Walker, Susan Brannan. “The River: Mouth, Metaphor, and the Chiastic Deep Ecology of Deliverance.”

Susan Brannan Walker is the Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama and the Poet Laureate of Alabama. She has published eight books of poetry;  a multi-genre book, In The Realm of Rivers: Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw Delta;  fiction and drama; and critical works on James Dickey as well as on Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Marge Piercy, Peter Viereck, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Richard Eberthard. Excerpted here from Walker’s forthcoming book from Mellen Press – The Chiastic Deep Ecology of James Dickey – is the chapter on Deliverance:   “The River: Mouth, Metaphor, and the Chiastic Deep Ecology of Deliverance.


The River: Mouth, Metaphor, and the Chiastic Deep Ecology of Deliverance

 By Susan Brannan Walker

The river is within us . . .

          —T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

A river sings a holy song conveying the mysterious truth that we are a river,

and if we are ignorant of this natural law, we are lost.

                                      —Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

Put on the river

Like a fleeting coat,

A garment of motion,

Tremendous, immortal.

Find a still root

To hold you in it.

Let flowing create

A new, inner being.

                     —James Dickey, “Inside the River”

            James Dickey’s Deliverance is a disputation on the nature of Being/being that reflects the tenets of “Deep Ecology,” an eco-critical commentary on the wilderness, and an account of man’s confrontation with it.1 Although not involved in the actual Deep Ecology Movement, Dickey was a practitioner of Deep Ecology in spirit and manifestation. In Sorties, published in 1971, he says “Ecology is a word that everyone knows now, and is interested in, and has opinions about” (35). In “Teaching, Writing, Reincarnation, and Rivers,” Dickey states he would have “made a great Bushman or an aborigine who believes that spirits inhabit all things”; and he says he is “drawn to a philosopher like Heraclitus because of [his] interest in rivers” (SI 79, 69).2 In addressing Heraclitus’s parable, “the way up and the way down are the same,” Dickey questions what the philosopher means by “The Way” (SI 69).  “The way up to what?” he asks (SI 69) “The way down to what?” (SI 69). What makes Heraclitus’s parable so marvelous, Dickey says,

is that it’s so evocative. It would apply to anything: it could apply to life; it could apply to the exercise of a craft. I’ve been trying for years to apply it to my own attempts at writing poetry: “The way up and the way down are the same.” The same! What does this mean? That the way up to whatever poetic achievement I might be capable of is the way back to my origins, to the first literary style, or what? Who knows? I could go mad pondering such questions, but I also find enormous creative stimulation when I ponder them. (SI 69)

Deliverance is one result of such pondering; it is an exercise in craft, as well as a “way” of looking into, tracking, and “trying to show what exists” when the hand and the eye, the body and the mind intertwine and effect a deep ecological self-realization.

More than one hundred critical opinions have been written about the meaning and relevance of Deliverance, Dickey’s first novel, published in 1970. Viewing the work as a deep ecological “Moral, Life principle, a Way” provides insight into Dickey’s use of the river adventure. In an August 11, 1995, interview, Dickey told Randall A. Smith that he “quite consciously modeled” his novel on

 Van Gennep’s Les Rites de Passage, the three-step journey of the hero: the withdrawal from life and the penetration to a source of power, which is the river, and the life-enhancing return, and follows through with that. Withdrawal from life is going from the main characters’ ordinary lives to the river, and the source of power is what the narrator finds out about himself and about existence in general, and the life-enhancing return occurs when he returns to his old life and has a new perspective on things which enables him to operate in a different and better way than he had previously been able to do because his character, his being has been changed by the penetration to the source of power, the river, and what happens on the river. (1)

The river, the deliverer of self-awareness, intertwining ecology and mythology, emphasizes a human need to understand personal existence in relation to the environment. It is through language that “humans share awareness and augment consciousness and memory with culture, the shared repository of human experience”. In “The Ecology of Myth,” Lyle Eslinger writes that

socially constructed narratives of human ecology are best understood as myths. The history of this word, myth, accurately incorporates both the element of existential profundity and the fact that all myths are human approximations of reality, neither entirely fictitious (against post-modern relativism) nor entirely God’s own truth. (n.p.)

Myths “are conceptual maps by which humans orient themselves in their environment” (Eslinger n. p.). The comment is applicable to Dickey’s Deliverance that begins with the unrolled map that shows its colors and becomes the point of entry or way (emphasis mine) into Lewis, Ed, Bobby, and Drew’s proposed wilderness experience. Following an initial description of Lewis’s hand as it marks “out a small strong X” on the unrolled map, Ed leans forward and concentrates “down into the invisible shape he [Lewis] had drawn, trying to see the changes that would come” when the “whole valley will be under water” (13-14). He tries “to visualize the land as Lewis said that it was at [the present] moment, unvisited and free” (14).  “Right now,” Lewis says, “it’s wild. And I mean wild; it looks like something up in Alaska” (14). He urges a trip into the wilderness before it is transformed by the real estate people.

Not just thing itself, the map, but imagination comes into play and is involved in the anticipated exploration of the land; not just the hand that marks the fifty-mile river area, but the entire body that is the means in and through which the “wild” is experienced. Ed says he “breathed in and out once, consciously” and his “body, particularly the back and arms, felt ready for something like this. [He] looked around the bar and then back into the map” (14). Lewis then contrasts notions of the environmental wild and a work-week in Atlanta, telling Ed:

You’ve had all that office furniture in front of you, desks and bookcases and filing cabinets and the rest. You’ve been sitting in a chair that won’t move. You’ve been steady. But when that river is under you, all that is going to change. There’s nothing you do as vice-president of Emerson-Gentry that’s going to make any difference at all, when the water starts to foam up. Then, it’s not going to be what your title says you do, but what you end up doing. You know: Doing. (D 51)

 What Ed does as vice-president of Emerson-Gentry does not constitute “doing” as Lewis envisions it. “[T]he whole thing,” as he sees it, “is going to be reduced to the human body,” which involves escaping the confines of the office in order to be in and part of nature (D 51). Technology means that “machines are going to fail, the political systems are going to fail, and a few men are going to take to the hills and start over” (D 51-52). Human beings may be able to construct real estate havens, but the essence of what it means to be at one with nature cannot be found in the thrust of technology.

The interrelationship of technology and nature as it relates to the situation of the suburbanites in Deliverance highlights Lewis’s designated failures. David Rothenberg says that

 [t]he wonder that engenders philosophy is not born out of times of rest, moments when we had leisure to spare in the struggle for survival. No, it comes hand in hand with the  human way of living in the world by changing it. It is thus difficult to separate our explanation of the world from our transformation of it. Heraclitus is wise enough to know that human language itself is strained and stretched when it is made to tackle such vast and vaporous concepts as the logos. (3)

Deliverance explores the ways technology affects ecology as it is transformed by machines.

