Archive for the ‘Ecology’ Category

Avant le deluge…Rising up against that sinking feeling

sinking feeling

A bitter example of how vested interests (William Burroughs named them “the Nova Mob”) pervert reason, choke compassion, and stymie sane responses to global warming played itself out at this year’s Pacific Island Forum. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, refused to endorse the Tuvalu Declaration proposed by the Smaller Island States group, “which acknowledges a climate change crisis, encourages countries to revise the emissions reductions targets and calls for a rapid phase out of coal use.”

“I am accountable to the Australian people, that’s who I’m accountable for,” Mr Morrison said.

Tuilaepa-Sailele

Tuilaepa Sailelethe

Not a year ago, Tuilaepa Sailelethe prime minister of Samoa, delivered a speech in Sydney, Australia, 30 August 2018, wherein he said that “Any leader … who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.”

By serendipity (if not synchronicity), the year the world was supposed to end (2012), I composed a chance, fourteen-line poem in harmony with Sailelethe’s sentiments. I’m not sure it’s much of a poem per se, unless a linguistic expression that fuses topical pertinence, heart, and complex irony is enough.

 

“BE IT RESOLVED…”

 

BE IT RESOLVED that

whereas public officials

who deny the reality

 

of Anthropogenic Climate Change

and hinder efforts to mitigate

its destructive effects present

 

a clear and present danger

to themselves and others,

said public officials should be

 

removed from office forthwith

and placed under a physician’s care

until such time as their suicidal

 

and/or homicidal and/or ecocidal

tendencies cease to present.

 

Doom porn: What would Martin Luther do?

Again, as happens, acquaintances I believe should know better, being educated, intelligent, and reflective, let the doomporn clickbait get the better of their sincere, best intentions and share distressing articles, such as this one about a report by two (2) Australians this spring positing that there is a “‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Starting in 2050”.

Nearly, already, three decades back, a similar despair, coupled with Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” I had by heart and the offhand remark by a friend visiting the lush, extinct volcano near his birthplace, inspired a poem in answer (the second of seven Budapest Suites in Grand Gnostic Central).

 

Budapest Suites II

for Laszlo Gefin

 

“There is a god here!”

In wild strawberry entangling thistle,

In maple saplings, a shroud on loam,

In chestnut and cherry blossoms over tree-line,

In goldenrod and grass, every green stalk, bowed with seed.

 

And there is a god who

Quarries slate for imperial highways,

Mines iron-ore out of greed,

Who would have Mount Ság again

Ash and rock.

 

And there is a god

In the seared, scarred, spent, still,

For lichen, poppies and song

Here rise from the bared

And broken rock to the air!

 

Just last year, some widely-publicized remarks by Mayer Hillman (“We’re doomed!”) inspired a number of responses, an early version of one I posted here the last time a friend disseminated some other bleak pessimism…

I’m hardly a Bjorn Lomborg playing down the gravity of the situation and the urgent, concerted, radical action it calls for, including the need for no less focussed, lively and creative reflection and critique to articulate a post-anthropocentric, if not post-humanist, biocentric ecosophy. But nor am I a latter-day Jeremiah confusing his insight into the woes and flaws of the present with visions of imminent, righteous catastrophe. (It’s high time I address at greater length this newly-arisen apocalyptic tone in cultural criticism…).

To wit, and not for the last time, I’m sure, I share here two unpublished (…because editors [eye-roll emoji][facepalm emoji]…) sections of the sequence “Made in Germany”, composed in 2012.

 

Waiting on a train to what was

the East, the summer of the year

the New Age believed the World

would end, wildfires smoke

from Colorado to Croatia,

 

floodwaters deeper than memory

drown southern Russia and Thailand,

tornadoes plough the Midwest,

hurricanes blow past records

on the Eastern Seaboard.

 

 

http:// arctic-news.blogspot.de/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html?spref=fb (21.07.2012)

 

Asked what he would do were the world to end

next day, Luther replied, “Plant an apple tree.”

 

102217-19-Philosophy-Knowledge-Epistemology

 

 

 

 

 

“We’re doomed.”

….or, as the refrain of another “Dark Mountain” climate change jeremiad would put it, “It’s worse than that.”

It is, surely, rationally difficult not to deny the gravity of global warming and environmental degradation in general and not to fall prey to anxiety or even despair. It is not irrational, however, to maintain an open, critical mind and culture hope.

For instance, even fairly responsible media sources distort the findings of ecological researchers. For example, two recent studies of declines in insect biomass inspired copy such as “insect apocalypse,” “global ecosystem collapse,” “loss of all insects within 100 years,” and “collapse of entire food webs.” However,  learned reflection reveals the matter is less dramatic, far more complex, though hardly without concern. The same can be said for headlines about how humans have wiped out 60% of all animals on Earth in the last 30 to 40 years.

Much more could be said in this vein, but not quite eight months back, similar, dire and final pronouncements from Mayer Hillman prompted a number of poetic responses, of which the tersest and most direct was this:

 

Replies to Mayer Hillman

 

“We’re doomed.”

 

Your therapist would guide you

gently to see you’re fortune telling.

 

The dialectician would unfold the thought

that determination does not

 

foreclose unforeseen developments

being the condition of its own negation.

