The Great Tractor Show

In November, the poet Howard Brown and I are giving a show about tractors. He has the long poem. I have gallery walls. Somehow we’ll make this work. We’ve been taking photos. It has been haunting. Two farm boys at the end of the world of farming, suddenly seeing what we just saw before as work.P1410917 Here’s Howard, deep in thought and memory.P1410017So many guys out there, trying to find the shape of their bodies in time. There are no words for it… except for Howard’s maybe. Got any tractor stories? Any tractor photos? Send them along! Look at this old John Deere go, right in traffic!

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Amazing. Machines built on a human scale, as if they were tools. They were. Like I said, amazing.

 

Canada and the Okanagan

Canada does not deserve this land. It burns it…

P1420057 Forest Fire Smoke Over Okanagan Landing

… it tries to make it hotter than it is …P1420206

 

Plasticized Soil (Weeds, plastic, clay), Bella Vista

The goal is to increase the heat of the season.

… it xeriscapes it, for maximum water efficiency …

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Note the fireplace ashes.

… it allows wild creatures to survive in road ditches alone …

P1420064Waiting for the Mower Man

This is where the water collects, hence where the life will be, but the mower comes, like clockwork. Gotta protect that infrastructure.

… it creates drought …

P1420086Invasive Cheatgrass Drought

(And the high country water that might have staved off the forest fires. Note the smoke.)

… it disrespects the gift of life …
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Ponderosa Pine Cones in the Garbage

Here is some sign of a badger cleaning up on the gophers invading abandoned orchards …

P1420084Here is the abandoned orchard, gone feral …

P1420076A country that sustains its land values for only one generation does not deserve that land. Its days are numbered.

 

Saving the Grasslands One Garden at a Time

In forest fire season, even the grassland hills are suffering in the smoke.P1420117Note how the golf course road zig-zagging back and forth here manages to take all the water away. Note as well that there are few species growing here: mostly cheatgrass (which is responsible for summer drought), sagebrush, a few mariposa lilies, the odd death camas, a few remaining desert parsleys, the odd thistle and a fair number of blue-bunched wheat grasses. Most of the flowers that bloomed here a century ago, and most of the medicine of the Syilx, are gone. What is a poor bee to do! Aha! Off to Harold’s place!

P1390103As I showed you yesterday, a few square feet of xeriscaping using wild flowers does a few powerful things. You don’t have to irrigate more than two or three times in a season. You don’t have to move the thing. You can have fun scything in the fall (scything is very fun). And birds, toads and insects thrive here. I posted a pair of goldfinches feasting on my catnip yesterday, and then I realized, whoa, just think (and I did): if the normal density of flowers on the grassland hill is about  one plant per square metre, my density of about 200 plants per square metre (I collect the seeds each fall and sow them back in, so there’s no expense) means that in my 25 square metres of wildflower garden I am providing the insect and bird habitat of about 5000 square metres of land up on the hill. That’s pretty close to one acre. Here’s the thing. In my little subdivision there are, oh, I dunno, about 100 houses. If we all took care of an acre like that, 100 acres of grassland could be saved. There are another 100 houses in the subdivision a mile back down the road, and 50 more in the other direction. Just above that one, there are 1000 building lots gouged into the grassland and doing magnificent service in destroying it. I’m thinking today, it doesn’t have to be a story of destruction. If each of these houses had one small wildflower garden, together we’d be helping to maintain some 1250 acres of grassland. If we went further and planted some appropriate plants along our roadsides and walking trails, we could easily double that. It might be that the grasslands are so compromised that they will not return, but that does not mean that we cannot live in them in new ways. It would take almost no water, and, I mean, really, when the alternative is this?

 

P1420192 … or this?

P1420179Walking Around the Old Neighbourhood

More life for less water, and the use of our dwellings to help the grasslands and to bring them close. There’s no downside. This is the kind of things a progressive city council could fix almost instantly. We would become rich.

 

 

 

 

Irony in the Garden

Here’s my front yard. Note the flowers I have planted instead of a lawn. It has been a very exciting place lately. Dozens of species of bees and many species of beetles have been working it for weeks. They’ve all come down from the grassland up on the hill. A big neon-green toad has made her home here, and seems to be getting rich on it. Today, though, was special. Check out the pair of American Gold Finches feeding. They were there for an hour.
P1420041Now, here’s the thing: they were eating catnip seeds. Perhaps they were getting a nice buzz from it, I don’t know, but, um, the neighbour’s cats hang around this stuff. I’m not sure how wise all this is. Still, no harm done, and an hour of beauty. No mowing. How many acres of denuded grasslands have I replaced for these birds and insects in 300 square feet? Lots! Here’s the environmentally approved way of reclaiming grassland after invasive road construction. Note the species diversity.

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People aren’t meant to live alone on the planet. We’d all die of grief.

