This morning I finished (or have I just started?) reading Australian novelist Gerald Murnane’s The Plains.

The book opens with these paragraphs:


The unnamed filmmaker who is the novel’s narrator has in mind a film of the plains that will get at some elaborate meaning behind appearances. The flat land around him seems like a place that only he could interpret.

Over the years he finds his way into a vast library of works about the plains and writes elaborate notes while, for the most part, ignoring the actual plains. He makes no film.

My mind turned repeatedly to the clouds I photograph, to the vast skies over Utah Valley, and I thought of the brilliant sunsets and sunrises that anyone can interpret, scenes whose meaning is brute brilliance. And then I thought of scenes like this morning’s, subtle and largely undistinguished clouds with, surely, elaborate meaning behind their appearances, clouds that only I can interpret.


And then came a wry smile.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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4 Responses to skyplains

  1. roughghosts says:

    This is a wonderful novel, with a special resonance for those of us who live in wide open spaces. I’ve just finished his latest (last?) novel Border Districts and hope to try to formulate a response soon.


  2. Alex caldiero says:

    About five hours ago while looking for things i ran into murnane an author totally unknown to me and i ordered a book of his short stories after reading a sample of his writing and now five hours later checking in at your blog there you are talking of murnane and i wonder how wonderfull it is and it is not by chance this or anything is in this continuum of living language. Ha!!!


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