A Discursive Strategy in Modern European
Edited by Stipe Grgas and Svend Erik Larsen
Nature as conditioned by human activity, and not only as the condition of human life, has been a subject of growing interest within European thought since the Enlightenment. Nature bears the mark of a human constructive activity and is perceived from that perspective: the landscape or the cityscape, nature as metaphor in literature or as motif in painting, naturalness as rhetorical device, as basis of an ethical argument, or as description of human behavior or character. This book shows that our culture's conception of nature is a series of conceptions and meanings which, as discursive strategies, permeate the activities, texts and artefacts of our culture.
The papers are the result of the workshop "The Construction of Nature: A Discursive Strategy in Modern European Thought", organized by Man and Nature - Humanities Research Center in August 1992.
Stipe Grgas/Svend Erik Larsen: Introduction
Constructions of the Past
Constructions in Literature, Philosophy, and Art
The Rhetoric of Constructions
Constructions of the Future
List of Authors
Stipe Grgas and Svend Erik Larsen
It amounts to no more than a truism to say that ours is a world witnessing momentous changes whose outcome would be rash and foolhardy to divine with certitude and assurance. Living at a time which has opened up great possibilities, yet which is laden with unsuspected perils, enables us to have privileged insights which, it is to be hoped, will not exact a too dear payment. One of the symptoms of the times is an exploratory attitude within our discourses. Nature - some of whose various guises are discussed in the contributions to the present volume - is one of the crucial issues that has to be taken into account if we harbour the hope to mitigate the terms of this payment.
To begin with, our way of approaching nature is marked by the trappings of our culture, so that this interplay makes both appear different than most people imagine them. Nature is not so much a place or an object outside culture - dangerous, alluring, infinite - as a boundary between that which acquires a function through culture and that which leaves culture powerless, but is, nonetheless, its precondition. This boundary is constantly moving, not just because of material processes in the air, sea and compost heaps, but also - and simultaneously - because of our knowledge, our visions, aesthetic and ethical values and mores. Or, to put it differently, due to a lack of these.
When we nowadays say that nature is in crisis, what we mean is that the boundary between nature and culture has reached a critical point. Nature in itself is not going through a crisis. It can turn into moorland, be swamped by the sea or freeze into icy wastes, as it has already done during the aeons of terrestrial history. However, the nature that human culture is supposed to survive in and have the responsibility for the positioning of its boundaries, is being choked to death.
Therefore, research is necessary into all cultural processes including perceptions of, attitudes to, actions on and reactions to nature. This difficult task encomposes a whole array of questions and sets out to understand among other things how microbes and aesthetics, bacteria and folk culture, art and rain forests, fantasy and atomic decay fit together. Only one thing is certain: the boundary between culture and nature is not dependent on only one kind of explanation or one overriding factor.
Culture takes a bite of nature each time we can make it function in such a way that we can repeat and control the function. It can take place in a complicated and abstract process of understanding where we draw conclusions about how things fit together, as well as in practical action when we implement practical measures to stay nature's inimical forces.
Nature cannot be reduced to the entity providing the basis for food and shelter and more recent times have evinced how it has progressively become more and more an aesthetic phenomenon. Since nationalism converted nature into special landscapes and tourism sent hordes of people out to enjoy them, nature as a landscape or park has been given an autonomous recreational value.
In addition to being a support of human material survival, nature has also an ethical dimension. It would appear that nature is conducive to human goodness. When we look deep into the eyes of the panda and then dig deep into our wallets, we feel good at the same time as we are doing something good.
By becoming an object of decisions, nature takes on a political aspect. Even the most impassable rain forests or red scorching deserts are parts of a political-economical context: do something for the preservation of the rain forest lungs of the global population and you will be awarded economic support; irrigate the desert and make it fertile in order to discourage people from migrating; preserve the wild moorlands and create an environment possessing cultural value.
Together with the basic functions of food and dwelling, nature is today a link in so-called consensus decision-making. On the basis of the accessible knowledge concerning physical nature, a series of global political compromise decisions have been made. Much of the knowledge is of so recent a date that it has as many open ends as it has universally agreed upon conclusions, but this does not prevent attempts to transform this knowledge into practical actions. The exigency of time and occassion compels us to make decisions in relation to circumstances that we do not have complete knowledge of and whose consequences we might be fortunate enough not to experience. A great deal of this urgency stems from the human relationship to nature.
The functions that nature has in culture, what it does, are understood and evaluated from culture´s conception of nature, its conceptions of what nature is. As a working conception, one might join Aristotle and say that a thing's nature is its fundamental character, the set of properties that separates it from all others and gives it an identity. But to this meaning of nature, there is a long list of others attached, some of a more recent date, some older, and they are broken down and mixed up, are bound together and contradict each other. Our culture's conception of nature is more like a series of conceptions and meanings, which permeate the texts and artefacts of our culture - its literature, landscapes, design, political speeches, scientific dissertations, architecture and so on.
In the modern secularized post-Enlightenment era nature, or that which is perceived as natural, often bears the mark of a human constructive activity: the landscape or the cityscape, naturalness as rhetorical device or as basis of an ethical argument, nature as metaphor in literature or as motif in painting. Nature as conditioned by human activity has been a perennial subject of interest within European thought.
Using the occassion of the Third conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas, held in Ålborg, Denmark, from the 24th to the 29th of August 1992, we organized the workshop "The Construction of Nature: A Discursive Strategy in Modern European Thought". What we wished to focus upon, in particular, is the increasing importance nature as a construction has played since the Enlightenment, especially in the discursive and textual practices of culture. The present collection of essays grew out of the papers initially delivered at the Ålborg conference and reworked afterwards through continuous discussions.
A number of the essays collected here serve as reminders that the chosen theme reaches back into the fountainhead, the very stirrings of Western thought. By tackling the issue from a historical perspective, what is underlined is that the problem of nature touches upon the basic epistemological concerns of our culture.
A group of authors show nature to be a need, or even the goal of human beings inhabiting their cultural environment. One way of appreciating this transaction is to show how works of art deal or have dealt with nature, both as concept and as a term, is used in cultural-political legitimating practices, revealing that "constructions of nature" have been a constant of European thought. As a final note, some participants foregrounded the contemporary discourses on nature, stressing the ecological concerns that loom so large in the consciousness of modern man. The background of much of these discussions clearly reveals that nature itself has a limit to be reckoned with and respected.
Coming as they do from various cultural (Australia, Croatia,
Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Russia, UK and USA) and
disciplinary backgrounds (sociology, literature, art history,
classical philology, philosophy, mathematics) the essays incorporated
into this collection testify that the way humans relate to nature
holds a predominant position within the agenda of our cultural
CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE PAST
Nikolay P. Grinzer
The dichotomy of nature and man or, more widely, of nature and culture has remained for various epoches, and various traditions one of the key ideological oppositions. Its poles could be evaluated in a different way: the Enlightenment would be inspired by the ideas of culture and civilization, while Romanticism would search in the world of nature for harmony absent in the discrepancies of the human mind. Nevertheless, the European tradition has always been aware of the antithesis between these two poles and their indisputable contrast. Such a contraposition predominated in a majority of scientific and philosophical studies of arts, literature and, among other matters, language, where such trends as Schleicher's "organic" linguistics or modern investigations of "natural" language should be mentioned.
Trying to reconstruct the genetic origins of this debate, scholars always come back to the classical age when it was rendered by the dichotomy of Greek terms physis, 'nature', on the one side, and thesis, 'convention', or nomos, 'law', on the other. This dichotomy was relevant for the ancient philosophy of law and ethics: the common example here - "two morals" in Sophocles' Antigone. It was also relevant for classical theories of arts and poetic composition: here it was expressed by the opposition of terms ars - ingenium , 'technical art - natural talent'. On the whole, scholars admit that such an opposition determined in large part the characteristic features of the Greek view of the world (Heinemann 1945) and therefore, the entire system of classical humanities, starting from the philosophical interpretations of the universe up to the peculiarities of linguistic studies, was based on the poles of that antithesis.
Within the latter, the physis-thesis opposition was applied both to the problems of language origin (is it a natural or a conventional institution?) and to the analysis of the then contemporary linguistic situation, namely, of the connections existing between word form and semantics (Siebenborn 1976: 22-24). Further exploitation of this antithesis led subsequently to the distinction of two main trends in the medieval philosophy of language, that is, to the famous controversy of nominalists and realists where two formulas stood in opposition: universalia realia sunt and universalia nomina sunt.
In our investigation of the contents of the physis-thesis opposition in the classical age we shall proceed from the place and role it played in classical linguistic research. Actually, this domain of the humanities could possibly be most representative for the picture of the world amongst the Ancients. From Wilhelm von Humboldt up to modern semiotics it has been maintained that language itself must be one of the most important modes of realization of the so-called "world model" (WM) of a given nation, region and so on (Tsivjan 1990). However, semiotic-orientated scholars have not yet included in an appropriate way linguistics as a separate and autonomous object of investigation into the sphere of their interests. Meanwhile, linguistics serves language as, simultaneously, a descriptive and a generative code - in a way that reduplicates the manner in which language serves the WM. Hence, any linguistic theory or tradition could be interpreted as a secondary generative code for the WM with language as an intermediary primary code (WM ´ Language ´ Linguistics).
As far as the classical nature-convention antithesis is concerned, such an epistemo-linguistic approach is, perhaps, better grounded because classical linguistics contained probably the most extensive use of this dichotomy. We have already mentioned the ways in which it was applied to linguistic speculations; consequently it presupposed the distinction of two correspondent tendencies in classical linguistic research. Modern scholars have always tried to place their ancient colleagues into camps advocating either the physis or the thesis doctrine.
However, it is here that certain difficulties appear. In fact, practically no classical scholar can be said to represent a clear example. For instance in Democritus (probably, the first philosopher really concerned with linguistic problems) we find etymological passages evidently based on the presupposition of natural and direct links between phonetic form and the meaning of words (ib.: fr. B 122a) together with a consistent theoretical argumentation for the conventionalist doctrine: according to Procles' commentary on Plato's Cratylus, Democritus claimed such linguistic phenomena as homonymy, synonymy, polysemy etc. to contradict the hypothesis of a natural identity of words to things (Diels and Kranz 1934-37: fr. B 26). Hence, the most noted Democritean utterance on language: "Word is a shadow of a thing" (ib.: fr. B 145) may, in that context, be interpreted in two ways: either "the word is a mere shadow, i.e. a false image, of a thing" (and then we enlist Democritus among the 'conventionalists') or, on the contrary, "the word can be a shadow, i.e., a reflection, of a thing" (and in this case, we ascribe to him the 'natural' view on language).
The Sophistic doctrine also reveals the same ambivalence. Certainly, all that we know about Sophists, those ancient relativists with their maxima "Man is the measure of things", would make us assume that they championed the conventionalist approach. We may call to witness one of Gorgias' well-known arguments for the incogitability of Being: "a word is inadequate to the object represented by this word" (ib.: fr. 82 B 3). However, in their linguistic observations the Sophists, obviously, often proceeded from the assumption of direct correlations between the grammatical form and the meaning of the word. This was the basis, for instance, of Protagoras' statements on word gender: the grammatical category of gender must correspond to the nature of the things named (ib.: fr. 80 A 28: Protagoras claimed that Greek words for 'wrath', menis, and 'helmet', pelex, must acquire, in accordance with their nature, a masculine gender instead of the feminine one they have).
So, in fact, during the first stages of the development of classical linguistic doctrine we can find no strict distinction between these two points of view on language origin and structure. Therefore, it is now generally admitted that these two poles were delimited for the first time by Plato, and his Cratylus must have been the first text where these two attitudes and corresponding terms were contrasted in application to language.
On the one hand, as H.-G. Gadamer wrote in his Truth and Method (1975: 367), a more thorough analysis of Platonic dialogue may be required: "Cratylus is the fundamental statement of Greek thought on language ,which covers the whole range of problems, so that the later Greek discussion [...] scarcely adds anything essential". On the other, it is one of the most complicated dialogues of Plato so that the title of the work written about twenty years ago Making Sense of Plato's Cratylus (by Rudolph Weingartner) is today still valid.
Indeed, at the very beginning of Cratylus we find the exact formulation of two possible approaches to the essence of language: Cratylus claims names (onomata) to be given to things (ta onta) in accordance with their nature (physei pephykyia) while his antagonist, Hermogenes, assures that any regularity in names is due to human 'consent and agreement' (syntheke kai homologia), or 'law and custom' (nomos kai ethos - Plato 1953: 383 a, 384 b-d). Then, in the course of the dialogue, Socrates in turn becomes the advocate of each of these positions. However, his arguments for the natural origin of language are expounded at a much greater length and include profound etymological excursus demonstrating really existing correspondences between form and meaning in different words (ib.: 392a-421c: e.g., heros, 'hero', is derived from eros, 'love', meis, 'month', from meiousthai, 'growing less', Hermes gets his name from being an 'interpreter", hermeneus, and so on). In addition, Socrates puts forth a peculiar theory of sound symbolism which ascribes a specific semantics to every single sound (ib.: 426c-427d: n/ny is 'internal' sound, o - 'round', l/lambda signifies 'gliding' etc.). This is the reason why quite a number of contemporary interpreters of Plato suppose, basing their judgements on such quantative evidence, that the author of Cratylus himself was inclined to adopt the physis theory. The opinion was incorporated into general linguistic historiography and R. Jakobson (1987: 416) was one of those who accepted it without voicing many doubts.
However, if we agree with such an interpretation, we cannot properly explain, for instance, the final conclusion of the dialogue when Socrates insists "that the knowledge of things is not to be derived from names" (Plato 1953: 439b). Indeed, at the end of the dialogue these two conceptions of language are represented as two litigants in a trial in which neither can prove his case (cf. ib.: 437-438: "Are we to count [the names] like votes? and is correctness of names the voice of the majority? [...] But if this is a battle of names some of them asserting that they are like the truth, other that they are, how are we to decide between them? For there are no other names to which appeal can be made [...]" - the litigious metaphor is quite evident).
Meanwhile, in the course of the dialogue we can detect how these contrary views are often deliberately combined by Socrates himself, meaning of course Plato. When Socrates describes the process of natural nomination, he argues that names are initially given to things by a mythical person called 'law-giver' (nomothetes) and he gives them to things according to the nature (physis) and the inner image (eidos) of the latter. It is quite significant that in the very name of this legendary 'law-giver' both possible definitions of the second pole of the dichotomy which stands in opposition to nature are present: both nomos 'law' and thesis 'convention'. We see that both notions and both terms - nature and convention - are unified and mixed within one and the same process of initial nomination (cf. Fehling 1965: 222 ff).
Moreover, towards the end of the dialogue, Socrates himself openly admits to the necessity of simultaneously using both approaches to language. He says: "Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can learn them from things themselves - which is likely to be the noble and clear way? [...] How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I suppose, beyond you [Cratylus] and me [...]" (ib.: 439). Thus again these two attitudes to language are not contrasted but actually become mutually complementary. All this may draw us to the conclusion that in Cratylus the physis-thesis positions are not antithetical but rather vary in prominence during the course of the dialogue and are somewhat artificially contraposed due to purely compositional reasons. In fact, there existed within the Platonic school a special sort of rhetorical exercise - the so-called dissertatio in utramque partem, in which one and the same discussant had to defend consecutively both the pro and the contra position in regard to one and the same topic (Krämer 1971). The peculiarities of such kind of a text would explain many of the sophisticated features of Plato's dialogue (Grinzer, forthcoming).
Having defined the physis-thesis controversy in Cratylus as a somewhat 'complementary opposition', we can now attempt a new approach to the other important aspect of Platonic theory that deals with language and the doctrine of art. We are referring to the theory of imitation, or mimesis, which was so significant for Plato's interpretation of poetry and which has subsequently been part of the continuous discussion from Aristotle to Th. Adorno (1969: 196 ff - mimesis means the process of the assimilation of the inside to the outside) and J. Derrida (1972: 217 ff - mimesis implies some process of reduplication of object and being).
Plato also applied the mimesis concept to linguistic problems: in Cratylus 423b he claims names to be simple imitations (mimemata) of things. (Gadamer thought that word, "imitation" to be highly inappropriate to the problem under discussion. I hope the interpretation that follows will help to eliminate such doubts). In the wake of what has been said so far, we rather see in mimesis some kind of an intermediary link connecting the two poles of the nature-convention opposition. Imitation is not direct similarity, neither is it a purely artificial and conventional correspondence (see Plato 1953: 435c ff).
It is rather suggestive, therefore, that in Cratylus, where two formally opposite views on language are discussed one after the other, the account of the theory of imitation is placed in the compositional center of the dialogue and is distributed symmetrically between its physis and thesis parts. Within the latter, imitation means the creation of an illusory verbal image of a thing (ib.: 430a ff). On the contrary, while the physis doctrine is defended, the notion of mimesis helps to demonstrate the connections between words and the things signified: word imitates thing and in doing so, conveys something of a thing (ib.: 423a ff) It seems that such an ambivalence (one must recall the Democritean phrase cited above) evidently displayed in the text structure, reflects the intermediary role played by the category of mimesis within the physis-thesis dichotomy.
At the same time Plato's concept of imitation implies the idea of the inner construction and composition of words from primary elements (stoicheia). In Cratylus Socrates refers to the activity of the name-giver or law-giver, juxtaposing the notions of imitation and construction: the name-giver must properly combine the necessary elements while imitating through words (ib.: 414 b, 434b). So it is not by chance that most Platonic etymologies presuppose the 'origin of word from some expression' (ek rematos onoma gegonen). The name of Zeus is derived from the phrase 'by whom life goes on' (di' ho zen), the word for 'human being' (anthropos) signifies the one who 'distinguishes what he sees' (anathron ha opope) and so on (ib.: 396a ff). The word as an imitation is at the same time the imitation of a phrase that is, of a compound, constructed whole.
This idea of combination and construction turns out to be one of the main characteristics of language as such. "We must understand how to apply [letters] to what they resemble [...] and so we shall form syllables, as they are called, and from a compound of syllables make nouns and verbs; and thus, at last, from the combination of nouns and verbs arrive at language, large and fair and whole;" (ib.: 424 ff, cf. Theaetetus , ib.: 202a). Moreover, in The Sophist, ib.: 219a-b the general principles of imitation (mimesis) and construction (synthesis) are directly interrelated. Here Plato divides all human arts into two groups: the 'productive' (poietike) and the 'acquisitive' (ktetike) kind. Imitative art (mimetike) is included within the 'productive' sort and there banded together with 'all kinds of construction' (to peri syntheton).
If the mimesis concept actually implies the idea of some kind of construction, this sheds new light on the Socratic formula "art imitates nature". Language (or name-giver) imitates nature not simply because it reproduces with its own means some already shaped physical objects, but it also, in doing so, reduplicates the manner in which nature itself creates such physical objects. In Timaeus it is described at length how nature constitutes the world by combining its primary elements (stoicheia) and it is obviously the same mechanics by which letters are combined into words and major linguistic units. Therefore, it is not without reason that both those processes - that of world construction, on the one hand, and that of word construction, on the other - were juxtaposed and compared by Plato himself.
According to Politicus, ib.: 278b-d, the human capacity to distinguish sounds and combinations of sounds - syllables (syllabai) - guarantees the ability to pursue the elements and the combinations of elements (syllabai) of the universe. Among the latter, fire, for instance, is neither an element, i.e., 'letter' (stoicheion) nor even a 'syllable' of the universe (Timaeus , ib.: 48 b-c): it is a much more complicated substance and it seems that, following the metaphor, it must be called a 'word' or a 'phrase' of the universe. This is why, from Plato onwards, many different thinkers, Aristotle among them (Metaphysics, Aristotle 1928ff: 1014a), used the alphabet as the best model illustrating the correlation of primary elements to the entirety of nature (cf. earlier the same point made by Democritus and Leucippus - Diels and Kranz 1934-37: fr. A 6, A 9).
Such an idea of inner construction is most clearly realized in the notions of organization and order. These concepts also form the sphere within which poles of the physis-thesis opposition could be neutralized. 'Order' (taxis) is associated both with 'law' (nomos - cf. "order and law" - Laws, Plato 1953: 673, 875 c-d; "order of law" - Laws, ib.: 925b etc.) and also with 'nature' (physis - cf. "the nature of the body is not of that kind of order " - Politicus , ib.: 269d; '[the weak] accepts the nature and order of the ridiculous - Philebus, ib.: 49c; and without that, these concepts are constantly connected in Timaeus, cf. ib.: 30a, 80 etc.). We can therefore see that not only in Plato's linguistic observations, but also in his general doctrine the opposition of nature and law can not be interpreted as a strict and rigid antithesis. In the very dialogue where this dichotomy was first clearly formulated (Gorgias, ib.: 482; cf., also Protagoras, ib.: 337c), its poles are, nevertheless, immediately conjoined in a single expression identical to our 'law of nature' (nomos physeos - Gorgias , ib.: 483e, cf. also the use of the same expression by Thucydides 1967: V, 105, 3).
The same mutual transition of the physis-thesis poles has been preserved in the post-Platonic tradition. As for the linguistic doctrine, we are forced to state that Aristotle, always recognized as a consistent defender of the conventionalist approach, could, nevertheless, assume the existence of a natural sequence of words and parts of speech (Rhetoric, Aristotle 1928ff: 1404a). In his etymologies he obviously tried to detect some natural sense of the word (cf. On the Heaven, ib.: 270b, Nicomachean Ethics, ib.: 1140b etc.) and sometimes even managed to restore Plato's ideas of sound symbolism (cf. Metaphysics, ib.: 1041b). Among the Stoics, the theory of linguistic anomaly served to refute the existence of natural connections between formal and semantic categories and also helped to demonstrate the irregularity of linguistic models (see, e. g., Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors, Sextus Empiricus 1951: I 154 f., Varro, On the Latin Language, Varro 1958: VIII 14-20). At the same time the Stoic search for the initial 'first words' (prota onomata, ib.: VI 36; Arnim 1905-14: II 146) put at the disposal of lingustic historiography the opportunity to enlist the Stoics among those who tended to adopt the 'natural' doctrine of language.
In its turn, the Alexandrian school has always been thought as supporting the thesis conception, though in fact the Alexandrian theory of grammatic analogy, on the contrary, presumed the existence of some natural linguistic norms (Aristotle said: "Natural foundations are learned by analogy" - Physics, Aristotle 1928ff: 191a8). This is the reason the Alexandrian grammarians often spoke about a natural sequence of words and grammatical forms (see, e.g., the II century's grammarian Apollonius Dyscolus' treaty on syntax, 1965: 14-36, II 69, 99, 128), while Peripatetic rhetoric, beginning from Aristotle himself, believed in the 'natural' distribution of words in the phrase and of the parts of speech in rhetoric discourse (see, e. g., Demetrius, On Style, Demetrius 1969: 50, 99). Meanwhile, this natural sequence could be contrasted to the artificial order of words in real text and real speech within Stoic rhetoric (the physis category was opposed to that of grammatical syntax - Apollonius Dyscolus 1965: I 26; cf. in rhetoric, Dionysius Halicarnassus 1981: 16, 2 - here again the notions of nature and convention are interrelated and connected by the process of imitation: "[...] nature, which makes us use imitation and convention by words"; cf. also the opposition of natural and artificial order (ordo naturalis - ordo artificiosus) (Lausberg 1960, 245-247).
Thus we come back again to the notions of sequence and order which seem to reconcile the poles of nature and law. Practically every philosophical school in ancient Greece described nature as some kind of a self-organizing whole (see Timaeus passim, Aristotle, Metaphysics, Aristotle 1928ff: 1070a etc., Cicero, On the Nature of Gods, Cicero 1961: II 37-39, and many others). The same principle of inner completeness and self-determination of the analysed object was relevant for classical linguistic theories. Here of significance are such notions for defining the sentence as the Stoic lekton autoteles, 'complete expressible', and the Alexandrian autoteles logos , 'complete phrase'. While to the Stoics, for instance, nature was some "system (systema) of men and god" (Epictetus), they gave the same definition of system to all human arts (technai - Arnim II 20, III 214). It is quite understandable, therefore, why the famous Stoic formula of "life according to nature" (Chrysippus) was at first formulated as "life according to oneself" (Zeno): in order to assimilate himself to the structure of nature, the human being had at first to organize his inner world.
Therefore it can be concluded that throughout the classical tradition we never come across any strict antithesis of the notions of nature and culture. Rather, this dichotomy should be defined as a gradual opposition connecting two levels of realization of one and the same principle, i.e., the idea of external/internal organization, the construction of the world (physis - construction of natural phenomena, thesis-construction of the human mind and human artefacts).
This point of view may help us to have a proper perspective on other problems of our classical inheritance. Laying aside some less important issues, I would here like to mention only one of them, namely the classical category of the sign elaborated by various ancient thinkers from Aristotle and the Stoics to St. Augustine's Christian Doctrine. The interdependence of that notion with the nature-convention dichotomy has already been discussed in general terms (see Todorov 1978). In the present context, we may interpret the ancient category of the sign as a particular notion combining both poles of our antithesis: it is a reflection of natural objects represented by means specific to the human (i.e., 'conventional') mind.
Several other conclusions can be reached. It seems, first of all, that here we have another case where the traditional approach, based on strict binary oppositions, proves itself to be rather one-sided and inadequate to tackle the evidence bequeathed to us by the classical age. What we now take for an expression of a strict essential opposition could always, as in case of Cratylus, turn out to have been a specific form of text organization helping to elucidate the nature-convention problem. The interpretation of the classical concepts as constituted of purely antithetical positions seems rather an invention of medieval scholastics or, in a later period, of the New Age approach to science based on Hegel's dialectics.
At the same time the nature-convention controversy may be interpreted as one more example of the general process of reciprocal transition and possible neutralization of the main oppositions relevant for the "world model". On the other hand, such a convergence of the opposites associates Greek culture with the whole system of Balkan civilization, according to V. Toporov, characterized by "cumulation and synthesis [...] the creation of a whole net of identifications, correspondences and transformations and, therefore, also by the elaboration of the idea of 'conventionalism'" (Toporov 1986: 14). C. Lévy-Strauss has demonstrated mediation of opposites to be the main goal of mythological discourse. It seems, that in that respect, the Balkan tradition and, particularly, the tradition of ancient Greece, tried to remain 'mythical' as it persevered on that quest for the cooperation of contrasting definitions of one and the same object. Hence, various spheres of knowledge, linguistics among them, helped to support such a claim. I dare say, even some modern scholars would like to acquire such a technique - and linguists should not be the last on the list of applicants.
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A general consideration of Romanticism and science may start from the premise that all romantic poetics, however they may differ from each other, are metaphors taken from science or nature. The most influential among them describe both the workings of the imagination and the structure of poems with metaphors taken from organic life: the imagination, as Coleridge writes in his Biographia Literaria, "reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities" (Coleridge 1983: Ch. XIV/2, p.16), and "the rules of the imagination are themselves the very powers of growth and production" (ib.: XVIII/2, p. 84). Goethe's similar notion of organicism is characterized by the concepts of type, metamorphosis, polarity, and enhancement (Steigerung). Novalis deviates from this practice by choosing his metaphors not from organic life but from chemistry, and from combinatorial mathematics (see Kapitza 1968, Mahoney 1980, Neubauer 1978).
These scientific models of romantic poetry show that Romanticism, more than any other modern literary movement or epoch, defined its poetic activity in relation to science and scientific perceptions of nature. The reverse side of this 'invasion' of scientific thought into romantic poetry was a fundamentally semiotic activity: if poetics and poetry were seen in terms of metaphors borrowed from science, science itself was conceived as a general 'poetic' activity that registered and organized sense-data by means of metaphors borrowed from already familiar areas. Though these metaphors were not necessarily borrowed directly from poetry, their constitutive role in knowledge made science an imaginative enterprise for the romantics. This, I believe, was their common premise for attempting to synthesize literature and science.
The traditional notion that Romanticism strove for a "reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities" has been put into question by recent postmodern criticism, a current that owes much of its own critical arsenal to its rereading of romantic texts. Witness Paul de Man's article on "The Rhetoric of Temporality" and the collective volume Deconstruction and Criticism by Harold Bloom et al. The literary corpus targeted by this article and the science I call attention to seem only apparently to be in stride with such deconstructive approaches, for the romantic analogies between poetry and science did not require a synthesis of man and nature. On the contrary; the notion that perceptions of nature are never pure but always involve mediating signs is fundamentally deconstructive, for the signs wedge a non-transparent medium between the perceiver and the perceived.
Visions of alienated science and nature are familiar to us from the writings of Blake, Shelley, and others, but Goethe's worldview has traditionally been contrasted with them as 'harmonic' and 'synthesized'. A few words on Goethe may therefore be needed in order to establish the proper context for Novalis' construction of nature.
According to the received opinion, Goethe's ocular, morphological, and empirical approach to nature rejected various forms of 'subjectivism', including the one that Goethe attributed to Newtonian and mathematical science. Such a reading of Goethe's science overlooks the metaphysical strains in the Sturm und Drang attitude, the impact of Kant and idealism on his 'classical' period, and above all, the narrative and semiotic dimensions in the scientific thoughts of the aged Goethe. "Nature has no system" he wrote in the 1820ies, the term "natural system is selfcontradictory" (Goethe 1983ff: Vol. 12, p. 294). Hence systems are human constructions: Goethe used the conclusion also as an argument against systems in general, but this did not prevent him from constructing systems of his own like the Theory of Colors (Farbenlehre 1810). In general, he preferred more dispersed, though no less symbolic forms, of scientific knowledge: "What is true, identical with the divine, is never recognizable by us directly. We see it only in reflection [Abglanz], in examples, in symbols, in individual and related phenomena" (Attempt at a Theory of Weather, introduction, 1825). Or, as Faust concludes Act 1 of Faust II: "In hued reflections do we hold life" [Am farbigen Abglanz haben wir das Leben].
According to the aged Goethe, the semiotic web of science consisted not only of signs and their networks but also of various types of narratives. If during his youth he was primarily interested in Naturgeschichte, the story of natural processes, towards the end of his life his attention shifted to the human narratives involved in the making of science. On the first level this was autobiographical: the journals Hefte zur Morphologie and Hefte zur Naturwissenschaft überhaupt, which Goethe edited and published between 1817 and 1824, brought together his earlier and recent scientific works with autobiographical reflections about his scientific 'career' that complemented his other autobiographical writings (Dichtung und Wahrheit, Italienische Reise, Campagne in Frankreich etc.) completed during the same years.
Goethe's narrative interest went beyond the construction of a scientific autobiography. When, for instance, he asked his friend Thomas Seebeck to report on his discoveries concerning polarized light (a term Goethe actually disliked), he also requested an account of how the discoveries were made. For in science, he claimed, "the historical should precede the didactic, and the latter the dogmatic" (Goethe 1983ff: Vol. 12, p. 390). Similarly, when the same journals undertook a popularization of Luke Howard's typology of cloud formations, he asked Howard for an autobiographical sketch and introduced it with the comment "that everything done by human agents ought to be regarded in an ethical sense, and moral value could only be judged on the basis of a biography" (ib.: Vol. 12, p. 263). Beyond autobiography and psychological narratives of individual discovery, Goethe was keenly interested (as his Farbenlehre attests) in the history of science, the complex social and institutional history of how science is made. Science, as conceived by the aged Goethe, was no unmediated observation of nature but a semiotic and narrative construction of it for human purposes.
Turning now to Novalis, we ought to start similarly by asking about the coherence of his vision of nature - a question that, considering Novalis' central position within Romanticism, has been raised only with considerable delay within deconstructive approaches to Romanticism. Within the scope of science, we may start with his widespread use of chemical mataphors. Mixing and amalgamation have been justly cited as evidence for his striving towards fusion. But if we take his equally frequent use of terms for dissolving (both in the literal and metaphoric sense), the issue becomes more complex, especially if we recall that he also made self-conscious use of the older German term for chemistry, Scheidekunst [the art of separation].
I see a number of problems in postmodernist reinterpretations of Novalis and I do not intend to address them while considering Novalis' conception of science. Nevertheless, I believe that postmodernist approaches, which usually pay little or no attention to romantic science, may occasion a reconsideration of older issues, and I should want to rely on them in developing my own view of Novalis' science, to which I shall now turn.
A consideration of 'nature as construct' may start with a note by Novalis on the medical theory of a certain Scottish physician called John Brown:
The best part of Brown's system is the astonishing confidence with which Brown presents his system as universally valid. It should be and must be so, experience and nature may say whatever they want. Therein lies the essence of every system, its truly effective force. Brown's system will thereby become the true system for his followers. Nothing can be said against this basically. The greater the magician, the more arbitrary his method, his utterances, his means. Everybody performs miracles in his own way (my translation)
In earlier studies I have explored the historical connections between Brown and German Romanticism (Neubauer 1967, 1971). But we need not know Brown's medical theory in order to recognize that Novalis attributes to it, in this passage, something that cannot be accomodated within the familiar concept of the reconciliation with nature. The mind is conceived here as an imperial power that imposes its structure upon nature, or, better said, it constructs a nature where nature in a strict sense did not as yet exist.
Novalis' 'constructivist' approach to nature drew its foundation from Kant and Fichte. From Kant's 'Copernican Revolution' he learned that the mind had an active, constructive role in ordering the world. Kant found mathematical constructions exemplary for this kind of structuring and Novalis' notes on Friedrich Murhard's System der allgemeinen Grössenlehre (1798) indicate that he understood this Kantian notion of construction and wanted to universalize it. When Murhard, in direct reference to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, stated that the mathematician constructs, i.e. sensuously represents his concepts, Novalis commented: "Here too, it seems to me, the method of the mathe- matician is not individual. He plasticizes the concepts in order to fix them [...]. Why should the philosopher or, generally, every individual scientific master not do similarly? - One should plasticize spontaneously in all sciences".
Fichte immensely broadened this constructivist freedom of consciousness, by interpreting both the self and the world as essentially constructions arising out of an originary act (Tathandlung) of positing. The formative role of this Fichtean idealism in Novalis' thought was traditionally, though often critically, acknowledged, and has been reaffirmed in recent studies by Hannelore Link, Richard Hannah, and Géza von Molnár. The latter, who already devoted an earlier book (Molnár 1987) to Novalis' Fichte studies, eloquently and convincingly argues that there is a crucial ethical strain in Novalis' confrontation with the brute forces of nature - a confrontation for which we find an example in the quoted passage on Brown's medical theory. We may note, however, that such a control of nature is not without its problems, for it conjures up those dangers of an instrumental, exploitative, and tyrannical reason that Adorno and Horkheimer have studied in their Dialectic of the Enlightenment.
The quoted passage raises further questions, because Novalis, unlike Fichte, speaks of John Brown rather than of a transcendental consciousness and one may well ask whether Brown's theory has any intersubjective validity. Indeed, Novalis says that Brown's bold, imaginative, and constructive thought makes for a 'true system' only for his followers. One must conclude that Brown's 'will to power' will inevitably clash not only with nature but also with the imperial drive and rhetorical power of other system builders. Such a Nietzschean-sociological approach to science is indeed adopted today by many philosophers of science (foremost among them Paul Feyerabend, partly even Thomas Kuhn), who see scientific theories as products of clashes between strong individuals, institutions, and institutional communities. Novalis' passage on Brown and his followers points towards such a sociological approach to science, but stops short of assigning a formative role to social forces in the formation of theory. We must therefore ask how, according to Novalis' modified Fichtean conception, agreements on scientific perceptions of nature may arise.
I suggest that we find not one but four, rather different answers to this question in his writings. Next to the sociological model, which is incommensurate with the tenor of Novalis' writings, we may identify three additional models in Novalis' philosophy of science. I shall label them (1) metaphysical, (2) transcendental, and (3) deconstructivist respectively. We may begin discussing them by turning to another locus classicus in his epistemology, the Monolog.
Speaking and writing are actually odd matters, true talk is mere word play. One cannot but he astonished by the ridiculous, mistaken belief that we are talking for the sake of objects. Nobody seems to understand that language is unique because it cares only about itself. This is why she [die Sprache] is such a wonderful and fertile secret. If one speaks just for the sake of speaking one utters the most magnificent and original truths. But if we wish to speak about something definite, capricious [launige] language forces us to say the most ridiculous and twisted things. That too is the source of the hatred that so many serious people feel against language. They notice her playfulness, do not notice however that her scorned chatter is the infinitely serious side of language. If only one could explain to people that language behaves like mathematical formulas - they form a world of their own, they play only with themselves, express nothing but their own wonderful nature, and that is the very reason that they are expressive, and that they mirror the strange interplay of objects.
For our purposes it may suffice to single out the negation of the referentiality of verbal signs in this passage. Their release from a referential function endows them with 'playfulness', and this may suggest that Novalis thinks of verbal signs like Jacques Derrida. Notice, however, that in our passage referentiality is reimported, so to speak, when the speaker of this monologue states that language becomes referential just when it is free. While individual words may not refer to anything in nature, combinations of words, the structure of language, 'mirrors the strange interplay of objects. In contrast to the deconstructionists, who strip language of its metaphysical foundations, Novalis assumes here the existence of a metaphysical anchor . It is this dimension of his epistemology that I call metaphysical, for it involves a model in which the correspondence between mind and world is guaranteed by something that is beyond both of them. That something is not so much a Cartesian God, who is a guarantor against epistemological skepsis, as a Leibnizian God, the origin of a preestablished harmony. On the basis of a preestablished harmony Novalis could at times even revert to the notion of natural signs: "The so-called arbitrary signifiers may in the end be less arbitrary than they seem - so they might have a certain real relation [Realnexus] with the signified".
Earlier critics have paid ample attention to this metaphysical dimension of Novalis' thought, which is deeply embedded in his theology and religion. More recent critics, myself included, would prefer an epistemology that is less dependent on such a metaphysical premise, but one must guard against reading one's wishes into Novalis' texts. Are there traces of a less metaphysical science in his writings? The major alternative that offers itself is transcendental philosophy, especially the Fichtean kind, where the problematic Kantian relationship between perception and nature is resolved by referring everything to processes in the mind. This is, as I understand it, von Molnár's line of thought, which, for all its attention to Novalis' concern with the absolute and his position in the history of mystical thinking, aims at an intersubjectivity that is founded on the subject and the community of subjects, and not on some metaphysical entity. I find von Molnár's attempt more appropriate than most recent interpretations, though I remain skeptical. My skepticism concerns the possibility of ever achieving intersubjective agreement on the basis of moral imperatives.
Let me take a slight detour here. One may categorize Novalis' interpretations by the way they interpret the variety in his thought, by their tendency to see either complementarities or incompatible alternatives in Novalis' different conceptions of nature. In an earlier article, which dealt with his poetics rather than his science, I characterized the anti-Fichtean alternative in Novalis' thought with Spinoza and pantheism (Neubauer 1967). Crudely speaking: whereas Fichte advocated an overcoming of nature, Spinoza's pantheism meant - not only for Novalis but for all German romantics - a submission, a selfless merging and ultimate dissolution in the cosmos. The tendency towards a Spinozistic self-submission is manifest in every aspect of Novalis' life and work, for instance in his notion of love, his unique religious mysticism, his concept of disease, or his critical answer to the Fichtean concept of nature, succinctly summarized by the remark "statt Nicht Ich - Du" [instead of not-I Thou] (Novalis 1960-75: Vol. 3, p. 430). I agree with Géza von Molnár that we ought to perceive this as a fundamental dimension of Novalis' thought, but we differ on its relation to the Fichtean component. Von Molnár interprets it as a "completion" of what he calls the Fichtean "basic schema" (Molnár 1987: 76ff), and he accomodates the self-assertive and self-submissive dimensions within some kind of complementary, reciprocating, and dialectical unity, which he sees as Novalis' ever-present goal, if not his achieved point of rest.
This is where we disagree and where postmodernism becomes relevant. While Novalis may have used the notion of an absolute, an overarching unity, as a kind of 'regulative principle', his life and thought are saturated with the fragmentary: it is manifest in his manner of writing, which yielded tentative, questioning notes, fragments (which he developed into a literary genre), unfinished novels, dialogues, and many other open forms. Von Molnár acknowledges these, but only as products created while striving for the absolute along a via negativa, while Alice Kuzniar reads them in her recent book as signs that Novalis realized and accepted radical temporality in de Man's sense. Neither von Molnár nor Kuzniar quote the first fragment from Blüthenstaub which says: "Wir suchen überall das Unbedingte, und finden immer nur Dinge" (Novalis 1960-75: Vol. 2, p. 413). The sentence contains an untranslatable pun between Dinge [things] and das Unbedingte [the unconditional] and may therefore be translated only approximately as: "We search everywhere for the unconditional but find always only things". Von Molnár focuses on the first, Kuzniar on the second half of the remark, at the cost of not doing justice to the other half.
How do these differences manifest themselves in the various interpretations of Novalis' concept of nature? None of the recent approaches address this question directly, although they answer it by implication. In my own view (Neubauer 1971) we find a variety of approaches to nature in Novalis' writings and these do not cohere into an overall unity. This is perhaps most clear in his first fragmentary novel Die Lehrlinge zu Sais [The Apprentices at Sais], where the second part contains a lengthy conversation between Fichtean, Schellingian, and other voices on nature, without coming to any kind of resolution (Novalis 1960-75: Vol. 1, pp. 96-106). Gaier and Mahoney have shown that this dialogue is tightly organized, but they have not demonstrated that a consensus finally emerges (Gaier 1970, Mahoney 1980). This Bakhtinian 'dialogical' form is hardly accidental, and though one may of course argue that the differences would have been resolved in the sections that never materialized, one may also believe that incompletion was an intrinsic, if perhaps unintended, part of the design. Experimentation and exchange that appear here in the form of novelistic discourse were at the very heart of Novalis' concept of nature.
If nature is a construct for Novalis, this does not imply that it possesses a unique and binding configuration. Rather, it is a multiplicity of hypothetical alternatives existing side-by-side and changing in time. The construction of theory is no patient, systematic endeavor but rather an intuitive and ultimately artistic shaping of what is otherwise chaos:
The concepts of matter, phlogiston, oxygen, gas, force, etc. belong to a logical physics - that knows nothing of concrete materials - but reaches [hineingreift] idiosyncratically [eigensinnig] with bold hands into the world chaos - and creates an order of its own. Plotinus' physics.
Experimentation necessitates a genius for nature [Naturgenius], i.e. a wondrous sense to divine nature's sense - and to act in its spirit. The observer is an artist - he guesses what is important and is able to sense [herausfühlen] the important things among the strange mixture of phenomena that pass him by.
Note the unusual meaning of 'logical' in this passage. It does not refer to a causal enchainment of argumentation but rather to a mode of thinking that is purely mental, that does not take its point of departure from empirical observations - although it may call upon sense experience at some other point. Within this "logical physics", experimentation must also become something different from laboratory work. What Novalis called experiment did not yet exist in his time but became a major form of scientific work in modern physics, namely 'thought experiment': "Experimentation with images and concepts in the imagination quite in analogy to physical experimentation, put together, let emerge, etc.". - "We shall become physicists only if we make imaginative materials and forces into a regulative standard of natural materials and forces".
The key term in all these remarks is 'experiment', or, better, mental experimentation. Consensus is nowhere postulated. While it is true that Novalis' manifest theory points towards a consensus, that his thought has a centripetal urge towards the center, I believe that there is an equally powerful centrifugal force operating in it, which consistently balances and often overweighs its counterpart. The monistic thrust is undermined by Novalis' pluralistic practice.
