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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Call It Ishmael: Modern Fiction at Its Best

    One of the editors of this newspaper asked me kindly, as my wordy reputation preceded me, to write this article in 500 words or less.’ I could do it with 11: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is the most important book ever written.

    The novel itself is largely a Socratic dialogue between a skeptical, jaded narrator, and (to ruin the second chapter) a telepathic gorilla.’ When the gorilla, Ishmael, places an ad in the newspaper ‘- “TEACHER SEEKS PUPIL, Must have an earnest desire to save the world” ‘- he is answered by a middle-aged survivor of the intrepid, but failed, hippie enterprise.’ Together they embark on an intellectual journey to discover why we have to destroy the world in order to live, what are the bars that bind us in cultural captivity, and what the alternative to our current reality can look like.

    To explain the importance of the novel I extract a passage.’ Ishmael asks the narrator:

    ‘Among the people of your culture, which want to destroy the world?’
    ‘Which want to destroy it? As far as I know, no one specifically wants to destroy the world.’
    ‘And yet you do destroy it, each of you. Each of you contributes daily to the destruction of the world.’
    ‘Yes, that’s so.’
    ‘Why don’t you stop?’
    I shrugged. ‘Frankly, we don’t know how.’
    ‘You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live.’
    ‘Yes, that’s the way it seems.’
    ‘So. You are captives – and you have made a captive of the world itself. That’s what’s at stake, isn’t it? – your captivity and the captivity of the world.’

    If it is Fitzgerald’s grace that makes Gatsby great, or Melville’s power that gives whiteness to his whale, then it is Quinn’s fearlessness that endows his gorilla with all 500 pounds of its stature.’ As the old joke goes: “What does a quarter ton gorilla say?’ Anything it wants.”‘ Each passage of Ishmael is another stab at the cultural juggernaut (Mother Culture, as Quinn calls it) that has propelled us to live the way that we do. (Read this book.)

    Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, says that the first rule of writing is There Are No Rules.’ Fair enough, but the Second Rule of Writing is, There Are No Excuses For Bad Art.’ Ishmael is a paragon of both these principles: use a gorilla to get your point across, use a telepathic gorilla, hell, use a telepathic gorilla with a mean streak.’ Who cares?’ His job as the artist is to push the envelope of our consciousness ‘- to kick our preconceptions to where the sun rarely shines.’

    I warn you to proceed at your own risk.’ Dangerous writing lies before you: May contain ideas not found in the general public.’

    Michael Zannettis is President of Social Justice Alliance, and the newly founded organization School of Thought.’ You can find more of his writing on the SJA web page at under “Writer’s Collective.” Also, look for the soon to be constructed School of Thought web page at

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