The novel actually begins with the human hand holding a pencil that marks a chiastic X on a piece of paper made from what once was a living tree. It is on this paper map that the X designates “the place where some of the green bled away and the paper changed with high ground and began to work downstream, northeast to southwest through the printed woods” (D 13). As Rothenberg points out: “It begins with the hand—the grasp that pulls and directs; the movements enacted then fashioned out of material. Fingers trained to guide tools to reshape the world in our image, bridging the gap between those two infinities: human idea and tactile nature” (xi). Ed watches the hand that holds the pencil; He says that it was “as though all streams everywhere quit running, hanging silently where they were to let the point be made. The pencil turned over and pretended to sketch in with the eraser an area that must have been around fifty miles long, through which the river hooked and cramped” (13). Elias Canetti, in the epigraph to Hand’s End, identifies the hand as the first vessel, “that which scoops up water.” The fingers, he comments, “of both hands intertwined are the first basket. . . . (One feels that hands live their own life and their own transformations.) It is not enough that this or that shape should exist in the surrounding world. Before we could create it ourselves, our hands and fingers had to enact it. . . . Words and objects are accordingly the emanations and products of a single unified experience; representation by means of the hands.” (13).The chiastic structure marked by Lewis’s hand initiates the forthcoming revelatory actions of the novel.6

The X fashioned by Lewis’s hand is representative of the chiasmus that is central to Merleau-Ponty’s notion of intertwining in The Visible and the Invisible, and it is this philosophical construct that is central to Deliverance and to Dickey’s work as it relates to Deep Ecology. Merleau-Ponty uses the French chiasme instead of the Greek khiasmos, the designation of which is to mark with the letter X.  As the letter indicates, there is a point at the center where convergence occurs. At this point the disparate is brought together while the segments remain as they were at the ends of the point of convergence.  In “The Intertwining—The Chiasm,” in The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes the phenomenon in terms of maps, saying, “[t]here is a double and crossed situating of the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable” (134). “The same body sees and touches,” he explains; “visible and tangible belong to the same world. It is a marvel too little noticed that every movement of my eyes—even more, every displacement of my body—has its place in the same visible universe that I itemize and explore in the tactile space” (103). Perception is an aspect of Being and likewise the means of understanding the self that is basic to Deep Ecology. In the Preface to Deep Ecology, Bill Devall and George Sessions comment on the “vital need humans have for wilderness” and how policy decisions affect the “wild places of the Earth” (x). It is thus that “the environmental problems of technocratic-industrial societies are beginning to be seen as manifestations of what some individuals are calling ‘the continuing environmental crisis’” (ix). This need for the wilderness is evident.

Dickey emphasizes the need for the wilderness as he describes the current environment to David Arnett:

Fellows who work in offices and live in the suburbs at [. . .] around thirty-seven or thirty-eight—begin to feel like [. . .] [s]omething has happened; their lives have gone by. And here’s Lewis; he’s got deathly notions about what life is about. He can do something about it, and he will do it, and he does do it. Well, why not? […] [T]hey’re going to destroy the wilderness, anyway. The river is going to be dammed up. Why don’t we have a little contact with the primitive? (76-77)

 For Deep Ecologists, the river is alive. Technology, however, alters the landscape, dams and reroutes rivers and, in the case of Deliverance, facilitates the suburbanites’ initial perception of themselves. Ed and even Lewis, who serves as a model of independence and manliness, have taken the “toys” of civilization to play at wildness. They have bows and arrows at their disposal, but the “toys” have no value in the river, as Ed learns when he is thrust into the swirling water and tries to hold on to the bow as the razor sharp arrowheads cut his hand.  Rothenberg says, “the bow is an archetypal example of art and technics together, as it is both part of a musical instrument and a device that extends our aim by transforming the energy in the pull into the arrow’s path” (3). The word “bow,” he explains, is “bios” which “can mean either ‘bow’ or ‘life’ in common usage; so the tool which kills is the equivalent of what lives.

Dickey’s novel shows that technology is intertwined with Nature/nature and Being/being as self-realization. Whether or not Dickey actually read Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” evidence indicates his awareness of Heidegger and Hölderlin, Heidegger’s favorite poet (Striking In 119). Dickey had “no qualms about giving his artistic self over entirely to the spirit or essence of the thing he [beheld],” adding the fact that Dickey hoped “to arrive at what Heidegger [called] the phenomenological world view” (9).  Deliverance is filled with examples of technology as it relates to the human’s use of tools, instruments, and equipment. Numerous references point not only to guns, knives, anvils, chains, hooks, nails, batteries, and the aforementioned bows and arrows, but also to musical instruments that stand in opposition to tools designed for destruction.  Dickey significantly interweaves conciliatory instruments, the guitar and the banjo, that show how people with different values and from a different culture and class can be brought together in harmony, rather than for murder and violence. Rothenberg comments specifically on the bow and the lyre: “Might the bow and the lyre be like the order of the universe?” (3). He cites Octavio Paz who suggested that the lyre “‘consecrates man and thus gives him a place in the cosmos,’ while the bow ‘shoots him beyond himself’” (3). As Heidegger shows, technology is “by no means anything technological” (311).3 Its range encompasses the making of art which, according to Dickey, makes all else possible. “Poetry is,” he told Joel Hillman in the Writer’s Yearbook interview, “the highest medium that mankind has ever come up with.  It’s language itself, which is a miraculous medium which makes everything else that man has ever done possible” (NH 311). The hand that holds the pencil creates a map of existence that brings into a clearing the self and its created world.

As Dickey explains to James Taylor, the essence of a tree is not the tree in itself, but that which pervades every tree, as tree. Such pervasion of essence Heidegger claims is the way “man is given to belong to the propriative event of truth” and is thereby granted conveyance into an unfolding, in which he keeps “watch over the unconcealment—and with it, from the first, the concealment—of all essential unfolding on this earth” (“The Question Concerning Technology” 337).  It may be said, here, that for Dickey the tree, in particular the pine, grants conveyance into this unfolding that intertwines nature, technology, and the environment. As he says in the interview, “Every human being who is born inherits two things. He inherits language, whatever language he is born into, and he inherits the world, existence, the universe, and everything in it, down to the finest detail. And in a sense you could say that when every human being is born, the world is created again and he has his own perspective on it, and he has his own orientation toward it”(20). The propriative experiences of truth–river, canoe, pine, banjo, and bow, all serve as a means of understanding existence.

In Dickey’s last public discussion of Deliverance, transcribed by William B. Thesing, November 3, 1995, he tells a student assembly at the University of South Carolina-Columbia:

 I love rivers. I think rivers are the most beautiful thing in nature—more beautiful than the ocean; more beautiful than the sky, with or without clouds; certainly more beautiful than the city, any city, although some of those I like, too. The river seems closer to God’s intentions than mountains or even forests, which are the next best, at least as far as I’m concerned. (“Dealing with ‘Immortal Works’: James Dickey’s Last Public Discussion of Deliverance” 42).

 Deliverance, as a process of self-revelation, reaches deeper than what happens on the river. The novel concerns what happens to the river and to the wilderness because of the human contrivance of technology. It maps the evolving self-realization of Lewis, Bobby, Drew, Ed, and other characters who are mired in counter-productive thinking and being. Gary Snyder says that “the essential nature of nature” is what happens to human beings in response to the experiences that shape their lives.4 Although the adventurers are all active participants in the river experience, it is the narrator, Ed, Dickey’s spokesperson, who is able “to see with language, to be free with it and to find it a vehicle of self-transcending insight [. . .]” (Snyder 128).  The Spaniards called the grammar associated with nature “Grammatica parda” or “tawny grammar that is “not only of language, but of culture and civilization itself.” It is often “savage” and “howling” (“The Walking”).