Von Molnár identifies Novalis' postulated consensus with Poesie: for Novalis, he writes, "theoretical reason, which brings world into consciousness, and practical reason, which guarantees intersubjective validation, are no longer linked by a circle of purely noumenal reality but by one immediately apparent to those who are aware of the 'mother tongue' the world speaks (Novalis, 1, p. 268). That awareness he calls Poesie and those who consciously employ language in this sense poets" ( Molnár 1987: 133). In a more concrete and contemporary sense, von Molnár describes this 'mother tongue' as the language of "the ideal community of mankind", which acts as a normative regulative principle for all members:
The unlimited community of communicants is the necessary ideal premise for every communicative act, and every such act is, at the same time, to be valued according to its relative contribution in the unbounded historical progress toward the realization of that community [...]. Since the normative regulative principle derives from the ideal community of mankind in which all relativism is suspended, it is fundamentally an ethical principle, so that a normative logic of science, which explains the world, presupposes not only a normative hermeneutic, which generates mutual understanding, but also a normative ethic" (ib.: 201).
Notice that in this explanation the intersubjective force of science comes not from some kind of agreement between signifier and signified (or systems thereof) but from an agreement between the communicants that is demanded of them by a "normative regulative principle". This leaves, as in Kant's ethics, a gaping hole between actual and ideal practice.
One is inclined to object that science is no more a product of communicants striving for an ideal community than politics or business is the field where people are acting according to the Kantian categorical imperative. One may judge action by the standard of the categorical imperative but one cannot assume that it is de facto the standard that people use in deciding on action. In other words, it is a largely inoperative principle. To what extent Novalis was aware of this gap between what is and what ought to be, to what extent he thought it possible to proceed towards the consensus of dialogical clashes between irreconcilable opposites, is a matter on which there may be legitimate disagreements. But we must all admit that his notes, his fragments, his poetic works enact and juxtapose different voices or discourses that do not merge - no matter how much he wished consensus as an ideal. The rhetoric of this ideal should not overshadow the reality of his writerly practice.
What is at stake here is not merely a matter that is internal to Novalis' writings and the kind of cohesion we attribute to them, but also a matter that determines his historical place and his value for contemporary thought. For if the striving for unity and systematicity is, indeed, the central feature of Novalis' philosophy of science, then Novalis may well be grouped with Schelling and the Naturphilosophen whose intention was sometimes (though certainly not always) to deduce the laws of nature from unconditioned first principles. Hans Eichner's recent attack on romantic science does not do justice to Romanticism as a whole, but it rightly argues that this deductive Naturphilosophie runs counter to the main current of modern science (Eichner 1982).
My intent was to show that Novalis' notion of 'nature as construct' should not be confused with the construction of nature in Naturphilosophie, because it is much more experimental, hypothetical, and pluralistic. In all these respects Novalis' science is much closer to modern conceptions of science than to Naturphilosophie. We may consider in support of this conclusion a dialogue by him, which rehearses the arguments between an empiricist and a defender of hypotheses:
A: [...] A single faithfully observed fact is worth more than the most brilliant hypothesis. Hypothesizing is a risky game - in the end it becomes a passionate habit for untruth - and perhaps nothing has corrupted the best minds and science more than these bravadoes of the fanciful understanding. This scientific vice [Unzucht] dulls the sense for truth completely and weans away [entwöhnt] from strict observation, which, after all, is the only basis of all growth and discovery. - B: Hypotheses are nets, only those who cast will catch.
Note, once more, Novalis' penchant for texts that speak with a plurality of voices: neither voice of the dialogue can unconditionally be attributed to Novalis, although one is, of course, inclined to see him as B rather than A. In any case, A is given a fair chance and his accusations are to be taken seriously.
If we take the plural voice of this dialogue seriously, we may perceive in it a recognition of, if not a plea for, methodological pluralism-a philosophical position that anticipates Paul Feyerabend's critique of methodological monism. If, however, we see A merely as a foil (something I am rather reluctant to do) we shall be closer to the methodological position of Karl Popper, who, in fact, has adopted B's reply as a motto for his seminal study The Logic of Scientific Discovery.
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In search for a conceptualization of ecology one would not very likely turn to the notion of nature in German idealism and yet a short introduction may prove the irony of contemporary ecology. German idealism began with the Enlightenment in Kant and ended in speculation with Schelling. This is the course of self-reflective reason that took nature as its counterpart or 'mirror'. The following essay will redraw the development of the idealist system from Kant, to Fichte, to Hegel, and to Schelling.
Nature and the Genealogy of Reason
Neither Kant' s formal nor his material definition of nature is the most relevant one for his particular notion of nature but rather the term 'purposiveness of nature' we find in his Critique of Judgement. According to Kant our perception of the beauty of nature, i.e. "ihre Zusammenstimmung mit dem freien Spiele unserer Erkenntnisvermögen in der Auffassung und Beurtheilung ihrer Erscheinung" [its connection with the free play of our cognitive faculties in apprehending and judging of its appearance] may be considered to be its purposiveness: "als objective Zweckmäßigkeit der Natur in ihrem Ganzen, als System, worin der Mensch ein Glied ist" [as objective purposiveness of nature in its whole as a system of which man is a member]. This is valid as an aesthetic judgement "wenn einmal die teleologische Beurtheilung derselben [Schönheit der Natur] durch die Naturzwecke, welche uns die organisirten Wesen and die Hand geben, zu der Idee eines großen Systems der Zwecke der Natur uns berechtigt hat" [if once the teleological judging of it [the beauty of nature], by means of the natural purposes with which organized beings furnish us has justified for us the idea of a great system of purposes of nature] (Kant 1902: Vol. V, 380).
Reason takes a moral and aesthetic interest in this future 'system of the purposes of nature' which is heuristic like Kant's 'ideas' in his theoretical philosophy. Its moral interest determines actions with and in nature, its aesthetic interest determines art as nature (ib.: Vol. V, 306f). Schelling's and Hegel's objections show that this conception is not yet idealistic. For Schelling only art can determine nature: "nur was die Kunst in ihrer Vollkommenheit hervorbringt, [ist] Princip und Norm fur die Beurtheilung der Naturschönheit" [only what art produces in its perfection serves as principle and norm for the judging of natural beauty] (Schelling 1927-59: Vol. II, 622). Whereas Hegel excludes the beauty of nature completely from his aesthetics, which can only be conceived as "'Philosophie der schönen Kunst', unter Ausschluß des Begriffs des Naturschönen" ['philosophy of the arts', the notion of the beauty of nature excluded] (Hegel 1927-30: Vol. XII, 19f).
Instead of pursuing the old problem of the mimetic relation between art and nature, the notion of the 'purposiveness of nature' is more interesting in our context. Reminding one of Aristotle, nature here takes on the properties of an acting subject. This definition Kant presents in his small treatises Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht (1784) and Muthmaßlicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte (1786). Kant differentiates between Newtonian nature and nature as an idea whose object is society. He poses the question whether one could not discover a 'natural intention' in the course of history: "eine Naturabsicht in diesem widersinnigen Gange menschlicher Dinge, aus welcher von Geschöpfen, die ohne eigenen Plan verfahren, dennoch eine Geschichte nach einem bestimmten Pläne der Natur möglich sei" [an intention of nature in this contradictory course of human affairs which would bring about a history of creatures proceding without a plan of their own, yet a history following a distinct plan of nature] (Kant 1902: Vol. VIII, 18).
In his Muthmaßlicher Anfang Kant commences a genealogy of reason which he completes in his essay on the Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte with the notion of 'Naturabsicht', i.e. purpose of nature. This genealogy is explicitly a construction, not a history of the development of freedom from its natural human origins - "die Entwickelung der Freiheit aus ihrer ursprünglichen Anlage in der Natur des Menschen" [the development of freedom from its original predisposition in human nature] (ib.: 109). Very much in terms of Foucault's Nietzschean 'genealogy', it makes conceivable what history does not say and makes explainable what it does say.
The events of Kant's presupposed history of freedom or reason are as follows: 1) Reason replaces instinct, produces 'unnatural' desires and alternative 'lifestyles' (ib.: 109f). 2) Cultivation of capabilities (e.g. cultivation of sexual drives) (ib.: 112f). 3) Representation and planning of the future (ib.: 113f). 4) The declaration of man as the 'purpose of nature' is consequential to the formation of the 'idea of equality of all reasonable beings' (ib.: 114). - With these steps man enters the 'moral world' and in sharp contrast to Rousseau's notion of deformation steps into freedom. It is the purpose of nature that man cultivates his faculties freely, which implies both that man has his own purpose and that he is the purpose of nature (cf. ib.: Vol. V, 226). The 'development from one level of insight to the next' (ib.: Vol. VIII, 19) can only belong to the human species not to individuals, and it is only through reason that man remains related to nature. There is no 'return to nature' in Kant, for to be a 'cosmopolitan' means to be moral which would thusly be our natural state (ib.: 24ff, cf. ib.: Vol. V, 432). Incomplete morality is to Kant what 'culture' is to Rousseau, needing to be overcome:
Rousseau hatte so unrecht nicht, wenn er den Zustand der Wilden vorzog, so bald man namlich diese letzte Stufe, die unsere Gattung noch zu ersteigen hat, wegläßt. Wir sind in hohem Grade durch Kunst und Wissenschaft cultivirt. Wir sind civilisirt, bis zum Überläßtigen zu allerlei gesellschaftlicher Artigkeit und Anständigkeit. Aber uns für schon moralisirt zu halten, daran fehlt noch sehr viel. Denn die Idee der Moralität gehört noch zur Cultur (ib.: Vol. VIII, 28).
[Rousseau was not so wrong when he prefered the state of the savages, in case one omits this last step which our species still has to ascend to. To a high degree we are cultivated by art and science. We are civilized up to the over-annoyance of all kinds of social niceties and decencies. But it would take a whole lot more to consider us already moralized. The idea of morality in fact still belongs to culture]
Kant's construction of 'nature's plan' and its realization are dialectically related: if reason can be understood as the purpose of nature then enlightenment is natural. In other words: the construction of nature without natural history is empty and natural history without its philosophical construction is blind. Kant's idealism consists of the interconnection of nature and reason as a regulative idea helping man remain 'natural'. However, nature may serve as an center of orientation but it cannot be rehabilitated as Aristotle's acting subject. The 'purpose of nature' does not stand for actual nature but rather for the idea of a genealogy of reason. Even after Kant, nature remains conceivable only as the idea of a reasonable society and as Newtonian science - alongside the reception of art as nature based on nonpurposive reason (Kant 1902: Vol. V, 226).
Nature and the Limits of the Self
The later development of idealism discards Kant's 'realism', i.e. the presupposition of nature as a correlate to cognition. In fact, it seeks to suspend the nature-mind antinomy. Nature, Kant's 'Ding an sich', and the experience of the material world become a product of consciousness as when Fichte claims to produce a "vollständige Deduction der ganzen Erfahrung aus der Möglichkeit des Selbstbewußtseins" [complete deduction of all experience from the possibility of selfconsciousness] (Fichte 1845-46: Vol. I, 462). Fichte compresses the relation between self and world into the self-centered formula: "Ich setze im Ich dem theilbaren Ich ein theilbares Nicht-Ich entgegen" [within the self I posit a divisible Not-I against the indivisible I] (ib.: 110). The world is reduced to a mere negation of the self, without the self it is nothing.
This construction may seem grotesque but proves the freedom of reason and its responsibility towards itself and everything else. To Fichte neither a real nor a heuristic notion of nature makes sense since one cannot but perceive always and only oneself: "Es giebt keine Natur an sich; meine Natur und alle andere Natur, die gesetzt wird, um die erste zu erklären, ist nur eine besondere Art und Weise, mich selbst zu erblicken" [There is no nature in and by itself; my nature and all other nature, that is being posited to explain the first, is only a special way to perceive myself] (ib.: Vol. IV, 133). His goal is the autopoetic self: "Ich bin durchaus mein eigenes Geschöpf. Ich hätte blind dem Zuge meiner geistigen Natur folgen können. Ich wollte nicht Natur, sondern mein eigenes Werk seyn" [I am very well my own creature. I could have followed blindly the tendency of my mental nature. I did not want to be nature but my own creation] (ib.: Vol. VI, 256). The self produces the non-self, the other, nature, as its own limits.
The limits of the self are the limits of the world - or ecology.
Nature and the Limits of the Idea
If Fichte's absolute self was a step beyond Kant, Hegel wants to remain a step ahead of Kant regretting the loss of the Aristotelian notion of nature as the acting subject (Hegel 1927-30: Vol. XVIII, 342). Hegel's own philosophy of nature, however, is not quite Aristotelian either. It aims at the 'reconciliation' of mind and nature in a way that is again advantageous to the mind: "Der Geist, der sich erfaßt hat, will sich auch in der Natur erkennen, den Verlust seiner wieder aufheben" [The mind that has comprehended itself wants to apprehend itself in nature as well, to suspend the loss of itself] (ib.: Vol. IX, 721). Nature occurs as "die Idee in der Form des Andersseyns" [the idea in the shape of its self-difference] (ib.: 49). In short, nature is the mind in its otherness and it becomes mind again by way of the suspension of its loss of self. It is the task of the philosophy of nature to represent this suspension or 'Aufhebung': "Die denkende Naturbetrachtung muß betrachten, wie die Natur an ihr selbst dieser Prozeß ist, zum Geiste zu werden, ihr Andersseyn aufzuheben" [the comprehensive reflection of nature has to apprehend how nature is in itself this process of becoming mind, of suspending its otherness] (ib.: 50). As in Kant, nature is endowed with reason, but whereas the Enlightenment considers reason to be the nature of man, Hegel conceives nature to be reasonable. The reconciliation of mind and nature remains an achievement of reason, since nature is the self-alienated mind (ib.: 50).
Hegel's notion of nature is not Fichte's mental product but rather the other of the mind and thus a version of it. In nature, the mind is not a subject anymore, but nature is not a subject either. The subjectivization of nature in the shape of the self-alienated mind correlates with the desubjectivization of the mind or reason. This would be Hegel's notion of the idea. Hegel's is an "idealism without a subject" (see Schwemmer 1980: 168f). Here the idea is the actual reality, the unity of its conceptualization and its realization. Philosophy reconstructs the ideas of nature and of the mind as well as the absolute idea where the cognitive subject becomes the object of itself.
The limits of the mind and the idea are the limits of the world - or ecology.
Nature and the Limits of the World
Schelling's idealism is even more speculative. In addition, his goal is the unity of nature and mind (i.e. realistic objectivity and transcendental subjectivity), but he wants to lend nature greater autonomy and autarchy: "alle ihre Gesetze sind immanent, oder: die Natur ist ihre eigne Gesetzgeberin (Autonomie der Natur). Was in der Natur geschieht, muß sich auch aus den thätigen und bewegenden Principien erklären lassen, die in ihr selbst liegen, oder: die Natur ist sich selbst genug (Autarkie der Natur)" [all its laws are immanent or: nature is its own legislator (autonomy of nature). What happens in nature has to let itself be explained out of the working and moving principles which lie in nature itself or: nature is selfsufficient (autarchy of nature)] (Schelling 1927-59: Vol. II, 17). With this philosophy of nature, Schelling strives towards a 'higher knowledge of nature' than the natural sciences had produced (Bacon, Boyle, Newton) (ib.: Vol. I, 720). He interprets the unity of nature and mind as the reconstruction of a 'mythical consciousness' which is man's original and natural state. Nature itself is the unconscious prefiguration of subjectivity. It is the visible mind and the mind is invisible nature.
Schelling and Fichte distinguish each other's position polemically. Schelling says that, to Fichte, the self means everything and that to himself everything means the self (ib.: Vol. III, 5). Fichte on the other hand, reproaches Schelling of employing divine intuition into nature that spares him the labor of scientific research (Fichte 1845-46: Vol. VII, 124). It is of little relief that Schelling differentiates between nature philosophy which may be speculative and natural science which cannot be speculative. He renews the old distinction between 'natura naturans' and 'natura naturata'. The object of nature philosophy is 'nature as productivity' and the object of natural science is 'nature as a mere product': "Die Natur als bloßes Produkt (natura naturata) nennen wir Natur als Objekt (auf diese allein geht alle Empirie). Die Natur als Produktivität (natura naturans) nennen wir Natur als Subjekt (auf diese allein geht alle Theorie)" [nature as a mere product (natura naturata) we call nature as an object (all empiricism addresses this alone). Nature as productivity (natura naturans) we call nature as a subject (all theory addresses this alone] (Schelling 1927-59: Vol. II, 284). At least in Schelling's mind, the unity of nature and mind has been completed when he first sees quantitative and speculative physics in agreement on the absolute productivity of nature and when, secondly, he equates this dynamic productivity of nature with the transcendental base of idealism: "Das Dynamische ist für die Physik eben das, was das Transcendentale für die Philosophie ist" [The dynamic means to physics just what the transcendental means to philosophy] (ib.: 709f).
The following quote shows just how speculative this last ecological vision of German idealism is, revealing Schelling's construction of nature as being an eternal reciprocal process taking contradiction as its fundamental principle: "Die Entgegengesetzten müssen ewig sich fliehen, um sich ewig zu suchen, und sich ewig suchen, um sich nie zu finden; nur in diesem Wiederspruch liegt der Grund aller Thätigkeit der Natur" [The contraries have to forever flee each other in order to forever seek each other, and forever seek each other in order to never find each other; only in this contradiction lies the cause of all activity of nature] (ib.: 325).
An example of this self-contradictoriness of nature would be the separation of the sexes. As Schelling says, 'nature hates the sexes' and gendering occurs against its will (ib.: 324). Nature contradicts itself in that it tries to achieve identity through sexual difference but cannot achieve it precisely because of this. In the final analysis, Schelling's speculations on identity and difference are as tautological as they are aporetical and are thus not all that different from contemporary theories of deconstruction. Idealism began in Kant with the insight that the objectivity of knowledge and, the morality of action are achievements of reason, which man recognizes at the same time as his own nature, and ends up in Schelling's mystical union of nature and mind. Moreover, Schelling perceives nature, as Fichte pointed out, only through intellectual intuition. Here the philosophy of nature falls back onto Platonic notions. Schelling himself states that our knowledge of nature is a matter of Platonic recollection: "Die platonische Idee, daß alle Philsophie Erinnerung sey, ist in diesem Sinne wahr; alles Philosphiren besteht in einem Erinnern des Zustandes, in welchem wir eins waren mit der Natur" [In this sense the Platonic idea that all philosophy is recollection is true; all philosophizing consists in a recollection of the state in which we were one with nature] (ib.: 711).
The limits of nature are the limits of the world - or ecology.
None of the idealistic constructions of nature seem to be very topical and yet they have an ironic sort of relevance. Kant's teleology of nature remained unclear, his genealogy of reason has been forgotten. Fichte's idea to deal with nature within the limits of the self lacks demonstration and communication. Hegel's vision of a desubjectivized mind obscures a dilettante's philosophy of nature and a philosophy of the mind where the latter is its own and sole reality. Schelling's idealism rehabilitates the role of nature as the subject, but nevertheless, this rehabilitation relies on the speculative base of all previous idealists, achieving unity at the expense of eternal contradiction. How much more realistic were the ideas that the contemporary poets had about nature can be seen in, for example, Goethe's description of nature as a process with unknown origin and end: "Die Natur hat kein System, sie hat, sie ist Leben und Folge aus einem unbekannten Zentrum, zu einer nicht erkennbaren Grenze. Naturbetrachtung ist daher endlos" [Nature has no system, it has, it is life and the consequence of an unknown center, with an indistinguishable limit. Therefore the perception of nature is endless] (Goethe 1948-60: Vol. XIII, 35).
Nevertheless, the idealist construction of nature is more 'real' than one would think. The question whether nature is reasonable, as a motif within German idealism, has not been answered. Modern ecology, postulating the 'ecology of mind', parallels Hegel's enterprise of the 'phenomenology of mind' and ironically repeats the same construction of nature when it conceives of it as 'systemic nature' (see Bateson 1972). Whether this is the way to reinstitute nature as a 'subject', capable of resisting its industrial exploitation, remains questionable.
However, the idealist attempt to rehabilitate nature is already symptomatic. That we miss nature, be it the view in front of our window or the spontaneity in our neighbours, proves that idealism was right to reconstruct it. All that is left of nature are its economic resources or parks and zoos serving as alibis to exploit it everywhere else. Nature has become part of our technological culture, a part of the 'spaceship earth'. Wherever we find ourselves in nature, instrumental reason has already to some extent cultivated it. But this diagnosis is ironically identical to Fichte's construction. This is Fichte's self that lends essence to the non-self. In a technological culture nature has been appropriated as the other, there is no difference anymore between culture and nature - which leaves us with an even greater responsability. Thus, ironically enough, Hegel's and Schelling's construction have also been revalidated if the mind can today recognize itself in nature.
What seemed to be a speculation has strangely come true, negatively and positively: modern culture has appropriated nature, i.e. almost destroyed the 'natural' environment, but it has also disappropriated some of its 'culture', i.e. it searches for ecological solutions and a balance between cultural and natural states. Both appropriation and disappropriation prove that idealist constructions of nature, as a 'product' or a 'mirror', are not so far-fetched but were early symptoms in the deteriorating relationship between man and nature. However, this cannot result in a plea for the idealist notion of nature since one cannot think of nature as the other of reason but rather as the other of our everyday irrationality. Whatever happens to natural history, the history of 'nature' is not yet finished, since we seem to live its simulations quite happily, i.e. unconsciously.
Bateson, Gregory (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Chandler Publ. Comp.
Fichte, Johann Gottlieb (1845-1846). Sämmtliche Werke. Berlin.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1948-1960). Zur Naturwissenschaft im allgemeinen: Probleme. Werke (Hamburger Ausgabe). Hamburg.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1927-1930). Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik. Sämmtliche Werke. Stuttgart.
Kant, Immanuel (1902). Gesammelte Schriften. Berlin: Königliche Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Josef (1927-1959). System des transcendentalen Idealismus (1800). Schellings Werke. München.
Schwemmer, Oskar (1980). Idealismus. Jürgen Mittelstraß
(ed.): Enzyklopädie derPhilosophie und
Wissenschaftstheorie II. Stuttgart.
The philosophy and science of nature have always developed hand in hand in European thought, in complexly interactive, mutually influencing ways (Collingwood 1965). In both, the purpose has been to make the best possible sense from what is thought at the time to be known. Conceptual assumptions which at the time appear self-evident in the light of already proven empirical truths, later come to be regarded as irrational a prioris. Examples range from Thales' belief that water is the universal substance from which all things are made by a magician-like God; to Anaximander's indeterminate, undifferentiated Boundless, or Anaximenes' divine world-creative vapour; to Newton's belief in Absolute Space, Absolute Time, and an architect-like God (Collingwood 1965, Powers 1982).
The sociology or history of ideas shows such concepts to have arisen not at all randomly or arbitrarily. It points to the birth of Ionian science and philosophy from the creation myths of early Greek society, or to unavoidable assumptions given the philosophical and theological matrix within which Newton made his scientific advances.
The dominant philosophy and science of nature in any civilisation both reflect and reinforce its dominant socio-economic, political and military processes, and the ways these act upon nature. They are intrinsic to a civilisation's mode of social metabolism with nature, and thus their critique is essential to any project of transformation of this mode. Thus, nature for the early Greeks, with their maritime city-state civilisation emerging from tribal agriculture, was predominantly a God-created, purposive, cyclically-behaving organism. For post-Renaissance Europeans within emerging urban capitalism, it was and remains, to all too great a degree in spite of the outdatedness of the conception both intellectually and ethically (that is, with regard to human justice and survival), a God-created but purposeless, dead, timeless (in that the future and past are identical to the present, i.e. nature is nondevelopmental), determined machine. For contemporary Europeans it might be said that nature should be self-developmental (with spirit immanent to matter, thus nondualistic), purposive, spirally-progressive (that is, not cyclical nor linear, but not static either), and dialectically creative: generative of new emergent qualities from the inorganic cosmos to life to humanity and consciousness. This view of nature, which is part of a project that urges for an harmonious metabolism between a society under self-conscious control and nature, is of an endless evolutionary process, unitary on each of its nested levels (Fraser 1978, 1982) and as a whole: from the interwoven inorganic web of nature (Capra 1976, 1982), the implicate order (Bohm 1983) of the universe; to life understood as a holistic, Gaian, creative unity (Crawford and Marsh 1989, Goodwin 1981, 1990, Levins and Lewontin 1985, Lovelock 1989, Ho 1988, Sheldrake 1991); to human history as an interconnected process of attempted progress or of transcendence of alienation.
This as yet oppositional, alternative idea of nature - urging for a new, environmentally sustainable mode of metabolism between society and nature - can draw from many strands of ancient philosophy and science; from the holistic pantheism of the early Renaissance (as in Giordano Bruno or John Aymer) (cf. Cloudsley 1984); from late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Romanticism (especially Goethe, Wordsworth, and Shelley); and from numerous nineteenth and twentieth century tendencies toward an evolutionary (in R.G.Collingwood's sense of the term) science and philosophy of nature. These last include modern geology, Darwinian biology, and electromagnetism among nineteenth century developments in science, and relativity and quantum physics in the twentieth. Within philosophy they include Hegel, Marx, and Engels in the nineteenth, and Bergson in the twentieth century. Also included should be the 'alternative' philosophies of science developed by contemporary thinkers such as Jim Lovelock (Lovelock 1988), David Bohm, Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake (Sheldrake 1991), and Mae-Wan Ho (Ho 1988). The twentieth century has witnessed backlashes against the mechanistic scientism that dominated nineteenth century science, in spite of tendencies in the latter toward creative evolution and field-theory, mentioned above. Modern physics and cosmology, and post-Darwinian biology especially, seem to have converged with a critical, humanly grounded dialectical philosophy of science (cf. Cloudsley 1988).
This is a process of European (and neo-European) self-discovery, of finding and adhering to the strands of thought about nature and man's relation to it, which are most appropriate both to immanent developments within the natural sciences and to a social and economic policy, a human strategy of life and feeling, that could ensure sustainable production and undestructive interaction with nature, an existence in harmony with, and within, 'Gaia'.
There have been two basic ethical visions of humanity's responsibility towards nature throughout western civilization's historical epochs, if looked at from a particular angle on a very general plane. For the first, man and other animals and plants (and sometimes non-living objects), have a purpose within existence, in their own right, whether the cosmos is endowed with a God or gods, or not, cf. Aristotle's teleology; the Biblical theme of man as keeper or steward of God's garden; the mediaeval vision of nature as wondrous and beautiful, testimony to God's marvellous Creation; or in modern times belief in the harmony of man in nature, their unity, understood biologically and ecologically in terms of symbiotic interdependence, or poetically as a unitary cosmic web. The latter is in Shelley's Adonais
'that sustaining love
Which through the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea [...] (Shelley 1970: 443)
As in 'natural theology', the sense of order (the 'higher order of chaos') and beauty in nature is part of both Romanticism's mystical aesthetic sensibility and its rational argument for unity and meaning in nature. The profound idea that a politics of conservation, a commitment to human justice and the love of nature are intertwined, recurs in the late twentieth century in the global ecological movement. The following quotation from Chee Yoke Ling, of the Malaysian Friends of the Earth, reflects this:
I think the reconciliation can only take place if societies as a whole in all tropical rain forest countries realise that the rain forest, or any other resources, or the environment as a whole, has to be conserved, for all reasons, not just because we want to have a beautiful environment, but for very sound economic planning and to be able to sustain our population as long a term as possible. Then, if that awareness exists, people and institutions in a country will accordingly make demands from politicians. So that people who want to come into political power have to show that they abide by that same principle. So we need to build that awareness as a society; then we dictate the political development. (Sarre e.a. 1991: 55)
The idea that humanity should feel at home on the earth, as a conscious part of 'Gaia', spontaneously in tune with or aligned to it, is one that has a long history in Europe, running parallel with Taoism in China (Cloudsley 1986a).
In the second of the two visions, animals and plants, and the non-living world, only exist for man's purpose. Thus thought countless ancient philosophers: there is the Biblical theme that God made other living things for man; there is the other mediaeval vision of nature as a fallen, despiritualized, evil source of temptation, and mere means to satisfy man's material needs through the sweat of his brow, due to Original Sin; and in modern times Francis Bacon believed in the natural domination of man over nature, as did Descartes. Darwinism was and still is predominantly understood not for its Gaian, interdependent, unitary, and emergently creative implications but one-sidedly in terms of struggle, conflict, and competition in which human society must win over and control the rest of nature. A scientistic instrumental vision of domination, control, and exploitation of all nature, living and non-living, as normal, inevitable, and correct, came to dominate the European idea of nature. In a recent International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) publication, the authors write as follows about the world's forests:
The prevalent mode of development in forests this century has been characterised by predation - a 'frontier' approach to forest resources. This has deep historical roots in European expansionism, and it has since become a global phenomenon. In Ghana, for example, regions with a predominance of natural forest are termed 'frontier regions'. This mode of development has become widely discredited, but it is still embedded in policies, institutions and the attitudes of many individuals today.
Mediaeval European agriculture depended upon intensive techniques of resource husbandry, because of the increasingly confined European land-base. The 'New World' of the colonies, however, afforded rich possibilities for agricultural expansion. In ensuing centuries, predatory expansive agriculture came to characterize imperial European civilization, leading some emergent settler cultures (perhaps most notably that of the USA) to cultivate a mythology of 'expanding frontiers.' The profits from imperial agriculture helped to finance urban-based industries; and the dynamic of industrial growth served in turn to sustain the mythology of unlimited frontiers, and further transformed formative frontier myths into a belief in perpetual economic growth, as a phenomenon which was both good and natural. Having expanded on the things of nature, the West came to believe that expansion was in the nature of things. (Holmberg (ed). 1991: 201)
These two visions (cf. Glacken 1967, Thomas 1983) are distinct from and cut across the different ontologies that have prevailed in the different epochs of European history: whether unitary or dualist, that is, pantheist (or dialectical materialist) on the one hand and mechanical materialist or idealist on the other; whether atomist or organic and holistic; cut across ontologies of time that have been variously static, cyclic, or developmental; and notions of causality that have been determinist on the one hand or dialectical and process-like on the other. They are also distinct from and cut across the alternatives of monotheism, polytheism, and atheism, whilst they straddle, unboundaried, the spheres called science, philosophy, religion, art and literature. European integration asks that the finest traditions of European thought and sensibility be embraced by European peoples, and be made available to humanity as a whole.
The different traditions of thought in western civilisation concerning the relationship of human beings to (the rest of) nature can be dissected into three tendencies on the basis of a slightly different categorization from that used above. As with that however, it should be remembered that such tendencies are analytically abstracted from the concrete, interwoven, complex whole of historical reality.
The first of these three traditions can be characterised as harmonious interaction, metabolism, or symbiosis between human society and nature. Most of the major Greek philosophers - such as Anaximander, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle - maintain in their very different ontologies the pantheistic, intuitive world-view common to 'primitive' societies. Man is a part of the interwoven, living totality of nature. For Aristotle, each species has a purpose
specific to itself, while nature as a whole is a vital force with a purpose.
The truth of this continuity comes across very clearly in the following comments made by Martin von Hildebrand, an anthropologist who works with Amazonian native groups:
Tribal peoples' concepts of the Earth and their relationship to it and its other 'inhabitants' are quintessentially gaian insofar as they conceive the 'whole' as being necessary for vitality, continuity and sanity in the sense of health.
The Ufaina (of Colombia) believe in a vital force called fufaka which is essentially masculine and which is present in all living beings. This vital force, whose source is the sun, is constantly recycled among plants, animals, men and the Earth itself which is seen as feminine. Each group of beings, men, plants, animals, Earth or water require a minimum amount of this vital force in order to live.
What is of importance, according to the Ufaina, is that the vital force continues to be recycled from one species to another, in such a way that not too much accumulates in any one of them, since this would cause another to be correspondingly deprived of his vital force. The delicate balance between a community and its environment makes it defenceless; consequently any disturbance, however slight, necessarily affects the whole. (Hildebrand 1988: 186-189)
Navajo cosmology has similarly been described as dynamic and processual (Pinxten 1987), being concerned with activity and events, not with movements of things. The Navajo world is a finite, bounded bowl, but this is no static bowl 'containing' the universe. This cosmology is unitary and organic, with no dichotomies into form and content, or things and happenings. Within this total interrelatedness, human beings have a distinct impact through ritual actions. The world is indeterminate, non-hierarchical, and homogeneous, with no dichotomy between the 'natural' and the 'supernatural'.
For the Greek Stoic philosopher Posidonius (first century BC) there is a primeval creative force that brings forth the beauty and purposefulness of nature, a creative Logos that ensures development and differentiation of multiplicity from unity, the complex from the simple. The arts of man are the highest stage of this creativity, but as they are derived from nature they remain part of nature, and to be happy and free man should live harmoniously within nature.
The Roman Cicero (also first century BC) was influenced by Posidonius, and was a major vehicle for the reintroduction of the classical divine design argument into Renaissance thought, and into the natural theologies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Glacken 1967). The whole universe possesses a generative principle and an organic character. There is a hierarchy of being in which plants exist for the animals, animals for man, and man exists in order to contemplate the divine mind, yet each retains its own purpose and intrinsic value. Clarence Glacken writes: "The Stoic idea of sympathy is at work here; there are interconnections and affinities among things in the whole creation, strong bonds between the macrocosm and the microcosm that is man" (ib.: 57) This feeling was reinvoked in Shelley when he wrote in Epipsychidion::
The spirit of the worm beneath the sod
In love and worship, blends itself with God (Shelley 1970: 414)
and in The Boat on Serchio
Day had awakened all things that be,
The lark and the thrush and the swallow free,
And the milkmaid's song and the mower's scythe,
And the matin-bell and the mountain bee [...] (ib.: 655)
The attitude of mind and feeling in the following from Cicero's De Natura Deorum:
Think of all the various species of animals, both tame and wild! think of the flights and songs of birds' of the pastures filled with cattle, and the teeming life of the woodlands! [...] could we but behold these things with our eyes as we can picture them in our minds, no one taking in the whole earth at one view could doubt divine reason (quoted from Glacken 1967: 59)
is a Gaian one (though this is not to imply that the modern version requires a literal God. Rather one is reminded of Jim Lovelock's moment of insight that the planet Earth is alive.)
Again, it is a central experience in the Romantic vision, as with Shelley:
that Beauty furled
Which penetrates and clasps and fills the world [...]
like a buried lamp, a Soul no less
Burns in the heart of this delicious isle,
An atom of the eternal, whose own smile
Unfolds itself, and may be felt, not seen
O'er the gray rocks, blue waves, and forests green,
Filling their bare and void interstices. (Shelley 1970: 414, 422)
This sense of an awesome, ineffable, beauty and meaning in nature - which may or may not entail theism - has throughout the modern period resisted both the reductionism of the Galileo-Newtonian scientific world view, and the callously destructive spirit of industrial progress, capitalist or otherwise.
Although the Roman Lucretius (first century BC) rejects design arguments, he retains the notion of a vital force and holds to another kind of teleology. Though materialistic and mocking beliefs in final causes, nature for Lucretius is not the 'blind watchmaker' (Dawkins 1986) of modern atheistic mechanism. Nature for Lucretius is a powerful cyclical process: the earth causes plant and animal life to grow, but on passing away, what remains is restored to earth as dust in proportion to what the earth has given. It is like a parent and like a tomb (cf. Glacken 1967: 71). It is hard not to feel the same unifying geographical and ecological awe in Shelley also:
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead are driven ...
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear! (Shelley 1970: 577)
The dominant view of nature in late mediaeval Europe was Christianized Aristotelianism. Ernst Cassirer has written: "The task of medieval thought had consisted largely in tracing the architectonics of being and in delineating its main design. In the religious system of the Middle Ages as it is crystallised in scholasticism every phase of reality is assigned its unique place" (Cassirer 1966: 39), but in the Renaissance one world and one Being are replaced by an infinity of worlds constantly springing from the womb of becoming, each one of which embodies but a single transitory phase of the inexhaustable vital process of the universe [...]
The nature philosophy of the Renaissance attacks [...] the old conception of nature. Its basic tendency and principle can be expressed in the formula that the true essence of nature is not to be sought in the realm of the created (natura naturata), but in that of the creative process (natura naturans). Nature is more than mere creation; it participates in original divine essence because the divine power pervades nature itself. (ib.: 37-41)
This ontology of nature in which the dualism between subject and object, mover and moved, creator and created, is overcome, has its counterpart in China in Taoism. In Europe, it was displaced and supplanted by the mechanistic dualism of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. The pantheistic holism of Bruno was replaced by the Newtonian world-machine with its paradoxical need for a machine-making God. Empiricist epistemology with its rigid relation of facts to concepts replaced the dialectical, dynamic interaction between the thinking person and nature, implicit in Bruno. As R.G.Collingwood puts it, the Renaissance view of nature came in due course to deny that the world of nature, the world studied by physical science, is an organism, and (asserted) that it is devoid both of intelligence and of life. It is therefore incapable of ordering its own movements in a rational manner, and indeed incapable of moving itself at all. The movements which it exhibits, and which the physicist investigates, are imposed upon it from without, and their irregularity is due to 'laws of nature' likewise imposed from without. Instead of being an organism, the natural world is a machine: a machine in the literal and proper sense of the word [... its] orderliness [is] an expression of intelligence: but for the Renaissance thinkers it was the intelligence of something other than nature: the divine creator and ruler of nature. (Collingwood 1965: 5)
It was the reductionism, dualism, and mechanism of Newton that the Romantic movement rebelled against - not the progress of science and technology per se, nor the Enlightenment's trust in reason and rationality. It was anything but an anti-scientific spirit that led William Blake in his famous watercolour to depict Newton looking downward, measuring diagrams on the bottom of the sea; and when Wordsworth described a statue of Newton as:
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone (quoted in ib.: 106) he was sympathetically conveying the alienated nature of Newton's genius, the cold direction in which Newton had taken the light of science, breaking the unity of thought and feeling, scientific reason and poetic imagination.
Particularly significant is Goethe's intention of constructing an alternative science to Newton's - one which engaged all the senses and faculties, and did not relegate the so-called secondary qualities (such as colour, taste, sound) to mere 'subjective' experience, whilst presenting the so-called primary qualities (such as number, magnitude, position and extension) as the sole 'objective', because measurable, stuff of science. In his complaint that Newton had 'tweaked and bent' light in his experiments with prisms, he lamented Newton's reduction of the phenomena of colour to a hidden mechanism; he urged for an active epistemology rather than the passive notion of the senses receiving' data, that has become central to the dominant scientistic world view; and for science as an activity that finds the organization or unity of the world (Bortoft 1986). Goethe wanted, as he put it in the Introduction to his Contribution to Optics, a theory that "includes all experiences, and can help towards their practical application." (quoted in Schindler 1946: 9) In this, he was echoed by Shelley when the latter wrote in his A Defence of Poetry:
The poetry in these systems of thought is concealed by the accumulation of facts and calculating processes [...]. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave. (Shelley 1890: 37)
Goethe, like Wordsworth and Shelley, was aware that the possibility of a different science and philosophy of nature was being suppressed, or pushed aside by history's trajectory. He wrote of Newton and his work on light:
Everybody knows that more than a hundred years ago a certain profound thinker devoted himself to this subject, collected his experiences and with them erected an edifice, a veritable fortress of learning in this domain of science; and by creating a powerful school of thought forced his successors into agreement unless they wished to be ousted from the field altogether. (quoted inBortoft 1986: 7)
The language is interesting for its militaristic, totalitarian imagery: the dominant version of western science is already being criticized as a project of domination and control of nature through a monolithic, hierarchical, and manipulative form of knowledge. The Romantic commitment to the totality of perception and experience, what Arthur Lovejoy termed plenitude (Lovejoy 1964) - the validation of and joy in all things, including their opposites and negative sides, their multiplicity and burgeoning exuberance - urges the science and philosophy of nature to respond to the whole of experience with the whole being, and thus make this totality practical in a rounded way, answerable to the fullness of human needs in an existence in harmonious interaction with nature. Science should not merely understand nature with a cold objectivity, but be part of a human praxis - living within it wholesomely, fully, enjoyably. Science should be part of 'the poetry of life' (Shelley 1890: 37), as Shelley put it, opening up its emancipatory potential.
The Romantic imagination experienced a mystical communion with a pantheistic, unitary nature in cosmic flux: this was a source of moral and spiritual learning that could overcome the alienation, isolation, and psychic dislocation induced by expanding urban industrial capitalist society (Cloudsley 1992). For Wordsworth in Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye [...]
[...] I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing often-times
The still, sad music of humanity [...]
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore I am still
[...] well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being. (Wordsworth 1972: 107)
For Byron in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
Oh! that the Desert were my dwelling-place,
With one fair Spirit for my minister,
That I might all forget the human race,
And, hating no one, love but only her!
Ye Elements! - in whose ennobling stir
I feel myself exalted - can ye not
Accord me such a being? [...]
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.
Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean - roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin - his control
Stops with the shore. (Byron 1868: 172)
And for John Clare in The Voice of Nature
The voice of nature as the voice of God
Appeals to me in every tree and flower,
Breathing his glory, magnitude and power.
In nature's open book I read, and see
Beauty's rich lesson [...]
I hear rich music wheresoe'er I look [...]
And that small lark between me and the sky
Breathes sweetest strains of morning's melody [...]
I read its language, and its speech is joy;
So, without teaching when a lonely boy,
Each weed to me did happy tidings bring,
And laughing daisies wrote the name of spring,
And God's own language unto nature given
Seemed universal as the light of heaven [...] (Clare 1984: 185)
The Romantic imagination integrates perception, feeling and thought to action and interaction; it conceives higher states of human being; feels the self as a point of intersection in the moving totality of nature and humanity. It aligns the spontaneous, free being with nature, in equal existence with all other things; it is synthetic, rather than purely analytic.
The Romantic vision of nature had its American counterparts or successors in Emerson, Thoreau, and John Muir. Muir was responsible for creating the world's first conservation area - Yosemite National Park in California (1864), before the English Lake District became the first land owned by the National Trust in 1894. Muir wrote:
Unfortunately man is in the woods and waste and pure destruction are making rapid headway. If the importance of forests are at all understood even from an economic standpoint, their preservation would call forth the watchful attention of the government.
Thousands of tired, nerve shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wildness is a necessity and mountains, parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life. (quoted from Sarre e.a. 1991: 23)
At the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, Hegel stands out as the philosopher who tried to bring about a synthesis between contemporary (mechanistic) science and his own philosophy of nature, which took nature to be a dynamic process of becoming, an unfolding and differentiation of forms. As Collingwood put it, he "tried to solve by philosophy the problems of natural science [...]. He tried to anticipate by philosophy something which in fact could only be a future development of natural science (namely, the transition from a conception of nature as a machine to one that sees it as permeated by process), not seeing that natural science must solve its own problems in its own time and by its own methods [...] [but] his anticipation [...] was in many ways startlingly accurate" (Collingwood 1965: 132).
