Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Presence or Testimony

I am embarrassed to admit that I had a rather one-note, reductive reading of Piers Moore Ede's Honey and Dust. That reading might be summed up as "What about the women?" In his celebration of honey and, by extension, traditional culture, the lack we may feel as city dwellers is part of the destruction we wreak upon traditional culture without appreciation for its natural values and balance.

That his experience of these cultures was often mediated by a male guide similar to Moore Ede in age and often seemingly in inclination and included only the male (and relatively high status men) voice while women peeked around corners and made the food while the author droned on about natural ways of life at times made me want to shriek.

This boiling irritation is mostly personal. I have an unsatisfied taste to see things that I haven't and plenty of empty space in my currently jobless life to go and see them. I have a serious jones to see New York City from the a sidewalk park or a street corner in Manhattan, to see Chicago from an art museum window...heck, to see Austin from a taco truck somewhere in the city. The idea that it's easier for a guy to drop everything and take off is something of sore spot for me.

When the author speaks of clay being kneaded like a woman's breast in the hands of a potter, I wonder if he sees all those nameless women as a pack of Galateas waiting for the sculptor to carve away modernity and set them all back in their proper forms. He spends so much of the narrative pressed so deeply inside of himself, though, that this metaphor reading extends as much to him as it would to the nameless women he brushes past in telling his story.

Each guide and each forgotten way of keeping bees and searching for honey seems to offer the potential for a healthy mirror in which to look at who he (and we) could be. The scenes are beautiful and arresting. The book is a chronicle of the choice that witness can make a sort of presence out of the absence of the traveler. Even so, I can't help but feel discomfited by the absences that seemed inherent in the witness itself.

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