I agree with Richard Nelson [“The Way of the Hunter,” Issue 198], that native peoples who offer thanks, respect, or even an apology when an animal is killed are more in touch with the cycle of life and death than those who buy neatly-packaged meat in supermarkets and fast-food joints. However, there is something deeply disturbing about his glorification of hunting. The karmic debt incurred by the killing involved in a vegetarian diet is balanced by gratitude for the meal. But the karmic debt incurred by the killing involved in a meat diet is not balanced as easily, because the killing is much more violent, and because animals are evolved enough to feel terror. Moreover, a non-meat diet is much healthier, which seems to indicate that the universe supports non-violence. If Mr. Nelson would permit me to stalk him, shoot him, hang his body in my basement, eat his meat, and tan his hide — all with the same reverence he has for deer — then his philosophy would be less flawed.
I suppose a number of queasy vegetarians will protest, but I thank you for the interview with Richard Nelson, and for the moving excerpt from The Island Within. I was introduced to Nelson’s writing a few years ago. His book Make Prayers to the Raven upended what was left of my namby-pamby notions of the natural order, and helped reconnect me to the more brazen spirit that characterized my adolescence, when I was an avid hunter in the hills of east Tennessee. Nelson’s defense of hunting proceeds not from a need to justify, but from a profoundly deep and reverential understanding of Earth’s cycles. It is, to his credit, properly ambivalent. “Certainty,” writes Nelson, “is for those who have learned and believed only one truth.”
I was also very taken by the excerpts from David Hopes’s notebooks, and by the astounding stories readers wrote about their mothers.
If you eat cow or lamb or chicken or fish, you owe it to yourself to visit a slaughterhouse to witness the first step in the profane killing process that ends with the plastic-wrapped slabs you choose from the local market. Better yet, kill your own, as Richard Nelson does. I’ve taken that same path with chicken and fish. It’s caused me to give up eating any other meat.
However, I grow weary of the few bona fide wild men in our culture — like Richard Nelson — who romanticize native American relationships to nature as the penultimate human/animal experience. Though the way of the hunter is eminently valid, it is not accessible to the vast majority of hunters anymore. I appreciate Nelson’s ability to turn the hunt into high art and high church, but I shudder to realize that most hunters — including most native hunters — employ those same ideas to justify blood sport.
In other words, Nelson’s hunt is a wonderful aberration. He is probably one of the few hunters willing to recognize the soul of the slain animal and sensitive enough to articulate what he feels about it. The rest of us might do better to uproot the great American tradition of blowing away animals for sport.
Thank you for printing Jake Gaskin’s very beautiful memoir, “Notes from the Closet” [Issue 197]. As a gay man who has left the Midwest for friendlier places, I think that Mr. Gaskin — and there are thousands like him — is truly courageous in confronting the ill-temper of college students as well as his own self-doubt and insecurity. Mr. Gaskin’s decision to remain in the Midwest takes courage, and I hope he can find pride in that. I wish him well, and hope that someday he can plant a rosebush on Normal Avenue without fear.
I just read Sy Safransky’s “This Body” [Issue 193] and had to respond in kind. One year ago I joined a health club, and I now work out four times a week. I particularly like “step aerobics,” which involves a repeated form of idiocy — like Sisyphus with his rock — up and down and up and down, going nowhere all the time.
At forty-nine, I’m often the oldest stepper in the class. Usually I locate myself far enough away from the mirror so as to see the outline of my body but not my face, which resembles more and more that of my seventy-four-year-old mother.
Like many of my friends, I now have drugstore reading glasses. I’ve got gray hair and I fall asleep by ten. And now I have a strong new body. It sweats. I can taste its salt. If I poke my thigh, which I do often — I’m still astonished — my finger does not mush in; it bounces back. I can easily carry large armfuls of the wood we use to heat our house.
The body is innocent and dumb, and moving it up and down, in time to music it doesn’t even like, reminds it of some essential matter related to breath and sweat. My heart pounds, my face smiles. I am genuinely excited when I stand in front of my step, ready to begin, the music cued, Vicky — my beautiful, muscular instructor — facing me. It’s a kind of love. All despair is left behind as I begin the ignorant, sophisticated motions I am now so adept at. Imagine spaceships hurtling through all manner of darkness, a runner moving like a deer through tangled woods. This is the sweet, keen antidote to the mind’s easy fall into resignation.
I’m a new subscriber and have seen on your Correspondence page many “loyal” subscribers saying they are dissatisfied with the magazine’s new format and recent articles. I don’t know what they find dissatisfying. Contrary to the Grunzweigs of Wellesley, Massachusetts, I find that many articles do possess (to borrow their words) “intellectual and emotional gallantry.” As a distributor of amateur literature, I am constantly faced with stacks of dreadfully sentimental and egocentric pieces, and I find the articles in The Sun to be, well, a ray of light.
I am ordering a complete set of available back issues, sight unseen. If the complaining subscribers are correct, then the earlier issues will be even better than the current ones — a tall order to fill.
I receive a lot of magazines, isolated as I am in Brazil. The Sun is my favorite.
I get the impression that one Sy Safransky, an aging hippie, a good writer, and an excellent editor, spends most of his waking hours culling manuscripts to bring us a different view of ordinary lives. I can read and see the famous and controversial elsewhere.
Please don’t take advertising or you’ll go the way of too many other “alternative” magazines. Raise the price. I’ll pay.
You’re doing a great job. Quit printing the crap about whether or not you are doing a good job; whether there are too many or too few women/men contributors; whether to say yes or no to advertising; whether you’ve become morose or not in your old age; whether the quality is up or down; whether there are or are not enough “name” contributors; whether Sparrow should be in or out. Enough on form! Let the discussion be about content. That’s what letters are for — e.g., the great exchange around James Hillman’s critique of therapy.
Anguish and angst, I believe, are perfectly normal, healthy attitudes for one to have in these times of Yugoslavia, Los Angeles, and AIDS. A Carmelite monk, Father William MacNamara, once observed that we humans are called upon to suffer life fully. I have watched for years the wholehearted embrace of life’s suffering by Sy and The Sun. I await many more years of glimpsing the world through your eyes.
Keep it up. If some can’t take the joke, fuck ’em.