 

Freeing Photography from the 19th Century Image

Photography got its beginnings as a way of casting onto a chemically treated glass plate an image of the shadows between rays of light. That was magic for the Age of Art, in which representations of objects were usually made by laying down colours of paint on blank canvas. Suddenly, they were made by the pattern of darkness and light, and mostly by darkness. Light was inferred. Well, it’s not the Age of Art anymore. We can begin again. Just look at how light and darkness make images in the world.

sage5 Darkness and Light in the Sagebrush

See how the plants have developed over time, out of the action of rays of light on the matter (chemical and biologically-active molecules) on the surface of the earth? Isn’t that photography? If it is, then so is the way that the light cast onto the human retina creates the colours you see below:

P1410546 Sagebrush and Last Year’s Tumbleweed

The world develops in the human mind into what we see. It might be that what we see in the image below…

P1410615 … is the human mind, or it might be that it is an entirely different mind.sage2 No device can record these effects or develop them from physicality to spirit, but you can.

sage3 Photographs aren’t light images any more. We could call them biographs instead: the amount of developmental energy in a scene transferred to us by the shadows, just as it was with early photographs. This time, though, the shadows are colour

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and light. As they develop on earth, they provide clear images for us.

bladeWe have the ability to develop that energy further, to take it through a process of enlightenment, and free photography from the image.

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The above image is not a photograph. The sagebrush in it is. This is organic photography. An old word for it is ‘life’, but that term separates life from the sun and earth of which they are a part. Better, perhaps, to talk of being and becoming, or in the terms of a biograph, presence and development.

caterpillarYellow Clover in the Process of Becoming a Moth …

in the process of becoming spirit, or, if you will, social energy.

 

 

 

The Thing About Einstein (and Heisenberg)

Yesterday I spoke about the social nature of the scientific systems of both Darwin and Goethe and how their examples gave us the freedom to choose new paths of science to match our contemporary needs for healing a rather broken earth. These two great scientists both lived a long time ago. The nature of structured inquiry into the relationship between humans and the earth didn’t stop with them, no matter how profound their contributions were. So, I think it only fair to dip into newer worlds as well. Today, Einstein (the theory of relativity) and Heisenberg (the uncertainty principle).

Albert_Einstein_Head

Einstein, Who Said “God Doesn’t Play Dice”

The strain of trying to make opposites cohere shows, doesn’t it.

Einstein added the concept of relativity to a system of absolute science, or science that claimed to have found laws that did not change with circumstance. He presented the mathematics that encapsulated the idea that notions of time and space are not absolute but are related to the particular circumstances of an observer (or an observing mode of enquiry). That’s a very jewish observation. It comes from a jewish sense of relational ethics, such as both Abraham and Job, not to mention Abraham’s nearly sacrificed son Isaac, learned to their consternation in the Old Testament.

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The Erfurt Synagogue

One of the few ancient houses of jewish worship surviving in Germany — a place in which a man could be both a German and not a German at the same time, and it wouldn’t be clear which was at play at any given time until circumstances unfolded themselves. Would one be a jew? Or would one be a German? Only the observer (or the circumstances) could determine it. 

This observation puts Einstein’s science closer to Goethe’s than to Darwin’s, in that both Goethe and Einstein were concerned about the observer’s impressions, while Darwin was concerned with a system that an observer could deduce and then apply to make sense of the world. The two concepts are mirror images of each other. And that was Einstein’s problem. He tried to merge his conception of relative time and space and Heisenberg’s conception that matter is not in a determined state until it is observed, even if there is no observer but only a collision with concepts of solidity, with a humanly observable physical world. From the distance of 2014, the two concepts appear pretty much the same, but the attempt to bring them together proved really frustrating for Einstein. It’s kind of a problem that Goethe foresaw, though, although rather poetically. (But why not. He was a poet, too.) Here is the natural formation that enchanted Goethe most of all, a gingko leaf:

P1140779_2Goethe’s Gingko in Leaf, Jena, Germany

The plant that has both male and female genders in different individuals, and which puts out single leaves that are made out of two conjoined parts… Goethe drew inspiration from this model. It spoke to him of an elementary nature in the earth: bisexual relationships.

Well, that’s Goethe speaking as a poet, but perhaps, all the romantic glory of finding a mathematical formula to join the two concepts aside, that’s all one needs: a poet’s practicality. For an understanding of the nature of matter on earth, it matters not a whit whether it is reduced to a mathematical formula or apprehended instantly through poetry. What matters is the deepening of the human-earth relationship through intellectual activity, and that can take place in poetry as much as it can in science. Perhaps that’s the next step in the ladder from Goethe to Einstein to Heisenberg to Today: human systems of consciousness that can merge the human with the earth.

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Not This!

Gnomes in Berlin.

