"Ishmael, an adventure of the mind and spirit"
a novel by Daniel Quinn, 1992, Bantam / Turner, New York.
TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.
So begins the novel, and in entering into this novel one becomes the pupil, learning of the past and future of mankind. I have gone on from this first novel through his next two novels, and other writings, and now consider myself to be a pupil of Daniel Quinn, and to see him as an important mentor.
I think that Quinn has some important things to say to us, about our own "old" culture past, and about the deep origins and premises of the "new" Western culture against which we have clashed these last two hundred years, and against which we continue to clash. In order to properly understand this clash we need to seek out the deep origins and premises of these cultures. Quinn lays out a simple and convincing hypothesis.
These two forms of culture have been at odds with each other for the last 10,000 years, with the new gradually exterminating the old, and in the process, gradually exterminating all life upon the Earth, and even the life of the Earth itself. This clash of cultures is the same clash enacted in the biblical story of Cain and Abel. It originated 10,000 years ago in the "Fertile Crescent" of Mesopotamia, between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in what is now modern day Iraq.
Based on the hunter/gatherer and pastoralist/agriculturist origins of the two cultures, Quinn calls them the Leavers and the Takers.
I think we need to see our own cultural clash in these terms. I have for quite a while been dissatisfied with the analytical frameworks of colonial oppression, treaty analysis, and gap or disparity analysis. We have used these inadequate tools to guide our struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga, Maori Development or Maori Advancement. I have felt them to be too shallow, too much based in our own narrow and subjective perceptions of the colonial experience. Quinn provides me with a much deeper and a much more satisfying analysis.
"Ishmael" was the winner of the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship, a prize honouring fiction that produces creative and positive solutions to global problems. The Fellowship was initiated by media magnate Ted Turner. You know, Turner of CNN, the one that married Jane Fonda. "Ishmael" was chosen from among 2500 entries worldwide.
It took Quinn from 1977 to 1990 to write this work, going through seven versions before the eighth and final version. Amazingly it was a work of non-fiction until Quinn decided to enter it for the Turner prize, so it only became a novel in its final version.
It is an extraordinary novel that became an underground bestseller and a spiritual testament. Its success lies I think, in the new ideas it contains. Have you ever been struck by a simple and new idea, that is so obvious and so true that no-one has ever said it before? Have you ever experienced that great Aha!! experience? This novel is full of them.