Reported Discovery Channel environmental rampage-r James Jay Lee listed as a favorite book on his MySpace page and quoted extensively on his demands note from Daniel Quinn’s 1992 philosophical novel Ishmael. If you went to college in America over the last 18 years, you’ve likely met someone reading this book, which is about a telepathic gorilla who wants to do right by the world (no, really). And as we all know, pop culture tends to be the first scapegoat in these kinds of news issues (see: Marilyn Manson and the Columbine shootings, even though the Columbine shooters weren’t exactly fans of Manson’s music).
The thing is, Ishmael actually ends on a note of non-violence! SPOILER ALERT:
Ishmael finishes with a summary of what his student can do if he earnestly desires to save the world:
“The story of Genesis must be undone. First, Cain must stop murdering Abel. This is essential if you’re to survive. The Leavers are the endangered species most critical to the world – not because they’re humans but because they alone can show the destroyers of the world that there is more than one right way to live.
Lee must have missed that part. So what will happen to interest in Ishmael? Will its peaceful message of environmentalism be used by political pundits as Anti-Humanist? Will its legacy be marred forever as a book only read by people prone to freak out in violent and disturbing ways?
One thing’s for sure: we’re gonna find out. Here’s the Google Trends search index in America for “Ishmael” today:
And the top review on Amazon.com’s subject? “Read Ishmael Carefully.” Books. They’re powerful. Especially if read incorrectly. Which can happen to anyone, anywhere. And a lot of people have been touched in a positive way by this particular book. Hopefully, this will only fuel discussions of how to get it correct, and not stigmatize literature, or the more positive parts of its messages. But, again: hopefully.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 1, 2010