Sometimes these ideas work out in very physical ways. It could be that the evidence of the path that lies open to us is right before us, and to find it all we need to do is read the earth and human social space with the same relativistic tools that Einstein and Heidegger applied to mathematical conceptions. Here, for instance, is the 1960s version of an attempt to reconcile Heisenberg’s science with a practical, industrial worldview from the 1890s, and it is ascendant again:

P1170806 Jerusalem Square, Fulda, Germany

The former synagogue of this ancient pilgrimage city was levelled in the Third Reich, and planted thereafter with flowers, as a space for all people and a kind of permanent grave memorial. It is currently in use by drug dealers, cutting deals on burner cell phones.

Not the way to heal human relationships with the earth! Just around the corner, there is more physical manifestation of these scientific principles, again very much from a previous generation:

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Former Jewish Businessman’s Town House, Fulda

Offices now, whereas once it spoke of a marriage between the sacred and the profane.

Still not good enough! One way to move forward is to honour the earth by speaking for her. I can easily do the Goethean thing, and bring the next step in this science forward in imagery. This, for example, is the earth speaking.

moth So is this.

P1140982You will notice that she speaks in neither language nor mathematics, yet mathematics and language are the tools that we have, given to us by our ancestors. It has long been considered the role of artists to find new tools. It is the role of scientists as well. I think it would happen very quickly as soon as the skill sets of poetry were brought back into science and a new Enlightenment, a new mode of knowing were created now, rather than out of the material of the 18th century. That would take courage. We have nothing to lose but our selves, and everything to gain, including new selves. If you want a map of current cities (current maps of the human body, in other words), look no further than this:

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Mariposa Lily, Okanagan Valley (Vernon)

This is urban space. If you don’t see urban space here, look again. And again, until you do.

Currently, human explorations are going towards creating machine selves for humans, rather than addressing human-earth relationships. That is romantic laziness and nothing but Frankensteins will come of it. Let me be clear:

emmendingen Art, Former Fire Alarm (Pigeon), Garbage, Garbage, Recreation

What’s the difference? This urban space in Emmendingen, Germany is a post-biological human. Machine humans are going to be no different.

Granted, something needs to be done.

streetcarStreet Car Lines, Erfurt, Germany

The humans seem so frail in this monstrous human body (city) they have built. Android phone identities for humans are no better. All human creations are projections of social circumstances.

Humans have the ability to humanize nearly anything, but it takes real vision and courage to set that aside and earth-ize humans, to put the earth in our social group, yet that’s exactly what we have to do, and you know what? We’ll make it human, and we will be transformed. What I’m advocating here is hard science and clear, intellectual vision, not romantic nonsense like this:

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“Castle Kitchen”, Castle Frankenstein, Darmstadt, Germany

Annual home of an American Hallowe’en party. It was reconstructed BADLY in the 19th century. No castle ever looked like this.

We can be human or Frankensteins. If we choose Frankensteins, we won’t be human. And that’s the problem with Einstein. He chose to be human, but by wrestling with non-relative science without the benefit of poetry, he had to continually fight for it by an act of his will alone. It should be easier and more physically gracious than that.

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Gingko Leaves, Vernon

Notice how the divisions Goethe loved have almost healed. 

The Problem With Darwin

Darwin is English. Goethe is German. There have been wars over this. Pity. Let me explain. First, an image of multiplicity from the former East Germany:

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Goethe’s Botanical Garden in Jena, Germany

Darwin travelled the globe. Goethe, like most Germans, brought the world to himself. That is a profound difference, which led to profoundly different conceptions of science.

Darwin advocated a theory of evolution which has no guiding principle other than expediency and almost accidental incremental change. That’s the world which we all pretty much live in today. It is great science, that has had a powerful effect on the way in which humans in so-called scientific societies see the world. Here’s Darwin as a young man.800px-Charles_Darwin_by_G._Richmond

 Charles Darwin, Looking Dapper

He hadn’t figured out evolution yet.

Goethe advocated a theory of evolution in which the characteristics of a species could be seen in the totality of its variations; it wasn’t a series of evolutionary changes that were being observed but a series of unfoldings out of an original, unified potential. Goethe was after that moment of potential. Here’s Goethe as a young man:

Der_junge_Goethe,_gemalt_von_Angelica_Kauffmann_1787-1

The Young Goethe, Looking Dapper

He hadn’t written Faust yet.

I’m not interested in knocking such a great scientist as Darwin off of his pedestal or in placing such a neglected one as Goethe on one. The point I’d like to make today is that Darwin’s theory of evolution is as English as Goethe’s is German. For theories that purport to represent independent, neutral science and dispassionate observations of the world, that should be a warning bell. Now, when I say that Darwin is English, I don’t mean that he’s like bubble and squeak or bangers and mash. I mean that he carries on the English philosophical tradition, which is born from English history and language. Century after century of invasion has its effect on a language and a culture: first the Britons, then the Romans, then no Romans, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Norse, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Newer Norse, then the Anglo-Normans, and at the end of it all the British had learned a couple things:

1. Change and adapt, because you’re going to be raped or murdered anyway.

2. Fight by any means possible, usually by manipulating the gap between two sets of conceptions. For example, here are the ruins of Castell-y-Bere in Wales. The English knocked it to bits in 1283.castelHere’s the main Welsh defense machinery for the castle.

