The Deep Surface: A Note on Edward Abbey and Wendell Berry


From Jason Peters
Front Porch Republic

In the introduction to Desert Solitaire Edward Abbey denied any interest in “true underlying reality, having never met any.” “I am pleased enough with surfaces,” he said; “in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance.”

The catalog of surfaces Abbey gave by way of example couldn’t have been Abbeyer: “the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind—what else is there? What else to we need?”

Later in the book Abbey would say there is a way of being wrong that is also a way of being right, which is to say he provided the necessary hermeneutic for understanding all that deliberate hogwash about surfaces. Abbey was plenty interested in “underlying reality”; it’s just that he knew full well that you don’t get any underlying reality without first acquainting yourself intimately with the surface. The silk of a girl’s thigh is the beginning of knowledge, not its end.

Abbey certainly wanted to know the sweet aroma of a juniper fire, but he also wanted to know the “peculiar quality or character of the desert that distinguishes it, in spiritual appeal, from other forms of landscape.”

Keep reading at Front Porch Republic
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