Archive for the ‘ecopoetry’ Tag

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

 

Prophecy in Reverse: a notice of The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy

The Relevance of Romanticism

Anyone who studied Philosophy or Literary Theory at a certain point will be all too familiar with the bitter and apparently insurmountable divisions between Anglo-Saxon and Continental developments in these disciplines, a conflict that extends to the literary world, where, in English-language Canadian poetry, the schools of latter-day Johnsonians and that of the Theory-inflected avant-garde eye each other warily and dismissively, when they bother to regard each other at all. Of late, some attempts at a synthesis have been attempted, under the rubrics “hybrid” or “steampunk” poetics, or the “post-Language” or “Conceptual lyric.” However, all these attempts suffer a lack of depth and conceptual resources prey as they are to the prejudices of their precursors.

Most immediately, a straw man Wordsworth has been the whipping-boy of the grad schooled avant-garde, while our latter-day practitioners of Nobelese owe their complacent modernity ultimately to the struggles of early Modernism to define itself over against its late British Romantic forerunners. Ironically, in both cases, though it seems generally unacknowledged, Romanticism was roundly defended by the Yale School, in both the Deconstructions of Geoffrey Hartman and Paul de Man and the Aesthetic Criticism of Harold Bloom. The former showed English Romantic poetry to be as linguistically self-aware as any L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem, while, for the latter, a Romantic stance became synonymous with poetry-as-such. Nevertheless, the sentiment of trenchant materialist critiques, such as Jerome McGann’s The Romantic Ideology, that Romanticism is firmly a thing of the past, seems the norm. Romantic poetry and poetics, in various guises, however, has given some small signs of resurgence, first, in Rothenberg’s and Robinson’s 2009 assemblage of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry (Poems for the Millennium, Volume III), a welcome dilation and extension of Robert Duncan’s unapologetic if idiosyncratic High Romanticism, and in the exploration and development of kitsch carried out in the criticism and poetry of, for example, Daniel Tiffany.

In any case, past divisions or present attempts at synthesis have carried on ignorant of the groundbreaking research and thinking going in Germany. Patient scholars laboured at producing the first or new critical editions of Hölderlin and Novalis. Meanwhile, Dieter Henrich and his students pursued diligent and painstaking research in an attempt to reconstruct the post-Kantian maelstrom of literary, critical, and philosophical activity centred around Jena and the short-lived journal The Athenaeum. Henrich’s student Manfred Frank built on these studies, exploiting the conceptual and argumentative resources they provided to come to grips in new ways with questions around language and meaning, history, the subject, politics, society, and the environment. In France, Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy brought the heritage of The Athenaeum to bear on contemporary thought in The Literary Absolute, published in France in 1978 and in English translation in 1988. Finally, 1990s England produced analogous work from Richard Eldridge and Andrew Bowie, whose 1997 From Romanticism to Critical Theory:  the Philosophy of German Literary Theory along with Frank’s now out-of-print What is Neostructuralism? (1989) are required reading for anyone eager to think apart from and beyond the staid, false dilemmas of present-day philosophical, literary culture. Not to be outdone, even Slavoj Žižek has contributed to the revival,development and exploitation of Schelling’s philosophical work.

It is within this horizon of preliminary scholarly and critical accomplishment that a strikingly welcome collection appears, The Relevance of Romanticism (ed. Dalia Nassar, Oxford University Press, 2014). The volume collects sixteen essays addressing history, language, sociability, poetry, painting, mythology, mathematics, and the environment within the context of the philosophy of early German Romanticism. Contributors include scholars well-known to anyone familiar with this field—Manfred Frank, Frederick Beiser, Karl Ameriks, Michael N Forster, and Richard Eldridge—as well as eleven others, all of whose work is informative, eye-opening and thought-provoking.

The first two essays by Manfred Frank and Frederick Beiser frame the debate concerning the relative Realism or Idealism of early German (or Jena) Romanticism. Offhand, the debate certainly seems esoteric, but it has its finger on the pulse not only of the most current philosophical concerns, namely those that have inspired the various “new materalisms,” object oriented ontology or speculative realism, but also the controversies about how exactly the human being (or Subject) is to be conceived. As Bruce Mathews remarks in the course of his contribution, this problematic is one whose

consequences are far from academic. As Manfred Frank has repeatedly warned, to surrender our subjectivity and free will to the deterministic vocabulary of the natural sciences will not only undermine the personal accountability that supports moral action, but it will also lead to a “political fatalism” that will destroy the legitimacy of society’s defining institutions. (202)

The next four essays explore, as their section title declares, History, Hermeneutics, and Sociability. Karl Ameriks constructs a typology for philosophies of history—circular, linear, and chaotic—in order to illuminate Friedrich Schlegel’s famous definition of Romantic poetry as “progressive” and “universal.” Michael N Forster condenses his two studies of German philosophy of language (After Herder:  Philosophy of Language in the German Tradition (2010) and German Philosophy of Language:  from Schlegel to Hegel and Beyond (2013)) in a dense but less pointed chapter that, though informative, passes over the equally valuable if more obscure work of Novalis and more importantly fails to make as clear as need be how much de Saussure, structuralist linguistics, semiotics, and post-structuralist philosophy stem from and twist the more thorough-going and coherent contributions of Herder, Friedrich Schlegel, Schleiermacher, and von Humboldt (a point well-made in detail by Frank in his What is Neostructuralism? and Boris Gasparov’s Beyond Pure Reason (2013)). The pair of essays by Kristin Gjesdal and Jane Kneller address an aspect of Jena Romanticism not widely enough surveyed (to my limited knowledge), namely the social dimension and pertinence of the movement. The Jena circle was infamously cosmopolitan and egalitarian, not only in terms of class and religion but of gender, too, values absolutely essential to the Berlin salon society within which its members moved and to Schleiermacher’s idea of sociability in his Essay on a Theory of Social Behaviour.

