Rob Nixon: Rachel Carson's Prescience
Fifty years ago, on September 27, 1962, Houghton Mifflin published Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, among the 20th century's most influential books. To honor the anniversary, the University of Cape Town invited me to lead an interdisciplinary forum this past June on Carson's environmental legacy.
Spurred by the prospect of this event, I set myself a happy task. I would read all of Carson in sequence: her ocean trilogy, Silent Spring, her essays, her collected letters. I have long loved her work—she is a writer, like James Baldwin, whom I savor for the inventive cadences of voice, someone who exhibits syntactic as well as social courage. I have taught Silent Spring often, but have gotten to know her other work only in a piecemeal, random way. I laid out a reading plan: I would start with her essay "Undersea" (published in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1937, when Carson was 30) and head toward her celebrated letter on transience and migrating monarch butterflies, written shortly before her death, at 55, in April 1964.
The young Carson and I set off from Madison, Wis. traveling in tandem across three continents, through O'Hare, Heathrow, and Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo airports, on to a wintry, mist-shrouded Cape Town, by which stage her life—and her life's work—were almost complete. Naïvely, I'd thought I'd be rereading Carson, forgetting that "rereading" is invariably a misnomer. When we return to an author after a long absence, that return is colored by who we have become. I grew up beside—and inside—the Indian Ocean, so when I first encountered Carson's marine trilogy, my connection was visceral and unfiltered....
comments powered by Disqus
- Joan Baez, Sly Stone, Steve Martin, Ben E. King -- all honored by the Library of Congress
- StoryCorps to Launch Global Expansion With $1M TED Prize
- Hofstra Event Looks at Bush Presidency
- Did Israel steal uranium from a town in Pennsylvania in the 1960s?
- Sequel to Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom to be published next year
- History Camp "unconference" returns for the second year in Boston
- History Department at Connecticut College deplores Facebook post on Palestinians
- Historians join other scholars in protesting Georgia's anti-gay legislation
- Homeland Security historian builds winning case against Salvadoran leader who oversaw crimes
- What Howard Zinn taught the students of Spelman College