Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Their eyes were watching nature's God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

— Zora Neale Houston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

I have always been fond of this passage from Zora Neale Houston's classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, so much so that the first edition of the book now called Disaster Law and Policy opened its chapter on social injustice with this quote. The trouble has always lain in the empathetic limits of the law. Disaster law continually lingers among the ruins, so to speak, because the architects of disaster policy rarely understand the perspective of vulnerable individuals like Janie and Tea Cake.

Into this void steps an essay by Walter Russell Mead, Nature and Nature's God, on the occasion of Hurricane Sandy:

Hurricane Sandy Manhattan is one of those places where nature seems mostly held at bay. Except for the parks, oases of carefully preserved nature deliberately shaped by the hand of man, every inch of the city’s surface has been covered by something manmade. The valleys have been exalted, the mountains laid low and the rough places plain.

Those who live and do their business there pay very little attention to the natural world most of the time. It can be hard to get a taxi in the rain, and the occasional winter snowstorm forces a brief halt to the city’s routine, but the average New Yorker’s attention is on the social world, not the world of nature. . . .

Into this busy, self involved world Hurricane Sandy has burst. Sharks have been photographed (or at least photo shopped) swimming in the streets of New Jersey towns; waves sweep across the Lower East Side; transformers explode on both sides of the Hudson as salt water surges into the tunnels and subways. For a little while at least, New Yorkers are reminded that we live in a world shaped by forces that are bigger than we are . . . .


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