and a dual
thing with collecting and eating and sleeping merging with the thinking
speculating activity and I think this really kind of interesting Lee echoes
what some of what Gavin is saying about this merging is oneness that that these
both of them are searching for ways of expressing and ways of experiencing and
as Steinbeck said we wanted to see everything our eyes would accommodate to
think what we could and out of our seeing and thinking to build some kind
of structure and modeled imitation of the observed reality so that modeled
imitation of the observed reality is what the species list gives us actually
access to a most impactful e so here is Carol and
John Steinbeck this is a really wonderful book that Susan shilling law
wrote what the Toto picture that this book comprehends left out a few big
things one is Carol Steinbeck is not mentioned in it at all and you know we
can we can blame him for that and certainly many people have but his
marriage was breaking up and one can imagine any writer knows you have to
leave out some big things if you’re going to get a coherent narrative
written and maybe it was impossible for him to incorporate writing about her
without it sort of tanking the narrative on the other hand when you read Ricketts
he talks about Carol very organically and very easily and very sympathetically
she gets seasick she tidies up the boat she goes out for her adventures and
there’s a scene where she’s actually having a nightmare and she’s calling out
in her sleep but she’s still asleep and Ricketts goes and he puts his hand on
her head and tries to calm her and wonders if he was effective and here’s
another thing this is I just got this off the internet this is the Friars and
the natives the native indigenous people of Mexico and when the the colonial
forces came in and took over it so as gavin alluded to this this um this
living death that that rickets and Steinbeck both kind of observed in the
Indians they didn’t really ever inquire really what was a situation of these
Indians that they were that they were encountering and they in a sense they
didn’t know at all where they were they didn’t even ask where they were – kind
of a curious point that although they had this big ambition to get the Toto
picture they never actually sort of grappled with the real location of who
lived here for how long what had happened to those people what were those
in what was the impact between the people on the landscape and the
biodiversity on the landscape how had that changed over time these are
questions we know we have to ask today to understand what’s going on here
that nobody was thinking in those terms at all in those days so here are a
couple of slides of some scientists who were deeply inspired by rickets and this
is a an illustration of change over time there’s Rick brusca in 1971 the young
picture and then he theory is more recently with his wife Wendy Moore who’s
an entomologist and rick brusca and another scientist went to go back very
much inspired by rickets and Steinbeck and their species lists but to really go
and do comprehensive very scientifically rigorous surveying and inventory of the
Gulf of California so they also Rick brusca has
meticulously catalogued all of Ricketts specimens and he’s done a lot to try to
get them all into the same place most of them are in the Smithsonian and then he
has much more comprehensively surveyed the Gulf of California but for many
years for several decades that species list of Ricketts was the guide to the
fauna of the Gulf of California and this just for if there’s any heed heads in
the audience you will appreciate this picture of Jill head Hedgepeth air with
rick bresca and jello head pet path has the bad tie a very passionate keeper of
the Richards Ricketts flame and in 2004 this is another very significant
expedition set forth by William gillies is married to Susan shilling law to
resurvey the Sea of Cortez and to set out not necessarily in the same way a
brusca to be this really big drill down but to do to set up transects that could
be revisited and revisited and revisited so now we get into how we’re starting to
really understand how to comprehend what a place is that we can’t just take one
snapshot of it in time and expect that that expresses what it is the only way
to really understand what a place is is to observe it over time
so this was a screenshot from an exhibit at the
Arizona Museum of Natural History that highlighted this experience of this big
re expedition in the footsteps or whatever of Steinbeck and Ricketts and
that inset is bill Gilley I think and then this is Rafe Agron
so Rafe’s a grain was among the biologists on that trip and and he was
an outlier biologist kind of modeling himself in the mold of Ed Ricketts he
had a PhD and he had a science a science a real science job but he was very
restless about about the way science does its business he was very much a
proponent of community based science or citizen science and in saying the the
local knowledge and the history of place and different kinds of perspectives are
critical to understanding what’s going on anywhere and Rafe sadly was killed by
a hit by a car himself riding his bicycle to work a couple of years ago so
change over time these I’m just going to do two of the sites where Richardson
Steinbeck collected his cattle San Lucas actually a little bit later than they
collected but there’s basically was nothing there and this is the 2016
spring break in Cabo San Lucas so this is a place where nature has pretty much
been decimated and built over by contrast this is from Cabo San Paolo
which has been protected as a marine protected area and still has this
incredible vibrant biodiversity and this is this is a kind of place that inspires
people Jacques Cousteau famously called this the aquarium of the of the world
