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RESISTANCE by Barry Lopez


by Barry Lopez

Pub Date: June 13th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-4220-8
Publisher: Knopf

Nine vignettes framed as letters addressing questions of personal responsibility in a diminished world: obliquely revelatory yet fiercely biting.

The letters come from writers and activists on the lam from what may be perceived as threats from the Office of Homeland Security, though Lopez (Light Action in the Caribbean, 2000, etc.), a National Book Award–winner, is not so bald as to state the threat as such (he terms it “Inland Security, the group of people we had come to call the Idiots of Light”). As ever, Lopez’s writing is economical, full of silences demanding that the reader unfold the mysteries embedded in them. But the mind’s eye is fully nourished; Lopez uses each letter-writer’s sense of place as context, circumstance, opportunity, and beauty: seams of lapis lazuli, the braided perfume of orchids and ridisses, the primed landscape that glitters at its edges, “the wordless kinship . . . an elusive and elevated physical sense of being present in the world.” Yet place and nature aren’t paramount in Lopez’s concerns, as is often the case; rather, the inner struggles—devotion to life, love, tolerance, innocence, and ideals of justice—occupy center stage with the force of concentrated light. The letter-writers are indigenous rights workers, social historians, translators, civil rights advocates, land activists, ex-soldiers, curators, and artists, each of them a threat to fear-mongering, indifference, goose-stepping, and state scrutiny. This is because they work to dodge the memory hole—“everything, even the buffalo, is still around . . . as long as people are telling stories about them”—and because they envision “what it can mean to have your country under you like a hammock . . . instead of using your people as fodder in a war to control the world’s meaning and expression.”

Draped lightly on the reader, Lopez’s moral fiber offers a protection against diminishment and offers security for acting on awareness, coherence, decency, and grace. (Nine monotypes by Alan Magee.)