Authors: Rebecca Solnit
“Rebecca Solnit has the wide-foraging mind of a great essayist and the West-besotted soul of the recording secretary for your local historical society. . . . A San Franciscan, she’s who Susan Sontag might have become if Sontag had never forsaken California for Manhattan. . . . Solnit’s prose combines the imagery of a poet, the ideas of a theoretician, the rhythm of a thoroughbred, and the force of a Southern Pacific locomotive.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Solnit has emerged as one of our most gifted freelance intellectuals.”
“Like a Mike Davis, Marshall Berman, or Simon Schama, Solnit is a cultural historian in the desert-mystic mode, trailing ideas like swarms of butterflies.”
“A guide of tremendous erudition and just as much common sense, capable of slipping almost imperceptibly from the personal mode to the analytical and back again without appearing self-indulgent.”
“Passionate, potent, and to the point, Solnit’s polemic embodies American political and social writing at its best.”
“An extraordinary mind seizes hold of an unexpected topic and renders it with such confidence, subtlety, and grace that one finds it hard to remember what things looked like before the book appeared in the world.”
New York Times Book Review
“An inspired observer and passionate historian, Solnit, whose
River of Shadows
(2003) won a National Book Critics Circle Award, is one of the most creative, penetrating, and eloquent cultural critics writing today.”
“Her gift for synthesis, her supple grasp of history, and her ability to shift smoothly from fact to metaphor without warning recalls another artful American writer: Henry Adams.”
STORMING THE GATES OF PARADISE
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Storming the gates of paradise : landscapes for politics / Rebecca Solnit.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
: 978-0-520-25109-0 (cloth : alk. paper)
1. Political ecology—United States. 2. Human ecology—United States. 3. Landscape assessment—United States. 4. United States—Politics and government. I. Title.
Manufactured in the United States of America
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10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is printed on New Leaf EcoBook 50, a 100% recycled fiber of which 50% is de-inked post-consumer waste, processed chlorine-free. EcoBook 50 is acid-free and meets the minimum requirements of
Permanence of Paper
The publisher gratefully acknowledges the generous
support of Peter Wiley and Valerie Barth as members of
the Literati Circle of University of California Press.
Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao, “Ms. Homeland Security: Illegal Entry Dress Tent, installed at the border between the US and Mexico,” 2006. Original in color.
Mark Klett, “Casa Grande ruins with protective rain shelter, Casa Grande National Monument,” 1984. Gelatin silver print.
estudio Teddy Cruz, “Border Wall Sequence,” 2004. Digital photography, originals in color.
Michael Light, “Spur of the Bingham Copper Mine, Utah; Earth’s Largest Excavation,” April 2006. Black and white photograph. Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco and New York.
Meridel Rubenstein, “Home,” 1987. Four palladium prints in steel frame, 80 in. × 32 in. × 2 in.
Eric Wagner/basetree.com, “Non-Lethal,” activists and police, ChevronTexaco Refinery, Richmond, California, 2003. Original in color.
John Pfahl, “Bare Trees and Topiary, Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA,” 2000. Detail; original in color. Courtesy of Janet Borden Gallery, New York City.
Meridel Rubenstein, “Woody Wrapped in Russia,” one panel of triptych, 1987. Original in color.
Terry Evans, “Ravens, Field Museum, Wyoming, 1871; Oklahoma, 1964,” 2000.
Susan Schwartzenberg, “Globe, San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library,” 2003. Original in color.
Lukas Felzmann, untitled, 2004. Gelatin silver print.
It was a place that taught me to write. I had begun going to the huge antinuclear actions at the Nevada Test Site, sixty miles north of Las Vegas, in the late 1980s. The next few years of camping and committing civil disobedience by trespassing into this most bombed place on earth—the site of more than a thousand nuclear explosions that were only nominally tests—taught me other things as well.
Maybe the first was that the very term
is problematic, implying a discrete entity, something you could put a fence around. And they did: three strands of barbed wire surrounded this 1,375-square-mile high-security area—but it didn’t keep in the radiation or keep out the politics. What we mean by
is a crossroads, a particular point of intersection of forces coming from many directions and distances. At the test site, some of the more obvious convergences or collisions involved the history of civil disobedience since Thoreau and the history of physics since it became useful for atomic bombs, along with the Euro-American attitudes toward the desert that made it possible to devastate it so wantonly, and the counter-history of the indigenous people of the region. During the decades of detonations, the radioactive fallout reached New England and beyond; protestors came from Japan and from Kazakhstan, as well as from New York and rural Utah. So much for fences.
The challenge of describing the austere sensuality of living outdoors in a harsh
and possibly radioactive desert under a spectacular sky, of doing so while contemplating the fate of the earth and playing tag with assorted armed authority figures, called forth a great collapse of category for me. I realized that in order to describe the rich tangle of experience there, I needed to describe, to analyze, to connect, to critique, and to report on both international politics and personal experience. That is, I needed to write as a memoirist or diarist, and as a journalist, and as a critic—and these three voices were one voice in everything except the conventions that sort our experience out and censor what doesn’t belong. Thus it was that the distinct styles in which I had been writing melded. My 1994 book
(later reissued by the University of California Press) came out of this, but that was only the start.