Male and Female Black Widows
Hanging out in my garage.
She’s sure getting big. Twice the size, easily, from when she moved in five months ago. She doesn’t run and hide anymore. Hmmm.
There are many flames, new and old, in this photograph of Middleton Mountain in Coldstream: the spill of lava across the cap of the mountain, too hard for the glaciers to take it away completely, and which drops water onto the fir tree near the mountain’s crest, the rising sun itself, the autumn aspens in their yellow and gold and the choke cherries in autumn red, the dried wisps of the rest of the summer’s trees and grasses, burnt away, the sun caught within the dead chloroplasts of the grasses, bouncing back and forth and amplified, the sky on flame with light and turning blue from agitation, and that fir tree, which is water drawn into the sky by heat and the tree riding along with it and rusting into green flame. Under it all is the rock, cold now, but still directing water and light in the channels of its old flows, which came from the sea bed diving deep under the land and giving off pressurized steam that dissolved the rock and sent it up in flame into the sky.
Check out this poplar twig. When the growth hormones settle out, they create forward-thrusting bud casings around their large, folded leaves. When the fruiting hormones pile up behind them, they literally pile up in bursting flower shapes. Catkins will come, in the same shape.
And the twig behind? It is the flow that straightens out over the years behind this forward point of pressure, and thus it is straight. Amazing!
Human society is what it is: a little crazy, a little aggressive, a little beautiful, a little fearful, a little boastful, a little shy, a little ugly, a little transcendent, and very much absorbed with its own affairs. That’s why it’s called “human society” and not something like “spiritual society” or “environmental society”or “the society of ants.”
Not Human Society … Yet
Still, it’s good to keep in mind that this “human” thing is new and was grafted onto spiritual and aristocratic forms of society about 200 years ago. It’s good because it means that the term “human society” has nothing more or less to do with the great apes living within its constraints than did those preceding patterns of organization.
Great Ape at Play, Vernon Winter Carnival
What’s more, over time the freshness of humanism (the basing of social organization around the interests of one species of great ape) has become as commonplace as was once the deference of kings to popes or farmers to aristocrats and now looks just, well, everyday.
Everything Normal at the Armstrong Fall Fair
In the late 20th century a group of philosophers in France cooked up a method of stopping this slide towards the commonplace, in the hope of keeping society in a continual state of watchfulness and revolution, or, if you will, because it was late 20th century France after all, résistance.
The Resistance at Work, Vernon
The classic form of resistance in French history is the partisan war waged against the German invaders and occupiers of 1940. For background to that, in the German Third Reich of 1933-1945 it was a dominant belief in Germany that every German knew more in his bones than any intellectual (meaning French or Jewish intellectual or educated type). He (only males were allowed to be German citizens at that time) just needed to think and brilliance would pour forth, accompanied by simple, clear solutions where others (such as those intellectuals and dastardly Frenchmen) saw only shades of grey and points of relativity and discussion.
Hitler Wouldn’t Have Liked this Neo-Nazi Form of Resistance, Erfurt, Germany
The work of this group of Marxist philosophers, including such famous and brilliant men as Roland Barthes and Charles Lacan, is called deconstruction. It uses intellectual tools to dissect the commonly understood physical world into components, just as science does when it studies natural phenomena to reveal the structural forces at play in natural forces. Such deconstruction (dissection) is a task that can never end, because it is in the nature of humans to continually recreate this sense of everydayness, and to dull the deep historical patterns of the world with a patina of normalcy.
In Canada, Plastic Flowers Stuck Into Lions is Normal
Yes, it’s weird.
Against this pressure coming from the deep, animal past of humans, the deconstructionist must remain ever vigilant, lest he be seduced by normalcy and let its bodily responses overwhelm his deeper, more highly-evolved and educated understandings.
Dead Oak Tree A Long Way From Home
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
It’s all a bit too much like 1930s and 1940s German dehumanization of Jews turned on its head for my tastes, but it’s immensely popular and fills most Humanities courses in the universities of the world today. The thing is, though, it might not be quite as universal as it claims to be. It might even be dead wrong, because of that sticky matter of it all just seeming a little too much like French-German mid-20th-century politics. Such a close correspondence should always be a warning sign.
