Sunday, December 2, 2007

A humanly habitable World, Thoughts for Sunday Salon

Religious traditions have preserved, even while subverting it with their reactionary defensive attacks against critiques that would force them to give up all their objective claims, a subversive aesthetic claim--without which we have no world to live in, no world that will support our human needs--those needs we make out of nature, an artifice to support a communal life that is more than hunting, gathering and reproducing.

What we value as essentially human, as opposed to the life of other animals--are all the variety of ways we are able to act and create that no longer serve those basic, animal needs. We don't need cities, sailboats, architecture or archeology, Super bowl games, symphonies, stock markets, poems, gardens, astronomy or astrophysics, bicycles, formula one race cars, movie stars, waltzes or rock n' roll... or stories about ourselves... all that goes into making the aesthetics of the human, and which we threaten by our over valuation of technology, by a too narrow rationalism--a rationalism not willing to take seriously the special needs we acquire as part and consequence of our partial freedom from the domain of nature (hunting gathering reproducing)--even while remaining simply another species in nature's kingdom.

Shakespeare plays beautifully with this in the garden scene of Richard II, and in the discussion on grafting in the Winter's Tale: the opposition, in his terms, between nature and "art," (that is, art as artifice, craft, skill).

Where in grafting, you take "A gentle scion to the wildest stock, and make conceive a bark of baser kind ... The art itself is nature."

But we practice nature's art as nothing else in nature does, and makes us a question to ourselves, as nothing else in nature is.

A dog, a squirrel, a whale, a tiny patient spider, don't ask, what does it mean to be a dog, a whale, a spider? But who can say what it is to be human? We are both an animal among animals, a species in nature, and something self-created. Something so strange, that we had to invent gods to project outside ourselves what we have done, to deny the responsibility, deny coming to terms with what that means.

Religion attempts to address these questions, and fails by refusing to accept authorship of what it, and we, have invented. By accepting responsibility--that we made up this character we call God--we assimilate religion into the purely human aesthetic, where it becomes, as it was for Blake, a profound well of metaphorical self-reflection, a poetry of the human soul.

The wind is blowing across the plains, the tall grass undulates like the
fur of a great beast dreaming of prey. We wake, the warmth of sleep
abandons us to the chill light of morning, the strength of yesterday’s meal evaporates in
the autumn air. Will today's hunt bring success? Will we make it to the
sheltering caves in the distant hills before the first winter storm? Will
it always be so? The excitement of the hunt, the elation of the fresh
kill, of skins heavy with gathered seeds, the days of sleep in the sun,
the pleasures of the flesh under the beneficent moon... will it always be
so? Will summer always give way to autumn and autumn to cruel winter, to
days when the spoor is cold--when even the dogs catch no scent of eland
or antelope on the glacial wind?
Will we always find ourselves like this, the bones gnawed clean around the
fire, the marrow sucked, our furs too worn to keep us warm?
But look! The mountains are not so far. Surely there are herds--in the
valley over the next hill-- complacent and fearless and without
number. Observe the dogs, there is much they
can teach us--how hunger only makes them the more joyful for the hunt!

are not alone... I have felt the warmth of your hand and only last
night I dreamt of such things as the earth has never seen. I believe the
wind spirit, who dissolves all things and returns them to invisibility,
found favor in us as we slept. I see her light shining on your face, and
my own light reflected in your eyes. With such a blessing, we will never
be lost in this great world no matter how far we wander.

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