A Sense Sublime
Richard Quinney
(Borderland Books)
In what was probably another of those vexing mid-life crises, Richard Quinney dropped out of wherever he was and went off to live in DeKalb, Illinois. Me? If I was going to have a mid-life crises, I might head off to Venice (California), or Venice (Italy) or maybe Ouagadougou to see if I could get a job with one of those I've-just-died-and-left-you-$50,000,000 email factories. But DeKalb: I think not.

It's a podunk town with 40,000 folks off there to the left of Chicago --- miserably cold in the winter, hot and dusty and torpid in the summer. It's home to Joseph Glidden, the self-proclaimed "Father of Barbed Wire." DeKalb is thus a partner in blocking off a large portion of the old American West.

It's also the site of the former DeKalb AgResearch Corporation --- now Monsanto, mother (and father) of our first-ever hybrid seeds. Famous citizens include Judas Iscariot, a heavy metal band, and T.J. Hart, a much-beloved pornographic actress. Not much Look-Homeward-Angel stuff in DeKalb, Ill.

What Wikipedia doesn't mention is the Illinois Central that runs smack-dab through the middle of town and perhaps Quinney's living-room. Although he comes across as one of those love-all mankind Wendell Berry/Robert Bly types, the noise of these diesels plowing through the heart of town at 3 AM causes him to wax wroth.

He sends a few steamy letters to the local newspaper "protesting the noise of the train and the ineffectiveness of the whistle" but what's the use? The railroads, the barbed wire faction and Monsanto and its heirs and assigns have been running DeKalb for over a century now, and I have a suspicion that an indignant letter to the DeKalb Daily Wheeze is not going to shut up all that racket.

§   §   §

A Sense Sublime consists of sixty odd pages of black-and-white photographs with an accompanying Uplifting Thought from the likes of Meister Eckhart, William Wordsworth, Lau-Tzu and the American South-West's answer to Hegel, Willie Nelson.

The juxtapositions here can be a bit jarring. A bleak shot of a junkyard in downtown DeKalb is paired up with the words of Albert Camus, a trashed Buick coupe comes to be joined with the poet Charles Wright, and a cow up to its knees in rainwater finds itself coupled with Meister Eckhart. Oddest of all, the "Illinois Central Tracks North of Town" are linked up with Thich Nhat Hanh:

    When we are deeply in touch with the present moment, we can see that all our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. Seeing this, we will know what to do and what not to do for ourselves, our ancestors, our children, and their children.

The dual tracks duly run off to the far horizon, but one has trouble connecting this with "our ancestors and all future generations." One the other hand, I was rather taken with T. S. Eliot's "Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." Eliot is about the last person we would associate with dancing, but the bedroom scene on the opposite page is charming ... in a rather cloistered way --- as, indeed, he was cloistered.

The photographs, by-the-bye, are terrific.

--- Richard Saturday
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