Saturday, January 24, 2009

White mythology?

In a now famous essay from the 60s, Lynn White argues that Christianity is to be held responsible for the growing despoilation of the earth, and the environmental crisis. As Genesis records, man is raised above the world in domination, in contrast to the pagan world, for which man is part of nature. This pagan vision it set out to eradicate.

We may find speaking of elves, pixies and dryads hard to take seriously, but the implication - that we can and need to negotiate with the natural world - with the trees, rivers and mountains - rather than simply try to impose our will upon them, is a thoroughly sound idea. Could we not put up with some silly names for the sake of a sensible policy? This suggests something completely revolutionary - that we evaluate ontological claims (Is there a God, are there pixies?) entirely in terms of the kinds of relation believing in them, or talking like that, would support. This way, perhaps lies Derrida willingness to speak of ghosts, specters etc.

This is not so crazy. It just means that we need to check ourselves at a different point. We can talk any way we like, assert the 'existence' of all sorts of things, but we don't confuse the different ways they exist. Things don't have to exist physically to have power. We misunderstand spiritual existence as something very thin, or wispy. Much more plausibly, spiritual existence is a projected background for certain possibilities of relationality, and sociality. Those who say this projected background 'does not really exist', (as I am tempted to), need to ask themselves, do "I" (or America, or Yellow Bird) exist in that strong sense? Or are these unities not importantly constructed around the relational possibilities they enable?

Next week - we will start a magical map of YB. And celebrate an ontology that lets a thousand flowers bloom.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Small Writing Cabin

The lodge can seem cold in the dead of winter, or at least a big space to heat up with propane. I dream of a small writing cabin, perhaps 6x8' with straw bale walls that could almost be heated by the body working in it. An 18" straw bale wall has an R value of 54, which is way beyond any building code. I imagine a desk, some shelves, a window, a comfortable chair, and perhaps a loft bed. Perhaps some way of making tea/coffee?

In connection with this musing, I append an image of Heidegger's Black Forest hut, famous as a place of meditation, and now the object of a book length study by Adam Sharr. Compare Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own (two images below): "A room of one's own: Is there anybody who hasn't at one time or another wished for such a place, hasn't turned those soft words..." [See May 22 2009 for a follow-up].

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Coral, cord wood and termites

I cannot get over the discovery (and dating, thanks to Molly Miller) of the sheets of coral fossils on the limestone slabs - 450 million years old, or
thereabouts. Somehow I want to draw that fact into the YB experience. Options: one could try to make rubbings of them (or photograph them) and display them indoors, in a gallery structure nearby. Cf. Chris Drury's thumbprints/mushroom spore prints. One could try to recreate the originals in cement etc. But what is the point of any of these options? To facilitate a multi-leveled temporal awareness. Watching a spider spin its web, one also bears in mind the evolutionary process that has led to it having this skill. And that 450 million years ago, the earth had no humans - indeed no plants, no birds, no dinosaurs, or mammals - everything lived in the sea. So here we are, looking at this highly visible trace of a world that completely predates almost everything we know. Is this experience important? Heidegger said that to be truly at home (heimlich) in the world, it must also be a little unheimlich (strange?) to us. This temporal depth is one good way of bringing that about. It begins perhaps as a focal experience, and then turns into a modality or tonality of a broader capacity for experience. It may e.g. encourage making connections between things, it may draw attention to aspects of things unseen, it may allows us to see things in new ways. Perhaps we will have sharper eyes for process, for long cycles. Is 'seeing differently' not the point of art? I still don't know whether the art-object matters (however material or dematerial), or whether it is always a mere means to a new seeing, and in principle substitutable.

Today the cord wood pile was begun, and the results of December chainsawing collected from beside the new road. I raised a platform of treated wood on concrete blocks on the lower level outside the basement. This is supposed to discourage termites. Though some of these logs are surely already termite-infested. I imagine them dropping off, and looking for another home. I am preparing for the wood-burning stove, even as I read that as a planet we need to be heading for zero carbon emissions. Is it enough that these new stoves are highly efficient? Or that they will help me burn less gas? As I stack these logs I am reminded of one such stack I saw - in St Anton-am-Arlberg (Austria) when I was teaching English to a certain George at the age of 16. There the wood filled a cement arch at the front of the Pension. The sun dried it from the side, and the arch protected it from the rain.

Termites, some facts:
  • Termites have been around since the time of the dinosaurs!
  • Termite colonies eat non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
  • Termites have wings that they shed once they have found a good place to build a nest.
  • Termites cause up to $2 billion in damage per year!
  • All Termites are social insects and raise their young as a group.
  • The total weight of all of the termites in the world is more than the weight of all the humans in the world.
But compared to coral, termites are new arrivals.
Termites = Terre-mites? Mites of the earth? How much entomology can we learn from etymology?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thin Ice

The lake and pond are frozen over. Long ago, living in Pointe Claire nr Montreal, the St Lawrence seaway used to freeze so deep that trucks could cross. Here, I dare not trust the ice with my weight. At the pressure of a foot, it already begins to creak and crack. The arctic air has really crept in everywhere. The horse-trough has only a dimple of open water on an inch-thick crust of ice, where the continuing trickle still keeps things liquid. How does it happen that moving water can be below zero? Do the horses understand that they can still drink? I took a hammer and made the pool a bit bigger. But I imagine it will freeze back again, incorporating the new iceberglets. The horses have grown hairy winter coats, but they do look cold. Could they be stolid sufferers and I not know it?

Heating this house when it's 10 degs Farhenheit is neither cheap nor easy. It feels like trying to use a summer house in th. e winter. If I had the stable cottage working I might well set up a small warm winter study there, like the polythene tent I once made in the attic in St Marys Crescent.

I'm on emotionally thin ice right now. YB is being suffused and invested with the kind of care that makes a place into a home, just as that same warmth is being withdrawn from Lothersdale, in the wake of my mother's death. Cannon County is not Yorkshire, and yet there are moments of mirror resonance. Struggling to stay warm is to struggle for the very idea of home.

But it is part and parcel of YB that it change seasonally. With the leaves down, the woods are more open, the trees more like writing against the sky. Less welcoming, more sparely beautiful.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A new year

News: The aquasculpture is now submerged after the rain. A few more inches and the lake will overflow into the pond, and the whole system will be recharged. The horses look a bit wet and sad. Berzerker is confused. He wants to come in, but then wants to go out. Truth is that he knows he wants something, but understands that something in simple spatial terms. Really he wants to be stroked, but does not know it. Once successfully stroked, he abandons the inside/outside game. This is my replay of Freud's fort/da game. Religious belief, perhaps, is a similar translation of a desire we cannot articulate/acknowledge into one we can understand. 2009 will be the year of the great leap forward at YB. I have hopes that the funding for the residencies will be forthcoming, and that the collaboration with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park will move forward.