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Storming the Gates of Paradise

Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 429
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  • Book Info
    Storming the Gates of Paradise
    Book Description:

    Rebecca Solnit has made a vocation of journeying into difficult territory and reporting back, as an environmentalist, antiglobalization activist, and public intellectual.Storming the Gates of Paradise, an anthology of her essential essays from the past ten years, takes the reader from the Pyrenees to the U.S.--Mexican border, from San Francisco to London, from open sky to the deepest mines, and from the antislavery struggles of two hundred years ago to today's street protests. The nearly forty essays collected here comprise a unique guidebook to the American landscape after the millennium-not just the deserts, skies, gardens, and wilderness areas that have long made up Solnit's subject matter, but the social landscape of democracy and repression, of borders, ruins, and protests. She ventures into territories as dark as prison and as sublime as a broad vista, revealing beauty in the harshest landscape and political struggle in the most apparently serene view. Her introduction sets the tone and the book's overarching themes as she describes Thoreau, leaving the jail cell where he had been confined for refusing to pay war taxes and proceeding directly to his favorite huckleberry patch. In this way she links pleasure to politics, brilliantly demonstrating that the path to paradise has often run through prison. These startling insights on current affairs, politics, culture, and history, always expressed in Solnit's pellucid and graceful prose, constantly revise our views of the otherwise ordinary and familiar. Illustrated throughout,Storming the Gates of Paradiserepresents recent developments in Solnit's thinking and offers the reader a panoramic world view enriched by her characteristically provocative, inspiring, and hopeful observations.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94178-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Photographs
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: Prisons and Paradises
    (pp. 1-11)

    It was a place that taught me to write. I had begun going to the huge antinuclear actions at the Nevada Test Site, sixty miles north of Las Vegas, in the late 1980s. The next few years of camping and committing civil disobedience by trespassing into this most bombed place on earth—the site of more than a thousand nuclear explosions that were only nominally tests—taught me other things as well.

    Maybe the first was that the very termplaceis problematic, implying a discrete entity, something you could put a fence around. And they did: three strands of...

  5. 1 UNEVEN TERRAIN: The West
    (pp. 13-65)

    The West began at the pay phone at the gas station in Lee Vining, the little town next to Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, too remote for cell phones. I was standing around in the harsh golden light at seven thousand feet waiting to make a call when I realized that the man on the line was trying to patch up his marriage, and the task wasn’t going to be quick or easy. “You just aren’t going to let us get back together, are you?” he said in a tone at once supplicating and truculent....

    (pp. 67-111)

    The incomparable writer-philosopher Walter Benjamin long imagined that his life could be drawn as a map, but never imagined that the map would come to an abrupt termination in Port Bou, Spain, in 1940. In 1939, when the dictator Francisco Franco declared an end to the Spanish Civil War, tens of thousands of refugees walked north over the Pyrenees, seeking shelter in France. They expected to be welcomed as defenders of democracy, but many were forced into camps. A year later, the tide had turned, and refugees from the Third Reich and the Vichy regime began trickling into Spain, seeking...

  7. 3 TROUBLE BELOW: Mining, Water, and Nuclear Waste
    (pp. 113-139)

    When you tour the museums of the California Gold Rush, you see picturesque sepia-toned photographs of the men who made a killing in the mines. But if you want to know who picked up the bill, look in a mirror. The profits were quickly spent, but the costs are still rolling in, both as an inventory of what we lost and an assessment of what still needs cleaning up.

    By 1857, California gold miners had extracted 24.3 million ounces of the metal, but they left behind more than ten times as much mercury, along with devastated forests, slopes, and streams....

    (pp. 141-175)

    Here the sky is changing, all the time, every day, demanding attention lest one get caught in a lightning storm but rewarding that attention with the unpredictable magnificence of what light, space, and water vapor can do. This summer, the rains periodically reach a tropical intensity, and lately tall feathery cirrus clouds have been coming in among the cumulus like eagles among sheep. The cirrus reach upward, making palpable the heights of the sky, while the cumulus scatter across its breadth as though floating on an invisible plateau more level and far wider than the New Mexico prairie from which...

    (pp. 177-221)

    The future was being modeled on both sides of the massive steel fence erected around the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami last Thursday. Inside, delegates from every nation in the Western Hemisphere but Cuba watered down some portions of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement and postponed deciding on others, in an attempt to prevent a failure as stark as that of the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting in Cancun two months before. Outside, an army of twenty-five hundred police in full armor used a broad arsenal of weapons against thousands of demonstrators and their constitutional...

    (pp. 223-271)

    “As I became interested in photography in the realm of nature, I began to appreciate the complexity of the relationships that drew my attention,” wrote Eliot Porter. Complexity is a good foundational word for this artist whose work synthesized many sources and quietly broke many rules, whose greatest influence—an influence that has yet to be measured—was outside the art world. Porter may be one of the major environmentalists of the twentieth century, not because of his years on the board of the Sierra Club but because of his contribution to public awareness and imagination of the natural world....

    (pp. 273-303)

    In retrospect, I realize I should have made the connection right away. I was investigating Sequoia National Forest for an environmental magazine. Half the naturally occurring sequoia groves in the world are there, but the forest’s managers seemed to be doing everything they could to service the one logging company that was profiting from the place. Since commercial logging as such had come to an end in 1990, the administrators had come up with various reasons why the forest needed to be logged for its own good, and fire prevention was the latest rationale. The plan that year, 1996, prescribed...

    (pp. 305-329)

    Many years ago, I was supposed to move to Los Angeles, but every time I went there, something about the light and space convinced me that life was basically meaningless and you might as well abandon hope right away. I was still an art critic in those days, and I would drive from northeast of Los Angeles, where I was supposed to settle into my new suburban existence, over to the downtown museums, look at some art, and drive back. But when I came home, I would find that the hours I’d spent negotiating freeway merge lanes and entrances and...

    (pp. 331-375)

    Each of the past several summers, I’ve spent a month or two at a friend’s small house in rural New Mexico. Every year, I’d come back to the city joking that I wasn’t sure I was closer to nature, but I was definitely closer to my car. Really, it depends on how you define nature. In the country, there’s more wildlife to be seen—though this place surrounded by cattle ranches was not so prolifically populated as many far more suburbanized places I know, where the deer come down and eat the tulips (or, even more thrilling, the mountain lions...

  14. CODA: The Pacific
    (pp. 377-384)

    The seashore is an edge, perhaps the only true edge in the world whose borders are otherwise mostly political fictions, and it defies the usual idea of borders by being unfixed, fluctuant, and infinitely permeable. The seashore is the place that is no place, sometimes solid land or, rather, sand, sometimes the shallow fringe of that huge body of water governed by the remote body of the moon in a mystery something like love or desire. A body of water is always traveling, and so the border between the land and the sea is not a Hadrian’s Wall or a...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 385-386)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 387-406)
  17. Permissions
    (pp. 407-409)
  18. Index
    (pp. 411-416)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 417-417)