Hegel helped to open the way to developmental, evolutionary thought, though his philosophy remains ultimately rent by the dualisms between Idea and matter, mind and reality. Dialectical materialism came into being through Marx's and Engels' critique of Feuerbach's materialist critique of Hegel (Cloudsley 1986b). Through this, new ontologies for both society and nature were born. The limitations of Feuerbach's metaphysical, mechanistic materialism crystallized, according to Marx and Engels, in his conception of Man, who was part inorganic matter, part physiological being, and part an abstract, unhistorical ('anthropological') human nature. Marx and Engels thought they had exploded Feuerbach's static conception of Man with their concept of social being, which grasps the self-transforming history of real human societies. Simultaneously, Feuerbach's mechanical materialist conceptions of matter and organic life were also exploded, and dualistic ontologies of nature were seen as expressions of human self-estrangement. Dualism in thought was seen by Marx and Engels as having its basis in the alienated division of mental from manual labour in class divided societies: it reached its apogee in Hegel's active, dialectical idealism and Feuerbach's passive, mechanical materialism.
'Human nature' is transformed into real human practice in concrete history, matter and life are transformed into natural, dialectically developing processes. Process, development, and change cannot be explained by mechanistic materialism; idealism is brought back in new disguise through abstract, eternal 'laws' or a first cause. The separation of nature into matter or life on the one hand, and God, or Spirit, or immaterial laws on the other, entails the same inadequacy as do previous conceptions of society according to Marx and Engels: materiality is grasped passively, inertly, and mechanically (as in Feuerbach), whilst the active, self-developing side is grasped idealistically (as in Hegel).
Dialectical materialism replaces a mechanistic ontology of matter and life with one that grasps totality, dialectical process, and unity, yet recognizes irreducible levels of reality that emerge from development. The transcendence of mechanism and idealism claims to have understood all reality as both structure and activity, as both objective determination and vital, purposive, creativity. These critical insights of Marx and Engels have frequently been rejected, due largely to the abysmal levels of dogmatism and pseudo-science that have been presented as Dialectical Materialism. Already in Engels there are some posivitistic tendencies which see history as an extension of determinist 'laws of nature', which contradict his views elsewhere of human, sensuous activity and consciousness as creative and open-ended. In some of his formulations dialectical laws are pictured as applicable to both nature and history as a kind of reified contradictory Spirit that works its way through both.
Yet clearly Engels' central intention was not to force metaphysical, dogmatic schema onto phenomena; he himself commented that "outrageous treatment (arises when dialectics are) forced on nature and history (rather than) deduced from them" (quoted in Hoffman 1977: 17). He asked whether the natural sciences in his time did or did not bear out or necessitate a dialectical materialist ontology and epistemology. In concluding that they did, his mode of expression had, as Loren Graham puts it, "the unfortunate effect of tying Marxism to three codified laws of nature rather than simply to the principle that nature does conform to laws more general than those of any one science, laws that may, with varying degrees of success, be identified" (Graham 1966: 52). It is worth noting that these three laws (Transformation of Quantity into Quality, Mutual Interpenetration of Opposites, Negation of the Negation), which if regarded as general principles of a highly abstract nature are valuable and undogmatic guides to thought, arise from a simplification and reduction of the Hegelian dialectic which Hegel himself warned specifically against turning into a formula, as reality could be known only by going through the whole process of self-knowledge (cf. ib.: 51).
In the original Marxist vision, an emancipatory transformation of social being into a free, collective self-development in an harmonious metabolism with nature, entailed a dialectical form of knowledge of nature. The most complete knowledge of nature available in the contemporary stage of development of social being, coincides with a natural scientific project that is orientated not toward domination in society and over nature, but toward social emancipation and a non-destructive interaction with nature. Marxism took over this conception from the Romantic movement.
Darwin, by seeking to explain evolution in terms of a central mechanism - that of random variation within natural selection - discarded the other ways in which evolution was coming to be constructed in European culture, especially in Romanticism in general and Goethe in particular. As with the twentieth century neo-Darwinist projection of causation onto genes as the only determinants of an organism's life, it forced evolution into a dualistic and reductionist mould. The organic, non-dualist, anti-reductionist, holistic, active and striving conception that could have been its basis was lost (though this is precisely what is being reconstructed by contemporary biological theorists like Lewontin, Crawford and Marsh, Mae Wan-Ho, Goodwin, and Sheldrake). A similar loss occurred within Marxist thought: in its scientistic, reductionist, economistic tendencies it has constantly attempted to state its findings in terms of a mechanism of history in general and of the transformation from capitalism to socialism in particular. Even Marx in his own summary statements spoke of unchanging 'laws of history', denying the originality of his thought as it wrestled with the complex material that forms the bulk of his writings. There the notions of active, concrete process, of pluralistic, open-ended differentiation, of complex, multiple, and contradictory development, are in a spirit wholly at odds with linear models and mechanistic determinisms. But Marxism after Marx lost these aspects progressively more and more, in favour of increasingly banal mechanical models.
If it is true that modern science bears out the undogmatic premises of dialectical materialism, necessitating its creative reconstruction, it is also the case that compatible and equally valid modes of understanding are emerging within other philosophical frameworks. The use of Taoist conceptualizations by Fritjof Capra is a significant example, as it indicates that grasping nature on the highest level presently possible requires the integrated activity of all the faculties - cognitive, intuitive, affective, and sensuous. Thus, mechanistic materialism is transcended, with its eternal abstract laws divorced from the dynamic plenitude of concrete reality: the scientistic view of nature that banishes infinite variation in sensation for mathematized formulae, and suppresses all ethical and aesthetic consideration from its procedures.
Marx left a schizophrenic legacy. On the one hand there is his utopian vision of communist society in harmonious metabolism with nature, balanced in its equilibrium between agriculture and industry, town and countryside, which Alfred Schmidt rightly considered a coherent ecological worldview - remarkable for a nineteenth century thinker (Schmidt 1971). Then there is his oft-repeated theme of history as the growing mastery of nature, the socialist project entailing technological domination of outer nature as a counterpart to freedom of inner, human nature. In this facet of his thought he accepts nineteenth century science's self-conception (especially in physics) as the discovery of neutral and objective laws of nature and implicitly the mechanistic view of nature. In a famous passage of the 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy he speaks of the objective laws of nature and economy in a way that completely denies his more profound vision of science as socially and historically relative, a part of human praxis, which could become a project of human emancipation in the humanization of nature and the naturalization of man: a vision of humankind living harmoniously within and as part of Gaia.
The 'man or nature' dilemma is here transcended, continuing the tradition from Cicero that sees human works as part of nature - making no distinction between domesticated or pristine nature. Rejection of the belief that 'economic progress' requires an aggressive subjugation of nature, is not here replaced by a naive conservationism that sees the rights of nature (without man) as absolute. If humanity is thought of as a special, conscious part of nature it is allowed that both humanly untouched and humanly influenced environments can be objects of aesthetic concern. The human species has from earliest times radically altered nature - hunting and the use of fire, then agriculture, did so long before mineral extraction and industry (Simmons 1990). The criticism made by Christopher Cawdwell in his Illusion and Reality of 1937, that Wordsworth's feeling for nature was inauthentic, as he failed to recognize his Nature to be the product of millenia of human labour, is unfounded. Wordsworth's concern that 'insensitive' nineteenth century development would spoil the Lake District did not mean he thought the latter was an untouched enclave. The aesthetic and practical value of nature to humanity are entirely inseparable.
The tradition of thought that has been committed to harmonious interaction of man with nature corresponds broadly to the ethical vision that holds all parts of nature to have purpose and value. Often, but not always, mechanistic and idealist worldviews have corresponded to that other ethic, according to which the rest of nature exists to fulfil man's purposes and to yield value to him. As Marx and many other philosophers have seen, mechanism implies idealism and vice versa, as they are opposite sides of a dualistic coin. It is a dialectical, organic, pantheistic and holistic vision that restores (or never loses) the unity of matter and spirit.
In the idealist worldviews of Euclid, Pythagoras, and Plato (not withstanding their other virtues) in Ancient Greece, through to Galileo, Newton, and Descartes in post-Renaissance Europe, nature has been understood in terms of pure forms, or systems of laws which are abstracted from the real, irregular, imperfect, chaotic world (Mandelbrot 1983). The concrete, phenomenal, material world 'obeys' laws that rule from an ideal realm; this view of nature reflects an autocratic social hierarchy, rather than a society that rules itself, as an undivided, living, creative nature also does. But science itself has begun to transcend this mechanistic model of nature. As Sheldrake puts it:
The idea that everything is determined in advance and is in principle predictable has given way to the ideas of indeterminism, spontaneity and chaos. The invisible organizing powers of animate nature are once again emerging in the form of fields. The hard, inert atoms of Newtonian physics have dissolved into structures of vibratory activity. The uncreative world machine has turned into a creative, evolutionary cosmos. Even the laws of nature may not be eternally fixed; they may be evolving along with nature (Sheldrake 1991: xiv).
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Kurt W. Back
The shifting boundary between man and nature has become a hallmark of European culture in modern times. Human knowledge and human activity in the form of science and technology seemingly have come to dominate nature. However, this picture of human encroachment may be too one-sided. The domain of nature has also made inroads on human self-conception: increased understanding of biology, psychology, and social science has made man as homo sapiens a part of nature, to be understood and controlled through technology. Thus, we have on the one side the threat of the destruction of nature through unrestricted human power and on the other hand the threat of dehumanization through destruction of unique human traits. Overstepping the boundaries between man and nature thus arouses fears about the human identity as well as those of ecological catastrophes through the invasion of nature.
The Limits of Knowledge
This paper deals with some themes recurring in nineteenth century European society on the limits of scientific knowledge and its application, especially the artificial creation of human beings. It may be asserted that both the need for information and the injunction to set limits on it are deeply embedded in human society. Different human cultures set their own balance; partly this will depend on the value of knowledge itself and also on competing values that delimit the area of its free reign. In particular, permissible knowledge can be limited in two directions: one is the intimate area around or within a person that is considered to be inviolable and where transgression becomes a personal threat, the area of privacy. The other is the kind of knowledge which is dangerous for anybody to know about, the area of esoteric knowledge. Ethical systems of a society work out the implications that these prohibitions have for everyday behavior and for social norms (Back 1979, Kruse 1980). Both limits are involved in the discussion of artificial reproduction.
European society, at least since the Renaissance, has tried to expand the reach of legitimate human knowledge: the dominant role of science did not recognize any limitation to its expansion and influence (Back 1979). However, other human impulses oppose this hegemony of one set of values and these clashes are often seen in emotionally charged debates on limitations of investigation on such issues as artificial reproduction, nuclear fission, or space exploration. The general issues are rarely stated explicitly in these policy debates; they can be inferred, however, from myths and literary expressions current in European society. In current society human desire for knowledge stands as an insuperable fact of nature; it is seen as a necessary condition in considering human action and its effects on society; it may be generally assumed that over the long run this desire will prevail and this increase in human knowledge cannot be stopped (Back 1979, Whitehead 1961). Indeed, some desire for knowledge seems to be a basic human drive, but it can be maintained, that knowledge and truth are only one kind of value and that their strength is more emphasized in current society than in other societies.
The exalted position of knowledge corresponds to the position of science in society. The precariousness of this position can be appreciated when we see the limitation of the value of knowledge if it stands in conflict with other values, such as beauty, harmony, or religious and ethical values. In many societies the search for truth is limited by the strength of competing values (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck 1961, Rokeach (ed.) 1979). Moreover, it seems that next to a human desire for knowledge we can also find a wide spread dread of transgressing the limits of allowable knowledge. This fear is expressed in the fundamental myths of many cultures, such as the apple from the tree of knowledge and Pandora's box. At the beginning of the age of modern science we have the story of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil for the acquisition of unlimited knowledge; he is based on Paracelsus, one of the earliest scientists. This suspicion of the irresponsible, or mad, scientist has persisted even into the era of triumphs of the age of science.
Artificial Reproduction and the Limits of Nature.
The ambivalent position of knowledge in human society is expressed most strongly in human biology. Here one reaches quickly the question of forbidden knowledge and the danger of human interference beyond human capacities. At the limit, we reach the dividing line between man and nature in two ways: the subordination of human capacities to the control of natural sciences and of technology on the one hand and the subordination of the individual to the mechanisms of social control.
Thus, the construction of human beings touches on the boundaries of nature and of society. Physically at least, the ultimate building blocks of the human body, genes in current language, are the most central and most intimate parts of a person; on the other hand, their exploration deals with questions of the nature of life and of human existence that touch forbidden or at least esoteric knowledge, which should be available only to a few. Many social and ethical conflicts can be better understood, if they are seen as reactions to the transgression of these boundaries. The nature of the boundaries themselves remains an unexpressed postulate of the moral basis of society which can be only indirectly approached.
The question of the technical understanding and the artificial creation of human beings has stimulated contradictory feelings in Western society at least since glimmers of possible technology were perceived. The achievement of the mechanical creation of human life - or even of life at all - looks like the culmination of the acquisition of knowledge and the power that this knowledge brings. Most societies have set definite limits to this extension of human knowledge; modern Western society has been distinguished in trying to obliterate this limit (Back 1979). But the old limits still exert their power and arouse a certain dread of what will be found beyond these limits. The mythology of Western society reflects this ambivalence. Artificial reproduction represents a prime example of seductive and dangerous knowledge.
Conversely, it would seem that topics like creating human beings and presenting the details of the human genetic makeup are questions that are best understood by relating them to a general perspective of the place of knowledge. Creating a human being has been considered as the limit of permissible human power, or even going beyond power permissible for humans. Thus, this action has been seen as a supreme human achievement, but it has also been denounced as a defiance of proper human fate. Artificial reproduction is the latest phase in a continuing effort for human conquest of the manufacture of human organisms and can serve as a focus of questions of the propriety of control of biological phenomena. In this it is an example of the general dispute about the extension of human knowledge. It represents a model of the development of such issues and the specific expression in society to which these changes lead.
This issue represents stress-points within society; these contradictions are classically represented by myth. We can detect myths in modern society by looking for stories that are repeated, imitated, discussed and have entered the vocabulary or have given similar indications of having entered the cultural frame of reference.
Two stories pertinent to the present problem stand out with the use of these criteria: Frankenstein and Brave New World. These two stories frame the period of the nineteenth century in which the removal of the boundaries of knowledge reached a peak of acceleration. They also refer to the two borders of human uniqueness and the dread of transgressing them. They represent two different kinds of warnings, corresponding to the growth of physical and biological sciences at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and of the social sciences at the beginning of the twentieth. The impact of these two stories was similar and the comparison between them gives a picture of the dynamics of the fundamental concerns of society.
The myth of Frankenstein rests on old roots, but it arose in its present form at the dawn of the industrial revolution.(Shelley 1947: 46). Questions about the construction of human beings have stimulated the imagination since ancient times: A source of these recurring stories in European culture appears in the Corpus Hermeticum, which introduces the quasi-divine nature of the Egyptian initiated priests, who were able to make the statues in their temples come to life (Yates 1975). The corpus claimed ancient Egyptian origins and may
have been compiled from older traditional sources, although its present form can be dated to the third or fourth century A.D. They can be taken as the focal point of an ongoing tradition, which leads from the story of Pygmalion through Roger Bacon's apocryphal creations, the Golem, homunculus, to the more modern robots and other creatures of science fiction.
In all these treatments the construction is achieved by adding a crucial essence of humanity to mechanical objects. The figures are given life individually, without any thought of human society. This is also the current situation in artificial reproduction, which is mainly controlled by the medical profession with its concentration on the individual patient (Snowden 1988). This neglect of social relations appears also in the general creation myths of the origin of mankind. The latter is usually ascribed to a higher power and thus the artificial creation of human beings shows man arrogating god-like capacities. These myths point to the conflict over the proper human limitations in this field: if some creation is humanly acceptable and some, the creation of man, is reserved to god, what are the human traits that are reserved in this way?
Frankenstein resurrected this myth at a time of the acceleration of scientific and technical knowledge. It represents a new situation: one can assume that artificial creation will be technically possible and now we have to face its consequences. The novel still shows the creation process as quite fantastic, but within human capacity. The emphasis rests on the ambiguous value of this achievement and it breaks new ground in looking at the boundaries of human knowledge and action.
The subtitle of the novel is The Modern Prometheus (Shelley 1818/1974), linking the creation of the human race with the creation by humans. In the story of Prometheus, as in other creation myths, the issue of dangerous knowledge is raised and Prometheus is severely punished for his presumption. Two traits are singled out: one is the living spirit, which Prometheus cannot give himself to his clay figures and which the goddess Athena contributes; the other is the human instrument, the use of fire, which Prometheus stole from the gods; its possession elevates man to a higher sphere. As Lévi-Strauss (1968) has shown, the possession of fire and the ability to transform food remains a deep-seated theme in cultural mythology.
Correspondingly, the yearning of humans to be able to perform these feats, combined with some horror at the result, forms a constant theme in many stories. The manner in which these supernatural gifts can be acquired vary in detail, but they show the continuing horrified fascination. Significant tensions arise from the definitions of the proper limits for manufactured objects. Thus, in the story of the Golem, the artificial creature can be constructed through magic and is capable of human action, but he cannot be given speech, because the gift of language, like the living spirit, can only be given by god. Therefore he remains mute. In all the approaches to the story the essence of being human is an ingredient to be added to the simple artifacts.
Frankenstein has an intricate plot, which has been lost in the vulgarization of later popular adaptations. The technical and moral question of creating a human being is treated in a rather short passage, which deals with Victor Frankenstein's university life, the competing influences of two professors, a scientist and a humanist, and his solitary work on building an artificial man who becomes a monster. The main story, of the personal and social position of the monster, is embedded in several descriptions of family relations and especially of the integration of new family members that are not genetically related. In Victor Frankenstein's own family two new members are pseudo, but not really, adopted; one woman as a servant - perhaps au-pair would be the better current term - the other becomes Victor's future wife, although brought up like his sister. In addition, the monster hides unseen with a family that also includes such an ambiguous relationship.
In contrast, the monster is thrown into loneliness. This is why he becomes a monster. Even his creator abandons him at birth. Victor has a breakdown when his work is completed. When he recovers, the monster has escaped; the monster's brain is a tabula rasa and he learns about human life and human society from observation and interaction. The sequel exhibits in duplicate the theme of human relationships: the monster's first reaction is to murder Victor's younger brother and frame the servant, who is executed for the murder. Then he demands that Victor build him a mate; when Victor first consents and then destroys the finished construction, the monster kills first Victor's closest friend and then his sister-wife. Victor's arrogance was to be god-like in building a creature; the monster calls him creator, and said that he should recognize him as his Adam. But he abandoned all responsibility for his creation, being deficient especially in providing a social environment. The author accepts the fact that the technical capacity for creation is within human reach; but the ignorance of the workings of social structure makes the creation miserable and unrestrained in its grief; in short, a monster.
Subsequent analysts have interpreted the meaning of this unrestrained creation. The story has been subjected to a variety of interpretations and its real, symbolic or hidden meaning varies according to current perspectives. These elaborations and discussion have gone far beyond the original text (Levine and Knoepflmacher 1979, Veeder 1986). Whether all of them are justified or not, they show that the issues raised in the book reverberate in society. Frankenstein can rightly be called a myth for our time. As an indication of its impact, we may note that Donald Glut in The Frankenstein Catalog (1984) has listed 2666 items deriving from the Frankenstein story.
Fittingly, the idea of Frankenstein's monster appeared to Mary Shelley in a dream. The dream seems to point to two fears in her time: it can be seen as an attack by a inhuman machine, liberated by human presumption; but it can also be seen as a fear of the mob (as in the Terror of the French Revolution), liberated by well-meaning destroyers of the social fabric. In both ways it has become the model of stories of this kind (Sterrenburg 1979).
The transformation of the story shows also the meaning of this myth for our time. In the creation and nature of the monster itself, the story stresses two questions: should man presume to be able to create human life and what is the position of the monster, alone of its kind, rejected by its creators and unable to enter any community? These two questions are connected: the creation of a new kind of organism puts the burden on its creator also to design a new kind of community or at least satisfactory relationships for his creation. Victor Frankenstein arrogates the knowledge of the physical relation, but fails in the social relationships.
Frankenstein's failure is the price for stepping beyond the human
boundary and for extending human ingenuity beyond its natural limits.
This is the dilemma at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Can we let individuals drive on indefinitely, while they may be
driven by curiosity, search for power or wealth and disregard the
predicament of their creations and effects on society? But how can
they be stopped, especially if present society puts an almost
unlimited value on the progress of knowledge? Shelley presents this
dilemma as a fault in European society since Antiquity:
A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disrupt his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possible mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind. If this rule were always observed; if no man were allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquility of his domestic affections, Greece had not been enslaved, Ceasar would have spared his country, America would have been discovered more gradually, and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed. (Shelley 1947: 40)
The transformation of the original story into social consciousness (which may give it mythical characteristics) throws a curious light on the progress of early technological society. The questions raised in the novel simply fade away. The scientist becomes mad or a caricature, and the monster becomes monstrous. The emphasis, especially in the numerous film versions, turns more and more on the shock value. The ethical questions that could concern mainstream scientists or engineers fade away; the story concentrates on deviant creatures who should be eliminated at any cost. Alternatively the whole issue gains distance by the story becoming grotesque and ridiculous. The threat of individual creativity going to excess is absent or repressed.
Brave New World
The twentieth century produced another mythical vision and new ethical questions. The threat was not any more of arrogant individuals threatening the established patterns of society, but of social control creating reasonable monsters. Machines were neither novel nor fascinating by themselves any more. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) is a selfconscious warning, thought out by a sophisticated writer, who describes a dehumanized society by extrapolating current trends. Prominent among these trends are developments of science and technology, which subsume humanity into a mechanical system. But in spite of this cerebral origin Brave New World has become a seminal myth: the original story is a popular high school text; the terms of the novel have become part of the language; although the novel itself has not been adapted to different media and been analyzed as Frankenstein has, it has become the ancestor of a whole tradition of similar stories in science fiction literature. It also arouses terrors within our society that the features of the monster cannot arouse any more.
The structure of the novel is not based on a gripping plot, but on the need for exposition of the working of this whole dehumanized society. Social developments are not driven by new technology; on the contrary, these technological achievements are presented as minor incidents that were put into the service of the goals of society. These goals of social control are shown as consequences of the violent conflicts which threatened to destroy humanity. In this predicament the liberal ideal of the autonomous individual had to give way to the all-controlling state.
This society uses four technological devices to achieve its aims of total control: artificial, extrauterine reproduction, sleep-conditioning of values, sophisticated use of psychoactive drugs, and emotional group-dynamic techniques. These mechanisms progress from biological to social controls and in this progression each introduces the flexibility that the more mechanical applications lack. Society has complete control of the developing fetus; the techniques put the population into biologically distinct and emotionally self-sufficient classes. The other three techniques supplement basic biological control by progressively eliminating residual deviance: sleep conditioning introduces appropriate values and satisfaction with one's status; drugs remedy daily or periodic dissatisfactions; group exercises assert community integration and give a safe outlet to extreme passions. The few subgroups or individuals who cannot be socialized are either put as 'savages' into reservations or isolated on islands where they can express their idiosyncrasies until these individualistic mini-societies break down.
The terror of the story does not rely on the transgression of one man. On the contrary, it arises from the fact that people in society are well adjusted and would rate high on life-satisfaction. The threat here does not come from arrogant individuals who go beyond human limits to intrude on what should not be known, but on a society that does not leave any private space for the individual. In Freudian terms, it is not the swollen ego that bursts beyond all moral bounds, but it is the oppressive superego that crushes the meaning of individual identity (Slater 1963).
In the narration of the novel, this deficiency is expressed in interpersonal and sexual relations: in one scene, a slightly undersocialized protagonist is offended by the locker-room conversation about a woman to whom he is - against the norms - emotionally attracted. He muses that his companions look at her as a piece of meat - but that is the way in which she looks at herself. The monsters are not constructed through machinery, but they become not human, just functioning meat, by the applications of purely psychological and social machinery. They show limits to human autonomy and essential humanity that can be threatened by the rigid workings of social units as much as by the application of machinery and electrical currents.
This myth is still frightening for our society: no grotesque variations have changed the story from its original meaning or given the reader distance to ridicule the problem. Correspondingly, we find less of a critical industry explaining away the plot by personal, social or historical conditions. No interpretation is necessary; it is given quite obviously in the text and Huxley has written his own commentary on the story. Novels in the same tradition, such as Orwell's 1984 or Zamyatin's We preserve the meaning and threat of the myth, but adapt it to particular political situations.
The myth and the threat inherent in it are still real in our society. We have accepted that humanity has no outer limits of human knowledge whose trespass is a sacrilege, or at least this boundary is no major concern. But we are concerned that this technology may invade personal space and conflict with the values of privacy and autonomy that are prized in our society.
The Myths and the Limits of Humanity
Many of the current ethical dilemmas can be seen to be related to the issues presented by these two myths, the myth of invasion by technology and the myth of invasion of human identity through social control. The older problem, the question of limits of the aims of science, seems to be losing its saliency. The Frankenstein monster is still invoked, but more often one can see acquiescence that the course of science cannot be denied, that at best society may impose priorities, especially through fiscal limitations. The aims are rarely put out of bounds, but the methods are criticized especially if they impinge on the individual. Even opposition to animal experimentation does not rest on any question that knowledge gained from work on living organisms is somehow beyond the pale. But the argument is made that this knowledge could be gained by other means that do not impinge on the life of organisms whose integrity we ought to respect. The issue here is the extension of morality between humans to other organisms; but the central issue of these myths is the treatment of humanity as a part of nature, subject to human technology.
On a deeper level the novels project current trends in society. The sociologist Dennis Wrong has discussed them in his paper "The Oversocialized Conception of Man in Modern Sociology" (1961). The evil to be feared does not come so much from the actions of special individuals, but from the opportunities of social control that new technologies can provide. This is shown by the main innovation in Brave New World, artificial reproduction. The question today is not whether a mad scientist is going to build horrible monsters, but whether he will address the borderlines between individual and society. These problems start with influence between individuals, such as the question of payment in surrogacy arrangements; they can come from social controls on who can have children or who should; they can come from social imposition of family arrangements, by regulating who can obtain the services of the new technology; or they may come from genetic manipulation, starting with sex selection. The culmination of these influences would be the tailor-made human being. Again, some of these efforts may be benign, just trying to eliminate genetic deficiencies. But here the myth of the Brave New World points to the dread within society: it is not that we are afraid of monsters, the symbolic expression of the nineteenth century fear of technology, but that these multiple controls would erase the distinction of humanity: we could become the monsters ourselves and not even notice it.
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Svend Erik Larsen
Nature, City, Street
It may seem strange to open a discussion on nature with a reference to roads, streets or other urban constructs, even if the discussion is related to the construction of nature. However, it is not that difficult to justify such an approach.
In all human cultures nature in its entirety, and not only with respect to what is accessible through immediate experience, has been given a form or several forms. This process takes place both through the material production which has reshaped the given physical surroundings, and through the semiotic activity that creates mythological, religious, ethical or scientific images and conceptions of nature. We must not forget that in the sciences an experiment also is a constructed complex model, set up not to obtain experience as such but an experience which leads to verifiable and intersubjective accepted knowledge on an explicitly delimited basis of hypotheses, apparatus, material, conceptual tools, etc. Such images often represent aspects of nature beyond the reach of immediate human experience. But in this way humans always nest themselves in "their" nature. This nature today does not belong to a metaphysical cosmos, but is our surrounding world, on a global scale beyond any local experience.
As the German geographer Lucius Burckhardt puts it:
Nature, whatever it is, also includes the human beings. But for a
very definite reason they do not fit into a self-regulated system.
Such systems require elements that respond automatically and
proportionally. But the human being reacts 'linguistically' [i.e.
semiotically], he perceives only the stimulus he has to 'read',
understand and interpret. His respons is determined by social
processes and learning processes, he is also politically responsible
at a given historical moment (Burckhardt 1977: 14, my transl. from
Burckhardt claims that humans always have a disproportional relation to nature, never a relation of stable harmony. All cultures destroy, or change, to put it more mildly, some parts of the given basis of existence, in order to define themselves and survive. Through our combined material and semiotic activity we define, simultaneously, the limits of nature and of our culture. The social function of our constructions of nature is to conceptualize nature as the basis of culture, experienced as the limits of culture. In the human life world nature will always be linked to history.
This being the case, the origin of our conceptions of nature and our intercations with nature do not necessarily derive from a positive knowledge of nature or a precise experience of nature. It is more likely that it is rooted in the cultural context which most profoundly influences our actual material and semiotic activities, independent of how close to or distant from nature it might be. This context will then be the basis for any understanding of our conceptions of nature, of our responsibility for the actions we carry out in relation to nature, and for the possible changes of our nature-related attitudes and behavior we may come up with.
Today, this context is the modern industrialised urban culture. Although the entire population of the Earth does not live under these cultural conditions, the global impact of this culture on nature, in whatever aspect of nature you may choose, is undeniable and determines as well the condition of living and thinking for those who are not directly connected with or absorbed by this culture. The Indians in the Amazonas may not know very much about skyscrapers, shopping malls or fax machines, but their living conditions are determined by international agreements on exploitation or preservation of land and forest. Such agreements are mainly governed by the need of the urban-industrialized world, by the logic of discourse and negotiation created in and by this world and by the ethics or lack of ethical standards of this world.
The thesis I want to defend is that in the modern world urban culture establishes the general and dominant categories of nature, which determine our collective understanding and actions related to nature. At the same time, modern urban culture produces a cultural space where this categorization is at work on the level of the more or less conscious everyday experience. The street is the dynamic center of this cultural context (cf. Vidner 1986). To put it briefly: Nature begins in the city, and the city begins in the street.
Urban Categories: The Street and the Categories of Nature
Up until the mid-18th century the structure of the city was interpreted as a representation of a natural order, representing both the nature of man as a constructive genius and the immanent order of things in the cosmos as a whole. Even when urban construction followed more and more strict and arbitrary geometrical principles, after the Renaissance, it was still conceived of as rooted in a natural order (see e.g. Abbé Morelly 1950 ). The essential form of nature was included within the city, thus determining the basic social functions of the city and automatically securing the control of the more or less harmful or useful material aspect of nature, which was a matter of no very great direct concern, except for the most basic things like food or drink. This basis was simply there according to God's will.
But with the creation of the great modern metropoles (from modern London in late 18th century and onwards to Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Barcelona, Chicago, New York etc.) the arbitrarity of the urban construct in relation to nature becomes the guiding idea for urban development. The city did not represent the natural and universal order of things, but transformed it according to social needs: production, transport, sanitation, housing, aesthetics, safety, commerce, recreation, privacy, communication, public life, etc. Nature now became an outside material basis on which an urban form was imposed (Larsen 1993). The prototype of this form was and is the street.
This cultural trend was inaugurated by modern science and its relation to technology already in the 16th century, say from Galileo, Bacon and others. However, I am not interested in focusing on this constructive approach to nature as an integral part of just one specific cultural acitivity, even if it is a basic one like science, or to trace its origins in cultural history. I want to understand it when it has become a cultural phenomenon of general importance, with a widespread and differentiated impact, a part of the cultural unconsciousness.
The street connects the specific scientific progress with a broader cultural approach to nature. It becomes a road to nature, as it were. The streets of a city constitute a material network which fulfils a double function: they create an internal communicative network making the urban fabric a cohesive totality ('street' meaning something contructed); and they mark the passage between the city and the non-urban realm through the gates or across the borderlines of the city ('road' meaning a passage with a destination). Although the historical context is different, this general bifacial function is at work both in the relation between the grid and the main street in the US and between the crooked streets inside the walls of the classical European city and the roads leading out of the gates.
In his novel on the famous complex of gardens, shops and cafés in Paris, called Palais Royal, Richard Sennett comments on the new Galerie d'Orléans which was built around 1830:
The lessons that the great romanticists were taught by Nature found no application in this building. Far from suffering at the hands of blind Nature man smiled at its terrors. The gallery reduced cold to nothing, its brilliant light did away with the night; in this building of human control nothing entered but what was pleasant to man - tropical plants, for example, to decorate the corridors of this life behind glass. (Sennett 1988: 127, my transl. from French)
The galleries, les passages, are the forerunners of the modern street as a space for transport, strolling and consumption. Its role as an accessible public space is linked to technological innovations (sidewalks, lighting, underground sewers, pavement, etc.), but its cultural role as open public space is also linked to certain ideological factors as stressed by Sennett: a control of nature which consists in an integration of certain of its parts, an omission of others and a general displacement of the limits between what is considered natural and what is considered man-made.
In the fully developed modern street, the Parisian Boulevard, this is explained in the following way by Donald Olsen:
Combining the attributes of the street and the park, the boulevards wisely allowed the streetlike qualities to predominate. [...] By adding the commerce and density of the old Paris street to the greenery and the spaciousness of the original boulevards, the new boulevard achieved a wholly new urban form: the perfected street, a concrete representation of urbanity itself. (Olsen 1986: 231)
Olson argues that this type of control of nature is typical not only of the street but representative for urbanity as such. For the urbanites the city stands out as a selfsufficient entity in command of nature and this relation to nature is experienced in street life.
No wonder that for many people the city takes on an almost supernatural character, a magic wonderland of lights and imitations of nature, more perfected than nature itself, a perfection based on the logic of buying and selling. Especially street light, from gaslight (e.g. Rodenberg (ed.) 1867) to the electric light (Nye 1991), evokes this effect, most emphatically in the world fairs, in the grands magasins, in the galleries and suchlike places.
This magic effect is more than just an impression in the observer's mind calling for associations of fairy tales, ideal landscapes or mythological paradises or other whims. As Olsen points out in the above quote, the planning of city greenery in the streets, or closely connected with the streets, was an intended and careful staging of nature with the city park as the ideal form. Here the city transforms nature as the initially given precondition for human life, its very basis, into a final imaginary goal for human longings and endeavours.
Of course, nature has been an ideal ethical standard for human life before. But now this goal is constructed and attained on the conditions set up by the urban street. These conditions are clearly indicated by the title of the book by the emperor of parks in mid-19th century Paris, Adolphe Alphand: Les promenades de Paris (1867-73). Nature as a goal is what is pleasant and useful for the walking urban citizen. The moving human body and its immediate well-being is the basic criterium, and the nature related to this criterium has itself to be moveable, changeable. The ideal park was the English garden, adapted to urban needs: open for pedestrians, filled with pleasant variety more than with a fixed momumental stability meant for static observation (cf. Prendergast 1992). One of Alphand's masterpieces was the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, later described by Luis Aragon as a fantasmagorical vision of natural wildness situated in a network of streets (Aragon 1972). The large scale version of this basic category of nature is of course the nature of modern tourism all over the world, engaging in 1990 more than 400 mill. people on temporary migration outside their own country (Wilson 1992: 51).
Although the moving body is at the center of this enterprise, nature as a goal is delocalized, is placeless, always out of the firm grips of your hand but visible as an almost attainable goal. Of our senses the one predominantly used in relation to nature on these conditions is the eye, the remote sense which developed culturally to be the primary sense as part of the development of the urban street, and to which the reality of the object is its visibility, no matter if it is natural, artificial, ephemeral, constant, fantasmagorical, or real. Here the central role of the gaze is related to the furtive look giving an illusion of a spontaneous presence between subject and object, but presupposing a real distance (see among others Bryson 1983).
Nature also took on a shape different than this ontologically indifferent visibility occuring in the urban street in relation to the moving body. Parallel to almost supernatural nature the street manifested an almost subnatural nature: the dirt, the debris, the inevitable and uncontrolled garbage, remnants from and reminders of the irreducible natural processes of the human body, working and walking. In the 19th century the conception of dirt changed. It was no longer just an unpleasant but more or less inevitable part of the inborn and incurable poverty and devilry of the lower classes from which one could just stay away. Instead it was looked upon, and rightly so, as a dangerous but integral effect of urban life as such, produced by the natural corporal processes of the inhabitant, rich as well as poor, a danger which basically was everybody's daily concern, although in different degrees (see the account of contemporary 19th century views, Lees 1985).
Behind the contruction of nature as a goal was also a desire to get away from the dirt of the city; not to get away from city culture, but to be able nevertheless to approach nature on urban conditions as a strolling, moving body. In Paris controlled parks, controlled sewers - and controlled bordellos, les maison closes, were components of this project.
Therefore, dangerous nature, being a product of the city, was looked upon both as a material fact calling for certain steps to be taken against it, and as an ideological, or to be more precise a moral fact. It was a biological and social evil. This conception implied that the evil had a bodily origin but also that it eventually could be remedied by both natural and social means, thus inside the realm of human control. In a paradoxical ideological construction nature came to be seen as the manifestation of a normality: a threatened, humanized and controlled nature, which is considered to be normal and natural, is opposed to the threatening nature of natural, basically biological, processes out of human control, which are considered to be abnormal and unnatural. Garbage or waste is not simply left-overs from the consumption of everyday life, but is an aspect of nature escaping human control. From this position it was not difficult to turn it into a metaphor for all kinds of uncontrolled social phenomena (crime, poverty, prostitution, etc.).
I shall give a few examples of this mixture of ideological, biological and moralistic viewpoints: "In order to defeat the cholera, an industrial coup d'état is necessary" (Le Globe 1832, quoted from Lavedan 1975: 394), "The purity of a city is the image of the purity of the people" (Bruneseau, ca. 1815, quoted from Chevalier 1978: 198), "One could say that for ten centuries the sewers are the illness of Paris. The sewers of Paris are the evil that the city has in its blood" (Hugo 1985: III, 332).
What we encounter here is nature as something which has to be fought. It is not a non-urban and all-embracing whole in which man, for the good or for the bad, has to be integrated. It is an ineradicable product of the city, and so it can not just be forgotten or pushed aside, it has to be fought. Ideally, this fight appears as a transformation, and not as the annihilation of dangerous nature. Bad and dirty nature has to be transformed into good and clean nature on the basis of man's normal, that is, natural inventiveness. It is being transformed into raw material for the fulfilment of human needs. Already Hugo, without having the faintest idea how to realize it practically, imagines that the abominable content of the old sewers, in the new and - as he says - "decent looking" sewers can be transformed into useful and fertile material. This vision is simply a consequence of his - mostly implicitly stated - conception of nature as an ideal equilibrium (ib.: 326, 331).
So, material resources as the basis for human existence, are no longer just there as an initially given fact, but they appear as nature transformed and constructed in such a way that it serves human purposes. Raw material is constructed nature, and what is wild belongs to the category of garbage or waste - everything that cannot be used, but which may be destructive obstacles to human expansion no matter if they are given or produced.
Therefore, the city is no longer a visual representation of the initially given natural basis of human life. In the urban context nature, on the one hand, is contructed as a final imaginary goal. On the other hand, nature considered as a basis of human life, is transformed into nature as a resistance to be overcome, alternatively seen as garbage and as raw material. In a technological utopia these two aspects are harmoniously united as a constructed natural basis of urban conditions, including a vision of an ecological equilibrium already in Hugo.
The important thing about this categorization is not its tripartite structure of raw material, garbage and utopian goal. I presume that one could come up with a reasonable argument for the defense of other structures (Larsen 1994). The essential feature is that nature is interpreted entirely as a functional phenomenon, that is a phenomenon with a social function. Functionality is the cornerstone element of the construction. Raw material is anything which can function as a productive basis whatever its origin may be. Garbage is anything that is non-functional or damaging. But the function of any such material unit may change into its opposite due to a change in knowledge, technology or social structure. To transform waste to useful material on such ideological and material conditions is different from what hunters do, when they leave the heart of the prey in order to make an animated or holy nature restore the life which has been destroyed. The transformation we are dealing with is a material process following the logic of rational human behavior, not a natural process of selfrestoration. Only the idea of equilibrium may be common.
Nature as a dream at the end of the road can also be subject to similar transformations. It is a social function which can be fulfilled by the experience of a natural and more or less wild setting (cf. Wilson 1991), or by what has been called "recreational shopping" of modern consumer society (Mark Francis in Altman and Zube (eds.) 1989: 148) or by any fulfilment of what is considered a "natural" need with no connection whatsoever to greenery or landscapes (cf. the basic assumption in Freud's theory of the arbitrary and plastic character of the libidinal object).
The main effect of the urban categorization of nature is the priority given to the functional character of nature over its material or local character. The classical conception of nature as a locality, as the nature of place with its genius loci, or of the natural place of things in a micro- or macrocosmic order has diminished if not vanished. And the conception of material things as substances with a unique identity, an essence, has been reduced if not totally forgotten. We are no longer facing things or places which allow for certain effects or functions, but functions which take place or materialize without paying much attention to the specificity of the place or to the matter on which it enforces itself, as for instance the construction of Brasilia. One could call it the genius functionis. Nature is always defined through an ongoing human project. This is the basic urban categorization of nature.
Urban Experience: The Street and the Moving Body
This project is not just a consciously conceived project carried out by technicians, marketing specialists, politicians and other experts according to an explicit program. It has developed into a general cultural phenomenon based on the experience of the moving body in the urban street where an "astonishing assemblage of movements" produces a "mass of floating pleasures" (Balzac 1966: 14, 15). One of the basic qualities of the street is to be what Georg Simmel calls a neutral social space, i.e. a space with no strict internal social coding, or only a very weak one. Thus it can function as a borderline or a bufferzone between more well-defined and maybe conflicting social spaces (Simmel 1968: ch. 9). The structuring of such a space as a space of everyday culture depends more on ad hoc determinations by the users of the space, that is determinations which are always changeable, never definitive and thus under constant control of those present in the space. The neutral space is the ideal setting for any ongoing human project, like the relation to nature as it took shape, for example, in the planning of parks and streets in 19th century and in the present day arrangement of nature sites as recreational areas. Simmel defines it negatively as "unoccupied" (ib.: 525), meaning that it is open to constantly changing 'occupations' or uses. Although the boundaries of neutral space are well defined so, according Simmel, its internal content is only defined when it is actually used and by those who actually use it, maybe producing conflicts which are difficult to solve because everybody demands a right to use and control part of the space (cf. on public space and control, Michael Brill and Mark Francis in Altman and Zube (eds.) 1989).
Not only the changing but also the changeable built-up of this space is related to the moving human body as a pedestrian or as a traveler. Non-human nature and bodily nature are linked to each other in a mutual relationship through an experience of control related to the possibility of continuous moves. The possible moves of the human body are projected as the general form of the environment, natural or not (cf. Wilson 1992 on natural parks and Scott 1977: 211). This means that nature as an imaginary goal or as a resistance is experienced only in terms of, respectively, possible moves or impossible moves of the body. On these conditions there are no autonomous positive images or definitions of the content of nature as such, whatever nature is or might be. We only have an experience of limits of control. These limits can be imposed onto the otherwise neutral or unoccupied space when it is well defined from outside, that is when it is occupied or 'occupiable' only according to precise and permanent norms which have to be obeyed. Or the limits can be experienced when the body is on occasion brought to a definitive stop, facing an invincible force. As long as an experience of such limits does not occur, the urban construction of nature is a construction of a void, the ultimative nothing outside any possible experience related to death, transcendence, etc. Between the void and the limit, nature takes on the form of a function related to the moving human body.
Particularly literature, art and other fictional constructs articulate how we face the limit and the void as part of our relation to nature. How can you imagine a void or something outside your experience which you, however, cannot escape, if not in fiction? The experience of nature in such fictional worlds is often presented as a breakdown of control, as a destruction of the imaginary human projections of nature on the surrounding world. I shall give you one example from Prosper Mérimée's short novel Colomba (1840) where the urban origin of these images and their relation to the moving body is clear.
