Rebecca Solnit

American writer

Rebecca Solnit (born June 24, 1961) is an American writer. She has written on a variety of subjects, including feminism, the environment, politics, place, and art.

Rebecca Solnit (2010)

Quotes edit

Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2001) edit

  • Most of the time walking is merely practical, the unconsidered locomotive means between two sites. To make walking into an investigation, a ritual, a meditation, is a special subset of walking, physiologically like and philosophically unlike the way the mail carrier brings the mail and the office worker reaches the train.
  • This history of walking is an amateur history, just as walking is an amateur act. To use a walking metaphor, it trespasses through everybody else's field—through anatomy, anthropology, architecture, gardening, geography, political and cultural history, literature, sexuality, religious studies—and doesn't stop in any of them on its long route.
  • Walking has been one of the constellations in the starry sky of human culture, a constellation whose three stars are the body, the imagination, and the wide-open world, and though all three exist independently, it is the lines drawn between them—drawn by the act of walking for cultural purposes—that makes them a constellation. Constellations are not natural phenomena but cultural impositions; the lines drawn between stars are like paths worn by the imagination of those who have gone before. This constellation called walking has a history, the history trod out by all those poets and philosophers and insurrectionaries, by jaywalkers, streetwalkers, pilgrims, tourists, hikers, mountaineers, but whether it has a future depends on whether those connecting paths are traveled still.

River of Shadows (2003) edit

  • The whites who administered Native American subjugation claimed to be recruiting the Indians to join them in a truer, more coherent worldview—but whether it was about spirituality and the afterlife, the role of women, the nature of glaciers, the age of the world, or the theory of evolution, these white Victorians were in a world topsy-turvy with change, uncertainty, and controversy. Deference was paid to Christianity and honest agricultural toil, but more than a few questioned the former, and most, as the gold rushes, confidence men, and lionized millionaires proved, would gladly escape the latter. So the attempt to make Indians into Christian agriculturalists was akin to those contemporary efforts whereby charities send cast-off clothing to impoverished regions: the Indians were being handed a system that was worn out, and it is no surprise that they had trouble wearing this cultural certainty so full of holes.
  • What distinguishes a technological world is that the terms of nature are obscured; one need not live quite in the present or the local.

Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power (2004) edit

page numbers to 2004 Nation Books edition unless otherwise noted

  • Cause-and-effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later, sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal, and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk. (p4)
  • ...hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable. (p5)
  • Inside the word "emergency" is "emerge"; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters. (p12)
  • Joy doesn't betray but sustains activism. (p17)
  • People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end. (p27)
  • Since the Seattle surprise, it's become standard practice to erect a miniature police state around any globalization summit, and these rights free zones seem to prefigure what corporate globalization promises. (p46)
  • I wonder sometimes what would happen if victory was imagined not just as the elimination of evil but the establishment of good (p61)
  • Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place. (p64)
  • A couple of years ago, a friend wrote to urge me to focus on the lyrical end of my writing rather than activism and I wrote back, “What is the purpose of resisting corporate globalization if not to protect the obscure, the ineffable, the unmarketable, the unmanageable, the local, the poetic, and the eccentric? So they need to be practiced, celebrated, and studied too, right now.” I could have added that they themselves become forms of resistance; the two are not necessarily separate practices. (p68)
  • A better world, yes; a perfect world, never. (p82)
  • The revolutionary days I have been outlining are days in which hope is no longer fixed on the future: it becomes an electrifying force in the present. (p108)
  • I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for an ongoing series of acts of defiance, those acts necessary to bring about some of what we hope for while we live by principle in the meantime. There is no alternative, except surrender. And surrender not only abandons the future, it abandons the soul. (p137)
  • Resistance is first of all a matter of principle and a way to live, to make yourself one small republic of unconquered spirit. You hope for results, but you don't depend on them. ("When We Lost" in 2016 edition)
  • Freire points out, struggle generates hope as it goes along. Waiting until everything looks feasible is too long to wait. ("When We Lost" in 2016 edition)
  • when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection. ("False Hope and Easy Despair" in 2016 edition)

Forward to 3rd edition (2016) edit

  • Your opponents would love you to believe that it's hopeless, that you have no power, that there's no reason to act, that you can't win. Hope is a gift you don't have to surrender, a power you don't have to throw away.
  • Most of us would say, if asked, that we live in a capitalist society, but vast amounts of how we live our everyday lives - our interactions with and commitments to family lives, friendships, avocations, membership in social, spiritual and political organizations-are in essence noncapitalist or even anticapitalist, full of things we do for free, out of love, and on principle.
  • We write history with our feet and with our presence and our collective voice and vision. And yet, of course, everything in the mainstream media suggests that popular resistance is ridiculous, pointless, or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago, or, ideally, both. These are the forces that prefer the giant remain asleep.
  • You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.

