Peter Matthiessen (22 May 1927 – 5 April 2014) was an American novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer and CIA agent. A co-founder of the literary magazine The Paris Review, he was the only writer to have won the National Book Award in both fiction and nonfiction.
The Snow Leopard (1978)
- The progress of the sciences toward theories of fundamental unity, cosmic symmetry (as in the unified field theory) — how do such theories differ, in the end, from that unity which Plato called “unspeakable” and “indiscribable,” the holistic knowledge shared by so many peoples of the earth, Christians included, before the advent of the industrial revolution made new barbarians of the peoples of the West? In the United States, before spiritualist foolishness at the end of the last century confused mysticism with “the occult” and tarnished both, William James wrote a master work of metaphysics; Emerson spoke of “the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal One . . .”; Melville referred to “that profound silence, that only voice of God”; Walt Whitman celebrated the most ancient secret, that no God could be found “more divine than yourself.” And then, almost everywhere, a clear and subtle illumination that lent magnificence to life and peace to death was overwhelmed in the hard glare of technology. Yet that light is always present, like the stars of noon. Man must perceive it if he is to transcend his fear of meaningless, for no amount of “progress” can take its place. We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.
- The ancient intuition that all matter, all “reality,” is energy, that all phenomena, including time and space, are mere crystallizations of mind, is an idea with which few physicists have quarreled since the theory of relativity first called into question the separate identities of energy and matter. Today most scientists would agree with the ancient Hindus that nothing exists or is destroyed, things merely change shape or form; that matter is insubstantial in origin, a temporary aggregate of the pervasive energy that animates the electron. … The cosmic radiation that is thought to come from the explosion of creation strikes the earth with equal intensity from all directions, which suggests either that the earth is at the center of the universe, as in our innocence we once supposed, or that the known universe has no center. Such an idea holds no terror for mystics; in the mystical vision, the universe, its center, and its origins are simultaneous, all around us, all within us, and all One.
- In another life — this isn’t what I know, but how I feel — these mountains were my home; there is a rising of forgotten knowledge, like a spring from hidden aquifers under the earth. To glimpse one’s own true nature is a kind of homegoing, to a place East of the Sun, West of the Moon — the homegoing that needs no home, like that waterfall on the upper Suli Gad that turns to mist before touching the earth and rises once again into the sky.
Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969-1982 (1986)
- When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions — such as merit, such as past, present, and future — our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment. We identify, label, and interpret our surroundings as abstract concepts, quite separate from another concept, which is our own separate identity and ego.
- "Peter Matthiesse, The Art of Fiction No. 157" interview by Howard Norman, in The Paris Review (Spring 1999)
- Peter Matthiessen interviewed on Conversations from Penn State
- "Are 3 Novels, Revised as One, a New Book?" by Charles McGrath, in The New York Times (11 November 2008)
- Time Passes (2011), a film portrait of Peter Matthiessen by Pat van Boeckel broadcast in the Netherlands by the Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation (Part 2 and 3 can be viewed at the same website)
- Works by or about Peter Matthiessen in libraries (WorldCat catalog)