In 1985, the mountaineer Joe Simpson, twenty-one thousand feet up in the Andes, fell off an ice ledge and broke his leg. Dangling uselessly from his ropes, he was left for dead by his climbing partner. Into his head, unbidden, came the Boney M. song “Brown Girl in the Ring.” He had never liked the song and was infuriated at the thought of dying to this particular soundtrack.
In literature, as in life, death is often attended by apparent irrelevance…
To say more than human things with human voice,
That cannot be; to say human things with more
Than human voice; that, also, cannot be;
To speak humanly from the height or from the depth
Of human things, that is acutest speach
Dostoevsky’s characters ask us to share something deeper than their experiences. They convey to us a sensation that is partially physical– the sensation of sinking into a translucent globe and seeing our experience floating far above us on it’s surface, tiny, remote, yet ours.
Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud, that it may be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from shore; yet within the recesses of the forest a universal silence appears to reign.