Miss Lydia, a rich and experienced English traveler, is heading for Corsica for the first time in her life. On the boat she meets Orso della Rebbia called back to Corsica by his sister Colomba because of some uncanny details connected with his fathers death a few years earlier. Miss Lydia ends up falling in love with Orso, although only admitting it reluctantly. Finally, she is drawn into the vendetta that lurks in the horizon. Before she knows all this, she is approacing the harbour of Ajaccio:
The magnificent panorama of the gulf of Ajaccio unfolded in front of the eyes of our travelers. It is with good reason one compares it with the bay of Naples. And when the small boat entered the harbour, a burning part of the maquis that covered la Punta di Girato with smoke reminded them of Vesuvius and added to the resemblance. [...] Instead of the elegant houses that you will discover everywhere from Castellamare to cap Misène, around the gulf of Ajaccio you will only find gloomy maquis and naked mountains. Not a single villa, not a single habitation. [...] The appearance of the city made the general impression of solitude coming from the surroundings even stronger, especially at this time of the year. No movements in the street, where you would meet only a small number of lazy figures who were always the same. No women, except some from the countryside who came in to sell their products. You could hear no noisy talking, no laughter, no singing as in the Italian cities. [...] In the evening some figures appeared to enjoy the fresh air, but the strollers along the promenade were all foreigners [...]. (Mérimée 1985: 50, my transl. from French)
Although written by a third person narrator, the presentation is directed by the more or less conscious mind of Miss Lydia. Both the content and its composition, both what we see and how we see it, are filtered through her eyes and memory. With her we move slowly from the magnificent view of the bay and reach back for the origin of the way she looks at it: from nature to the city and its strolling tourists. Although this origin of the point of view is revealed only at the end, it is actively structuring the whole text from the very beginning and selecting its significant elements.
The landscape is seen from the point of view of "our travelers", of moving people. Furthermore, the whole scenery is presented through the comparisons and associations of an experienced tourist like miss Lydia who is looking for aesthetic qualities, forgetting about history and ignoring any possible danger: Naples and Vesuvius are evaluated according to the norms of tourism, "It is with good reason one compares..." it says, meaning with the good reason of tourists. Finally, the passage registers what an urbanized traveler would find missing: no elegant houses, no streetlife, no strolling women. Only foreign people like miss Lydia herself are present.
Miss Lydia herself does not observe that she is caught within a projection of an image of her own. Elsewhere in the novel we learn that she still dreams of converting the Corsican brutes to civilization (ib.: 51), and that her father still believes she can make the captain of the boat cut down the vegetation along the coastline to provide her with a better vista (ib.: 33).
Later on, when Orso has fled into the maquis, wounded, Colomba lures Miss Lydia to follow her into the maquis without telling her where she wants to go. Miss Lydia is afraid of loosing her way like missing the bus or the boat, but nevertheless they continue walking until Miss Lydia is totally exhausted. Her body stops moving, and at that point she discovers her irresistible passion for Orso beyond her urban projections of decent behavior of English ladies vis-a-vis Corsican aboriginals. When the body stops, its natural desires come in - or out if you prefer. They continue walking, but Miss Lydia can hardly follow the pace of Colomba. After having reached Orso's hiding place, they help his men to bring him to a safe place.
[Miss Lydia] was scared by the sounds of guns and stopped at every moment because of the impassable maquis. Very soon she lost the tracks of the fugitives and there she was, the victim of the strongest fear. "- She is left behind, said [one of Orso's men], but she is not lost, women always find each other." (ib.: 168)
After having met her inner natural passion at the utter limit of her physical forces, she is again brought to a stop, forced by her lack of knowledge of the place and the vegetation, but now confronting outer nature.
She is face to face with nature, both from within and without. Her bodily movements are blocked and no possible urbanized projection on the environment can open a road for her to follow in any direction. Nature is not a place, a phenomenon described in positive terms, but a breakdown of urban culture based on bodily moveability, a cultural frontierline. Nevertheless, this wild nature is a cultural living space for Orso's men, they easily foresee what happens to women. Wild nature is never absolutely wild.
In these quotes we met a landscape under observation, as well as the subjective conditions on which it is observed and the limits of these conditions. The landscape is seen as a space accessible to the urban human being with the individual body moving around without a specific purpose being the basic dynamic factor. Nature as an urban projection. The limits of this space are not related to the appearance of material space, be it urban or non-urban (city walls, rivers, woods, hedges, fences, etc.), but to the obstacles forced upon the movements of the body. The basic experience of nature or of the non-urban world is the experience of limits imposed on bodily moveability. Nature is not another space beyond the limits, but the limit itself.
When the possibility to move according to free will, that is, the possibility of changing the move deliberately at any moment, is brought to a stop, one has reached the limits of urban projection. Although it appears to be so, the act of observing and the nature of the objects observed are not fundamental to the landscape. Of course, the landscape is something looked upon. But the built-up of a space for possible endless moves is more essential to it.
This is the type of landscape that Georg Simmel tries to define as the landscape as such in his brief paper "Die Philosophie der Landschaft": A slice of nature, delimited in such a way that it can be permeated with a feeling or an atmosphere, a "Stimmung", so that it becomes an open space for endless free floating possibilities (Simmel 1984). But in fact, Simmel's landscape is not the landscape as such, but a specific landscape - the modern post-romantic landscape. The landscape of Corsica, on the contrary, imposes on the urbanized traveler an experience of nature, namely, as a limit to her deliberate moves.
When we move ahead in time and away from the slow pace of walking in the maquis, of strolling in streets or of being stuck in an urban traffic jam, nature definitely turns into a panorama, a way of perceiving which began with the early days of railway travel and continues to today's cardriving: it is perceived in distraction by the urban mover, like e.g. in Dos Passos. In his novel U.S.A. (1932-36) Dick is in Europe during WW1:
The convoy of twelve Fiats and eight Fords ran along the smooth macadam roads south through the Forest of Fontainebleau and wound east through the winecolored hills of central France. Dick was driving a Ford alone and was so busy trying to remember what to do with his feet he could hardly notice the scenery. (Dos Passos 1979: II, 201f)
From such a point of view nature is but an immediately felt contrast to moving during moving itself or a metaphorical threat to the move.
In this placeless world, nature as the ultimate Other is only present under disguise of the ageold natural myths of death and birth, although here with the New York cops as midwives:
Immedately the traffic is sucked underground into the tranquil routine of the Lincoln tunnel, interminable as officework, tiled like the bathrooms advertised by roadside motels... The evenmeasured light faded into harsh sunlight. Cops. New York. (Dos Passos 1975: 18)
City, Street, and Space
In the last quote natural and urban elements, material and mental fragments are mixed, their very mixture being the cultural reality of nature. Therefore, this mixture occurs to us just as natural as rain and snow. In this context nature is no longer a specific space, larger and more comprehensive than our everyday living space in which we eventually try to integrate ourselves, with nature as an imagined alternative to our present living conditions. On the contrary, we attempt to integrate a space more comprehensive than our experience can grasp into the smaller space which can be controlled by the moving body. Therefore, the limit for the actions of human beings is not their confrontation with a superior nature, but with the powerlessness of the body. The distinction between nature as a functional and a non-functional or dysfunctional entity follows the line of bodily control. To overcome this powerlessness is a general concern of modern culture, manifested alternatively as an attempt to worship bodily perfection (jogging and other fitness efforts) or as a preference for places where bodily power and control is not challenged (recreational activities) or challenged in a thrilling but momentary play with the possible loss of control (amusement park equipment like roller-coasters).
Today, this is the cultural foundation of the human relation to nature, a foundation we have constructed and where we have placed ourselves. Irrespective of the knowledge the sciences may give us concerning ecosystems, biological processes, limits to growth etc., this cultural basis is the basis for any significant built-up of knowledge which is supposed to achieve a broader cultural impact. Maybe this basis is erronous and contradicts what we know about nature. So, now that our relation to nature has a high priority within today's cultural agenda, we will have to know just as much about the origins, the forms and functions of our constructive ideas as we know about the natural processes, if not more.
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It is well-known that various groups of artists at the end of the last century wanted to impose a form on nature so that nobody could doubt that they were looking at more than 'pure' nature (Sandström 1971: 70-91). Of course the painters did not give up painting portraits or landscapes overnight, but many of them became interested in nature as a medium to express certain religious, political or philosophical ideas. Superficially, a painting could, for example, represent a beautiful garden, but going to a deeper level, it can often be perceived how dense their work is with symbols of the eternal themes of birth, love and death which, in visual art during the last two decades of the 19th century gained more and more importance. Therefore, many pictures almost invite the modern observer to look for keys to the special fin-de-siècle mood (Birkett 1990).
The new style - which in fact often included medieval or early Renaissance elements - was not only admired but also criticized. Admired because of the often beautiful ornamental lines and exotic impressions, characteristic for the Jugend style or l'Art Nouveau (Hofstätter 1963), but also criticized because of the lack of reality and signs of mental illness, which some people claimed were reflected in a number of these symbolistic paintings (Delevoy 1977, Scavenius 1983).
The movement was a reaction against naturalism or impressionism, which dominated the seventies and partly the eighties all over Europe (Cornell 1983: 366-79). The pattern of this reaction evinced common tendencies, but much depended on the social, political and national backgrounds of the artists. Their selection of motifs and style differed, although many of them knew each others personally. English painters continued what the American James Whistler and the Pre-Raphaelites with Hunt, Rosetti and Millais had introduced (The Pre-Raphaelites 1984); in the German world a trend from Böcklin, the Nazarenes and new-romanticism can be followed into the new-idealism with names like Max Klinger and Ferdinand Hodler. Each of these personalities and new styles met in France. There was the demoniacal or mythological world of Gustave Moreau, the classicism of Puvis de Chavannes and, foremost, the post- impressionism and synthetism (or symbolism) which Paul Gauguin and his friends, the so-called Nabis, exhibited and named in 1889-90 (Sandström 1971: 79). The use of symbols connected the painters to poets as Mallarmé, Verlaine and Rimbaud, and it was precisely this interaction between literature and painting that turned out to be a characteristic feature of symbolism.
On this occasion we shall confine ourselves to a few aspects of the Danish variant of symbolism in painting, which also deserves to be noted when talking about the general theme 'The Construction of Nature'. One cannot speak of symbolism as a dominating element in Danish art but, seen retrospectively, it was an important step towards a modern view of man and nature, and at present there is increasing interest in examining this pre-modern period, during which all the old world values were put to question (Nykjær 1991: 121-57).
For this purpose three paintings by three different Danish painters have been selected: L. A. Ring (1854-1933), Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937) and Ejnar Nielsen (1872-1956), who were all influenced by the symbolistic trend, though in varying degrees. These paintings have kindred motifs, typical for the time, namely, girls or young women placed in a sort of spring nature. But, as shall be seen, the paintings differ as far as the atmosphere and the mood of the figures are concerned. The general problem will be to see the extent to which the artists intended, or managed, to shape nature within this restricted theme.
However, a short digression is in place in order to sum up the Danish artist's early European contacts and their inspiration for studying nature and the physical environment. The later experiments, with a more personal construction of nature, as well as their reactions to the symbolistic style will be better understood having this background in mind.
Eckersberg's School and Its Dissidents
Since the 1820ies the study of nature became essential to Danish painters, inspired by the painter and professor, C.W. Eckersberg (1783-1853), who himself adopted the new sense of 'real' nature and open-air work during his stay in Paris and Rome in 1810-16. Later, other painters went to Rome, and the clear line of classical motifs and bright light became some of the famous qualities of the 'Golden Age' of Danish painting (L'Age d'Or 1984). However, from the 1840ies, a national view of art became dominant, which was initially fostered by the wars with Prussia and finally by the loss of Southern Jutland in 1864. As a consequence of these events many turned their back to Europe.
The situation changed around 1880. Danish artists turned to modern French, and to some degree English and German art, during their sojourns in Paris and visits to exhibitions, as well as after reading the new illustrated periodicals for art and literature. This meant that the decline in naturalism from 1889-90 was immediately perceived by a group of young Danish artists while it might have been the case that some had felt the impulse earlier.
One of them was the internationally known painter Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), whose oeuvre has recently been revalorised by the Danish author and art historian Poul Vad (1988 and 1992). By the eighties of the last century Hammershøi had painted strange, misty and dreamy landscapes, very distinct from simple naturalism (Plate 1). They were often without people or any other living creatures, and they give the observer a strong feeling of loneliness. Hills and scarce dark trees stand as a mirror of the mind, and even when the title of the picture refers to a specific village, you are everywhere and nowhere. Hammershøi's construction of nature is evident; and topographic likeness or true rendering of nature did not concern him. This lead to a rupture with the tradition of Eckersberg and his students.
The intrinsic idea of the picture was now allowed to form the environment but, nevertheless, most of the Danish painters under the influence of symbolism, consciously or not, managed to maintain a bit of the Golden-Age approach to natural landscape. It was typical that the motifs of spring and hope were more customary then those evoking sadness.
Plate 1: Vilhelm Hammershøj (1864-1916). Landscape, Lejre. 1905. 41 x 68 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. NM 2248.
L.A. Ring's Springtime
The scenes of L.A. Ring depict visions of love and pleasure as well as motifs connoting depressive states of mind. Ring had a remarkable ability to describe the conditions of human life without his older colleagues' use of anecdotes, and early on he imparted to the natural-seeming motifs a touch of a symbolic dimension, which makes him relevant to the present study.
During the eighties Ring mostly concentrated on themes from social life rendered in a realistic manner. He usually found his models in the village of Ring (Southern Zealand), where he grew up (Hertz 1934, Raaschou-Nielsen & Munk 1984). However, while staying in Copenhagen, where he made his début at the Charlottenborg Exhibition in 1882, he became attracted to allegorical themes and depicted symbolic or seemingly supernatural figures. Thus in 1887 he painted Evening. The Old Woman and Death , where the death was symbolized by the figure of the Man with the Scythe (Raaschou-Nielsen & Munk 1984: 117). Probably, the artist was here influenced by Millet, but the impulse for using this well-known symbol of death was part of the spirit of the time. Grave subjects were not unusual for Ring during these years, but the direct illustration of an idea indeed was, and it remained so in his total oeuvre.
In the next decade many of his paintings became brighter both in regard to their motifs and to the colours, while his method of representing the atmosphere, and his dreams and feelings, grew more sophisticated. In the meantime he visited Paris, the Netherlands and Italy, but most important for his career, he met and became friends with some of the artists and craftsmen, who were experimenting with pottery, ceramics and all sorts of decorative design. The Jugend-style using plants and flowers was introduced into Denmark at this time (Gelfer-Jørgensen 1982, Hobolth & Jacobsen 1990). The Danish exponents of this Art & Crafts move- ment were, among others, the architect Th. Bindesbøll, the potter Herman A. Kähler, the multi-artist J.F. Willumsen and the painter, editor and organizer of exhibitions of new art of the period, Johan Rohde. Many of them took an active part in the foundation of the Free Exhibition in 1891 (Rohde 1981, Scavenius 1991). However, Ring himself did not participate, though he was quick to adapt all of these impulses, and he managed to combine the decorative, partly naturalistic, style with a more literary and serious symbolism.
This happened just as he reached a turning point in his personal life during the middle of the nineties. At that time he often stayed in the town of Næstved with the potter family Kähler and, among other undertakings, he did a study for a big canvas entitled Spring. We will take a look at this beautiful painting, which was finished in 1895 and was some years later purchased by the art collector, Heinrich Hirshsprung, in whose museum in Copenhagen (Brünniche 1985) it can still be seen (Plate 2).
Plate 2: L.A. Ring (1854-1933). Spring. 1895. 189,5 x 93 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection. Copenhagen. Cat. no. 488.
Two young girls are standing in the foreground. Behind them is a sort of peasant's garden. The girl to the left, in a chequered dress, is still a child, whereas the other girl is a young woman with a full-grown body in a dark and more ladylike dress featuring an embroidered collar, bordered with laces in a pattern of spiders (highly modern in Jugend style). The girls are confidentially holding each other, and the observer may imagine that they are talking about something pleasant and important, maybe of love.
This conjecture is confirmed by the way in which surrounding nature is shown: the girls are placed within the focus of springtime nature and a portal is formed by the flowering yellow bushes to the left, by the nimbus of the the white-flowering cherry-tree in the middle, and by the old beech to the right, just coming into leaf. The garden-landscape has been rendered so impressively that the green-yellow side of the path provides a sort of balance to the beech on the opposite side. The wings of the white smallholder house cut the view and give the illusion of a closed room.
From letters, photos and events we know the circumstances surrounding the creation of this painting better than is the usual case (Hobolth & Jacobsen 1990: l0ff). The models were Ebba and Sigrid, daughters of the potter Herman A. Kähler. Ebba was then 15 years old, Sigrid, the grown-up girl, 21 years old. In the painting she is, without doubt, the key figure, and in fact the artist married her a few months after finishing the painting. So it was a love story after all.
It is always interesting to know such background information but, as the title indicates, the painting was not thought of as a portrait of two girls. While the artist worked at the painting they were just models since, obviously, his primary intention was to visualize the idea of spring. Girls as symbols of the awakening of life often belong to the iconography of that season. Therefore for an evaluation of the painting it makes no difference how much we know about the artist's private relation, and a brief examination of the painting will instantly confirm that he succeeded in showing something essential of what spring is about, whether one has fallen in love or not.
He created the spontaneous feeling of life and love in bud, partly expressed by the girls, partly by the vegetation. The fruit trees drawn in an almost Japanese style were perfect symbols of fertility, and by then such a depiction of trees was very popular in European painting. The girls themselves stand as branches of the the garden's vegetation. The figures match the surroundings and, besides, they also constitute a perfect image of the passive and vegetative type of woman, characteristic of the dreams of most men - at the time.
From where did Ring, to be more exact, get the idea for this composition? There are various possibilities, but it is reasonable to think that he was aquainted with the second generation of English Pre-Raphaelits, the so-called Olympians, for example, Albert Moore who also used the Romantic spring-and-garden iconography (Guidebook 1990: 95). Ring and his Danish colleagues must have seen their pictures in periodicals and on visits to the great international exhibition. In regard to the garden background with its greenery-bordered path as the line of perspective, Ring might have seen it in the works of impressionists, for instance, Pissaro, but his arrangement around the figures also reminds the viewer of the Dutch 17th-century painter Pieter de Hooch who, like many Dutch painters, was well-known in Denmark.
Regardless of foreign influences of a more or less symbolic quality, the fruit trees and the smallholder house actually stood in that garden near Næstved. It is this balance between traditional realism and that 'something more' which accounts for Ring's success at the time. When his Spring was exhibited at Charlottenborg in the spring of 1896 it received general praise. However, one writer found that it possessed strange beauty, spontaneity, freshness and deep feeling , but that it was too flat and lacked a suggestive atmosphere. In fact that the artist painted precisely in this style to obtain the above mentioned admired qualities, did not seem to occur to this critic (Scavenius 1983: 116-17).
The painting was also exhibited, alongside two other of Ring's paintings, at the Paris World's Fair in 1900. Ring was rewarded with a bronze medal, and nobody there seemed to have missed the safe naturalism (Officiel Beretning 1902).
The Age of Puberty According to Slott-Møller
The critic and art historian Emil Hannover knew the painter Harald Slott-Møller from their youth spent together in the eighties and nineties. When, many years later, he tried to characterize him as he remembered him from their common past, he spoke of Slott-Møller's phantasy and his desire to revolt against prevalent artistic prejudices (Laursen 1988). A glance at his early career seems to confirm this characterization.
During the eighties, Slott-Møller joined the circle around P.S. Krøyer's free school for artists where much of the modern naturalism and realistic painting in Denmark originated. However, from 1891 Slott-Møller as well as his wife, the painter Agnes Slott-Møller (1862-1937), changed their style and for many years Slott-Møller nearly made war on what he perceived as the unreflective depiction of nature. He himself wanted to create a kind of ideal art, and after a journey to Italy, where he studied the great names of the early Renaissance, he developed a ornamental symbolistic style which he used in painting as well as in all kinds of design. Like, for example, the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, he liked to mix various materials, oil-colours and gold, and he combined reliefwork with painting (Danish Landscape, 1891, Three Women. Summer Evening, 1894, both in The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen).
Back in the eighties the age of puberty had fascinated Hammershøi, and in Edv. Munch's art this became an ever returning emblem of repressed female sexuality. At the Free Exhibition in 1896, Slott-Møller showed his version of this theme under the title of Spring (Plate 3).
Plate 3: Harald Slot-Møller (1864 - 1937). The Spring. 1896. 120 x 93 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection. Copenhagen. Cat. no. 569.
On the surface it seems a very simple scene: With bare feet, a young seated girl on a grass-grown road-side is looking frontally at the viewer. Behind her is an almost flat field, separated by horizontal strands of ice-blue water. As if it were a heraldic picture, the artist has placed the main figure exactly in the middle of the canvas, and the willow branches with catkins and dark birds (probably starlings) form an almost identical pattern on both sides.
The landscape looks like a back cloth in a theater, and even the girl is rather flat. The impression of volume is created only by her cheeks and legs. The legs have been set off by the folds of the thin skirt, and by the significant placing of her hands. The yellow flower-wreath of primroses matches the flowered skirt and it all gives the impression of a fairy or perhaps the young goddess Flora (cf. Botticelli's Primavera, 1478, Uffizi, Florence). But instead of dancing, or doing something else we associate with the goddess, the girl sits peculiarly quiet, exposed as a doll at a wrong place.
Of course the critics also wondered what to believe. They queried, why did the artist construct nature in such a strange fashion, and why show a girl in this posture? They also made comparisons with Ring's canvas bearing the same title and in most cases preferred the latter's less symbolically-oriented work (Scavenius 1983:116).
It still seemed difficult to accept that springtime could be shown to be more than a story of sweet pleasure. That the age of puberty, alias spring, was also the age of vulnerability, confused the critics. In addition, they might have noticed the overall obstrusive manner in which Slott-Møller employs his symbols. The girl is dressed but, nevertheless, she seems somewhat unveiled because of the stressing of her sex through the use of triangular forms over her body, which is perhaps even reduplicated in the depiction of the branches.
The theme of nature in bud and of awakening sexuality is also reflected in the original wooden frame, which is decorated with sprouting flower onions. In this manner, Slott-Møller made precautions against any negligence as to the meaning of his sophisticated symbolism. Neither spring as such nor the realistic features of his model really preoccupied the artist. Symbols of the season constituted his main subject and to achieve the luster of a new-born and strange world, he quoted freely from the Italian Quattrocento. At the time of the painting he and his wife Agnes showed a remarkable sense for selecting 'historical' elements, which corresponded with the mentality and longings of their contemporaries.
Ejnar Nielsen and His World
The most evident examples of pure Danish symbolistic art dealing with the situation of human beings were created by the painter Ejnar Nielsen. He stayed in Paris during the World's Fair in 1900 and was, among other artists, influenced by the French painter Puvis de Chavannes and perhaps also by the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler (Politiken, Oct. 23, 1983). Six years earlier he had already, independently, created his own universe of symbols. His pictures are counterparts to the poems written by the symbolistic writers, who in Denmark published the literary periodical Taarnet. It only survived for one year, 1893-94, edited by the writer Johannes Jørgensen, but its spirit and fame lived on for many years (Stabell & Hansen 1984).
Probably Ejnar Nielsen had observed the decline of naturalism around 1889, when he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. At the time, the Academy was certainly not a place of innovation, but important exhibitions of French art were organized in Copenhagen in 1888 and 1889, and young painters, several of whom are mentioned above, showed the influence of their contact with French art. Willumsen had painted in Bretagne together with Emil Bernard, Gauguin and van Gogh, and everybody visited Paris in the important year 1889, when they not only saw the Art Salon at the World's Fair, but most significantly, the alternative expositions by the rejected artists, such as Gauguin in the Café Volpini, close nearby the World's Fair at the Champs de Mars. Additional Danish painters had already known Paul Gauguin from his stay in Copenhagen in the eighties, when he married the Danish woman, Mette Gad (Bodelsen 1984).
In 1894 Ejnar Nielsen concluded his education at the Academy and went to Jutland in order to make studies as a basis for his future works. He could have gone to the Skaw (at northernmost part of Jutland) like several of his fellow Danish artists did at the time but, partly by chance, he only reached the small town of Gjern in the middle of Jutland. It is a hilly area which lacks beauty if measured by traditional norms. Nevertheless, the place turned out to be of mighty importance for the Copenhagener Ejnar Nielsen. He intended to paint the landscape, and he did so, but after making the acquaintance of the local residents, their hard conditions fascinated him and Nielsen repatedly used them as models for the figures in his social and symbolic paintings.
His Ill girl from 1896 must be mentioned, and a year later he exhibited the young man, who is seen Looking Death in the Eyes (both in The National Museum of Art, Copenhagen). Afterwards came another significant title, Death and the Cripple (Thielska Gallery, Stockholm) with a landscape, which looks like something out of this world. Ejnar Nielsen separated the figures very clearly from the landscapes, though they were inextricably bound up with the dreamy atmosphere of the strange land. As an example we shall examine one of his most renowned paintings, which deals with springtime and a tragic human affliction (Plate 4).
Plate 4: Ejnar Nielsen (1872 - 1956). The Blind. Gjern. 1896 and 1898. 131,5 x 79,2 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection. Cat. no. 413.
The Blind Girl
Besides the above-mentioned themes young Ejnar Nielsen was preoccupied with blindness, and he probably knew its iconography in European art. The handicap seems to call for symbolic interpretations, and when in the town of Gjern he became acquainted with the young blind organ player Dagmar Andersen, he used her several times as a model making her blindness stand in significant and painful contrast to the beautiful surroundings.
This monumental painting of a blind person attracts and repulses at the same time. The reason probably lies in the mysterious light over the stylized landscape and its direct confrontation with the sorrow of losing one's sight. Standing in front of the painting you cannot neglect the blind girl, who fills most of the canvas. You have to investigate this green and golden world like a voyeur who stands just in front of a blind person.
Her black dress constrasts with the bright carnation of her face and hands. The facial expression seems reserved and anonymous as a logical consequence of the blindness, but attend to her sensitive hands with their long fingers, carefully touching the fragile dandelions in seed. In her part of the landscape the flowers have already run to seed, and there are very few contrasts in the surrounding landscape.
The row of trees behind her stands as a limit to real springtime and the fertility of the lambs grazing on the meadow which is covered with a carpet of many white flowers. This part reminds the viewer of paintings belonging to the Italian Quattrocento and provides the observer with the feeling of looking into Eden, as in some of Fra Angelico's paintings. The small Gjern river, here shown as a golden stream, begins in this fertile part of the landscape and its decorative embracing of the girl and the main scenery emphasizes the symbolism of the painting.
A lonely farm is visible in the distance and then you can again imagine that the place is of this world and indeed near Gjern. On the other hand, the shadows of the farm are difficult to explain, since no sun is visible - unless the whole gold-tinged heaven is to be understood as the sun.
When the painting was exhibited in Copenhagen in 1898, it was generally well received by the critics, though, a few years later, the art historian Sigurd Møller wrote that the artist must have forgotten that the aim of art should not alone be the revival of pain and disgust. (Müller 1905: 207). Time had been working for the symbolistic ideas, and artists were allowed to construct nature, if it was necessary to do so, for the presentation of their ideas. Indeed this was the case for Ejnar Nielsen, whose landscape in this picture was probably conceived as a reflection of the blind girl's dream of spring and nature, perhaps also of love. His point was that the girl and her sad fortune were visible everywhere, and that there is a mental dimension to physical blindness.
Many years later, in 1927, Ejnar Nielsen commented on the Gjern-period and especially The Blind Girl by saying: "What Man does in life is often rather blind. In fact all of us are blind, despair [...] is in nature itself" (Berlingske Tidende, March 2, 1952). By that time the scene had changed for the elderly artist. He had become a professor at the Academy, but many of his later projects were never realized, and his pessimistic statement must perhaps be seen in this context.
With roots going back to Eckersberg's school and to the Golden-Age tradition, the study of nature in the open air remained central to Danish painters throughout the 19th century. However, the few examples of symbolically-influenced art of the 1890ies which we have seen, show how a rupture took place as product of the artist's desire to focus on human existence and because of their wish to subjugate the landscape to ideas of life and death.
Danish painters often symbolized the beginning of life, meaning love and sexuality, using the spring-motif. Indeed, Nordic spring is something very exceptional, but not the exclusive reason for the selection of this time of year. In this respect, Danish painters were probably also influenced by the general European trend of the last decade of the century.
In Spring, 1895, Ring partly retained realism through the depiction of the two girls, but, by manipulating the perspective and by the strategic placing of trees and flowers, he also supported the intrinsic values, the feeling of spring in body and mind, the sweet idea of love.
In 1896 Slott-Møller almost abandoned himself to a phantasy of nature, when he placed the strange pubertal girl in the middle of a stylized vision of cool water and air. This resulted in a somewhat schematic allegory of spring with emphasis placed on the body and the female sex. The whole atmosphere is somewhat ambiguous.
Ejnar Nielsen also placed his blind girl in spring nature, but he, simultaneously, showed how definitely she is excluded from light and the pleasure of spring. As in his other paintings dating from this period, the artist uses a row of dark, not very Danish looking trees, as an effective boundary between the pale and the bright world. Nielsen's work exhibits an absolutely pure construction of nature in the service of the idea of blindness in every sense of the word.
The general interest in existential problems additionally secured Danish symbolistically-influenced painters would know some success during their lifetimes, but this was accompanied by a fear of losing the sane and simple view of man and nature. Some critics still asserted that the purpose of art should be the making of true images of the environment, and they disliked the mode which included too much of the artist's personal philosophy.
What people holding this opinion saw as a loss, turned out to have been a useful road for modern art and more European contacts in the future. In the first decade of the 20th century a new generation of artists, including names such as Harald Giersing, Karl Isakson, Sigurd Swane, Edvard Weie and Olaf Rude, soon transplanted French fauvism and abstract painting into Denmark. In contrast to the symbolists, colours were given full reign, and in Danish art history they are called the Rainbow-Painters. On the contrary, German expressionism and later Surrealism, which in some way became the successor of international symbolism, was for a long time ignored in Denmark. The political conditions and the two wars explain much, but the true reason was perhaps the traditional fear of losing sane and simple nature, which was captured by hard work since Eckersberg's days.
Nevertheless, the painters mentioned above as well as other symbolistically-influenced Danish artists moved the boundary of nature within the work of art. Their works, be they with or without girls, deserve to be observed anew and valorized in the broader European context.
List of illustrations
Plate 1. Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916). Landscape, Lejre. 1905 41 x 68 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. NM 2248.
Plate 2. L. A. Ring (1854-1933). Spring. 1895. 189,5 x 93 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection. Copenhagen. Cat. no. 488.
Plate 3. Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937). The Spring (1896). 120 x 93 cam. The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen. Cat. no. 569.
Plate 4. Ejnar Nielsen (1872-1956). The Blind. Gjern. 1896 and 1898. 131,5 x 79,2 cm. The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen. Cat. no. 413.
Berlingske Tidende, March 2, 1952 (Danish newspaper).
Birkett, Jennifer (1990). Fin-de-siècle Painting. Mikulás Teich & Roy Porter (eds.): Fin de siècle and its legacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 147-169.
Bodelsen, Merete (1984). Gauguin and van Gogh in Copenhagen 1893. Catalogue. Copenhagen: The Ordrupgaard Collection.
Brünniche, Eigil H. (1985). Emil Hannover og Heinrich Hirschsprung. Et stykke museumshistorie. CRAS . Copenhagen. 5-24.
Cornell, Sara (1983). A History of Changing Style. (Part 5: The Modern World). Oxford: Phaidon. 332-400.
Delevoy, Robert L. (1982). Le Symbolisme. Geneve: Skira.
Hertz, Peter (1934). L.A. Ring. Copenhagen.
Gelfer-Jørgensen, Mirjam (1982). Dansk Kunsthåndværk fra 1850 til vor tid. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk.
Hobolth, Nina & Jacobsen, Signe (1990). L.A. Ring. Herman A. Kähler i sit værksted. Catalogue from the Art Museum of Randers.
Hofstätter, Hans H. (1963). Geschichte der europäischen Jugendmalerei. Köln: Kultur und Geschichte.
L'Age d'Or de la Peinture Danoise 1800-1850 (1984). Paris: Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais.
Laursen, Bodil Busk (1988). Agnes og Harald Slott-Møller. Mellem kunst og idealer. Catalogue. Copenhagen: Kunstforeningen.
Müller, Sigurd (1905). Nordens Billedkunst. Copenhagen: Frem. Nordisk Forlag.
Nykjær, Mogens (1991). Kundskabens Billeder. Motiver i dansk kunst fra Eckersberg til Hammershøi. Aarhus: Århus Universitetsforlag.
Officiel Beretning om Danmarks Deltagelse i Verdensudstillingen i Paris 1900 (1902). Ed. by Comiteen. Copenhagen.
Politiken, October 23, 1983 (Danish newspaper).
The Pre-Raphaelites (1984). Catalogue. London: Tate Gallery.
Raaschou-Nielsen, Inge Vibeke & Munk, Jens (1984). L.A. Ring. Catalogue (with Danish and English texts). Copenhagen: Ordrupgaard Collection.
Rohde, Henning (1981). Om Johan Rohdes virke for Den Frie Udstilling. Catalogue from The Free Exhibition. Copenhagen.
Sandström, Sven (1971). Det moderna skedet. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur.
Scavenius, Bente (1983). Fremsyn-Snæversyn. Dansk dagbladskritik 1880-1901. Copenhagen: Borgen.
Den frie udstilling i 100 år (1991). Copenhagen.
Stabell, Annette & Hansen, Jørn Otto (1984). Ejnar Nielsen. Catalogue. Copenhagen: Kunstforeningen.
Guidebook (1990). London: Tate Gallery.
Vad, Poul (1992). Wilhelm Hammershøi. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Naturalization of Nature
Let us begin with Alexander Pope's garden at Twickenham. "My Garden like my Life, seems to me every Year to want Correction & require alteration," he wrote to Ralph Allen in 1736 (Pope 1956: 40). Pope's 'Life' is thus a continuous, regulated activity which consists in cutting off the overgrown hedges, getting rid of unwelcome weeds, adding new plants to it in order to make it somehow more attractive. It is, interestingly, not Pope who is the master of life (and hence also of nature) so conceived as it is his garden/life which demands from him (wants from him) some kind of corrective action. This "want" is probably expressed by some lack, by some deficiency so easily discernible upon its (life's/garden's) surface, that the intervention cannot be really taken for an intrusion, for an act of violence in which something might be lost. Nothing, in fact, can be lost.
Despite the seeming contradiction, the enlightened eye of the lover of order sees in all overgrowth, in all abundance, an invisible minus sign, and thus actually sees any abundance as a deficiency, as something missing whose lack is communicated by the abundance to be reduced, cut off, annihilated. What does not want correction, what overgrows the limits of its "genre" is a monstrosity, a non-being to be uprooted in order that nature is complete, in order that such a garden, such a Book of a Linnaeus, does not have to be endlessly supplemented with mutations of species and the mutation of their mutations. Nature which has not been properly naturalized is not natural enough to be the nature of one's (or Pope's) life, and it can only be natural provided that its substantial part has been naturalized, or methodized, as Pope would have it.
Naturalization of nature is, of course, an ambivalent term. It may imply, for instance, that nature is not natural enough, and thus needs a certain improvement, as in Pope. If the nature is human nature, then the question of what is natural, and thus the decision regarding naturalization becomes obviously political, as to naturalize also means to give rights of citizenship, and thus to inhabit a certain territory. The post-enlightened world of the 20th century, the "post-structurally-post-modern world" has made the idea of nature pure and simple hardly thinkable. Along with the end(s) of man proclaimed by the French post-structuralists the world, it seems, has also come to an end, and it has done it not so much with a whimper as with a whisper with which Plato, for instance, dictates to Socrates the verses of Derrida's La carte Postale.
The world has become as it were displaced, robbed of its secure presence within the confines of a garden (as in Pope). The world no longer posits itself as the object of correction, explanation or conquest by man. Rather, what might be called the world has become a practice of re-production and re-reading where the object of the operation cannot be easily distinguished from its subject. The question of language having surfaced with Modernism, we are now facing the world becoming a surface without depth, a language-world which Foucault sees, through Borges' eyes, an endless library whose catalogue is a catalogue of catalogue. The idea of the book of the world, open to our eyes like the view on Pope's garden, perfectly written and complete has changed into an absence, or, rather, into a nonabsent absence of writing which, says Blanchot, "having absented itself from this absence, makes itself readable [...] and comments on itself by enclosing history: the closing of the book, the severity of the letter, the authority of knowledge" (Blanchot 1986: 391).
The end(s) of presence which has (have) been grafted onto the human condition of the 20th century is (are) not, as it seems, a negativism simply opposed to a positivism. What such "categories" as "nonabsent absence" seem to be declaring is, paradoxically, the impossibility of declaration (even of an absence), of declaring things to be what they are without a certain power, or authority, which declares the declaration and actually constitutes its foundation. To declare is now to declear declaration. Nature, the idea of nature, cannot thus be simply determined, for the question of its naturalization, of the, broadly, political problem of delimiting its territory is also at stake. The displacement of presence, which now also occupies the territory of the absent, makes it impossible to declare what is natural and what is not, as such a declaration would be a political gesture of propriation, of positing a natural presence by means of writing (or speaking) posited outside it, in some headquarters of poser which decide what is what and who is who.
Naturalization of Forgetfulness
To posit a presence, an object of natural possession and exploitation, is simultaneously to forget the absence, to censor out the constitutive context, the 'aura' or 'veil' which, for Nietzsche, is constitutive of "living":
Every living thing needs to be surrounded by an atmosphere, a mysterious circle of mist: if one robs it of this veil, if one condems a religion, an art, a genius to orbit as a star without an atmosphere: then one should not wonder about its rapidly becoming withered, hard and barren (Nietzsche 1980: 40)
Nietzsche's living things must thus be more than they are, as it
were. They must be here and there, and in the context of the book on
history (from which the above words come) this displacement of things
also means that they are now and then. It is for this
reason that historical justice is, for Nietzsche, "a terrible
virtue." It is such because "it always undermines the living and
brings it to ruin: its judging is always annihilating" (Nietzsche
1980: 38). Like theory, history must make decisions, or judgments,
which have to deal with problems of difference and identity. The core
of historical practice, says Mark Cousins,
is held to be one which neither requires nor supports any general conception of History at all. [...] Yet in its wake this conviction can also lead to the unjustified assumption that the representation of differences and identities between objects of the past can evade theoretical decisions (Cousins 1987: 130).
Theory itself, however, does not seem to be much different. Terry Eagleton begins his Literary Theory with the conditional sentence in which the existence of literary theory hinges upon there being an object called "literature" (cf. Eagleton 1983: 1). Since Eagleton's book mainly undermines the thinkability of that object, it is also theory that falls prey to Eagleton's pen. Theory, like Cousins' History, evades its own theoretical decisions, it posits objects as unquestionable facts; mere or bare, but quite evidently barren. Theory's judging, let us repeat, "is always annihilating". It annihilates the difference, the mist Nietzsche talks about when he talks about history and life.
Interesting, both history and theory are kinds of writing Benveniste would label 'histoire', the kind of narrative in which "we shall find only the forms of the "third person"," and not 'je' or 'tu' which are the domain of 'discours'" (Benveniste 1971: 207). 'Histoire' lacks the 'sign of person' and in this way it, as it were, pretends to have been written without human agency, impersonally. The reader and the writer, the personal 'you' and 'I', are withdrawn from the text which thus becomes the domain of 'she', 'it', and 'he - all these are 'non-personal' pronouns for Benveniste. The judging of 'histoire' banishes 'you' and 'I' from the text as to avoid, or mask, the theoretical problems of person, problems of, exactly, identity and difference. Unlike the non-personal third person pronouns Benveniste's 'you' and 'I' are quite undecidable categories, they do not refer to a concept or an individual because person is constituted in 'the reality of human dialogue', in 'discours' (ib.: 201). Such a person cannot thus be presented as a fact, be it historical or theoretical. 'Histoire' banishes the person into forgetfulness and thus institutionalizes forgetfulness.
The idea of 'institutionalized forgetfulness' comes from José Rabasa's essay on allegories of Mercator's Atlas (Rabasa 1984). In the way history institutionalizes forgetfulness "ideology naturalizes history insofar as it places national configurations and the destiny of European domination sub specie aeternis" (Rabasa 1984: 6). This naturalization of history seems to be one of the reasons that make us forgetful about the areas about which history is silent, about the areas of historical choice of events and of their ontological and epistemological status. History institutionalizes forgetfulness also in the sense that we forget that we forget, and what is at stake here is not only the principle of selective omission which makes possible the writing of history, but also the unbridgeable gap between past and present.
Benveniste's 'histoire', the language which points to things, but which also makes them, is bound to be severed from "now", from the 'now' of the discursing subject. It is by the exclusion of the present that historical events can be made present, and it is also this exclusion that makes the present present. Presence, objective and unquestionable, is thinkable only in the past, at a distance, and this is also the case of presence in theory. In Nietzsche's phrasing, I shall repeat, such a presence is without life, it is "withered, hard, and barren". And although we do write our history about our world, we actually hardly partake of it because our 'we' actually endangers the dogma of the world's oneness, threatening us with becoming amorphous. "'We'," writes Benveniste, "is an 'I' expanded beyond the strict limits of the person, enlarged and at the same time amorphous" (Benveniste 1971: 203). The amorphous is, of course, a kind of thing (or "object") which the historical or theoretical gaze forgets, omits, leaves unmentioned and thus in fact exterminates, following Foucault's logic of censorship whose "interdiction is thought to take three forms: affirming that such a thing is not permitted, preventing it from being said, denying that it exists" (Foucault 1978: 84).
History censors the present and in this paradoxical way makes it the subject of writing, translates it into something which the objective historical gaze is capable of notifying, into the non-personal historical fact which can be included in its annals. In his reading of the epistemological (and political) strategies in Mercator's Atlas, José Rabasa notices that "the Atlas constitutes a world where all possible 'surprises' have been precodified" (Rabasa 1984: 7). The yet unknown, the wild, the monstrous, are open to being colonized (and thus corrected), they are made available to "the great Monarches, Kings and Princes of this Universe [...] in their cabinets" (quoted in ib.: 9). Space is made historical "by means of the legends incorporated into the empty areas in the maps. There is a centrifugal movement from the name-laden Europe to the periphery where legends and drawings characterize vast territories without history" (ib.: 9). By making past present, history makes it simultaneously present to future, and the territories without history are already marked for history and without its objectifying "embrace" they are bound to be forgotten, nameless, nonexistent. As long as the peripheral remains without history it is actually threatening. Only provided that we forget that there is something outside history can we securely colonize the territory of the present, extend the empire of history.
Naturalization of the Unnatural
For Bruno Schulz (1892-1942), a Polish writer who hardly had any idea of post-structuralism or new Historicism, "official history is incomplete" (Schulz 1980: 33). The idea of any limits imposed upon the ever-growing world was the idea which could have only originated in the headquarters of Franz Joseph I, the emperor who decided to stop the world in its growth and establish an empire of empiricism. In Sanatorium. Under the Sign of the Hourglass Schulz wrote:
The world at that time was circumscribed by Franz Joseph I. On each stamp, on every coin, and on every postmark his likeness confirmed its stability and the dogma of its oneness. This was the world, and there were no other worlds besides, the effigies of the imperial-and royal old man proclaimed. Everything else was make-believe, wild pretense, and usurpation. Franz Joseph I rested on top of everything and checked the world in its growth (ib.: 33).