"A History of Shadows" (in 2016 edition) edit

  • The revolution that counts is the one that takes place in the imagination; many kinds of change issue forth thereafter, some gradual and subtle, some dramatic and conflict-ridden—which is to say that revolution doesn't necessarily look like revolution.
  • Violence is the power of the state; imagination and non-violence the power of civil society.
  • You may be told that the legal decisions lead the changes, that judges and lawmakers lead the culture in those theaters called courtrooms, but they only ratify change. They are almost never where change begins, only where it ends up, for most changes travel from the edges to the center.
  • What lies ahead seems unlikely; when it becomes the past, it seems inevitable.
  • The assumption that whatever we now believe is just common sense, or what we always knew, is a way to save face. It's also a way to forget the power of a story and of a storyteller, the power in the margins, and the potential for change.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost (2005) edit

  • The word "lost" comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so.
  • This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.
  • When I think of the artist Yves Klein, I think of those absolutists who preceded him by a generation or two, those who vanished, think of the boxer and Dadaist poet Arthur Cravan who in 1918 was supposed to leave Mexico to meet his new wife in Argentina but was never seen again; of Everett Ruess, the bohemian who might have become an artist or writer had he not disappeared into the canyons of Utah at the age of twenty in 1934, leaving behind a final signature carved into the rock: "Nemo" or "no one"; of the aviator Amelia Earhart who disappeared over the Pacific in 1937; of the pilot Antoine de Saint Exupéry who left behind several lapidary books before his plane too disappeared, in 1944, in the Mediterranean. They were all saddled with a desire to appear in the world and a desire to go as far as possible that was a will to disappear from it. In the ambition was a desire to make over the world as it should be; but in the disappearances was the desire to live as though it had been made over, to refashion oneself into a hero who disappeared not only into the sky, the sea, the wilderness, but into a conception of self, into legend, into the heights of possibility.
  • … We talked while the full moon mounted in the sky, words filling up the narrow space between us, as much a buffer as a link. Hours passed and then suddenly at my foot there was a wriggle of the soil. A kangaroo mouse emerged, a creature that I have never otherwise seen except fleeing at a distance. I put my hand on the man's shoulder to call his attention to this surprise, and we fell silent and watched the strangely fearless mouse do its work for a long time, then resumed the conversation more slowly and more softly as the creature continued to refine its tunnel entrance and the mound of gravelly earth at its mouth, indifferent to our presence. Bats swooped down and snatched invisible meals from the air, and coyotes began to howl, more of them, closer and more persistently than I've ever heard before or since, a whole orchestra of drawn-out cries into the dawn.
  • … It's hard to say whether it was pain or the past that was being extirpated or whether they were the same thing. The doctors who treated her were unlikely to have experienced such profound instability: disappearing mothers, the vast gap between the medieval Russian-Polish Pale and glittering amnesiac Los Angeles, the three or four languages she left behind and the English she never completely acquired, the annihilation of the world she came from and of the relatives she left behind. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an alternate diagnosis a therapist once proffered for her behavior, a condition that recognized all the kinds of war she survived and a world in which nothing was too far-fetched or terrible to be possible.
  • For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.

Men Explain Things to Me (2014) edit

  • She had to say, "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless—for a moment, before he began holding forth again. (p3)
  • Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don't. (p7)
  • Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. (p9)
  • We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it's almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender. (p21)
  • There’s no good reason (and many bad reasons) colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators. (p30)
  • Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. (p34)
  • Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. (p35)
  • Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. (p35)
  • The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt. (p71)
  • The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas. (p91)
  • The worst criticism seeks to have the last word and leave the rest of us in silence; the best opens up an exchange that need never end. (p94)
  • Like racism, misogyny can never be adequately addressed by its victims alone. (p153)

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (2018) edit

  • what is sometimes regarded as an inconsistency in the contemporary right-wing platform—the desire to regulate women’s reproductive activity in particular, and sexuality in general, while deregulating everything else—is only inconsistent if you regard women as people. If you regard women as an undifferentiated part of nature, their bodies are just another place a man has every right to go.
  • Climate change is global-scale violence, against places and living species as well as against human beings. Once we call it by its true name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides that brutality.
  • This is why I pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation.
  • Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them.

The New York Times edit

  • (What moves you most in a work of literature?) To recognize a pattern and a meaning and an order in the world you didn't quite see before is exhilarating, and sometimes even exalting, and there is a moral beauty in the actions people perform out of generosity and courage that stirs and fortifies me—it's why I read and write about political activism and public life.
  • The books I write often feel like the books I wanted to read, but they didn't exist, so I brought them into being.

The Nation edit

Other quotes edit

  • L.A. Kauffman: I am curious to hear what things are making you most hopeful right now, what things in the landscape you are really fixing on as signs of hope.
    Rebecca Solnit: Two things that always come up for me: one is that half the people under 18 in this country are not white. And you see how awesome, like, the Parkland students are, and that this rising generation kind of gets the connections between economics and race and gender. They are not nearly as homophobic as anyone who ever came before them, and a lot of them actually think very fluidly about their own gender and who they are attracted to. So, and that is coupled with the fact—and this is something I have written about, because it does not feel widely enough understood—the Republicans could not have won any of the last many national elections except through massive voter suppression.

Quotes about Rebecca Solnit edit

  • As Rebecca Solnit vividly documents in her 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell, it is precisely when humanitarian crises hit that these other, neglected values leap to the fore, whether it's the incredible displays of international generosity after a massive earthquake or tsunami, or the way New Yorkers gathered to spontaneously meet and comfort one another after the 9/11 attacks.
    • Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014)
  • (Whose writing today most inspires you?) Rebecca Solnit is a clarion voice of reason.

External links edit

Wikipedia has an article about: