Gilding– Or Schmalzing Up– the Lily

Ho hum. I don’t know whether or not I should have known better, but Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses is doing everything it can to limit my ability to stomach more than a few pages at a time. At some point in my life, I hope to have achieved the ability to articulate with grand precision just what it is about her style that turns an inherently interesting topic– namely, the capacities we have for experiencing the world and ourselves– into something that feels just as treacly as a Krista Tippett production.

If you’re not a party to my aversion of the beloved On Being broadcaster, and the way in which her tone and manner make it impossible for me to listen to the fantastically intriguing guests she succeeds in booking, this comparison will offer zilch in the way of explanation. But it’s about the best I’ve got right now, in trying to describe why I can’t shake the sense that Ackerman’s mode of expression seems to be rooted in an almost unquestioningly celebratory approach to nature and our bodies as part of it, a willingness to view even the most unpleasant aspects of pure biology as gloriously benevolent. There’s something here of the stereotypically hippie-dippy, a phrase that the tree-hugger I am is wary of using in circles who might not understand my simultaneously being a nagging environmental defender and an often no-nonsense human who tends not to suffer fools of her fellow species gladly.

I’m probably being unfair, especially since I’ve only been able to move through this book in slow, measured doses, and do that during a week where fools seem to be coming out of the woodwork and settling themselves into the gilded thrones of power– hence, making me unreceptive, mood-wise, to things that bear even a hint of fulsomeness.dsc04308

Well– instead of complaining, I’ll focus on one good use of nature-based metaphor that I saw at a protest this weekend. Maybe if the sort of seeds this poster references really are determined to– and do– grow and put forth meaningful fruit, my mood will allow me to be a little more patient with Ackerman and her aesthetics, and to see beneath them the real and valuable encouragement to respect and appreciate all the touchable, breathable, tangible realities of ourselves and our world– realities that are especially in need these days of our support and protection. If it means using sappiness of the Ackerman sort to succeed in that project, so be it; I’ll take up a variety of tools for the cause, whether I find them personally stimulating or not.


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