The Ruins of Mid-20th-Century Politics, Conconully, Washington
In other words, deconstruction might be dead wrong, because it might just have the wrong idea about humans at its root. It might be the result of sloppy thinking.
Bad Thinking That Lasts for A Hundred Years, Vernon
I say this because I’m troubled about those Third Reich Germans who went around claiming to be a master race in a continent of so-called sub-humans (apes, such as Frenchmen or Poles or Jews, all given the name of communists for the simple reason that they weren’t German). These Germans (my ancestors among them) were surely a barbarous lot, but if there’s any chance that deconstructionism is built on the foundation of a resistance to them as the antithesis to civilized behaviour, then it’s just plain wrong. The Germans of the Third Reich no more represented primal, brute responses coming from, say, the reptilian brain, than do the actions and theories of, say, Barthes.
British Columbia Back Yard Ornaments: Not Nazi
The Germans weren’t individual, common sense geniuses either. They did, however, certainly represent one response to mechanization and industrialization. The thing is, deconstruction was another. Whatever a commonplace human is or however such a person thinks has nothing much to do with these responses to industrialization or with the historically-fraught relationship between France and Germany, however terrible that relationship has at times been and however vital the force of resistance turned out to be.
Canadian Street View: Neither Nazi Nor French, Okanagan Landing
In fact, it might not be possible to determine just what a hypothetical human might actually be like, because humans are always embedded in societies and draw much of their identity from their social and environmental bonds.
Humans Often Prefer This Stuff to the Sun Itself, Okanagan Landing
What strange creatures!
If my observation is correct and my concern well-placed, then in its work of deconstructing the commonplace wherever it appears, deconstruction might very well be deconstructing humanity itself, from a sense of wholeness to a sense of assembled components, put together like scientific theories or cell phones on an assembly line in Singapore, tied together by a fragile unifying force called “an identity” or “a self”.
Old Tractor Taking the Place of a Human
Humans love this kind of stuff. To them, it’s like looking in a mirror.
Doing so might be breaking the bonds between humans and the earth, and might be a very real reason why the earth is dying, why so much of it has been laid to waste, and why our younger generations live through electronic social devices. These devices and the post-humanist structural networks they enable are the physical manifestation of deconstructionist philosophy, just as the physical earth and the traditions of working within it cooperatively were the manifestations of “spiritual society” or an aristocratic one.
Grafted Apple Tree in the Author’s Garden
In German, this process is called “Nobling”. Yeah, you get the picture, right?
If we look to ourselves we see the earth. If we look to the state of the earth we see the state of ourselves. Given that humans (and I am in this group, yay), draw a large part of their identity from the environment in which they were raised and the one in which they live (in complex ways deeply rooted in what is called commonplace, non-verbalized physical experience), the deconstruction of these bonds and their replacement with a limited set of tools for further continued deconstruction is deconstructing human relationships with the earth.
The Golf Course at the Rise
Earth deconstructed in the same way that globalization is a synonym for Americanization, with is just a fancy word for the commonplace. A bit of a contradiction in terms? Why, yes, nice of you to notice.
The result is that the earth is invisible.
One sees the shadow, not the stone.
The impetus behind all this activity is honourable: to prevent the renewed rise of Nazism. What do we get, however, in its place? A structurally-based terror, one all-in-the-head rather than all-in-the-body: the Islamic State. What’s more, Nazism was all about nationalism, or considering the German state to be the body of its people and the people manifestations of Germany. The Islamic State, on the other hand, is not a “state” in the sense of being a sovereign country, but “state” or a “condition” of Islam, with fighters drawn to it from around the world. Not the “real” Islam but a condition or state of it, in the way a hospital patient is said to have a certain condition. It is, like deconstruction, a force against the commonplace, daily lives of people and a replacement of them with intellectual, structural concepts.
If this were done by humans to humans we’d have a “humanitarian crisis”. A “bird crisis” doesn’t register in the same way. Weird!
I am in no way suggesting that there is anything evil or deadly about deconstructionism, as there is about the Islamic State, but I am suggesting that dominant ideologies become environments, which cast up mirrors, not all of which are complementary.
