Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Post-Orientalists

Millenium Park's Cloud Gate (Anish Kapoor, 2006)
Updated March 4, 2012 -- This year's conference and bookfair of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) concluded Saturday in Chicago after record attendance. The journal Brevity has been covering AWP's talk of nonfiction at its blog: everything from John D'Agata and "Exploding the Narrative Line" to Rebecca Skloot and "What’s Wrong with the Whole Truth?" Here's a dispatch by RBM from Thursday's "Creative Nonfiction and the Possibility of Post-Orientalist Travel Writing," a panel featuring five travel writers who part ways with Joseph Conrad and other Orientalists.
I’ll leave you with Oona Patrick, the Cape Cod writer who left the most lasting impression on this writer. Patrick calls her work a “cautionary tale” about her native Provincetown, where her Portuguese ancestors stepped off a whaleship from the Azores some 150 years ago. “You have a lot of guts to be here,” Patrick was told more recently, when the local showed up at Provincetown’s storied colony of (mostly visiting) artists. 
On Thursday, this soft-spoken woman in black delivered a biting critique of Cape Cod’s luminaries (Henry David Thoreau, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Normal Mailer, Mary Oliver, Mark Doty, Annie Dillard, the list goes on) and their descriptions of what is to many sacred ground. In concluding her remarks, Patrick singled out (perhaps unfairly) the following excerpt from Doty’s “Breakwater.” 
“Here, curving out to the farthest reaches, / the breakwater’s a causeway of huge stones. / Hard to think these were placed, / these drowsy, inland boulders / awakened, all century, by the seawater’s / moon-driven alarm. Who piled them, / one atop the other, / into this enormous arc?” 
“Who piled them?” Patrick repeated, incredulous. “They’re not crop circles!”
The full text of this post is at along with RBM's "Three Cups of Veritas" (a review of For another visit to Chicago's mesmerizing Cloud Gate, see "One Day in the Second City."

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