by Alissa Simon

Two of my favorite travel destinations are on the critically endangered list: the Amazon and the Great Barrier Reef. Both places left a profound effect on me and yet, I have never written much about them. This thought astonishes me and, in hindsight, is rather appalling. At first, I guess I thought that it would be elitist to write about places that I have been fortunate enough to visit. Yet, in The Meaning of Travel, Emily Thomas questions this notion. She suggests that not writing about my experience among disappearing landscapes might actually place them more at risk. 

In a chapter titled “The Ethics of Doom Tourism”, Thomas explains that tourists might be drawn to vanishing destinations simply because of the label. In other words, people want to see glaciers, or the Great Barrier Reef, or the Amazon solely because of the endangered label. There is a school of thought which believes that this type of tourism will lend itself to tourist ambassadors, or people who return to speak of their experiences with the intent of changing humanity’s destructive patterns. Unfortunately, Thomas notes, it does not seem to be working (183). Instead, after a grand experience, people return to a regular life of consumption (for many reasons). This pattern, then, actually buys into and reinforces the doom narrative, rather than focusing on proactive measures toward change. Furthermore, many travelers have not been educated on the complex issues that affect such places, and likely do not understand the philosophy behind their actions. This is certainly true of myself. 

So, one struggle with the idea of travel ambassadors is that tourists go, experience, and then return home to regular lives. Along with that, rather than actually learning about the region, travelers often look but do not understand. Therefore, tourism is founded upon superficial experiences at best. Thomas mentions Antarctic travelers who return from the region without having learned anything about arctic animals (184). Tourists want a “glimpse” of the life, but not an understanding of it. And to be honest, understanding comes at the expense of time, energy, effort, and education, which may not be accessible to everyone. In my case, I understood only a portion of the problem, and I did not view myself as an active participant in any sort of discussion. However, I also brought a somewhat fixed notion of place home with me, as if what I witnessed and experienced is the way it always is. Now, however, I understand fluidity more keenly than I did at the time of my travels. 

Next, the most obvious problem: tourists leave remains and footprints. Though the National Park message “Leave No Trace” has been popular for at least twenty years, many people may not fully understand the concept. At the Great Barrier Reef, for instance, our guide discussed ethical sunscreen brands because sunscreen can actually damage the reef and its inhabitants. I enjoy the knowledge provided by experts which includes (but is not limited to) authors, philosophers, historians, local artisans, and travel guides. These people guide us into their intimate spaces and we should pay attention to their teachings.

My trip to Ecuador offered a much more intense experience. Through the Iyarina Andes and Amazon Field School, I learned about the land, people, language, history and environment. In living with the community as student-tourists, we glimpsed a portion of the world very different from our own. Part of the school’s mission explains the school’s name: “The name of the station, ‘Iyarina,’ (ee-yah-ree-nah), is a Kichwa word that means to think by looking out at the land and remembering what has happened there; and from this remembering to envision the emerging future.” We traveled through the land with experienced guides. We learned elements of the language. We interacted with community members in order to understand their work, crafts, food and culture. This lifestyle definitely challenged my sense of the world in ways that have allowed me to ask more informed questions about land and community. I am grateful for the extensive education that this experience provided and continues to nourish. 

After reading Thomas’s chapter on “Doom Tourism,” I began to question the way we write about travel in general. There are books about the experience of a summit, or the glacier’s edge, or man versus nature on some pristine and untouched wilderness. What about, however, a narration from the land’s historical perspective? What is the effect of man on the land? What does ethical travel look like? Or, what about understanding the land that we live on in a more intimate way? 

In Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane writes about mountains. More specifically, he embodies the poet Nan Shepherd’s experience with the Cairngorms. Unlike explorers who sought peaks, Shepherd wandered aimlessly and without agenda. She looked for new bits and pieces of the land that raised her. This intimacy with the land was something she actively sought. It nourished her in a different way than those who fought summits and returned to city life. Macfarlane writes, “Knowledge is never figured in The Living Mountain as finite: a goal to be reached or a state to be attained” (71). Shepherd’s view of knowledge came with intimacy and observation, not perseverance and heights (though at times it arrives there as well). Macfarlane continues, “What Shepherd learns – and what her book taught me – is that the true mark of long acquaintance with a single place is a readiness to accept uncertainty: a contentment with the knowledge that you must not seek complete knowledge” (71). In other words, Shepherd’s book and her journey inspire a long-term curiosity which rises with knowledge of a place, rather than a goal-driven experience. This piece of advice seems instructive for our lives in general.

It may be that endangered lands should be reserved for knowledgeable visitors. Emily Thomas explains that exploration of disappearing spaces might be better cared for through educated views. Like the philosophy behind Iyarina, maybe one will see more if one understands the past, present and future of a space. Furthermore, one who knows what to look for can look more deeply and this deeper vision allows for a more meaningful connection. Thomas writes:   

“The Earth has undergone cycles of warming and cooling throughout its history but there is scientific consensus that its recent, accelerated period of warming is our doing. Burning fossil fuels like oil and coal has released carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. Think of the atmosphere as a kind of blanket around the planet, trapping the sun’s heat. When the blanket gets thicker, less heat escapes, leading to a warmer Earth. Scientists estimate the planet is warming ten times faster than on its usual cooling-warming cycle (179) . … 

“Just as the art critic and art historian are ‘well equipped’ to appreciate the beauty of art, the naturalist and ecologist are well equipped to appreciate the beauty of nature. 

“If this argument is right, then learning about the geology or wildlife of Antarctica isn’t just worthwhile for Antarctica. Turning tourists into ambassadors is a benefit but not the only one. It’s also worthwhile for the tourists, because that knowledge will allow us to appreciate the continent’s beauty in new and enriched ways.” (186)

Thomas’s philosophy aligns very closely to my own ever-evolving ideas. More than making us fall in love with or seek the landscape of a particular region, we can fall in love with landscapes in general, with the idea of land. Furthermore, the philosophy that asks us to look at land simultaneously asks us to look at ourselves and our own preconceived notions. Travel literature too often remains in an overly superficial realm. I would much rather enter each day by questioning my own philosophy and have it be informed by a variety of landscapes (which includes my own backyard). But most crucially, we must question who we are, whether our actions are ethical, and what is our place on the Earth and beyond? As space travel becomes more than a topic of science fiction, we must seek to better understand ourselves on individual bases. On Earth, we are one species among many. What will we become in space?

What about, however, a narration from the land’s historical perspective? What is the effect of man on the land? What does ethical travel look like? Or, what about understanding the land that we live on in a more intimate way?

Emily Thomas’s book The Meaning of Travel masterfully blends many humanities fields together. Her research includes philosophy, history, fiction, geography, personal experience and more. In fact, her book provides a map for inclusive humanities. When combined with other disciplines and areas of research, the humanities provides necessary enrichment. Thomas gives the reader much to think about while also reminding us how minute and precious our presence on Earth really is.  

Works Cited

Iyarina Field School. 

Macfarlane, Robert. Landmarks. Penguin. 2016.

Thomas, Emily. The Meaning of Travel. Oxford University Press. 2020.

About the Author

Alissa Simon is a Tutor at Harrison Middleton University. Though she is interested in (and studies) all sorts of literature, she typically focuses on poetry and translation. When not reading and writing, she spends her time in the outdoors, rain or shine. Ms. Simon has previously contributed to Oh, the Humanities!, read her past story here:


This holiday reading list is courtesy of the Stanford Humanities Center. You can read the original post here:

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter

Edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton

This is a somewhat unusual and vitally important collection, as it brings together essays by scholars, artists, and activists around a topic that is more relevant than ever in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the resurgence of resistance to police brutality and systemic racism. The contributions by figures at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement and the critical and creative perspectives on policing and incarceration provide a thorough, highly compelling overview. It is enriched by bringing into play international perspectives, and sharpened by the chilling descriptions of poet Martín Espada. It is also a great read to prepare for the much-awaited publication by Ruth Wilson Gilmore—one of the volume’s contributors—in 2022, Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation.

—Patricia Alessandrini
Internal Faculty Fellow
Department of Music, Stanford University

The Railway Journey

By Wolfgang Schivelbusch​ 

“In The Railway Journey, Schivelbusch examines the origins of this industrialized consciousness by exploring the reaction in the nineteenth century to the first dramatic avatar of technological change, the railroad.” (Amazon) I’m not sure this qualifies as a “holiday read,” but I have been pretty impressed by the book.

Anubha Anushree
Career Launch Fellow
Department of History, Stanford University

The Ministry of the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

It’s the most non-fiction science fiction book I’ve ever read about what the near future might look like due to rapid climate change. Harrowing and all too believable, but also hopeful.

—Eli Cook
External Faculty Fellow

Department of History, University of Haifa

Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration

By Nicole Fleetwood

MacArthur Fellow and NYU Professor Nicole Fleetwood shows how the brutal U.S. mass incarceration system is, nonetheless, filled with art made by the incarcerated, who assert their humanity in the face of a system that dehumanizes them. The book has sparked a series of projects foregrounding the artists Fleetwood chronicles, and it also generated a powerful exhibit in New York, covered here by NPR.

David Kazanjian
Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow
Department of English, University of Pennsylviania

Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders

Are you really alive? Or do you just think you’re alive? Do you have any regrets? Things you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time or courage to do them? Regardless of whether you’ve ever asked yourself these questions or not, and if you suspect that there is life after death and that Abraham Lincoln has something to do with it, then this book is for you. Brace yourselves for a polyphonic tour de force on life, death, mourning, and that tricky business of unfinished business.

—Ana Ilievska
Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities
Department of French and Italian, Stanford University

Writers and Lovers

By Lily King

This was my holiday book of the year. About what it’s like to write, and why, and the lives of writers and the foibles of love. And if you get hooked on her style, try the one she wrote on Margaret Mead, Euphoria.