What is 'abnormal', and thus also 'unnatural', is simultaneously illegal for Schulz's Franz Joseph, and in such a world all presences can only be dogmatic. Schulz's natural world grows and changes, and it is this constant change that the idea of the natural consists of. If Franz Joseph naturalizes nature by marginalizing and annihilating as illegal those things, which he does not (want to) conceive of, Schulz wants to naturalize it by opening up the spheres marginalized by the power of the 'emperor', by allowing the world to grow and thus to escape any classificatory gaze. Needless to say that such a 'naturalization' will have to open the world to things traditionally regarded as unnatural, secondary or artificial, such as writing, for instance. Schulz's 'Book' will thus not be an object containing a meaning, but an ever-changing writing in which all the world participates. Having found "the Authentic" among the scraps of paper used for packing sandwiches and meat, Schulz develops its "doctrine":
[...] as the number of books decreases, the Authentic must increase. However, we don't wish to tire the reader with an exposition of doctrine. We should only like to draw his attention to one thing: the Authentic lives and grows. [...] it unfolds while being read, its boundaries open to all currents and fluctuations (ib.: 10).
What is thus also questioned is not only the what of writing, of the Book, but also its where, its topography. The opening of the text to "all currents and fluctuations" contaminates the idea of writing and displaces it, moves it outside the book and as a result, we face the idea of the 'book of the world' as a writing being written 'elsewhere', a 'naturalized' writing which extends into the formerly alien territory of the unwritten, of the unclassifiable space Franz Joseph wants to see formless, illegal and actually absent. Or, the other way round, it is the formless, the ever-growing, that participates in the writing of Schulz's Book and translates it into a text whose topography it is impossible to determine.
A growing kind of writing is thus natural, but this kind of nature is conceivable only if the borderline which separates nature and culture, constant change and stability, is transgressed and the text 'writes itself' both inside and outside, here and there at the same time, that is to say, always already elsewhere. Schulz's 'nature' cannot thus be talked, or written, about, no 'natural history' of that nature is thinkable, because the idea of 'fact', of a singular event is the idea of a presence dictated by the dogmatic rules of a Franz Joseph, the rules which also define time as a sequence of events and thus censor out what Schulz calls 'illegal events', the events which take place on "somewhat illegal and suspect" branch lines of time (ib.: 14). Schulz's 'history' has to extend beyond the linearizing sequence of time and language in order that the illegal events, the events without the seal and signature of Franz Joseph I, can also be somehow written in his book and in order that the world becomes naturally complete in its incompleteness, in its growth outside its dogmatically determined territory, and outside its time:
Ordinary facts are arranged within time, strung along its length as on a thread. [...] This has an importance for any narrative, of which continuity and successiveness are the soul. [...] Yet what is to be done with events that have no place of their own in time; events that have occurred too late, after the whole of time has been distributed, divided, and allotted; events that have been left in the cold, unregistered, hanging in the air, homeless, and errand? (ib.: 14)
Schulz does not quite answer these questions just as he does not answer the question whether such events ever occured: "Yes and no," he says. "There are things which cannot ever occur with any precision. They are too big and too magnificent to be contained in mere facts. They are merely trying to occur" (Schulz 1980: 12).
Without positing such 'categories' as Blanchot's "nonabsent absence", Schulz hints at certain regions without categorizing them, transgresses 'mere facts' without allowing them to eventually 'occur', gives up the idea of their positive statement thus leaving the sphere of growth, the natural sphere, as a potentiality and a potential of a writing whose accomplishment, whose termination would actually be an 'extermination' of the sphere he hints at. Saying "yes and no", a simultaneous affirming and negation is, of course, reminiscent of the Derridean writing sous rature, under erasure.
Yet, Schulz does not postulate that words mean more than what they mean, he does not affirm the presence of 'nonabsence', but only, without assuming any position of authority, "merely tries" to draw our attention to its "merely trying to occur", to a history outside history which cannot be simply written because it has already been written and is being written the moment one begins to write as a promise of a 'revival' which can hardly be fulfilled unless one does not accept the paradox of a 'yes and no', of a 'there', of something 'from far away' being also 'here'. Schulz's 'history' of spring, for instance, is "[...] an inspired script, written in the festive red of sealing wax and the calendar print [...] the amaranth of happy telegrams from far away [...]" (ib.: 24).
This 'script' is a text in which birds' writing is equally 'authoritative' as any other text, a writing which promises the growth of the text, which, as it were, fertilizes and 'naturalizes' the writings of somewhat more traditional history:
One can read it in a thousand different ways, interpret it blindly, spell it out at will, happy to be able to decipher anything at all amid the misleading deviations of birds. The text can be red forward and backward, lose its sense and find it again in many versions, in a thousand alternatives. Because the text of spring is marked by hints, ellipses, lines dotted on an empty azure, and because the gaps between the syllables are filled by the frivolous guesses and surmises of birds, my story, like that text, will follow many different tracks and will be punctuated by springlike dashes, sighs and dots (ib.: 25).
Schulz, as it were, 'unkings' the world, relieves it from the power of Franz Joseph I, but he does so without cutting off a king's head. He re-writes (or re-reads) the book of the world on its own margins and thus teaches us (he was also a teacher) that the world and its nature cannot be simply found, but that it takes place outside the prison of Franz Joseph's classroom, in playing truant in the regions where things, no longer pointed to by his royal finger, begin to play tricks. Schulz's teaching is writing and reading, a 'naturalized' kind of writing in which the Book is always more than one. Playing truant with Schulz's Book at hand we are located both here and there, 'here, there'; in the classroom where the dogma of oneness is taught, where we are constantly being reminded of its 'enframing' power, but simultaneously elsewhere; in the paradoxical regions where 'here' is also 'there'; in the Book, but at the same time far away, diminishing and unimportant:
How greatly dimished you have become, Franz Joseph, and your gospel of prose! I looked for you in vain. At last I found you. You were among the crowd, but how small, unimportant, grey. You were marching with some others in the dust of the highway, immediately following America but preceding Australia, and singing together with the others: Hosanna! (ib.: 35)
Thus having displaced Franz Joseph, Schulz also displaced the dogmas of purity and of the oneness of things, the dogmas of the naturally pure genres, species or races as constitutive of the natural order of things, and of the world. Such dogmas, however, soon reinforce their ranks and return to Schulz's Drohobycz (an Ukranian town once in Poland and then in Galicia, in Austria and in Hungary, then again in Poland only to be taken over by the Soviet Union and then by the Germans and then again becoming a part of the Soviet Union which, as it seems, no longer exists) in November 1942, a historical date which Schulz's history of spring overgrows with oblivion thus, paradoxically, remembering in forgetting, remembering the forgetting which no other history can remember:
That is why it [spring] is heavy with the sum of all that is forgotten and sorrowful, for it alone must live vicariously on these rejected lives, and must be beautiful to embody all that has been lost. [...] And to make up for all this, it has only the heady smell of cherry blossoms to offer (ib.: 44)
The lost manuscript of The Messiah (cf. note 2), of the announcer of Schulz's spring is searched for by a Lars Andemening on the pages of Cynthia Ozick's The Messiah of Stockholm. Thinking himself to be Schulz's son, Lars learns Polish as to be able to find his identity in the original language of the lost original: "He is the priest of the original" (Ozick 1988: 99). Lars does discover his Messiah and reads it. "More than anything else," Cynthia Ozick tells us,
the Messiah [Lars noted] resembled a book - The Book, in fact, that in one of the tales of Sanatorium pod Klepsydra had been linked to a huge cabbage rose: the petals, one by one, eyelid under eyelid, all blind, velvety, and dreamy. This Book had also been set forth as a postulate; and again as the authentic Book, the holy original, however degraded and humiliated at present. (Ozick 1988: 110)
As Lars soon learns, the manuscript of The Messiah is a forgery of one Dr. Eklund, a 'holographic authority' who personally examines Lars' discovery with a magnifying glass and confirms its authenticity. The paradox is that one can treat forgery as illegal only provided that there is some pure, complete original which the fake copy pretends to be. Since Schulz's spring is bound to be itself illegal, since The Messiah cannot have (or be) the original as an object of any external authenticiation, Dr. Eklund's text can only be a forgery of forgery sorts, a naturalized nature postulated as an outgrowth, a branch-line of illegal time and history which can be discovered only in the shadow of the word, in its aura, in Andemening rather than in meaning. In one of his few criticial essays Schulz reads philosophy, the science of truth, as a philology of the shadowy emanation of the wor(l)d:
We commonly regard the word as the shadow of reality, as its reflection. A reversal of this proposition would be more appropriate: reality is the shadow of the word. Philosophy is in fact philology. It is a deep and creative examination of the word. (Schulz 1973: 336, translation T.R.)
Benveniste, Emile (1971). Problems in General Linguistics. Miami: University of Miami Press.
Blanchot, Maurice (1986). The Absence of the Book. Mark C. Taylor (ed.): Deconstruction in Context. Literature and Philosophy. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press. 382-395.
Cousins, Mark (1987). The Practice of Historical Investigation. Derek Attridge (ed.): Post-structuralism and the Question of History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Derrida, Jacques (1980). La carte postale. Paris: Flammarion.
Eagleton, Terry (1983). Literary Theory. An Introduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Foucault Michel (1978). The History of Sexuality. An Introduction. London: Penguin Books.
Gilbert, Martin (1986). The Holocaust. Glasgow: Fontana.
Nietzsche, Frederich (1980). On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hacket Publishing Company, Inc.
Ozick, Cythia (1988). The Messiah of Stockholm. New York: Vintage Books.
Pope, Alexander (1956). The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, vol. 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Rabasa, José (1984). Allegories of the Atlas. Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, Margaret Iversen, Diana Loxley (eds.): Europe and its Others. Essex Sociology of Literature Conference Papers, vol. 2, 1-16. Colchester: University of Essex.
Schulz, Bruno (1974). Mityzacja rzeczywistosci. Proza. Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie.
Schulz, Bruno (1980). Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. London: Picador Books.
John L. Stanley
Natural Needs and Consumer Society
For some time now, many commentators who interpret Marx as being primarily a humanistic philosopher have been intent on distancing him from a naturalistic viewpoint. While both the political and textual reasons for this attempted separation are varied, many of these writers assert that Marx's vantage point toward nature is not the same as Engels' supposedly passive subject. As Kolakowski for example has put it, Engels' 'evolutionary naturalism' and 'positivism' are the opposite of Marx's 'Promethean' anthropocentrism and epistemology of praxis (Kolakowski 1978: 382-416). On the other hand, critics such as Agnes Heller have admitted that while all these elements exist in a contradictory way in Marx's thought, the Promethean and 'historical' sides dominate the naturalistic and positivist ones.
In her book, The Theory of Need in Marx (1976) Heller, while admitting to a naturalistic component in Marx, attempts to distance him from naturalism as much as possible and in a way typical of the humanist vantage point: the 'radical needs' envisioned in Marx's communist society contradict Marx's texts that affirm naturalistic covering laws of historical change. While these radical needs are really not clearly defined, they are likely to include the varied pursuits discussed in the German Ideology which are assumed to be quite different from those of existing society. In order to distance Marx from being seen as a mere harbinger of the present consumerism, Heller minimizes Marx's affirmation of a certain constancy of human desires and passions which transcend time, place and circumstance.
From her account, it would seem that if Marx's idea of fulfilled radical needs under communism is to have any viability in the late twentieth century, then it must envision a very different system than the mere quantitative multiplication of consumer commodities found in modern industrialism. For Heller, such a radical system of needs constitutes a total qualitative transformation of the structure of needs existing in capitalist society. As such she views Marx as the prophet of nearly total 'historical' discontinuity between capitalist and communist societies. The prophetic and important part of Marx is the one that goes beyond the mere social reconstruction of nature to a praxis motivated by a philosophically inspired theory that has gripped the masses and that surpasses naturalism almost entirely. Thus, the important part of his concept of radical need is historical and cannot be understood naturalistically (Heller 1976: 48, 88).
I have argued elsewhere that Promethean domination of nature as well as naturalism, praxis as well as positivism, are all present and entail one another in Marx's thought (Stanley 1991). Heller's apparent unwillingness fully to confront this reciprocity of concepts in Marx's thought prevents her from comprehending the ramifications of his continued attraction to naturalism and to a theory of human nature. In this respect she exemplifies many of the difficulties encountered in the Western or 'humanist' interpretation of Marx. The present paper will argue that the logic if not the intent of Marx's thought really entails the restructuring of human needs in a way that is more in continuity with twentieth-century capitalist consumerism and is less a radical departure from it. The 'radical needs' that Agnes Heller's version of Marx depicts as characteristic of communism, are rather more accurately understood as extrapolations of incomplete tendencies that Marx already sees within the bosom of capitalist society itself. This continuity can be shown in three ways:
First, if Marx can define human nature essentially in terms of needs that seem virtually devoid of limits, the indefinite expansion of industry is not contrary to human nature (as the ancients would have it) but a fulfillment of it. Such a view progressively obscures the distinctions between natural and social needs, natural needs from luxuries and needs from desires.
Second, by arguing for a natural harmony between production and consumption, Marx would avoid direct regulation of the latter by relying largely on the regulation of the former. By rejecting the direct regulation of consumption, Marx would accelerate the liberation of the passions which places productivity at the disposal of needs/desires that have now been made sovereign.
Third, these newly liberated desires need not be directly regulated because their very proliferation results in a natural harmony of needs. Rather than regulate the passions through education, Marx would follow Fourier by cultivating passions which, freed of repression, become self-regulating. Marx's critique of capitalism relies on an a hidden hand equilibrium of the appetites that replaces the equilibrium of the unseen hand in the capitalist market place.
Needs, Desires and Luxuries
Heller's distinction between natural needs and 'radical' needs should be considered in light of Marx's depiction of the soul of the capitalist that is divided between restraint of the passions in order to produce surplus, and the desire for luxury in order to consume it. For Marx this struggle is increasingly resolved by the natural evolution of capitalist society in favor of luxury. Marx's analytical dependence on the view that industrial society increasingly regards luxury as a necessity, explains his failure to construct an adequate distinction between needs and desires or between natural and social needs.
Any discussion of needs and human nature in Marx should include Marx's praise of the naturalist Fraas who notes that 'even in historical times' species change naturally. These changes include changes in needs which Marx refers to in naturalistic terms when he writes:
Man is distinguished from all other animals by the limitless and flexible nature of his needs. But it is equally true that no animal is able to restrict his needs to the same unbelievable degree and to reduce the conditions of his life to the absolute minimum. In a word there is no animal with the same talent for 'Irishing' himself. (Marx 1977: 1068)
In itself, Marx's observation that man is subject to a psychological and social conflict between desire and restraint is scarcely a departure from the classical teaching on human nature. But he would not subject the passions to what the ancients regarded as the equally natural rule of reason. Rather than constrain 'production for production's sake' by, in part, restraining the passions through moral education as the ancients would, Marx understandably has rejected as 'unbelievable' certain restraints imposed on the passions on the grounds that these restraints stem more from bourgeois ideology than from reason. In his discussion of the desires of the usurer, Marx (ib.: 740n) notes that the bourgeoisie itself is increasingly inclined toward the limitlessness of the passions, but instead of bringing this tendency under rational control, Marx would open it to all. Once rid of the alienated and fetishistic contradictions of bourgeois civilization - remnants of which still produce the illusory values of abstinence - and by bringing production under the direct control of newly liberated needs, in the course of fulfilling his species' essence, man's changed needs also expand accordingly.
Marx notes that any restraints on the passions, on consumption, rely on a universal economic law rather than on teaching. Marx begins with a universal or covering law. "No society can go on producing [...] unless it constantly reconverts a part of its products into means of production" (ib.: 711). On the other hand, moral teachings on restraints are well-suited to the ideology of the capitalist. The historically specific interest of the capitalist in producing this unconsumed surplus is served by reducing the worker's individual consumption to a necessary minimum. The abstinence preached to and imposed on the worker meets the transitory but historically necessary function of rapid capital expansion, but results in "production for production's sake" (Marx 1977: 711). The capitalist justifies this abstinence on the ground that he too sacrifices his consumption for the sake of capital. Nassau William Senior's view that "the more society progresses, the more abstinence is demanded", would make it appear that the capitalist robs himself in 'lending' tools to the worker and must make a constant effort to "resist the temptation of consuming" unproductively (ib.: 744-45). The capitalist's self-renunciation and avarice constitute the ruling class' counterpart of the repression of proletarian needs.
Marx uses the persona of the capitalist to illustrate the progressive emancipation from 'the old-fashioned miser's prejudice'. With the advance of development in capitalist production, the capitalist gradually abandons his old asceticism, "a conventional degree of prodigality [...] becomes a business necessity. Luxury enters into the capitalist's expenses". For Marx reality produces a 'Faustian conflict' between the passion for capital accumulation (productive consumption) and the desire for enjoyment (unproductive consumption): "Two souls, alas, do dwell within his breast; the one is ever parting from the other" (ib.: 740-41). Since there is no moral preference either for "squandering the surplus product [...] of [...] Negro slaves entirely in champagne, or [...] into more Negroes and more land", Marx cannot consistently judge the bourgeois newly opened to the luxurious 'world of delights' as a soul more alienated than those of his ascetic forefathers. For Marx the soul at war with itself is progressively supplanted by one in which the proliferation of passions now holds increasingly full sway. This tendency, already underway under Capitalism foreshadows the indefinite expansion of luxuries to the proletariat rather than their restraint. If Marx defines luxuries simply as: "all goods which are necessaries and which are not commonly used by the labouring class", and if, for Marx, the development of industry overcomes the opposition between necessity and luxury (Marx 1971: 43; 1975: XXVIII, 452), then yesterday's fetishized luxury commodity may become tomorrow's genuine need. It is thus quite understandable that Marx is unable finally to give us very sound standards for separating desires that are truly liberating from those that correspond to the fetishistic needs characteristic of capitalist society. He goes so far as to say that for analytical purposes, "the nature of wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference" (Marx 1977: 125). If Marx can proclaim that "the [...] first object of man - man - is nature, sensuousness" (Marx 1975: III, 304) then, once free of restraints, what is the difference between this nature and radical needs? Although Marx did indeed enumerate certain false or alienated needs (such as religion, precious metals or the need to be superior to one's fellows), Springborg (1981: 94-106) rightly observes that Marx, in failing even to define needs, has not set forth any adequate theoretical criteria to differentiate natural from artificial needs or passions from needs.
By defining human nature simply in terms of sensuous need, Marx implies that all post-capitalist needs are legitimate because they are a function of the fulfillment of that nature. Needs are conflated with appetites. Since the indefinite expansion of needs is natural to man, every industrial development corresponds to a legitimate 'natural' need. To put the matter slightly differently, the expanded needs of industrial society are in harmony with human nature precisely because of the infinite nature of human desires. In light of this view Marx can overcome the nature-history distinction and assert that "only naturalism is capable of comprehending world history" (Marx 1975: III, 336).
The Natural Harmony Between Production and Consumption
What is important here is that Marx would still not regulate the subject's appetites in a direct way, but only by the natural or universal need for some surplus. It is in the process of production itself in which the limits lie, not in the soul of the producer. Hence, for Marx, in the future 'society of producers' the collective subject's needs are enthroned as forces bringing production rather than consumption under their control. The capitalist imbalances of excessive production and minimized consumption can only be overcome when they are restored to the natural balance of production and consumption characteristic of production in general. And this can only be done by putting the shoe on the other foot: by regulating production rather than consumption; by bringing industry under the control of emancipated desire.
Thus, for Marx the 'appetites' of industry for accumulation should be regulated in order to prevent such catastrophes as erosion of the soil from deforestation (Marx 1975: XLII, 559). But the need of the human subject for certain agricultural or wood products would only be indirectly regulated by controlling externalized nature: by the "scientific domination of natural agencies" and by the "all-embracing control and far-sighted control of the production of raw materials" (ib.: XII, 222; Marx 1966: 120).
What Marx sees as a natural balance between and mutual functioning of production and consumption contrasts with the tendency of classical economists to ignore consumption as largely outside the sphere of political economy. For Marx, however, production which is natural to man is "in all its moments, also an act of consumption[...] just as in nature [...] man produces his own body, e.g. through nutrition, a form of consumption. But the same applies to any other kind of consumption" (Marx 1975: XXVIII, 283). Nor does Marx exempt activities that might fall under the category of 'radical needs' from this naturalistic equation of production and consumption. Even when "consumption emerges from its original natural crudeness and immediacy", the natural balance of consumption and production is sustained through its mediation by produced objects. "An objet d'art - just like any other product - creates a public that has artistic taste and is capable of enjoying beauty". Even here, production "therefore produces not only an object for the subject but also a subject for the object" (ib.: XXVIII, 28-30).
Here we have a double form of natural necessity: consumption is regarded "as a necessity, as a need is itself an intrinsic moment of productive activity", while, as Marx phrases it, expanded productive development "requires production of new consumption". Thus "production is determined by the needs of consumption. There is an interaction between the different moments. This is the case with any organic unity" (ib.: XXVIII, 31, 37).
This interaction does not mean that production and consumption are completely identical. While production is in part 'determined by 'the needs of consumption,' as well as other factors, consumption is ultimately a moment of the process "in which production is the actual point of departure and hence also its dominant moment" (ib.: XXVIII, 31, 36-37). But this means that man's internal nature, his desires, are analytically separable from the external world of production. Paradoxically this means that while it is the regulation of the 'dominant' productive moment of society that is of paramount importance to Marx, it would appear that internal needs, once unmediated by the alienated productive relations of capitalism, are free to expand and indeed dictate the nature of our controls on nature and production. Indeed every industry must be 'directly regulated and controlled' by the 'wants of society' (Marx 1971: 118). While production is the 'dominant' moment, it is appetites that are now directly sovereign.
Hardly a demand theorist in the twentieth-century sense, Marx thinks that appetites should not be directly regulated in part because he seems to assume that it is precisely these reciprocally necessary ties between production and consumption that allow for both unregulated consumption and active intervention in nature. It would appear that a new form of 'unseen hand' places automatic restraints on appetite through restraints on production as a result of natural harmony between consumption and production once the latter is socially organized. The free time that Heller (1976: 98) wishes to interpret as being somehow set free of the economy (but which she admits has still "naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject" (Marx 1975: XXIX, 97) is still governed by this production- consumption function as are the material necessities. As Marx notes in the Grundrisse, if society is "to achieve a production corresponding to its total needs," it must "allocate its time appropriately". For "the less time society requires to produce corn, livestock, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or spiritual" (ib.: XXVIII, 109). Thus "economy of time, as well as the planned distribution of labor time over the various branches of production [...] remains the first economic law" (ib.: XLIII, 68). As Marx expresses it to Kugelmann:
The amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society's aggregate labour. It is selfevident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. (ib.: XLIII, 68. Italics are Marx's)
It might be argued that this regulation does in fact bring social control to bear directly on one particular appetite, the need for productive labor itself, which has supposedly been emancipated in the society of producers. But at best we must still account for the reason why the regulation of the one passion for labor should liberate the passions in general. How, even in communist society, does the creation of objects create new appetites that are qualitatively different from the quantitative needs of capitalism if there is no direct regulation of the content of those appetites? If, as Hannah Arendt (1958) has suggested, it is the simple regulation of labor time rather than the nature of the needs that is the object of control, what is to prevent the subject from pursuing 'hobbies' that are quite similar to those found among well-paid workers under capitalism? To argue that the natural balance of production and consumption should help to emancipate the passions is hardly a satisfactory solution to the problem of the quality of the appetites, and it still leaves unanswered the question as to the nature of the education of the psychological mechanism behind those appetites.
The Self-Regulation of the Passions
Marx regards education directed at restraining the passions as characteristic of the moralism of his own Victorian bourgeois society in which only the passion of avarice was tolerated. For Marx and Engels, the early socialists such as Robert Owen inherited an environmentalist psychology rooted in a 'passive materialism'. In the Third of his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx says this viewpoint separates theory from practice, sees the student as passively receiving knowledge, and thus maintains the classical separation of the educators from the educated (cf. Springborg 1981: 115). Heller herself (1976: 42, 118) suggests that Marx follows Fourier in his attempt to solve the old problem of keeping appetites and desires under control by instead encouraging their self-cultivation. But she fails to see the full consequences of this 'solution'.
Marx envisions a system in which the crude one-sidedness of passions characteristic of Victorian restraints - the greed that is satisfied at the expense of all other needs - will be replaced by "an organization of production and intercourse which will make possible the normal satisfaction of all needs, i.e., a satisfaction that is limited only by the needs themselves" (Marx 1975: V, 256n). In his belief that with the liberation of manifold needs, the qualitative and quantitative needs of society will be maintained in a natural equilibrium, Marx anticipates the consumerism of modern capitalism. What is apparent here is that by relying on a balance of needs with other needs, the problem of excessive appetites is solved by a psychological mechanism that implies a concept of human nature.
While Marx excoriated the classical economists for confusing the market system with a natural system, he now suggests that 'the normal satisfaction' of the full plurality of human needs will somehow entail a balancing process which, once all the passions are liberated, should consist in one need checking the excesses of another. The free market of commodities is now replaced by a free market of the passions in which a natural equilibrium occurs. By virtue of this automatic social mechanism, the Marxian version of the well-ordered soul dispenses with moral tutelage. "Communists do not preach morality at all," he says. "They do not put people on moral demand" (ib.: V, 247). Instead man is liberated by a therapeutic release of the passions.
The inspiration for this therapeutic education is Fourier, whose writings were, in Engels' words, "a treasure trove of material for speculative construction and other uses" (ib.: IV, 643) and whose "masterly observations" on education Marx finds "by far the best of their kind" (ib.: V, 512). To be sure Marx and Engels published well-known criticisms of the a-historicity of Fourier's thought, but they praised Fourier for his attacks on nineteenth century moralism as 'impuissance en action'. By dint of the repressiveness of this one-sided moralism, Marx echoes Fourier when he says, "every time [this moralism] fights a vice, it is defeated [...]. You must be a millionaire to be able to imitate [its] heroes" (ib.: IV, 201). How, he asks, "can I live virtuously if I do not live?" (ib.: III, 310). More importantly, in regard to human emotions and the 'relationships of life', Marx finds that French criticism exemplified by Fourier's writing (as opposed to Owen's) has the great merit of having shown up the contradictions and unnaturalness of modern life not only in the relationships of particular classes, but in all circles and forms of intercourse. And it has done that in accounts evincing the warmth of life itself, broadness of view, refined subtlety, and bold originality of spirit, which one will seek in vain in any other nation. (ib.: IV, 597)
Marx extols the "pure freshness, the nobility" of the French proletariat that is reflected in a Fourierian realization that "it is in the passions that man reveals himself completely". Marx, citing Pompery (1840), says that in epitomizing the French character, the Fourierians findthe main driving force of nature as of society is, therefore, the magical, the passionate, the non-reflecting attraction and 'everything which exists, man, plant, animal or planet, has received an amount of power corresponding to its mission in the system of the universe'. (ib.: III, 355)
To be sure Marx would balance Fourier's passionate attraction with German theory and English practice; but whatever qualifications he places on Philansterianism, it is apparent that on the subject of the release of the passions, Marx sides with what might be called Fourier's anticipation of 'left Freudianism' (cf. Poster 1971).
These Fourierian elements are particularly apparent in Marx's critique of Stirner in the German Ideology: Stirner says that selflessness in an egoistic society is found in one "who stakes everything else on one thing". A selfish pursuit of the ballet, we might say, results in being totally "ruled by a passion to which one sacrifices all others". The more ardent, egoistic, and single minded one becomes, the more one becomes selfless before the "single ruling passion". Marx scorns this "holy egoism," which sacrifices six, seven or more passions to a "single other passion" while still affirming the true self, as little more than a petit-bourgeois trick of the kind that transforms the miser into a selfless egoist. Stirner affirms the ancient repression of the flesh by the spirit which "wanted to free us from determination by nature only because it regarded our own nature as not belonging to us" (Marx 1975: V, 243, 248, 254). By re-introducing us to moral preachments that sustain the Christian dialectic of the heteronomous soul Stirner estranges the subject from his own self. Against this Marx protests:
if I myself am not nature, if my natural desires, my whole natural character, do not belong to myself [... ] then all determination by nature - whether due to my own natural character or to what is known as external nature - seems to me a determination by something alien. (ib.: V, 254)
It is apparent that Marx is critical of Stirner's professed attempt to overcome human nature. Stirner, according to Marx, scorns the "fixity" of desires that come to have exclusive power over men; in such a case a "need and its organ are made into a master over him." But for Marx, one cannot overcome the need to satisfy the stomach. Stirner's 'revolt' against fixed desires accompanied by his call for a single ruling passion is reduced to "an impotent moral injunction about self-control," an ideological projection of trivial petit-bourgeois sentiments (ib.: V, 255)
Against Stirner, Marx puts up a notably Fourierian view that not only liberates the passions but emphasizes their plurality: that calls for conditions that permit "all-round activity" of desires, "the development of the totality of desires" and their "normal satisfaction" (Marx 1975: V: 255). Marx's emphasis on the plurality of the passions is underscored by his and Engels' defense of Fourier's ideas on psychology against those of Karl Grün. The latter had attacked Fourier's concept of the twelve passions as well as his idea of inclination or 'attraction' and wished to replace it with a single 'essence of man' (Cf Poster, 1971: 76-90). Marx and Engels later say that the True Socialists, in criticizing the Fourierian alternative, have unwittingly correctly described the communism Marx and Engels endorse. Under communism:
choice is free and depends on each person's inclinations. Inclinations depend on one's natural faculties [...]. If in society [...] everyone follows his inclination, all the faculties of society without exception will be developed and if this is so, that which all need will continually be produced in the realm of spirit as in the realm of matter. For society always possesses as many faculties and energies as it needs [...] 'Les attractions sont proportionelles aux Destinées.' (ib.: V, 537 citing Kuhlman and Fourier)
Despite Marx's well known dismissal of Fourier's idea of travail attractif as well as his zanier fantasies (ib.: XXVIII, 530), it is well to keep in mind that Marx endorses both the logic and the overall conclusions of Fourier's view that the passions should be cultivated rather than repressed and this includes the cultivation of new senses (ib.: V, 301). For Marx, this liberation follows the "empirical view based on a knowledge of man's nature, that differences of brain and of intellectual ability do not imply any differences [...] in respect to possession and enjoyment" (ib.: V, 537). This intellectual ability, the rational part of our psychology, is a 'natural process,' Marx says later. Speaking of the value relation, he says that thinking which comprehends "must always be the same, and can vary only gradually, according to the maturity of development of the organ by which such thinking is done. Everything else is drivel" (ib.: XLIII, 69). Such a 'gradually' developing consciousness is hardly compatible with Heller's Marx, a Marx who supposedly posits a radical break from natural to radical needs. Marx's view of education is, it is true, based on a rejection of Owenite or traditional moral tutelage, but that rejection is, at least from a psychological point of view, in substantial harmony with the actual teachings of present-day industrial society.
Marx wants to liberate men's wants, and insofar as these wants are not directly regulated, man does not dominate his own nature; only the external ecological and productive limits of nature herself limit the demands of man. In this context, only natural limits constitute the proper direct restraints on those needs. For it is precisely at this point that the natural balance between production and consumption can emancipate direct self-regulation of man's own nature and replace it with regulation of the external world of the natural environment and of the objects of production. Such a concept of human needs appears to be less radical than Heller's interpretation would allow, and more naturalistic than Western Marxists such as Kolakowski should generally find comfortable.
Arendt, Hannah (1958). The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Heller, Agnes (1976). The Theory of Need in Marx. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Kolakowski, Leszek (1978). Main Currents of Marxism, Vol. I, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Marx, Karl, and Engels, Frederick (1975- ). Collected Works, Vols I-XXXI; XXXVIII-XLV. New York: International Publishers.
Marx, Karl (1977). Capital, Vol. I, trans. New York: Vintage.
Marx, Karl (1966). Capital, Vol. III. Moscow: Progress.
Marx, Karl (1971). Theories of Surplus Value, Part III. Moscow: Progress.
Poster, Mark (ed.) (1971). Harmonian Man: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier. New York: Anchor.
Springborg, Patrici (1981). The Problem of Human Needs and the Critique of Civilization. London: Allen & Unwin.
Stanley, John L. (1991). Marx, Engels and the Administration of
Nature. History of Political Thought, XII, 4. 647-70.
Are the Universals Natural?
The End of History - the End of Universals?
Are we today still capable of providing a legitimate foothold for a critique of the existing world? Or are we, rather, in the age of 'the end of ideology' and of post-histoire, coerced to reconcile ourselves to it such as it is?
For a lot of people who are, as we daily witness, intolerably suffering under physical and psychical terror, the idea of Justice, of truth and of a better world should obviously, in no way, be flung onto the heap of history. Nevertheless, in spite of their strong feeling of present frustration and, allegedly, for the benefit of their future happiness, it seems that the postmodern theorists have been advocating exactly this radical solution. The line of argument took roughly the following path.
The idea of history whose task is to redeem certain repressed voices of the past by means of a future just to everybody seems to have been conceived in the frustrated present of individuals somehow excluded from the 'natural stream of life'. This exclusion supposedly interrupts the organic link of a community, taken as a whole, with its past by the actual privileging of those who are either sane, or young, or white, or male, or rich, or heterosexual and so on, and by assuming an unjust attitude towards those who are not alike. Now, this kind of humiliating present can be tolerated only on condition of its future amelioration. But in whose name should this amelioration be undertaken? Is every projection of a future dispensing justice to all not unavoidably biased? Is not the idea of justice itself, as Nietzsche thought, always and already enrooted in a compensatory mechanism of ressentiment? Is not mankind, therefore, condemned to manifest its universality like blondes who discretely signalize to brunettes their insufficient self-reflection?
If this is so, all the emancipatory meta-narratives of enlightened reason are under compulsion to divulge their repressive reverse-side and to deny one the right to speak in the name of mankind. Nobody should be empowered to raise a claim for the representative status of his or her interpretation merely on the basis of his or her firm conviction according to which this interpretation is more natural than others. Every 'naturality' of the text of history seems to be engendered by the place of the letter in it - since this is exactly the place that is assigned to the historian - which is to say that the whole of the text, by means of which an interpretation will be legitimized, lies constitutively out of its reach. The corrolary of this situation is that all interpretations, as far as they pertain to the 'nature' of the text of history, are equally justified, since, although every letter (historian) necessarily finds its own interpretation more 'natural' than the other ones, there is no outside position from which it would be possible to decide if this is really so. Therefore, according to the postmodern theorists, the question to be raised does not concern rightness, but rather the appeal or persuasiveness of an interpretation. The latter qualities are to be earned through free competition on the recent cultural market of universals, now understood as the pertinent cognitive, ethical or aesthetical patterns provisionally orienting singular human lives.
This is not, as somebody perhaps might think, the opinion of Stanley Fish (1980; 1982/3), but equally, say, of Hayden White. In the following quotation he emphasizes the liberty of mutual competition between the interpretive patterns:
Narrative accounts of real historical events [...] admit of as many equally plausible versions in their representation as there are plot structures available in a given culture for endowing stories, whether fictional or real, with meanings. [...] Far from a given narrative emplotment ruling out the possibility of utilizing another plot structure as a device for generating an alternative narrative interpretation of a given set of historical events, a plausible account cast in any mode would authorize interpretations cast in the other narrative modes known to the culture in which the first had been produced. The demonstration that a given set of events can be represented as a comedy implicitly argues for the possibility of representing it with equal plausibility as a tragedy, romance, farce, epic, and so on. (White 1986: 489)
The interpretive liberty claimed here is product of the indeterminability of the referent of the term 'history' which appears either as a text subject to many different readings or as an absent cause subject to many different textualisations. However, it seems to me that the postulated radical inaccessability of the referent 'history', instead of successfully contesting all imaginable claims to universal validity, surreptitiously promotes a new utopian universal claim: the one for the so-called free market levelling all values. The latter concept functioning like Kant's Idea, i.e. as a constitutively excluded, but, also for that reason, an enabling set of world relations, appears secretly rooted in a sublime feeling. Such a unique romantic feeling which arises, according to Kant's well-known definition, in an individual soul, faced with a magnificent and terrifying natural appearance (and this is allegedly our recent position regarding history), was, according to White's line of argument (1987: 58-82), gradually repressed during the emergence of the modernist 'aesthetic ideology' which made an attempt to endow the history of mankind with a proper direction and sense, i.e. with a referent.
To continue with White's explanation, this ideology requires as its cornerstone the social responsibility of human subjects for the development of history, an idea that obviously contradicts the romantic notion of a senseless history imposing no confinement upon its individual interpretation. If all subjects are entangled in history to such an extent that they have no way of knowing what is going on and in which direction, they are forced to look for a way out, primarily, if not exclusively, through the sublime, the carnivalesque, or through revolutionary visions of an 'unbounded human community'. On the contrary, if some representative subjects command a view of a general historical perspective and developmental pattern, they are enabled to insert everything that confuses people, as regards their contingent historical situation, into the discerned overall historical direction.
To carry out this hermeneutic as well as ethical task means, according to the 'aesthetic ideology', to properly scrutinize the instructions or 'markers' inherent in the available narrative of history, since not every part of the narrative is supposed to have the same importance. The selection depends on the rule of empirical evidence established in the course of the19th century primarily by means of an aesthetic criterion. Inasmuch as everything that underlied a proper verification through immediate experience, i.e. from the position of an eye-witness, prevalied during the period of 'aesthetic ideology', a firm hierarchy among the textual and contextual data was introduced. The latter, more or less transparent 'facts', have set up the limits to dangerous interpretive relativism, at least as far as it concerns historiography. For the task of the latter was not to invent the pattern of history - as novelists usually do - but only to discern it, to make it perceivable and intelligible.
As long as the general orientation of history appears comprehensible or even natural to its inhabitants, they will resist the temptation to search for their own way within the 'main narrative line' or even for an exit out it. However, this is not to say that the 'possible worlds' of literature, philosophy, or the different human sciences should not be established or even elaborated, but merely that a return to the 'real world' of historical facts - to the world that supposedly concerns every human being in an equally valid way - has to be ensured at every step of their otherwise legitimate detour. In this fashion, according to White's interpretation, what has been established by means of the universalized claim for empirical evidence is not only the 'natural' standards of truth, objectivity, and realistic attitude in everyday life matters, but also a tacit hierarchy among the humanities. All the humanities have been obliged to check their hermeneutic procedure on the background of 'historical facts' if they sought not to be treated as somewhat irresponsible 'fictional stuff' or, alternatively, as 'scientific stuff' inclined to ideologically motivated distortions.
As opposed to this repressive way of socially constructing nature, which insists upon an aesthetically domesticated narrative pattern of history, White is eager to affirm a new (and, so to say, more natural) kind of a 'natural human state' in the frame of which nobody should be obliged to obey any collectively oriented rule of behavior, but everybody would be free to adopt their own. He derives this freedom from a natural senselessness or, to adopt a phrase of Paul de Man (1984: 122), 'absolute randomness' of history, for only if such a condition is given, would human subjects, be they politicians or historians, be able to act on their own, 'to endow their lives with a meaning for which they alone are fully responsible' (White 1987: 72). In a word, a visionary politics as well as a visionary historiography can proceed only on the conviction that history as a whole makes no sense whatsoever and that it therefore cannot orient people towards any definite future.
Militant Particularism vs. histoire vue d'en bas
Although I have not enough space to elaborate this, let me risk an estimate according to which there is a strong affinity between White's depicted understanding of sublimity as a natural condition of justice and those that have been recently offered, although in a slightly different way, for instance, by Paul de Man or François Lyotard. The former, for instance, repeatedly insisted upon a constitutive unreadability of textual structures (1979: 247) whereas the latter stressed the constitutive unrepresentability of the Idea of History (1986; 1988a; 1988b) - but both of them treat this 'natural sublimity' of the human condition as a serious contestation of any universal claim to truth. Reputedly, it is therefore not the truth that matters any more, but, on the contrary, a strenuous effort to undermine the horrible consequences of its durable and long-ranging impact upon Western civilization, i.e. a permanent and consequential critique of all universals derived from the tyranny of truth. Richard Rorty (1982) seems to me also quite close to these sketched anti-foundational and anti-essentialistic conceptions in his emphasis upon the market principle of legitimation of histories, as if their value depended solely on the appeal they hold for contemporary audiences, and as if historians and other narrators have ultimately no other duty and interest but to structure them in accordance with the demand of the market. Some other famous names could be recalled in this connection as well.
Although all of the mentioned and unmentioned militant particularists strongly opt for anti-universalism, they are, as I have tried to demonstrate, proceeding under the aegis of a new universalist conception of sublimity. After all, how could one make demands for the universal validity of an interpretation according to which all histories are nothing but pragmatically determined performatives if, in that case, this particular interpretation itself is nothing but such a performative, i.e. by no means a constative per definitionem empowered to raise a truth claim? And if this is so, we would have no reason to accept this interpretation, at least no more than, for instance, the interpretation 'Life has no sense whatsoever', because in case that this interpretation holds, it would itself have no sense either, and so on.
By preventing any of the existing histories to rule over the others, the particularists are actually attempting to keep under surveillance all of them. This panoptic ambition, however, entails even more serious problems than the logical ones, namely the ethical doubts connected with its laissez-faire philosophy. Not everybody can afford the luxury of letting things unfold interminably without intervening in their course in order to enforce a suitable solution. The politicians have obviously no time, since they keep the 'gates' where usually all the urgent matters of a community are solved, while the humiliated, hurt, and insulted persons have, for quite understandable reasons, a very low tolerance limit to allow for postponement. In sum, most of us are for most of the time, in most situations, confronted with alternatives, the solution of which is unavoidable and pressing, therefore demanding some 'natural rules'. The 'naturalness' of some - although of course not of all - mental and physical reactions is almost the necessary condition of survival.
We are sometimes - and, to be sure, not very rarely - coerced to reduce the complexity of the consequences of our precarious acts, by referring to their 'universal human nature': others would also make compromises, commit transgressions, and perhaps even kill in our situation. But the movement of universalisation is often preconscious, for example in situations where decision-making requires an immediate practical action and where nobody would allow himself or herself a pondering over the proper way of interpretation, not to speak of accomodating the latter to the standards of a recent market demand. In short, universalisation or naturalization appears to be a chiefly situationally determined and validated operation. (Herrnstein-Smith 1988)
This line of pragmatic thinking led to the following important conclusion: perhaps all interpretations are admitted of, but never to a single person placed at a cross-point of different, even contradictory obligations (Pratt 1986a: 52ff; 1986b: 66ff). The question whether history is properly oriented or completely random seems to be a speculative one, and inasmuch not very bothersome to someone entangled in much more urgent matters. Even in such a case his or her solution could raise a claim for some kind of universality, but certainly not for an absolute, unquestioned universality pretending either to justify his or her particular decision by the general law of history, or to ascribe it completely to a self-willed and contingent intention and estimate.
Vue d'en bas, this kind of exclusive either/or universality should be replaced by a more moderate oblique or lateral universality, to take over and reactualize an appropriate term suggested some thirty years ago by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1960) in his timely polemic with the rising structuralist conceptions of de Saussure and Lévi-Strauss. Merleau-Ponty's almost forgotten idea appears worth recalling primarily from the perspective of a contingently oriented 'history of events', inasmuch as it works against the grain of a deeply rooted dualistic logic in the frame of which the two extremes necessarily call for each other. It averts our eyes from the cognitive, suprahistorical rooting of universals by driving our attention to their pragmatic, circumstantial footing as well as their primarily practical relevance. The twofold manipulation should be thereby dismantled.