The destructive impact of technology in terms of the construction of a dam and what it will mean to the wilderness adventure calls to view David Abram’s message that elucidates Dickey’s ecological vision whereby

 [h]uman persons [. . .] are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, and even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by shifting patterns in the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses—once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth—become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary. (The Spell of the Sensuous 267)

 It is this thwarted and disharmonious interaction with nature that Dickey, in Self-Interviews, bemoans as “the mechanized world” and its numbing, indeed, damning effect on the “sensitivities of most people” (74).  The anesthetization of the senses, Dickey claims, is “one of the reasons that sex and any kind of artificial stimulation, alcohol or drugs or anything else, are becoming more and more important, because we are able to feel less and less in our own selves” (SI 74). To James Wright he confesses that

“[d]uring most of life I have the sense of strangulation, of a kind of strangulation and compression of a ghost which is myself, where everything is seen through a thickening pane of glass that is really the deadening of the senses that comes with aging. I also have, rarely, the sense of breathing deeply, suddenly becoming a full-blooded human body, and being able to reach out and take up things and hold them, touch them, with exquisite and meaningful intimacy” (OV 1 396).

Dickey explains that “[w]hatever does militate against the deadness has got to come from deep within; one has to be able to sit still and receive, so that the flow of a river becomes so inexplicable, haunting and uplifting that it is past all telling [. . .]. This is where I am going—or want to” (OV 1 397). Dickey thus recognizes the need “to go very deeply into life, not just brush along the surface of it [. . .]” (SI 75). Discovery and the possibility of deliverance lie in deep ecological self-realization.

Experiences, by means of language, shape traumatic events such as those occurring on the invented Cahulawassee.6 In reading the tenets of “Deep Ecology” against Merleau-Ponty’s and Heidegger’s perceptions of the chiasm and Being/being, and also by considering Dickey’s remarks on the river in relation to the principles of Heraclitus, it is possible to understand the intertwining of misconceptions and conceptions that affect how a particular being responds to “Being.”

Dickey’s ecological disposition is further clarified by an explanation of the term ecology. The word, according to Drengston, “refers not only to the science of ecology, both theoretical and field, but to an ecological Way, a new set of paradigms and practices that help [human beings] to see the interconnections [. . .] between our values and our environmental problems, between our ideologies, technologies and their environmental consequences, between our human relations and their effect on our relationships to Nature” (2). In keeping with Heidegger, Drengston designates Deep Ecology as a way (emphasis mine) and notes that

 it seeks to create practices and forms of reflection that enable [human beings] to transcend [their] narrow egoic existence and anthropocentrism, to realize through direct experience [and] connectedness with all that lives. Such a path would lead [them] to enlarge [their] receptivity by helping [. . .] to extend [their] sense of identification to a wider and wider ecos, while [. . .] at the same time coming to know [their] particular place ever more deeply.” (2)

Dickey likewise expresses participatory being-in-the-world.  Commenting on Theodore Roethke’s lines: “My eyes extend beyond the farthest bloom of the waves; / I lose and find myself in the long water; I am gathered together once more; / I embrace the world,” Dickey says:

 [W]e are not condemned to division within ourselves by the world we have made for ourselves. We have one self that is conditioned, all right. But there is another self that has never heard of an automobile or a telephone. This is the one that connects most readily with the flow of rivers and the light coming from the sun; it is in this second (or first) and infinitely older being that we can be transfigured by eyes and recreated by flesh. (S 204)

He ends his essay “Spinning the Crystal Ball” by citing “The Vision of Adam” by Brewster Ghiselin: “As Adam swims in the sea to discover his origin, he discovers instead the divine sensuality of the world, where the spirit of each of us hides and waits for each of us to come” (S 206). Dickey believes this “irreducible sense of being” can be found in Nature.

The human desire “to go very deeply into life” that is essentially applicable to Dickey (SI 75) is iterated by Bruce B. Foltz, in Inhabiting The Earth: Heidegger, Environmental Ethics And The Metaphysics Of Nature. He explains that “dwelling” is the manner in which human beings habit the earth. “To be human” is “to dwell.” For both Heidegger and James Dickey, dwelling resides in language that is inextricably linked with the poetic. In keeping with Heidegger’s later thought, Foltz says Foltz says “the environment is that which we inhabit most immediately, that which concerns us and matters to us most persistently and hence that whose meaningfulness intertwines most continually with the course of our lives” (172). Foltz argues that “Deep Ecology” is an important aspect of Heidegger’s work and believes that the rift between mankind and the environment is one that has been compromised by technology. Citing Heidegger, Foltz says that “[t]he question concerning our basic relation to nature, our knowledge of nature as such, our dominion of nature, is not a question of natural science but stands in question itself in the question of how we are still addressed by what is as such and as a whole” (3). Dickey posits this same view. In his essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dickey notes that to Hopkins thought  the universe was one “of signs, a universe of correspondences, a universe in which these are given to us by God to see and to experience and to know. But they will not be known until we get out there in the natural world and become, as he spent his whole life becoming, an inspired, God-induced naturalist, an accurate and personal reader of the world (Classes On Modern Poets And The Art of Poetry 34). While Dickey’s world is less God-centered than that of Hopkins, it is no less “a universe of correspondences.”

Dickey argues for more depth in understanding and living one’s life (S 51). The world, in the age of technology, is in flux and flow, but the quest, indeed the need for understanding self in relation to the “other,” brings in the openness of Being, landscape, territory, the place in which one lives. In cities such as Atlanta, Dickey’s hometown, it is increasingly difficult to live in harmony with Nature, the environment, with other humans, and with the animals that city-life has relegated to zoos. Dickey insists that “the more mechanized a culture becomes, the more mechanical the people become” (137). The issue—and Dickey quotes D.H. Lawrence here—is “how not to be a dead man in life” (127). To be alive, then, means to confront nature, but as Drew had told Lewis about getting rid of the body of the rapist: “You better be sure you know what you’re doing” (D 144).   The “doing” in Deliverance means interacting with the wilderness as well as leaving city life behind; it also means a Heraclitean “attunement in nature” that Philip Wheelwright says “far more deeply rewarding than the mere observation of surface patterns. Everything is interwoven with everything else; nothing stays fixed, and even at a given moment an event or situation can be seen in a number of aspects, some of them representing sharply antithetical and “contradictory” points of view” (27).

In addressing this contradiction that also occurs in Dickey’s third novel, To the White Sea, it is necessary to understand the Greek word phusis or self-emergence is enlightening. Foltz explains that phusis

is that manner of being displayed by entities in general whereby they can emerge and unfold of their own accord from out of themselves—coming forth uncompelled from concealment and hence making themselves manifest, entering into appearance in an abiding, enduring sovereignty—all the while remaining rooted in the concealment from which this self-unfolding emergence took its origin, and thereby both simultaneously and ultimately receding back into themselves. (125-126)

 Chiastic enfolding allows simultaneity at the same time that it recognizes difference. Foltz explains that for Heidegger phusis suggests Nature, “the rising of the sun,” the sprouting of young shoots, “the emerging and unfolding of the blossom,” indeed, the thrust of a river as it is dammed. Ed realizes at the end of the novel that the river is a part of his Being; it serves him even as he returns to Atlanta and constructs new “collages” and talks about art with George, who has become his “best friend, next to Lewis” (D 281). Dickey’s quest for self-understanding, his process of self-emergence interwoven with the tenets of Deep Ecology, is conveyed, in and through his notions regarding metaphor.  In elucidating the term “ecology,” Dickey notes that “[o]ne is constantly being bombarded by these terms, and, [. . .] at first hasn’t any real idea of how to go about acquiring them. There are two ways that they may be acquired. First is deliberately to go into the vocabularies of these special fields; second, simply to assimilate them through the routes that other people get them by, but to retain them” (S 35).