Tanya Luhrmann
Violet Andrews Whittier Internal Fellow
Department of Anthropology, Stanford University


By Katie Kitamura

An unnamed woman leaves New York City, where her father recently died, and moves to The Hague, Netherlands to work as an interpreter at the International Criminal Court. The woman is assigned to interpret for the former president of a West African country on trial for war crimes. It is a great read.

Shu-mei Shih
Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow

Department of Comparative Literature & East Asian Languages and Cultures, UCLA

Making Darkness Light: A Life of John Milton

By Joe Moshenska

“In Making Darkness Light, Oxford professor Joe Moshenska rediscovers a poet whose rich contradictions confound his monumental image. Immersing ourselves in the rhythms and textures of Milton’s world, we move from the music of his childhood home to his encounter with Galileo in Florence into his idiosyncratic belief system and his strange, electrifying imagination.” (Amazon) Moshenska does this by showing Milton’s relevance to his fascinating personal and family history: from his rich Jewish heritage, through taking his children to Liverpool on a Beatles pilgrimage, to learning the piano as an adult. He shows how great literature resonates through our intimate experiences, greatly and delightfully enriches them.

Nigel Smith
Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow
Department of English, Princeton University

The Transit of Venus

By Shirley Hazzard

Add my voice to the chorus of rapturous applause that greeted the new edition of Shirley Hazzard’s 1980 masterpiece brought out by Penguin Classics in March of this year. The story of two orphaned sisters from Australia who immigrate to England in the 1950s is a profound, lyrical meditation on love’s and life’s transience. Nearly every sentence is a stand-alone miracle of composition, to be read and reread again. (Hazzard reportedly revised each page more than 20 times.) No book in recent memory better captures—paradoxically—the ephemeral: what it means to live and love in an unreliable and impermanent world.

—John Tennant
Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities
Department of Classics, Stanford University

The Conjuror’s Bird

By Martin Davies

This light, gripping novel follows a modern-day quest for a historic taxidermied bird in alternating timelines of the 18th-century past and the present. The tale is a love story, both in the traditional sense and in the protagonist’s desire for the bird itself.

Anna Toledano
SHC Dissertation Prize Fellow
Department of History, Stanford University





Thursday, October 7, 2021 (New York, NY)—Celebrating the many ways university press publishing has evolved and excelled over the last decade, the Association of University Presses (AUPresses) has chosen “Keep UP” as the theme for this year’s tenth annual University Press Week (UP Week). The event runs from Monday, November 8, through Friday, November 12.

“Keep UP” is significant in a time when great change has come to all quarters of book publishing and the media. For university presses, the past decade has presented opportunities that have allowed these nonprofit publishers to explore new ways to reach readers, amplify ideas, and sustain scholarly communities while remaining steadfast in their commitment to advancing knowledge. To mark a momentous and eventful decade of university press publishing and UP Weeks, this year AUPresses members have suggested a “Keep UP Gallery” and Reading List that showcase books, journals, open access reading platforms, podcasts, and other efforts that put member UPs at the forefront of today’s issues and ideas.

“The inaugural theme of University Press Week back in 2012 was ‘Contributing to an Informed Society,’” said AUPresses Executive Director Peter Berkery. “In the ten years since, the university press community has stayed true to this goal, keeping up the highest standards of scholarship and championing the power of ideas.”

AUPresses President, University of Georgia Press Director Lisa Bayer, agreed. “As the world changes, so do university presses, adapting subject areas, author lists, and publishing know-how to grow into an ever more diverse, ever more global community,” she said. “An informed society is as important as ever, and we are proud to honor the forward-thinking work that has made university presses leaders in their fields and a force to keep up with.”

University presses’ shared commitment to promoting new ideas is clearly represented by their choices for this year’s Keep UP Gallery and Reading List, which includes Pain and Shock in America: Politics, Advocacy, and the Controversial Treatment of People with Disabilities by Jan Nisbet (Brandeis University Press); Unconscious Bias in Schools: A Developmental Approach to Racism, Revised Edition by Tracey A. Benson and Sarah E. Fiarman (Harvard Education Press); Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource by and for Transgender Communities edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth (Oxford University Press); Black Snake: Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and Environmental Justice by Katherine Wiltenburg Todrys (University of Nebraska Press); and Contemporary Asian American Activism: Building Movements for Liberation edited by Diane C. Fujino and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez (University of Washington Press).

Also trending in the Keep UP selections are projects that make books and authors more accessible to the wider world. Audio features prominently: the Southern Illinois University Press Blanket Fort Radio Theater features student-produced serialized audiobook podcasts, turning previously published titles into free audio versions. Syracuse University Press entered into an audiobook partnership with the Syracuse University Libraries’ Sound Beat: Access Audio. The University of the West Indies Press created the Caribbean Biography Audiobook Series and Wilfrid Laurier University Press launched the Amplify Podcast Network, which helps their authors share their research with academic and popular audiences. Other presses are showcasing ebook, online, and new format initiatives, such as Ediciones Uniandes’ online e-book platform—the first digital university press platform in Colombia (which offered most of its content for free during pandemic 2020)—and Harvard University Press’s Digital Loeb Classical Library, making Greek and Latin literary classics accessible to the broadest range of readers. Notably, Penn State University Press’ Graphic Mundi imprint is just one of several new UP efforts to publish graphic novels and nonfiction. 

When asked why they chose their book or project for the Keep UP Gallery, presses offered a variety of reasons. Publicity Manager Kait Heacock of the University of Washington Press said, “Asian American Activism was perfect for the Keep UP theme this year because it is the first anthology of its kind that centers intergenerational lessons from on-the-ground Asian American activists and activist-scholars. It moves beyond the frequently covered activism of the ’60s and ’70s to illuminate the story of present-day Asian American activism in struggles for environmental justice, workers’ rights, housing justice, prisoner rights, and movement-building in Asian American communities.” University of the West Indies Press series editor Funso Aiyejina offered several reasons why the press chose to feature its Caribbean Biography Audiobook Series this year: “Each biography is carefully curated, starting with the matching of each subject to a specialist scholar in the relevant field; each book is subjected to a rigorous process of writing and re-writing and editing to ensure that the tone is pitch-perfect; each book is reader-friendly, stripped of academic jargon; and each book is deliberately short and entertaining enough to be read at a sitting. The cover design for the Series also celebrates the visual vibrancy and intellectual confidence of the Caribbean.”

Events and promotions during the week will celebrate these and other achievements of the past decade as well as the bright future of university press publishing. The UP community will host online celebrations of this year’s theme via a blog tour, and industry supporters such as Ingram, NetGalley, and Baker & Taylor also will mark the week online through special messages and marketing. A virtual panel focused on the strengths and challenges of university press publishing organized by Seminary Coop in Chicago, will take place on Wednesday, November 10, at 2:00 PM ET, featuring bestselling University of West Virginia Press author Deesha Philyaw, University of North Carolina Press Publisher John Sherer, Point Reyes Books owner and longtime bookseller Stephen Sparks, and Seminary Coop’s own Alena Jones.  

University presses publish nearly 12,000 books each year, as well as more than 1,500 journals and numerous innovative digital works. One hundred and fifty-nine presses belong to AUPresses, and 20% of that number are presses based outside the U.S.

Since 1937, the Association of University Presses advances the essential role of a global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge. The Association holds intellectual freedom, integrity, stewardship, and diversity and inclusion as core values. AUPresses members are active across many scholarly disciplines, including the humanities, arts, and sciences, publish significant regional and literary work, and are innovators in the world of digital publishing. You can learn more at

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by Professor Elizabeth Kuipers

She tip-toed to her place in the wings, outside of her boss’s office, waiting for her cue—the silence of the end of a phone call.  Her stomach churned.  Her audience could react, embrace her expression of vulnerability or reject her completely.

The dress rehearsal happened on Friday.  She thought that her audience would be responsive, even though they were not face to face.  She thought that her questions were reasonable.  She simply asked for clarification.  She needed to know before she committed to the year-long run what the terms of that commitment were.  She got no response.

So, she rehearsed all weekend.  The next performance would be so much easier, in her zone of comfort, if it could be in writing.  But writing is dangerous.  Writing can be documented.  Writing can be forwarded.  Writing can be damning.  The rehearsals wore her out—the constant play in her mind.  The constant “What if?” The knowing.  The knowing that she was being screwed again.  That she was worth more.  And yet, knowing that she dare not wish for too much.  There were stakes.  There were children to feed.  There were college educations to pay for.  And she was expendable to her employers.  

The twenty years she worked in her first job out of graduate school taught her she was expendable.  The moves to all of the dances were ingrained in her very being.  When her students’ eyes lit up with understanding, she felt the energizing joy and beauty of a perfectly executed stag leap across the stage.  She worked her craft, practicing, tweaking, getting a little higher, a little farther each time.  The perfect leap represented hours upon hours of practice, calloused feet, bruised knees, but the light in the students’ eyes was worth it every time!  The Charleston, gay and careless, was not as gay or as careless as it seemed when the Women’s Studies Faculty did it to bring attention to violence against women, when we bit off the ends of our figurative, phallic cigars and spit them in the faces of the entirely male administration who didn’t want a spectacle.  She learned the Shuffle too, head down, avoiding eye contact, watching her feet,  when she was denied promotion by her colleagues who had worked with her for fourteen years, hearing her voice echoing down the close hallway as she taught her heart out, but who still said they weren’t “assured” that she was an excellent teacher.  She knew to save the Tango.  The Tango was for when she couldn’t look away, when the dictate from on high was so egregious that she not only withstood the tension of the dance, but invited it, hoping that someone would be there to catch her when she got spun out of the hands of the men in charge.  Always the men in charge.

