Wednesday, April 03, 2002

How Water Began to Play-Ted Hughes

I always enjoy Maureen's lectures and look forward to her readings for the week. I think it is because I always learn something new about what I have read, even if I have read it over several times. Someone inevitably has a different take on it. I never thought I could say such a thing about poetry, but there it is.

What I took away from this poem was a sense of saddness, frustration and circularity. When I first read this poem, I thought that water was a victim of sorts, wanting to play with the popular kids and never being allowed. Then, on my second reading, I began to see cyclic aspects to the water. I likened the water's behaviour to the cycling of water in the atmosphere, evaporating and precipitating out as rain over the course of millenia. The end of the poem does not seem to fit with this idea, however, because the water stops "weeping" and falls to the bottom, worn out. I am not entirely sure what this means. I also found the imagery about the womb, the blood and the knife very thoughtful. It occurred to me that this might be a metaphor for the earth, with the womb as the earth itself, sheding its blood from a wound made by the knife of humanity slicing through and into it. I could also be way off-base. I am also curious about a few things in the poem that still have not resonated yet within my brain. What is the stone door? Why did the water want to die? How did the water end up "utterly clear"?

Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, Foreword and Introduction-William Cronon

The first idea that popped into my head as I was reading the foreword to this article was the similarity of events that happened in the U.S. and in Ontario regarding the undoing of environmental gains. The Harris government was successful in unraveling several decades worth of environmental protection and preservation in a few short years, with his Common Sense Revolution. The counter-resistance has not yet materialized and the small gains that have been made seem to reverse themselves almost immediately (e.g. the Oak Ridges Moraine development). Now on the eve of his departure from politics, the Premier is unrepentant, petulantly claiming that if he were to do it again, he would push forward even faster. Disheartening, to say the least. In a way, I guess, that comes to the heart of the article. Mike Harris is imposing his values and meanings onto nature just as I am imposing mine. I think Cronon makes a good point when he reminds us that the natural world is couched within our cultural world. Indeed, it is a theme that we have been following throughout this course. We view nature through the highly cultured lenses we have on. Nature without our perceptions does not exist. It reminds me of philosopher Gene Spitler's argument that the anthropocentric viewpoint cannot be abandoned, no matter how hard we try to shed it and guard against such intrusions. The dynamism of the natural world adds to this confusion. I do think that environmentalists in the future will have to, at some point or another, acknowledge the cultural and historical intrusions of humans into nature before any real gains can be made. Here again, we come back to the idea of blurring the boundaries between the natural and the unnatural. The natural becomes unnatural and the unnatural morphs into the natural, in our thinking. This reminds me of our first essay which asked the question, does nature exist? I would now answer this question: "Yes, within our culture, morals and mind." Nature does not exist as something separate from culture.

I also found the discussion of our insistence on colonizing areas that are blatantly risky. I remember discussing this phenomenon in my natural disasters class and the conclusions that was drawn was that people often think that disasters happen to "other" people and not them. Then, when they do strike, the inevitable sentiment to come out of the disaster is bewilderment and powerlessness over the unpredictableness of nature. We sometimes have such a love-hate relationship with the earth it is comical sometimes.

Nature, as the One Thing, like God, is an interesting point. We, in North America, tend to view nature in certain ways, which we assume that everyone else must have and routinely impose on other different cultures and landscapes. That way, nature is seen "...as if it had no cultural context, as if it were everywhere and always the same." The example that comes to mind is the remodelling of entire landscapes by Capability Brown and his fellow architects who completely revamped entire sites to fit with their view of nature.

Also echoed in this article was the reference to nature as the morally good and the right. Although I did not quite follow the argument put forth by Cronon surrounding the debate of the gnatcatcher, I tried to put aside my initial indignation to see what he was trying to say about our use of nature in our arguments surrounding it. The idea of Paradise lost and trying to recreate Eden can be seen from both points sides of the debate, although I would argue that there is more to the debate than just underlying beliefs and values. The developers have an idea what the landscape should look like and have become indifferent to the landscape that the environmentalists see as nature, according to Cronon. Pigeon-holing ourselves into our own nature constructs can prevent us from moving forward on many environmental issues. This is another theme that has occurred several times throughout the course.

