Sunday, April 3, 2011

Retro post: Dec 2, 2007 Imagining the Real




In practicing nature's art as nothing else in nature does, we make us a question to ourselves, as nothing else in nature is.
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 apparent 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 this 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 elk 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!

Come--we 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, 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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