Dickey’s Deep Ecology follows the “way” mapped out by Naess in Thinking Like a Mountain; by Warwick Fox, Australian philosopher and ethicist and author of Toward a Transpersonal Ecology and A Theory of General Ethic; and by George Sessions, chairman of the philosophy department at Sierra College in Rocklin, CA, all of whom view the environmental crisis through a shift in human consciousness regarding the ways people relate to the environment. Dickey says that “one may never apprehend the whole of the self” (S 173); however, like Heraclitus, he recognizes that “conjunctions [. . .] may be born of the moment, and illuminate the moment, and then come to stand for one of the ways in which the moment may strike to the heart of time itself” (S 172-173). The journey into the wilderness undertaken by Bobby, Drew, Lewis, and Ed is a process of self-discovery, one scribed ecologically by the ravenous, recusant, river-world present at hand and evidenced by Gentry when he says he “beheld the river in its icy pit of brightness, in its far-below sound and indifference, in its large coil and tiny points and flashes of the moon, in its long sinuous form, in its uncomprehending consequence” (D 178). His beholding, however, stops short of understanding, for Ed does not realize “what was there” (D 178). Indeed “what was there” is wilderness:  “lesson, moral, life principle, Way,” unconcealed through violent and traumatic experience (D 14).  Dickey claims that there was “never  . . . in the history of the world and never will be anyone whom the wilderness fascinates as much as it does me. I don’t know the wilderness well, the woods or the mountains, but the wilderness, anywhere it can be found, is a subject of endless interest and rejoicing to me” (S 39).

Critics have largely overlooked the centrality of ecology, particularly Deep Ecology, in their assessment of James Dickey’s Deliverance, with the exception of Bart H. Welling’s “‘A Peculiar Kind of Intimacy’: Men, Nature, and the Unnatural in ‘The Sheep Child’ and Deliverance,Although Casey Clabough’s Elements importantly addresses the fictive vision of Deliverance, Alnilam, and To The White Sea, as well as screenplays and fictional fragments, as water, air, earth, and fire, he does not read Dickey as a deep ecologist. He does, however, provide a very useful overview of the criticism on Deliverance and highlights a number of diverse readings of it.  The novel has been discursively discussed as a macho attempt to prove manhood, a rendering of bestiality, an account of the effort to civilize America, an initiation story, a “yarn,” a lethargic spiel on a man’s mid-life crisis, and a commentary on masculinity. William Mahoney’s “Deliverance into Manhood,” while also addressing Dickey’s fascination with issues regarding masculinity, specifies the importance of action, of “doing,” and comments that Ed becomes cognizant of “a newly developed self” (4).

Technology, the “back-story” that precedes the wilderness venture, highlights man’s misuse of the land and attests to what Thomas Berry, eco-theologian and cultural historian, calls a “deep cultural pathology,” a “savage plundering” of the entire earth [that] is taking place through exploitation (9).  Dickey shows the consequences of such imposed action. An urban existence makes the wilderness an alien terrain. Ed recalls the accident whereby Lewis “stumbled and crawled for three miles to get out of the woods and back to his car” before he drove “it home using a stick to work the gas because his right ankle was so painfully broken” (D 20). The first accident foreshadows the trip to Aintry and the mishap when Lewis breaks his leg and emerges from the river “broken-looking,” his body “writhing and twisting uselessly” (D 153). He can only sprawl on the rocks and rely on Bobby and Ed to save him.

Confronted with the terrain that he thought he could master, Lewis typifies the eco-alienated city men.  Ed confronts Lewis’s lame, inadequate body as his friend “lay quietly on the floor with his pants unbuttoned and belt undone [and] looked like some great broken thing” (D 220).  Even though Lewis is a man “determined to get something out of life,” the escape into the wilderness is a failed “experiment” (D 16).  Not only could Lewis not contend with the river; he is part of the group classified as a “fucking bunch of amateurs,” a city boy who, unable to cope with the wilderness, and like those he might lead, found himself unable to run the river, unaware of what he was getting into (D 225).

Ed realizes that the river, “the silence and the silence-sound” of it, “had nothing to do with any of us.  It had nothing to do with the town [they] had just left with its few streetlights in the mountain darkness, its cafes and the faces of farmers in the tired glow of rigged wires in the town square, and the one theater showing a film that was appearing on late television in the city” (D 90). He is wrong, however. The river does have something to do with the men who enter it, and one means of understanding Dickey’s deep ecology is through what he refers to as “merging,” or “assuming the existence of the other” (Clabough 13). In a letter to Peter E. Neumeyer, Dickey writes that he was trying to understand Rilke,

who seemed to have such a strong identification with other forms of life—even with inanimate matter—that it is often difficult for a person like myself, who is always so conscious of his own identity to understand exactly what is going on. I guess the difference between his attitude and mine is that we merge with things differently. He seems to be able to become the other thing, while I am very conscious of the fact that I am also involved in the merging, and that I am giving something to the thing I am merging with as well as getting something back from it. (59)

This Dickey-specified merging exemplifies Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmus, an enfoldment or intertwining in which opposites fold into each other. What Dickey unfolds in Deliverance is how Lewis, Ed, Drew, and Bobby fail to merge with nature. Although “merging” is the word Dickey uses in his attempt to come to terms with how man is connected with the environment and how an individual can be both self and other, what actually occurs in Deliverance is an intertwining, more than an actual  merging. Lewis, Drew, Ed, and Bobby never manage to become one with nature, with the river. Ed returns to the city, and when he tells Drew’s wife that her husband has died, she says: “You can get out of here, Mr. Gentry. You can get out of here and go find that insane friend of yours, Lewis Medlock, and you can shoot him. That’s what you can do” (D 277).  Ed returns to his own home and tells Martha that he’s “going to the office,” but when she says “that’s the damned silliest idea I ever heard,” he replies: “Really, I want to go down there. I want to and I need to” (D 279).  He reconnects with Bobby in the city and later shoots aluminum arrows with Lewis, but he knows that

[t]hough Lake Cahula hasn’t built up like the one we’re on, there are indications that people are getting interested in it, as they always do any time a new, nice place opens up to what the real estate people call an unspoiled location. I expect there are still a few deer around Lake Cahula—deer that used to spend most of their time on the high ground at the top of the gorge—but in a few years they will be gone, and perhaps only the unkillable tribe of rabbits will be left. One big marina is already built on the south end of the lake and my wife’s younger brother says that the area is beginning to catch on, especially with the new generation, the one just getting out of high school. (D 283-284)

Dickey is concerned with the impact of industrial development. The wilderness is disappearing, and as Thomas Berry pointed out, the “purpose of education, as presently envisaged, is to enable humans to be ‘productive’ within the context of the industrial society” (14). However, education should, according to Berry—and Dickey as well— “be the conscious sensitizing of the human to those profound communications made by the universe about us, by the sun and moon and stars, the clouds and rain, the contours of the earth and all its living forms” (15). It is the lack of sensitization that creates a disconnect between suburbia, the world of capitalism, and Nature, the wilderness world of the mountain men.

