Loren Eisley's "The Brown Wasps" explores a sense of belonging inherent in all life that causes displaced beings to construct memorials to their fond experiences that, while such memorials are often more bound by time than the beings who created them, provide a yearned-after stability. These seemingly self-imposed delusions are actually the only anchors and pointers in life and, in turn, life desperately clings to them, its own symbols of the past. Speaking on behalf of living existence, Eisley concisely explains, "we cling to a time and a place because without them man is lost, not only man but life" (67).
Eisley's essay analyzes this tendency with very precise diction and humanizing examples. Eisley's first example is close to humanity as it deals with where we are all heading, and the setting is a place many see daily:
It is always in the shadow and overhung by rows of lockers. It is, however,
always frequented -- not so much by the genuine travels as by the dying. It
is here that a certain element of the abandoned poor seeks a refuge out of
the weather, clinging for a few hours longer to the city that has fathered them.
In a precisely similar manner I have seen, on a sunny day in midwinter, a few
old brown wasps creep slowly over an abandoned wasp nest in a thicket.
It is a far too common sight in modern society: a rundown section of a bustling train station; it is in the heart of the city's transportation system (and thereby activity), yet its residents are out of the beat of the city's life. Just as the wasps circle around the hive they are no longer a part of, the old men cling to their s...
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... poor blind man "that clung to [an insubstantial structure now compounded of air and time]" (70). Despite such differences in orientation, Eisley is able to conclude, after taking a "firm grasp on airy nothing -- to be precise, on the bole of a great tree" (71), that "we were all out of touch but somehow permanent" (71). The idea of orientation based on memorials of inaccurate, idealized forms of familiar memories is finally pounded into words. After all, "it was the world that had changed" (71), and those memorials are the only way to keep the wasps from getting lost; they allow life to cling to a fondly remembered position and are stabilized and oriented by such meaningful attachment.
Eisley, Loren. ÒThe Brown Wasps.ÓThe Norton Reader. Ed Linda H. Peterson, John C.
Brereton, Joan E. Hartman. 10th ed. New York: Norton, 2000.
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