As of this writing, the science writer/philosopher Loren Eiseley is one of the 3 or 4 biggest influences on my style of fiction. He was ‘there’ when, as a college student, I first discovered what makes good prose good, and what, by contrast, is mere subterfuge. He was there when, running out of large, over-the-top subjects to discuss, I first noticed what might happen when the discussion turns inward, and upon things that don’t ordinarily get illumined. And, of course, he was there when I was writing my first two novels, as I’d hunt for words, phrasings, and sentences to re-fashion into my own, and will continue to be there for subsequent books as I continue to work on what Loren Eiseley had started.
This is because Loren Eiseley was one of the first writers to hit upon and solve an ancient dilemma, a dilemma that’s implicit human progress: namely, how do you write on things that matter now, in a field — science — that is always going out-of-date, yet still remain relevant for centuries, way past said field’s natural expiration? The answer was simple, really. You transcend the genre, and push against the boundaries that have held things still by mere tradition. In this way, essays can become bigger, richer, more expansive; poetry and prose can morph and meld; things like ‘narrative’ can come apply to the world at large, as opposed to smaller texts. Of course, all this got Eiseley into trouble by scientists who did not buy into his approach, preferring, as they did, pure information over wisdom, and Eiseley had to juggle ‘standard’ research (he was a paleontologist, after all) and physical discovery with deeper observations, often straying from pure science into artistic and philosophic realms.
Yet time doesn’t really give a damn about science-drones, because, despite their importance, there are millions of them, most are doing the same exact thing, and if one scientist or theoretician dies, there’s another to take his place with near-identical ideas. It is a menial, mostly thankless job, and it is unfair, I guess, that only its communicators — the people who can transmute this information into wisdom — can get fame. But this is simply the mind’s own blueprint, not a social ill, and an expression of the specifics of human cares.
Last week, Dan Schneider conducted a 2½ hour video interview with the Loren Eiseley Society. Bing Chen (president) and Tom Lynch (vice president) discussed the man’s work and historical import, while Schneider, as per his style, prodded the men for answers for deeper queries. And, in celebration of this dialogue, I’ve decided to type out some of my favorite passages from one of Loren Eiseley’s lesser books: The Firmament Of Time. Yet as Eiseley goes on to show, even his lesser books have greatness in them, with much that is memorable, quotable, and representative of his work as a whole. Just look at how … Continue reading →