but it is not without its bigger troubles this is a vaquita this is just
a couple of days ago in the New York Times where some scientists are calling
this vaquita extinct there’s still a few individuals left so they’re saying if
you want to save the spec itza we’ve got to collect those individuals
and captive breed them now this is this is where we’re at right I was just at a
conference this weekend about animals all wild animals all over the world so
hearing from researchers all over the world about what’s happening to wild
animals well they’re going away they’re disappearing and extinction is one thing
when you reach the end of that lineage and that species is never to come again
and that is we are in a sixth extinction where with plants and animals leaving a
rate and magnitude that took out the dinosaurs but arguably worse is this
vast reduction in the bodies of plants and animals that we’re experiencing and
it’s it’s not abating and it is definitely the direct the direct result
of globalization the famous psychologist called some animals walking dead when
there’s only a few of them left that may not get the extinction checkmark but
they don’t no longer have an ecological function and so the sec itza is
essentially swimming dead and even if it is even if they rear it in captivity and
can bring its numbers back up whether it can actually be ecologically relevant
again within its the ecosystem in which it evolved it is a question mark so
today how do we monitor and evaluate and get our Toto picture well here’s the
good news is that we have this incredible ways and of understanding and
grappling with many different levels of what’s going on in a play so this is a
screenshot from a database you can query and it’s really pretty fun they’ve got a
bunch of stories of different things in the Gulf on this database and this is a
highly highly professional monitoring done by the Scripps
scripps oceanographic institute now Steinbeck and Ricketts were in the tide
pools and it was maybe some snorkeling going on but by and large they were just
picked leaning down seeing what they could see and picking things up and
these people do deep-sea diving so it is a much more intensive monitoring of
what’s going on there if you want to help you can by using AI
naturalist the next time you go to the Sea of Cortez
so I naturalist is an app and a to base where you put it on your phone
essentially or you can just take a picture with and get a GPS reading of
your observation so this is a screenshot of 1044 observations people have made of
a variety of species in the Gulf of California and here is a map of those of
those identifications so those all those little blobs represent densities of
observations of species now our naturalist got started just a
couple of years ago and it it has amassed more than three million
observations of biodiversity around the world the the database that is really
the mother of this kind of database is about birds called eBird a t-bird has
amassed more than 300 million observations of birds this is what we
want for the rest of the taxa is to get up to the 300 million mark because
that’s when you can really start making assessments about what’s really going on
between these ecological interactions this is a photograph of a specimen of a
sea star and I should have said earlier those invertebrate photographs that were
so beautiful and this one were all taken by Susan Middleton
is an amazing photographer all of that all of that baseline data collection of
my naturalist and the data Mars would not make as much
sense to us today if we did not have the baseline specimens that rickets and
Steinbeck collected they form a baseline of comparison of what is still there
what isn’t still there we can test the DNA of issues we collect today and
compare it to the same species in that when they collected and so one one
wonderful thing that has happened in the interim of these years is that where
Stimac and Ricketts saw the total picture and kind of approached it in a
spatial way of seeing like what are the species across a certain kind of
territory certain kind of space this kind of technology and this kind of
awareness has brought us to a temporal dimension so we are putting the spatial
and temporal dimensions together to truly get a total picture of what’s
happening and when you get enough of these data you can start to make
predictions about extinctions and see them happening before they happen this
is what we want and this is what we have to do thank you thank you very much Mary
Ellen your last slide was of a Healy a stirrer and because I’m married to a
marine biologist I can go to the Sea of Cortez and I spent a delightful month
actually with Stanford students poking into the stomach’s of Healy asters to
see what they eat so for an English professor it was a lot of fun that’s my
scientific study the stomach’s of Healey esters but I am to be cleanup person and
also to ask the question try to integrate my responses to all these
talks and also to ask the question why did someone growing up in Salinas
California end up writing the Red Pony The Grapes of Wrath and Sea of Cortez
what’s the basis of this environmental vision and I was trying to I just put
together some slides to try to imagine how to respond given what I thought
everybody might say which is kind of a hard task but luckily
Bill Sauder accommodated me in talking about valleys but living in place is
first of all to sort of deeply participate in where you live and I
think Steinbeck did that I I turned to Eudora Welty who wrote a great essay
about place and the role of place in fiction and she tries to kind of get at
what it means to live in place and why writers are affected by place plate is