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The Castell-y-Bere Dragon

This defensive position was chosen at the confluence of two valleys, because of this magical talisman, the Welsh dragon itself. No English invaders could touch the place, with powerful magic like this at its heart, right?

Wrong. The English crept up a natural cleft in the rock outside the lower wall of the castle, and when they were unstoppably close just jumped over the low wall there and the show was over. That’s very English. One takes advantage of weaknesses and supposed strengths by being somewhere else. Usually, this means ignoring magic or accepted decorum. To such an imagination, nothing is sacred; flow is everything. It’s the principle by which one puts spin, or “English”, on a ball, or by which a language can be used to mean anything, depending on circumstances, and depending on whether one draws from its Anglo Saxon, Old Norse, Norwegian, or Anglo-Norman vocabularies. They have little in common. It’s the totality, a parliament of languages, that is English. More specifically, it is the form of argument that switches from one to the other when necessary or expedient, and remains aloof from them all, that is truly English. And truly Darwinian.

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Will Mow Lawn 4 Beer

A British Columbian demonstrates his English heritage. Note that this mower has not moved in 3 years.

Unlike the English, however, the Germans were never a people, at least not before the figure of Goethe was seized upon to try to make them into one. They were scattered around a couple thousand principalities, all with allegiance to not Germany but the Holy Roman Empire. To say one was “German” was nearly meaningless. Germany was the Church. Its rulers were a mix of all the royal houses of Europe, and it mattered not a whit what language one spoke at home. Whereas the English maintained stability by adapting to invasion and learning the language of the invader so well that they became the invader, without dropping their previous languages, the Germans remained an ethnic curiosity within a stable, non-ethnic system that lasted for a thousand years. But then, they converted to Christianity en masse. They saw no break between it and their pre-Christian beliefs.

German_painting_poet_Johann_Wolfgang_von_Goethe

Goethe as an Early Middle-Aged Traveller in Italy

To learn the world, the English conquered it and then took on its forms, for the sake of expedience. The Germans remade themselves as the world, because it just wasn’t that important. They trusted in their ability to absorb whatever came their way. To them, eternity, however, was important, especially as it manifested itself in the present and in human body and presence. As the experience of the Welsh at Castell-y-Bere showed, the English, the true intellectuals in this tale, slaughtered that dragon long before.

And so, out of these two great scientific figures we got two conceptions of science, one based on filling ecological niches by a random sense of progress and opportunity, and one filling them by an ordered sense of growth out of the infinite potential of a first principle or a presence. The former, Darwin’s, is the bulk of contemporary science. The latter gave us the science of phenomena and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. Darwin’s version has given us English democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of random process. Goethe’s version gave us German democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of common foundations and carefully guided responses. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m only pointing out how different they are, and how they are rooted in the experiences of two different peoples. I do have a secondary point, though, which is that this English system has given us Canadian land use policy that accords wilderness status to the Earth (even though the earth which English settlers “discovered” was very much a controlled, social space, in a fashion closer to that of the Germans than anything), and the trust that no matter what random process works its way through a society built around furthering individual desire and randomness the energy of wildness within the earth will continue to thrive and provide energy for society and individuals. The contemporary result looks like this:

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Invasive Cheat Grass Hell

There should be 100 species in this grassland, not one that is destructive of water flows and is turning bountiful landscapes into near deserts.

It also looks like this:

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Canadian Vineyard Farmyard, Vernon, British Columbia

Note the Hell of Cheatgrass in the Foreground. This is the way you colonize Mars or the Moon. It is not the way you live on the earth and from it. It is the expression of a very specific form of individuality.

According to the principles of random evolution, the kind of desertification and squandering of the socially-given right to own land demonstrated in the image above is a natural consequence of growth and progress, as well as part of the natural change of the world. Two hundred years ago, Goethe showed us that it does not have to be this way. The point is not whether Goethe or Darwin were right. The point is that they were both right and that neither are neutral sciences. They are social constructs, which have a history and a projected path into the future, which we have the ability to change for the better (as with all social constructs), and, boy, do we ever need to, fast. In Darwinian science, the images below show three species filling the same ecological niche…

vww P1410138 P1410139

Beautiful, isn’t it! In Goethean science, on the other hand, they show one energy manifesting itself in multiplicity. Also beautiful. Personally, because of an imbalance of random human pressure on the earth despite the impoverishment resulting from it I think that right now we need a bit less English individualism and a bit more of Goethean multiplicity. For the love of the Earth.

