Part 1: The River of Vision
“Teacher seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” So begins the novel Ishmael, published in 1992 by Daniel Quinn, now residing in Houston. Through the course of more than a dozen books and countless speeches and essays, Daniel Quinn has served as a strong and poetic guide for the human journey. Whether speaking in the voice of a talking gorilla, an itinerant teacher, or one of our animist forebears, Quinn’s love for the Earth, and his concern for the future of life on this planet, are palpable and clear.
I must admit, the task of figuring out what to say about Daniel Quinn and his work kicked my butt. My attempts to summarize his ideas, and I made more than one attempt, ended up dense and lifeless. And rendering Quinn’s work lifeless is the last thing I would want to do. When I read his Ishmael stories, my heart pounds, and my eyes mist with tears. It’s as if I’m sitting in the presence of the whole of life on this planet condensed into a single gorilla. He speaks to me firmly, yet lovingly, of my long and destructive journey into disconnection and domination, of my bad behavior and mistaken ideas, and invites me to come back home. And I follow him where he leads me. When I read the words of the teacher in The Story of B, I’m listening to a missionary from the living world, a speaker of such clarity, such wisdom, and such commitment, that my heart and mind break wide open. The normally unseen stories and assumptions of our culture, and our history, come to life before my eyes like an epic poem, or a grand piece of theater, and I can see what is all around me with new eyes. Daniel Quinn’s greatest genius, I think, was to put his insights into the mouths of characters that I could love. Because I loved them, I could open up to what they were saying, even when what they were saying was new and strange and unbelievable. I have no wish to take such magic and render it dense and lifeless.