Title Reviewed:
Where We Live: Essays about Indiana

Author Reviewed:
David Hoppe

J. Kent Calder


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 87, Issue 1, pp 79-80

Article Type:
Book Review

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Book Reviews

Where We Live: Essays about Indiana. Edited by David Hoppe. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Pp. x, 114. Clothbound, $22.50; paperbound, $7.95.)

"Indiana is changing," begins editor David Hoppe in the introduction to this thoughtful collection of essays, a statement as flat and simple and yet as deceptively complex as the physical and psychological subject matter it represents. In a world where revolutions happen on a weekly basis and attention spans are measured in seconds, the rate of change in Indiana, a state distinguished within its region for stubborn resistance to trends and fads, might appear comparatively insignificant. It might even be invisible, at least to those who do not look closely.

A number of Indiana writers and scholars are looking closely, however, beyond myths and stereotypes, in an effort to perceive how the homogenizing forces of mass culture have affected the place they call home. Twelve of them are represented in this volume, and their insights deserve attention from all those concerned with Indiana's future.

Scott Russell Sanders establishes a number of the anthology's pervasive themes in his opening essay, "Landscape and Imagination." Returning to Indiana from a year's absence, he experiences a "freshening of awareness" (p. 1) that allows him access to the meaning that lies beyond the surface of appearances, a meaning available to him because the landscape is infused with his past. His sharpened senses lead him to ruminate that this kind of intimate knowledge of a particular place is becoming increasingly rare in a culture that continually bombards its members with "uprooted images." "It is never a simple matter," he says, "actually to see what is before your eyes" (p. 3). Indiana's "unspectacular landscape" presents special obstacles to perception and knowledge, requiring "an uncommon degree of attentiveness and insight" (p. 7), attributes that Indiana's pioneering settlers did not possess in abundance. Their utilitarian attitude toward the land blinded them to the "sacred connection between a people and a landscape" (p. 7) that Native Americans exemplified, and the pioneer legacy manifests itself today in efforts to push the landscape "toward the industrial ideal of profitable uniformity" (p. 5). Responsible living, concludes Sanders, requires that Hoosiers renew their vision of the land and reestablish their spiritual connection to place in order to prevent further neglect and destruction.

The eleven essays that follow, by Michael Wilkerson, George Schricker, Jr., Mari Evans, Teresa Ghilarducci, Michael Martone, Kay Franklin, William O'Rourke, Michael Schelle, Hal Higdon, James Alexander Thorn, and James H. Madison, develop variations on these themes: the problems of perception, the need to reexamine inherited traditions, the role of the creative individual, the subtle and mysterious ties that exist between people and place, and the danger inherent in severing those ties. While all of the essays are memorable and deserve comment, Schricker's urgent call for atonement for the treatment of Native Americans, Evans's description of the destructive ethos that exists for blacks amidst the apparent prosperity and progress of modern Indianapolis, Martone's haunting depiction of life among the ruins in downtown Fort Wayne, Franklin's portrayal of the dominating influence and brooding presence of Lake Michigan, and Thorn's discovery of strength and purpose in his return to the hill country of Owen County stand out.

Although, as historian Madison asserts in the concluding essay, Indiana has managed to avoid abrupt departures and violent upheaval by its reliance on time-honored traditions, too much reliance on unexamined tradition presents its own dangers. One is reminded of the frog mentioned in Schricker's essay, who, put in a pot over a low fire, does not detect the gradual rise in water temperature until it is cooked. This small volume represents an important step on the part of Indiana's intellectual community in the direction of avoiding such slow disasters.

J. KENT CALDER is the managing editor of the Indiana Historical Society's magazine, Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. His article on the origins of the Lilly House mural appeared in the summer, 1990, issue.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.