About Harold Rhenisch

www.haroldrhenisch.com

The Green Man Goes Red

My old friend the Green Man is the primary human ancestor in the forests of central Europe. We are family.

 

The Green Man, Schönefeld, Saxony

I found his cousin in Prague, not the Green Man but the Red Man:

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The Red Man of Prague

 

Note that his leaves cup his face rather than rise from it, and how he is so much more a fruit or a blossom than the ancestral human, the tree. Fascinating! (Before photography, this was photography, Before evolution, this was evolution.)

The Resistance in Prague

In communist Prague, resistance meant to plant an apricot tree, like the yellow one in the foreground below. The resistance was a denial of borders, prisons and proletarian culture.
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Here’s how to resist capitalist Prague:

twocansThe resistance is a denial of property ownership within public space. What these two visions of resistance share is a denial of Prague, written within the city. Kafka, who was from Prague, tried to tell us all of this trap long ago. Here’s another form of resistance in Prague:

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Resistance? Why yes, one is not supposed to feed the swans. Just across the river, there is a tiny nature reserve, of no value to bird life, with a sign forbidding the feeding of these creatures. And the resistance? Look again above those swans…

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 Bread for the Swans

The city is an artwork. It has appearances. The people who live within it exert their humanity by resisting those boundaries, and it is those boundaries, in turn, and the resistance to them, that lead to the image of the city, such as this image of the nature preserve:

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An iconic image, for sure, and a perfect illustration of the principles of classical art, but the swans are actually begging for bread. And so, in a city proud of its regained independence from soviet control, the revolution continues, just under the surface. It is the revolution that is created by the city, and within its walls. As for art…

 

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It’s a lure, as obsolete as these baroque statues…

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Superseded by the practicalities of building waterworks and good stone paths for tourists, nonetheless they remain, even as they originally were: icons pointing to a past that never existed and yet which generates one often-overlooked thing that takes two identical forms: resistance and bondage. As Kafka knew, you cannot escape Prague. Literature was his way of standing solidly in this paradox. Now that literature is the past and cities are even more ubiquitous, what is resistance? This?

wallIs resistance the tagging? Is it the ivy, left to eat at the wall? Is it the eye that sees, stops, and is present in this moment of paradox? Is it here?

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Does art, in other words, still have its old power, but within the city rather than in its galleries? If so, what aesthetic training is necessary to help this resistance flourish?

 

Street Art Masterpieces

This has been a week for talk about food security. As I leave for some of the travels that come upon me from time to time and find their way back into the Okanagan Okanogan, I would like to leave you with a thought: artistic security is as valuable as food security. In a society based on exchanging labour for monetary capital, artistic work gains monetary value and can be traded, shipped, packaged and displayed in special vaults and stock market trading floors called art galleries. Despite the suggestion that art is a specialized project, to be produced by specialists and appreciated by the educated, I offer you the street art of Vernon.

P1550286 Note the intricate line work in the lower middle span of the image, an the exquisite sphere around the iron sewer grate. First class. The concept has many variations. Here’s one where the concrete has been jackhammered away to reveal the glacial river gravel it is made from.P1550287

Note the exquisitely placed cigarette butt. Another great motif is the leaf drift. Motion and stillness, organic line and industrial line meet and merge.P1550306

The energy can get quite intense.

P1550308 And quite spare.P1550311

Note how two triangles and a rectangle just barely manage to balance one dark snowplow gouge starting to grow some good weeds. This is not just art made by the earth. Humans can take part in this art as well, as hundreds of their footsteps have done below.

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A society can exist without an art gallery, but it cannot exist without the eyes to find art in every moment. Note that the art I have showed you here exists outside the capitalization of artistic labour and, in fact, outside of labour itself. This might make it nearly invisible to contemporary culture. It is no less valuable for that.

Food Culture in Crisis in Kelowna

Yesterday and the day before I spoke about a farming crisis in Vernon. I’d like to extend that into its context, as part of a food crisis in the Okanagan. First, to be fair, I’ll set the picture, as you’re probably not from this place. Although it might seem I’m talking about local issues, they’re pretty universal. Sometimes working up from the ground is the way to go. So, I live in a city called Vernon. Just down the road is a farmer who sells tomatoes to people who would like to save some money picking their own, as a patched-together substitute for the legitimate tomato-growing industry we used to have, but which we don’t have anymore for ideological reasons. You can read my post about him from a year ago, here, to see my thoughts about this a year ago: We Do Not Have A Food Problem. For those of you who didn’t click through, here’s a photo from that post, to hold the thought.

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Aging Farmer Tearing Up the Unsold Tomatoes at the End of the Year

Nest step: plowing them under.

