Thursday, May 17, 2007

A to B

In my brief respite between classes, I’ve been taking the train with Carl Sandburg and Gary Snyder. I am reading Turtle Island for the first time and am finding again in Snyder a kindred spirit. I was particularly struck this morning by Tomorrow’s Song.
Bearing in mind that in the company of the rest of Turtle Island, Tomorrow’s Song won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1975, I find the poem to be remarkably prescient. It is perhaps more resonant with the casual reader now than when it was first published more than three decades ago. It reads in part (forgive my cheats in trying to quickly emulate the original typeset):

The USA slowly lost its mandate
in the middle and later twentieth century
it never gave the mountains and rivers,
___trees and animals,
______a vote.
all the people turned away from it
___myths die; even continents are impermanent

We look to the future with pleasure
we need no fossil fuel
get power within
grow strong on less.

I find parallels here with Peter Barnes' idea of legal standing for common wealth. Barnes advocates the broad use of trusts to manage and to give persona to commodities and resources, like publicly-owned forests and the atmosphere. In the world that Barnes envisions, "the mountains and rivers, / trees and animals" have, if not a vote, a voice.
Skirting the Buddhist underpinnings of the second excerpt in favor of a pragmatic interpretation, I see a connection with the writings of McDonough and Braungart. These authors champion a sea change in how goods (and the built environment) are both designed and consumed. McDonough and Braungart seek to overturn the concept of waste by regarding the output of any technological process as an input for another.
In this scenario, efficient use is not an inhibitor of economic growth, but a catalyst for economic growth. The entrepreneur and the consumer both stand to "grow strong on less".
Moreover, McDonough, an architect, consistently pays heed to the aesthetic. He regards the enjoyment of the manufactured environment as a nonnegotiable requirement of proper design. Snyder seems to have foreseen so much with so few words.

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