Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dirt Worship

So my book's about agriculture.

Well, not really--it's about Romanticism (British literature published from 1789 to 1834ish).

Well, not really--it's about the nascent Marxism found in the above.

Well, not really--it's about locavore ideology and rhetoric.

Okay, it's about all of these. I basically spend 100 pages or so examining the ways in which ag writers in the late 18th century talked and thought about massive changes: the loss of small farms, increased economies of scale, enclosure of commons, standardization of farming practices, theorizing and experimentation, genetic modifications, etc. Then I look at the ways in which Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey use food and farming metaphors in their poetry to make overt or subtextual claims about politics. This process is sometimes called historical materialism, for those of you playing the home game.

The last chapter will try (TRY) to show that current writers such as Michael Pollan, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Barbara Kingsolver--all of whom either examine or advocate "local" eating--basically rehash and renumerate Romantic tropes.

But when one's got farming and digging on the brain, sometimes other stuff pops up and causes a "EUREKA!" moment. Like this bit from Peter Gabriel, who figures digging as psychological self-evaluation:

I don't think I reveal too much when I admit that the last year has been an emotional motherf*cker. So in addition to my work on the book, I've been doing some other "work," bits of which have leaked onto this blog. It's been an odd combo, hasn't it: pop versions of academic ideas, bike racing, cultural asides, and self-examination.

Winning the bike race last week was the culmination of a simple obsession: never quit. Never. No matter how badly I lost, I always finished. No matter how discouraged I got about my injuries, I always tried to climb back on the saddle or sit at the desk. No matter how delayed my training became, I always tried to get at least something accomplished. No matter how high my frustrations with Omaha grew, I did my best to support old friends and remain open to new ones.

So, to quote Peter, "This time, you've come too far." Too far to quit now. That's not exactly what the line means in the context of the song, but what the hell.

I'm close. Too close to quit. On any of it. And "I'm digging in the dirt / To find the places I lie hurt."

Blank and I are about to embark on "Dirt-Worship VI," our annual week of mountain biking. This year, we're returning to where it all began.

Maybe we'll find something on the trail worth writing about.


  1. "Dirt Worship," BTW, was a horrible expression used by 18th-century colonialists to denigrate Lakota and Cheyenne spiritual practices. Blank and I have reclaimed it, fully aware of the irony, in order to describe the sensation of prostrating oneself face-down in the dirt.

    Which happens quite a bit when we mountain bike.

  2. Eric - I'm playing along on the home game and need a little help

    ..current writers such as Michael Pollan, Gary Paul Nabhan, andBarbara Kingsolver--all of whom either examine or advocate "local" eating--basically rehash and renumerate Romantic tropes.

    Of these, I've read Kingsolver. Yet I don't recall much commentary from her on "local" eating. Then your hint to rehash & renumerate Romantic tropes really threw me. Um, Help!

    Please explain it to me on our next Wednesday night ride