where the writer has roots places where he stands and his experience out of
which he writes it provides the base of reference in his work
the point of view and considering what Gavin said that rootedness can take many
forms but is also the name the identified that concrete the local and
the feelings bound up in place and I think Steinbeck in this kind of holistic
sense of place manages to capture all of those sensibilities early on this was
his grandfather his paternal grandfather and early on he said something that I
think helps us see the meaning of place for Steinbeck my country is different
from the west of the world he said it seems to be one of those pregnant places
from which come wonders and again thinking about what Gavin says to think
of the earth as pregnant is you know it’s not only giving birth but it’s also
were rooted in it I was born to it and my father was now that’s a lie his
father was not born to it his father was born in Florida but in order to kind of
get these roots deeper these California roots established he has to lie about
his paternity in order to kind of have the the credentials the rootedness to
write about place our bodies came from the soil our bones came from the
limestone of our own mountains and our blood is distilled from the juices of
this earth so there’s your mineral um Gavin I tell
you now my country a hundred miles long and about 50 wide is unique in this word
world but I mean that sensibility in a really did inform everything he wrote
about California and if you think about just California fiction of the 1930s how
many titles refer to places tortilla flat cannery row which was written in
the 40s but East of Eden written later but the California fiction is about the
Long Valley pastures of heaven is about places that he knew now I put in this
picture again because I knew that Gavin can talk about humans as
vegetables but look at looking at place in growing up in the teens and 20s in
California this is what you would have seen the short Hanako was not banned in
California until 1973 so until then workers were bent over the
crops they look like they’re returning to the earth so to see the human as
vegetative would have been sort of that’s the vision you would have seen
not upright humans but bent over humans and they literally did have their hands
in the soil as as Gavin was talking also I was struck by the fact that the
chrysanthemum so it’s just one of Sundberg best stories starts out with
Eliza with scissors clipping the buds she’s on the top she’s using a machine
and then she she returns to the soil with her hand the planters hands that
would really engage her she almost goes from the surface to the soil in the
course of that story so I think that you know a sense of place and characters in
place is one of the reasons that people come back to spine back again and again
he knew that writing about the land and trying to kind of identify his
relationship with the land did not put him he did not feel that it would make
him an extreme and experimental or modernist writer but I think his
appreciation for place is seen in so many of his very fine sentences which
are you know concrete a very palpable so sense of place is really the colors of
grasses the green the tawny the struct straw color how many colors he has for
the grasses of California when he was writing The Grapes of Wrath the first
thing his wife said to him was stay with the detail you’ve got to stay with the
detail and that’s really what it what it is it’s a slow book
because this detail slowly unfold as one reads the book and I think to think
about Steinbeck in the environment and his environmental vision you have to
think about that observation observation was important to Ricketts it’s important
than the Sea of Cortez it’s important and you know grapes it’s important and
everything he wrote that the specificity of his observations those catalogs and
Sea of Cortez are really about closely observing you know all the specimens
that he and Ricketts and Carol discover that’s that quote disappeared but what
it says I don’t know where it went to just the computer swallowed it but what
he says is I’ve never been a joiner I’ve never joined anything other than
the Boy Scouts in the Episcopal Choir and I think that detachment is something
that allowed Steinbeck to be the observer I think it’s really important
to kind of the visions that Gavin was talking about that that Mary Ellen was
talking about in terms of how you see clearly detach almost as a non human
observer and it allows you to become something other than you know just an
ego or a conscious ego observing something and so his role as a detached
writer I think helped him in descriptions of place so I was trying to
kind of break down the sense of place and what it means to get at this whole
sense of Steinbeck’s environmentalism and if place is the texture the
on what we see in place I think place in character is equally important again as
Eudora Welty said place has a good do with making the characters real that is
themselves and keeping themselves the moves we make in the place we live has
to signify our intent and meaning and I think Val this is what you were getting
at when you talked about Steinbeck’s characters and identifying what the
characters and so many readers I think see the characters as living in place
at rickets and doc yes he was in back in the book and Ed in real life but I think
the way he’s seen in terms of cannery row and the tide pools around cannery
row defined we want tourists go to cannery row looking for rickets or the
spirit of rickets they want to find the actual thing itself because he’s so
closely identified with those places so walked on the beach beyond the
lighthouse the waves splashed white beside him and sometimes they stood his