 

The Ethical Dimension

I’d like to talk ethics today, with East Germany in view, though, because it was a society that allowed an alternate vision, not only of what might have been possible (good and bad), but into what we were all like back before the Wall came down in 1989. For instance, out of a sense of common land, through a convoluted and violent process, East Germany adopted a communist mode of government after the Second World War. The choice resulted, among other things, in the infamous Plattenbau (prefabricated) apartment buildings of the Soviet block. They were infamous because they were done on the cheap, had no balconies and had common public space that the residents had to landscape with their own sweat, and out of their own organizational abilities. What happened to that positive energy after reunification with the West? Balconies were added to the apartments, as you can see below in Riesa, Germany, and, in some cases, North American style adventure playgrounds were added for the kids.P1130995   Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but look at the alternatives: a communal ping pong table … P1130994… and communal laundry facilities… P1130992_2 You can bet the piping was diverted from a state-sanctioned infrastructure project, because someone’s wife was in tears. And why was she in tears? Ah, imagine. You only got a nice modern apartment like this if you were married, so you did that the instant you got out of high school, and the next day the poor girl has to do laundry, but the social code of the laundry is controlled by the building communist block warden, and the girl hasn’t earned the space to hang up her new husband’s shirts, so, chances are, they wind up in the mud, and then the tears, see? It’s not as simple as it might look, though. In 1989, upon unification with the West, East Germany had the most progressive system of women’s rights and support for mothers and children in the world. The feminist movements of the West, including the Okanagan, are deeply in debt to 18-year-old East German women dealing with blocks wardens from Hell. The Western perception that East German communism was repressive misses the vital detail (among others) that the West, too, is built upon East German communism. The repression, in other words, is just good old fashioned human oppression and exploitation, following whatever patterns it can find and take advantage of. It’s what humans, a top predator, do. In my valley in Canada, that can look like this: P1390638 A boat, a Sea-doo, a boat pulling a kid in a tube, a kayaker, a guy swimming (good luck, Dude), and another boat, all in a tiny space. This use of a post-glacial lake and a local drinking water source is surely as insane, and as liberating, as the East German Plattenbau experience, and likely a lot more destructive of the environment and human relationships with it. Sometimes, this exploitation looks like this: wine The valley is famed for wine, or tells itself it is. Here is a bottle of cheap industrial chardonnay vented by a large Eastern Canadian winery that moved into the young Okanagan wine industry a couple decades back and transformed it from a farm-based industry, based on the work of farmers with the land, to a form of investment that created sales by marketing savvy alone. This bottle of wine, half-consumed at the site of a failed winery building in Vernon, suggests that someone came for the view, with a bottle of wine, and couldn’t stand to finish the damn thing. The most sensitive grassland in the North Okanagan was sacrificed to build this vineyard to help sell houses. The class of people who would do such a thing is, I believe, exactly the class of people who waylaid Luther on The Road, after he was excommunicated in the ancient Roman-German city of Worms, and walked out expecting to be killed that night by bandits, as an outlaw. It was not safe for anyone to be on The Road at night. Instead, Luther was abducted by a prince, who kept him under house arrest, feeding him bread and water until he agreed to translate the Bible into German. The translated Bible was then used to dismantle the Catholic Church in the North of Europe, in Luther’s name but against his wishes. The class of people who did that is precisely the class of people who transformed the young romantic poet Goethe into a symbol of Germany itself, and used him to create a state quite the opposite of the one he would have wished to see. The class of people who did that is precisely the class of people who reduced local Indian reserves by a factor of 90% upon annexation of British Columbia into Canada in 1871. This is not a new story. Within it, however, there have been few people who have shown us an alternate way, who have had the ethical courage to point out alternatives. Goethe was one. Without alternatives, there is only the illusion of choice.

The King’s Way: Science, Multiplicity and Nature as an Artwork

I’ve been trying to say something useful about Goethe this week, which is a tough thing to do with a writer who was used for nationalist purposes ever since his youth in pre-Napoleonic Germany. When my father left Germany in 1952, his father gave him the collected works of Goethe as a portable homeland, so he would remember who he was. He gave it to a young German woman he met on the boat across the Atlantic, as he didn’t want anything more to do with all that. She gave it back to him forty years later — seemingly, still unread. Within 24 hours, he gave it to me. He didn’t want it. I put it on a shelf. Maybe I’d read it someday, I thought.

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Goethe’s Forest Hut, Ilmenau

One of the major tourist shrines of the romantic age, right up there with Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Burg Frankenstein and the Castle of Chillon.

For most of my life, I thought little of Goethe. There were translations of his poetry, of course, but they were silly romantic things that he wrote in Strasbourg, which were translated by ultra-conservative American poets in the 1970s: oddities, more than anything. But then I went on The Road in 2008. The Road? It’s best you saw for yourself. I’m not talking Kerouac here. Let me show you a section of the road outside of Marienstern Cloister in Saxony. When the Road was first constructed (grew up out of a donkey path, is more like it), it was the only thing of its kind, so it was just called “Die Strasse”, or the road. It stretched from Santiago de Compostela to Minsk.

