Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Calling Out Ishmael

Our discussion on Ishmael by Daniel Quinn ranged across a myriad of topics. Personally, I was skeptical before reading it, especially when Nancy told me that the premise of an ape teaching a man. I anticipated a drudging through this like a wearied soldier through a 3 foot marsh. Yet when I finished reading, it had been less than 24 hours from when I began.

I’m very interested in worldviews, epistemologies, and how they develop, so the content intrigued me. I knew the book would provide good discussion material, but I wasn’t sure how everyone else would receive the novel.

We always look to compare the current book w/ past ones we’ve read. The discussions about captivity and man’s relationship w/ animals remind me of Life of Pi. And the theme of teaching, degrees of learning, and the sacrifice needed for education, call to mind A Lesson Before Dying. Yet Ben brought a classical comparison from a work we have not read: Plato’s dialogues.

Ishmael’s format of teacher lecturing student appealed to me, Nichole, Nancy, and Ben. But Bob felt that Quinn relied so heavily on Ishmael’s (the ape) teachings, that he neglected the elements that make for a good story. Bob’s point was that Quinn’s ideas would have been better complimented with a more intellectual active narrator. He liked Quinn’s discussion but would’ve felt the narrative would’ve been richer if Ishmael had been challenged more in his thinking. Of course, we know Quinn has a sequel, and good writers often clarify or strengthen the obtuse or weak parts of their arguments.

Speaking of arguments, the main question the book addresses concerns whether or not man is equal to or superior to other earthly beings. Are we as much part of the earth as juniper trees and warthogs or are we the crown of creation made by God to subdue the earth? Quinn makes the question more political than religious, and so any religious or mythological arguments are used as foundations for his central point, which is that we should think seriously about overpopulation and wasting of natural resources.

I don’t think we disagreed with the theoretical aspects of Quinn’s points, but we were left wanting more in terms of the ways in which he said we should enact his ideas. Controlling population sounds fine until you’re the one being controlled. Again, I’d like to see how he adjuncts these arguments in the sequel My Ishmael.

Since I love speaking for the group, I’ll do so here: we’d recommend this as a compelling read and as a good book to discuss. In fact, we decided it would work well as a text in an environmental science course or maybe even an upper division English class. But I don’t think any of us are going to check out My Ishmael. That said, I wasn’t too interested in Ishmael before I flipped through its pages and ran my eyes across its opening lines. 

1 comment:

wordswordswords said...

Whew! This was a good post! There's absolutely nothing to add.