Category Archives: bearings

Small Talk of Swallows

During times when the lethal addiction of human supremacism becomes ever more acute, we turn to the regrettably departed (2018) philosopher Mary Midgley with her response to the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Her title: On Not Needing To Be Omnipotent.

Images are from the studio of Olive Ayhens, with prophetic visions of New York City that date from the 1990s.

 

 

THE STREAMS RETURN (1997)

 

 

EDGE CITY (1997)

 

 

AESTHETICS OF POLLUTION (1996)

 

In closing, a poem by Ursula Le Guin within which we found this week’s title phrase:

 

 

With or without us, there will be the silence…

 

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An Exuberant Multiplicity

A rate of extinction estimated at “up to 100 times higher than the background rate” should provide adequate motivation to reconsider the deep ruts of human supremacism.

A DP correspondent steered us to an excellent online resource curated by the Center For Humans and Nature, including essays from a wide range of writers and thinkers invited in response to a series of key questions such as “What does it mean to be human?”

David Abram begins his response with a quote from Robinson Jeffers: “I have fallen in love outward.” Further excerpts below, with images from an Art & Extinction series by the Irish artist Diarmuid Delargy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a Postscript, Abram adds:

 

 

What ails us can also obliterate us; extinction events slowly but surely work themselves up the food chain to the alpha predators. In this progression, our connection to and dependence on the whole of life will become painfully evident.

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The Jeffers poem also spins these lines forth from the mind of Cassandra, o force of the earth rising:

Plant the earth with javelins? It made laws for all men, it dissolved like a cloud.
I have also stood watching a storm of wild swans
Rise from one river-mouth . . . O force of the earth rising,
O fallings of the earth: forever no rest, not forever
From the wave and the trough, from the stream and the slack,
from growth and decay: O vulture-
Pinioned, my spirit, one flight yet, last, longest, unguided,
Try into the gulf,
Over Greece, over Rome, you have space O my spirit for the years 

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House On Fire

As at COP24, that shamefully inert gathering inside a former Polish coal mine towards the end of last year, the only person who made any sense whatsoever during the annual Davos Festival of the Exalted Egos: Greta Thunberg, as she broke the stupefying complacency with a concise call for urgent action towards the creation of a radically new political and economic paradigm.

The panel to which Thunberg had been invited had been scheduled to discuss “Responses to Climate Disruption”. She rejected that theme out of hand, and instead held a roomful of leather-loafered feet to the fire. Much media hubbub was generated by an economic historian who dared to suggest that the world’s ultrarich should pay their fair share of taxes; Greta’s words were treated as if someone had released a methane burp beneath the lavish buffet table.

Excerpts below, with images from a series of Scorched Earth paintings by Lynn Christine Kelly.

 

 

SCORCHED EARTH 13

 

 

SCORCHED EARTH 32

 

 

WE MUST CHANGE EVERYTHING

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We took note of a quote from Hermann Hesse used by Lynn Kelly on her home page, relayed below:

 

 

There is the heart of the new paradigm,

in the heart of the trees, now scorched:

the ancient law of life.

 

 


Nothing Goes One Way

Slightly over a year ago, Ursula Le Guin returned her vibrational richness to the universe. Below, a transcript of remarks delivered as the keynote for a 2014 conference, with a video link as well. Her words and her voice, raised on behalf of the whole of life, resonate more strongly and urgently with each passing day.

 

 

 

 

Our brutal reign as Lords of Creation is swiftly coming to an end; let us seek fresh connections to the whole of life.

 


Listen to the Mountains

This week we welcome the publication of a new book by the experienced environmental journalist Dahr Jamail, The End of Ice.

As climate “change” accelerates into climate breakdown, much of the data referenced by Jamail is already obsolete in a book published just last week, with new data implying significantly worse impacts than at the time of his writing. Yet Jamail most definitely walks the walk, or in his case — as a lifelong mountaineer — climbs the climb; his knowledge of dramatic changes in glacier ecology is intimate, deep, up front and personal. In the end, his love for the mountains calls him to draw the line and take a stand.