So, I guess you get the picture. Forty minutes down the road is a city that I know as the administrative centre for Canadian fruit growing culture but which most people know as a series of condos on the lake, for the purposes of speculation, time-sharing and skiing holidays that condos serve. Notice I didn’t say “housing”, because too often condos aren’t really for housing. They often offer only the potential of housing sometime in the future, once speculation has run its course. This is a common problem in cities across Canada, and it’s no different here. Two weeks for a skiing holiday in the winter, and you can write the rest of it off against income, while waiting for prices to rise so you can sell it to the next investor. The city is Kelowna. You can see some some of its condo towers on an insert in the Kelowna newspaper last week.
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Notice the excellent 1980s style graphic design. This from the city that claims to be the cultural heart of the Okanagan Valley, and claims, as the title of the pamphlet shows, excellence. Sadly, the burnt hills to the far left, the smog hovering over the ridge, the bridge cutting the lake in two, the low photographic values and the amateurish graphics take away from the lustre of that excellence. But, hey, Canada found Kelowna tucked in its far west back in the 1980s, with its clean air, its farms, and its clean water, and has remade it in its own image. I didn’t know what excellence I would find inside the brochure, but what I found, the very first page, the first thing I saw when I opened the brochure, was this:

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There’s a lot of amazing effort and dedication going into this project, but I have to ask: where is the excellence, really, in a town that is a playground for the top 1% of Canada, when all of this social effort has to go to sustain the people displaced by that playground and that wealth, people without adequate food, housing or work picking (or, say, canning) tomatoes, like we used to do here proudly, not to mention producing apples and applesauce and apple juice for the world? What is wealth when it doesn’t belong to the people or the community? Well, a little of it is here, with the dedicated, hard-working and gifted director of the food bank, with no name brand tomato sauce, chicken broth, boxed macaroni and cheese and Heinz Alphaghetti from factories far away. This is not food. It’s money. Someone else’s money. Someone else’s work. Someone else’s assembly-line culture. food1

 

I in no way mean to take away from the essential work the food bank does in Kelowna. What I want to bring to mind is that the structure of Canadian society, which the Kelowna newspaper appears to call excellent, has created food banks. A society that can build condominiums by the hundreds and little (if any) housing for working people, condominiums which are often not lived in, is a society that can replace a food culture with an industrial supply-chain culture, in which food, if available at all, must be purchased with capital, not labour, or with an appeal to charity and good works. In a food culture, the boxes above would hold tomatoes, onions, chickens, beans, flour and eggs, not just the industrialized promise of them, however it is softened by dedicated creative energy. Here’s a sobering thought: when the fruit and vegetable industries thrived in this valley they were not based on a capitalist model. Neither were they based on a free enterprise model. Sixty years ago, the Okanagan, and Kelowna, were excellent. We didn’t have a food movement. We didn’t have the smoke screens of ideology.  We had work.

Land Crisis in Vernon

Yesterday I showed you an image of an apple crisis. Here it is again, from a different angle.

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People are so hungry to connect with a farmer over a supermarket that they will pay an industrial farmer as much for his cull apples as they would pay for his good ones at a produce store, and half what they’d pay in a supermarket itself. The only thing is, he’s an industrial farmer, and not, perhaps, the thing they wish to support. For instance, that fence? It prevents deer from migrating up and down the hills, as they need to do, and forces them to wander through neighbourhoods, where they get labelled “problem deer” and get shot. As for the land itself, look:

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Yes, mud. A tractor made that, hauling those apples out. This is what has been created out of this grassland soil after a hundred years: hard-packed, water repelling mud. 10,000 years of soil creation has been negated in 100 years. I don’t think that’s what people wish to pay for either. I think that an adjustment will come: either farmers will get the idea, or people will. That it all has to happen within an industrial metaphor makes it harder. Those are, however, only human issues. For the land, the issue is clear: stop this or the land will die.

Apple Crisis in Vernon

Apples for sale by the bag.P1550110 Looks nice, huh! Look more closely. Here are some Ambrosias.

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See all that marking? These apples are worth zero. In a modern world of cosmetic fruit, these can’t be sold, so they’re being sold off the back of a 5-ton truck for $8 per10 pound bag — as if this were a family farm and not an agribusiness.

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That’s more than the farmer would get if they were cosmetically perfect. This situation won’t last. I saw this before in the 1970s. Troubled times are back.

Planet of Fire

This is no ordinary planet we live on. I think it’s best to walk outside and take a look …P1550050

 

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.

Amazing Poplars

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.
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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!

Deconstruction Deconstructed

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Invisible Earth

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.

P1530744 Grape Vines and Birds Separated By Force

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.

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$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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Garter Snake, Catching a Breath After Some Underwater Fishing

Her.

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.