It seems that my first book, Claiming Sacred Ground, which came out ten years ago, is circulating for free online as a PDF. (I just downloaded it myself to see if it’s the real thing; it is. Do a PDF search for it if you want it.)

I don’t mind people downloading it — it’s a good way to look at it before deciding if you want to spend money for a hard copy. The hardcover is pricy — or was when it came out. But it’s also attractive and nice to hold in one’s hands, and you can now find it cheap. (Ask me if you want one for under ten bucks.)

But in a time of declining support for public libraries and disappearing independent bookstores, why not make books available to be browsed and even read for free? I don’t depend on it for royalties, in any case — I have a day job — though I wouldn’t want to speak  for authors who do make a living from their writing. But I admire those (stars like Radiohead who are going experimentally against the grain, but also mere mortals like Levi Bryant) who are pushing book publishers or music distributors to adopt a more open-access attitude.

For those who know this blog and are curious about how it connects to a book that was written over a decade ago, here are a few retrospective thoughts on the book.


Claiming Sacred Ground: 10 years later

(1) I still feel very good about the book. It took a lot of work: nearly four solid years, once the topic was carved out, until its defense as a doctoral dissertation, and then another three years (part-time) of editing, updating, and making it more reader-friendly. I hope it shows. (I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to books, which is why they take me long to write.)

(2) Theoretically and philosophically, it presents an embryonic version of the process-relational framework I’ve been developing in recent years. I called it simply “postconstructivist” at the time, and I’ll admit that the theory is weaker than I’d now like it to be. (There was more in the dissertation than made it into the book, but that too had its inconsistencies and incomplete thoughts.) But the transdisciplinary mix of methods I brought to the case studies — hermeneutic phenomenology, social and environmental history, ethnography, poststructuralist discourse analysis, and a funky mix of actor-networkism, Gibsonian-Ingoldian eco-perceptualism, and Deleuze/Guattari — was exactly the kind of complex recipe the material called for. And I believe the results hold up well.

(3) There’s a lot of writing — by human geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, and others — on social contestation over culturally significant landscapes, and on the role of religion and identity in such conflicts. (There isn’t as much out there, to my knowledge, on popular understandings of science in such conflicts, which was a minor but significant part of my picture.) There’s also a lot of writing — by environmental historians and ecocritics — on the ways in which culture and ecology conspire to create places. But there still isn’t that much that brings these two things together: what humans do to render certain places wild (or uncontrollably meaningful), and what wildness itself (of the nonhuman kind) does to render humans wild. I tried to bring those together, and that still seems a fairly rare endeavor.

(4) If you have any interest in traveling to either of the places I write about — Glastonbury, England, or Sedona, Arizona — I honestly think you’d gain more from reading the two chapters I devoted to each of them than in reading any other selection of 80 or so pages about either place that you’d find in any library on Earth. I digested mountains of material about these places, got to know them fairly intimately (in the time I had for that), and then tried to make them seem enjoyable, providing as rich a rendering of them — culturally, politically, ecologically — as I could.

While my publisher made no effort to promote the book in those two places, the local reviews I’ve seen or heard have been positive. Had I taken some time to travel to each place right after the book was published — time that I, unfortunately, didn’t have then (having just started a new tenure-track job) — the books would have done more work locally, I am sure. But I don’t think their main arguments have dated, despite the details that have changed on the surface.

(5) But really the two places are stand-ins for, and microcosmic magnifications of, a struggle emerging planet-wide: between, on the one hand, instrumentalism-resourcism and, on the other, an openness to what Earthly materiality is, does, and says, if we listen to it. (Or, as the epigraph by Donna Haraway has it, if we “revision[...] the world as coding trickster with whom we must learn to converse.”)

Conversing with the Earth is something that is all too easy to render silly (as in the kinds of New Age platitudes one often hears at such places). I tried to make it smart. Whether that worked or not is something I’d love to hear from you.

So go ahead and download it if you like (I found it on a Samoan site, suffix “.ws”). Then, if you like it, let me know (makes me feel good). And if you decide to buy a copy and can’t find it cheap, let me know.

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