The five contributions of the volume’s third part address literature, art, and mythology. Richard Eldridge reads Hölderlin’s fragment “Rousseau” with attention to what it says about subjectivity and finitude. Brady Bowman and Keren Gorodeisky explore the lively pertinence of Jena Romantic thinking to reflections on the truth of art in analytic philosophy and the fragmentary form and pragmatic content of Wittgenstein’s philosophy in relation to Friedrich Schlegel’s. A real eye-opener for me is Laure Cahen-Maurel’s study of the painting and art theory of David Caspar Friedrich and its influence on Abstract Expressionism and the art of Anish Kapoor. Surely the most gripping read, however, is Bruce Mathews’ “The New Mythology:  Romanticism Between Religion and Humanism” that takes up Schelling’s speculations concerning a mythology that would harmonize art and science, humankind and nature, a discourse that holds the promise of helping us avoid what Schelling already in 1804 foresaw as “the annihilation of nature.” No remark by Žižek on the environment or environmentalism or any tract on ecopoetics or ecopoetical work I can think of open such compelling vistas or place a higher or more urgent demand on the imaginative artist or thinker than these fifteen or so pages.

The book’s final section, Science and Nature, is no less surprisingly informative or pertinent to the present day. Anyone who believes the Romantic thinker is a wooly-brained dilettante will find that prejudice shattered here. One learns in the contributions from Paul Redding, John H Smith, and David W Wood that Novalis (a mining engineer by trade), Friedrich Schlegel, and Salomon Maimon (surely one of Kant’s most idiosyncratic interpreters and critics) were absolutely contemporary in their knowledge of the most advanced mathematics of the day, particularly that having to do with controversies over the then relatively new infinitesimal calculus and the nature of the infinite, notions that informed Schlegel’s definition of Romantic Poesie as “progressive.” Redding shows how Novalis’ fragmentary notes on computation remain relevant to contemporary philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and procedural, cyber- or Conceptual poetries. Regarding this aspect of Novalis’ thinking, Redding observes

We can see how the interests of the poet and the computationalist might converge…and a point of convergence can indeed be found in the strange case of the combinatorial poetics of Erycius Puteanus, a seventeenth-century humanist whose generation of multiple verses to the Virgin Mary from a single eight-word poem came to the attention of Liebniz…An eight-word, one-line Latin hexameter…formed the base from which Puteanus generated 1,022 verse permutations… (228)

Equally startling is the relation of geometry and algebra and calculus to the concepts of philosophy of Fichte and Novalis and the relevance of the former’s Wissenschaftslehre to such mathematical luminaries as Herman Weyl. Amanda Jo Goldstein’s contribution on Herder’s “irritable empiricism” complements Forster’s on Herder’s language philosophy, laying out as it does Herder’s peculiar theories concerning sensation, culture, and language and their unknottable intertwining that weaves poetic tropes into our very nerve fibres and their “irritations” two centuries in advance of similar proposals made by Canguilhem, Jacob, or Foucault and in a much more compelling way for poets and poetics. Likewise, the volume’s final piece, Dalia Nassar’s “Romantic Empiricism after the ‘End of Nature'” complements Mathews’ on Schelling’s New Mythology, setting out to clarify and legitimate Goethe’s concept of science and nature in the context of the contestations over the very idea of Nature itself.

Nassar’s collection should disturb the prejudice that Romanticism is dustily antique and that our absolute modernity is a quantum advance upon its quaint notions. As the philosophies of Kant and Hegel come to be seen to possess potentials to illuminate the present moment, so the thinking between theirs comes to the fore. Not only do we share the more general horizon with the Jena Romantics—developments in technoscience and its worldview and the attendant social and environmental predations of industrialism—but their terms define our own in advance. Indeed, the essays in this volume propose that it is our thinking that is a pale shadow of theirs and that the promise of their speculations resides in our future.

On the end of the Doha Climate Change Conference: a poem and commentary

Brushfires from Colorado
to Croatia; floodwaters
deeper than memory

drown southern Russia
and Thailand; tornadoes
plough the Midwest;

record hurricanes on
the Eastern Seaboard.
Humanity betrays all

the collective intelligence
of a bacterium
in a petri dish.

Although the poem above was composed in Berlin this past summer, today its sentiment seems prescient of what many of those of us who care about the fate of civilization feel. A lone voice speaks to the issue in Canada’s parliament, and in the face of suicidal official denial and incapacity, it would be barbaric not to lend a poetic voice in support. Posting a poem, of all things, must seem a futile gesture, but its impulse takes inspiration from Luther, who, asked what he would do if he knew the world were to end tomorrow answered, “Plant an apple tree.”