 

A happy chance slip of memory recalls

“What is real now was only once imagined”.

 

relax-nothing-is-in-control-quote-1

 

“Does [writing] need to be an act composed by a human entity?”

Gary Barwin quotes this question from a rawlings’ recent online work Gibber to open his recent post at Jacket2 on her complex, proliferatively ludic project that examines language and landscape with an ecopoetical eye. As rawlings puts it “Gibber hinges on exploring notions that humans read their environments and/or that humans are in conversation with landscapes and the inhabiting non-human species.”

Gibber, then, participates in an important eco-poetical, -logical, or -sophical task, attempting to transcend “the urge to identify, name, possess” by culturing an eye and ear for the “ecosystem (or any ecosystem components) as a text, or…as a writer of its own text[,]… as a collaborator”. Hence, the question Barwin via rawlings raises.

The project to dethrone Homo Sapiens as the sole linguistic animal is shared widely across the ecopoetical spectrum. Robert Bringhurst, a poet whose work couldn’t be more unlike rawlings’, dilates language in two ways. In The Solid Form of Languageconsistent with archaic wisdom and contemporary zoosemiotics, he first reminds us of those other, nonhuman languages, “the calls of leopard frogs and whales, the rituals of mating sandhill cranes” (11). Then, in A Story as Sharp as a Knife, he expands the linguistic beyond the communicative circuit, writing

We read the tracks and scat of animals, the depth and lustre of their coats, the set of their ears and the gait of their limbs. We read the horns of sheep, the teeth of horses. We read the weights and measures of the wind, the flight of birds, the surface of the sea, snow, fossils, broken rocks, the growth of shrubs and trees and lichens…We read the speech of jays, ravens, hawks, frogs, wolves, and in infinite detail, the voices, faces, gestures, coughs and postures of other human beings.  (14)

To which we might add (as Bringhurst does) that language includes even “the chemical messages coming and going day and night within the brain” and all that is “chemically written into our genes.”

Unsurprisingly, rawlings and Bringhurst are hardly the first to be inspired by the compelling charm of this vision of universal semiosis. Hölderlin famously writes “Ein Zeichen sind wir” (we are a sign) in harmony with Novalis’ thoughts on the hieroglyphs of The Book of Nature, a metaphor that itself originates in the Latin Middle Ages. What, then, could be more ecologically sane and poetically sweet (“poethical” as rawlings puts it) than to savour this fruit plucked from the semiotic tree that opens our ears and eyes to not only the languages of nonhuman Others but to what perception itself spells out?

However imaginatively appealing this Book of Nature, the inflation of the linguistic that underwrites it also conflates certain conceptual distinctions whose erasure is fateful. Among others, what is lost is the genus-species distinction between understanding in general and understanding language. Whenever I perceive something as something, I understand, I interpret, as would happen whenever I “read” an ecosystem or “the tracks and scats of animals”. However, specifically linguistic understanding necessarily involves an address, a conversation.

What happens when I take a non-linguistic (albeit interpretable) phenomenon as a linguistic address? I must posit a speaker, an interlocutor. In the world order that originally imagined the Book of Nature, that speaker or writer is God. But who, in the absence of God, writes what is “chemically written into our genes” for instance? The metaphor of the genetic code was criticized at the moment of its inception precisely on these grounds, that it was an inappropriate application of linguistic or information theoretical concepts . Lily E. Kay sums up these criticisms nicely in her Who Wrote the Book of Life?

Information theorists, cryptologists, linguists, and life scientists criticized the difficulties (some would say inappropriateness) of these borrowings in molecular biology, arguing that the genome’s information content cannot be assessed since the key parameters (e.g., signal, noise, message channel) cannot be properly quantified. DNA is not a natural language:  it lacks phonemic features, semantics, punctuation marks, and intersymbol restrictions. So unlike any language, “letter” frequency analyses of amino acids yield only random statistical distributions. Furthermore, no natural language consists solely of three-letter words. Finally, if it were purely a formal language, then it would possess syntax only but no semantics. Thus the informational representations of the genome do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny. (2)

However much “reading” natural phenomena does “not stand up to rigorous scrutiny,” it enables a grasp of what is read that empowers the reader, as present-day genetic technology undeniably demonstrates. Attributing a message or intentionality to non-linguistic, spontaneous things is an extension of the Platonic metaphysics that conceived of all things as if they were products made according to a plan or Form. This productionist metaphysics is the first chapter of the story that leads to our present technological society. The presupposition that Nature possesses a plan, whether written out in hieroglyphs or mathematics, enables us to articulate that plan and thereby order Nature to our own ends. The disastrous consequences of this instrumentalization of Nature are too-well known.

Thus the understandable desire to transcend the Adamic monologue that imperiously names natural things, to imagine instead what it would mean to hear, understand, and converse with Nature, gets caught up in a dialectic that reveals the character such well-intentioned listening shares with the worst excesses of scientific-technological interrogation.

Does writing, what is read, demand a human writer? Who’s asking?

Philosophy in real time

I’ve chanced on a very lively, new philosophical movement lately, Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO), one of whose members, Timothy Morton, Professor of English (Literature and the Environment) at the University of California, Davis, is presently tracking the writing of his new book, live:  here is the first of four posts, already.