The complexity of intertwining disparate things is illustrated by Ed’s relationship with the river that Bart Welling calls an “erotically charged relationship,” and a “strangely adulterous ‘marriage,’” (34). He cites the passage in Deliverance where Ed enters into the river with the body of the man he has killed. The frigid water penetrated his ear “like an ice pick” and threaded through him, “first through [his] head from one ear and out the other and then complicatedly through [his] body, up [his] rectum and out [his] mouth” (D 214).  What Dickey seems to be after, Welling says, is a “sexuality that transcends gender dimorphism even as it violates all the usual boundaries between body and environment, city and country, the animal and the human” (34). Only at the end of the novel does Ed realize he has not only invaded the river; the river has invaded him. He says “the river is in me [. . .] and will be until I die” (D 281). The river is part of Ed’s being-in-the-world, and his experience on and with it has transformed and changed him. He is, however, still a man who must contend with the part of himself that is “in” and of another world, the world of Atlanta and the changes constantly wrought by technology.

In “Making the Truth: James Dickey’s Last Major Interview,” with Donald J. Greiner, July 17 and 19, 1996, Dickey says, “we’ve all got lots of different voices and a lot of different personalities. I think it’s the writer’s business to galvanize as many as he can” (15).  As author, Dickey projects himself into other points of view and, through the act of imagination, through dwelling in language, comes to know the humanimal self, an intertwined self that is involved in the Being / being of another while still maintaining an original identity.

Reading Deliverance in the light of Merleau-Ponty clarifies Dickey’s ecological chiasmic intertwining of man and nature. Mark Taylor, in Alterity, adds further clarification. He explains that “entrelacer means to interlace, interweave, or intertwine” while “s’entrelacer means to entwine or twist around each other” (71). L’entrelac, the term that Merleau-Ponty uses as the title of his chapter on the chiasmus, Taylor says, signifies the cross as a “double-cross.” This double-cross construction shows the difference in intertwining and merging. Dickey had not specified this distinction, but it is important to the chiastic nature of the novel. Taylor’s explanation, using the actual terminology of Merleau-Ponty, iterates the significance of the chiasm in Dickey’s work. Taylor says that it is at the

intersection, [where] opposites fold into each other in such a way that everything seems to be “completely reversed or turned inside out [retourné].” This double enfoldement is the “re-pli-cation” of differences in each together. Such mutual implication does not, however, establish the identity of differences but “doub-lure” (lining) that remains the “central cavity” (cavité centrale) or “a hollow” (creux) in everything that appears to be solid. Since differences do not collapse into identity, the implication of opposites does not create a fusion that issues in immediacy. The “reversibility” of the chiasmus insures that neither pole in the relationship dominates the other. Like intertwined hands that almost touch and are touched, the chiasmus points to “a coincidence always past or always future, an experience that remembers an impossible past [passé impossible], anticipates an impossible future [avenir impossible] that emerges from Being or that will incorporate itself into Being, that ‘is of it’ but is not it [. . .]. (71)

 The important point of the chiasm lies in the fact that the strands maintain their separateness even as they are intertwining.

The body—and seeing (for the chiasm occurs in the eye)¾ is important in the concept of Being, in both Dickey and Merleau-Ponty’s envisioning. The philosopher says

[i]f there is an animation of the body, if the vision and the body are tangled up in one another; if correlatively, the thick pellicle of the quale, the surface of the visible, is doubled up over its whole extension with an invisible reserve; and if finally, in our flesh, as in the flesh of things, the actual, empirical, ontic visible, by a sort of folding back, invagination, or padding, exhibits a visibility, a possibility that is not the shadow of the actual but is its principle, that is not the proper contribution of a “thought” but is its condition, a style, allusive and elliptical like every style, but like every style imitable, inalienable, an interior horizon and an exterior horizon between which the actual visible is a provisional partitioning and which, nonetheless, open indefinitely only upon other visibles [. . . ]. (VI 152)

 For Dickey, human and animal, self and other, all form a chiasm, a conjoining or intertwining that renders a humanimal containing within itself its own distinctions.  Ed says “I’ll make a circle inland, very quiet, and look for him like I’m some kind of animal. What kind? It doesn’t matter, as long as I’m quiet and deadly. I could be a snake” (D 180). Dickey says it is a “deliberate conjunction of disparate items” that is “not so much a way of understanding the world,” as “a perpetually exciting way of recreating it from its own parts” (S 173).  It is the way he recombines the “fragments of the world” so that they “undergo a fruitful interchange of qualities, a transference of energies, an informing each other” (S 180). Akira Lippit clarifies Dickey’s human-animal connection. He argues that

 [t]he intervention of the animal figure raises questions about the origin of the metaphor, its place in the world of language. One might posit provisionally that the animal functions not only as an exemplar metaphor, but within the scope of rhetorical language, as an originary metaphor.  One finds a fantastic transversality at work between the animal and the metaphor—the animal is already a metaphor, the metaphor an animal. Together they transport to language, breath into language [inspire], the vitality of another life, another expression: animal and metaphor, a metaphor made flesh, a living metaphor that is by definition not a metaphor, antimetaphor, “animetaphor.” . . . The animal brings to language something that is not part of language and remains within language as a foreign presence. (165)

 Language and sound intertwine to express the oneness of the earth and the beings that habit it.

Referring to the scene in which Ed tracks the man who may or may not actually have killed Drew, Welling specifically addresses the chiasm and says that Dickey “uses blended forms of animal/sexual imagery and chiasmic rhetorical and narrative structures like [those] throughout the ‘human hunt’ section of Deliverance to essentially couple Ed and his would-be ‘lover,’ giving Ed access to varieties of imaginative and corporeal power that are withheld from the terrified farm boys of ‘The Sheep Child’” (33).  Welling calls attention to Dickey’s notation that Ed was not just seeing but beholding (emphasis mine) and suggests that Ed “attains perfection as an animal” (34). Giorgio Agamben, in The Open, writes that “Heidegger was perhaps the last philosopher to believe in good faith that the place of the polis (the polos {pole} where the conflict between concealedness and unconcealedness, between the animalitas and the humanitas of man, reigns) was still practicable, and that it was still possible for men, for a people—holding themselves in that risky place-to find their own proper historical destiny” (75). He wonders if “the well being of a life that can no longer be recognized as either human or animal can be felt as fulfilling,” for “[t]he total humanization of the animal coincides with a total animalization of man”  (77). Dickey makes manifest both sides of the human-animal dichotomy.

Chiastic self-realization for Dickey thus indicates how correspondences enable the self to re-cognize itself.  What is seen is, in and through the seeing, known; what is not seen is unknown. For Dickey, metaphorical enfolding “permits one to experience [. . .] the perpetual and the instantaneous, the paired objects both in the world they came from and in their linguistic relationships” (S 183).  As in Nietzsche’s relational construct in Beyond Good and Evil, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss gazes into you” (279). Merleau-Ponty explains that “he who sees cannot possess the visible unless he is possessed by it, unless he is of it, unless [. . .] he is one of the visibles, capable, by a singular reversal, of seeing them—he who is one of them” (VI 134-5).  In Deliverance, novel and film alike, the transversality of being self and other involves man’s animal nature.

