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  • Writer's pictureDan Thompson

Whose Nature?

Updated: May 14, 2023

Beauty is of the Earth, Art is of Nature


Whose Nature? Not mine.

There are two approaches to nature writing, which double as the two approaches to nature in general and two approaches to being in the world.

Either we attempt to explain it, or let it explain itself.

The latter digs deep into the essence of things (objects), while the former passes over the surface to pick up whatever it finds. We could call the latter art and the former science.

Art began as both an imitation and a completion of nature, but as culture has capitulated more to scientism, both nature and art are in danger of the same disease of Naturalization.

Naturalization attempts to explain the qualities of nature through scientific language, which does more to obscure nature than illuminate it. An example would be the movement of water which can either be described as fluid motion, i.e. the force of air currents on the surface of a viscous substance, or as the more organic bodily motions of the ocean, such as the slow transit of Poseidon across the body of Gaia.

There is an art and a poetry to it that has been subsumed by language in the same way that mythology has been subsumed by science, therefore our duty as first person experiencers is to the Life World itself before we impose our biases onto it.

There is a difference between bias and subjectivity. Biases purport to be objective (otherwise many people would fall victim to them), but what they really are is a dismissal of real human experience. They take a short way around experience, because to take the long way might not result in such a simple explanation.

Realism can show us what a mountain or a person’s face really looks like, while surrealism or symbolism may reject or eschew realism in favour of what it is like to be that thing i.e. intentionality, which is not as easy to put into scientific language, or the arrangement of brushstrokes on a canvas (although they try).

This may come down to the confusion of what real is, which can be both phenomenal and noumenal. Just as the word Natural/ Naturalism can be conflated with nature, the real can be conflated with science, and science with truth. This is the trick that often goes too far in the so-called service of science and art. But whereas we can find our way back to nature through art, science seems to lead in only one way, which is to bury the real (in the noumenal sense) under its description of it.

Nature is the source of beauty, both in the world and on the planet. All beauty comes from the Earth, while ugliness is exclusively a product of the world. Even the death or ostensible ‘murder’ of an animal by another animal is a form of beauty. The animal in its flight appears as graceful as in the best moments of its life, while the predator, exultant, in the peak of its own form, pounces on its prey. The two collapsing into something like a courtship or the consummation of a ritual, except only one of them makes it through (survives).

We can also find beauty in any season, any condition of weather, any profundity of growth (except possibly bacterial, and then we usually marvel at its colour) through at least one sense, whether, sight, sound, smell or touch. What is pleasing to the eye, but perhaps too much, or too little to detect by the other senses.

At at any scale, i.e. in the spiral of a galaxy, or the crystallization of minerals, we find this play of forces (i.e. gravity, magnetism, chemical composition) which give rise in one way to the phenomena, but are also dependent on the noumena, the thing-in-itself which precedes and succeeds the temporal and temporary thing that appears to the senses. The invisible form of the noumena filled up and obscured by the content (phenomena), which is still only incidental to the form.

The only beauty (or art) that lasts is that which reflects the nature it depends on, and the only culture that lasts is that which discovers, or rediscovered this art. This is not to diminish either the value of the discovery, or the discovery itself, since part of the completion of both nature and art is this process of discovery, “this is called invention from the creative side; but how can you invent what was a potential all along?” (Bernstein 1992)

From a phenomenological perspective, the world is only comprehensible on its surface, where its essence and appearances meet, but Heidegger pointed out that this essence is not always accessible to consciousness, or is easily lost in the flow of life making it appear comprehensible when it is actually opaque.

As Charles Bernstein says in Censers of the Unknown – Margins, Dissent and the Poetic Horizon, “We censure the unknown, because it has not always/already been understood, and we call this communication.” He goes on to say that “what is incomprehensible to one is, to another, the exact words of her or his particular condition-in-the-world. To be comprehensible to all – the telos of the language of what is called science – is to censure (a collective repression) all that is antagonistic, anarchic, odd, antipathetic, anachronistic. (Marginal.) (Outside.) So poetry can be the censer of these spirits from the unknown, untried, unconsidered…” That is to say, science has no telos, which it freely admits, aiming instead to censer the telos of others – perhaps out of telos envy? “The task of poetry is to make audible, tangible but not necessarily graspable, those dimensions of the real that cannot be heard, as much as to imagine new reals that have never before existed… A great aesthetic pleasure comes from the transgression of the already known in exchange with the incomprehensible, the marginal, the outside (which in the instant cease to be any of these things).”

