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Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

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  • Posted December 30, 2012

    the panoramic here and now

    Solnit reflects on a life of great hopes for the world, in an age of tragedies for humanity. She contemplates the experience of hope as it ranges from self-deception to simple honesty. Her stories expose small openings to unexpected possibilities, like making friends in a Eureka, Nevada bar with supporters of WRANGLERS (Western Ranchers Against No Good Leftist Environmentalist Radical S---heads), who share her hope for restoring the land. Her hope in final answers, correct ideologies or great leaders fades, but other possibilities arise moment by moment. She grows whimsically alert, noticing oddball blessings:

    "It turns out, for example, the Viagra is good for endangered species. Animal parts that traditional Chinese medicine prescribed as aphrodisiacs and for treating impotence -- including green turtles, seahorses, geckos, hooded and harp seals, and the velvet from the half-grown antlers of caribou -- are, thanks to the new drug, no longer in such demand. What more comic form of the mysterious unfolding of the world is there than this, which suggests that Viagra's ultimate purpose may be the survival of animals at the edges of the planet?" (p.77-78)

    Occasionally her activist life, her community, and all of world history come together in panoramas of bard-like awareness:

    "Take a third Pacific species, though -- the brown pelican, which also nearly disappeared then came back -- and imagine one pelican's trajectory from Ocean Beach, the western edge of my city and my own continent.

    Imagine it soaring with the heavy prehistoric grace of a pterodactyl down Fulton Street, the long street that starts at the beach, parallels the north side of Golden Gate Park, and carries on after the park ends to run east through the old African-American neighborhood, past surviving gospel churches and extinct barbershops to the little formal garden between the War Memorial Building and the Opera House, then straight into City Hall, whose great guilded dome straddles the street. Let that pelican soar through the echoing central atrium where in 1961 students who protested the anticommunist purges were washed down the marble stairs with fire hoses, let the bird float out the other side, going on east, to United Nations Plaza, where Fulton dead-ends into Market Street, the city's main artery. This is the place where I stand in the present to face past and future, the place where stories come together, one of the countless centers of the world." (p.139-140)

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

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