Animals are among “the first inhabitants of the mind’s eye” according to Paul Howe Shepard, Jr. In Thinking Animals, he comments that “They are basic to the development of speech and thought [and] indispensable to our becoming human in the fullest sense” (814). Throughout Deliverance, visual contact highlights the duality of Being/being as it is reflected in the lens of the camera or in the mind’s imaginary eye. When Ed Gentry’s canoe passes a poultry processing plant, he is disturbed by the chicken floating in the water because its glazed eye, “half open,” seems to look not only at him, but through him.  Later when Ed lies in his tent at night and looks up “through almost closed lids,” both chicken eyes and human eyes fail to comprehend, i.e. see, their place in the nature of things.  It is through the use of eye imagery that “Dickey makes the reader face the dark facts of human existence which, because of the veneer of our civilization, we often are not willing to re-cognize” (emphasis mine) (Hine 100).  The failure to see (emphasis mine) delineates the suburbanites’ problem with the mountain men. Lewis says he had no idea what was down from Oree. Ed’s eyes “kept hazing over and shut without seeing anything,” and Lewis tells him “there may be something important in the hills,” although Ed doesn’t seem to see what it is.  Speaking of the air-raid shelter built in the hills in case of an atomic holocaust, Lewis tells Ed that in the mountain wilderness it is possible to “make something up there [. . .] a kind of life that wasn’t out of touch with everything, with the other forms of life” (D 50, 53-54).

In accounting for the chiastic strands that masterfully construct Deliverance, the significance of music cannot be ignored. As Robert Kirschten  notes, it must be accounted for if “we are to describe accurately the ontology in which [Dickey] works” (James Dickey and the Gentle Ecstasy of Earth 25).  In the chapter, “Neoplatonism, or motion and music,” Kirschten cites Heraclitus’s well-known aphorism: “‘you cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on’” and claims the philosopher means that although “the rivers are the same, [. . .] things are in flux all around us, [and] the configurations of such movement retain some sort of intelligible shape” (4). The river, Kirschten argues, is the “fluid version of Dickey’s unifying Absolute of Motion which joins all things, past and present, in a perpetual process of universal rhythm” (4).  The poet’s memory, then, retains and rejuvenates “the past by using poetic rhythms to enter the eternal flow of nature which mixes permanence and change” (5).  Thus, “music serves as a mediating force between the poet and flux so he can gain access to the ‘poured forms’ not only of natural things but of human emotion” (5). Although Kirschten addresses Dickey’s lyric poetry, music in Deliverance evidences the chiastic intertwining essential to understanding self by means of the environment. As Merleau-Ponty explains, “[t]he musical idea, the literary idea, the dialectic of love, and also the articulations of the light, the modes of exhibition of sound and of touch speak to us, have their logic, their coherence, their points of intersection, their concordances, and here also the appearances are the disguise of unknown ‘forces’ and ‘laws’” (VI I49). The world of the hill country’s banjo-picking Lonnie and the world of Drew intertwine in and through the playing of the song “Wildwood Flower.”  Dickey writes that Lonnie’s banjo playing was so right that it seemed as if it were Drew’s “own fingering.” Dickey says, “[t]hey put the instruments together and leaned close to each other in the pose you see vocal groups and phony folk singers take on TV programs, and something rare and unrepeatable took hold of the way [Ed] saw them, the demented country kid and the big-faced decent city man, the minor civic leader and hedge clipper” (D 69). City and country, the advertising Kitt’n-Britches world and the wild, for a time, intersect at a filling-station-crossing, where something rare and wonderful takes place.

Something of a modern gloss for examining music in Dickey’s text is provided by David Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous. He says that all beings “can hear and understand our speaking, for all things are capable of speech. Even the cracking sounds made by the new ice on the lakes are a kind of earthly utterance, laden with meaning” (153). “[I]n the face of natural elements,” Abram says, “the clear sense that the animate terrain is not just speaking to us but also listening to us—bears out Merleau-Ponty’s thesis of perceptual reciprocity; to listen to the forest is also, primordially, to feel oneself listened to by the forest, just as to gaze at the surrounding forest is to feel oneself exposed and visible, to feel oneself watched by the forest” (153). Keen Butterworth avers that “[m]usic mediates and formalizes the instincts and passions through the orderly arrangement of tone and rhythm, and thus allows ‘civil’ communication. It expresses our human interrelatedness [. . . .] (75). In “Art and Nature in Deliverance,” Edward Doughtie concurs and believes that “[a]rt is a product of civilization and a civilizing force” though Dickey “never loses touch with the primitive,” for “art embraces both Dionysus and Apollo” (169). Music is a lyric ecology that replicates the intertwining structure of the chiasm; sound elicits meaning and communication.

Discussing the inheritance of modernism in music and its effect on culture, Gerald Rochberg emphasizes the fact that sound, i.e. music, is “never created by will or conscious design or foreknowledge but arises from the inner pressures, uncertainties, excitements, promptings, and urgings of deep spiritual and emotional needs” (252). Such is the spontaneity of colliding and interpenetrating sounds that Drew and the albino boy create as they forge sounds that blend into the space where two disparate cultures are conjoined, when something of each single self and that of another effect a new harmony of embodied, shared, nonverbal experience.  Dickey describes the enfoldment: Lonnie drags “on the rubber bands” and slips “the capo up,” while Drew comes on with the volume. Ed’s deep listening takes in the music and responds to it, to the “lovely unimpeded flowing that seemed endless” as “Drew came back in the new key and the two players finished, riding together” (D 69).  Music is a language in tune with the body.  Independent of actual words, Rochberg describes music as communication and claims that it is a “system whose logic is closely related to the primary, alpha logic of the central nervous system itself, i.e. of the human body. [. . .] [I]t follows that the perception of music is simply the process reversed; i.e. we listen with our bodies, with our nervous systems and their primary interacting parallel/serial and memory functions” (238).  Dickey’s chiastic music in Deliverance music brings together the disparate while also stressing difference. For the moment of the song, there is communal togetherness, but when the notes evaporate into the air, the two cultures that Drew and the boy represent form polarities that cannot be ordered even by law.

Technological progress may advance civilization but it also marginalizes and represses. Lewis tells Ed that in the hills

[t]here’s lots of music, it’s practically coming out of the trees. Everybody plays something: the guitar, the banjo, the autoharp, the spoons, the dulcimer—or the dulcimore, as they call it. I’ll be disappointed if Drew doesn’t get to hear  some of that stuff while we’re here. These are good people, Ed. But they’re awfully clannish, they’re set in their ways.  They’ll do what they want to do, no matter what. Every family I’ve ever met up here has at least one relative in the penitentiary. Some of them are in for making liquor or running it, but most of them are in for murder. They don’t think a whole lot about killing people up here. They really don’t. But they’ll generally leave you alone if you do the same thing, and if one of them likes you he’ll do anything in the world for you. So will his family. Let me tell you about something that happened two years ago. (D 54-55)

As Lewis tells the story about the lives of the mountain men, it becomes increasingly apparent that he and Ed, Drew, and Bobby are unable to manage in the wilderness they invade.