P1150250_2The Road

The trees are to give shade to foot travellers, and to give fruit at the same time. You could increase the efficiency of communication several fold by this simple ruse.

As it passed through Germany, The Road was also known as The King’s Way, the via regia in Latin. In one sense, the term refers to “the road that the king maintains for the sake of communication, war and economy (mostly the latter,)” but it also means “the right of the king to cross country at his own will,” and “the king’s right to increase the productivity of his kingdom (his self) through artful intervention”. What the road crossed was something ancient, from which the king’s right to rule was derived: the German forest. Here’s a little glimpse of it:

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The German Forest from the Window of Goethe’s Forest Hut

Goethe had a habit of deriving inspiration by plunking himself in the middle of physical space. We might refer to this as “a nice view from a writer’s retreat,” but if we do we might remember that Goethe invented the idea, and he did so for something other than individual purposes.

The idea of The King’s Way and the right of kings comes from the old aristocratic world. The term “aristocratic” is much maligned these days, largely because of abuses which the Enlightenment sought to correct with revolution and the championing of important notions of human liberty and universal human rights and dignity. Those are important things. In Germany, though, one of the major Enlightenment figures was Goethe. He did not believe in revolution. He believed in translation. He saw the aristocratic world fading away. He worshipped Napoleon for a time, but he also witnessed the Rape of Weimar in 1806 after the defeat of the Prussians above Jena. He sought a better way. What actually happened was this:

Windknolle

The Wind Knoll, Napoleon’s Battlefield in Cospeda, above Jena

The pillar is said to be the point at which Napoleon directed the battle (it isn’t.) The bench is for admiring the view. The tracks are because for nearly fifty years the Russian Army used this site as a tank practice ground, reenacting Napoleon’s battle to hone their mechanized warfare tactics.

Goethe was one of the few men in history to receive an education exceeding that of princes, with the express goal of running a princedom for a prince (or, in his case a duchy for a duke.) At the same time, he was an early romantic writer, whose work was seized upon by early German nationalists as proof of an individual German spirit that could justify the formation of a German state and in the absence of any German identity form one around itself. The idea was to prevent the adventures of any future Napoleons. This abuse was murder on Goethe’s writing and on his soul (his great play Faust, about a Doctor of Philosophy who makes a pact with the devil to receive all the knowledge in the world in exchange for his soul), but the tension between Goethe’s life as one of the last courtiers, as one of the first modern men, and as the cynically-applied cipher for the country of Germany itself (a fate he shared with Luther, but that’s a different story) led him to try to resolve the tensions in a form of science that carried the old aristocratic world forward into the technological present. One of the ways in which he did this was this:

P1150052Goethe’s Garden House, Weimar

And some fine East German Communist re-purposed water line bridge work, too.

From an aristocratic perspective, Secretary of State Goethe has a perk, a kind of country estate in a park he constructed out of a collection of water meadows on the Ilm River. From a modern perspective, though, Goethe installed himself within the park as an embodiment of the spirit of the state, right in the middle of a refined version of this:

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The View from Goethe’s Forest Hut above Ilmenau

Time is not clockwork in this world view, and space is not measured by civic plans. Rather, civic plans are measured by their relationship to space. Welcome to Goethe’s invention of the modern age through the recreation of the pre-Medieval one.

Goethe had a fine townhouse up the hill above his garden house, yet it is the garden house (and its extension of the aristocratic hunting lodge-poet’s forest hut connection into civic space) which he wanted to be remembered by, along with his scientific articles on light (which I discussed yesterday and the day before). Why? Well, because of this …

P1150041Dawn on the Ilm River, Weimar

… and this path from that water to his garden house …

P1150040Park on the Ilm, Weimar

Well, before we answer flippantly, that Goethe was just another garden variety romantic, remember that he loathed the romantics, and before we answer flippantly as well that Goethe was just another garden variety royalist, remember that we are in East Germany, and the hard-headed East German government chose to preserve this point of privilege, and, I promise you, they were pretty bloody-minded about stuff like that. It was preserved in the most modern state in the world (Yes, East Germany. It was a jail, but very modern as well.), in the Republic of Farmers and Workers, because it was the king’s way. Germany is kind of complicated.

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The Green Man, Königsbrück

The pre-modern German forest man who became a symbol of 19th Century German Nationalism. In other words, this is Goethe Version 1.0.

Goethe’s attempt to recast the modern world on the same foundation in the forest that gave birth to the old aristocratic one speaks of a choice: one is either of a place, in the full depths of its time, and extends all of its past forward into the future, or one is not. Like Goethe’s Faustone must choose (In Goethe’s sense, one must choose the most complete path over the one that sets completeness aside for expediency.) It is not, however, a choice between the Green Man …

P1130704_2 The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

P1130702_2The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

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Bismarck.

