“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Romantic ecology

I was thinking about some questions that I was reading on a discussion list, concerning Romanticism and ecology—viz. what actual contributions Romantic poetry might make. I think for this (in nuce) I would turn to the final sentences of Ecology without Nature: “Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.”

In a sense this is like Hegel's argument about Romantic art. In Romantic art, the idea transcends sensual forms. This is part of how “spirit” comes to know itself as such, which in actuality is incarnated in the fragility of actual people (as opposed to gods or nature). Thus Romantic art talks about its inadequacy, uses the sublime, and so on.

Since I'm arguing that ecological consciousness is consciousness as such (consciousness is necessarily ecological), my argument in a sense follows Hegel. Think about his statement regarding Romantic subjectivity: “the simple unity with self which has destroyed all mutually exclusive objects.” In an ecological view, precisely, nothing is mutually exclusive.

This Romantic ecology is very different from the irony-free “big mountains” type in current circulation. This form has to do with upgrading your consciousness.

In a funny way then, Romanticism shares with animism a concept that the most actual things are people, without a concept of nature. Since one thing that modern society has damaged has been thinking, working out what ecological thinking might be is a good ecological task. This has direct consequences in the actual world, e.g. how to deal with oil slicks, plutonium and so on is profoundly influenced by our metaphysics and ontology, or the lack thereof.

Like good intellectuals we will probably be tempted to jump all over this, tearing our hair and going "That's all very intellectual. But what are we supposed to DO?!"

1 comment:

E.O'B. said...

I think your summation of my responses in our Ecocritique seminar was apt: "But what are we supposed to DO, man?!" The concluding noun's important, I think.

What did Lenin say? Something about waiting for voices. But whose voices? That's the question....