Those years taught her to shape-shift, to be pliable.  Her Can-Can sounded like Yes.  Of course.  I will.  I’ve never done that before, but I’ll give it my best.  She re-made herself to fit the needs of the department, the needs of the students. Everyone’s needs…It’s not that she was unappreciated.  Every few years she would get a card or an email from a student who remembered her fondly.  When she was unfulfilled, wrung dry from continuously learning new steps, she learned dances in other places, always hoping to be the change she wished to see in the world.  

The constant “What if?” The knowing.  The knowing that she was being screwed again.  That she was worth more.  And yet, knowing that she dare not wish for too much.  There were stakes.  There were children to feed.  There were college educations to pay for.  And she was expendable to her employers.  

When she left for what she thought to be a more compelling cause—creating a new place for children to learn in a community handicapped by years of poverty and despair—no one noticed.  No one told her goodbye.  No one thanked her for 20 years of loyal service in higher education.  For her 30s.  For her 40s.  She was expendable.  But her children were worth it, she said.  The children of the community were worth it.  This new environment would be filled with love, respect, and equality.  The teachers would be creative, and the children and parents would be engaged and involved.  This school would help to change the future for thousands of children, parents, and members of the community.  Children would learn about service and civic pride and would be equipped to soar to any height they imagined.  She envisioned a Contra-dance, full of noisy, upbeat music, communal, giving and taking in turn. Yet men continued to play the same tune, the one she had learned to Shuffle to.  As she shuffled, more and more slowly, moving down into a depth she had never dreamed, men struck absurd poses on stage, fueled by their egos, pomposity, and fear.  No amount of money could compensate for the soul-crushing loss of her dream.

Feeling the failures of the past in her knees and in her heart, she executed a plie into the chair, her chin high, attempting to exude grace and courage she did not feel.  She fumbled her way through the first steps.

She explained to her boss, “I need you to understand why I responded the way that I did.  Maybe it’s being 50.  I’m not willing to feel taken advantage of anymore. “

In her mind, she twirled on her right pointe shoe, her left leg soaring high in an attitude as she stood up for what was right, what was fair.

“The job that is a ‘promotion’ will mean more work, more stress, but no more money.  There is gender inequity at play.  The new hire, a boy straight out of graduate school, with a lower teaching load, is making more than I am.”

Her ankle wobbled.

“I would be angry all of the time.  That would not be fair to anyone here.”

Her boss reached out to her—steadying her pose—saying, “I appreciate your candor.”  How far does that steadying hand extend?  Will it extend through the impromptu meeting?  Through turning down the insulting gesture at a promotion which her boss facilitated?  Will it extend to contracts for next year?

She left the office, knowing that her dance had been shaky. Her words were disorganized, but she stayed true to herself.

Within minutes she had another performance, this time for a very different audience.  A ballet would shut them down completely.  The pandemic made the audience exceptionally small:  two Black male teenagers furtively studied their phones as she explained epic similes.  The others, purportedly streaming the class, were undoubtedly playing video games or listening to music because every time she called on one of them, she got no response.  She could execute the opening to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but in the current climate, these students might take that as an insult from a middle-aged white woman rather than an effort to cross the divide.  No, these students didn’t want Michael Jackson.  In fact, they didn’t want anything she had to offer them; today’s offering was “The Iliad.”  She felt like Prince Humperdink reading signs in the dirt:  “There was a mighty duel….”  Even the impressive choreography of Inigo Montoya and the Dread Pirate Roberts couldn’t thaw this small group of students.  Homer’s pearls before swine.  Circe would be proud.  They endured.  She endured, hopeful that the next class would be more engaged.

“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or Gustavus Vasa, the African, written by Himself.”  These tickets should be easy to sell, she thought.  A story of life in Africa, kidnapping, enslavement, the Middle Passage.  It’s eighteenth century HipHop.  A man claims himself and defies the odds.  It’s edgy; it’s truth revealed.  Certainly the students who chose to go to a Historically Black College would be engaged, maybe even excited.  Two young women arrive on time, one perpetually on her phone and the other hiding behind her computer.  Thirty minutes into class, two young men come in, one completely empty handed, the other with a pencil and spiral notebook through which he shuffles trying to find a blank page. With ten minutes of class remaining, she gets their attention with the question, “How do we dehumanize people now?”  She leads them by the nose, connecting the dots:  slaves were dehumanized to legitimate atrocities against humanity; after 911, Muslims were dehumanized to increase fear and legitimate a war; Trump used tear gas on peaceful BLM protests for a photo-op at his convenience and a platform of “law and order.”  How much has changed, she asks as she steps hopefully out onto her right pointe shoe, leg poised to elevate, but never coming off the floor.

After class, she has an existential crisis.  She knows that she is not truly educating these students.  Her arms shoot out at jarring angles from her body.  She has no idea how to make them care.  She kicks to the left, throwing her head back aggressively.  She is not even sure if they can read the homework that she assigns.  She collapses her body into a fetal position.  But this inability is not their fault; instead it is the fault of a system that has failed them.  On her feet again, she punches the air.  This is a modern dance.  It is abstract; Isadora Duncan be damned!  There is no language for this disservice or the hopelessness she feels on behalf of her students and herself.  This dance breaks the rules of the system that leaves 85% of the children behind….the poor, the ethnic other, the desperate…those who don’t know any better.  She stomps her feet and waves her arms over her head with abandon.  So the haves cut the Federal School Lunch Program for the have-nots who then are incapable of learning because they are hungry and can’t focus on their school work.   She circles as if the floor is on fire, never leaving one foot in place for long.  Projections for prison populations are based on the number of students who are unable to read on grade level in the third grade!  She channels the mother of Equiano who undoubtedly expressed her own grief at his kidnapping in a violent dance around a blazing fire.   If only she could convince her students to dance this dance with her!  She, they, we all can claim ourselves!

She is quickly exhausted by the movement and the emotion.  This dance is unsustainable.

She drives home, an hour of quiet on country roads.  Her spirit settles.  Her equilibrium returns when she sees her home and knows she is blessed.  She is in a different realm.  No physical needs go unmet.  She has a dear husband and sons who love her unequivocally.  She has books to sustain her imagination.  All is well.  She can rest.

The usual exchanges happen when she walks in the door.  “Hey, Mom!” a boy yells.  The pandemic has stranded them at home.  They work online with pre-recorded lessons taught by a variety of teachers for each subject.  There is no connection.  There is no desire to please these individuals who, in normal times, would turn into her sons’ away from home support system, their champions.  There will be no letters of recommendation for college scholarships from these teachers.

She replies cheerfully, “Hi!  How was your day?  How did your schoolwork go?” The usual answers follow.  On a whim, she adds, “Bring down your computers and let me see what you’re up to.”

The air immediately fills with tension.  The freshman’s face registers something….concern? fear?  Her dances are not done for the day.  Worries about how to choreograph this dance before she even knows what to call it fill her mind.

She is not a parent who yells.  But when she sees fifty-two missing assignments in English, thirty-four in science, forty-six in math, all she can think is, “Not you too!  Another child lost and dishonored by this combination of forces that feels out of control.”  But this is her child; she cannot lose him.  She must execute the perfect dance or the tragic outcome will be of her own design.

She reaches out to him with a brush step, hearing the front of her tap shoe slide softly against the floor.  “What in the world is going on?” she asks with direct eye contact.  She must bring him into the dance.  

“I don’t know,” he responds.

“Do you never work?”  She begins to tap out a tentative rhythm.  He responds with a shoulder shrug.  “Do you work at least a little every day?”  She knows he must be allowed to riff on his own, but he doesn’t seem to know the steps.  There are consequences for not knowing the steps of this basic dance.

“Bring me your phone and your game controller.”  Step-ball-change away from him.  He Shuffles away.  She knows that dance so well it breaks her heart to see him do it.

When he returns and hands her his technology, she does the buffalo shuffle towards him, saying, “Tomorrow, you will come to work with me and sit in my office to get caught up.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She grabs his chin, holding it firmly, asserting the rhythm of her heart into his cheeks and saying, “I love you.  Even when I’m mad at you I love.”  His eyes tell her that they can be in sync soon.  She must keep dancing.

Alice Walker says that hard times require furious dancing. These are hard times.  She longs for Baby Suggs to step off the page of Beloved and call her community into a dance.  To call the women in, crying; to invite the men to begin the dance; and to bring in the little children laughing in spite of the hard times.  In community, the dance will morph and include all, creating space for those who need to cry and those who need to laugh, here if nowhere else.  Only in a true community can she find solace and healing. So.  She will keep dancing, inviting her students, her friends, and her family to join her, hoping that in the dance she can empower others to keep true to the rhythms of their hearts.

About the Author

Elizabeth Kuipers’s love of teaching began in the 70s when she cajoled her little brother into completing “homework” which she promptly graded with a red crayon.  Years later, at Wesleyan College, the first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women, Elizabeth learned to love the written word and to be a fierce feminist.  An MA and PHD in English later, she committed to public education where she has lead a team to design and open a K-12 charter school and worked in administration in both K-12 and higher education.  But she has consistently found her way back into the classroom where her heart will remain. 



by Clare Doyle

In June 2021, The Library Project and Basic Space Dublin presented On Belonging, a collaborative group exhibition guest-curated by Diana Bamimeke. The artists featured were Bassam Al-Sabah, Maïa Nunes, Moran Been-noon, Osaro, Oscar Fouz Lopez, and Salvatore of Lucan. The artists were invited to respond “not only to the state of belonging – how it is conceived and made physical – but conversely, to not-belonging, and the outcomes of both in the modern world.”

As the show, originally scheduled for May 2020, kept being postponed, events of the intervening year – global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the climate emergency – shaped and changed the artists’ responses to the theme of belonging. And curator Diana Bamimeke wrote an essay about the exhibition:

Four Negotiations

In response to On Belonging, for Basic Space Dublin:

Part 1

This house was an elegy. It was a monument to grief in the most pervasive way. There is the old belief that animals and children can sense evil, cleaved to by generations of the faithful. And yet, in the vicinity of this house, this ability was numbed. There was no perception of good or evil. There was only a vacuum where perception ought to be. This house sat unoccupied for years at the terminal of a cul-de-sac. It was neighbourhood superstition that by this point the knotted mass of weeds in the lawn had gained new sentience and snaked their way indoors. That errant plant life now ruled the house’s interiors. A myth was built around this house and the myth did not let up. In fact, it swelled like a fatal surge, a heedless story that circumnavigated the world, finding translations in every language.

