zaterdag 12 februari 2011

The uncivilized & the inhuman in literature [updated]

Bonobo Kanzi behind the Lexigram board.
Two trajectories have lead me to this quote from Robinson Jeffers preface to his 1948 book of poems 'The Double Axe':
The first part of The Double Axe was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, as of some previous work of mine, is to present a certain philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times; it has objective truth and human value. It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy. It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.

One is remote and one is only a twitter message away. 


Gary Snyder, Zeus of cryptoforestry, cites Jeffers as one of his initial role models and this is not hard to see for someone called 'the poet laureate of deep ecology'. Apparently Snyder has an e-mail address and if I had it I would maybe send him an message. In an interview he also said that he would only mail back when the writer states his location. The old man really is a kind of beatnik Miss Marple.


The Dark Mountain project is a post-environmentalist call-to-arms to artists and writers to, hmmm, wellll, like, eeuhhmm, you know.... I find DM engaging but also infuriating vague; loud on the outside and shallow on the inside, full of ideas on the surface, muddled and confused when held up to the light. This blog is like that as well so I don't mind and I still maintain high hopes for DM. 


Anyway: DM takes its name from a Jeffers poem and his inhumanism is a direct influence on DM's demand for a new 'uncivilized writing'.           
Uncivilised writing is writing which attempts to stand outside the human bubble and see us as we are: highly evolved apes with an array of talents and abilities which we are unleashing without sufficient thought, control, compassion or intelligence. Apes who have constructed a sophisticated myth of their own importance with which to sustain their civilising project. Apes whose project has been to tame, to control, to subdue or to destroy—to civilise the forests, the deserts, the wild lands and the seas, to impose bonds on the minds of their own in order that they might feel nothing when they exploit or destroy their fellow creatures. 
Against the civilising project, which has become the progenitor of ecocide, Uncivilised writing offers not a non-human perspective—we remain human and, even now, are not quite ashamed—but a perspective which sees us as one strand of a web rather than as the first palanquin in a glorious procession. It offers an unblinking look at the forces among which we find ourselves.“
Here is my problem: inhumanism is not inhuman & uncivilization is not uncivilized. It defines a humanism and civilization with a greater scope, as if the human object just inherited a full class of non-human attributes: can I suggest extrahumanism and extracivilized as alternatives?  


As it turns out Henry David Thoreau anticipated Jeffers without needing to invent a fancy new word. In 1851, at the end of his life, Thoreau described the poetry he wanted to write as giving expression to nature: 
The science of Humboldt is one thing, poetry is another thing. The poet today, notwithstanding all the discoveries of science, and the accumulated learning of mankind, enjoys no advantage over Homer.
Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them--transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a library--aye, to bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind, annually, for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding Nature. 
I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side, the best poetry is tame. I do not know where to find in any literature, ancient or modern, any account which contents me of that Nature with which even I am acquainted. You will perceive that I demand something which no Augustan nor Elizabethan age, which no culture, in short, can give. Mythology comes nearer to it than anything. How much more fertile a Nature, at least, has Grecian mythology its root in than English literature! Mythology is the crop which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted, before the fancy and imagination were affected with blight; and which it still bears, wherever its pristine vigor is unabated. All other literatures endure only as the elms which overshadow our houses; but this is like the great dragon-tree of the Western Isles, as old as mankind, and, whether that does or not, will endure as long; for the decay of other literatures makes the soil in which it thrives.
PrimatePoetics, my own long term project, explains my own commitment to the spectre of extrahuman literature. 


Thank you.

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