wildhood welcome

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Wildhood is kinship of the wild in all people, places, and things.


Welcome the wild.

On Bate's (2000) _Song of the Earth_ - "What Are Poets For?"

Mark Douglas


Humans of deep history were driven by the will to survive and thrive toward copulation, nutrition, and keep. Since then humans gathered reflexivity and specific nomenclature. We're the species that names the species. We lay out the categories.

To the ancient Greeks this was a matter of reasoning and speech, converted to ratio and oratio on the Roman tongue. Developments in primate science show that other species "behave in ways which are intended to influence the states of mind of other individuals" (Bate, 2000, p. 243). These species vocalize distinctly in regard to different entities. So perhaps there's more to distinguish humanity than reason and language. Bate claims that only we humans seek sophos, or "abstract knowledge" (p. 244). The other beings seek that knowledge that leads to survival alone.

Distinguishing humanity from nature is no new project. But Bate's case is that Western culture may have an "exceptionally divisive understanding of humankind's relationship to nature" and this stems from roots in Bacon's empiricism, Descartes' dualism, and Kant's idealism.

Kant's idealism blossomed relatively around the time evolution came on the scene via Lamarck. Though not using these terms, Bate states that the Kantian ideal and Lamarckian appeal to basic constituents are players in the split of science and art. Scientists began with material building blocks, artists with ideas. Two discourses emerged. Humanists focused on rights in a moral and political sense while science focused on structures and tools. Only through Romanticism were nature's rights considered and then only through the wilderness backdrop (sans-technics).

20th century philosophy did little to thread imagination through physics. We became caught up in language and shifted focus from ratio to oratio. "But whether we begin with the mind or the word, we are not beginning with the external world" (Bate, 2000, p. 245). This human-world schism has been a disaster.

Reiterating his thesis, Bate states that the Romantics recognized joy through nature. Romanticism "regards poetic language as a special kind of expression which may effect an imaginative reunification of mind and nature, though it also has a melancholy awareness of the illusoriness of its own utopian vision" (Bate, 2000, p. 245). Bate, building on oiesis and oikos, notes a sense of ecopoiesis, or ecopoetics -- dwelling-place making. 

Bate goes on to propose that poetry and poems that survive do so perhaps through a sort of economy of selection. The poems survive "like naturally selected species within evolving ecosystems, they successfully perform necessary work within our distinctively human ecology" (Bate, 2000, p. 246).

Bate goes on to cite Gary Snyder and the connections that Snyder has made between poetry and ecosystem dynamics. "The idea is that poetry -- perhaps because of it rhythmic and mnemonic intensity -- is an especially efficient system for recycling the richest thoughts and feelings of a community. Every time we read or discuss a poem, we are recycling its energy back into our cultural environment" (Bate, 2000, p. 247, citing Snyder, #find specific citation). This is not erely a metaphor (a concern expressed by Jack Turner in his essay in The Rediscovery of the Wild). Based on Snyder's understanding of interconnectedness, "He would reply that metaphor is a way of understanding hidden connections, of reunifying the world which scientific understanding has fragmented....the poet is supremely important precisely because he believes in the power of metaphor" (Bate, 2000, p. 247).

Some recognize problems in this logic. "Language and imagination have come to be defined as realms that are split off from nature because they only function by means of representation. What is produced by representation is by definition something other than the thing-in-itself (Kant's Ding an sich)" (Bate, 2000, p. 247).

While ecopoetics affirms "the existence, but also the sacredness, of the-things-of-nature-in-themselves [it] seems naive in comparison" to the postmodern focus on representation, discourse, and language. Ecopoetics must trace a way past "the proposition that language is a self-enclosed system" (Bate, 2000, p. 248). Without delving into the well laid argument Bates gives throughout his book, he boils it down to a need to move beyond hermeneutics into ecopoetics. "Our problem, then, is that the environmentalist's loving gaze upon 'nature' entails a forgetting that 'nature' is a word, not a thing" (p. 248). While Snyder did justice to the physis or coming-forth of energy by the word of poetry, he "failed to come to grips with the problem of writing, the gap between 'presence' and 'representation' " (p. 248).