Leafy moustache and all.

Those are symbols only. Goethe wanted modern men to be the Green Man. Even the East Germans didn’t give up that idea.

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Proletarian Picnic Tables in the Aristocratic Pleasure Garden of Schönefeld

These are strange choices to Western imaginations (and, believe me, they unsettled me completely when I confronted them in No Man’s Land in the Fulda Gap on my way east and then again and again every day I went further into the country), but that’s only because two World Wars were fought to obliterate them (after the cynical ways in which they were abused by German military and political elites), and did, to all peoples except the Germans. The rest of the world shed German nationalism by turning away from Himmler’s SS. The Germans shed it by turning to the king’s way.

goethehausCrowds at Goethe’s Town House, Weimar

Goethe served wine all night to French occupying troops here in 1806, to keep them from burning his books and furniture to roast stolen chickens. Now people queue for this most important of German shrines.

The king’s way is, in a sense, the old aristocratic method of governance, through poetry. Each of the nearly 2000 German-speaking princedoms that made up the Holy Roman Empire in Middle Europe was governed on the principle of a poem. It was this which the poet Goethe tried to bring forward, in his transference of aristocratic privilege to democratic rights and responsibilities (such as the Park on the Ilm) an in his science. There is no reason on earth that science must be one monolithic project, based upon one approach, and no reason why it must be pursued according to one principle of procedure and logic. What Goethe proposed was that it be pursued in the multiplicity we know today from poetry (where the principle survived and from which the aristocracy learned it in the first place,) an energy in which each scientist was pursuing a different but parallel method, which fit together not because they broke with tradition but because they extended it and used tradition, not individual perception, as the touchstones for authenticity. This is why Weimar is now the heart of German Classicism, and why Goethe’s Weimar, a creative city of intellectuals and writers who shaped modern German consciousness, is the foundation stone of the German Empire of 1871, the Weimar Republic (note the name) of 1919, the postwar German Association of Communities (West Germany) and the post 1989 country of Germany. In Weimar, that looks like this:

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The Roman Villa, Park on the Ilm

In Weimar, anyone can walk through a painting made out of living things on a living earth, walk deep into the past, and meet it, living in his or her own present.

This aristocratic vision brought forward into the new industrial, bourgeoise age is one of the faces of German communism. To most East Germans, it worked itself out more like this:

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East German Garden House, Jena

It was in the crucible of these houses that East Germans eventually brought down their totalitarian state. Along the way, they produced most of the fruit and vegetables in the country, something which the government was less interested in pursuing.

Across the street from this garden house, is this:

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Goethe’s Poem The Erl King Set to Stone (Music by Schubert)

In Germany, Nature is an art form. There is no such thing as wilderness, or wild life, but there is a continuum that extends back to the primeval forest that was the crucible of the Germans as a people, to Wodin, the pre-Christian god of the North (for some), to the Celts (for others) and through Christianization to the Garden of Eden, which is the intersection of eternity and time. In other words, as the Germans show by having given themselves to it entirely, the entire concept of Nature is an art form. So too is the science they built upon it. Goethe knew that better than most. This is not, by the way, something you can take a democratic vote on. What you can vote on is stuff like this:

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The Jena Green House Cooperative, in its Post-Communist Days

But the barbed wire remains. One has to take these things down piece by piece. There’s not enough energy to do it all at once. In its prime, this greenhouse provided hothouse plants for the garden plots of Jena, in an atmosphere much like a rectal exam. You can vote on rectal exams. Sometimes the way to vote is to build a garden house.

Why is a man of the grasslands of Western Canada writing about Goethe? Not because I want to, I can tell you that, what with my family background and all.  Rather, because on the Road my identity was burned away and reforged. Because when I came back, I was a new person, if you could say I came back at all. Because Nature and Wilderness are used as the foundation stones of all of Western Canadian culture. Our science and our politics and our civics and pretty much everything else are predicated on the eternal independent viability and life-giving force of this thing called “Nature” and “Wilderness” and “The Wild”, but that’s nothing more than a time-photograph of colonization of a landscape created by and cared for by peoples, such as the Syilx of my valley, who treated it much as the Germans treat theirs. The “wilderness” that Canadian settlers found here was not wilderness at all, but an artistically created space. Rather than drawing on the energy of the natural world, for the last 150 years they have been drawing down on the human capital of just such a project as Goethe supported, and it doesn’t work. It has led only to environmental poverty. There is almost nothing left, and the remaining capacity of the earth to support the people of this place has been reduced to a few simple elements, corresponding to the natural laws of non-Goethean science, without space for humans, while the real solutions are invisible. There are few lenses that allow us all to get outside of this world view, but Goethe offers one. That he offers a form of science that, although created 200 years ago, is still more cutting edge than the cutting edge, is a bonus. All the nationalist rot that accompanies Goethe is just the stuff that drove him half mad. But that’s a different story.

