The Philosophy of "Breaking Through"
Edward F. Ricketts

July, 1940
Unpublished Essay

Edward Ricketts in 1938 at the Carmel Pine Woods

Edited and Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' J. van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
P.O. Box 192
Malibu, CA 90265
September, 2002; Revised December 2002

A personal interpretation of some modern tendencies, approached from an inductive standpoint.

Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them.
Whitman: Out of the cradle endlessly rocking.

This is the stone which was set at nought of you
builders, which is become the head of the corner

Acts of the Apostles, 4:11


I remember it first when we were living in a squalid district in Chicago. One winter night, the combined home and saloon of some Bohemian neighbors caught fire and and burned to the ground quickly before much could be saved. I guess we knew them only slightly. Father bought beer there every night (this was referred to as "composition" in our presence; I used to notice how remarkably it smelt like beer), but they traded almost not at all at our grocery. On the whole . . . .

Anyway, on this occasion, something happened. The fire flared up suddenly. Suddenly we were all out in the street, watching our first close fire. but not only as observers. The Huska kids were probably crying, scared, not understanding their so-well-known father now strangely numbed at seeing his frugally-built security vanishing. All at once I, of our remote family probably the most remote and cold, found myself suggesting, intensely meaning it, that Father should make sure Stefan Huska and his family had a place to stay. I, of all people, was asking him to bring these dirty (presumably; foreign anyway) bow-legged children, stocky, sturdy, in all ways the opposite of delicate-us, to our house. More surprisingly, I seemed to express a notion we all felt, flowing through us with a supra-personal beauty for which we were only vehicles. We must give, something, anything. And what we had to give, the sanctuary and former superiority of our home, seemed suddenly not enough. Nothing could be enough; there wasn't such a thing as enough. There could be no expression adequate to that glowing feeling of kinship with all things and all people. For the first time, and in the glow of that supposedly destructive fire, we children had become more than ourselves. For those few minutes, we were really living, we were "beyond," things had a new meaning, so that the former values must have seemed dwarfed and strange if we had stopped to think of them.

There were many lesser things of that sort. Years later, in the woods at Pacific Grove, . . . .

It's all part of one pattern, the burned saloon, the broken . . .
In "Natural Music," Jeffers says:

"So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without
Divisons of desire or terror
To the storms of the sick nations, the rage of the
hunger-smitten cities,
These voices also would be found
Clean as child's: . . ."

No doubt some few wise people know this merely through living. But many of us can achieve at least a clearer and more easily conveyed conscious expression of it throught the spiritual motifs underlying literature, especially in poetry. In determining . . .

But in some of Jeffer's poems, the thing is stated clearly, with full conscious recognition, and with that exact economy of words which we associate with scientific statements:

"Humanity is the mold to break away from, the crust to break through, the coal to break into fire, . . .
The atom to be split, . . .
Tragedy that breaks a man's face and a white
fire flies out of it; vision that fools him
Out of his limits, desire that fools him out of his limits,
. . . . . . .
(from "Roan Stallion")

and again:

". . . discovery's
The way to walk in. Only remains to invent a language to tell it.
Match ends of burnt experience.
Human enough to be understood, . . .
. . . feed on peace
While the crust holds:to each of you at lenght a little
Desolation; a pinch of lust or a drop of terror:
Then the lions hunt in the brains of the dying: storm is good, storm is good
good creature,
Kind violence, throbbing throat aches with pity."
(Prelude to "The Woman at Point Sur")

No one before, to my knowledge, at least no Westerner other than some such mystic as Blake, ever annnounced that particular them so boldly, or entered into the use of that motif with such full consciousness. With reference to this trait, . . .

I have been reviewing this situation also with reference to world movements in labor and in the class struggle, in economics, in science, as well as in personality problems - subjects as charged now with life as a religion used to be. Consider, for instance, . . .



In speaking of acquaintances, my wife and I once evolved a classification . . .

I am recalling how interestingly all this is tided up with the religious ideas of the trinity, . . .

- The crust broken through, the mellow man, Krishnamurti's awareness. Neitzsche's superman, Jung's individuation. - None entirely possible on this earth, where perfection exists only symbolically in man's mind, but is often glimpsed hearteningly. As though there were a forced tropism toward a decision which, in terms of religious symbology, either achieves the grace, not of the father, not of the son, but of the holy ghost, or else descends into utter oblivion.

Concluding Remarks and Sources
Robert Roy van de Hoek
I can do no better at this time then to present the following two postscripts. The first postscript is by John Steinbeck and the second one by Joel Hedgpeth. Postcript 1 is by John Steinbeck regarding Ed Ricketts' Philosophy of Breaking Through, which Steinbeck made into his famous essay in 1951, About Ed Ricketts, on page liii of The Log from the Sea of Cortez. The quote of Steinbeck follows:
"He was walled off a little, so that he worked at his philosophy of 'breaking through,' of coming out through the back of the mirror into some kind of reality which would make the day world dream-like. This thought obsessed him. He found the symbols of 'breaking through' in Faust, in Gregorian music, and in the sad, drunken poetry of Li Po. Of the Art of the Fugue, he would say, 'Bach nearly made it. Hear now how close he comes, and hear his anger when he cannot. Everytime I hear it, I believe that this time he will come crashing through into the light. And he never does - not quite.' . . . And of course it was he himself who wanted so desperately to break through into the light."

Now for Postscript 2. Joel Hedgpeth, a famous marine biologist that is still with us today in 2002, and also a friend of the famous marine biologist, Ed Ricketts, wrote a few lines about Ricketts' essay as follows:

"Ed was very serious about his philosophical essays. They were part of the core of his life, and he never quite gave up the hope that someday they would be published as a separate book. He was always asking friends to read them and he thought over their comments carefuly. . . This idea of 'breaking through,' perhaps beyond the bonds of humanity as Robinson Jeffers had said it: 'humanity is . . . the crust to break through,' was one of Hermann Hesse's major themes. Hesse found this essence in Bach - and also in Mozart while Ed did not listen much to Mozarat until his last year or so."

"But 'breaking through is also escape into the past, to go home to times before we learned that our share of the world is not ours forever but must end with time. Perhaps this is a mood of our own times, because we are changing the world so rapidly with the stupidities of material progress and the catastrophes of war and genocide that we have been a part of in this most terrible of centuries. In his later years, as his parents died and he absorbed the implications of being the subject of such a book as Cannery Row, Ed had more thoughts about nostalgia, and began gathering material for an essay on the subject."

Reference source: Hedgpeth, Joel. 1978. Pages 56-58. The Outer Shores. Mad River Press.