Thursday, May 6, 2010

Quote of the Week

This week's quote is more like a whole passage. Ok, well, it is a whole passage. We had our final for our Readings class today, where everyone shared the book they had been reading on their own. I read For the Time Being, by Anne Dillard. This book is a wonderful blend of geology and theology, so it was perfect for me, but not so much for anyone else I know. But I do want to post this passage from the book, which I shared with my Readings class and would like to share with you.

"Chert, flint, agate, and glassy rock can flake to a cutting edge only a few atoms thick. Prehistoric people made long oval knives of this surpassing sharpness, and made them wittingly too fragile to use. Some people-Homo sapiens-lived in a subfreezing open air camp in central France about eighteen thousand years ago. We call their ambitious culture Solutrean; it lasted only about three thousand years. They invented the bow and arrow, the spear thrower, and the needle- which made clothes such a welcome improvement over draped pelts. . .

Solutrean artisans knapped astonishing yellow blades in the shape of long, narrow, pointed leaves. The longest Solutrean blade is fourteen inches long, four inches at it's beam, and only one quarter inch thick. Most of these blades are the size and thickness of a fillet of sole. Their intricate technique is overshot flaking; it is, according to Douglas Preston, "primarily and intellectual process." A modern surgeon at Michigan Medical School used such a blade to open a patent's abdomen; it was smoother, he said than his best steel scalpels. Another scientist estimated a Solutrean chert blade was one hundred times sharper than a steel scalpel. Its edge split few cells, and left scant scar. Recently, according to the ever fine writer John Pfeiffer, an Arizona rancher skinned a bear with an obsidian knife in two hours instead of the usual three and a half; he said he never needed to press down.

Hold one of these chert knives to the sky. It passes light. It shines dull, waxy gold- brown in the center, and yellow towards the edge as it clears. At each concoidal fractured edge all the way around the double-ogive form, at each cove in the continental stone, the blade thins from translucency to transparency. You see your skin, and the sky. At its very edge the blade dissolves into the universe at large. It ends imperceptibly at an atom.

Each of these delicate, absurd objects takes hundreds of separate blows to fashion. At each stroke and at each pressure flake, the brittle chert might-and by the record, very often did- snap. The maker knew he was likely to lose many hours' breath holding work at a tap. The maker worked in extreme cold. He knew no one would ever use these virtuoso blades. He protected them, and his descendants saved them intact for their prefection. To any human on earth, the sight of one of them means: someone thought of making, and made this difficult, impossible, beautiful thing."

~Anne Dillard

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