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LOCAL>> Kim Haines-Eitzen – Sonorous Desert
History professor discusses her new book with environmental professor and author
Kim Haines-Eitzen joins us for a conversation about her new book, Sonorous Desert: What Deep Listening Taught the Early Christian Monks–And What it Can Teach Us (Princeton University Press). David Haskell, author most recently of Sounds Wild and Broken, will serve as interlocutor.
“In an increasingly noisy world, deeply listening to the land is an essential wisdom. This book traces the nuances of silence and sonority in places where the echoes of the past are embedded in the living present. Haines-Eitzen shows readers what it might mean to ‘listen with the ear of the heart.’”—Gavin Van Horn, author of The Way of Coyote and co-editor of Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations
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Enduring lessons from the desert soundscapes that shaped the Christian monastic tradition
For the hermits and communal monks of antiquity, the desert was a place to flee the cacophony of ordinary life in order to hear and contemplate the voice of God.
But these monks discovered something surprising in their harsh desert surroundings: far from empty and silent, the desert is richly reverberant.
Sonorous Desert shares the stories and sayings of these ancient spiritual seekers, tracing how the ambient sounds of wind, thunder, water, and animals shaped the emergence and development of early Christian monasticism.
Kim Haines-Eitzen draws on ancient monastic texts from Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine to explore how noise offered desert monks an opportunity to cultivate inner quietude, and shows how the desert quests of ancient monastics offer profound lessons for us about what it means to search for silence.
Drawing on her own experiences making field recordings in the deserts of North America and Israel, she reveals how mountains, canyons, caves, rocky escarpments, and lush oases are deeply resonant places. Haines-Eitzen discusses how the desert is a place of paradoxes, both silent and noisy, pulling us toward contemplative isolation yet giving rise to vibrant collectives of fellow seekers.
Accompanied by Haines-Eitzen’s evocative audio recordings of desert environments, Sonorous Desert reveals how desert sounds taught ancient monks about solitude, silence, and the life of community, and how they can help us understand ourselves if we slow down and listen.
Kim Haines-Eitzen is the Hendrix Memorial Professor of Early Christianity and Early Judaism at Cornell University. She is the author of The Gendered Palimpsest and Guardians of Letters. She appeared in National Geographic’s The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. She divides her time between Ithaca, New York, and the remote desert mountains of southeastern Arizona.
David Haskell’s work integrates scientific, literary, and contemplative studies of the natural world. He is a professor of biology and environmental studies at the University of the South and a Guggenheim Fellow. His 2017 book The Songs of Trees won the John Burroughs Medal for Outstanding Nature Writing. His 2012 book The Forest Unseen was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and won the 2013 Best Book Award from the National Academies, the National Outdoor Book Award, and the Reed Environmental Writing Award.