$550,000 House with Eastern Canadian Maple Tree
We humans are not making ourselves look very wise.
Disturbingly, such a condition of eternal revolution and states of mind becoming physical states exists in contemporary Germany. It is called “the National Liberated Zone” and consists of all areas, even if it’s just one skinhead’s head or his apartment in a suburb of Cologne or some small town north of Dresden, which are controlled by nationalists (i.e. by neo-Nazis.) You can’t find this state on a map, but it is there.
Anarchist Street Art Infiltrating the National Liberated Zone, Naumberg, Germany
This is war in the post-human world.
Where does this all lead? Well, to reiterate what I mentioned above: what is missing in all of this is the earth. Human society is about human society. If we, as humans, wish to survive, we will have to either continue the process of deconstructing ourselves into silicon chips, and accept the continued degradation of physical and human-social environments that logically comes with that, or we will have to include the earth as part of our social group.
The Human Earth
Bobbling antennae and all.
Deconstruction won’t get us there. Only reconstruction can do that. It’s anathema to deconstructionists, of course, but it might very well be that to survive and to pass on the remaining knowledge of life on the physical earth to those who follow us so they can build living structures and relationships from it, we might have to develop an understanding that deconstruction is a tool that works within certain boundaries, while reconstruction is an equal and corollary function, working within others.
Red Osier Dogwoods in October
Reconstruction works here. Deconstruction does not. This plant is part of the humans social group, or we are dead.
Given that social media devices are so powerful and so ubiquitous, it’s not likely that they’re going to disappear any time soon. Accordingly, the challenge is to construct modes of using them which open up earth-based experience in ways which cannot be fully understood using human-based or machine-based social or intellectual modes.
Vineyard in the Fog, Bella Vista
Not to be understood with a smart phone. Sorry.
It used to be that a spiritually-enlightened human had to transcend the self. Maybe he or she could become a saint. It might be that he or she might now need to transcend the machine and that the enlightenment might not be intellectual or divine knowledge but the commonplace — not the machine-tainted commonplace of the Third Reich or the anti-barbarism stance of the deconstructionist resistance, but acceptance. One might just have to put down the cell phone and plant a potato, tend for its plant, pick it in the fall, make a bowl of soup and share it with a few friends.
Okanagan Okanogan Plants Some Spuds
Yield, four months later: 450 pounds (>200 kilos)… whew!
We can’t escape the social structures we live within, but we can extend them with generosity, and we can transcend them.
A New Apple Discovered
Transcendence looks like this sometimes.
Art is one means of doing so. Science is another. Agriculture is another. Foraging is another. Whichever one it is our individual gift to give, the earth must be part of the generosity and the transcendence, or all of our physical technologies (which are only extensions of our intellectual technologies) will make us poorer rather than richer, because they will lead us away from the earth and we will be unable to see her.
Garter Snake, Catching a Breath After Some Underwater Fishing
And if we can’t see her, we can’t see ourselves. Humanism, you see, isn’t enough. The “human” is safeguarded by giving it away.