On the one hand, the complete dismissal of all universal values, of all collective efforts after a general improvement of the conditions of human life, is put into question, as if the latter inescapably amounts to the hidden and spoiled ambition of one discursive universe to impose its merits upon another one. Perhaps in the light of the 'reparative revolutions' of '89 (Habermas 1990), we have become able of attributing this anti-universalist tendency to the mental heritage of '68, which has ended up in a postmodern absolutization of an irreducible, in-dividual, be it a human or a discursive entity. (Lipovetsky 1983). Only if one starts with the (nota bene, historically produced) assumption that the world is made up of completely discrete unities having their completely discrete histories, then their co-implication might be considered to be an 'unnatural' restriction of their absolute freedom. But what if the original Entstehungsherd (Nietzsche) from the very beginning consisted of some sort of natural contamination of one unity with another, and not so much of their radical diversity and all-over dispersion? Are we not able of commencing our individual history only inasmuch as we are already commenced, signed with the imprints of the past histories on our nerve tissue? (Sloterdijk 1988: 31-59).
Finally, not only the words that we use to express ourselves, but our thoughts, self-images and self-representations, as well as our entire self-experience, is coined by others. This is what Merleau-Ponty (1950: 42) probably meant when he wrote of a "reason deeply involved with sensory phenomena". In short, we can come to ourselves exclusively by way of others, by some sort of sensory, mental, and linguistic universals which others, through their past interaction, have left us as a heritage. If we conceive universals in this basic sense, then we are obliged to ascribe to them at least a contingent, situational naturalness, which is necessary at every step of phylo- and ontogenesis if for nothing more, then at least to put the previous naturalness in question.
When seen from this perspective, the universals are for Merleau-Ponty the preconditions of our self-fulfillement and self-realization, in the sense that the free self-realization of each of us is achieved in and through a self-realization of all. Moreover, it is precisely this 'unconscious universality' or symbolically mediated Urdoxa of our being, which makes us capable of understanding a couple of other beings. It is this passage oblique through myself, as Merleau-Ponty would say, which enables me to approach the universality of mankind by achieving a mutual relation with others. This is what universalité latérale actually consists of.
Weber vs. Merleau-Ponty: Universalisation Downwards or
On the other hand, Merleau-Ponty's moderate understanding of universality seems to put into question as well the humanistic tendency towards homogenization of universals, although in a manner that significantly differs from the above mentioned anti-humanistic one. There is, finally, no direct way back for those who live in history: after they have been once brought to the fore, some achievements of anti-foundationalism cannot simply be cancelled, whatever someone, for understandable reasons, might otherwise wish. It is not only that s/he would, in this way, contradict Nietzsche in his timely and masterful analyses of the irreconcilable contest of values as the fate of our time, but s/he would moreover, as Max Weber stated some 75 years ago, avoid her/his intellectual duty to face the disenchanted look of her/his time and fall thereby an 'intellectual victim' of this Medusa-fear (Weber 1968).
There is nevertheless, according to Weber, nothing unusual in this fear and nobody should be blamed for striving to overcome it by sticking to whatever 'universal value' may be, only provided s/he is not an artist, a prophet, or a professor capable of influencing the others. In such a case universals are deployed as means for the purposes of opression and exploitation. The moral task of a modern intellectual consists, on the contrary, of a stubborn insistence on the facts that do not conform to the people's convictions and opinions (i.e. values), of drawing the real (i.e. destructive) consequences of their unconscious attitudes and deeds. In a relativist and perspectivist world where the basic universals of beauty, good, the sacred, and truth collide, nobody's value decisions can be neutral, everyone is obliged to take the responsibility for their final effects.
Here I shall drop the question to what extent the line of Weber's argument anticipates, by its implied distinction, between fact and value, the aporias of contemporary anti-foundationalism that have already been pointed out. It suffices for my purpose to focus for a while on his careful distinction between an authentic or honest and a manipulative or deceptive intellectual attitude in this matter. It is not by chance that he characterizes the 'honest attitude' as a 'manly' one and immediately realizes that there are a lot of people unable to proceed in the manner that Weber deems appropriate to man. To be expected, since it goes without saying, that mankind consists of women also (in a rather broad and during the centuries of European culture constructed sense of the word: of cowards, hysterics, unreliable, biased, deceitful individuals, etc.), who usually incline to overemphasize their value universe by excluding others (= neglecting the facts). Doubt arises whether the 'proper men', belonging to such an obvious minority, will be successful in their attempts to explain the conflictual Zeitgeist to the unreasonable majority of 'women'. Some recent experiences at least show that these attempts have terribly failed.
Similar afterthoughts arise in regard to Merleau-Ponty's effort at a patient 'traversion' of contingently unsuitable universals. If Weber demands a consequential tracing back of all scientific rationalizations to their point of departure in an unconscious assumption, then Merleau-Ponty promotes a permanent movement of self-reflection by a gradual overcoming of all limiting otherness in ourselves which aims at an unpossessed, unknown 'open space' within ourselves. It is much better, according to his opinion, to make ourselves aware that the proper universals are rooted in our being, asking to be discovered under the layers of social contingencies, than to treat them as if they have been imposed upon us from without by others, demanding therefore to be reduced to their contingent, circumstantial, particular, historically unique substance. By averting our eyes from our own constitutive involvement with universals and by ascribing them to the rationalizing or naturalizing impact of others, we are only falling victim to the more deeply rooted and usually more dangerous (because 'deeper') universals. Weber stresses the unconscious value limitations of every conscious human engagement and requires that the latter should by no means be neglected. On the contrary, Merleau-Ponty points out the transgressive character of human nature, recognizing no confinements by particular historical universals and calling for a reunion with others in an open, i.e. free kind of universality.
It is nevertheless highly questionable whether the emancipation upwards should be regarded as better than the emancipation downwards, and whether bringing to conciousness of the otherness of our universals should be easier to achieve than the reflection of their self-reference. Insofar as Merleau-Ponty conceives solely the former to be in accordance with the inborn open-endedness of human nature, he neglects the pragmatic limitations imposed upon this open-endedness by specific historical and life conditions. For the famous 'lack' (or 'hole', or 'nothing') is just as much a part of the human biological constitution as is the dependence on other beings, on their material care and emotional sustenance.
The biologically determined condition of the human body - that it is frail, mortal and needy, vulnerable to disease, suffering and death, requiring warmth, rest, nourishment, and shelter, in search of acceptance and love, labour and sexual reproduction - coerces every single culture to establish its hierarchy of identifications (with others). No individual is capable of completely escaping the hegemonial landscape of naturalized universals engendered in this way. Sooner or later everyone finds his/her position within this 'supreme court of appeal' (E. Geltner), even or especially those seeking the free, unknown universals which would suit their inherently transgressive character. It is not by chance that early Romanticism ascribed to nature a creative freedom in the same proportion that this same nature simultaneously was exploited for raw materials and energy resources; or that later Romanticism endowed the genious of the artist with as much freedom of the senses as this same freedom was denied to him/her in everyday life subjected as it was to rational surveillance; and that the realist novel characterized its heroes as intellectually transgressive to the same (remarkable) extent that the cognitive development of its readership was strictly ideologically modeled. Those seeking for freedom appear therefore unwillingly, but firmly coupled with those to whom it is denied; the 'open universals' have also their opressive reverse-side. Like Weber's virile universals, they are also scarcely foreseen for anyone's use. Moreover, the split often runs through the individual himself.
The Ambivalent Nature of Universals
Weber considered human nature to be originally limited/dependent and regarded universals as a product of manipulation, i.e. putting the others into the function of selfish personal needs. Merleau-Ponty considered human nature to be originally open-ended and regarded universals as its socially caused limitations/confinements. Since both conceptions treat (improper) universals as a hidden ideological instrument, be it of an individual influencing society or of a society influencing the individual, both have proven one-dimensional and insofar unsatisfactory. Their unintended exclusiveness is based on their unconscious presupposition about universal human nature, from the perspective of which the unnaturalness of all other universals is being estimated and proclaimed. Obviously the nature of universals has today to be thought over anew by enlarging the scope of the problem as the thinkers we have discussed masterfully mapped it out. Some suggestions that can be deduced from the above analyses might perhaps be useful in the process of our common preparation for this goal. Apparently, more than this is hardly to be expected on this occasion.
1) Universals belong to imponderabilities because we cannot discuss them or reflect on them without implying them at the same time. To put it in a slightly different way, we cannot reach a point outside the field of universals as a socially naturalized configuration of values ('hegemonial landscape' of ideology), the latter not being obligatory for everyone in an identical way.
2) To be placed within the hegemonial landscape of ideology ('hierarchy of identifications', 'supreme court of appeal') means to operate automatically with a couple of presuppositions and prejudices engraved by some repeated sanctionary experiences. These continuous experiences draw the limits of our self by establishing the consciousness of others that do not want to conform to our wishes, but insist upon our adaptation to their system of relations and identities. Such an adaptation is the precondition of what Wittgenstein called certainty, i.e. the naturalization of culture, which is again the precondition of the reproduction and survival, equally, of the community as a whole and of its members as individuals. For no person is able to live without a positivity on which to rely for his/her endurance, coherence and continuity.
But at the same time everyone has to know that the universals ensured in this way, although unavoidable and necessary, allow its adherents to pursue particular goals within pertinent linguistic, religious, national or cultural communities. In that respect they are not only the source of personal security ('eine Zutrauenssphäre', as Helmuth Plessner says), but simultaneously a possible source of violence that can be announced and committed in their name, and even of an incredible intolerance and hate, as we all supposedly know, but sometimes are prone or even eager to forget. There are no sacred universals that are not at the same time terribly particular, be they in the service of nation, religion, culture, race, or sex. Regarded from this perspective, universals are not merely natural, they are also human. They are simply a part of human nature, i.e. open-ended and deeply dependent on circumstances.
3) Universals are necessarily crossed by the antagonistic interests of those who live by them. Some feel comfortable with them, some are, for whatever reason, deeply disturbed, keep at a distance from them or use them to initiate violent change. Insofar as the first group stresses the naturalness of a pertinent universal, and the second its contingency and provisionality, the universal in question appears at the same time as a clear, simple, and homogeneous entity (sous-entendu, as Oswald Ducrot would probably name it) and as a heterogeneous compound of conflictual, contradictory particulars impossible to manage and threatening to fall apart (polyphonic in Bakhtin's sense of the word). As regards the latter dimension, we could call it the resistance of particulars to universals. As regards the former dimension, we could call it the dominance of universals over particulars. There is a fundamental asymmetry between these two constitutive dimensions of a universal, an incessant oscillation between its equally impossible polar positions.
4) It would be of no use and probably of no sense to label dominance 'evil' and resistance 'good', or vice versa. Ethics is after all just one among a number of possible frames of universalisation, while the delineated assymmetry cuts across all of them leaving to no person the final competence of judgement. It is sufficient to say that the dominant universals, disposing of a multitude of 'ideological state apparatuses' usually appear natural, seemingly abjurating all economic or ideological interests except, of course, those interests concerned with 'the welfare of mankind'. On the other hand, the resistant universals usually appear allzu menschlich, stubborn, unmatured, selfish, primitive, in short: as particulars.
Needless to say, the process of dominance and resistance is not always what it seems to be, because the 'great universals', promoted by a minority of dominant individuals, manifest thereby their particularity, whereas the 'small universals', advocated by a majority of the dominated, manifest thereby their universality. What is confusing, but what therefore needs to be rethought with much caution, is that the survival of any community requires conservative as well as destabilizing practices concerning its universals, although the different supporting and adhesive groups gain or lose in various degrees from each of these practices. Is any appropriate estimation of pertinent universals in these circumstances possible?
5) Generally I would agree with Barbara Herrnstein-Smith who writes:
There is thus no particular single dimension or global parameter, whether "biological"/"material" or "cultural"/"spiritual"/"psychological", with respect to which entities can be tagged or tallied as, "in the last analysis", good or bad - profit or cost, reward or punishment, pleasure or pain - for any subject or set of subjects, much less for man in general. [...] There is no way to give a reckoning that is simultaneously total and final. There is no Judgment Day. There is no bottom bottom line anywhere, for anyone or for "man". (Herrnstein-Smith 1988: 149)
Let me nevertheless conclude by suggesting that the bottom line (= universal) of human nature might eventually be another human nature and to leave to anyone whom it may concern to decide if this is in fact human or natural.
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Although the notion of human autonomy is an exclusively modern idea, insofar as it expresses the belief in a self-justifying moral authority of the person, establishing its point of origin or discovery is decidedly less obvious. Quite naturally, one thinks immediately of Kant as the first "professional thinker" to make explicit use of this notion, specifically as the central idea in his moral philosophy. The conceptual germination of this notion certainly precedes him, however, not only in the historically rich philosophical treatments of reason and freedom, but in the early modern voices of an inchoate philosophy of autonomy as well. One hears, for example, in Descartes' "redoubt of self" (cf. Gellner 1964: 24) and in Hobbes' view on the authority of the natural person, or even in aspects of Hume's skeptical epistemology and associational psychology the developing strains of this now basal idea to many moral, political and psychological theories.
This paper begins then with the assumptions that such a thing as the birth of the modern can be identified and that this "birth" originates most notably but not exclusively in Descartes' own philosophical discourse on self. For although the notion of autonomy by its very definition concerns the conditions or reality of self-determination, it is fundamentally about self-consciousness, particularly about the self-conscious experience of freedom. In fact, it is in the effort to give meaning to the awareness and expectation of such an existence - especially in the form of a narrative account - that the idea of autonomy offers itself as a particularly useful metaphoric device for describing the nature and the problems of human existence and, for that matter, modern politics. Whether or not the idea of autonomy is successful in this meaning is, of course, another matter.
As I see the idea of autonomy, it is sustained by two arguments. The first, or the ontological argument, derives its persuasiveness from the apparent verity of self-conscious experience, from the unavoidable existential condition of being. This proposition finds expression, for example, in Sartre's argument that no difference pertains "between the being of man and his being-free [...]" (Sartre 1980: 465). The second argument refers to the logical necessity of autonomy, or the idea that moral responsibility requires a general human condition of autonomy or freedom, and attempts to describe the actual condition of moral judgement. This argument may very well stand on its own but in many respects it is a corollary to or derivative of the first argument. For both arguments claim ultimately to describe, in uniquely modern terms, what Ernest Gellner has called the "hard ultimate kernel" of the self "which provides the basis, or at least the touchstone for everything" (Gellner 1964: 104).
Autonomy, the Expression of Self, and Fiction
As a property - if not the property - of the person, the value of autonomy consists in people being by nature self-determining and, for this reason, it may be added, deserving of respect. By virtue of existence alone, through an inherent human quality, the person is autonomous, although not always (and maybe never) fully or even actually so. Not all people act responsibly in their choices or actions, nor are all people capable in every situation (or in any situation) of making reasoned or informed decisions (cf. Dunn 1987). But when people are non-autonomous or heteronomous, they are no less human for it, which is precisely the strength of the ontological argument. As important as the practical concerns with "actual" autonomy (the logic of being autonomous) are, the ontological argument in a sense says that whatever the core conditions of being an "authentic and independent self" (Christman (ed.) 1989: 3) may be, the condition of being-autonomous itself is inescapable.
It is this foundational sense of autonomy that provides the focus of this paper. For it is from this general existential description of the person that the modern supposition of human nature - self - consciousness, the faculty of liberty, etc. - derive their seductive appeal. Particularly alluring is the appeal of autonomy as an axiom of human experience or a necessity of moral responsibility.
Ironically, however, autonomy is fictitious: it originates in the imaginative effort of the self-reflective mind to express, metaphorically, what is neither intuitively obvious nor either logically or empirically self-evident. That is, autonomy derives from reflection on the supposed experience of some kind of freedom or authentic self expression but cannot stand on the sum of these experiences alone. The logic of self-determination, at least in its more radical or exploratory versions, must be added by the imagination. Still, if the "truth" of autonomy is not obvious, neither is it necessarily intuitively false. Autonomy is the product of both a desperate (because of the awareness of our own mortality) and imaginative self-conscious effort to understand human existence, especially the paradox of freedom, or what I do in time with my time. This, in turn, presents self-conscious existence with another metaphor for understanding the dilemma of a naturally constrained freedom, that of story or autobiography.
As a product of self-analysis and in its effort to describe the complexity of the human condition as seen and understood from within, autonomy gives metaphorical form - the "as if" in Kant - to the experience of acting and thinking "on my own". In this respect, autonomy is a fiction of the psychologized self, of the need to explain and justify reflective intervention into my own existence. Commenting on the influence of Hume's epistemology (for critical views on the impact of this epistemology, see Arendt 1958: Chap. 4-5; Gellner 1964: 105, Strauss 1953: 177), Frederick Keener (1983: 23) observes: "For all practical purposes he [Hume] has psychologized the world. The truly knowable chain of becoming is the chain of mental processes in the knower. The project of a science of man based upon observation of his behaviour as it really is has turned into the project of a science of the enchainment of events in the mind". Keener's point underscores the fictional nature of the human narrative, particularly as an "enchaining of events in the genetic process of trying to know" the object of desired knowledge (ib.: 22). Not only does the project of self-analysis acquire "inexplicable complexity," but the "effect of such an epistemology [...] is to move philosophy, science, and everyday thought very close to art" (ib.: 23). Quoting Ian Ross, Keener adds: "With respect to consciousness, causation, and self-identity, fictions meet the needs of ordinary existence. [...] It would seem, in the last analysis, that all of us are crypto-philosophers and novelists in our daily lives, forging in our imaginations fables of the self, and endlessly seeking associative links of cause and effects in our relations with other persons and the external world of objects" (ib.: 23).
Of course, the fact that the story is autobiographical cannot, of itself, make it reliable as a true story of self - one can lie, consciously or unconsciously, embellish or distort, or even simply tell what happened to one in a non-autonomous way. But the fictional character of autonomy - to act 'as if' I were free because the idea is compelling - makes story no less an expedient, if not always accurate or precise, metaphor of the determining conditions of plot or a useful device for understanding (prospectively and retrospectively) one's own narrative. Freedom, to be sure, is only an "idea," but it may be instantiated in the moment of acting free. In this moment, then, causality, intention, and agency converge to make possible, though not automatic, the boundaries of explanatory plot. This in turn makes possible an understanding of one's narrative purpose. Although I will develop this argument more fully later in the paper, this suggests that plot and understanding are fundamental as aspects of the broader human concern with purpose or meaningfulness and require something more than autonomy for their justification. Indeed, it may be said that 'authentic' human actions occur and develop only in dialogue with others, as opposed to the exclusive silent dialogue with my self, that there is always a public voice of the private self, and that this expression, perhaps more so than the inner dialogue, occurs in the narrative of personal actions.
Indeed, the grounding of autonomy in human nature derives from the narrative effort to account for the self's experience of its own supposed freely determined (i.e., authorial) actions. This complicated mix of ideas can be sorted out this way. Nature itself is a metaphor. As such, it is called on to provide an authoritative justification for the complex of qualities or conditions that make human existence uniquely (and truly?) human. In other words, nature is called on by name to justify (itself a higher-order naming) the distinctive human quality of naming - in the manner of giving a reason for - the things humans do. This presumably accounts for the ontological origins of human autonomy: we are born to it, not only because we act or have some peculiar sense of individuality and separateness from others, nor simply because we inherit perhaps an even obscurer faculty to name - to justify - our own actions. Grounded thus in nature, the existential quality of autonomy suggests somehow for every person the possibility of a freely made and authentic life, just as this same existential condition provides its own authoritative ground for telling the tale. And each tale presumably is worth telling. But if personal autonomy is predicated on personal freedom, and personal freedom is predicated on the ability to initiate actions, then there is more to human life than autonomy as a metaphor of freedom. At the very least, there is more to be found in the equally distinctive capacity to name or to tell a tale than can be found in the idea of freedom alone. Here is the sense in which autonomy confers on self the requisite authority to give meaning to its own existence, to authenticate its story.
I shall argue the notion of autonomy cannot sustain such self-authentication, although it must include something more than some vague existential notion of personal freedom. There is a sense, however, in which Hannah Arendt's existential view of human natality bridges the gap between freedom and meaning, or suggests the makings of such a bridge. For Arendt, the hero is one who inserts himself in the world into which he is cast, who begins his own story, although he is never unequivocally the author of the final outcome of what he has begun (Arendt 1958: 176-178, 185; cf. Arendt 1973: 55-56, 70, 74). One may wish to add that if I am not the author of my own end, the narrative of my actions (my autobiography) at least offers a vantage point from which to evaluate my contributions to this outcome. Responsibility lies not in some sort of nonexistent ultimate control over everything I say or do, but in the conditions of understanding what I say and do, of giving meaning to my actions. This concern with meaning entails a shift in the story away from mere narration of an "enchainment of events" to one that involves purpose or plot. Recall Keener's comments, that the "psychologized self" implies as well a project that issues in some kind of self-understanding. Indeed, Arendt develops the concept of natality against the backdrop of plurality, promising, and forgiveness - contra Cartesian uncertainty and the redoubt of self. The act of doing something, of beginning something new, necessarily occurs in the community of others - what Arendt calls the 'web' of human relationships (Arendt 1958: 182-184) - and not in self-isolation. The condition of plurality presupposes not only speech (through which the self-disclosure occurs and by which the self judges and is judged), but also the very condition for producing a story (ib.: 183).
Generally, autonomy, whether in the Sartrean situation that makes freedom possible or in the condition of "natality" (Arendt), is discussed as one kind of sufficient condition of human existence, insofar as I self-consciously and authentically act (whatever that may mean). Something else, however, must account for the evaluative measure of the story told. Bonnie Honig indicates the source of this measure in her critique of the relationship of political authority, founding, and fable in the works of Hannah Arendt. "Her account of freedom, natality, and will seems to tell us no more than that we are doomed to be free by virtue of being born, no matter whether we like freedom or abhor its arbitrariness. The only way out of this impasse, Arendt suggests, is through an appeal to another mental faculty, that of judgment. Judgment is the faculty used by the spectators who turn actions into stories" (Honig 1991: 107). It may be the faculty by which the narrator qua autobiographer also understands his or her own story. But then what initiates the action (freedom) is not the same thing (judgment) that explains it. In fact, it may be said of autonomy that it is the fable that moves the story along by giving voice to self-expression (Keener 1983: 23, Honig: 1991: 107). In this respect, the assumption of freedom behind the action offers an account of sorts but cannot give meaning (or a true reckoning) to the narrative. For that, one must move beyond the fiction - beyond autonomy as the source of its own authority and, therefore, of its own justification.
That the human narrative appeals beyond itself to a meaning that is more than any individual action and even more than the sum of all of the actions is intimated in the confessional nature of autobiography. As Anthony Storr observes:
Over the centuries, autobiography changed from being a narrative
of the soul's relation with God to an enterprise far more like that
of psycho-analysis. In recounting the circumstances of one's life
from childhood onward, the autobiographer sought to define the
influence which had shaped his character, to portray the
relationships which had most affected him, to reveal the motives
which had impelled him. In other words, the autobiographer became a
writer who was attempting to make a coherent narrative out of his
life, and, in the process of doing so, hoping perhaps to discover its
meaning. (Storr 1988: 80f)
However, if knowledge in the form of reflective self-knowledge redeems freedom from mere action by alluding to meaningfulness or purposiveness as the true ground of the narrative's reckoning, and if responsibility redeems freedom from pure subjectivity or mere selfishness by pointing beyond itself to the condition of sociality, self-knowledge exposes autonomy to a standard of accountability (in the voice of justification) beyond itself. In other words, freedom makes sense in only the relationship to others, and nature cannot itself vindicate right or the right in the claim of 'being-free' if all that is meant by this is the truism that because I judge or act or will I must perforce do so for myself. Autonomy is supposed to capture metaphorically the experiential sense of being self-determining, but self-determination does not require as a necessary presupposition that I am autonomous, unless that notion comes to mean a great deal less (in terms of radical individualization) and a great deal more (in terms of the origin of self-discovery and self-expression in a broader context of sociality) than its typical use renders it.
From the Christian perspective, which on the history of this problem - particularly concerning human will and purpose - cannot be ignored, the question of meaning was approached and answered in terms of relationships, to God and to other believers, which presumably were derived from a common salvation (and self-identifying) experience. But within the boundaries of this experience a debate remained: did that experience result from unassisted human choice or the intervention of a sovereign God?
Conscience: The Special Problem of Self
Among the early Christian thinkers the debate on free will involved a paradox of human confrontation, not with self or authority per se, but with the salvific experience that is both "for me" and yet not from me. This problem involved the antimony of God's sovereignty and human freedom, but the discussion of free will did not truly raise the issue of autonomy, if only because the choice that putatively was involved for each person to make or reject (to will or to not will) was (and is) a choice about a matter itself not of the person's own design. The freedom that inheres in the choice is itself a paradoxical freedom if, unassisted choice is an empty one without grace, or an inexplicable one (beyond the arbitrariness of will itself) when that freedom rejects the vision of bliss that stands irresistibly before it. Not only did this confrontation involve one's capacity to believe and act on that belief in a presalvific posture, but it effects the integrity of conscience in the postsalvation experience. This is given expression in the Pauline experience of "doing what I do not wish to do" (cf. Arendt 1978: 63-73).
On this point, Herbert Marcuse's critique of the Protestant conception of freedom is useful (Marcuse 1983: 49-78). His opposition to the Christian perspective of freedom derives from the dualism of the inner and outer person that, according to him, its view of conscience creates. Its antiauthoritarian tendency could not develop the practical, social freedom desired by Marcuse because the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin posited only an internal freedom still submissive to a metaphysical external authority above it. The effect, ironically, was to make the individual submissive to earthly authority as well:
the absolute inwardness of the person, the transcendent nature of Christian freedom vis-a-vis all wordly authority, must at the same time mean an 'internal' weakening and breaking of the authority relationship, however completely the individual may submit externally to the earthly power. For the free Christian knows that he is 'actually' raised above wordly law, that his essence and his being cannot be assailed by it and his subordination to the wordly authorities is a 'free' act, which he does not owe them [...]. And yet because the others do not yet believe, the Christian bears and holds with them. (ib.: 53)
But Marcuse is guilty of his own contradiction, or at the very least of his own (ironical) dualism. To be sure, there are those within the Christian tradition who would accept Marcuse's interpretation of the Protestant view of human autonomy; but Calvin's view of conscience refers to something like a moral co-perception, not of the self with self, but of the inward integrity of the heart instructed by God (Calvin 1956: 42f). By this account, there is not a strict dualism resulting from this view of the person or of the person's freedom, because the origin of moral judgment is not strictly internal nor exclusively external, but, if you will, a "co-inhering" (cf. Williams 1979: 9f, passim). There is a standard of accountability beyond the individual (what "'inheres' is not self-generated or somehow naturally inherent), but, equally, there is a presumption of freedom and responsible choice as a consequence of the 'co-inhering.' This mitigates against the 'absolute inwardness' Marcuse describes; otherwise the emergent Christian notion of autonomy may well indeed amount to a radical resituation of authority exclusively within the person.
The irony for Marcuse then lies implicitly in his own objective standard or praxis: of a practical freedom that itself must originate and inhere in a secularized absolute inwardness of the person as someone who is genuinely self-determining, even if that freedom consists actually only in the material conditions that make authentic social freedom possible. Even for Marcuse, the Ersatz salvation of emancipation or liberation through praxis is not entirely unassisted, either in respect to the Marxian mystification of praxis or materialism or history or the logic of dialectic, or to the intrigue of the social whole. At any rate, I do not see what has been gained through a consciousness of praxis over Christian conscience, at least in terms of eliminating any real or apparent dualism (cf. Kellner 1984).
Even in rejecting this interpretation of Calvin however, the appeal to conscience intimates that in the development of the notion of autonomy the idea of self-determination comes from within. The question remains how we are to describe and understand this internal and, as it often seems, inexpressable experience. What is the purpose of being self-determining if it means no more than that I must act for myself, something I no doubt would do anyway without all of the complexities involved in thinking myself autonomous. This line of questioning suggests there is another (higher?) value in being autonomous, of being in control of myself or of having my own desires - and wanting these desires I have (cf. Dworkin and Frankfurt in Christman (ed.) 1989). Thus a secularized conscience may be said to disclose a moral law that binds the person without relation to other people, even as it obligates him or her to a consideration of all people. This is simply another version of the Kantian moral principle of universalization. Moral law has a force of its own regardless of the opinion of other people, although the fact that it is a moral law means that some relationship to people is required (as Kant would find in the kingdom of ends). In this capacity, "conscience" (or practical reason) instructs; it does not merely create, nor does it necessitate, as Marcuse understands its modern connotation, the radically privatized individual will, any more so than practical reason did for Aristotle's sense of ethical choice. Rather, it sounds a call to duty, a point I shall clarify later as the convergence in character of being and becoming.
What the secularized idea of moral self-legislation (qua practical reason or conscience) does intimate, however, is something of a subsumed and arrogated divine authority now resting entirely within the control or direction of the individual (or, for that matter, the "organic totality" of the state). At the risk of much oversimplifying Kant's second Critique, to be autonomous is to be under the discipline of reason (Kant 1956: 85) although not necessarily to be irreligious. Seen in this light, the question of autonomy is the question of authority, especially a self-justifying authority deriving from the inner person. If this is true, the value of external authority is not diminished, only changed, albeit with far-reaching political significance, becoming no longer the 'irresistible absolute' but the 'invitation to intervene' and resist (Honig 1991: 108-111). Autonomy may be used to describe the moral nature of the person, although no longer strictly in itself as its own self-justifying authority. For one is now compelled to justify one's actions beyond the reference to autonomy alone: intervention is not denial but dialogue; it presupposes not only an authority against which it acts but also a context within which it converses. Presuming such an invitation exists, perhaps the idea of character would provide the basis for this justification.
Character: The Convergence of Being and Becoming
The convenience of narrative as a metaphor explicating the modern human condition may lie primarily in the expediency of its ability to capture the sense of what it is to be both mortal and purposive. Determining what that purpose is for me is predicated on self-discovery, but there is nothing in this project that precludes - indeed, it would seem to require - a rich dialogue with others, in the appeal to, as well as in the 'invitation to intervene and resist', the absolute. Because self-discovery itself often comes only in telling the story, in the working out of who I am, the question of authenticity remains dependent on the confessional nature of the narrative - freedom is self-revelatory and held up to evaluation (judgment) by others. As I see it, vindication of our freedom comes through a harmonization of self-expression in the company of others.
As a metaphor, autonomy places people in the context of story, which is another way of saying in the context of time - of past, present, and future. If it may be said that autonomy captures the sense of human purposiveness, then, inescapably, the focus of autonomy is on the future: what I will do (what I will to do). But what I do and why I do it brings plot to the story as the causal sequence of actions and events that ultimately serve to explain my story. What is being told is a personal story, the story of a person. But person is too ambiguous as a complete reference point, if what is meant by this is the idea of being fully my own person (or being). If nature remains the essential descriptive metaphor for all human stories, whether the story lies in escaping our natures or in fulfilling them, then the quality of life or of the person that is being developed - a quality that of necessity develops in the context of others - suggests in fact a complex of qualities needing attention. This complex and the development of the person within the context of others may be best described by the idea of character (cf. Budziszewski 1986).
Because story develops or moves along by the presence of conflict, in the context of the autobiography conflict appears as the confrontation of self with its own freedom: the experience of what I freely will and what I do, or at least what is actually possible to do, whether I do it or not. Not all of the confrontation of self with its own nature, or of self with self, is understandable to it, in particular, those features of my life that are genetically or biologically determined. But conscious freedom - as a fiction I write and presumably control within the unescapable biological limits imposed - is. In other words, I experience both freedom (internally through mind an will) and unfreedom (through the everyday contingencies of an imposed external world, central to which is the awareness of a future finality in physical death). As fundamental as this confrontation with the determining biological and social conditions of the unmade self (as the self to be made and being made) may be, equally fundamental is the confrontation with the unavoidable finality in my future. In either case, the inherited past and the impending future represent in a very real sense the confrontation with the absolute, the authority to which I cannot always give a name (which risks confusion or meaninglessness or both) or, as the case may be, in which I discover the name God. The boldness of autonomy as a claim to an intrinsic human quality lies not only in the presumption of beginning something new (Arendt), but also in the profession that it is done by its own (i.e., self-justifying) authority. Herein lies the source of the conflict: no story takes place outside some expressed or implied context, the background conditions (one's inherited past, societal and biological) against which the particular actions of story actually occur. The point of conflict is in my awareness of being free and of having to be free (that is, of becoming so in fact). Being and becoming converge in this moment, the moment, I take it, of the 'invitation'.
Perhaps if there is anything to the preception that life, as it is being lived, can be lived autonomously derives from the confrontation with the openness of history: the undone actions that lie potentially before one, that invite our participation to make something happen that otherwise would not. One may reject the argument that autonomy is limited by the conditions that determine that vantage point in life from which one views the openness before one. But if there is some sense in which one can form one's own desires, free from external determinations, and in which one is responsible for one's actions, this may describe nothing more - and require nothing more - than that every self-creative act, that every effort to give meaning or purpose to one's life, be justified (i.e., judged).
In something like the Aristotelian sense, justification would seem to involve a retrospective on the quality of the whole life, and if not that, then at least on the quality of the moment of my action. Discussion of responsible freedom or moral duty may be simply another way of discussing the development of virtues or excellences. The qualities of plot and conflict, of freedom and human agency, of writing not only a beginning but a finish to a life's story, converge in the development of character. Though particular ends may not be preordained and moral choices are as necessary as they are unavoidable, the development of character can make sense only in the context of the whole story. Neither is this development more about beginnings nor somehow less about continuation of the inherited past. It is fundamentally about both, of understanding both.
What is needed is a retrospective on the autonomous life, to justify it and redeem it from an existence merely lived, as a story without purpose. We may marvel at our ability to begin something new, but equally we require - and may marvel at - not only a past from which to derive our own beginnings, but something also that lasts.
If this argument suggests further that there are limitations to the wholly internal source of authority, then it invites a concession to the 'irresistibility' of an external and absolute authority. Because autonomy is ultimately about self-determination, then discussion of autonomy stands to become, through this concession, a more traditional discourse on the relation of the individual to the community, to the world around him, or to God. This may be no more than what communitarian concern asks. Yet those who recognize the presence of an 'irresistible absolute' do not necessarily concede autonomy's vitality; its presence commits us "only to the insistence that we treat the absolute as an invitation for intervention, that we declare ourselves resistant to it, that we refuse its claim to irresistibility by deauthorizing it" (Honig 1991: 111). The problem with this is that we may be left with an apparent endless concantenation of deauthorizing intercessions and with a vague sense at best, or no sense at all, of what such 'irresistible absolutes' may be or how they may be even thought of as irresistible, much less absolute. In this chain of events, in which mere doing or resisting may substitute for meaning, Keener's point is well taken: "The ancient counsel 'Know Thyself' has first acquired unprecedented urgency and then inexplicable complexity" (Keener 1983: 23).
Still, it is this sense of resisting the irresistible (death?) that reiterates the point I made above. What the 'fable' of autonomy may be trying to capture - what seems to have fascinated Arendt with the commonplace of natality - is the profundity of the everyday occurrence of individualized expression, of giving voice or action to what otherwise would remain unexpressed and, necessarily, inconsequential. Another way of saying this is that autonomy purportedly elevates human existence above brutishness and banality. Whether or not this aspect of human existence is as profound as it may initially seem is indirectly, through treating autonomy as modern metaphor, what this paper has attempted to address. And, yet, by Arendt's own account, another faculty of human existence may contribute even more significantly to elevating us above brutishness and banality, that of thoughtfulness (Arendt 1965).
This strikes me as an appealing substitute for or, at least, a desired complement to mere self-consciousness. Indeed, I would take this one step farther by further qualifying the condition of thoughtfulness: what it may reveal as the truly distinctive human quality is the imaginative and creative capacity to name (Benjamin 1979: 314-332). The significance of autonomy as fiction may lie in its own creative reflection of the human condition to think and name; as a fiction of nature it describes not the beginning of every personal story but the condition of telling every story; as metaphor it describes but cannot resolve the paradox of human freedom. The challenge for each person then is in coming to terms with a narrative that is comprehensible and whole, unifying (of one's life) and justifying (in the context of others).
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Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Speech distinguishes man among the animals; language distinguishes nations from each other; one does not know where a man comes from until he has spoken.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Essay on the Origin of Languages.
In a period of global economic competition among ostensible political allies, the citizens of the European Community nations grew accustomed to a political discourse that attempted to incorporate the apparently conflictual demands of national sovereignty and the exigencies of the international economy. By and large, this conflict was mediated by recourse to pragmatic business and political interests in a setting where turf wars over land and people were seemingly settled after the Second World War. The discursive practice of European integration has been modeled on that of technical language, reducing disagreements to discretely solvable problems within the framework of what is generally understood to be a purposefully constructed reality of interdependent corporate structures (including governmental ones).
For a time, only Margaret Thatcher's British government occasionally spoke a different language when it invoked national sovereignty as a stalling tactic while promoting a radically deconstructive free market domestic economic policy. However, the sudden collapse of the Soviet empire unsettled this situation and, going to the root of Mrs. Thatcher's economic rationality and beyond her political rhetoric, reintroduced a naturalistic grounding to public discourse reminiscent of the European nineteenth century. Suddenly, technocratic plans for further European economic and political integration were shaken and the carefully constructed European identity articulated in the bloodless language of fixed exchange rates and agricultural subsidies was decentered in a cacophany of competing, mutually incomprehending languages. What thus emerged out of the end of the Cold War was a renewed argument over political identity.
Writing amidst the collapse of the Soviet empire, in 1990, the Polish writer Adam Michnik observed that there was a struggle un- derway in his country and throughout central and eastern Europe for a new political identity, a struggle between 'the two faces of Europe' (Michnik 1990). These two faces he described as those of democracy (pluralism and liberalism) and nationalism (xenophobia and authoritarianism). As Michnik knew, this schematic rendering of political programs and instincts can be somewhat distorting - there is no simple way to divide good and evil historically and politically. It also obscures at least one element that is common to both 'faces'; namely, that both visages present themselves as expressive of an underlying natural order.
This is easier to see if we recall that the Soviet system was viewed, in its last years, as more than simply an oppressive system but also as a distortion, as a deviation from a norm. This position was expressed most often by intellectuals and would-be political elites declaring an end to experiments and the return to 'normal' social and political development, and it is toward the recovery of this natural order that both of the two faces Michnik identifies are turned. On the one side, the natural is identified with the nation. The notion that the Soviets imposed a false universalism upon the diverse national identities of central and eastern Europe was captured in various images and symbols during the decline of Moscow's hegemony: in the holes at the center of the national flags of Romania and Hungary, from which the symbols of the people's republics had been cut; in the campaign poster of the Hungarian Democratic Forum that showed a grey stone shield of the People's Republic of Hungary, with its hammer and sickle imagery, breaking apart, revealing a brightly colored shield of the Republic of Hungary, its Crown of St. Stephen prominent. However, the politics of nationalism quickly shifted from historical claims (including those based on religious traditions) to those based on ethnicity, language, or (less often) geography in order to delineate authentic national aspirations. These claims brought in their wake serious conflicts over ethnic and linguistic minorities and sometimes less serious ones over the construction of authentic national languages (a problem that developed in Ukraine, for example). In whatever guise, however, these arguments are predicated on the assumption that there is a natural foundation to irreducible national identities.
Nationalism is not the only form of naturalism at work today in Europe, however, but the second form only corresponds to Michnik's democratic face in its second degree. One lesson that it is alleged we have learned from the Soviet experience, and all other historical experience, is that democracy can only grow and survive in a ground established for it by a certain kind and degree of economic development. That is, a free-market economy is thought to be the necessary, if insufficient, natural foundation for democracy. Thus we saw a resurgence in the discourse of natural economy that resulted in the familiar paradox of governments, this time in Prague, Moscow, and Warsaw rather than in London, Washington, or Taipei, instituting drastic measures - significantly, often described as shock therapies - in order to set free and to set in motion what is supposed to be a system that adheres to its own natural laws. The goal was the stimulation of natural processes that would lead eastern and central Europe onto the path of normalcy already traversed in the west.
Nature and Nations
There is an obvious tension between the two notions of natural order implicit in the debates over European identity. At issue is a conflict between two fundamentally different image of nature; a universalist image of natural laws as against a particularist image of organic nature. How this conflict is generated and reproduced within the universalist tradition itself can be demonstrated by the history of economic discourse since the Enlightenment, which has displayed a tendency to subsume the recognition of nations as entities without however being able to account for them. In the eighteenth century, theorists of economic order often grounded their claims for universal commerce on a providential design that purposefully distributed natural resources and human talents among diverse peoples in order to compel human beings into social intercourse (Viner 1972: 52-54).
Adam Smith named these diverse entities in the title of his famous work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, but nowhere in that work is the nation, which is assumed as the relevant unit for measuring wealth, theoretically constituted (Xenos 1980). Smith's political economy is predicated on "a certain propensity in human nature [...]; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another" that leads, without human forethought, to the creation of a division of labor and to the consequent development of a selfregulating market system (Smith 1976: 25). The foundations of economic behaviour are therefore laid in a universal psychological attribute rather than in some characteristic peculiar to a particular people.
Interestingly, after asserting this natural propensity, Smith goes on to reflect that it makes no difference whether this attribute be considered a primary one or, as he thinks more probable, derivatory from the natural endowment of human beings with "the faculties of reason and speech", which would place the origin of the critical economic psychological trait in the power of communication of needs and in persuasion (Smith 1976: 25; 1978: 352, 492-93). This invocation of language in the natural constitution of economic activity draws our attention to an earlier text of Smith's, his "Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages", which dates from 1761. There, after speculating that language followed a natural progression in complexity from the first establishment of substantive nouns to a system of intricately refined verbal declensions and conjugations, Smith argues that this process would likely have continued had language "not become more complex in its composition, in consequence of the mixture of several languages with one another, occasioned by the mixture of different nations" (Smith 1983: 220). Smith's main point, that modern languages display ever greater tendencies toward prolixity and less variety in sounds, may be passed over here in order to observe simply that it is assumed, first, that nations arose in the first instance as differentiated language communities, and, second, that the history of the world has been a history of continuous blending of these aboriginal nations into ever larger linguistic communities. This, then, would seem to be the concept of 'nation' that Smith takes for granted in The Wealth of Nations.
The uneasy conceptual relationship that resides within Smith's political economy between universal laws of human nature and natu- rally differentiated national identities can be seen to have come into the open in the famous conflict between two renowned authors, each of whom is in a powerful sense intellectually related to Smith. Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine each brought to their respective interpretations of the French Revolution a conception of nature that served as the foundation for their polemics. For Burke, it is an organic conception of nature that governs his Reflections on the Revolution in France. The British system of government, he claims, based as it is upon tradition, developed gradually and unintentionally in a mimetic relationship with the natural order of organic continuity:
Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old, or middleaged, or young, but in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenour of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete (Burke 1968: 220).
Similarly, Burke attributes his revulsion toward the scene played out in Versailles in October, 1789, when the Paris mob confronted Louis XVI and his queen, as one grounded in natural sentiments entailed in that organic order (ib.: 175). In this scheme of things, history is naturalized. By contrast, to his eyes the Revolution appears as a unnatural monster, taking as its guide not true nature but nature falsely conceived as an abstraction devoid of historical content and encapsulated in the notion of the natural rights of man.
