The Mt. Shasta Collection is a vast field of fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry, and high-brow and low-brow writings about the mountain. Any visitor to the Collection will be amazed by how often the power and beauty of Mt. Shasta has been rhymed in poem, used as a setting in novels, and featured in countless travel writings by the famous and infamous. The careful reader will also soon discover that some of the texts are difficult to place in a simple genre, for the authors have created literary platypuses by mixing poetic license with historical narrative or by ignoring the boundaries of conventional writing style. Other writings, mixed with the personality and personal agendas of the writers, create a literary style that can seem at odds with its content, appear archaic, or read as stilted in structure. Unfortunately, many readers will not venture into such texts long enough to reap any but the most meager of harvests. The Mt. Shasta Collection, rich in 19th century travel writing and 20th century occult texts, is truely a hodgepodge of prose and poetry that often must be chewed slowly before swallowing--both intellectually and epistomologically speaking.
How best to approach such literature
As you read, or perhaps sometimes struggle through, some of the full-text selections we offer, understand that by studying the common themes weaving through the Mt.Shasta Collection a reader might well be able to briefly peer beyond our thick cultural fabric to some intriguing human universals. The threads that connect even the most divergent literature in the Collection are made from the most basic elements of the human condition--problems common to humanity, repeating social patterns, and the general pains and pleasures of the human condition. Of course, reaping such an intellectual bounty requires the reader be tolerant of writing styles where the author is awkwardly intrusive, abusively polemic, and assiduously assumes the reader is familiar with the most obtuse mythical or biblical allusion.
From Joaquin Miller to Muir to Silvius
If, as Picasso says, art really is the "lie that lets us see the truth," then perhaps the lack of historical veracity in some of Joaquin Miller's work is mitigated by the human truths better expressed via his exaggeration and imagination? If, when reading Muir we are distracted by what seems to be wordy and overly metaphorical prose, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether the problem really rests in our fast-paced lifestyle that prefers a book of quotes over a book of substance. While fast-food aphorisms are "meaty" and deserving of a place of honor in our literature, a wisdom based on proverbs is rarely capable of sustaining an extended argument.
As for how best to approach the esoteric and occult writers such as Selvius or Oliver, I believe the reader has two viable choices. For readers capable of suspending disbelief, the writer's mysterious work can simply be viewed as a truthfull account of a most amazing reality. For readers unable to suspend belief, and I include myself in this group, the best approach is to view your interation with the text as sort of a one-person pot-luck (where most of what you consume will likely have been brought by you). In other words, rather than simply dismissing the text as the work of a deranged writer, we might do better by examining our own responses to the esoteric work. We can use the text as a mirror to reflect on our own beliefs and biases. Even in the worst possible light, the psychological implications of such a text become a viable avenue for exploration. Freud envisioned art as a type of therapy, a socially acceptable way to deal with psychological problems. It is certainly not an uncommon belief that the momentary brilliance of the crazed artistic mind often sheds light into the darkest corners of human existence as it burns itself out. While Selvius and Oliver are not Kafka or Poe, the "real" worlds they lived in are richly symbolic, often beautifully chaotic, and darkly msysterious--much like the world the rest of us only visit in our dreams?
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