Part 2


Part 3

The way I dug up the garden could be called a sort of crude botanical scrying. By strategically carving up the earth I could get at the truth that had eluded me for so many years. I started in the furthest left hand corner of the space and worked my way across diagonally. Up came budding tomato stalks, stubborn carrots and rainbow flower beds. Dashed aside they formed accidental horns of plenty, their masses leaving loamy stains against the wooden fence. Hours in, the soil around me was pockmarked with holes. The sky reddened, as if embarrassed to see its friend suffer such indignity. I tilted my head up, cupped my mouth. “I have my reasons!” I shouted. Like in a film the only response I got was frightened flocks of birds tearing away from their branches. But I continued to dig. Abandoning my trowel in desperation I thrust my hands into the dirt looking for the answers, asking them to surface for me. Only worms and grey insects revealed themselves. More hours passed. A pit formed, a pit that ate the other little holes, and sure enough it took me. I tumbled in, falling so hard that I bloodied my knees against blunt rocks. But I continued to dig. Even when my sister and my niece found the cavernous mouth that had nearly consumed their entire back garden; even when they called my name and begged me to grab onto the firefighter’s rope; even when years slipped by and the hole had long been refilled and my obituary had been published despite my very much being alive, I continued to dig and dig and dig, compelled by pernicious instinct. I stopped only when my head broke ground, and I found myself crowned with weeds.

Part 4

After hours of waiting in the hard wooden seats, you decide to pee and stretch your legs. You pass the several numbered booths, a few of which have a bored employee stationed behind the protective glass. For every bored employee there is an exasperated customer brandishing a passport or a wretched looking student type on the brink of tears. You swing open the door of the women’s bathrooms and the radioactive blue light drenches you. You haven’t been the same ever since you read that the light is used to reveal drug residue in the stalls and nab users. It might not even be true, but it influences your decision regardless, and you settle on the most innocuous looking toilet. While you sit you thumb through your phone. Absentmindedly, you open your banking app. €300.00. It is still there. In less than an hour, this sum will have disappeared. At times it doesn’t seem worth it, and it feels foolish, to make the sorry pilgrimage to the GNIB yearly and come out poorer than you came in. You tap your foot to the sound of a leaky tap but the percussion is muffled by the trousers round your ankles. In your head you try to calculate how many hours of your life are about to pay for you not to be deported from your home. But you’ve never excelled at mental maths, so your phone does the calculating for you. 29.7029703, the screen responds dutifully.

The stool in booth number seven equals the rows of seats in hardness, if not outstrips them entirely. You wonder if this is a plot by the Department of Justice to make their facilities as inhospitable as possible to deter people from renewing their residence permits. The thought is short-lived because it is interrupted by the attendant who has finished examining your passport. Po-faced, she slides it back to you through the metal opening and motions towards the card reader.

You know the drill. The reader beeps for a successful transaction and without looking away from her computer monitor the attendant says, “Card’ll be posted out to you.” You hazard a goodbye, but there is no response.

About the Author

Diana Bamimeke is a writer and early-career independent curator from Dublin, Ireland. An alumnus of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) After initiative, their writing credits include the VAI News Sheet, the IMMA Magazine and joint publications by the Royal Hibernian Academy and Temple Bar Gallery + Studios.


by Prof. Belenna Mesa Lauto

Author’s Note

This article discusses the work of Lennart Nilsson and his work as it relates to one of the most controversial topics of the 21st century: the sanctity of life in the womb. The evidence published by biologists, chemists and of course, photography reveals the critical nature of facts vs. emotions and how we, as humans respond, which also gives way to psychological studies in regard to human emotion and response. The information presented is not intended to provoke a particular narrative, but rather as a sincere examination of facts as the humanities, in particular: art, history, biological sciences and psychology all provide evidence of facts through observation and study. 


Lennart Nilsson was working as a photojournalist in his early twenties. His first published essay at age 22, Midwife in Lapland, (or Midwife in the Mountains), documented the work of Siri Sundström, a midwife working in the mountains in the Swedish wilderness, Arjeplog. This very early work brought light to this amazing woman, who had helped over 2,500 women give birth safely.

Nilsson’s early interest in life and science, as well as his poetic sensitivity to the communicative power of images is clearly evident in this photographic essay. His ability to visually and systematically communicate facts gave him an iconic place in photography’s history and in 1945, his passion for science and technology moved him to pitch an idea to LIFE Magazine for a story on life in the womb.  The essay, Drama of Life Before Birth, took seven years to complete as he collaborated with doctors and scientists throughout Stockholm. I was only five when the essay in LIFE was published. I discovered it while perusing books about the “photo essay” while in the library of my high school. I was fifteen. As it turned out, my weekly trips to the library pivoted my “career goals” from writing to photography. Nilsson and photographic icon, E. Eugene Smith were responsible. What I couldn’t say with words, photography would articulate…science, art and communication at play, often providing provoking evidence of what we choose to ignore.

In November 1991, at the Foto Massan, Swedish Association Photographic Convention in Gothenburg, Sweden, I met Lennart Nilsson. We spoke for just a few minutes, but the few words that we exchanged revealed an undeniable truth that pierced my heart and mind. By now I was well established in my photographic career and also in line for tenure at St. John’s University. Remaining an avid fan of LIFE Magazine, though no longer a publication, Nilsson’s images flooded my mind once again. In April 1965, LIFE published his “story” and featured his photograph of a fetus at 18 weeks on the cover. It was the fastest selling issue in LIFE Magazine’s entire history and the embodiment of Nilsson’s commitment to “capture the beginnings of human existence”, which would occupy fifty years of his photographic work.

Fetus 18 Weeks is considered one of the 20th century’s great photographs, but the extensive work Nilsson accomplished is even more impressive. I gathered the courage to tell him how his images touched me. He smiled, but his smile held great wisdom and peace. Then I asked what is probably one of the most ridiculous questions I have ever asked: “What is your position on abortion after completing this work?” He smiled again, and responded with a heavy, distinguished Swedish accent, “Young lady, I thought you just said you were familiar with my work.” 

Fig. 1 Nilsson, Lennart. LIFE Magazine photo essay, Drama of Life Before Birth

Nilsson’s response immediately provoked me to do more research and re-examine his work from the perspective of scientific evidence, which is what he would have wanted in the first place. As we study his images along with the scientific publications that have followed, we are encountered with evidence that continues to inform public consciousness. Biology has already answered the question of when human life begins for us, and Nilsson’s work provides visual evidence.

“…in considering the question of when a new human life begins, we must first address the more fundamental question of when a new cell, distinct from sperm and egg, comes into existence,” states Dr. Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine and the Director of Human Embryology instruction for the Medical School. We can follow up with Dr. Condic’s statement, by examining Nilsson’s photography of the embryo only a few weeks after fertilization. (Condic 3)       

“ Just a few weeks after fertilization, primitive nerve cells…are visible in a human embryo…some parts of the brain receive only sensory impressions from the body, such as sensation and pain, while others are responsible for vision and hearing…others movements…” (Nilsson 78)

New cells are prolifically being created, but as Dr. Condic’s observations further state, “Human embryos from the one-cell (zygote) stage forward show uniquely integrated organismal behavior that is unlike the behavior of mere human cells. The zygote produces increasingly complex tissues, structure and organs that work together in a coordinated way. Importantly, the cells, tissues and organs produced during development do not somehow “generate” the embryo…they are produced by the embryo as it directs its own development to more mature stages of human life.” (Condic 4)

“When week 5 begins, the embryo changes rapidly. Within just a few days it is transformed from a clump of cells into an oblong body, with a head and a tail beginning to take shape around the neutral tube.” (Nilsson 76) Evident in the photograph titled, Fetus, 13 Weeks, the human life has a fully formed head, brain, eyes, ears, arms and legs.

I have an early ultrasound image of my oldest son, (now 32), at 18 weeks sucking his thumb in the womb. Unlike Nilsson’s famous image, my son was alive in my womb. It is critical to note, however, that both images show biological evidence of a human being at this very stage in their life. K.V Turley describes Nilsson’s image as follows: “Perhaps this is nowhere more the case than in the image of an unborn child approximately 18 weeks old, contentedly sucking its thumb while apparently asleep in its mother’s womb. Studying the photograph more closely, one sees the child’s hands are fully formed; its nails are clearly visible, its eyelids are closed, its face at peace. Even today, half a century after the photograph was taken, there is a gentle beauty about the image that is difficult to define. Unquestionably, this is in part due to the universal awe felt at the mystery of life incarnated during a pregnancy. Doubtless, however, it is also due to the powerless dependency of the child in the picture. … All the more poignant still as it is claimed that these children in particular were late-term abortions from a Stockholm clinic.” (Turley)

 There has been controversy and discussion in regards to the fact that many of the embryos “scientifically” documented by Nilsson were of the aborted. During the years he spent photographing the unborn, Nilsson also went as far as reaching out to medical facilities performing abortions in order to obtain more subject matter for his work, though the images published in LIFE came primarily from the Stockholm clinic. As stated poetically and tragically by K.V. Turley, “…it is sobering to realize that our journey to life was contemporary with that of the unborn children whose images remain encapsulated forever in a child is Born, but whose own passage to life, as it turned out, was truncated. That haunting image of the unborn child sucking its thumb is ultimately a photograph record of its subject’s life story complete” one as beautiful as it was tragic.”  It is interesting to note that the composition of the images published in the 1965 issue of LIFE have been targeted for their composition by abortion supporters claiming that the seemingly floating embryos move the viewer to see the fetus as an individual, apart from its mother. (Julich S.) The photographs of the embryos, however, were purely scientific in nature and presented by Nilsson purely as studies of the “unseen”. The dark negative space in which a few of the images seem to “float” in, provides a sense of the mystery of the womb moving us to realize the fact that an individual is forming and growing.  The purpose of the uterus, which exists solely in the biological female body for the purpose of supporting another separate, individual life, is clearly evident in this ground-breaking photographic essay.