ankles the Sandpiper ran ahead of him as though on little wheels the golden
afternoon moved on toward China and on the horizons edge a lumber schooner
balanced I mean that finely wrought sense of place makes us see characters
in light of place and one thing Sendak says I think this also helps us
appreciate how he’s writing these visions of environmental pole is ‘m
which include place people animals plants
he says when he’s writing travels with Charlie
as always my primary interest will be people but against their proper
background mostly country people and I should like to record them I’ll take my
little Snoopy tape recorder that will be to make notes on accents tempo of speech
the overtones you only get in the human voice but that you can’t understand
humans unless you understand whether it came from so I think spandex ecology is
about that it’s also about history I was struck by Sarah’s very interesting
comments about the history of whiteness in the grapes of wrath’ which has been
problematic for many readers why does wrote Steinbeck write a novel that’s
supposedly historically accurate about Oklahoma migrants and completely leave
out any reference to the diversity of California Labor’s but another
explanation is also that signed up was very much aware of his
and how calif what California’s history was in California’s history as he says
in American Americans was a history of absolute intolerance of all the migrant
workers that had been in California in the previous generation starting in the
1850s with Chinese and then Japanese and then Filipinos and so Mexican workers
and then you have this new wave of migrants white migrants and what are you
going to do now it’s almost like throwing down the gauntlet for the
growers and shippers how are we going to ship these people back to Oklahoma
they’re Americans so that insistence on their
american-ness and that they are Oklahoma’s is also saying he actually
can’t deport Americans as you can Chinese and Filipinos and Japanese as as
we did I think his obviously he waited a long
time before he wrote the history of California and the book he wanted to
write the sort of magnum opus East of Eden or he wanted to make my country as
great in the literature of world of any place in existence and again I was kind
of struck by what Gavin said about mineral because these are this is
actually the ranch the what he called old starvation acres and East of Eden
the original intention was to organize the book around water looking for water
and Sam Hamilton’s always looking for water and the Salinas River is an
underground river so there is a kind of you know there’s a kind of depth and
geological time and East of Eden then he’s trying to to get at he didn’t he
kind of abandoned the organizational principle through the book and the ranch
was a relative and when he Sam left it he plunged a knife into the darling so
this this way of seeing understanding what ecology means for Steinbeck and
ecological holism finally and I think this is the reason that there are
certain passages throughout Steinbeck could suggest that he wants
to contain the whole and somehow grasp the whole and have a vision of place
that includes not just texture not just characters living in place not
historical resonance in place but also something something larger that I think
each speaker has alluded to in various ways Val and his appreciation for the
larger vision bill and the sense of valleys and what that means Gavin and
Animal Vegetable mineral and Mary Ellen in her appreciation for Sea of Cortez
and how the total picture but one thing he said I think we should also always
keep in mind when reading Steinbeck and this is in that notebook right there
that is spread out for you to view each figure is a population and the stones
the trees the muscled mountains are the world but not the world apart from man
the world end man the one inseparable unit man and his environment why they
should ever been understood as being separate I do not know and this is what
got Steinbeck in trouble throughout the 30s that he didn’t see humans as
dominating and controlling nature as everyone else wanted to but humans were
another species and therefore you know he was there seemed like he was
degrading humans and this of course comes to fruition in Sea of Cortez as
Mary Ellen told you so Steinbeck and Ricketts the one thing I
want to leave you in with is this quote from Sea of Cortez why do we so dread to
think of our species as a species canopy we they’re afraid of what we may find
the human self love would suffer too much and the image of God might prove to
be a mask I mean it’s a it’s a question that reverberates throughout the Sea of
Cortez that kind of comes to a culmination at the end unless you think
this environmental vision ended when Steinbeck left California and left
Ricketts influenced it didn’t he continue to think of humans as species
and he continued to sort of play with the ideas that
fascinated ricketts throughout his career survivability waves shocked the
the things eating reproducing surviving that animals had to contend with every
day so as he’s writing his very last novel he says can’t it be argued at last
that at the first mono cellular blob of life had found continuing security no
other form of life would have evolved for we are the versatile and complicated
products not of love and security but of pain and danger and fear it was not
comfort that made us but unease and endless insecurity I love that passage
and I think it’s sort of politically socially and environmentally relevant
today so I was trying to weave together commentary and our my response to the
papers as well as their structuring Steinbeck’s environmental vision in ten
minutes so I hope I did that anyway thank you very much you you

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