The carefully crafted, meditative essays in On the Shoreline of Knowledge sometimes start from unlikely objects or thoughts, a pencil or some fragments of commonplace conversation, but they soon lead the reader to consider fundamental themes in human experience. The unexpected circumnavigation of the ordinary unerringly gets to the heart of the matter.
Bringing a diverse range of material into play, from fifteenth-century Japanese Zen Buddhism to how we look at paintings, and from the nature of a briefcase to the ancient nest-sites of gyrfalcons, Chris Arthur reveals the extraordinary dimensions woven invisibly into the ordinary things around us. Compared to Loren Eiseley, George Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Aldo Leopold, V. S. Naipaul, W. G. Sebald, W. B. Yeats, and other literary luminaries, he is a master essayist whose work has quietly been gathering an impressive cargo of critical acclaim. Arthur speaks with an Irish accent, rooting the book in his own unique vision of the world, but he addresses elemental issues of life and death, love and loss, that circle the world and entwine us all.
About the Author
Chris Arthur has published several books of essays, including Irish Nocturnes, Irish Willow, Irish Haiku, Irish Elegies, and Words of the Grey Wind. He lives in Fife, Scotland.
Read an Excerpt
It’s hard to explain the exact reasons behind the appeal chestnuts exert, but such explanation isn’t really necessary. Even if it’s interesting to speculate about why, their appeal works on a level that makes understanding automatic, if in the end opaque. This is something instinctual, of the blood. It issues in an immediate sense of empathy, so we can feel in ourselves the gravity of their attraction even if we can’t spell out the fine detail of its operation. I don’t wonder in the least at my daughteror anyonewanting to collect them. I only have to look at my own reaction to know why this is. But I’m at a loss to explainand in the absence of any instinctual empathy, I feel the need for reasonswhy this same daughter took such a shine to a tweed coat of my mother’s. She was drawn to it, wanted it, in the way we’re drawn to chestnuts.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Going Round in Circles ix
Looking behind Nothing's Door 33
Pencil Marks 50
Level Crossing 83
Absent without Leave, Leaving without Absence 96
When Now Unstitches Then and Is in Turn Undone 121
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Briefcase 135
The Wandflower Ladder 156
A Private View 169
Zen's Bull in the Tread of Memory 183
Notes on the Text 203