The work of Lennart Nilsson provides intrinsic evidence of how the arts can and have informed public discourse and consciousness. Photography and science have been partners in the humanities since photography was documented as a “scientific discovery” by Niepce in 1839. From the study of nature, both the visible and invisible we are presented with documents of the world around us and the life within us. Evidence of the miracle of life is readily available for us to look at. The question that remains is, how will we continue to respond?

About the Author

Belenna Mesa Lauto is currently a professor of photography at St. John’s University in New York. Her work has been widely exhibited throughout the United States and also internationally in Spain, France, Columbia and Argentina. Her work  aims to invite contemplation of the self in both the physical and spiritual realms. Via

Bibliography, Citations

Condic, Maureen. “A Scientific View of When Life Begins.” Charlotte Lozier Institute, Lozier Institute, 4 Aug. 2017,

“Fetus, 18 Weeks | 100 Photographs | The Most Influential Images of All Time.” Time, Time,

Jacobs, Steven. “Biologists’ Consensus on ‘When Life Begins’.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 25 July 2018, pp. 1–22., doi:10.2139/ssrn.3211703.

Jansen, Charlotte. “Foetus 18 Weeks: the Greatest Photograph of the 20th Century?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Nov. 2019,

Jülich, Solveig. “Picturing Abortion Opposition in Sweden: Lennart Nilsson’s Early Photographs of Embryos and Fetuses.” DIVA, 25 Mar. 2017,

“Midwife in the Mountains.” Midwife in the Mountains | Lennart Nilsson Photography,

Nilsson, Lennart, et al. A Child Is Born. 5th ed., Bantam Books Trade Paperback; Penguin Random House LLC, 2020.

Turley, K. V. “You’ve Seen the Photos-Now Here’s the Story Behind Them.” NCR, 3 Nov. 2017,



by Emma Di Pasquale, University of Michigan Library

At the University of Michigan Press, open access is one of many ways we strive to deliver the best scholarship to the broadest possible audience. Over the last decade, the Press has been taking steps to continue developing a publishing program that better aligns with our mission and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Much of the work we’ve been doing has prepared the Press to shift to an open access monograph program. We’re excited to formally announce the Press’s open access model, Fund to Mission.

Our Journey to Open

The Press joined the university library in 2012, and this merger centered on contributing to the common good as our mission outlines. This was cemented by the University in 2014 when the Press was moved from “auxiliary” to “designated” status. This distinction was significant, as “designated” meant that the success of the Press was judged by how it advances the university’s mission, rather than its financial performance. We further built on this mission later in 2014 by launching Fulcrum, the open-source digital publishing platform. The Fulcrum platform now supports over 10,000 books, including titles from over 125 non-profit presses through the American Council of Learned Societies Humanities Ebook Collection. Fulcrum also hosts over 250 open access books the Press has published over the last decade under Creative Commons licenses. The Press has been able to publish these many open access works thanks to Knowledge Unlatched, the TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) Initiative, research funders, and our own resources. 

Free to Read

While we have been actively working to develop a more open publishing program, the drive to shift to an open model was reaffirmed by the changes we saw in the publishing industry during COVID, particularly in response to a free-to-read initiative that we launched in the spring of 2020. This initiative made all 1,500 titles in the University of Michigan Press Ebook Collection available for public reading for six months, at a time when print distribution and in-person reading were strongly challenged. Not only did the usage of UMP books skyrocket, but it also grew heavily in new geographic areas that we had seen little or no engagement with previously for our title list. Additionally, the reader survey responses were overwhelmingly positive; it really impressed on us the role OA has in democratizing knowledge. Libraries and other funders indicated that they were energized by the free-to-read initiative to invest in more permanent open access approaches as well.

Fund to Mission

Our collective work from the last decade and the data collected from the free-to-read initiative all went into forming Fund to Mission. It is named as such to emphasize the understanding that OA fulfills the inherent mission of our Press and our research university. University presses are non-profit organizations for a reason; their mission is to fill the gaps that commercial organizations do not fill. One of these gaps is that the publications of the best foundational research in the humanities and social sciences are not easily available. The Fund to Mission model recognizes that university presses are humanities infrastructure that need to be funded accordingly: presses matter not just for research, but for teaching, and provide additional visibility, impact, and innovation that benefits the academic publishing community. Investment in this model supports a non-profit organization and community-owned platform that already hosts thousands of university press books.

Through a three-legged approach, the Press is seeking $250,000 from the library community, an additional recurring $400,000 in our budget from the University of Michigan, and $300,000 of other funder payments like subventions and grants. We are incentivizing our library investors by providing unique benefits: supporting libraries will (1) support the conversion to open access of at least half (~45) of University of Michigan Press scholarly monographs in 2022 (we will expand this percentage if we realize our full goal, and will build on it in succeeding years); (2) Receive perpetual access to the remaining restricted frontlist titles and term access to the backlist (~1,500 titles), which will otherwise remain closed to non-purchasers; and (3) Support authors’ ability to publish innovative, digital scholarship leveraging the next-generation, open-source Fulcrum platform.

Opening Content

The Press is committed to being transparent about all aspects of the model, including how much support we are receiving, from who, and how we are approaching decisions around open content. There are three main criteria the Press is using to select books to make open:

  • Is the author excited by the potential of open access?

There are some disciplines (e.g., Classical History) in which authors remain resistant. If we don’t have an author willing to partner on promotion, primarily through their social networks, we won’t see the level of use we desire. 

  • Is the subject matter of the book well-aligned to the benefits that open access will offer?

For example, is it on an international theme that will be interesting in a resource-constrained country? Or is it on a topic that would be of use to public policymakers? Or is it an interdisciplinary book that will be better discovered across disciplines if openly available? Global reach, public policy influence, and interdisciplinarity are three themes we see repeated for the books that do best and familiar to the most motivated authors.

  • Is the author interested in taking advantage of a digital affordance that can be facilitated by open access? For example, by using open commenting via Fulcrum’s annotation overlay or the surfacing of media files that can be used in other contexts, such as OER-based courses. 

Historically, there has also been a financial calculus. Can we afford to make the book OA? Ensuring that we don’t factor in the author’s ability to pay has been crucial for us in accepting a project for publication. However, the Press has had to be creative in finding funding to hedge against the additional risk of sales declines that OA brings when deciding to make the ebook open. With the Fund to Mission model, the Press hopes to avoid those financial considerations and simply factor in the criteria described above. Because most of our books will be OA if we are successful, we are also orienting our future acquisitions program to be more international, more welcoming to precarious or marginalized scholars, more digitally innovative, and more interdisciplinary in scope.

The Impact of OA

The Press is thinking a lot about the impact of open. Because we are in the initial phase of Fund to Mission, we do not have an annual report that shows the impact specifically of opening UMP EBC. However, our direction of travel is consistent, and our most recent Michigan Publishing Impact Report provides some relevant stats. We are building a dedicated website to launch in fall 2021, providing transparency into impact and costs (i.e., how the money is spent). UMP is the pilot site in the USA for the Open Access Usage Data Trust dashboard. The website will include this dashboard which will show impact across the platforms that we host open access books on, including JSTOR Open, Muse Open, and OAPEN/DOAB. The Press is working to prioritize our OA books’ discoverability through various channels. We’re developing a set of metadata best practices and tools for OA titles to ensure consistent representation, especially with DOIs. 

The Future of Open at UMP

The University of Michigan Press Fund to Mission open access model doesn’t just involve our unique funding structure. Rather, it involves three core aspects: (1) our connection to the shared mission of academic publishing; (2) paying attention to the production and distribution of our OA titles; and (3) engaging with our authors to maximize the success of these projects. We are excited to move ahead with this model and openly share our progress and challenges throughout the transition. To learn more about the model, please visit

by David D. Esselstrom

Originally published in Perigraph (University of Southern Florida) & Facet (Arizona). 

A chill November wind whipping through my thin jacket, I darted across the back lawn and shouldered my way into the makeshift study built in the storage shed.  E.M. Forster crouched in the one comfortable chair (the walnut armchair with turquoise seat and back) and stared at my collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction stacked on the floor.  The sleeves of his beige cotton sweater were pushed back to his elbows, which rested on his knees.  His hair, though thin, retained a hint of the striking reddish-brown of his youth.  Bent as he was, a few wisps dangled in front of his forehead.  He looked like his photographs—which is how I knew who he was.  

Although I should have been surprised at finding him there—he being long dead and all—I was not. I’d been somewhat impressed by A Passage to India when I’d read it several years earlier.  However, it was not until Aspects of the Novel that I began to hear that soft but urgent, gentle voice actually talking to me.  The voice became so clear, distinct, and, finally, intimate that, deep into Two Cheers for Democracy, I felt Forster talking to me even when I wasn’t reading him.  He had become a part of my interior review board, joining such writers as Hemingway, Kerouac, Kazantzakis, Didion, and Mr. Pack (my eighth grade English teacher) and Burroughs (Edgar Rice).  Although I had always thought it unlikely that a member of this group would seek a more substantial existence than that of being a mere voice in my head, I did not discount the possibility.  

Although not surprised by Forster, I was embarrassed by the study itself.  A heavy duty extension cord stretched from the house to the shed for electricity.  The foil side of insulation, precariously tacked between bear studs, buckled and folded in compliance with the demands of gravity.  My bookcases pushed against the thee walls.  A Persian rug, dangling from a rafter, separated the “study” from the clutter of ten-speeds, lawnmower, hibachi, and assorted rusting tools.  The room was not the oak-lined, teak-desked, leather-furnished library in which I would delight to entertain Forster, or anyone else from the board.  