Another theme that cropped up in this article is the converging of the natural and the virtual. Last week's readings dwelt on this issue in quite some depth. Cronon argues that computers cannot create the perfectly controlled nature in the virtual world becaue the closer it comes to imitating real nature, the more chaotic it becomes. This is somewhat counter to the idea proposed by Wertheim that cyberspace is the new Paradise. This also ties in with the commodification of nature. I love going into the Discovery store and other nature stores. It makes me feel connected and less commercial but essentially what I am buying into is the image that the Discovery store has packaged up for me. My tenuous connection to nature is nothing but commercial ties after all.

What it all boils down to is the meaning of nature and the garden. We shape meanings from nature but not the other way around. We have been debating this since the beginning of September so I don't expect the answer to come to me suddenly in an epiphany. I now think that I know less than I ever did about this question than when I started this course because I now realize the scope, breadth and depth of the issue.

A Map to the Next World-Joy Harjo

Reading this poem, I was immediately struck by the lament for a polluted, abused and taken-for-granted world. Harjo beautifully captures the unappreciation we have for the earth and our forgetfulness of how much we depend on it. She laments over the loss of our indigenous knowledge, much of the Indian culture and our traditional folklore in favor of technology. Technology, no matter how brilliant, will only be just that. Knowedge, however, can become so much more.

The map for the fifth world will be a map for our children, guiding them through the maze of roads, extinction, pollution and destruction and takes them through a history of the generations that came before, leaving behind the great big mess. Yet at the end of the poem, I detected a bit of optimism. If I am reading it correctly, I think that Harjo believes that our future may learn from our map and chart a new course...that we are not doomed to repeat history. At least I would like to think that.
Reflections on Cyborg Manifesto and Katherine Parrish's lecture

As I was surfing the blogs, I came across Kady's entry regarding the Cyborg Manifesto of last week. She described it as chaotic but good. I am inclined to agree. The Cyborg Manifesto, at the best of times, is still difficult, as I mentioned in last week's blog. Even having read it twice, I still came out with new meanings and understandings. I have a feeling it will be like that for several more readings. I also got that same sense from some of my other classmates as well. I also think that Kady brought up a good point surrounding the idea of blurred boundaries. I think the Cyborg Manifesto does indeed blur the boundaries between human and organic. Donna Haraway defines the cyborg on the first page of her manifesto as a hybrid of organic and technologic. I think that particular description rings very true, especially in the twenty-first century. After all, we have people walking around with artificial hearts and pacemakers, metal plates in their heads and pins in their knees. I forsee more of this hybrid emerging in the future and am interested to see where virtual reality and the internet will take us. As an interesting note, the word manifesto, as defined in Webster's dictionary, means "a public declaration of motives and intentions by a government or by a person or group regarded as having some public importance." Thus, I don't think that it was unintentional that Haraway should have chosen to title her piece Cyborg Manifesto. Is can a manifesto be a metanarrative?

With respect to the lecture, I want to comment on the idea of the digital garden, that Katherine brought up. The boundary, she says, is blurred. Boundaries all over the place seem to be blurred. Human-animal, animal-plant, digital-natural. It is an interesting to think of the digital garden as this huge expanse that transgresses many boundaries. I envision the digital garden as being something like the sound garden. A garden that cannot be contained within the bounds of a computer but flows and surrounds us in everyday life. For instance, how often do we hear silence over the course of the day? How often do we not interact with the digital over the course of the day. This morning I have used the microwave, the telephone, my computer and my clock. This brings me to a few questions. Can the garden be defined without boundaries? At what point does it cease to become a garden and become something else? Does it ever cease to become a garden?

I also liked the point that was brought up about the metaphors of location and miscommunication. I often use the expression "I am not following you" or "I am not on the same wavelength." I never thought about why this might be so. Perhaps it relates to the idea of being lost, literally and figuratively. On the whole, an interesting point and an interesting lecture.