We Are Not Alone


Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone

It is not biology that makes us into individuals, seeking to find Nature from behind our masks. How do I know? Because Nature is a cultural artefact, too. This is art:


Actually, it’s a bit of Frankenstein, really, because what makes it look like art is framing, and if the framing is done right it looks human. Without that, it might look like Frankenstein, like this:

wrongIn the second image, the framing pushes the image away from the sky and its water, decontextualizes the new snow, and draws the human eye into shadow, then drops it out of the bottom of the frame. The result is not human. In an age of images, these are the tricks. It’s not that we need to make bad images, to remove human-ness from nature, but it might be that we need to explore that opening. We are doing something, that is way beneath human consciousness, yet collectively we are doing it billions of times a day. So, look at the first image again (below), looking east from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. This is nature.


It is a created artefact, not just because a balanced image makes it into Nature, which it does, but also because, beyond the artifice of the image, the landscape it “represents” (but doesn’t) has been stripped of its human inhabitants, rendered “empty”, and then filled with people writing images of nature upon it. Sometimes it’s the emptiness above, and the revealed fire and energy cycles within it. That’s a valuable thing, but it’s as much a human image of a human as the spiritual image that previous inhabitants found within it. Sometimes it’s this:


Bison were reintroduced to the park, to restore its wild beauty. Despite all the warnings from park staff that bison are wild and dangerous, this isn’t exactly wild. This is a human-bison combo. It’s no different than a photograph. So, what’s to do? Objectivity is no answer. That has led us to this Frankensteinian impasse in the first place. Removing the viewing “I” is one possibility. It’s possible to do that by introducing bison. It’s possible to do that by allowing the land to find its organic energy rhythms. Those are artworks, too, but not the only ones. Deconstruction, the process of removing the everyday expectations from things and displaying their hidden structures, is one way of doing it. Another, though is contextualization. It’s the art not of following a narrative line, which will always be biased towards one cultural form of human activity, but of erasing the line …

P2070199 … and still being there, not going out to meet Nature, but coming in from it to the point where there is no nature and no self …P2070480… but something else entirely.

Something there are no words for. Poetry is the art of finding the words, but you can’t force poetry. For the moment, I give you the gesture.


4 replies »

  1. when you say ‘biology’ do you mean bodies or the study of bodies?
    when you say ‘Nature’ do you mean world-doing-its-thing or one of the very many ways humans conceptualize world-doing-its-thing?
    when you say ‘art’ do you mean what humans feel to be successfully art-ish, or human artifact?
    some people can frame a photograph so it feels balanced and then people like the feel of it and call it a good photo. many people can’t, but their photos are still human artifacts.

    when we see a bird it can’t one one thing or another, it always has to be
    1. the bird
    2. the way our bodies see, which includes cultural habit
    3. the light and the air conditions it is passing through.

    when we photograph a bird there is another thing:
    4. photographic technology.

    – so it has to be complicated, human and non-human both.
    and yes there are ways of being more fully with and they can include all of 1, 2, 3 and 4.


    • I mean there is being and there are divisions of being and they are not the same and the products of setting them in motion are not the same. I mean there is something outside of them both that it is possible to approach by clearing them aside. I mean what Goethe meant: an action taken with a technology embodies the technology, but is not the unmediated action or unmediated presence, and that it is possible to live within the unmediated presence, which contemporary divisions deny us. I mean, if the environment is jeopardized, it is so because of certain divisions. If what is broken is to be healed, what is broken needs to be healed, and that includes human identity systems. In fact, it springs from them. What does biology make of us? A profound cultural and physical mix. Representations of environments. We are not all the same, because we are imprinted to represent different environments. We speak for them. The contemporary global model, or the contemporary version of humanism, holds that the commonality, the individual, is the reality. It has costs. Mass extinction is one of them. Cultural erasure is another. Best, Harold


      • Something wrong with humans in relation to non-human world, and otherness in general, for sure.
        Feeling/thinking toward that bettering that wrongness is our common project.

        But our epistemologies or at least the way we name them seem not to coincide in some way I can’t quite get focused. I can understand your intention but can’t understand what you’re saying, and think the obverse is probably true.

        How do you understand living within unmediated presence? What is that like when it happens?

        I don’t understand the clearing aside metaphor either. I understand being somewhere and really being present with it – full grok – but for me getting into that state doesn’t include experiences that feel like clearing something aside.

        Maybe demonstration is the only way: not about but from. Writing when in what you describe as an unmediated state (I’m saying it that way because I don’t think it’s unmediated but mediated differently). Taking a photograph when in that kind of state. Which can sometimes bring other people into that state.


      • Sounds wise.

        Still, I’ll add that poetry does this, but prose does not.

        I’m trying to figure out a way to expand that poetry-knowing into prose-knowing.

        Goethe is a good start… have you read his treatise on colour?


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