Tomorrow: political realities and ethics.

 

Newton, Goethe, Light and the Future

I will now try to do what even the Goethe Museum in Weimar fails at splendidly, despite putting on a big show and charging something like 10 Euros to see it, which is like a zillion Canadian dollars. I will try to explain what Goethe meant about light in his “Lecture on Colour”, which he wrote to dispel Newtonian science once and for all, but didn’t. Just to whet your appetite for a visit to Weimar, try this on for size:

goethe-color-diagrams-01Goethe Explains His Theory of Colour With Pretty Pictures

Great minds have been broken by this for 200 years. Three German states have been built on this principle, which might have been a mistake. One in between was built to torture it until its spiritual death. A nasty business, that. Definitely a mistake.

OK, so we’ve got that out of the way. I think we can explain this more simply and hopefully, if I have a bit of luck and you have even more, I can help you see you why Goethe’s science, much maligned by Newtonian scientists worldwide, has much to give us as we work towards an earth-friendly science for the future. Here’s the foundation of Newton’s science of light:

Newton’s Rainbow

The starling is just added value. You’re welcome.

In Newton’s science, the white light that streams from the sun is actually an amalgam of seven colours, which are released from solution, so to speak, when they pass through a prism. It’s excellent science. Here’s Goethe’s science:

P1410398Male Staghorn Sumacs After Flowering

Notice the complicated interweaving of darkness and light. NO prisms. NO rainbow. In its place are moods of colour, representing moods of observation.

Confused by the ‘mood’ thing? Don’t worry! We’re used to reading words like that in regards to those particular explorers of light, artists, but not in terms of those others, their twins, scientists. Fortunately, we can set it aside for the moment and remember one simple thing: Goethe wanted us to consider white light in its entirety, as it is received by humans. He wanted to build a science out of that measurement device: not prisms but humans.

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Scientific Measurement Devices at Play (Well Daring Each Other, Anyway)

Unfortunately, the romantics got ahold of the technology and messed with it big time. The result is teenagers. I’m not kidding, by the way. Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

Goethe also wanted us to consider that darkness is a component of seeing, too, for humans, and that colour, as perceived by humans, occurs at the intersection of darkness and light. He got a little tangled up in theories and diagrams here, many of which have been disproven (this is a blessing, really), but the fundamental observation is sound: a science can be built out of human presence and its interaction with the world, in and of itself. That’s what I tried to show you yesterday, with images like this:

butter3 Orange Mood

… and this …

clematis

Purple Mood

Oh, what’s that?

Reader: Mood, mood, mood, you’re mad. What’s this mood? That’s a butterfly on mustard and a clematis on your backyard fence, you nut.

Harold: Only if you use the romantic version of your operating system. (I wasn’t kidding. The romantics really did start playing around with this individual consciousness thing. It was awfully fun for them. We are their heirs.)

Reader: My operating what? !!!$%%%**&(&*!!!$^%^!@@$***!##!!!!!

Ah, yes. Well. Ahem. Hmmm. The measurement device Goethe had in mind is the individual consciousness, which was created by his friend, the philosopher Gottlieb Fichte in 1793, as a reference point on which a science could be built. Without a reference point, all things would be relative to all things and nothing could be measured, at least in Newtonian terms. Goethe wanted to use this measurement device, individual consciousness, to measure unity instead— exactly that thing which Newtonian scientists wanted a reference point (individual consciousness) to dispel! You can probably tell that Goethe hated Newton. The details of their spat are unimportant. The important issue is that Newtonian scientists wanted to use this Fichtian consciousness to create devices that could break apart unity, then to measure the effects of that breakage, and then to assemble them again into a logical system, all from a distance.

Fichte

Fichte Taught at a University

His consciousness trick has all the signs of it, doesn’t it!

Goethe thought that this was not only ridiculous but also extremely dangerous. He did not believe there should be any distance whatsoever, that if there was to be a logical system it must operate from within the unified world, which means it must perceive white light, must perceive it with rigour, and must build logic up without first breaking the unity of the world. The important thing here is Goethe’s observation that the system one chooses determines the world we get. By choosing Newtonian science without any exploration of the Goethian system, the Western World has broken the planet and continues to train its young in distancing themselves from their bodies, their planet, and the reality of their perceptions. Goethe had a lot more in mind, oodles of spiritual stuff, but that’s a story for another day. For now, I offer you a self portrait of a human moment. You may know it by different words:

P1390603 Harold Above Kalamalka Lake

By adding a second self portrait, something happens to the first …

chicory2Harold Rooting Around on the Surface of the Sun

Of course, this is the stuff we know of today as poetry. And it is. But it is also the foundation of an unexplored science…. hmmm, tomorrow I will talk about multiplicity… maybe that’ll help!