I want to show you an image of the mind. Since that’s difficult, let me show you an image of the world instead, with my fingers crossed that the mind will be revealed in it if I give you the context. It’s an image of an abandoned rangeland fence high above Okanagan Lake. It speaks of the end of the ranching industry and the development of the land into a residential golf course resort. Given that this is the most sensitive and threatened grassland in the north of my valley, and one of the few left, this development required special approval. (In fact, the road built up the hill to service this resort destroyed an 8,000-year-old rattlesnake den, which seems to be way more than rude.) The way to get approval to build houses and golf courses on sensitive land is to sell ‘green’ or ‘environmental’ values that will ‘conserve’ species for ‘posterity’. Such conservation is pretty darned unlikely, but that’s why this stretch of land has been left ‘wild’ as ‘habitat’ for native species: it’s a social negotiation. In my mind, it’s less a living landscape than a zoo, but let’s just leave that, because this is Syilx land and thus sensitive in its own right. And just look at the view. As romantic as can be. You could sell $350,000-$1,700,000 golf course house lots like hot cakes with a view like this, especially to someone from cattle country, who’s changed his Angus herd in for a covey of oil wells and is missing them terribly. Fair enough, but that’s not the image of the mind I promised. That’s just a little background. Here’s the mind:
You see, the ‘wild’ness promised consists of a hillside overgrown by sagebrush (overgrazing in the past, combined with fire suppression) and trampled by deer (barred from the valley below by very operative orchard and vineyard fences) which have no business here where there is nothing for them to even nibble on. In other words, the ignorance that sees this rich landscape, transformed by ignorance into an impoverished landscape of weeds, is the same ignorance that the land displays in its weediness. The fence is the means by which that was accomplished. It remains, its work done, as something no longer extricable from the land. In other words, it too belongs in this transformed landscape, or this impoverished mind: just another weed, in a landscape of weeds. It is as if the land reflects precisely the attention given to it: settlers who come in as alien species, leave behind a landscape of alien species, and for images of beauty choose records of the moment of claiming a rich land, such as this fence and the bittersweet image of the loss of that richness (again, the fence). Now, let me make a proposal: it is exactly like that. The Earth is us and we are the earth. Calling the view in the image above “nature” is the problem, because that proposes an active force separate from human forces. It isn’t.
The water above, the sun caught in the art of the vines, the desert of the earth…. … this is ancient stuff. We can dress it up with triple-blind, peer-reviewed studies of water, air and sun, but it’s still a combination of ancient Babylonian, Hebraic, Celtic and Roman insights, presented through a technological lens. It is an unbroken story, stretching into the depths of time. Where, however, are the new insights? To be fair, it’s not likely that there will be new ones, but it is likely that the old ones can be brought back to life, in a way that lives past the industrial metaphor we have inherited and puts in its place a new form of artfulness, a paying of attention to all of time and the way our ancestors speak through us. The alternative is to continue to view the world from the metaphors of a century ago, even though they’ve lost their connection to the tradition. The common way of bridging the ages is to take images apart into their components, to reduce them to basic structural items. That’s easy. Putting them together, both out of fragments and out of lost traditions, is how art can grow a living science and a living earth. It is time to make the earth our gallery again.
I’m still slowly picking and savouring this first crop of Benvoulin apples in 20 years. Here is one of them hanging out with the gals from the tomato patch, just for fun. There are three left on the tree, too. You can read the story of this unique apple here. The discovery, breeding, saving, grafting and distributing of apple varieties is an art form older than most others. It is illuminating to contemplate it beside such new forms of intervention with the natural world, such as farmer’s markets, community gardens, food banks, and university-based GMO breeding programs. Those are all social forms of art, while this is an individual, poetic one that comes from a man being the land he walks. I doubt any of the newer art forms would ever lead to an apple so powerful that one bite beats a $30 bottle of riesling— and yet which everyone can afford. In this respect, the simple image above is an image of wealth.
It’s a trick of light.
Reforming itself in a new form, that’s the trick.
The process of the sun transferring itself is not finished.
At the moment, it is both here, and there. Look at it caught in this old, exploded star that my ancestors call, variably, water and Wasser and wetter and wody.
It is the sun, defying gravity and moving itself across space by turning itself into energy, and then, through the lens of the earth, turning itself back.
It’s a way of selling peasant culture as elite culture.It’s done within a metaphor of capitalization. Only industrialists need apply. It is very expensive.
Instead of people, it employs machines. This is part of the adaptation of agriculture to a capitalized model. Capital depreciation replaces wages. It is a way of concentrating flows of energy in single hands.
Standardization is part of this process. The image below is an image of what the contemporary social culture of Canada looks like.
This is a coyote vineyard access road. Every year it gets dug at a different spot. Every year it gets blocked, and the coyotes let it be, until a week before harvest, when they dig it again.
This is what our parents’ farms largely look like today, after we were taken away by promises of distant glories.This too is an image of war. Our parents came through the Second World War as children. We came through its consequence, the Cold War — again as children. After all of that, this. We left it for arts, of various kinds. That was also the story of war. Perhaps we come back to it with art as well. Perhaps that art has been cleansed. That tree is hopeful. That is one beautiful tree.