“Do you always keep such slack hours?” he asked.  Moving in from the door, I told him that my writing schedule varied according to my other duties and responsibilities.  “One’s duties and responsibilities should vary according to one’s writing schedule,” Forster chided.  He then glanced back to the magazines on the floor.  “Is this what you are trying to do?”  He kicked at the stack.

Seeing I had no response, Forster ballooned his cheeks and expelled a burst of air in evident irritation and then bent down to retrieve one of the fallen magazines.  “Oh, I suppose to be fair I should admit that there are one or two stories that do signify, but for the most part this stuff…” He fanned the pages in my direction.  “…is escape.  And fantasy is not.”

His disdain confused me. How could the author of “The Celestial Omnibus” and other fantastic stories disparage current fantasy?  I’d always thought Forster as much in favor of fantasy as Burroughs.  Of course, I do admit to some qualitative differences between “The Machine Stops” and John Carter of Mars.  Restacking the pile of magazines, I moved them to the edge of the room while asking what fantasy was not.

“Escape,” he answered.  I said that escape is exactly what fantasy is supposed to be.  “Oh, my goodness no,” he exclaimed, settling back into the chair.  “Let me explain by drawing an analogy to the process of metaphor.  In making a metaphor one simply joins two terms that have no business being together.  By joining them one manages to say something that neither term could express singly, something that is much more that the sum of ‘a’ plus ‘b.’  Fantasy joins form, in this case literary form, to something basically formless—the vague yearnings and nameless fears that are housed here.” He tapped his chest.  “By joining these two things that really have no business being together one manages, if fortunate, to say something that is beyond both form and fear, something worth more than entertainment or information.  Fantasy is not escape from everyday life but rather a revealing record of an intimate relationship with it.”  He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward.  “That does make sense, doesn’t it?”  I nodded my head.  “I’m so glad,” he said, “for both of us.”

He leaned back and grabbed my Signet copy of Pride and Prejudice with one hand and my best pipe with the other.  He tilted the pipe in my direction questioningly.  I motioned for him to by my guest.  The aroma of pipe tobacco somewhat camouflages the moldy smell of the storage shed.  As he filled the pipe, a blast of air ripped past me from the partially open door at my back.  The breeze skimmed a few shreds of tobacco out of the bowl of the pipe.  As Forster retrieved the wayward tobacco, I noticed goose bumps on his forearms.  Closing the door, I apologized for the uncomfortable accommodations of my study.  

As Forster spread an old army blanket over his knees, I joked about a little discomfort being good for the artist.  “God knows what you intend to inflict on your readers.  Misery loves company, and all that,” muttered Forster as he retrieved the book and pipe.  

Sitting down at my desk, I flicked on the space heater and set it between the two of us.  I mentioned that my home-crafted insulation job was ineffective, but the thought of my books as a second layer of insulation I found somehow comforting.  Forster chuckled and said, “Yes, oh yes, they are that, aren’t they?”

His voice only half hit whatever word he was emphasizing so that each sentence came out a bit askew.  Even a simple phrase like “oh yes” came out sounding as if it meant something else, meant something more—or less.  I would have thought him purposely abstruse had not pauses—brief suspensions in which he too contemplated in wonder whatever the hell he’d just said—punctuated his conversation.  

The next day I cut short my office hour at the college to get to my study.  The day was clear, but in Oregon clear days often mean colder temperatures.  When I opened the shed door, Forster was in the turquoise chair, puffing on an overstuffed pipe, and covered except for arms and head by the army blanket (U.S. side out).  He greeted me with an ominous clearing of his throat.  “Comfort is a precondition of accomplishment,” he told me sternly as I pointed the space heater in his direction.  

I thought he was truly angry at me until he leaned forward and whispered, “Freud misses the point so.”  He pulled the blanket closer about his shoulders and continued, “It’s comfort that is at the center of things.  Comfort…not that other thing.  The anticipation of getting it or the fear of losing it is what drives us.”  He pulled deeply on the pipe.  It was out.  “That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” he asked.  Although I wanted to answer yes, I could sense the question was rhetorical.  “Would that it were true,” he said wistfully and slumped into his chair.  “I probably would have written much more if it weren’t for the other thing.”  

After the room had warmed to a point that I could leave off rubbing my hands over the heater, I finally asked Forster why he was joining me in my study.  “Where else should I be?” he rasped and then quickly returned to his reading.  A bit annoyed, I almost told him that I thought it appropriate he be in the ground. But I could not be flippant with him.  My gaze wondered to my collection of Henry James.  I then told Forster that although I had no idea where he should be, I did imagine that since he was materializing in my study, I could then not be too far amiss in surmising that he was there to be of some aid or assistance to me.  

Waiting for him to answer, I slid the manuscript I was working on, “Odysseus Jones and the Matter Transporter,” into a drawer.  

“I can’t say my presence here is intended to be of aid or assistance,” began Forster, “since it might have the very opposite effect.  But you do need to be talked to.  And I suppose I am a good one to do the talking because, for some reason, people find me authoritative but not threatening.  Personally, I think the perception in error.  Granted my pricks seldom draw blood, but a bubble may be burst as easily with a needle as with a saber.”  

His use of the term “talked to” bothered me.  I did indeed need someone to talk to, and with.  But I certainly did not need to be “talked to” the way an errant child needs the folly of his conduct explained to him, the way a cocky apprentice needs the seriousness and complexity of his enterprise and the stiffness and clumsiness of his fledgling efforts pointed out to him.  

I pulled from the desk drawer a serious effort—ponderous Joycean prose, dense, heavy, thick with profundities, rich with allusion—which I thought more fitting to be working on than the Odysseus Jones thing.  Holding the manuscript firmly, I met his gaze and told him, rather forcefully, I think, that although my efforts were not as serious, as weighty, as significant as his, I sincerely felt that my efforts were honest.  My back straightened as I proclaimed that any honest effort to put one word after another was commendable.  

He nodded his head, bit his lower lip, and gnawed the corners of his moustache.  “I suppose,” he said, “that that is true, to a degree.  Honest effort is always commendable, but it is not always good.”  He continued over my protests.  “That wonderful line Chekhov gives Trigorin in The Seagull comes to mind.  Something about everyone writing what he wants to and what he can.  Ah, what a nice sentiment—liberating, comforting, forgiving.  But I can’t help feeling that Checkhov, as always, is being just a little ironic.  I mean, my god, if we all wanted to write only what we could, I doubt there’d be any great literature at all.  We all want to write better than we can, and the miracle is that, sometimes, we do.”  

A light snowfall—as white and oppressive as a fresh sheet of paper staring up from the typewriter—blanketed the lawn between our house and the shed.  I slid the piece of my dense and profundity-packed prose out of its manila envelope.  I read the first three lines.  The prose I held in my hand was as good as I could write.  No better.

Since Forster was once again buried in the Austen, I decided to pick up Odysseus Jones. When I’d set the story down a few days earlier, I had followed Hemingway’s strategy and mapped out my next move.  But even with a well-planned attack, I am accustomed to one or two false starts before anything good begins to flow.  Hemingway, I am sure, understood that knowing what happens next and telling what happens next are two different things.  Forster’s presence made my false starts all the more false.

Although my back was to him, and five feet of floor separated us, and obviously his attentions were elsewhere, I still I could not bring myself to jot down one word that I felt he did not see.  And his seeing it—my feeling that he did—made each word, each phrase, each sentence stand out awkward, clumsy, and false.  I wanted to write only what would meet his approval.  And I knew he would only approve my best. There I was stuck.  I did not know what my best was; so everything I wrote died on the page even before my pen stumbled dumbly to the end of the line.  

I had tossed my seventh false start in the wastebasket when Forster spoke.  “A few times I had to give up because I felt the project dying, felt it withering all the more as I fed it my best.  Yet even as the story expired on the page, as the voice of my characters faded, as the setting became hazy and I could only focus on the tip of my pen stalled in mid page, even then my belief rested not in my powers—obviously failing—nor in my understanding of craft—weld characters to setting, drive the whole kit and caboodle down the road of plot and over the cliff of climax, sweep up the debris—no, my belief rested in that sense of mystery, that awe one feels when faced with the fact that good writing happens at all.  And my awe was tinged with gratitude that I could be present, on occasion, when it did.”

Exasperated, I told him that great literature was all fine and good, but I was trying to write a simple story about a Soldier/Killer, bound for the allocation games on Mars, who becomes involved in matter teleportation experiments.  

Forster bobbed his head twice, then glanced at my green particleboard bookcase, the second shelf of which contains only the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, except for a copy of Naked Lunch purchased by mistake.  “I won’t argue the merits of the enterprise,” he said.  “But can you accomplish it?  I fear you are looking too far beyond the page, watching the reader.  Writing—all art, really—is illusion.  You, as writer, are a trickster.  But a trick performed well can only be itself.  And that is, really, satisfaction enough.  Watch the audience and your feet miss the wire.  Since you perform without a net, missing the wire can be deadly.”  He paused, surveying the tips of his fingernails.  “Oh, my, a circus analogy.  I don’t often use those.”  

What annoyed me most was his saying something pithy and then directing his attention elsewhere.  Annoyance quickly gave way to anger.  I found his condescension offensive, and I told him so.  In answer, he buried himself deeper in Austen and puffed loudly on the pipe.  Slamming down my pencil, I left the study.  As I crossed the snow-covered lawn, I thought that, for all his insight, Forster was still somewhat a supercilious old fart.  

