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Nature and Narcissist Lifestyles

by Marion Poschmann Thursday, Apr. 26, 2007 at 9:41 AM

A tree is more than lumber and a national symbol.


A tree is more than lumber or a national symbol. A tree deserves respect. A plea for a radical aesthetic relation to nature

By Marion Poschmann

[This article “Traut dem Augenschein!”(Trust Appearance!)

published in: DIE ZEIT, April 2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Marion Poschmann, born in 1969, is a writer in Berlin. Since her book of poems “Reason to Create” (Grund zu Schafen) (2004), she is considered one of the most important German (nature) lyric poets. What is the future of nature? Everyone speaks of climate disaster and protection of the atmosphere. What nature should we protect from ourselves?]

Nature and its opposite, culture, are in a state of mutual penetration or confusion. Take the woods as an example. Our woods today used by forestry are more an industry than an organic complexity. Monocultures without undergrowth, without songbirds and without the powerful animals, the wolf, bear and hawk make the walk in the woods into a comparatively boring experience while a well-designed park suggests variety and abundance. The forest is impoverished. On the other hand, the urbanization of wild animals increases with globalization. Foxes and badgers are found in waste dumps and city cemeteries. Animals of other continents like raccoons find ecological niches. New plant species settle in industrial branches and other “unstable surfaces.” Heat-loving mice from East Asia wreak havoc in our television sets and computers. A greater wealth of species is found in row house gardens than in the German forest.

The question whether the person is part of nature or whether nature is wholly other is not answered. Theories of nature reflect the spirit of the times. The human conception of itself appears in the relation to nature. Therefore speech about nature is almost exclusively a speech about anthropology.

Nature was seldom neutral in the course of history. As the uncultivated, uncontrollable and wild, it represents the threat of the human order. As wild, foreign and natural, it is regarded as the goal of longing and the lost paradise. In fairy-tales and romanticism, the forest stands for a nature in which the marvelous and frightening occur. The mysterious and impenetrable forest is the place of testings and transformation, the place where the individual is led to his or her limits and breaks these limits. Average adults shift the fairy-tale forest into their interior whether as the Freudian unconscious or as Jean Paul’s inner Africa. It appears as a transforming power in everyday culture, reappears symbolically in fashion (as a feather boa or leopard coat) or in the auto industry (the black panther).

But what happens with the real forest? The television program is charming in which Bambi and Pu the bear jump around. The forest can only offer lumber in a world where stimuli decide. On the other hand, nature entices whether as an advertising picture or as wellness week. The strange all-pervasiveness of pictures of nature with simultaneous exploitation and neglect of the real realities can give the impression that everything is ultimately nature and what we do doesn’t matter.

We feel the western lifestyle is natural because it is the dominant lifestyle – as though a higher power forces all of us to car driving, cheap flights and television. A strange total dependence on authority is sold to the individual as a sense of freedom. This lifestyle is fed in large part out of fantasies and narcissism. The outer world is instrumentalized to stabilize the ego. However on closer inspection the ego or I proves to be a creation. The clearer this becomes the more vigorous is the stabilization effort. The free development of the individual is promoted as the highest value. But since freedom first means emptiness, we witness the terrified filling of this emptiness with objects, status symbols and comfort. The crux of the matter is that surrogates deepen and do not fulfill needs in the long-term.

The car is indispensable as a sex- and status symbol. That was recently printed in DIE ZEIT. Apart from the light cast on sexuality and status, this fact shows that the car has the position of a sacred cow for us. We have a greater esteem for the symbol than reality or real nature. Hardly a chance exists for this nature as long as the narcissist lifestyle is unchallenged. Nature is covered by arguments and destroyed by interests. Conversely, egoism, lust for power and ignorance are justified since these are now the natural conditions of humans.

I am always amazed at the little respect for nature. I question the authorization for complete deforestation, monstrous expressway bridges and mass breeding of animals. Such doubts are taboo. They are regarded as naïve and harmless, starry-eyed and sentimental. It is said; simply trusting appearance does not do justice to the complexity of society. It is said, the crucial processes are invisible. But are they really invisible? Is globalization invisible? Globalization can be seen with the naked eye.. A lifestyle (that considered with love has its right like the ugliness of a deep sea fish) can be questioned. Tastelessness, dullness and staleness can be felt. The vicious cycle is manifest. Only the confidence is missing that something else could still exist for us beyond all this.

I plead for a radical aesthetic relation to nature. Beauty or aesthetic appeal is the opposite of the entertainment industry. Aesthesis, perception, has to do with the art of overcoming one’s partial blindness and presupposes a certain sincerity. Aside from its function as lumber and a national symbol, a tree can be seen as something independent that our minds cannot grasp, something inviolable, an existence. We are also nature, that means mortal creatures. We must let ourselves be put in question by the selflessness of nature.

With joy, I recognize riches without influence and control. With bliss, I read: the wild cat that we seldom see still lives invisibly in some German forest. It is very individual, timid and untamable. It reveals the extraordinary dignity in the self-regulating processes of nature, arising without human reason, without planning, without instrumental thinking and without pursuit of gain.

The vastness, splendor and beauty of nature can only be seen together with her finiteness. We are frightened of this. Our own death appears in the loving contemplation of nature. We prefer a symbolic immortality to the beauty of the living.

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