Thursday, 24 July 2014

Sightlines: A Conversation With the Natural World, by Kathleen Jamie

Reviewed by Rebecca Johnson

Kathleen Jamie’s essay collection begins with a vast silence, a freedom from all human and animal interference, among the ice cliffs of Greenland. “A mineral silence that presses powerfully on our bodies”, as she describes it. This silence forces you as a reader to focus. It draws you into the place and her description of it, into your own mind and senses, so that you become aware of yourself as a living body, and into the book itself through her quiet style of delicate attentive listening and precise observation. It creates an intensity that she sustains throughout, as this is a book about listening and looking, sensing and perceiving at an almost hypnotic level. It is a task that Jamie seems to suggest is the essence of being alive, as it is for other living creatures: being in our animal senses, experiencing and responding to the natural world. The visceral and emotional awareness of bodies in landscape.

In essays ranging across her native Scotland and its islands, to Shetland, the Orkneys and the Hebrides, and further afield to a Norwegian whale museum and beyond, Kathleen Jamie explores myth, history, scientific understanding, and cultural responses to the natural world as well as her own sensory experiences. She sees it as a ‘conversation’, a dialogue of co-existence in which she learns about her humanity – not always a happy lesson, sometimes a brutal, shameful or humbling one – and the ways in which people respond to and explore the non-human and the reasons why they do so, as well as trying to understand the lives of the creatures she encounters. She dismisses sentimental approaches to nature:  It’s ‘not all primroses and otters’, she points out, while examining cancerous tissue with a hospital pathologist; she does not shy away from death as part of life.

 As you would expect of prose writing from a poet, beautiful descriptions spangle her sentences. Writing of icebergs: ‘They are a blue you could fall into, as you could have fallen forever into the silence of the morning.’ Or of a gannet colony: ‘Here they were in the air, gannet, gannet, repeated like a stammer, the whole idea of gannet amplified and displayed.’ Or when she moves into the sublime, experiencing the evanescence and transience of animate life in remote places: ‘I had the sensation I always have on Atlantic islands, in summertime, when the clouds pass quickly and light glints on the sea – a sense that the world is bringing itself into being moment by moment. Arising and passing away in the same breath.’

This lyrical appreciation of the natural world contains within it a subtle anger, a witnessing of loss, which is also an awareness of time and the changes that have been wrought on bird populations, animal and human communities. Yet here she doesn’t carry through the implications of her observations to engage with political concerns: she does not indulge in polemics. She is forever the observer, never involved or passing judgement. Again, this may be a reflection of poetic technique, but I found it frustrating in essay form that she did not pursue the potential of the ideas latent in her descriptions, instead backing off into ambiguity, even contradiction, or leaving underlying implications to hang. Only in her last lengthy essay on whaling does she allow her views and emotions more scope.

Kathleen Jamie’s fascination with, love for and awe of whales ripples throughout the book. She describes the exhilaration of sighting killer whales off Rona; she cleans and admires whale skeletons in the Hvalsalen in a Bergen museum, imagining herself into their seaborne bodies; and, in ‘Voyager, Chief’ she visits whale jaw and vertebral relics dotted around the Scottish landscape to tell the story of the now extinct whaling industry – a history of which I was completely unaware. These remaining artefacts have something akin to religious meaning for her and she sees them as a form of atonement for the shame of the wholesale slaughter of these awe-inspiring and magnificent creatures for whale oil and flesh.

This is a lovely book, full of gentle joy and anger and an almost spiritual wonder for and affinity with the natural world. It is written in crystalline language that enhances perception, and explores the essence, ultimately, of our human existence in relation to the rest of the natural world.

10 comments:

  1. I loved this book where you can learn so many things about the world and there many unspoken and unseen things to talk about with friends anyway, also I am taking help from essay writing services australia online to get my essay and writing things to get done without any errors as error gives less grades

    ReplyDelete
  2. the best thesis writing provide the best writing that helps you out for any education related problem, the thesis writing service provides the best writing that helps you out from university.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for sharing this useful material. The information you have mentioned here will be useful. I would like to share with you all one useful source https://order-essays.com/buy-literary-analysis-essay which might be interesting for you as well.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hey i was searching through the net and accidentaly found your blog. Should say that it is excellent! Good info and you have the great talent to write, I see it cause I am a writer too and represent proffesional writing platfrom - https://papermasters.org/synopsis-writing

    ReplyDelete
  5. Grant winning Scottish artist and writer Jamie composes of her inundations in nature and history in 14 finely tooled, scoured, flushed, and cleaned papers. However adroitly bewildered as she may be eagerly attentive, Oil And Filter Change Service In Dubai however inventively interpretive as she seems to be interested, Jamie goes to the Arctic, where she contemplates time, unfathomability,

    ReplyDelete
  6. In Sightlines, Kathleen Jamie reports from the field-from her local Scottish 'byways and slopes' to the cold Arctic in fourteen exciting expositions. VAT Accounting Software Dubai
    She takes apart whatever her look tons of cells underneath a medical clinic magnifying lens, orcas adjusting a headland, the aurora borealis illuminating the frozen ocean.

    ReplyDelete
  7. In Sightlines, Kathleen Jamie reports from the field-from her local Scottish 'byways and slopes' to the bone chilling Arctic in fourteen captivating articles. She takes apart whatever her Best Hr Software In Pakistan look heaps of cells underneath a medical clinic magnifying instrument, orcas adjusting a headland, the aurora borealis illuminating the frozen ocean. In this manner, she addresses what, precisely, comprises 'nature,

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is a flawless book, loaded with delicate bliss and outrage and a practically profound marvel for and liking with the regular world. It is written in glasslike language that faux fur coat womens improves discernment, and investigates the substance, eventually, of our human life comparable to the remainder of the regular world.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In papers going across her local Scotland and its islands, to Shetland, the Orkneys and the Hebrides, and further abroad to a Norwegian whale gallery and past, Kathleen Jamie Pakistan Cargo Dubai investigates legend, history, logical agreement, and social reactions to the characteristic world just as her own tangible encounters.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This is an impeccable book, stacked with fragile euphoria and shock and an essentially significant wonder for and enjoying with best leather jackets the normal world. It is written in glasslike language that artificial fur garment womens improves insight, and examines the substance, at last, of our human existence tantamount to the rest of the ordinary world.

    ReplyDelete