Representation is locked into the hermeneutic circle according to postmodern thought and thus "should be denounced as the reduplication of presence, as the re-presenting of presence" (#Snyder, XXXX, p. XXX). Ricoeur sought a solution. Writing, active writing, is saying. But the text holds the said. "The problem of writing is that it detaches the 'said' from the act of 'saying', the 'meaning' of an utterance from the 'event' of utterance" (Bate, 2000, p. 249). The saying happens in a moment while the said endures. "The space and time of writing are not the same as the space and time of reading" (p. 249). 

So we must watch out for two failed kinds of interpretation. Interpretation is impoverished when it shackles the text to the author. This occludes the difference between the event of saying and the written itself. Practice falls away. Interpretation is impoverished alternatively when the author is severed from text to such degree that it seems anybody might claim anything anytime about any text. "Good interpretation is a synthesis of the two parts of the dialectic constituted by author and reader" (Bate, 2000, p. 249).

For Bate, lived dialogue instantiates a situation while writing brings forth a rift from the situation. Quoting Ricoeur (#19XX, p. XXX) humans go beyond instantiation through extension beyond "the bodily support of oral discourse" by way of a "the substitution of material marks." Representation gives us world (juxtaposed toward earth in the Heideggarian sense). Most writing is representational and referential toward world. 

Poetry addresses world but "its manner of speaking is not descriptive" (Bate, 2000, p. 250). What poetry does is reorient our being in the world toward what can't be directly described. Poetry alludes. Literature or poetics engenders an understanding "of a new way of being in the world" (#Bate, 2000, p. 250, quoting Ricoeur, 19XX, p. XX). For Ricoeur, discourse projects a world. Through one's response to artwork comes ourselves into the open of a new world, "to another person's 'project', to an alternative way of being in the world. There is ecological power by art: "works of art can themselves be imaginary states of nature, imaginary ideal ecosystems, and by reading them, by inhabiting them, we can start to imagine what it might be like to live differently upon the earth" (Bate, 2000, pp. 250-251). So far, so good.

But, Ricoeur slips by situating world within subjectivity. "Ricoeur's 'world' -- the abstract, disembodied zone of possibility -- is a building inside the head. It is not synonymous with any actual dwelling-place upon the earth" (Bate, 2000, p. 251). Bate gives us Ricoeur's praise of Heidegger's triadic building-dwelling-thinking but it seems that Ricoeur misunderstand's Heidegger's project. Building, dwelling, and thinking literally take place. Thought is nothing subjective, but is that which arrives from without toward the thinker. (Reader: see my series on Heidegger's lectures, What is called thinking). Ricoeur has the world as pre-discursive on the way to discourse and language where the human dwells. But Heidegger's thought goes elsewhere, to the earth. For Heidegger, "there is a special kind of writing, called poetry, which has the peculiar power to speak 'earth'. Poetry is the song of the earth" (p. 251).


Poets "are often exceptionally lucid or provocative in their articulation of the relationship between internal and external worlds, between being and dwelling" (Bate, 2000, pp. 251-252). We now turn toward the later thought of Heidegger and his focus on poetry, dwelling, and technology.

Heidegger wants us to hold a true understanding and relation to the essence of technology. We can't write off technology as mere tooling. We can't just accept it as given full stop. We can't flee it. "Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it" (#Bate, 2000, p. 252, quoting Heidegger, 19XX, p. XXX). [I don't know what style Bate is using, but the lack of direct citation perturbs me.] Basically, the essence of technology is not it's instrumentality.

Against the interpretation of a chalice as a collection of causes grounded in the silversmith, Heidegger claims that the presence, or "being-there (Dasein) of the chalice is its chaliceness. Its material, its form and its function are all part of that meaning. The silversmith is instrumental, but apart from there being chalice. Building from Plato and his multiple kinds of poiesis, Heidegger calls back to the Symposium wherein Socrates offers a kind of poiesis that happens when "something is called into existence that was not there before" (Bate, 2000, p. 253). 