The next day as I crunched across the lawn to the shed, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted Forster to be there again or not.  I had wanted him to spur my productivity, not rein it in.  As I opened the door, I knew his presence was a miracle I could have lived without and now only wished to live through.  Who was he to sit in judgment of me?  Deft critic, superior novelist, clever essayist, sure, he was all of that—for his time.  But the demands of this age are different.  Aesthetics, like all philosophy, flounders in a sea of probabilities, trying no longer to build something solid, forgetting completely the naïve dream of flight, hoping only to stay afloat for the length of one lousy work.  That being the case, how dare he ask me to touch the heart?  

Pulling back the dangling rug, I found him once again seated in the center of the study, flipping tentatively through my copy of Mailer’s Of a Fire on the Moon.  Mailer I have always defended as giving us a real and effective vision of the world precisely because that vision is filtered so poorly through the thick membrane of his ego.  I explained my stance to Forster.  He gave me one of those looks that skirts condescension by hinting that there might possible be more in what I’d said than I ‘d put there.  

He lowered his gaze to the work in question and said, “What I don’t understand is that you Americans, you American writers, are always so caught up in the expression of yourselves.  It is as if you believe that life itself were a personal achievement and identity an artistic creation.”  

Pulling up my chair, I told him that that was the point exactly.  With the demise in the belief in the consistency of character, what had the twentieth century writer to deal with, without being manipulative and false, except his own sense of self.  That is our curse as children of our time.  The sureties are gone.  We had found the “I am” dubious and were left merely with the “I think, therefore.”  We, and I unabashedly included myself, marked a turning point in the history of literature, perhaps of all art.  

Forster’s eyebrows rose in concert with the corners of his mouth.  “I dare say,” he said finally.  “You almost believe that.”

I said I did.  I believed too that the fixed star of discernible motivation and natural dramatic structure were never in the heavens but only in the eyes of weak romantics craving certitude. The best of us knew the heavens were empty and we stood alone on a cold clod in the dark of space, not screaming defiance but whimpering gibberish.  

“I can agree with you whole-heartedly on that,” he said, fingering the spine of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.  “But what strikes me as peculiar is that you put such a high store on unintelligibility.  We all look, sometimes, on our rantings and hope—ruefully to be sure—that they are other than what they are, that they are a new code, a new view.  Luckily, we most often come to our senses and toss our rantings in the waste can.  My god, my dear boy, we don’t publish them.”

I told him that unintelligibility may be all we were left.  History had saddled us—Mailer, Pynchon, Gass, Hawkes, me—with the task of finding a new path, a new view; and we were forced to search with neither landmark nor compass.  

“Oh my,” said Forster, fingering the corners of his moustache.  “You Americans, you American writers, seem always so sure that the world begins and ends with you, or in this case ends and then begins.  You seem always so worried about your place in history.  But Art is not History.  Lots of confusion there, in our thinking that it is or that the two are linked in some way.  Art is illusion masquerading as life; History is life masquerading as illusion.”  He paused, his smile broadening.  “I do believe that an epigram worthy of Oscar Wilde.”  

As Forster reveled in the workings of his own mind, I noticed that my manuscript “Odysseus Jones and the Matter Transporter” dangled on the end of the desk, ready to drop.  I tossed the Lattimore translation of The Odyssey on top of my story to add weight to it.  I covered my actions by whining to Forster that we were just looking for answers.  Certainly, he couldn’t fault us for that.

Forster watched the flight of the volume Homer’s epic as he sucked the cone of flame into the bowl of the pipe.  “Ah yes,” he said, as the smoke swirled about him.  “The search for solid answers, the drive of science, the grail of philosophers east and west since the beginning.  I think the problem is that we misunderstand the nature of answers themselves.  We think of them as stones—hard, lasting, sharp edged.  But answers, I think, are more like flowers than stones.  In the right soil, the right climate, they flourish.  They litter the countryside, like Wordsworth’s daffodils, with their ebullient, but transitory, good health.  And, like flowers, answers bloom and fade.  Any one that doesn’t is false from the beginning.”

He punctuated this last by blowing smoke in my face.  As I waved away the sweet smelling cloud, Forster reached across the desk, pushed aside the Lattimore, and snatched up the manuscript of my science fiction story.  “And here is, I suppose, the concrete result of this abstract mumbo-jumbo you’ve been spouting for the last hour.”  I hurriedly explained that the story was some lightweight fluff that I was writing merely for diversion.  He flipped through the first few pages.  “Twenty pages of a manuscript this heavily marked with corrections is not evidence of diversion but rather of serious commitment.”  I was too embarrassed to respond.  He read a few lines from the middle of the story.  “Oh, dear me,” he said, shaking his head from side to side and glancing from the manuscript to me.  “This will never do.   How can you possible defend this?  Here I’ve read less than half a paragraph, and already I am suspicious that the whole thing makes sense.”  

I told him that it wasn’t a serious effort; therefore, of course it made sense.  He found my comment uproariously funny.  His laughter degenerated into a fit of coughing.  I pounded his back to help him regain his breath.  

“Oh my,” he said, grabbing my hand.  “We do indeed have such a lot of work to do.”  

At that moment, the lights went out.  I stumbled into the house to locate the problem.  From a portable radio, I learned that a power transfer station had blown.  With candles and matches, I trekked back to the study.  When I opened the door and struck the first match, I found the study empty.  Forster was gone. 

About the Author

David Esselstrom, Ph.D., is a teacher and writer who encourages students to express themselves clearly and creatively. He has published fiction and journalism, and has written extensively for the stage and screen. Esselstrom combines his scholarly interests and creative projects with his passion for teaching in such courses as creative writing, composition, literature, and film and media.  Via Azusa Pacific University.

Reprinted with permission of

by Lesley Ellen Harris

Fair use is one of the most misunderstood principles in the U.S. Copyright Act. It causes frustration, uncertainty and controversy. However, the more you know about fair use, the more useful it may be useful to you. Did you know …

  • Fair use is only recently part of the actual U.S. Copyright Act. While it’s a doctrine created by courts in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until 1976 that fair use became codified and set out in the Copyright Act.
  • Many who apply fair use complain that it’s ambiguous and should be more specific to fact situations. Fair use is intentionally open and flexible, and its language allows you to apply the doctrine to your own specific fact situations.
  • Fair use may be applied by individuals or corporations, by commercial and noncommercial entities, and in for-profit and nonprofit situations.
  • Fair use is never a certain thing unless a judge in a court of law makes that determination. In practice this means that getting comfortable with fair use is important. You need to be able to make a judgment call as to whether fair use applies to your use of copyright-protected content.
  • Fair use requires a risk analysis. You must understand any copyright risks involved when applying fair use to your situations and generally minimize your risks of unauthorized uses of copyright-protected materials.
  • The application of fair use always depends on the facts of your situation and how your facts fit within the four fair use factors set out in the U.S. Copyright Act.

The factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

U.S. Copyright Office Fair Use Index

The U.S. Copyright Office hosts a Fair Use Index, which is a helpful database for understanding fair use. You can search the Index by category (e.g., literary, artistic, musical work) and by your type of use (e.g., education/scholarship/research, parody/satire, photograph, internet/digitization.)

The Index tracks court decisions at various court levels, but it isn’t intended to be a comprehensive archive of all fair use decisions ever made. It’s designed for both and nonlawyers and is user-friendly. The Index sets out the:

  • Name of the case
  • Court
  • Jurisdiction
  • Year of the decision
  • Whether fair use was found by the court

You can click on the case name/citation for a summary of the case that includes the key facts, issue, outcome and more information about the decision.

Fair Use and Fair Dealing

Fair use is not a universal provision found in all copyright laws around the world. Fair use originated in the U.S. from the 1841 court case of Folsom v. Marsh. This case set out the four fair use factors that exist today and that were codified in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, as set out above.

Fair Dealing in Canada

There is no fair use provision in the Canadian Copyright Act. There is, however, a fair dealing provision for specific purposes: research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review and news reporting.

If the use falls within one of these purposes, then you must determine fairness by applying your facts to the following factors set out in a Supreme Court of Canada case:

  • The purpose of the dealing
  • The character of the dealing
  • The amount of the dealing
  • Alternatives to the dealing
  • The nature of the work
  • The effect of the dealing on the work
  • Any other factors that may help a court decide whether the dealing was fair.

In the 2012 amendments to the Canadian Copyright Act, two new purposes were added to fair dealing: parody and education.

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Photo credit: Mike Seyfang, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

About the Author

Lesley Ellen Harris, JD, is the founder and CEO of Lesley is a copyright consultant, published author, copyright blogger and educator. Her areas of expertise include U.S. and Canadian copyright law, international copyright law, and licensing digital content. (From

by David D. Esselstrom

In 1961, my eldest brother, Keith, was discharged from the Army’s 101st Airborne division. From his last duty station in Okinawa, he returned to La Crescenta, California, with a third-degree black belt in Karate, a Samurai sword with three-foot blade, and the conviction that Gautama Buddha, not Jesus Christ, had had it right. I remember watching him unpack his duffel bag. He pulled out a bright red carton of Pall Mall cigarettes, a bayonet, and a packet of books, among them Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums

My eldest brother, eight and a half years older than I, had it right, in my eyes. He held my bike when I learned to ride and laughed as I kept yelling for him to “let go, let go, I can do it, let go.” He was laughing because he had let go quite some time before. He took me fishing in the streams of the San Gabriel Mountains, taught me how to work a salmon egg onto a hook. He showed me how to step through and string a bow, how to rest my eyes on the target, let slip the arrow and feel the arc of its flight out from the bow, up through air, and into the cardboard box stuffed with newspapers. 

We had our first discussion about religion when I was twelve. I more or less argued Pascal’s Wager—risking delusion is a better bet than risking damnation. Keith ridiculed the position as being beneath his dignity. I felt embarrassed that it was not beneath my own. Looking at it through Keith’s eyes, Christianity seemed a religion for wimps and cowards, a refuge of the weak and afraid. Mostly because of Keith, I began, at thirteen, working my way through The Way of Zen. I remember reaching what I thought at the time was a state of satori early one morning as I tossed copies of the Los Angeles Examiner to the second-floor apartments of a building in Montrose.

