Ecology of Mind
Robert Grudin,
pp. 153 - 154, Random House, 1992.

In the dreamily long summer days that followed, Snell turned to his new book, On Wonderment. On the surface his mode of operation was harmless enough, even rather staid: the laptop computer, the regular hours, the meticulous use of the journal and other secondary files. But Snell's subject matter, style and organization of material suggested lunacy in its purest form. The subject matter, first off, had no apparent rationale or coherence whatsoever. Snell wrote about nature, art, abstract ideas, personal experience, science, history, psychology, without the slightest effort to connect these fields at all. His style was patently inconsistent, including, sometimes within the course of a single working day, satire, tragedy, conversational anecdote, philosophical discourse, humor and belletristic essay. And as for development, there was none at all. Snell would simply pick up an idea, ride with it for what it was worth, let it go, and open up a new page. His only homage to system was the network abbreviated subject codes that might someday allow him to draw related sections together out of the increasingly vast miscellany of discourse.

His friends responded to these exotic activities with various degrees of concern. Sarah, whose feelings toward Snell had grown undisguisedly affectionate, feared for his sanity. Adler referred to Snell's project as Briareus, the hundred-headed monster. Emmons feared some bitter and violent response from the theorists.

But there were more sanguine responses as well. Worried as he was, Emmons could not help comparing Snell with Renaissance humanists—Alberti, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Rabelais and others—who combined genuine learning with the ability to speak effectively to the general reader. Schmutzhauf and Edward Marlin (who now visited Snell occasionally) were even more positive. To Schmutzhauf, Snell's M.O. was reminiscent of great tradition in modern science. "This is a perfectly valid way to work," he asserted. "You collect everything, no matter how incoherent it appears. You don't stop collecting until you've collected everything that's in your power to collect. And then you let it all ferment inside of you. Darwin worked this way."

Marlin put it differently. "Adam's having a dialogue with himself. He's exploring mental geography—not just his own but that of his culture as well. He's tempting pure chaos but opening himself up to real discovery. No one's ever found order in himself or society without first having a love affair with disorder, noting word by word the proceedings of Babel."

Quote #203: 2001.01.15


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