An excerpt from the book’s introduction below, with images of iced flowers from the studio of Azuma Makoto.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such is the present moment:

Where do we draw the line?

Where do we take a stand?

 


On Behalf of the Crushed

During a week when the most mindless power struggles distract attention from fresh evidence of a climate breakdown endgame for which few are prepared, we turn to a lucid essay by Costica Bradatan, author of Dying For Ideas: The Dangerous Lives of Philosophers. The essay is worthy of close reading in its entirety; excerpts below, with images from the studio of Richard Kurtz, whose sublime visions are on display this weekend at the NYC Outsider Art Fair.

 

 

INVULNERABLE (DETAIL)

 

 

INVULNERABLE

 

 

INVULNERABLE (DETAIL)

 

 

INVULNERABLE (DETAIL)

 

 

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The next sentence in the cited text from Simone Weil strikes us as even more important:

“Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”

Among the oppressed, we would include the countless non-human species of life that disappear each day from the biosphere. Do we really think that we are exempt from the rhythm of erasure, incarnate within the Sixth Extinction?

 

Let us place ourselves

on the side of all life forms facing elimination

as a result of toxic human supremacism. 

Only then will we be able to navigate

with deepest humility

into a viable future.

 

 

 


Living At the Edge

Now comes Jem Bendell, whose paper on Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy has had a significant impact on discussions regarding how we respond to anthropogenic climate breakdown and chaos. Below, we excerpt from a January 9 posting that focuses on reconceiving what we might hope for, and why.

 

 

BREAKDOWN IN NORMAL LIFE

 

 

ENDGAME FOR MAGICAL HOPE

 

 

ACCEPTING DIFFICULT REALITIES

 

 

 


Not Broken Yet

We begin our 2019 navigations with excerpts from a 2017 interview with Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy. Images are untitled ink drawings from the studio of Julie Mehretu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Things Visible and Invisible


A Vast Cosmic Liturgy

We close our 2018 voyage with a few passages from a 1993 essay by eco-theologian Thomas Berry, whose words resonate through the decades with ever increasing vibrancy. Images are Arborglyphs from the studio of Linda Everson.
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The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. A disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

 

 

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Yet the universe is so bound into the aesthetic experience, into poetry and music and art and dance, that we cannot entirely avoid the implicit dimensions of the natural world, even when we think of art as “representational” or “impressionist” or “expressionist” or as “personal statement.” However we think of our art or literature, its power is there in the wonder communicated most directly by the meadow or the mountains or the sea or by the stars in the night.

Of special significance is our capacity for celebration which inevitably brings us into the rituals that coordinate human affairs with the great liturgy of the universe. Our national holidays, political events, heroic human deeds: These are all quite worthy of celebration, but ultimately, unless they are associated with some more comprehensive level of meaning, they tend toward the affected, the emotional, and the ephemeral. In the political and legal orders we have never been able to give up invocation of the more sublime dimensions of the universe to witness the truth of what we say. This we observe especially in court trials, in inaugural ceremonies, and in the assumption of public office at whatever level. We still have an instinctive awe and reverence and even a certain fear of the larger world that always lies outside the range of our human controls.

 

 

Here I would suggest that the work before us is the task, not simply of ourselves, but of the entire planet and all its component members. While the damage done is immediately the work of the human, the healing cannot be the work simply of the human any more than the illness of some one organ of the body can be healed simply through the efforts of that one organ. Every member of the body must bring its activity to the healing. So now the entire universe is involved in the healing of damaged Earth, more especially, of course, the forces of Earth with the assistance of the light and warmth of the sun. As Earth is, in a sense, a magic planet in the exquisite presence of its diverse members to each other, so this movement into the future must in some manner be brought about in ways ineffable to the human mind. We might think of a viable future for the planet less as the result of some scientific insight or as dependent on some socio-economic arrangement than as participation in a symphony or as renewed presence to the vast cosmic liturgy.

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Many thanks to adventurous DP readers in over one hundred countries across this wounded earth; your messages, queries, soundings and bearings keep us going through the ever-deepening fog.

Onwards into 2019….