I discovered later that Keith and I were typical members of a restless generation, young people coming of age in the sixties. The fifties began in 1948 with the advent of commercial television and ended with the death of John Kennedy in ’63. The sixties started—in earnest—in 1964 with the Beatles’ first tour of the U.S. An interest in the religion and philosophy of Asia that flowered in the forties and fifties in the work of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg as a garden of aesthetic inspiration took root in the sixties in the soil of America’s discontented youth, as much a reaction against everything domestic as an embracing of things mysterious, exotic, and other. Things Eastern, or quasi-Eastern, became part of our cultural landscape—from Zen to Transcendental Meditation, from Hare Krishna to the Bagwan, from being Blissed-out with the Guru Mahara Ji to “getting it” with Ehard Seminars Training. 

We can think of America’s flirtation with the philosophies and religions from Asia as an encounter with the “other.” But we can’t really understand the nature of this encounter nor what results from it until we see that all such encounters are problematic.

There are two ways of looking at “the other.” Sam Keen has noted that throughout history we have often demonized the other, seeing what is different as something that is frightening and therefore must be strictly controlled or ruthlessly abolished. In wartime, the enemy is conceived of as evil, his motives base, his actions reprehensible. Our actions, on the other hand, are seen as necessary, as lesser evils needed to prevent greater ones. There is always a qualitative difference between us and them. When “the other” is closer to us we deal with it in a less brutal, but still brutalizing, fashion. If we dismiss it—usually out of fear or ignorance or arrogance, although the three are often the same—we then ghettoize the other, marginalizing a people, taking away the voice of a culture by ignoring it. If we do not fear it, we pretend to embrace it, or rather absorb the other, using it, making differences commodities that can be worn or heard or watched or, in some other way, consumed. 

The second way of looking at “the other” is to give it unwarranted value. This is the “greener grass” phenomenon. What is over there must be better than what is over here. Chekov’s “Three Sisters” want to get to Moscow. Everything will be better in Moscow. Huck Finn takes off for the west where a man can breathe. I always thought Virginia and Sharon who lived across the driveway from me in the fifties had the better toys. Keith, my eldest brother, thought the quieting of the mind and body before doing battle on the tatami mats with an opponent was better discipline than quiet reflection on a passage of the Bible. 

An anecdote from the sixties might help illustrate these two perspectives. A dinner table argument between a teenager and her father began when the young woman said she admired a friend who had taken up the study of Transcendental Meditation. The father was a first confused, then incensed. Her point was that the friend had found something of spiritual value in his practice. The father’s irritation was with anyone finding anything of value from a culture where indoor plumbing was a rarity. 

The problem is that both of these ways of looking at and dealing with the other—to denigrate or to glorify—are counter-productive. Dismissal leads to loss. Not only is marginalization—whether cultural, economic, or social—unjust to those people who are marginalized, but it costs those people doing the marginalizing as well. The father in the preceding anecdote has trouble valuing any culture he cannot measure by his own yardstick of material wellbeing. Because he can’t or won’t do so, he is cut off from interacting with his daughter. He cannot understand her fascination with emotional or spiritual values that have little to do with material things.

But what about the other side? Glorification of the other. Is this dangerous as well? I think it is. And my brother and myself are cases in point. If we value something before we understand it, we run the risk of chipping away at that value as our understanding grows, a paradoxical but not uncommon phenomenon. I’m reminded of a young woman with whom I went to high school. I was honored by her friendship since she was the smartest student in our school, a delightful conversationalist, and a brilliant actress. She went on to a college in Southern California because of her admiration for the professors there in the English and Theater Arts departments. Two years later when I asked her how things were going, she seemed a bit disappointed. She said she’d found out something quite disconcerting about her professors. “What’s that?” I asked. “They’re human,” she said. “Familiarity breeds contempt” does not tell us something about the situation; it tells us something about ourselves. 

Here’s another illustration. When we are children, “the other” is the world of the grown-ups. Bruno Bettelheim maintains that for the child, the adult world is frightening because it is, in fact, unimaginable. The difference between the two realms is qualitative. Imagine how different our lives would be if we really were, as adults, as fearless, as carefree, as certain as we imagined adulthood to be when we were children. One of the more depressing things you can tell a young person is “These are the best years of your life.” 

Worse than the risk of disillusionment, however, is what happens to our relationship to what is in our own backyard. To glorify the foreign often involves the denigration of the domestic. It’s not only a question of comparative values. Selection always involves value judgments. How we choose to spend our time indicates what we value. But the real danger is one of dynamics rather than status. When one chooses to value “the other ” what often happens is that one’s understanding of one’s own cultural heritage freezes, stops, ceases to grow—may indeed begin to whither. 

For example, my growing understanding of the religious tradition in which I was raised stopped at about my junior year of high school. I thought I understood it, and what I thought I understood, I didn’t like. An understanding that is not growing, that is not dynamic, withers. Luckily for me, my understanding, my relationship with my own tradition, began to show signs of life in the late seventies because of my teaching. I was offering a few courses through Marylhurst college in Lake Oswego, Oregon—I believe the name when I was there was Marylhurst Center for Life-long Learning. Sister Marilyn Guldan, head of the Humanities Division, developed a correspondence/brief residency course on “The Convergence of East-West Thought.” She threw a little work to this hungry adjunct instructor by letting me team-teach the course with her. Initially, I was shocked. I believed that there was no convergence between what I thought I knew of Eastern thought and what I thought I knew of Western thought. What I discovered is that I didn’t know either, and that I had used my exposure to the one as an excuse to stop thinking about both. 

I learned that not only is there a rich tradition of Christian mysticism, but that Christian scholars had long been in dialogue with their counterparts in Japan and India. Later, when I was teaching at the University of Portland, Sister Joan Salfield and I formed the core of a weekly meditation group. My brother never had this opportunity to re-examine what he thought he had learned about others and about himself. The danger is that in glorifying the foreign—the exotic, the different—we marginalize ourselves and our own traditions. 

Another example is an experience that occurred to a friend of mine who grew up outside of any specific religious tradition. In a college course which required students to observe and report on religious services outside their own, he chose to attend a Christian service at a Protestant evangelical church. Noting that his peers were reporting on their experiences in positive and respectful terms, he did the same. His report was deemed unacceptable. When he rewrote the report and placed his observations in more negative terms, his efforts were praised, his insight encouraged. The graduate students reacting to my friend’s efforts remind me of my brother and his inability to see his own tradition as valuable, as worthy of study, as something that he perhaps does not yet fully understand. 

We marginalize that which we do not understand, and often that which we think we do. Some certainties make arguments possible; others foreclose all discussion. We can reach agreement if we both affirm that agreement is possible. And, as Kenneth Burke tells us, that is only possible if both of us are willing to change, if both of us are willing to admit that our own certainties are something less than absolute. Believing, because of fear or anger or ignorance, that you know enough about other people to warrant their separation—as with the Americans of Japanese descent interned during WW II—is needlessly damaging to our society. Believing that you know all you need to about yourself and your world is an unnecessary amputation of the self. 

Therefore, if we don’t want to push others away nor do we want to deny ourselves and our heritage, how can we be accepting of other traditions without adhering to them, how can we be respectful of other points of view while remaining steadfast and true to our own? This is one of those questions that can be answered by turning to the examples given us in literature. The answer is that the question cannot be viewed as a matter of stance—where do I stand? what do I believe? what do I know?—but as a matter of dynamics—what can I learn? where can the discussion lead? what are the opportunities for fuller appreciation of one tradition by way of the others? 

We marginalize that which we do not understand, and often that which we think we do.

Some writers have shown us that interest and respect need not be glorification. We can learn how this is done from the literature that explores the relationship between the other and ourselves without marginalizing either the other—or ourselves. From Forster’s Passage to India to Hesse’s Siddhartha to Huxley’s Island to Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Western writers have been intrigued by the East, not so much as a substitute for their own traditions but as way of getting some distance from which to view and critique those traditions. 

But the critique itself is not Eastern but Western in nature and intent. This is the case because our writers—and others—in the current century have been looking for answers in the East to questions that can only be posed in the West. These are questions of identity and purpose, questions that—as I understand the major currents of thought in Hinduism and Buddhism—are unasked because they are unaskable from inside these traditions. Dr. D.T. Suzuki was criticized by those in his own tradition when, partly as a result of Alan Watts’ writing about Zen, he decided to speak to a Western audience. “The way that can speak its name is not the real way,” says the Tao te Ching.

Literature, as we know it in the West, is a production of human consciousness attempting through language to form, define, and explain the mystery of individual personhood. Literature then is both a culmination and a celebration of individual identity. Yet what fascinates Western writers about the East is the absence of the very dependence on identity that makes such questions possible. The problem for all of us is that identity in its own fulfillment doesn’t supply satisfaction. I know who I am and I know I’m not happy. The paradox is that we, in the West at least, want to know who we are and have happiness at the same time. In fact, the way we think of happiness, as a possession, underscores this paradox. Our own traditions have called the problem with this to our attention several times. “The first shall be last.” “Who loses her life shall gain it.”

The answer? It’s a matter of maintaining a healthy relationship. In our own tradition we are exhorted to love the other as we love ourselves, not less than, not more than, and not in place of. It is in our dynamic relationship with others that we form and define ourselves. To shorten that relationship on either end is deadening; to keep it open is frightening because it leads to a richer, deeper life. 

Photo credit: Eddy Van 300, via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

About the Author

David Esselstrom, Ph.D., is a teacher and writer who encourages students to express themselves clearly and creatively. He has published fiction and journalism, and has written extensively for the stage and screen. Esselstrom combines his scholarly interests and creative projects with his passion for teaching in such courses as creative writing, composition, literature, and film and media.  Via Azusa Pacific University.