We then get an extended quote from "The Question Concerning Technology" wherein Heidegger distinguishes the poiesis of physis from the poiesis of echne. From what maybe Bate's translation we get from Heidegger. "Physis is indeed poiesis in the highest sense. For what presences by means of physis has the irruption belonging to bringing-forth, e.g. the bursting of a blossom into bloom, in itself (en heautoi). In contrast, what is brought forth by the artisan or the artis, e.g. the silver chalice, has the irruption belonging to the bringing-forth, not in itself, but in another (en alloi), in the craftsman or artist" (Bates, 2000, p. 253). 

This 'bringing-forth' is a bringing forth out of concealment into disclosure. The difference between forms of physis is explicated more fully in Heidegger's treatment of Aristotle in Heidegger's "On the essence and concept of hysis" which can be found in Heidegger's collection, athmarks. [Readers can expect my close reading of that work on it's way to my workshop]. Succinctly, when a natural thing, like a tree, flourishes, it "brings itself forth into blossom, it unconcealed its being as a tree, whereas the unconcealing of the being of a chalice is the work not of the chalice but of the craftsman" (Bate, 2000, p. 253). 

Disclosure, or unconcealment is a revealing. Revealing is aletheia, which is truth. To get the Greek sense of this, the River Lethe was referred to as the river of unmindfulness, or the river of oblivion. Therefore, truth is revealing out of oblivion. Technology works as a mode of revealing, and therefore not as merely instrumental or productive. "Technology is a mode of revealing: Heidegger implies that it is one of the distinctively human ways of being-in-the-world. As such, it cannot be avoided and is not to be casually condemned. We have no choice but to be technological beings" (Bate, 2000, pp. 253-254). But these days technology does not embrace poiesis. Technological practice has largely forgotten poetic revealing in favor of Herausforden "which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such" (Bate, 2000, p. 254, translating Heidegger from The Question Concerning Technology).

The issue pivots on the notion of stockpiles. "A windmill derives energy from the wind, but 'does not unlock energy from the air currents in order to store it' " (Bates, 2000, p. 254, quoting Heidegger from QCT). The stance humanity takes from and through technology toward earth differs to the degree that humans "challenge" and "confront" earth. 

Heidegger uses the River Rhine for example. A hydroelectric dam abuts the flow and captures energy for storage and delivery. It's very different than the artifactual bridge forged through echne, but without changing the identity of the river. The dam reduces the river: "In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry" (Bate, 2000, p. 254, quoting Heidegger, QCT). Bate relies on Heidegger to take it further by analogy to the rise industrialization and industrial tourism. "When a mountain is set upon, whether is is made into a mine or a nature reserve, it is converted into standing-reserve. It is then revealed not as a mountain but as a resource for human consumption -- which may be tourism's hungry consumption with the eye as much as industry's relentless consumption of matter" (p. 254). But as a tease, I'll say Bate ignores the wilderness idea put into practice by Leopold and Marshall whereby we're encouraged to "think like a mountain". 

Humans themselves are susceptible to transformation toward standing reserve. Building work in Montana's College of Forestry, I cannot omit Heidegger's QCT passage (presumably translated by Bate (2000, p. 255)).

The forester who measures the felled timber in the woods and who to all appearances walks the forest path in the same way his grandfather did is today ordered by the industry that produces commercial woods, whether he knows it or not. He is made subordinate to the order ability of cellulose, which for its part is challenged forth by the need for paper, which is then delivered to newspapers and illustrated magazines. The latter, in their turn, set public opinion to swallowing what is printed, so that a set configuration of opinion becomes available on demand.

If somebody is driving technology, that person is not necessarily standing reserve (depending upon the technical structure of the enterprise). The technological driver reduces and enframes artifacts and natural things through the essence of technology, Ge-stell, or enflaming. "Enframing means making everything part of a system, thus obliterating the unconcealed being-there of particular things" (Bate, 2000, p. 255). Modern technology, through enframing, trammels the truth of things. "Above all, enflaming conceals that revealing which, in the sense of poiesis, lets what presences come forth into appearance ... Enflaming blocks the shining-forth and holding sway of truth" (p. 255, quoting Heidegger QCT). 