Paine's response to Burke puts forward a defense of the Revolution based precisely upon a conception of nature that is drawn not from biology but from physical science; it is a view of nature as structured by a rational system of laws. It is also a view that is, indeed, radically antihistorical, since history represents, in Paine's view, a field of superstition and ignorance to be eradicated by the light of reason (Paine 1984: 69-70). The only experience that is to be taken seriously is that of the American Revolution, the Archimedean point for overturning the false political principles of history and uncovering those of reason. The example of America, coming out of the wilderness, "shows to the artificial world, that man must go back to Nature for information" (ib.: 160).
Burke's organic model of nature makes possible a conception of diverse identities. Differences between nations are accounted for by differences in particular customs and traditions: national identity is equivalent to historical identity. The British might be credited with discovering the most perfect mimetic forms, but nature is of sufficient complexity to entertain a variety of forms. With this conceptualization, Burke can be and generally is seen as a kindred spirit with the German Romantic tradition's notion of national identity, though the Germans, beginning with Herder, follow Adam Smith in conceiving custom and tradition as expressed in a linguistic community. It is only when historical development takes on the attributes of natural, organic development that language communities appear as naturally constituted in their uniqueness.
For Paine, however, the nation is a more problematical idea. As was true for Smith, the nation is simply assumed but cannot be explained theoretically within the framework of universal laws. Like his French co-rationalists, Paine insists that sovereignty belongs to nations, and throughout the concluding section of the first book of Rights of Man, Paine invokes the nation as the entity that represents principles of improvement and progress, as against government, which is responsible for regression and betrayal of natural rights (ib.: 140-47). The contradiction between the assertions of universal principles and the recognition of particularist identities is then dissolved, but not overcome, in Paine's logically consistent but necessarily blinkered claim that, once these principles are realized, the road is open toward a future in which "all Europe may form but one great republic" (ib.: 209). In thus acknowledging that the universal principles of the Revolution necessarily forced it beyond France, Paine unwittingly articulated the logic behind the subsequent history of the Revolution and its Napoleonic denouement (Xenos 1992). However, in Paine's particular vision, the road is paved by the spread of commerce, a pacific form of competition and mutual benefit that "is the greatest approach towards universal civilization, that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral principles" (Paine 1984: 212-13). In the social and political world that mimics a mechanically self-perpetuating nature, nations can only be recognized in practice in order to be theoretically obliterated in the universal language of economic rationality.
The mimetic impulse in political thinking is as old as political thought itself - even older. It was the natural philosophers of the sixth century, B.C., who first conceived the natural and the political in identical terms. However, in establishing a symmetrical pattern of harmony and balance that characterized the cosmos, the Greek natural philosophers mimetically recreated the cosmos in the image of the polis rather than the other way around (Vernant 1982). The birth of the polis sometime in the eighth century was an effect of a crisis in sovereignty following the collapse of the palace-centered monarchy in Mycenae two centuries earlier. Between the emergence of the polis and that of Ionian natural philosophy in the sixth century, the struggles over what forms political life should take had resulted in the predominance of justice (dike), harmony (eumonia or homonoia), and moderation (sophrosyne) as the governing principles of political order.
These categories then provided the conceptual architecture for imagining the cosmos in accordance with geometrical space in the philosophy of Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes (Vernant 1982: 119-29). In the fourth century, Plato was able to draw on this tradition, which he may have learned from Socrates, when he had his teacher proclaim the unity of nature and convention in the Gorgias (Plato 1971: 86). And when Socrates summarizes his argument against Callicles's sophistical distinction between nature and convention and posits the importance of the well-ordered soul, he turns simultaneously to political terms and to geometry:
We are told on good authority, Callicles, that heaven and earth and their respective inhabitants are held together by the bonds of society [koinonia] and love [philia] and order [cosmiotes] and discipline [sophrosyne] and righteousness [dikaiotes], and that is why the universe is called an ordered whole or cosmos and not a state of disorder and license. You, I think, for all your cleverness, have failed to grasp the truth; you have not observed how great a part geometric equality plays in heaven and earth, and because you neglect the study of geometry you preach the doctrine of unfair shares (ib.: 117-18).
Here, a politicized conception of nature is available to render a critical assessment of how far the political practices and beliefs of the fourth-century polis have strayed from their own principles.
Unlike Plato, we moderns look to nature to legitimate our political beliefs by rendering those beliefs 'natural'. Such an effort is an attempt to avoid history and the responsibility history entails, for nature - understood in the terms of either physical or biological science - is presented as a model to which we must adapt. The testimony of nature can be called to protect the status quo from attack or for the purposes of attack. If we fail to stabilize the political in the relevant image of nature, then either we work toward a better approximation or change models altogether. History as a realm of human invention, for better or for worse, is thus abandoned in favor of necessity.
The danger which necessity poses to politics is the danger of uncontrollable violence. The organic or physical images of nature promise political worlds that conform with inescapable organic pro- cesses or natural laws. Violence is legitimated either by seeing it as inherent in all natural organisms, including political ones (Arendt 1970), or by justifying its use to bring about the necessary conformity with nature. Stalinism and other varieties of political marxism are examples of this deferral of responsibility for necessity-imposed violence, but so are the constructions of free-market economic laws and the naturalized nation. Each makes possible, or even inevitable, the use of violence to realize a political ideal that, like a mirage, forever remains on the horizon, forever thwarted by the violence deployed in the pursuit of alternative mirages. The mirage never becomes real and the violence never stops (although it often changes forms).
In the modern age, we are prone to chasing naturalist mirages as an escape from a sometimes unendurable contingency that would otherwise threaten to overwhelm us. The certainty offered by im- mutable economic laws is one anchor of political legitimacy in the turbulent storm of history, but it is abstract and apt to be undermined by a short-term failure to deliver the goods. Alternatively, the notion that each of us, by birth, belongs to a collectivity that can be delineated from other such collectivities by reference to language or ethnicity or geography is an always available shelter from the responsibility of defining ourselves. It is also a convenient mechanism for assigning blame for the effects of other-wise anonymous forces that seem to foil us in the pursuit of our desires: ressentiment can be turned toward the nation's enemies, toward 'others'. Thus the discourse of natural politics jumps between the polarities of mutually exclusive identities and the obliteration of difference.
The creation of a technocratic language of international in- tegration was able to mask the underlying tensions of identity in a modernity characterized by Simone Weil's metaphor of 'uprootedness' for only so long. The simultaneous recognition of national identities in the notion of sovereignty along with the transnational manipulation of technical economic devices in accordance with a universal logic of economic rationality could satisfy interests of state but concealed mutually incompatible groundings of legitimacy. The struggle over models of nature is that struggle for legitimacy once again laid bare, but it is a struggle over natural mimesis that mimics itself and brings us no nearer to an answer to our troubled questioning of political identity. To be freed from its self-perpetuating contradictions, that questioning must take place in a language liberated from its own images of nature.
Arendt, Hannah (1970). On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.
Burke, Edmund (1968). Reflections on the Revolution in France. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Michnik, Adam (1990). The Two Faces of Europe. New York Review of Books, 19 July.
Paine, Thomas (1984). Rights of Man. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Plato (1971). Gorgias. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Smith, Adam (1976). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Smith, Adam (1978). Lectures on Jurisprudence. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Smith, Adam (1983). Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre (1982). The Origins of Greek Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Viner, Jacob (1972). The Role of Providence in the Social Order: An Essay in Intellectual History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Xenos, Nicholas (1980). Classical Political Economy: The Apolitical Discourse of Civil Society. Humanities in Society 3(3). 229-42.
Xenos, Nicholas (1992). The State, Rights, and the Homogeneous Nation. History of European Ideas 15(1-3). 77-82.
An 18th Century Case Study
With its load of connotations and range of reference, nature and, derivatively, the term 'nature', is one of those so oft-used and overtaxed items that its ubiquity brings to pass a blind and gullible acceptance. This intended response presupposes and ascribes to it a context - and intention - free validity and power of authenticiation that, either calculatedly or subconsciously, seeks to obviate questionings and neutralize suspicions. Nature seems to remain one of those entities whose aura of authority, persuasiveness and validation is still intact, unfractured and shining. However, once the realization dawns that it functions in various, oftentimes, incompatible contexts, the first step has been made towards seeing its omnipresence as more of a problem than might have been initially thought. Our acquiescence in the self-evidence of nature becomes undermined, and strong indications point to the possibility that nature and the ways it appears within the discourses of culture function in a duplicitous manner. What becomes rather clear is that the opposition between nature and culture is not neutral but value-laden, imposing a hierarchy wherein nature is endowed with priority and authority. One consequence of my analysis will be to show that, at least in the cases chosen for the presentation of the argument, there is no foundation for such a distribution of relative significance and that the 'nature' appearing in my examples can be shown to be a construct, a use of language as action. These language acts rely on the persuasive potential of the concept nature to substantiate the cultural praxis of a historically-determined community of speakers.
The choice of sample material - 18th century English literature - is, needless to say, arbitrary but still illustrative because a relatively short period of time displays competing voices proffering identical testimonial proof - 'nature' - to establish and propagate their claims. If literary history were to be reduced to a narrative of agonistic poetics, it is revealing how the various cultural configurations of the English 18th century, embodied in their poetic dictums, make use of 'nature' to legitimate their programs. To localize this proposition and give it a cogent demonstration it would be sufficient to show how, for instance, Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth, spokesmen of two antithetical conceptions of the art of poetry, give weight to their positions using an identical stratagem of argumentation.
Pope's famous advise to poets in "An Essay on Criticism" appears innocent enough, but when his pronouncement is read with the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads in mind, one must be dismayed at the similarity and a need to look closer at what connects and separates these texts makes itself felt:
First follow NATURE, and your Judgement frame
By her just Standard, which is still the same:
(Williams (ed.): 68-69)
Before turning to Wordsworth another example from Pope will show the use to which he put 'nature'. In the satiric tract Peri Bathous, Pope has Scriblerus, the alleged compiler of this anti-poetics, defend the Bathos of the Moderns against the Sublime of Ancient poetry with the help of a telling distinction: "The Taste of the Bathos is implanted by Nature itself in the Soul of Man; 'till perverted by Custom or Example he is taught or rather compell'd, to relish the Sublime" (ib.: 396).
The thrust of the argument relies on what is supposedly a self-evident hierarchy between Nature and Culture. In order to achieve his satiric impact Pope proceeds by having Scriblerus overturn the order and absurdly mispair Nature with Bathos and Custom with the Sublime. Of course, Pope's aim is to represent the Sublime as 'natural' and Bathos as the product of ephemeral custom. What I stress is that Pope knows and uses the argumentative power of 'nature'. If we take his work as a whole, his chore is to erase the conventionality and arbitrary rules of neoclassicism, by flaunting them as being universal, all-binding, obligatory, as issuing from Nature itself. What this paper attempts to do is to uncover the rhetorical operation behind these and similar utterances, and show them to be human fabrications without special access to truth or universal validity.
Taking the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads as an enunciation of breaking free from an ossified tradition, the perplexing thing is that "nature" is here used in the same way that is was employed by Pope whose conception of poetry was subjected to attack by new poetics. Stating his task to be the invention of incidents displaying "the primary laws of our nature", Wordsworth justifies his subject matter explaining that in low and rustic life "the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent form of nature" (Wordsworth 1966: 233). In regard to his style, Wordsworth proposes to adopt "the very language of men" admonishing that personifications are not "natural" to that language (ib.: 236). To complicate the picture, it is worthwhile to note that more than a century earlier, the Royal Society had rejected "all amplifications, digressions, and swelling of style" enforcing upon its members "a close, naked, natural way of speaking" (quoted from Easthope 1983: 111). The resemblance is striking. W.J.B. Owen rightly observes that Wordsworth's efforts to define a permanent rhetoric is for him "a means of aligning poetry with nature, of giving it, as far as possible, a form as "steady" and "perennial" as that of the mountain" (Owen 1969: 5). Both Pope and Wordsworth, as well as the Royal Society, underpin their positions by reverting to the same stratagem of denunciation and approval.
M.H. Abrams' comment on the self-justificatory intentions in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads is applicable, as should have been made clear by now, to other similar contexts: Wordsworth claimed "that the subjects and language of his poems exemplify universal and permanent "nature" as against the passing fashions of a current "art" which he identified with the "artificial"" (Abrams 1971: 393). Pope was doing no less nor more in Peri Bathous. Although the time span (1667-1800) covering the cited utterances had witnessed drastic changes in man's conception of nature, evolving from a sense of "analytic divisiveness" to Wordsworth "fostering a reconciliation with nature" (ib.: 145), what is fascinating and thought-provoking is the reappearance of "nature" in selfsame functional roles. Reasons for this are not hard to find. They stem from the anxiety of consciousness inhabiting a constructed, man-made order and yet seeking means and props to root and perpetuate itself.
Remaining within the eighteenth century, additional evidence can be mustered to prove that the above citations are not exceptions but rather the rule of using "nature" in a particular language situation. In his "Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit", Jonathan Swift justifies his work in a fashion that by now should have a familiar ring:
In all my writings I have had constant regard to this great end, not to suit and apply them to particular occasions and circumstances of time, of place, or person; but to calculate them for universal nature and mankind in general. (Swift 1986: 128)
The relegation of circumstantial time, places and persons in Swift's statement ominously immaterializes whatever it is he means by "nature", foregrounding its rhetorical function and transforming it into an abstract ideality, a measuring rod.
A host of other writers, a kind of chronological roll-call, can be called upon to amplify the same material. Inaugurating a new poetics, John Dryden (1668) derides his predecessors, the metaphysical poets, in a telling manner: these "have debauched the true old poetry so far, that Nature, which is the soul of it, is not in any of your writing" (Grant (ed.) 1955: 128). Joseph Addison (1711), in a laudatory appraisal of the song "Chevy Chase", proposes to "show that the sentiments in that ballad are extremely natural and poetical" (Jones (ed.) 1956: 234). If one looks closely at what Addison is saying, the astounding fact is that to him the last two terms are not incongruent. Thomas Gray (1742), in a letter to Richard West, makes the following observation on Joseph Andrews: "the incidents are ill-laid and without invention; but the characters have a great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her lowest shapes" (ib.: 265).
Obviously, 'nature' functions as a term of approbation in Gray's statement; however, paradoxically, if the conjunction between "ill-laid" and "without invention" were to have a parallel after the semicolon, "nature" would, surprisingly, have to be coupled with something synonymous with "invented". Edward Young (1759), harbinger of Romantic stirrings, provides another illustrative example: "Imitations are of two kinds: one of nature, one of authors. The first we call originals, and confine the term imitation to the second" (ib.: 273). Unlike neoclassical writers whose poetics enjoined self-abnegation before precedents, Young exacts originality. According to the terms of his argument, imitation alienates one from the perception of reality, whereas original composition registers nature. Complications arise and the terms of the argument become entangled in uncertainty once we recognize the fact that the neoclassicals themselves valued the ancients and ascribed to them universal validity precisely because they believed them to have given a truthful representation of nature.
The case of the early English novelists furnishes additional proof for the use of "nature" under scrutiny here. Trying to legitimate the novel as an acceptable genre they relied, in their programmatic utterances, on the rhetoric of 'nature'. In the Preface to Pamela, Samuel Richardson (1740) offers the readership his text maintaining that the assembled letters "have their foundation both in Truth and Nature" (Richardson 1985: 31). The recognition that behind Richardson's conjunction binding "Truth" and "Nature" there lurks a sign of equivalence and that the author relied on this latent identification to lend power to his utterance, is one of the possible ways of describing the driving motive behind this paper. To take another example, Henry Fielding (1742), distinguishing between the comic and the burlesque and opting for the former, warns that its practitioners "should ever confine ourselves strictly to nature" while the latter "is ever the exhibition of what is monstrous and unnatural" (Fielding 1985: 26). Jane Austen, in Northanger Abbey (1798), ridiculing the Gothic novel remarks that "it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the midlands counties of England was to be looked for" (Austen 1958: 214). Striving to install itself as a respectable literary form, the novel argues its point by disposing of kindred forms as aberrations. Whether it be the romances targeted by Richardson, the burlesque that piqued Fielding or the Gothic tales disapproved of by Austen, the argument boils down to the same resorting to nature in order to buttress one's own persuasions and to incriminate the adversary standpoint as unnatural.
On the whole, the examples I have chosen to document the targeted use of 'nature' under consideration in this account derive from two fields: critical pronouncements on literature and self-reflections on the novel. The common thread running through these statements shows them tackling the task of self-justification and advocating a particular practice. This prescriptive element, having to do with or implicating a set of values, is intrinsic to the critical enterprise. In similar fashion, the novel, originally ostracized from the hierarchy of established genres and, being an unstable form, constantly rethinking itself, has had to work at its own legitimization. All of the examples indicate that 'nature' is readily embraced as a rhetorical underpinning whenever something new (novel) undertakes to justify itself in relation to existent mores and practices. This took place when the Augustans disqualified Metaphysical art, when the imaginative unease of a fledgling Romanticism strove to undo the constraints of neoclassical artificiality or when the novel laid its claim to a privileged manner of representation.
What Does This Use of 'Nature' Amount to?
The instances I have cited as data for my analysis, although restricted to a historical period and culled from a limited region of cultural production, should have provided ample evidence both to focus the argument and to anticipate the broader implications that will be occasioned by my discussion. The marshalled evidence points to the conclusion that 'nature' functions as some kind of intersection site for a set of, at times, oppositional statements. Different contentions beckon to a common denominator, the common denominator behind the statements being the strategy of implicating 'nature' into their truth-claims. In each instance the assumed persuasive power of 'nature' substantiates the assertions. However, if the different, at times contradictory, statements are put next each other and if we abstract from the concrete sentences and focus on 'nature' as the substantiating vehicle, what happens is that the grounding becomes destabilized and problematized. Appearing as it does in apparently contradictory contexts, the semantic buttressing habitually attributed to 'nature' is relativized and, as we grow circumspect of its use, eventually dissolves.
This discovery compels a reassessment of the roster of cited statements and necessitates that they be seen not only in terms of what they are saying but how and to what purpose these utterances were made. In other words, the evidence instructs us to read statements not only for their representational adequacy, attending to questions concerning their truth-values, but to remark the instrumental character of utterances as such, to be on the alert for its argumentative and, perhaps, political intentionality. What I intend to do is to bring out into the open a practice that oftentimes goes unobserved, and to provide a ground and vantage point from which to make perceptible the work of rhetorics that is at the heart of this language strategy. In order to do so I will refer to a number of theoretical frameworks that bear upon the issue under discussion. The question to ask is what does this use of 'nature' amount to?
The juxtaposition of statements from 18th century publications, heterogeneous as they are, if not outrightly antithetical, ought to have brought to light the realization that it is all but impossible to ascribe to 'nature' a stable meaning. Because the appearance of 'nature' in the varied contexts cannot be accounted for by what the word means, the investigation should be taken a step further and focus on how it functions. The proposed approach would come very close to Kenneth Burke's dramatistic screen which the Webster Dictionary defines as "A technique of analysis of language and thought as basically modes of action rather than means of conveying information" (Burke 1966: 54). Burke's dramatistic conception of language uncovers "the necessarily suasive nature of even the most unemotional scientific nomenclatures" (ib.: 45). Closely reading and putting next each other statements of antithetical meaning yet of identical structure, and recognizing them as "symbolic actions", has screened them of their semantic content and brought out into the open their work of persuasion. In this instance that work is largely done by 'nature'. Using this theoretical framework one readily sees that 'nature' is a powerful tool for, as Burke says, "the purpose of causing the audience to identify itself with the speaker's interests; and the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport between himself and his audience" (Burke 1969: 46). The power of 'nature' as this kind of tool is such that the audience often hardly notices the speaker's work of persuasion.
Considered from a different standpoint, the way 'nature' functions in the cited utterances is illustrative of and partakes of a broader enterprise of cultural production. In his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty reminds the reader that
investigation of the foundations of knowledge or morality or language or society may be simple apologetics, attempts to eternalize a certain contemporary language-game, social practice, or self-image. (Rorty 1980: 10)
The use to which 'nature' is put in the citations spanning the eighteenth century represents a case of apologetics, of giving argumentative weight and validity to a historically provisional practice. In the case of English neoclassicism, the paradox of this strategy is that one of the most local and restricted aesthetic programs sought and believed in its universal applicability.
Another convenient way of describing the language situation enacted in the set of evidence is to employ terms deriving from speech act theory. The locus of my reading has been to foreground the rhetorics of persuasion that might otherwise go unnoticed. If we make the link with speech act theory, then persuasion can be subsumed under the performative offices of language. Furthermore, if the constantive-performative distinction answers the difference between saying and doing, it can be argued that the sleight-of-hand operative in the cited statements consists in the pretence that essentially performative acts are really constantive utterances. All the eighteenth century quotations ensample a performative usage of language which involves both the author and the addressee in a process of intentioned influence and change by urging those receiving the message to respond in a particular manner. The credibility of the action of persuasion is underscored by the convincing force of the term 'nature'. To paraphrase John A. Austin, it might be said that the operation consists in camouflaging the probability ("ought") of the pronouncements by making them out to be expressions of a facticity ("is") (Austin 1962). I argue that in making their pronouncements the quoted authors are not only stating something but, to a much greater degree, their sentences have a "perlocutionary" aspect (the effect to be accomplished), addressing and imposing upon the convictions of the intended readers.
To take our discussion a step further, notice should be made that we are dealing here with a kind of evidentiary use of 'nature'. On the evidence of our examples, it appears that "nature" functions as a fool-proof given. Our examples show authors putting forward different propositions, but obviating the necessity of mustering demonstration in their support by summoning 'nature' to bear witness. The manoeuvre of setting side by side varied propositions should have shown how different contexts bring to a focus the functionality of 'nature' and problematize its semantic content. In a nutshell, the rhetorical strategy depends on the peculiar evidentiary potency of 'nature' to compel belief and assent in seemingly automatic fashion. It would not be difficult to fathom the reason for using 'nature' as evidence. As was stated at the very beginning of this paper, nature retains an aura of self-evidence and presentness. Fabricated facts, man-made and context-bound, when offered as evidence, are likely to raise suspicion and would be more often than not, disqualified. The assumption behind relying on nature to substantiate truth-claims is that its facts are a given and therefore something that in its immediacy cannot be doubted, free of any provisional, arbitrary purposes.
The rhetorical move that has been the focus of my analysis, simply put, the transposition of the factitious into the 'natural', amounts to no more nor less than the process of naturalization. A possible way of apprehending what lies behind this concept is to summon to mind that ubiquitous human impulse to integrate a representation or other stimuli into our sense of 'normality', what we feel to be possible and 'natural' to our experience of life and reality. Countless instances can be recalled showing human beings engaged at the task of naturalizing problematic situations. The reliance upon and exploitation of 'nature' in the cases I have pointed out illustrates how this practice structures specific language situations: the way programmatic utterances, belonging to provisional cultural projects, are deployed as natural and therefore of universal pertinence. The term 'nature', with its agenda of powerful connotations and claims to truth, is introduced to salvage certain representations from their context and localized enunciation and to ascribe to them permanence and indisputability. Nature is perceived or it is believed that nature is perceived in such a way that it can be depended upon to provide a firm anchorage for our evaluations and judgements. Especially in unsettled circumstances or when a new configuration seeks to instate itself with authority and cultural power. Nature functions as an originary instance of validation.
The factor enabling 'nature' to fulfil this office is the assumption that nature exists somewhere outside in an a priori state, that it cannot be contaminated by the chain of argumentation and is not compromised by its give-and-take character. However, the way that it is used to contradictory ends in the examples from eighteenth century texts and my analysis should have made clear that such an entity, the nature upon which the different statements base their truth-claims, raises more problems than it solves and justifies, to say the least, the quotation marks that have framed it through this presentation. Even if only in regards to the eighteenth century sample material, what I find is that the referent of the notion of 'nature' dissolves and the term becomes no more than a prop within a context of argumentation. The citations disclose the circularity of an argument wherein man derives in his conclusions only what he had presupposed in his premises (nature) and in the course of which he fails to admit or wittingly hides that this is, in fact, all he is doing. I had hoped to bring to light a rhetorical grounding by which a provisional assertion makes itself out to be a certainty, which it never was nor could possibly be. Needless to say, the application of this reading goes beyond the targeted period or the chosen field of study. Therefore, I would like to remark how this analysis relates to other fields of human activity and to give my opinion on the implications of these findings for the general production of culture and values.
Where Do We Land Without 'Nature'?
The analysis of a restricted body of literary texts, belonging to a delimited time period, has, of course its own intrinsic value. My aim was to show how competing literary projects use identical strategies of naturalization in order to convince their audiences in the validity of their preferences and value systems. Before bringing this presentation to a close, I want to stress that the rhetoric using 'nature' is not confined to literature but is found everywhere within human activity. It can be shown that in the extra-literary spheres it, at times, has far-reaching and grave consequences. (As an aside, I can say that it was the ominous sound of slogans of political discourse that had denaturalized for me the uses of 'nature' and had motivated my examination of it as an universal ideological prop).
Once aware of and on the look-out for what lies behind the use of 'nature', one cannot but feel surprise at the ubiquity and frequency with which it is used in everyday discourse. Research of this field would yield tangible and abundant results. As the previous discussion showed, this rhetorical device functions as an expedient tool of legitimization through the varied cultural productions of human society. During times of social upheaval, of destructuring and redefining political identities, 'nature' is readily embraced as an instrument of political persuasion and action. Because of the complexity of the problem this would merit a study of its own, but for the present purpose I draw attention to two symptomatic and illustrative events.
In much post-communist discourse concerning the demise of the communist system there has surfaced, in my opinion, a too facile explanation to bundle it away as 'unnatural'. Although, coming as I do from a country that has been both a victim of its reign and its dismantling, I would be the last to underplay its enormity, yet to label it 'unnatural' somehow begs the question and shortcuts the tasks of dealing with it in socially and historically specific terms. In addition, the label, employed by politically-interested speakers, not only denigrates a justly stigmatized social order, but less conspicuously, although quite effectively, is engaged in naturalizing the state of affairs and the distribution of power that has replaced the former one. To speak of only one consequence, it can easily be surmised that such a powerful legitimization of newly-installed institutions and politicians carries with it the danger of blunting and discouraging criticism.
To take another example from the political arena, once the multinational post-communist states, no longer cemented by a unitary ideology and its attendant apparatus of coercion, began to crumble away, one of the most explosive issues turned out and still remains the question of state boundaries. The political powers harangued their polities with rallying cries of 'historical and natural' state borders. The identification proved a powerful campaign instrument and the unsuspecting audiences gulped it down, conditioned as they always are to the rhetorical sleight of hand: a move whereby the 'natural' is tagged onto the more arbitrary term of representation. The ideologue is aware that it is characterized by a greater finality and stronger evidential power. Not much acumen is needed to recognize that the confounding of the 'historical' with the 'natural', inevitably and irretrievably, reduces the possibilities of negotiation and rational bargaining.
Obviously, the assumption is that whatever is, or is believed to be, natural cannot be bartered and needs to be defended as the God-given and eternal. As part of geo-political discourse, the 'natural' connotes living space and territory. That allegiance to these kind of 'natural' fundamentals might issue in human suffering and tragedy is, the next step of my argument will show, only one side, the negative pole, we might say, of the issue under discussion. I feel that many who would discount, for example, the 'natural' right to living space and a certain rootedness in territories tend to put out of mind the very material conditions which enable their demystifying analysis. The world abounds in cases of peoples attacked and displaced and I ask what grounds do we have to deconstruct their minimalist programs for survival as rhetorical constructs. All too often these radical critiques are very handy for those political options that readily 'denaturalize' borders using means that are much more forceful than rhetorics.
My feeling is that the work of indiscriminately deconstructing strategies of legitimization through 'nature' is too facile and would warn that a fuller explanation of its use and effects demands that the historico-social contexts of its production be taken into account. This would show that 'nature', and here I particularly have in mind the political context, is truly a powerful instrument of persuasion but that we have to take note that the potency of its rhetorical empowerment not only fluctuates in time but also that its presence and frequency of usage varies among the world polities. An examination of how, when and to what extent 'nature' figures within different cultural discourses might go some way towards identifying and distinguishing between different political entities showing universalist projections to be premature and misleading. I have drawn attention to a number of extraliterary uses of 'nature' in order to allude to consequences of naturalization in comparison with which the agon of poetics is inconsequential and innocent.
Obviously, what is at stake in the process of naturalization becomes clearer once we step outside the confines of literature. The goal is unmistakeable: political powers seek to hoodwink the public as to the historically provisional circumstances of their projects and present these as the perennial 'given' forms of nature. The function of 'nature' that has here come under scrutiny partakes of ideology and its office of masking socio-historical reality with a linguistic one. 'Nature' is relied upon to perform this because it seems to be intricately bound and associated with our tendencies and needs to mythologize and mystify. It would appear that the aura surrounding the concept and then, derivatively, the word 'nature' assigns to it the efficacy of a powerful abstraction and keeps it stable and safe from contaminating and contingent contexts. The socio-political sphere depends on justification and other procedures which lack the sense of immediate self-evidence or, to again call upon Kenneth Burke, "do not enjoy exactly the kind of extraverbal reality we find in the commonsense vocabulary of the natural realm" (Burke 1966: 375). The rhetorical ploy consists of reshuffling the two spheres: instead of seeking justification within its own order of reality, the rhetoric of the socio-political sphere takes a short cut and features the 'natural' to validate its claims.
Before my closing remarks on what I see as the disturbing consequences of demasking one of the powerful instruments of cultural legitimization, I call attention to an observation made by Hayden White in his work Tropics of Discourse:
the vitality of any culture hinges upon its powers to convince the majority of its devotees that it is the sole possible way to satisfy their needs and to realize their aspirations. A given culture is only as strong as its power to convince its least dedicated members that its fictions are truths. (White 1987: 153)
Needless to say, the means of persuasion at the disposal of human societies are, by no means, restricted to their cultural discourses. The world would be a quite different place if they were. However, this does not mean that the cultural sphere should be discounted in the inventory of ways human communities have of organizing themselves. In regard to this, modern thought offers an interesting spectacle. I believe most would agree with the notion that a good deal of our discourses, for some time, have busied themselves questioning, dissecting and demasking assumptions and certitudes that have grounded the world as we live upon it. The thrust of their labours has been aimed at demystifying and debunking surfaces in search for those hidden and repressed motivation. In its own way, my readings of the use of 'nature' partakes in this broader enterprise. As a conclusion, let me draw attention to what I feel are pitfalls intrinsic to this endeavour.
It goes without saying that the critical stance I have in mind can result in an exhilarating sense of self-knowledge and boundless freedom. However, if reconsidered, the work of man's 'ravening' thought, its relentless, self-consuming logic of disintegration, can, just as easily, land us in a place of desolation and paralysis. I have above remarked upon the politically suspect rhetoric of naturalization. My fears originate within that spectacle which delegitimates the 'naturalness' of the right to life. If we reach the conclusion that what goes by the name of nature is no more than human construct and if, in doing so, we disarm it of its powers of legitimization, a larger question looms ahead and we must ask how are we to speak or how are we to live in the absence of shareable measuring rods for judging and validating our claims and actions. Should the term 'natural' be proscribed? Are there no 'natural' guidelines to human conduct? Are there no 'natural' rights to which man is entitled? If the answer is a negative, will the values we (I am aware of the problematic status of the pronoun) live by vanish? Readings such as this one take to task certain assumptions we live by but I feel that this has to be coupled with a sense of responsibility for the enabling conditions of these very readings.
Drawing upon an analogy between the use of 'nature' in literature and in political persuasion, it was shown how a seemingly innocent strategy of argument can be employed with weighty implications. In addition, I intended to remark how this linguistic analysis entails an ethical dilemma. The final cautionary note should not be misconstrued as meaning that I am retracting from my findings but that I feel our deconstructions ought to acknowledge their responsibilities. It is hoped that the void created by the practices of deligitimizations, by our cultural destructurings, will not be taken over by blind authority and power. However, their appeal is present. Between these two extremes, might not the task ahead be a juggling act that takes stock and legitimates a set of values indispensable to human life although the stocktakers are fully aware of their fragile groundings? Perhaps the awareness of their constructedness and brittleness will teach responsibility and care. Maybe certain basic values of our civilization, things that have become a kind of 'natural' second-skin will not have to be exposed to and endangered by the unnatural in order that we learn to cherish them.
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CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE FUTURE
The Mathematization of Experience in Virtual Realities
The old veil of nature has been disavowed by contemporary science. Which is to say that we now live within the promise of seeing nature's face in all its nakedness. This promise appears fated to shock our past philosophical pretensions; for without doubt, sneaking a look under the veil whilst assuredly leaving it in place has been the enabling force of much of western science to recent date.
Recall one of the embryonic stages of this enabling power, announced in the inaugural moment of revelation outside Plato's cave of representation. For, in escaping at last from a reality of shadows, the prisoner encounters another deferral and delay in the Socratic demand that he gaze upon the geometriclike reflections in the pool in order to avoid being blinded by the truth of the noon-day sun. Installing thereafter, the geometric diagram qua austere figure as an ancilla to the truth to nature qua the cosmos. Indeed, who would deny that geometry amongst it many villeinage and formative duties has been the constant hand-maiden to cosmology; a maieutic system of self-proclaimed mediation that brings the heavens down to earth so to speak, and measures their timeless truths.
We may also note that Plato's notion of abundant appearances contrasted with (but did not stand in opposition to) his ideal reality, forces onto appearances a truth deficiency, that leads inexorably to the idea of representations as being removed from this higher reality, with mathematicals being the least removed so to speak. Representations, as mere reflections, thus have placed upon their backs a burden of adequacy in relation to their truth value; and their traditionally argued inability to ever finally reveal the arcana of this higher reality we are led to visualize as the veil of representation. Recall also, two other moments in this history: Firstly, Galileo and Newton's static nature of non-relative principles, which cast a veil firmly over mercurial nature yet also informed the unparalleled success of science by granting it unchanging, universal first principles. And, secondly, Descartes' fire-side reverie which further installed the mind as the site of calculated abstractions; itself informed by a certain debt to Proclus' mathematical screen of the imagination, which Proclus inserted in the Platonic schema between intellection and perception, as has been argued by Morrow (1970: xxxv), thus overcoming the dilemma posed by this schema with regard to where to situate the austere graphic forms of the mathematicals. Which is to say that, for the mathematicals to be Platonic exemplars, they could not be derived initially from the lower world of the empirical for that, as Plato consistently tells us, is a deficient world lacking in precision. And equally they could have no place as images in the Platonic Nous for that realm partakes of no division.
One might therefore marvel at Proclus' wit in dividing yet further Plato's divided reality by splitting mentality into pure intellection on one hand, and the plane of the creative mathematical imagination on the other. One might also, within the tradition of this Proclion desire for geometric idealization, admire Descartes in erasing almost entirely the need to shackle geometry to graphic figures. I refer to algebraic notation; the reduction of the diagram to letters and numbers. And, we may conveniently see in this reduction into abstraction, an impetus for Newton's calculus grounded in a displacement of perception. Which is to say, visible movement abstracted to an infinite number of minute, fixed numerical differences.
Finally, recall Kant's a priori of space which brought the Proclion veil down further, leaving ironically in its wake the inexhaustible desire to know the thing-in-itself as it-knows-itself, a knowing precluded, yet generated by the very logic of an a priori at the level of Kantian subjectivity. Indeed, the ever elusive a priori and its bedfellow, the fundament of meaning, whether in their ideal or empirical modalities, whether as Proclus' idea that the mind projected once removed reflections of itself onto the mathematical screen of the imagination (Morrow1970: 11,40-45), or Serres' nonmeaning noise (Harari & Bell 1982 : 66-68), or Castoriadis' meaningless natural stratum (Bender & Wellbery 1991: 38-64) in any of these guises, the desire for an a priori and/or a universal fundament has so effectively haunted the discourse of science and much of philosophy, that one may easily be forgiven for overlooking, in its very ubiquity, its lasting significance in the constant restructuring of the very conception of a divided reality, Platonic or otherwise.
However, this whole tradition of the idealization of nature via the mathematicals, if we are to note many scientific claims of recent date, has apparently slipped away, for we now live within the promise of seeing nature's unveiled face. A promise that signals a reversal of interest in the discourse of science from the world of ideal principles to that of the immediate everyday world of the Subject; i.e., from conceiving nature through static laws constituting an invariant universal fundament, to that of a nature perceived as the expression of local processes constantly inter-weaving and jostling each other in a gigantic cosmic dance; unable, indeed, unwilling as it were to ever keep their ideal places.
What distinguishes this new science from its past, is that it now seeks to understand nature by replicating nature through the employment of mathematical processes, rather than excavating hidden lawful treasures expressed as mathematical abstractions. By extension, this reversal also marks the move by science towards placing experience and we might even say culture, directly and expressly under the mantle of the mathematical; and thus, brings a certain urgency to the way in which cultural studies qua the visual is to be hence thought.
Thus so, given the enticing prospect of this promise by the new science of process, let us now examine one of its concerns, the very name of which clearly expresses this desire to unveil by replication. I am referring to virtual realities, and we may begin by asking an obvious question: What do we mean when we speak of a reality that is virtual? Are we meaning to suggest a nature that is almost but not quite real, one that is deficient in some way? Or are we simply referring to a fabricated reality, one that we are led to imagine is more intense and concentrated than so-called every-day nature? In other words, do we mean virtual in the sense of a manufactured deficiency or a manufactured intensity?
If we start with the idea of deficiency, then, to retain the coherency of these virtual realities, experience becomes thought of as divided into scientifically aided-experience on one hand, and socalled unaided or actual experience on the other. Within the former of these two, successfully producing the look of nature or the feel of experience, etc., serves to endorse a particular procedure as expressing-in-process rather than expressing-in-principle, the local truth of a universal nature. However, to understand how processes have usurped principles as the truth to nature we need to recall briefly the character of law-as-principle in the science of the immediate past.
Expressing-in-principle: In discussing modern science, Husserl argued (Carr 1970: 231) that since the time of Galileo, 'nature itself is idealized,' it became he said a 'mathematical manifold.' In a celebrated phrase he referred to this as the 'mathematization of nature'. Discussing this important insight Charles Harvey has noted, (1989: 13-88) that for Husserl, this meant that science was grounded in a metaphysics that ascribed an economy between reality and what is most knowable; so that quantifying or that which can be measured became equated with true Being - equated with the Truth-to-Nature. Because these principles were thought of as static and perfect and transcendent, and as such, could logically have no actual corporeality or existence as objects in space and time, then any expression of them must by definition constitute an approximation. Which is to say that an approximation, in either its theoretical or empirical modalities, is grounded in the metaphysics of the unrealizability of pure transcendent principles. Approximations are understood therefore to slowly advance towards but never arrive at, the ideal perfect truth of nature. We may care on this occasion to express this as the endless march of hypotheses, aided in their journey by the power of predictive truth; the throwing-forward feature implicit in the very idea of approximating an ideality.
Thus the phrase, expressing-in-principle is shorthand for the endless construction of approximations of ideal universal laws. The ever elusive perfect form of these principles also means that ultimate proof is forever delayed. What this means if we follow Husserl here, is that the practice of endless approximations is what in the past has informed the possibility of modern science as an unending project. Furthermore, given the equating of truth with measurement, Husserl argued that this mathematical manifold achieved a higher ontological status than the life-world, by the association of true-being with measurement. The essential task therefore under this manifold, became the extraction of this ideal truth against the backdrop of the abundant, chaotic world of appearances.
However, as Harvey notes, a paradox of method emerges from the idea that all of nature can be brought under the mathematical. The problem becomes the difficulty of quantifying the realm of the senses while retaining the idea that lawful principles express the truth of the world. Clearly nature can not, at one and the same time, be subsumed under measurement and yet have an aspect which is beyond measurement. Yet equally, mathematical truth, in being the transcendent character of nature, must by definition, be essentially separate in some manner from the apparent immeasurable and immediate life-world of the Subject.
Galileo's positing of the universe as a mathematically constituted field or container of correspondence (as we might wish to express his attempt to circumvent this paradox) wherein measurable changes in geometric properties are argued to correspond more or less to changes in the operation of the senses, only serves to introduce the idea of primary and secondary qualities of existence. These former qualities are thought to be essential and the latter are what we might now call merely effects of the ideal real. Which is to say that, secondary qualities emerge as indices of mathematical changes qua the primary qualities of nature. What we need to remember about this development is not so much that it is a weak solution to this paradox, but that it enshrines the idea that the truth to nature is outside the Subjective. Indeed, was it not Kepler, no doubt amongst many others, who said that God was a mathematician? Which is to say, in a modern way, that in Kepler's view, the truth to nature is universal quantifiable causes and hence by extension the (primary) ontological truth to the world is mathematical.
To stress this point even more acutely: the Subject's life-world becomes itself arbitrated by the metaphysics grounding modern science. Which is a way of saying that science contaminates how we are able to think the life-world; although ironically, Husserl failed to take this latter step precisely because he did not fully note the contamination or the formative role of science in the very idea of a life-world. However, putting aside his reluctance here we may still gain a valuable insight. For, in combining the idea of metaphysical with physical contamination we may profitably re-read Husserl and build upon what he had in mind when he spoke of an ontological reversal. Recall, that the life-world, for Husserl, far from being understood as initially grounding the practice of science, falls prey to an ontological reversal whereby Galileo's manifold of the most knowable, becomes the real reality over and above the life-world. To add to this Husserlian insight (albeit by a certain reversal that still remains faithful to his conception of ontological privileging) I need but say that to argue as science does for non-relative truths, is to also automatically, postulate and displace a separate world of relative values, (i.e., the life-world).
Expressing-in-process: Alternatively, the recent idea of expressing-in-process the laws of nature appears less complicated and more unified because there seems to be less delay in the verification of a particular procedure. For a hypothesis in the new science need no longer demonstrate an ability to circumvent more or less the vagaries and influences of appearances, nor cast its moment of validation into the future. For it is appearances in their immediacy that are both the impetus and validation of the generative procedure employed by the new science - certainly, this is how I understand the geometer, Benoit Mandelbrot (1983: 21), when he says that 'seeing is believing.' Hence the stress with regard to theory evaluation and proof is not so much now on predictive power but rather on retrodiction; precisely because a generated nature or virtual reality is deemed successful primarily by a referral to a past or present actual nature.
In other words, if a generated nature, in being compared with so-called actual nature results in the observation that the two are alike, then the procedure for producing the artificial nature may be considered proven. Obviously, recognition emerges here as an important ground with regard to proof. For as likeness (i.e., replicated or generated nature) presupposes an already existing image of nature it follows that: that which is recognizable becomes that which is true; becomes recognized as that which is naturally true; or once again as Mandelbrot says, (1983: 1-3), can be 'seen' or 'felt' to be true.
Moreover, it becomes necessary to bring the image directly under the mantle of the mathematical. For clearly, virtual reality qua the images of, say, fractal geometry, relies heavily on a visual correspondence being immediately recognized between any generated image and its so-called natural counterpart. Indeed, (if we put aside the issue of many mathematicians' unacknowledgement of duration inhabiting intuition-immediacy) the 'intuitive obviousness' of visual similarity is exactly the point that Mandelbrot has repeatedly suggested is proof positive of the 'naturalness' of his geometry. It may also be noted that if an image can be mathematically produced that replicates the image of nature open to ordinary perception, then perception has been in this sense mathematized, and as such is no longer in this new science the subjective Other to objective mathematical truth. In a manner of speaking Subjectivity itself is now thought of as a local expression of universal dynamic processes; the proof of this being that perceptions which appear natural can be manufactured by using mathematical procedures.