As soon as the Atlantans leave suburbia, Ed sees difference rather than interrelatedness in the terrain of which they would be a part. Ed says that that it is possible to see “[t]he exact point where suburbia ended and the red-neck South began” (D 48). “You would think,” he adds, “that the bowels of the southerner were forever clamped shut; that he could not open and let natural process flow through him” [. . .] (D 48). Ed becomes aware of the incongruities in his life. He may be an administrator and successful art director, but he feels that he is “someone else, some poor fool who lives as unobserved and impotent as a ghost, going through the only motions it has” (D 28).  He is [mis]placed in the city where he looks for “decent ass” and where Kitt’n Britches might pull her panties down and expose her bare behind (D 29). Although he rejects the bare-butt Coppertone pose for the ad he is working on, he finds that the sight of the girl fingering her breast generates “a deep and complex male thrill” as if he had been “touched in the prostate” (D 32).  In spite of being one of those “middle-aged responsible men” who are important factors “in maintaining the economy and the morale of the whole Western World,” Ed says that the ad business reminds him of “prisons and interrogations” (D 30).  “That was one side of it,” he said. “[T]he other was pornography” and

he thought of those films you see at fraternity parties and in officers’ clubs where you realize with terror that when the girl drops the towel the camera is not going to drop with it discreetly, as in old Hollywood films, following the bare feet until they hide behind a screen, but is going to stay and when the towel falls, move in; that it is going to destroy someone’s womanhood by raping (emphasis mine) her secrecy; that there is going to be nothing left. (D 31)

Dickey’s use of the word “rape” in this scene and the account of Kitt’n Britches’s bare posterior precede the rape scene in the woods. The invasion that occurs in the everyday work-world of Atlanta prior to the time the men enter the woods emphasizes the business world’s disconnect from the reality of the wilderness. It is part of the culture, “business-as-usual,” for models like Kitt’n Britches to pull down their panties, for this is what advertising is all about. Kitt’n is a money-making proposition. As such, she is not even given a name but referred to as “the model,” “the girl,” or “she” in contrast to Thad’s secretary who is called Wilma. The point is that Lewis, Ed, Bobby, Drew–and Dickey himself–are products of the environment in which they live, are “in” the advertising business, and manifest the human deadness in life, the human destructiveness, while yet striving to connect. Dickey writes:

What I want more than anything else is to have a feeling of wholeness. Specialization has produced some extremely important things, like penicillin and heart transplants. But I don’t know how much they compensate for the loss of a sense of intimacy with the natural process. I think you would be very hard-put, for example, to find a more harmonious relationship to an environment than the American Indians had. We can’t return to a primitive society; surely this is obvious. But there is a property of the mind which, if encouraged, could have this personally animistic relationship to things. (SI 68)

Civilized progress exploits nature. The patriarchal notions of nature and woman have propagated “a two-pronged rape and domination of the earth and the women who live on it” (Murphy 87). The Kitt’n Britches scene parallels the initial proposed ravaging of the earth, the construction of the dam at Aintry that will put the entire valley under water, while exploiting both earth and woman as so-called “good” business.

As a product of the world, Ed transports sex, via dream, into the wilderness, and it is his dream, rather than the actual wild, that opens his eyes. He sees:

Martha’s back heaving and working and dissolving into the studio where we [. . .] had also gone ahead with the Coppertone scene of the little girl and the dog. There was Wilma holding the cat and forcing its claws out of its pads and fastening them into the back of the girl’s panties. There was Thad; there was I. The panties stretched, the cat pulled, trying to get its claws out of the artificial silk, and then all at once leapt and clawed the girl’s buttocks. (D 98)

The advertising business exploits women, sometimes designated “cats” in a sexual bid for sales.

The number of accounts of violence in Deliverance range from the rape of the land to the rape of a woman’s secrecy, to the rape of Bobby, to murder, but “Law” in the wilderness deals a different justice. Clabough cites an account of an early corrected typescript of Deliverance in which Lewis tells Ed a post-Civil War story. “One of the many things the Atlantans do not know,” Clabough notes, is the implied history of the social system they are entering. In one of the early corrected typescripts of Deliverance, Lewis recounts to Ed, during their drive, the post-Civil War story of a black factory worker who is told to leave town (presumably Oree or Aintry, although the name is not mentioned) and refuses to do so. The sheriff kills him and “surrounding the action was a maniacal howl [from the sheriff]. An abandoned animal cry of neither pain not ecstasy, but the sound of release beyond all justice, all law” (37).

The lawless howl of the sheriff calls attention to the peculiar justice associated with Aintry and that is independent of and separate from Atlanta’s system and that of Nature/human nature.  Laurence Coupe addresses the differentiation between Nature and nature; he says that

[w]hile the former is a rhetorically useful principle, it has often been associated with ‘the highly suspect realms of the otherworldly or transcendental’. The latter is to be preferred in that it is more ‘worldly’: it denotes no more—but certainly no less—than the collective name for ‘individual plants, nonhuman animals and elements’. [. . .] The main aim should be kept in mind: to differentiate between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, so that “‘culture’ does not easily confuse itself with nature or Nature, or claim to know nature as a rationale for replacing [it] with itself and its constructions” (3).

The distinction is one that recognizes the large-scale deforestation of the land that not only creates real-estate havens but also reveres corporate capitalism. The human products of such an environment constitute the world of Deliverance­, a divided world in which the mountain men are not let “to be” in their own environment. Such human beings are thus increasingly displaced from, even alienated from, themselves. If the complaint is disgust and revulsion, then the “way” to counter it is through the Deep Ecological process of self-revelation. Deliverance, as Harold Schechter says in “The Eye and the Nerve: A Psychological Reading of James Dickey’s Deliverance,” is “a hunt for selfhood,” but the search is not just an individual pursuit. The sense and importance of Deep Ecology as a lens for [re]viewing Deliverance is the intertwining of self and world—river world, animal world, the cosmos, an intertwining that allows for good and evil, for the natural, organic violence that is an intrinsic part of being and becoming, that serves to counter errors and mistakes and become both lesson and Way. Dickey wrote in “Writers and Beholders” that we carry around many “selves” and “each time one dips into that increasingly full reservoir, one notices that everything that comes from it brings to the surface, not only itself, but an implicit meaning” (NH 110). The search in Deliverance is one of self-discovery, for the murderer in the self, as well as for Drew’s killer.

In Deliverance more than one murderer appears when Ed goes in search of the (emphasis mine) murderer whom, ironically, he cannot identify. He makes the following comments and observations:

I was on my knees, bleeding wherever I looked for his blood. Once I had to go back and try to pick up the trail again, for I could not tell which was my blood and which was his (D 202).

There was no path into the woods where I was going. It was dark there, but I could see blood, and when I couldn’t see it I could feel it, and, in some cases, smell it. I tried one last time to think like the man I had shot (emphasis mine) (D 203).

It was too dark to see from a standing position; I had to get closer to the blood. I went to all fours with my head down like a dog [. . .] (D 203).

Shafts of early sunlight were everywhere, sensitive and needled, directed at certain places for no reason, moving slightly on the ground with the wind stirring in the tops of the trees. When I was about halfway around the perimeter one of the rays moved and gave back something. It was a reddish-brown rock [. . .] and I had to wait a minute, my head heavying even more, before I knew what it meant. This time I knew it was not my blood. You haven’t been here yet [. . .]. (D 204)

A few steps farther on into the woods I found blood on a low leaf; crawling, maybe. I thought of getting down on my hands and knees and smelling for blood like an animal again [. . .] (D 204).

