A collection is an interesting thing. Traditionally, we can expect to find a collection in some sort of museum setting—a set of archaeological artifacts or art objects that allows the audience to understand another culture. A collection of writing, however, is particularly interesting as it allows a reader to examine an author’s intellectual and aesthetic commitments. In a collection of writing, the reader has more than simply the Objekt to examine or look at; the surrounding context for the author’s intended themes is available to the reader as well. These themes, in turn, become the real collection on display to the reader. In Wonderful Investigations: Essays, Meditations, Tales, author Dan Beachy-Quick amasses quite a cabinet of written curiosities that serve as the basis for his Investigations—a collection that does not seem to argue for a specifically particular point or theme, but, rather, a collection that allows the reader to examine Beachy-Quick’s intellectual and aesthetic commitments to his own treasured authors.
The power of Wonderful Investigations is derived from its commitment to a post-ironic age, if you will. Beachy-Quick’s essays and meditations do not try to tear down or show a cynical and nihilistic world—rather, they strive to celebrate a certain transcendentalness of life by drawing from “the Classics” most broadly defined. In the essays and reflections, the reader encounters interpretations of Keats, Emerson, and Plato and re-imaginings of Greek myths. It’s as if Dead Poets Society suddenly recalled all of its classic pieces of quoted poetry. In sorting through the writings, it becomes rapidly apparent that the collection is really more of a commitment to particular ideals than it is about a specific aesthetic consistency. In its most broad sense, all of the ideas exist together in that, clearly, all of the parts are “liked” by the author—but they are not necessarily strongly or thematically linked, even within the same written piece. Beachy-Quick’s commitment and enthusiasm toward the topics are undeniable, as that enthusiasm permeates the very pages of the book, but the tangled bank of his metaphor-infused writing can begin to feel a bit overgrown and unfocused when the reader has to back up and re-read sections of the tales and essays to make sure the point is not lost along the banks.
Undoubtedly, the strongest element of Beachy-Quick’s Wonderful Investigations comes in the middle of the collection—his meditations. In these meditations, the prose is crisp, fluid, and interesting. All of the meditations begin with a unique claim or observation:
The mind is both a church covered in ivy and the agent of attention that attempts to see through the stone.
Ralph Waldo Emerson considered the mind to be volcanic in nature. The thought, ever since encountering it, appealed greatly, even if it resisted my understanding almost completely.
Let’s begin with a basic claim, not as truth or fact, but as possibility: reading is a form of experience.
In each of these meditations, the reader watches Beachy-Quick play with the borders of ideas—for example, with the border between Nature and Culture—and offer his own reflections about humanity’s place in between. In the preface, he refers to Plato’s definition of a line—“a point that flows”—and, truly, in the book’s meditations, the audience is drawn into his point as Beachy-Quick traces this theme into a flowing line of narration. He then utilizes the rest of the piece to allow the reader to realize the riddle or claim or observation. The writing is descriptive, analytical, and persuasive, but also purposeful and deliberate.
Perhaps my favorite piece in the collection comes from “Meditation II. On Verdant Themes: Toward One Sentence in Proust,” where Beachy-Quick utilizes nothing but analogy, metaphor, and simile as rhetorical means to walk the reader through his point-flowing-line of narration:
The mind is both a church covered in ivy and the agent of attention that attempts to see through the stone. . . . The church steeple points away from the earth on which it’s built, and then the ivy creeps over it, reclaims it, pulls it back toward the earth it seems to refute. The mind thinks itself away from the world, and then the world encroaches. The ivy climbs over its thinking, a nervous system whose root is rooted in the dirt.
It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of lyrical play between Nature, Culture, and the human experience.
In Wonderful Investigations, the reader is treated to a collection of ideas through Beachy-Quick’s mass of meditations and trust of tales. Throughout his prose, Beachy-Quick is clearly drawing from his own favored writers, poets, and thinkers—the intellectual strata or cerebral bedrock for his investigated metaphors and assembled analogies. His strongest writing comes in the loose, fluid style of Plato’s point and line and the exploration of that imagined horizon.