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John Steinbeck Boat-Shaped Mind | Lapham’s Quarterly

Stashed in: I should buy a boat.

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John Steinbeck:

How deep this thing must be, the giver and the receiver again; the boat designed through millennia of trial and error by the human consciousness, the boat which has no counterpart in nature unless it be a dry leaf fallen by accident in a stream. And Man receiving back from Boat a warping of his psyche so that the sight of a boat riding in the water clenches a fist of emotion in his chest. A horse, a beautiful dog, arouses sometimes a quick emotion, but of inanimate things only a boat can do it. And a boat, above all other inanimate things, is personified in man’s mind. When we have been steering, the boat has seemed sometimes nervous and irritable, swinging off course before the correction could be made, slapping her nose into the quartering wave. After a storm she has seemed tired and sluggish. Then with the colored streamers set high and snapping, she is very happy, her nose held high and her stern bouncing a little like the buttocks of a proud and confident girl. Some have said they have felt a boat shudder before she struck a rock, or cry when she beached and the surf poured into her. This is not mysticism, but identification; man, building this greatest and most personal of all tools, has in turn received a boat-shaped mind, and the boat, a man-shaped soul. His spirit and the tendrils of his feeling are so deep in a boat that the identification is complete. It is very easy to see why the Viking wished his body to sail away in an unmanned ship, for neither could exist without the other; or, failing that, how it was necessary that the things he loved most, his women and his ship, lie with him and thus keep closed the circle. In the great fire on the shore, all three started at least in the same direction, and in the gathered ashes who could say where man or woman stopped and ship began?

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