However, if perception in the form of an unproblematic recognition takes over from approximations as the driving force for understanding nature, are we not then in fact witnessing the emergence of a vicarious empiricism which manufactures in the form of virtual realities its own immediate vindication? Certainly, the already existence of a so-called natural truth in the form of ordinary experience would seem to rule out any need to approximate it. For there would appear to be little value in making an almost or virtual reality when this natural reality is so easily had for the asking.
Which is to say that virtual reality qua manufactured deficiency is something of a misnomer: for how can anything be almost real?
If we take up the other idea, that is that virtual reality is a manufactured intensity, what might such an idea suggest? Well, it follows that the logic for manufacturing an experiential intensity must be grounded in the idea that ordinary experience lacks something. Indeed, the coherency of any necessity for the production of virtual experiences must mean that what is perceived as lacking is any ability for so-called scientifically unaided experience to rigorously know itself through the actions of itself. In other words, in this new science just having experiences is not of itself sufficient to understand the meaning of what experience actually is. Hence virtual realities emerge as the promise to supplement this lack.
Thus scientifically-aided-experience emerges as actually the experiencing of the true-meaning-of-experience. Which is to say that, if we are to follow the logic of virtual realists, then the new science's disavowed veil of nature becomes in fact reconstituted in that the veil is no longer between the subject and ideal nature; rather, it has been inserted inside the subject so to speak; or to put that in an even stranger fashion, the veil has been erected between the subject and itself.
And, keeping in mind Derrida's telling point in his Introduction to Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry (Leavey 1989: 77ff, 111ff), concerning the dangers of a fall into empiricism by unproblematically dissolving ideality and empiricality, and, I might add in this context, the dangers of an even deeper fall into empiricism by overlooking as well their contaminative character in an attempt to privilege empirical mathematicals, (which is to say in another fashion that whilst we may always be able to think of them as if they were separate we may however never think them separately), we might speculate that ideality on the scientifically-aided side of this experiential divide emerges as a promise of renewal. In other words, the constant production of virtual realities will increase our understanding of experience; i.e., the promise of knowing more about experience by having more virtual experiences.
Alternatively, on the so-called scientifically-unaided side of this experiential divide, ideality emerges as a distorted version of this promise. Namely, the desire of unaided experience to be like a virtual reality; to dream of being one day self-knowing. But a dream that can never be fulfilled as unaided experience must always be forever thought of as lacking in order to maintain the enabling power of the scientifically-aided side of this divide. Thus virtual reality adds to experience by initially taking away from experience any meaning; only to return this meaning in the guise of mathematical processes as the true meaning or identity of experience.
In short, the new science privileges the idea that nature qua experience is an expression of processes that are mathematical in character and that these processes can be reproduced to generate a replica of nature. The net result of this replication in the possibility of its endless repetition, (and here I am deliberately reversing Castoriadis' reference to the miracle of the production of endless repetition and difference of the identical of the space of abstraction (ideality), Bender & Wellbery (1991: 56)), is that virtual realities come to express the truth to experience over and above what are understood to be ordinary experiences. Hence, the Truth-to-Nature is no longer just that of transcendent principles working at the invisible heart of reality, but also, is now argued to be visible mathematical processes, which produce we are led to believe, the very immediacy of our nature.
However, as virtual reality must constantly return to so-called ordinary experience for its impetus and in some senses its validation, may we not then say that the endless march of science discloses itself now as the dance of iteration - the return that is forever beginning in an immediate virtual ending? And could we not also think virtual reality as simply a manufactured intensity or more precisely, a plenitude of measurable constructions in order to make any sense of it contrasting itself with the so-called deficiency of experiences in general? Or to put that in a reverse fashion, and mindful of the long tradition of contamination qua displacement enacted by the mathematicals and geometricals that I briefly outlined above, may we ever think of experiences as scientifically unaided; as uncontaminated by science? May we not, therefore in-fact, think virtual reality as the attempt to measure experience qua process, that is perhaps in-its-effects, a desire to erase its own contingent character? Or perhaps, as I alluded to earlier, we may choose to think of this new science as a vicarious empiricism which desires to manufacture its own license?
A manufactured nature, that is, itself, the virtual veil through which, it is, itself, ever and always intensely recognizable, ever and always intensely seen.
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A Critique of Ecological Reason
In the face of the global destruction of our natural resources it may sound absurd to deliver a critique of the eco-movement. But this essay serves the ecological discourse by criticizing it as 'the ultimate metanarrative' of our times.
I. The Politics of Nature Images
Since the beginning of the Seventies nature has replaced society as the referent for critical discourse. With the decline of Marxism nature and not the empoverishment of the proletarian masses became the focus of critical attention. Every discourse, from advertisement to politics, from nuclear energy to organically-grown produce appropriated nature as a paradigm. The truth of ecology became the ruling doctrine. It amounted to the rise and production of an image of nature. It had started with Erich Haeckel's research on biospheres in 1866 and developed into an all-encompassing science. Before any social critique had been directed towards the rationality of the capitalist system, we are now sceptical of the achievements of technological reason, sceptical of the high-tech civilization that we are reproducing at this and every given moment. The social movements of our times are symptomatic for this shift - the grass-roots, women's, and peace movements for example. Their protest is directed against the destruction of nature and landscape, the threat of nuclear energy, the industrialization of life through genetics, the poisoning of the environment, the concrete in our cities, the waste of energy and resources, the lack of spontaneity, the linguistic abuse and the wasteland of communication in our media.
No political party in Europe nor any revolution in the socalled 'third world' could channel this discontent in civilization. In this situation nature became the model of communication that was supposed to be more human. The smiling sun on a self-adhesive sticker became the sign and was significant for those moved by nature and gasoline. It was the rise of the politics of a nature image. Nature began to supply the orientation and purpose any other idea or ideology lacked. Nature was endowed with fresh normative power. The focus was not as in Antiquity or the Middle Ages on the calm realm of cosmological order, but on biological nature in a systemic perspective. This natural order and the precarious ecological balance that it constituted and that one was not supposed to mess with became the central category. Any ecological critique draws on this notion of ecological balance as its metanarrative authority. This notion also seems to offer knowledge how to act in agreement with nature and the environment.
A short history of paradigmatic nature images suffices to understand that nature was absent in Cartesian and Gallileian science and that nature itself had no meaning in the mechanistic systems of the 'natural' sciences (Schäfer 1982, Mittelstraß 1981, Blumenberg 1975, Dijksterhuis 1956, Koyré 1969). Whereas the knowledge of antic and scholastic cosmologies was teleological, the knowledge of modern natural sciences became relative and human practice - instead of divine creation - is at the base of a mechanistic construction of nature.
Kant determines nature materially as 'the essence of all objects of experience', formally as 'the principle of all objects of experience'. At the back of this definition the transformation of the modern notion of nature has been executed. Nature has become the mere object of human and social experience. Moreover, it is the cause of all appearances that never appears itself. Kant's three critiques constitute the historical peak of the modern differentiation of the term nature. They tell in an unequivocal way the (natural-)scientific from the practical-moral and the aesthetic notion of nature. These are transcendentally constituted and relate to different subjective forms of experience. The laws of experience are at the same time laws that determine that relation. They determine historically and a-priorily the boundary between that which is rational and objective and that which is not. They were basically valid until today - even if the claim for objectivity founded apriorily has been replaced by fallibilistic and conventionalistic interpretations of nature and truth.
The design into which the natural appearances have been cast are the mental schemes of thought and action: "since one understands completely only so much as one can do or produce oneself by concepts" (Kant 1968: 384). Things natural are the mere stuff and their seeming muteness is what enables the master subjects to examine them. What we perceive subjectively as the lawfully ordered world of appearances - be it the experimental examination of nature or the reflection of modes and principles of thought - is that which we, the finite-infinite subjects have put into it in the first place. The modern order of reason is a manual how to treat nature.
The contradicting nature images of Rousseau and de Sade illustrate how much nature has served as the projective screen for historically suppressed wishes, hopes and interests. In each enlightenmental reason speaks in the name of (a different) nature: one that is abysmally evil, malicious and scrupulous and one that reflects the better part of a culture corrupted by bad morals. Rousseau and de Sade, are both searching for an obligatory and normative reason in their culturally provoking descriptions of nature. But nature has already been so emptied of all meaning that it can endure these contradicting characterizations. This reveals to the reader of Rousseau and de Sade that the imperatives of the natural order of nature are socially fantasized norms. In both the reader finds a culturally broken human nature and nature as a mirror of human imagination.
These historical discourses are ruled, not by atemporal ideas of truth, but by very specific social interests. Therefore it would not be difficult to demonstrate, through a critique of the implicit theoretical premises of the ecological discourse, how politics in the name of the natural order of nature have recourse to a pre-critical use of the notion of nature; that it relapses into notions that had already been reached at the beginning of modernity; that its discourse does not hold up to contemporary philosophical and scientific standards since it produces paradoxa and abstruse complementarities (for example that mix of nature ontology and extreme scienticsm) that completely disqualify it. However such a demonstration as enlightening as it might be would miss the point.
1) An abstract notion of nature that is up to scientific standards is not all that is at stake but also the politics of nature images.
2) A critical argument that relies on the abstract evolutionary paradigm of a cumulative progress towards cognition and takes its qualitative advancements as a critical measure would be rather dubious.
3) It would also miss its objective completely because, emphasizing the diachronic perspective, would mean the neglect of the concrete socio-political structure, which is what determines the function and value of the ecological theory and movement as well.
Horkheimer once referred to this structural complex very decidedly:
One cannot generally and apriorily determine what meaning and value a certain knowledge has. That rather depends on the respective overall state of society, the concrete situation to which it belongs. Thoughts insulated from their contexts and identical in their content can be immature and fantastic at one time, out-dated and obsolete at another. And yet, at a certain historical moment they may constitute the factors of a world-changing power. (Horkheimer 1968: 245)
In other words the late-capitalist renaissance of a nature consciousness and its relevance in the context of a social controversy need not be a regress per se or a symptom of compensatory satisfaction. It can also be an expression of one's resistance to the progressive instrumentalization and exploitation of nature and thus give evidence for social progress.
Viewed in this perspective, all the ambiguity of the ecological program comes to light. For it provokes a form of increasing domination and suppression of nature, which is technically already available. This new potential for domination was only waiting for a new kind of nature consciousness and ecological reason brought it into the world where it is being recognized and implemented in a political and social manner. Objectively, the ecological discourse promotes the politics of cybernetic 'rearmament' of nature and society as vehemently as it expresses, subjectively, the contrary opinion.
This critique is not directed against a polemical practice in the name of a suppressed nature, neither against the unmasking of a corrupt, pseudo-democratic and stagnant policy, and not at all against decentralized alternative models of technology and economy. But it is directed against a concept at the back of ecological theory which plays into the hands of a technology that may supercede all the instrumental knowledge about nature currently at hand with which the capitalist or communist, for that matter, craze for rationality and production has presented us in all its contempt for nature. As its own 'imaginary', i.e. ecological task, the domination of nature threatens to become absolute: no 'nature' is going to be left.
I would like to argue this thesis taking issue with G. Bateson's ideas in his Ecology of Mind (Bateson 1972). Since the ecological discourse refers, to a great part, to him (Maren-Griesebach 1982: 33), and since his writings reflect a number of ecological background notions, I will point out some of the basic theoretical problems of his approach (1-6). Then I will lay out the cause and the course of events by which the eco-movement promotes the technocratic 'rearmament' of nature (7-9).
II. The (Mind's) Ecology Threatens Nature
This is Bateson's claim: "I think that cybernetics is the biggest bite out of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that mankind has taken in the last 2000 years" (Bateson 1972: 476). "If we understand a little bit of what we're doing, maybe it will help us to find our way out of the maze of hallucinations that we have created around ourselves" (ib.: 475). Cybernetics will help us find our way out of the maze because "with the discovery of cybernetics, systems theory, information theory and so on" we eventually begin to have "a formal base enabling us to think about mind and [...] all these problems" (ib.: 450) of nature and human society. Cybernetics, systems-, game-, and information theory provide the paradigmatic knowledge about the inner being of all things and about that which interconnects them. From the amoeba to the eco-systems of human civilization everything that moves functions according to the same structural laws of self- regulating behaviour. It comes as no surprise that for cybernetic reason "the problems of government are biological" (ib.: 437). "The systemic nature of the individual human being, the systemic nature of the culture in which he lives, and the systemic nature of the biological, ecological system around him" (ib.: 434) form a corner stone of the cybemetic world view. Our purposive human consciousness that is almost blind to it breaks into this systemic nature. "Purposive consciousness pulls out, from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure" (ib.: 434).
Bateson thinks the purposive human consciousness to be a universal fault that systematically distorts the data-input on the screen of consciousness. This fault is something like an anthropological constant. Human consciousness is purposive, i.e. it selects from all possible data in the universe only that part which bears a specific relevance at the moment. This strategy, that imposes external goals onto self-regulating systems, has terrible practical consequences for it tempts humans and scientists to solve problems momentarily with the help of pragmatic 'tricks' - this temporal perspective goes as far as its goals let one expect. Instead of revealing the truth of 'whole circuits' the instrumental purposive selection of data allows one to analyze only 'arcs of circuits' (ib.: 445). In the age of large scale technologies, more and more efficient machines, transport systems and energy supplies, weapon technology and the abundant use of chemical substances in nature, in short, in the age of the increasing aggressivity of civilatory interference with nature, the systemic nature of all life is threatened with a general collapse. It is about to lose its balance. Bateson applies this scheme of criticism to all kinds of things, from the use of the insecticide DDT to maladies of epistemology and to the Versailles peace treaty.
1. The Error of the Divine Spectator
Cybernetic analysis maintains that human cognition works according to selective perception and human practice according to an anthropologically constant pattern which is momentary usefulness. But without saying that cybernetic analysis is exempted from this and located on the outside that amounts to a divine perspective. In classic fashion Bateson displays the aporia of cybernetics and systems-theory: it has to view the observer or theoretician as part of the system and at the same time cannot but place him on the outside of the divine apparatus that simulates the system. Theory does not manage to integrate the purposive rationality of the one who analyses the system. As a conscious, purposive organism (servomechanism) man is the lesser part of a greater whole that Bateson calls the 'mind'. Consciousness has to subordinate and adapt itself to the mind (ib.: 461).
At the same time, man, in the shape of the system-analyzer moves into the position of the divine eye which attempts, from the outside, to represent the regulating circuits and imaginary balances. For how should the part, consciousness, know how to get into the organic all-in-one unity of the mind if systems-theory and cybernetics does not offer it the self-regulated and lawful character of life? Cybernetic systems-theory relates to the ecology of external nature as the invocation of the 'wisdom of the body' relates to the regulated circuit of the internal life. The latter works according to the romantic experience of nature by analogy - as Novalis says in one of his fragments: "Man is a source of analogies for the universe" - or by Pascal's algorithm of the heart (ib.: 139).
Again one has recourse to an experience that is undistorted by purposive reason - the primary process of psychoanalysis or the true content of unconscious communication - in order to escape the vicious dialectics of critique and system. Bateson always flirts with the idea that cybernetically-informed reason of a circuit-regulated thought, that would balance itself, would reveal the true 'as such' of nature and the mind. He cherishes the idea that the master key in hand would open the door to the inner systemic perspective of natural (biological or social) circuits. The external place of a systems-theoretical analysis corresponds to the innersystemic knowledge about self-regulated lawful nature. On the one hand Bateson maintains- "That arrogant scientific philosophy is now obsolete, and in its place there is the discovery that man is only a part of larger systems and that the part can never control the whole" (ib.: 437). On the other hand the systemic character requires the perception of the 'whole circuit', including the one who interferes with it when he analyzes it. This paradoxal structure is characteristic for the 'alternative' discourse.
In practice this structure leads one to do politics in the usual way, even though now in the name of true, i.e. systemic nature and after becoming a part of the greater whole of an evolutionary order to humbly succumb to the its laws. Regardless of all that nature remains what it is: constructed, technically simulated, produced by a functionalistic rationality. As before, nature appears - understood cybernetically - as the Other, which is of course exposed more than ever to self-righteous and self-conscious industrial domination. In the face of nature as their object, ecology and systems-theory act as subjects. The decentering perspective that views man as a part of the entire process is followed by the madness of an integration into the system that is oblivious of itself. In the end it was only a new and technically improved model that has taken possession of it. As before, nature speaks the language of differential and integral equations. Nature is threatened with total domination. Nature as a cybernetically simulated product offers the due extension of technical applications. Bateson is completely right when he sees the roots of the cybernetic revolution of knowledge not only in physiology (Cannon, Bernhard), biology (Bertalanffy), physics (C. Maxwell) and mathematics but also in connection with the problems of technical data transfer.
As with data transfer the cybernetic model reintroduces the position of the divine spectator and with it comes the behaviorism of externally controlled actions: maybe not in the form of linear stimulus-response sequences, but in the form of input-output circuits of a network of feedback effects. This structure is the problem: the spectator from the outside claims that freedom for himself which he denies those who are acting on the inside of the system. This structure predestines the expert of planning to assume the place of the system analyzer in order to realize his calculations made up of the variables of probable behavior. Skinner's logic is being constantly applied by entire armies of biologists, physiologists, sociologists, physicists, etc. In the name of freedom which science in Skinner's sense claims for itself and its research, this very freedom is being denied to those who have to cooperate on the inside of the scientific system.
This describes the reality principle of scientific thought. It reveals the non-freedom of societies, people, plants, and amino acids while referring to the constitutionally granted freedom of research when analyzing these beings. In order to sustain and to execute this paradox one has to split the logic of action and turn it into schizophrenia; less so because personal defects would be at the base of this logic, but rather because it follows structural presuppostions and expectations that ensure their power thanks to this schizophrenic logic. At present the execution and preservation of power lies mostly in the reproduction of this structure. This self-contradictory and paradox logic preserves power and does not lead to its own destruction - as some optimistic critic would think inspired by the study of history showing that contradiction and paradox are historically unsustainable. Confronted with this logic any criticism is at a loss because it would be based on this very (rational) reality principle of scientific action.
2. The Error of the Laplacean Demon
Bateson comes close to real insight when he emphasizes in his discourse those consequences that would reveal the ambiguous role of systems-theory and cybernetics. As these consequences show their claim is absurd because they prove that it is empirically as well as principally more than difficult to calculate the behavior of highly complex systems and to give sufficient predictions which then could be translated into rational projects. At a certain degree of complexity technical systems (space technology) show calculable irregularities. Socalled 'open systems' (machines, organisms, weather) develop a dynamic of their own because of numerous degrees of independence and several small variations that characterize those systems. Therefore, their behavior cannot be exactly predetermined in whatever number of scenarios and computer simulations. The Laplacean dream of all technocrats fails because minor deviations of initial states can be followed by unexpected effects .
Systems-theory became so powerful, not because of the results of its approach, but because of its pathos and polemic against linear one-dimensional models of the Cartesian paradigm. Its performance was basically a grandious abstraction for it excluded or reduced everything that could not be represented with a few parameters. The symbol of that model was the cross of x and y coordinates with the independent variable x being gradually varied and the value change of the dependent variable being precisely determined. This approach failed completely in the face of the phenomenon of stress, the health or growth processes of world economy, as Meadows and others analyzed it in the report of the Club of Rome. Systems-theory thinks to escape the questions raised here by simulating the interdependency of variables in multi-factored network models, which are very tortuous systems of differential equations. But the contrary is true. With research based on multi-factored theories the problems arise from the fact that they cannot count on the exactness of the natural sciences. This applies to all psychological, social, and economic sciences: the multi-factored concept can only count on weak correlations.
Together with what has been said above about the principal difficulties when calculating physical phenomena, what this means for the prediction of the behavior of complex living or social systems is that one is compelled to take great deviations into account whenever one undertakes global projects based on such predictions. In other words, unexpected side effects are to be expected, since minor variations in the initial conditions of complex systems already suffice to produce disproportionately large shifts in the system structure that may even run counter to any intention. Such programs, like nuclear technology or the new media of communication cannot simply be stopped because of very high investments of money, energy, and symbolic values.
Apart from the possible feedback effects of a systems-theoretical prediction onto the system, it is especially the phenomena of stress, weather, society and ecology that demand too much from the cybernetic concept. In an environment of technological action Bateson embeds this concept into self-conscious purposive rationality. He does not question the logic of self-preservation that is obviously at work, not even when he replaces the Darwinian survival unit of the reproductive individual organism, which survives against its environment, by the new "unit of survival" of a "flexible organism in its-environment" (ib.: 451). Bateson thinks in terms of cybernetically extended functional schemes of the natural sciences and he has to pretend, if his claim for "whole circuits" (ib.: 445) is to make sense, that a few computer runs of systemically reconstructed nature segments represent a true image of nature. In reality there is an almost infinite number of simulations because all phenomena can always be divided into hundred of factors and variables. Paradoxically enough, such procedures produce the kind of complexity that then cannot be controlled. This is not a shortcoming of subjectivity, but part of that apriori form of rationality with which scientific action is mixed up due to its Cartesian paradigm.
Eventually, when questioned for its principle of selection or the relation between variables relevant to a given phenomenon, the subjective purpose, shaped according to a framework of historical practice, reappears and tells of another construction of nature. Every computer simulation that tries to represent the complexity of a system has to allow for exceptions which are arbitrary. But not only that, it also has to account for the constant change of its initial conditions. If system and information theory are capable of anything then it is the very opposite of what Bateson presupposes. To put it simply: highly complex systems escape calculation. Their projected control in the 'mind' of instrumental reason, which dominates systems-theoretical models as well, reaches insurmountable limits.
3. The Error of a Paradigm Shift
The opinion prevails that with a nature simulated by cybernetical models, the nature of nature would have been described in such a way as to accord, after centuries of antic, scholastic and mechanistic darkness, with the immanent laws and mechanisms of nature. As if the cybernetic interference with nature or the human interference that takes networking into consideration would be like a natural interference of nature with nature. Historical experience should make us sceptical of so much nature. Not only because such thoughts hide the nature of the image in which nature has been cast, but also because historical experience draws our attention to a parallel that makes one sceptical. It seems that the policy of the ecological image of nature follows exactly that policy that was put through in the name of the mechanistic world view whose still unforeseeable consequences have brought us to the edge of ecological ruin. Did not the Cartesian image of a causal-mechanically determined nature, also, raise the claim to eventually produce the final image of nature? And did it not vehemently polemicize and calculate against the dark and false nature speculations of the middle ages and antiquity just as ecology does against its predecessors?
Even if the results of ecological science would be undebatable, who would guarantee that they would not get stuck in the metaphors of a certain technique and of the machine world just like the paradigm criticized. Maybe there are differences between both paradigms but they certainly do not consist in the technocratic structure and the presumptuous claim to have once and for all found the formal principles that would solve the question of nature as such, the evolution of the subjective and objective world. That this discourse remains under the sway of powerful abstractions similar to its predecessor completely escapes it. It makes one feel awkward because this policy in the name of the true cybernetic nature of nature simulates, challenges, and suggests technical interferences which supercede by far the entire potential of destruction that the old mechanistic policy ever had. The preachers of ecological systems-theory are spinning in a frenzy, intoxicated with the secret pleasure they take in real and anticipated catastrophies. Here is Bateson:
The cybernetic epistemology which I have offered you would suggest a new approach. The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in pathways and messages ouside the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger individual mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by 'God', but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology. (ib.: 461)
Let us follow this with reference to a German advocate of ecology:
Ecology as a basis of action, for politics. And since it is a scientific basis that can be exactly proven, that is verifiable, i.e. satisfies the demands of western scientific rationality, nobody could get around it. [...]. Oh sancta simplicitas! If only ecology was a subjective spleen, if only it did not stem from matter itself, if only it was a religion, how marvelously free would we be in our decisions! But ecology is cogent. To ignore is insights would mean destruction [...] since its laws control us and are beyond our control. (Maren-Griesebach 1982)
Holism, the true unity of mythical mind arches over cybernetics. Extreme scientism and the mythical union of nature counterbalance each other in the ecological image of nature. What will remain if one takes away - which will anyway eventually be the course of science - the idealization of nature and the moral political protest? Whoever believes that he holds in hand the key that opens all doors does not think social action 'in service of the evolution' to be a politically dangerous measure of control. We experience a frightening new edition of systematic thought. Certainly this is not the sort of huge metaphysical system of rationality from the beginning of modernity which helped the rising bourgeoisie express its self-consciousness. Now it takes the shape of functionalistic strategies that pretend cybernetically and wholistically to save a world from sinking.
4. The Error of a Metarationality
In order to discuss a problem that is connected with this I will go back to how Bateson refers to schemes of the theory of information. "One of the roots of cybernetics goes back to Whitehead and Russel and what is called the Theory of Logical Types" (Bateson 1972: 475). Basically that means "that no class can, in formal logical or mathematical discourse, be a member of itself; that a class of classes cannot be one of the classes which are its members; that a name is not the thing named" (ib.: 280). Russel and Whitehead give a semantic rule according to which every expression thematizising itself has no sense. Ignoring this insight leads to paradoxa or logical antinomies as in the famous case where a Cretian says: 'all Cretians are liers'. Or in another version: 'what I am saying now is wrong'.
According to the theory of logical types the emergence of antinomies is avoided by structuring things or quantities into a hierarchy of steps and levels. Individuals (objects of any kind) belong to the lowest level, the quantities of individuals belong to the second level, the quantities of the second level belong to the third and so on. In a semantic analysis this results in a differentiation between narrative expressions that relate to objects and metanarrative expressions that relate to narrative expressions (about objects) and so on. Thus the confusion of the different levels is avoided, which otherwise would result in semantic nonsense.
The theory of logical types is the basis or 'guideline' for the analysis of all phenomena of communication (ib.: 282). Bateson thinks it to be so fundamental that he accuses those who disobey it of obsolescence (ib.: 279). Apart from a series of highly dubious additional assumptions (Stegmüller 1969: 437) that need to be introduced into the system, it is easy to see that one never reaches the end in this manner if one does not arbitrarily break off the recourse, i.e. that either pure dogmatism or infinite regress is the fate of this construction. Eventually this means that this kind of analysis of objects, i.e. the analysis of language and communication turns into a powerful strategy of suppressing necessary self-reflection.
Any possible self-reflection of human communication is postponed to the respective penultimate metaperspective because of the infinite regress that follows from this structure. The divine spectator constantly takes refuge in the next advanced metaperspective in order not to be arrested. As in the arms race the round-about of metalevels is turning. This has mostly to do with the reduction of living communication to exchanges of information that occur within theory; or, in other words, human and animal communication is conceived in analogy to the technical transfer of information. Meanwhile, this theoretical structure has become the main element of a positivistic practice of science. When representing reflective or communicative processes, information-theory turns into a world full of potential threats since we must constantly be afraid to be tried in the court of the next higher authority. It is a notion of communication and reflection which is afraid of the very fear that it spreads itself. One is immediately reminded of Kafka's novels and parables, of the endless hierarchies, flights of stairs, laws, and judges. It goes on infinitely without any rest. Eventually it exhausts life and all motion. Finite life lives in the shadow of inherent threats that bear the stigma of 'schlechter Unendlichkeit' (Hegel). Without Kafka's writings one cannot show how absurd it is to answer questions of human actions in terms of a communication analysis that theorizes types.
Scientific arms races are as absurd as military ones. Their threats are as frightening. The same rationality is at work in both. It structures the world we live in. This statement is different from the one that says that nobody in this world (the ones in power in the first place) is interested in fighting the real causes of our problems; that one only treats the symptoms or does cosmetics. The problem does not lie here, just as it is of no use to turn radical or to get at the roots of things when they are rhizomes. The problem is the shift or deferral of true rationality onto a higher level: whenever we get there it is gone.
In this case one need not take the usual path of criticism and reveal contradictions and aporias, for this structure is not simply wrong like an incorrectly executed addition. The sheer representation of the reality principle very much in question here shows why this model cannot be the solution of the problem.
5. The Error of Scientific Power
The structure of science is its function. Since quite some time the theory, sociology and history of science have tried to seize it scientifically. Hence one cannot conduct research without the concept of a science of science. Secondary research must always accompany primary research. The task of secondary research is
to pursue and smooth-out the deep traces that the use of modern science leaves on everyday life [...]. The budget of federal research ministry testifies to the scope of its activities: there, eight million DM to improve the working-conditions in the textile industry are calling for about twelve million DM to do research on this project in the fields of social science, technology and economics. [...] Even if one is unconscious of it or does not intend to make science the topic science, self-referentiality and self-mirroring are necessary consequences of what one has called the scientifization of society. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, April 27, 1982)
In other words, this result of scientific research on science is not simply the arbitrary product of frightened scientists who are afraid that they might soon be out of work, but it comes with the non-reflective function of science. Science fixed in its objectifying perspective leaves its traces on the object of research which it can neither read nor extinguish. Self-reflection remains, because of its structure, a program that cannot be run.
Of course, tertiary research is to be expected. The path from secondary to tertiary research is predelineated. "Meanwhile, with support of the [German Research Society] it has been taken. [...] Not only research shall be researched, but also research on this project. [...] The endless screw, that marks the progress of science, has been turned a full cycle; more cycles are possible" (ib.).
One can here add some critical remarks about our culture. I will mention but not discuss two of them because they only peripherally concern this topic. Does not a scientific arms race suggest the view that a science, which differentiates between the constitutive functions of the spectator and the participant, cannot be the agent to whom society can delegate the tasks of 'truth', 'sense', and 'emancipation' - as one can read in Robert Musil as well as in Niklas Luhmann? Is it not that science merely repeats what modern philosophy with its self-critical scepticism declared obsolete after a radical analysis of its presuppositions?
I would like to show how the non-reflective structure, for instance, of a positivistic practice of science, behaves according to the structural model of theoretical types and that this model works as a gigantic strategy of exclusion that cannot but come back to itself as a threatened and degraded object. As indicated above, seen in this way, this model is not simply wrong. The reason one can give is that it mirrors its own non-reflective order which determines the Cartesian paradigm as well as the ecological system-theory that is backed up by the divine eye. According to this model man cannot be participant and spectator at the same time - even though he always is. Only if one models him in terms of strictly positivistic rules of behavior is he hopelessly lost in a dilemma as the 'participant spectator'.
Scientific practice, as the object of scientific representation, cannot revolt against this threatening observation. First, because its submission serves scientific progress and second, because the model of scientific representation with the ideal spectator is one of a transparent order which reflects its objects clearly and unequivocally as if in a mirror on the outside of the universe. A psychoanalysist cannot evade acting as the 'super-visor' who, with his absolute gaze, has the task to discover and register his system of unconscious delegations and manipulations. This threatening posture of the next higher authority is essential to scientific rationality. It becomes visible when a new level is introduced. It uncovers the latent claim to power of any scientific research whenever one touches its structure. Its strategy to insulate itself from criticism is revealing because it ensures its power by means of rational criticism. The power structure is rational and rationality is the end and means of a threatening self-preserving power.
The logical and methodological rigor appropriate to the field of theoretical reason is completely inappropriate to the field of human practice. What applies perhaps to logical and mathematical quantities need not apply generally to human and animal language and communication. Bateson does not understand that human practice commands communicative uncertainty as an extremely meaningful presuppostion of human action which accordingly has to be represented in theory. Science does away with this moment of uncertainty and always suffers the same shortcomings. One may call it prudence (Aristotelian phronesis), wisdom or plain common sense but there are areas "where rigor [la rigueur] is rigorously present [de rigueur]" and other areas where "the requirement of rigor is the safe indication of an uneducated mind" (Castoriadis 1981: 235). The crass disregard for the communicative uncertainty principle, which occurs in each reduction of human linguistic action according to the rules of technical models of data transfer, is the other feature at the heart of cybernetic-ecological thought that makes one sceptical. Accordingly it is only consistant to maintain: "The ethics can now be looked at with formality, rigor, logic, mathematics, and all that, and stands on a different sort of basis from mere invocational preachments" (Bateson 1972: 475). This reminds one of Maren-Griesebachs well-meant, but erroneous statement, quoted above, "Ecology is cogent".
6. The Error of Scientific Communication
A conversation, a talk, a bit of communication is not an exchange of information and cannot be represented in theoretical terms of data transfer. Apart from a series of social and psychological peculiarities, the systematic reason for this incongruity consists in the presupposition - which the theory of data transfer necessarily has to make - that the signs and their meaning, on both sides of sender and receiver, are determined exactly and without any uncertainty by definite lexical and grammatical rules for the interpretation of signs. This presupposition never exists in the living and developing use of language. This use can only be homogenized at the price of a complete solidification of communication. Information-theory ignores all concrete content in its representation of communicative processes. It is only interested in the neutral quantification of formal possibilities to differentiate. Maybe a very limited formal exchange could be represented sufficiently in this way, but even the 'languages' of individual sciences cannot be thusly represented. Their development would immediately stagnate if they fell under the gaze of such a theory.
In this context it is important to remind the reader of that concept worked out by German idealism for the 'I', 'consciousness' and 'reflection' in general. Wilhelm von Humboldt put it in terms of his language philosophy: that which occurs between two or more communicating people cannot be interpreted according to objective knowledge. Information is not simply transferred from one to the other. Of course, this can be the case, but it is not the basic structure of communication, maybe only a special case. If one examines the process of communication in the fashion of an objective transfer of information, one treats information like molecules and presupposes that that which the one receives is the same and identical with that which the other has sent or emitted.
But that need not be the case at all. With regard to an everyday conversation this presupposition is often wrong. Strictly speaking it also escapes all examination. It is absolutely not necessary that those who are involved in communication and who understand each other have to relate the same ideas or meanings to the same words, expressions and metaphors. They can miss each other and yet think that they understood each other or one can understand the other better than oneself. Communication happens between the two. (It is the difference that makes a difference, it is the absolute difference that constantly moves and that divides itself in every individual that relativizes it. This is a great problem of all (language) theory informed by formal logics.) Communication does not take place in the sense that it cannot be formalized and identified in bits. It cannot be compressed into spatial coordinates to form a measurable object. It is of course an event in this world and of this world, but as difference that makes a difference it cannot be fixated, even though it has objective qualities which alone can be quantified. This is the error Bateson makes and all communication and information theorists.
7. The Fate of Success: Ecology Becoming a Hard Science
The discourse of ecology that runs along notions of network-thinking, the systemic structure of nature, regulated circuits, natural balance, the variety and stability of species, etc. consists of a dark mixture of scientistic dictatorship and moralistic prophecy. It is attractive and compels one to identify with it because it synthesizes the rationality of scientific action with the memory of hopes into a future of authentic experience, life and nature.
It seems that this discourse has managed to fuse happily wholistic experience with scientific scenarios of cybernetic processes. The translation of the feel for wholeness, unity, harmony, balance, tides and periods into scientific patterns of action seems to have been successful. This synthesis that the romantics also hoped for is the essence or the epitome of a life in balance with nature. It is the ring that the term 'ecology' has. It is not only an analytical instrument for representing circuit-regulated 'natural' connections, but at the same time - implicitly - a synomym for the postulate how naturally and environmentally one should really think and act.
However, I suspect that the more ecology becomes established and falls under the reign of scientific rationality the more it loses its critical function and comes down to a scientific discipline among others. As a discipline it anxiously watches out that it remains a science that has learned its lesson: to distinguish in an analysis between what is and what should be. I also suspect that this process cannot be stopped. First, because the eco-discourse has put claims on a fictitious notion of unity. The rationality of cybernetic network modelling has simply been worked over with the jargon of wholeness, union and balance. Second, because certain central notions of ecology are charged with strong normative determinations. This difference between wholistic jargon and scientific determination will emerge to the extent that other discourses claim their divergent interests.
I also think that this process of differentiation has commenced and continues until nature appears rather naked, clad in nothing else but a suit that cyberneticians, systems-theorists, environmental and landscape planners have fabricated. Nature will then be a completely simulated nature, a cybernetic scenario. The ecological movement unwittingly contributes to this development by reducing the level of resistance towards a far-reaching, progressive, i.e. technically determined notion of nature. Consequently the instrumentalization of nature will advance by another turn of the theoretical screw.
8. The Fate of Defeat: Ecology Losing its Cutting Edge
In his "Ökologie pur. Denkstück (1)" R. Dahl has shown very instructively which "favorite notions of ecological world view are not covered by scientific ecology: balance, circulation, network, stability through diversity, and others". As an example I would like to quote a number of passages regarding the notion of 'ecological balance' which indicate what remains of ecological thought if one makes deductions from certain popular ideas concerning ecology.
This very basic notion [...], which reminds one very intensely of paradise and tender harmony, is therefore also the source [...] of numerous misunderstandings. There is no ecological balance, as little as there is a car that drives straight ahead. At the most there is a constant oscillation around a middle mark, the pointer of the scales dancing, and in most cases tipping on one or the other side [...]. First of all, this highly sensitive balance, if it ever establishes itself, is not at all the main goal of all ecology, as many of its followers believe. Ecology does not know such a goal, but only the way of life and that does not lead straight ahead to the Elysean fields, but only around in circles and through destruction. The manifold relations between organisms within a given environment are constantly disturbed and often enough deastrously. [...] When a valley with trees and animals and villages has been dammed up and turned [...] into a reservoir it is an ecological process - an ecological desaster [...] for all that was alive before, but soon the lake rests and becomes home to new life. Like on a turning stage one scene immediately follows the other and if after a few years industrial sewage [...] has enriched the lake with poisonous substances there may be new desasters again [...]. Species of animals and plants withdraw from these unbearable living conditions, whereas bacteria and algae flourish in abundance. However this is, even if it should seeth and stink, nothing but a lively ecological texture teeming with happy microbes. If someone would be disgusted by it and declare this lake of algae polluted and dead as it is in fact - he would have to take the criteria for this judgment from some place else but ecology which only describes what is and does not care whether we find it useful or beautiful.
With its statistics ecology represents causal connections and regulated feedback circuits. Analysing those can sometimes help to roughly predict future developments. Whether something destroys or balances a given organism depends on one's perspective.
The conception of how a comfortable world should be constituted looks to a house-fly differently than to the inhabitants of this house, to a tree-frog differently than to a gold-fish - to a cholera bacillus differently than to someone ill with cholera. [...] It's a matter of opinion if an environment is ecological intact and it depends on the invidual needs of the one who judges and who wants to live in this environment. (Dahl 1982: 74, 76).
What Dahl describes seems to be an anticipation of the fate of ecology. Initial scientific self-reflection will unavoidably separate 'weak' eco-philosophy from 'hard' eco-cybernetics, which consequently results in taking refuge in traditional orders of discourse.
This is what Dahl exemplifies with his own "Denkstück (2)". The distinction between the scientific analysis of facts and moralistically postulated action is followed by the defence of the 'Federgeist' moth out of aesthetic motives and for reasons of its uniqueness. This small moth being completely useless and unimportant for cybernetic ecology never enters any computer calculation. Its uniqueness evades systems- theoretical evaluation. "For numeric ecology this 'Federgeist' moth is completely superfluous". It only watches over "the functioning of closely defined subcircuits" and remains fixated on "the relation berween cause and effect, predator and prey" (Dahl 1983: 46). As little as a computer simulation is able to know or wants to know about the uniqueness of this moth just as little does it know the experience of nature's lavish beauty. The language of its program is that of technocratically designed rationality of means and ends.
As appealing as this defence of nature against the truth of ecology may be, it only represents the modern differentiation of nature as a notion that is about to take effect in ecology. On the one hand, there is the scientifically postulated hunter-predator, subject-object mentality that defines its relation to nature based on a computer model, and on the other hand there is the special, the individual, the unique, the 'purposiveness without purpose' (Kant) of aesthetic experience that can hardly be simulated. This concept reproduces the Cartesian-Kantian schema against which the ecological discourse was to revolt against. The undifferentiated eco-mix becomes eco-pure. Except for the introduction of the analysis of regulated circuits nothing in the relation to nature has changed however much a seemingly deepened environmental consciousness leads one to believe. On the contrary, 'nature' is exposed more than ever to technocratic subjection and exploitation.
This process depraves eco-nature of its identificatory and stimulating objectivity. All knowledge projected onto nature for orientation and legitimation becomes obsolete. What remains is a nature technology which replaces the one that was less effective and that inclined towards totalitarianism.
The danger of political totalitarianism appears to be rather small because of the heterogeneous composition of movements. It appears small even though the feeling that the unity of life has been lost, that the harmony of the whole is gone and that an inner conflict and a loss of sense dominates all expressions of life, always creates a situation which undoubtedly tends to call for the imposition of an order and a unity onto society as well as onto nature. This is the interest which has existed since the beginning of modernism when one took up a mortgage on nature for the sake of progress in history.
9. Our Ecological Fate: Performative Self-Contradiction
It seems as if we are rehearsing one of those tragic-comical plays of modern history. We keep ourselves at a critical distance from the rationality of the system (of science, technology, and economy) and intend to act rationally as well. But the general dynamic of the system's rationality overrides, disappropriates and reinterprets the individual's rationality. The ruse of reason has been built into the system as the "power that always wills the good and always does the evil" (Goethe, slightly altered). It would be deadly to ignore this fundamental structural incongruity. One can suspect that the eco-movement will suffer this fate, even if one does not wish it to do so. In our time there does not seem to be anything that could regulate our behavior so that both reality principles would converge happily.
A number of ethnologists claim that the difference between archaic cultures and ours consists especially in the fact that with an archaic culture the knowledge of one segment of their culture (hunting habits or exchange of gifts) suffices to reconstruct the organisational structure of all other areas (religious rites, relations between relatives, etc.). As for our culture one could not undertake this kind of reconstruction. If this is true, that in a modern society one cannot reconstruct the private rules of intimate communication from a knowledge of the rational structures of economic or technical processes, then it is important to consider this difference because otherwise we will soon be surprized by the 'reality' we (do not) live in. Ecological discourse leads one to believe that it is 'the ultimate metanarrative' of our times. But instead of turning the theoretical screw a bit further and critically suggest the next meta-level I would prefer to leave off with a critical difference. Even if aporia is not a very good motivation for action it is better than any new belief be it religiously wholistic or rationally scientific. For our own sake we have to keep an eye on the difference between the construction of nature and the nature of the construction. In this sense the critique of ecological discourse may actually serve 'nature' better.
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Kurt W. Back, Professor emer. of Sociology, Duke University, USA.
Vladimir Biti, Professor of Literature, Zagreb University, Croatia
Tim Cloudsley, Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Glasgow Polytechnic, UK
Noel Gray, Professor,University of Sydney, Australia
Stipe Grgas, Associate Professor of Literature, ZadarUniversity, Croatia
Nikolay P. Grinzer, Research Fellow, Dept. for Slavic Studies, University of Moscow, Russia
Svend Erik Larsen, Center Director, Humanities Research Center: Man and Nature, Odense University, Denmark
Margit Mogensen, Research Archivist, National Archives, Copenhagen, Denmark
John Neubauer, Professor of Literature, Amsterdam University, The Netherlands
Tadeusz Rachwal, Associate Professor of Literature, University of Silesia, Poland.
John L. Stanley, Professor of Political Sciences, University of California, Riverside, USA
Geoff Wells, Associate Professor of Political Sciences, Wayland Baptist University, USA
Thomas Wägenbauer, Research Fellow, Deutsches Seminar, Tübingen, BRD
Nicholas Xenos, Professor of Political Sciences, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.