This aesthetic pleasure being the spontaneous perception of the noumenal in the strange, unknown and new. We can’t explain how we know it, we just do. And once we know that we know, its like this knowledge has been there all along, which indeed, it has.

It is fine to consult science on this, as long as we don’t abandon our subjective experience. What made us notice it in the first place, of how it made us feel. The two can work quite well together, but only if we are aware of what we are doing. This is a challenge, no doubt, for to be successful we have to use both our analytical and intuitional minds. We all have them, but we can be heavier on one side than the other, and make sacrifices for the sake of comprehensibility when what is comprehensible to us, is not comprehensible to another. I am not advocating relativism here, I believe there is a good way, a bad way and a best way, just as a plant must follow its best way to grow, otherwise it would not be able to sustain itself over millions and perhaps billions of years. The content being the fruit/ leaf/ seed and the form being how the fruit/ leaf/ seed is produced (not by a farmer!).

Finally Bernstein makes an allusion to Heidegger’s distinction between the Earth and the World. Not that Heidegger had invented the idea, but his point is well taken. That the Earth, like Nature, is the source and parent of the World, what we have called history, and art is the intercessor, the movement (not just the bridge) between Earth and World, or Absolute unknown to Absolute known.

Unlike science or philosophy, which Wittgenstein called ‘a form of poetry’, art communicates what cannot be communicated without some form of destruction, or exploitation, because if left up to science the world would destroy itself (and the Earth with it), and if left up to philosophy, no one would hear a word. Only art captures one’s attention long enough to ponder what has been lost, or left out, before history devours it. Again, quoting from Bernstein, “As long as the earth lives, there can be hope that the world can be transformed; but the world can destroy, though perhaps not kill, the earth (which has not yet happened) or it can occlude its communion with it (which happened long ago, perhaps when history began).”

We all know that the Earth (and the World) have entered (and are well within) what is known as the anthropocene, literally, a merging of Earth and World into what can more properly be called the ‘globe’; the most unappealing incarnation of either Earth or World. Picture the planet, mashed between someone’s greasy, filthy hands. A succession of hands, that only let go if someone tears them off. Hard to say how long they’ve been there, not that long really, only since we left the jungle and to think it is still happening today. A thought that none of us really want to entertain in a time of such social, civil and environmental reform. That we still haven’t got to the source of the problem, or are we looking at it every time we cross the street, having forgotten, (or simply accepted it) by the time we get to the other side.

Globalization, like its mother, Naturalization has also corrupted nature, but on a global scale, which makes it a much more insidious idea; the idea behind the Anthropocene. An idea that would have required an excess of money (available only after the first industrial revolution), transportation (to move products around), infrastructure and finally a rising middle class ready and willing to enter this new stage of development, complete with car, roads, furniture, houses and the majority of employment mobilized to create more.

Have we forgotten artists? Not entirely, because the arts (for the most part) exist solely through the funding of the very entities that started the ‘Natural-with-a-capital-N/ Globalist-with-a-capital-G revolution’ in the first place. Only persons of means can afford to buy art, (or buy enough of it to influence its making), and those who control the means control the culture, just like those who control the culture control the means i.e. the same people.

Poetry, on the other hand, is available to all. A poem cannot be purchased, only read and re-read, printed, copied, held, lost, scattered, invented, grown out of the cracks in the concrete, the fertile soil of language itself that is as much of the Earth as it is of the world… again, quoting Bernstein, “but how can you invent what was a potential all along?” (Bernstein 1992) It is the world that the poets claim for the Earth through language. A process of re-wilding, or new-wilding, that no one can control the production of, because what is written doesn’t belong to any one (not even the writer). All that we possess (or control) are the faculties of reading and comprehension itself, and of how much or how little is comprehensible. The rest, we say, is lost in communication.

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