It [the dead man’s body] was not moving, but the light was playing over it and it seemed not entirely inert, but alive in the same way that most of the things in the woods were alive (D 205).

His brain and mine unlocked and fell apart, and in a way I was sorry to see it go. I never had thought with another man’s mind on matters of life and death, and would never think that way again (D 205).

He was dressed like the toothless man in the clearing; whether exactly like him I truthfully couldn’t say, but very much like. [. . .] And, though my time close to him in the clearing was burned in my mind, I had still seen him under those circumstances, which were a lot different [. . .]. I believe if I could have seen him move I would have known, one way or the other. But I didn’t, and I don’t (D 206)

I went back to the man on the ground [. . .]. One open eye had been poked by a branch or a twig, and was cloudy, but the other was clear blue, delicately veined in a curious, un-eyelike pattern; I saw myself there, a tiny figure bent over him, growing (D 209).

Dickey wrestles with perceiving the intertwining process of self and other, of life and death, of saying and seeing as the above passages show.7 Reflecting on Heidegger, Marc Froment-Meurice asks:

Is possible to understand oneself? Isn’t another always necessary for that? Likewise, can  one give oneself, this giving being understood in all senses of the word, including that in  which giving leads to physical, sexual possession? Can one give, offer, oneself as a witness, as a witness of one’s “one” death or of one’s survival? Who understands whom? A part should be more than the totality in order to grasp itself as such, as self and other. These are questions that [. . .] bind us to an infinite responsibility toward our self as (toward) the Other, toward our self as including [comprenant] the Other in our self. (202)

 Dickey’s novel is an intertwining of self and other, a witnessing and a discovery.

     Deliverance is an avowal in which Dickey’s interrogation of self is concomitant with a chiastic manifestation of Deep Ecology. At the end of the novel, Ed says, “[t]he river and everything I remembered about it became a possession to me, a personal, private possession, as nothing else in my life ever had. Now it ran nowhere but in my head, but there it ran as though immortally. [. . .] I have it. In me it still is, and will be until I die, green, rocky, deep fast, slow and beautiful beyond reality” (D 281).  The river is internalized and Deep Ecology is a “saying” that unconceals how it is to be both self and other in encounters with the world. In this, as Merleau-Ponty notes: “[t]here is double and crossed situating of the visible in the tangible and of the tangible in the visible; the two maps are complete, and yet they do not merge into one. The two parts are total parts and yet are not superposable” (VI 134). Dickey’s Deliverance functions as a man that shows the Way of Being.


 1 Following an initial complete citation, works in this paper are designated as follows. Dickey’s Self-Interviews, SI; Deliverance, D; Sorties, S.  Philip Wheelwright’s Heraclitus is designated W.  Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and Invisible, VI. This study, additionally, will use the following Heideggerian distinctions of Capital B-Being and the lowercase, being. Capital B-Being will designate a happening or event in the sense of being made manifest or revealed. The lowercase being refers to entities that translate as “beings.” Heidegger in Being and Time is concerned about distinguishing Being from “beings.” He says: “Being’ cannot indeed be conceived as an entity” (23) and also: “. . . ‘Being’ cannot have the character of an entity” (23).

2 Heraclitus, in probing the nature of the true self, comments on the Logos which is the principle according to which all things change, that which determines the nature of the flux that resides in human beings.  Fragment 50 says: “Listening not to me but to the Logos it is wise to agree that all things are one.”  For Heraclitus, Logos is fire, and when he speaks of the way down, he is speaking of the process by which fire condenses and becomes all things.  When he speaks of the way up, he means the process by which everything becomes fire again. George Sessions in Appendix D, “Western Process Metaphysics (Heraclitus, Whitehead, And Spinoza)” notes that”

[t]he process metaphysics of the Presocratic pantheist, Heraclitus, has been mentioned [. . .] as a possible basis for an ecological metaphysics for the West.  The Presocratics, especially Anaxamander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Empedocles, developed perennial philosophies which were pantheistic and surprisingly ecological, as they both engaged in theoretical scientific speculations and attempted to reconcile the emerging science with spiritual development and nature mysticism (236).

3 For an explanation of Heidegger’s ideas concerning technology and “unconcealment” as a “way” of determining truth, see “Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology,” in William Lovitt’s The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, Harper Torchbooks, (1954) 1977, 3-35 in which Lovitt makes the following statements: “The question concerning technology is the question concerning the constellation in which revealing and concealing, in which the coming to presence of truth, comes to pass.”  He notes that “because the essence of technology is nothing technological, essential reflection upon technology and decisive confrontation with it must happen in a realm that is, on the one hand, akin to the essence of technology and, on the other, fundamentally different from it.”  Mere technology is “contrivance,” the “manufacture and utilization of equipment, tools, and machines, the manufactured and used things themselves, and the needs and ends that they serve.”

4 In “Upthrust and its Men” in Night Hurdling, Dickey writes of man’s desire for pleasure, excitement, the would-be thrill of sex. He comments on ecology and says that he believes mankind faces major problems and “anxiety-producing” conditions. He says that the most distressing manifestation of all this is the curious kind of passivity that has resulted from it. I refer to a helpless and rather pathetic recourse to physical pleasure, and what I myself regard as the worst of all possible results of such an attitude: the “New Freedom” that guarantees the right of a person to destroy himself and others in the name of pleasure. (178)

5 Michael E. Zimmerman, in Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger’s Concept of Authenticity, makes a distinction that will be used throughout this study. Big ‘B’ (“to be”) “refers to a happening or an event” (xxxii). He points out that ‘to be’ “means for a being to be manifest or revealed. Little ‘b’ being refers to a “being.” Zimmerman explains that “Heidegger wanted to discover both what it means to be, and what it means to be human” (xxxii).   In “The Nature of Language,” it is important to note that Martin Heidegger says that “[t]o undergo an experience with something—be it a thing, a person, or a god—means that this something befalls us, strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms and transforms us” (On The Way to Language 57).

6 Heidegger, too, acknowledged the significance of the human hand and related it to the importance of “letting-be.”  In a letter to John Guest written from Columbia on January 30, 1970, Dickey writes:

[M]y whole purpose in writing Deliverance was to show how a man can have a certain kind of reawakening in middle age, or indeed at any other time. Although this particular reawakening includes a most terrible kind of violence, that is really not the necessary ingredient. The river, the experiences in the woods, and the other things, are also factors in this kind of rebirth [. . .]. (Van Ness, OV2 53)

 It is to be noted that the general and accepted legal definition of wilderness is contained in the Wilderness Act of 1964:

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is [. . .] recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in the Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement of human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which 1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable;  2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and ) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.  (qtd. in Devall and Sessions, Deep Ecology 114-115)

7 A growing interpretive research and work relate to autopoiesis and to Heidegger that addresses what it means to be human in a grounding of language and action.  The work of Fernando M. Ilharco, “Building Bridges in Phenomenology: Matching Heidegger and Autopoiesis in Interpretive Research,” and Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living are worth reading, but in spite of the complementarity of their ideas, it is beyond the scope of this work that focuses primarily on James Dickey and the tenets of deep ecology.

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