Modern technology wrenches truth from being. Truth is born of wonder. Wonder is the fundamental or grounding mood. Quoting Foltz, Bate lays out how echne, by way of enframing and stockpiling, has forgone its connection to hysis. Foltz, interpreting Heidegger, tells of "a possibility that techne, originally allowing physics to hold sway in unconcealment, could become detached from the mood of astonishment before entities in their self-emergence and hence become willful and arbitrary in its independence from hysis (Bate, 2000, p. 256). [For a strong telling of the experience of wonder see Turner's account of his original encounter of pre-historic art in The Abstract Wild].

Bate sets out Heidegger's double account of the "de-naturing" of nature. Christianity de-natured nature (the self-emergent physis) through "creation". Nature was secondarily de-natured "through modern natural science, which dissolved nature into the orbit of the mathematical order of world-commerce, industrialization, and in a particular sense, machine technology" (Bate, 2000, p. 257, quoting Heidegger's 1934-35 seminars on Holderlin). This means our relationship to physis has been doubly occluded. First, through modern technology, we've lost the sense of physis as poiesis. Second, because of that loss, we've also lost the sense of techne as a mode of revealing. The danger is that as humans, we've lost touch with the sense in which we are the ones through which truth may be revealed. Basically, it's on us; don't blame the system. Look beyond the system to the backdrop and realize physis as poiesis along side techne as a poetic way of setting truth to work. Bate (2000, p. 257) gives this to us in translation of Heidegger's seminar:

There was a time when it was not technology alone that bore the name techne. Once the revealing that brings forth truth into the splendor of radiant appearance was also called techne.
     There was a time when the bringing-forth of the true into the beautiful was called techne. The poiesis of the fine arts was also called techne...
[The poet Holderlin] says to us:

poetically man dwells on this earth.

     The poetical brings the true into the splendor of what Plato in the Phaedrus calls to ekphanestaton, that which shines forth most purely...
     Could it be that revealing lays claim to the arts most primally, so that they frothier part may expressly foster the growth of the saving power, may awaken and found anew our vision of, and trust in, that which grants?

How we understand and relate to the essence of technology concerns how we understand the current essence of being and in turn, the essence of humanity. If the primal claim of truth is artwork, "poetry is our way of stepping outside the frame of the technological, of reawakening the momentary wonder of unconcealment. For Heidegger, poetry can, quite literally, save the earth" (Bate, 2000, p. 258). For Heidegger, it is poetry, not science, that discloses the essence of nature. 

Bate delves into a brief aside using Zimmerman to explain Heidegger and the foundation of his concentration on Holderlin's distinctive phrase, "poetically man dwells". Zimmerman grants that Heidegger interprets Holderlin's meaning to be that nature calls upon man to articulate its essence. But it is physis as self-emergence that first grants clearance to the way of human poiesis. Quoting Zimmerman, Bates (2000, p. 258) gives that "it is nature that first grants the 'open' in which the mortal poet can bring forth the 'saying' to ground the world needed for the historical encounter between gods and mortals, and for the self-disclosure of the earth [toward sky]." 

However, the plot thickens. Bate gives an account by which it was the scholar, Ludwig von Pigenot, that recast the fiction of Wilhelm Waiblinger as Holderlin's word. Waiblinger's novel, Phaeton, tells of a mad artist presumably styled after Holderlin himself. At the time Waiblinger and Holderlin both resided in Tubingen. Holderlin was considered insane and was cared for within a tower of Tubingen's city wall. The line in question, "poetically man dwells" comes near the end of the poem, "In lovely blue". Apparently, Ludwig von Pigenot, aware of Waiblinger's familiarity with Holderlin, recast the prose of Phaeton's mad artist into verse and offered it as the work of Holderlin. However it came into being, the work of the poem affected Heidegger.

"In lovely blue" deals with containment and release. [It thus harkens my thoughts of the wild as therismos.] It's a poem about thresholds, inside and outside. It's a poem of vacillation or iridescence. It asks about humanity, gods, the sky, and earth. On one hand, humans alone grasp beauty, kindness, purity, and divinity. On the other hand, humans alone grasp doubt, despair, and derangement. As such, humans have familiarity with the cozy and the strange. "We only know the feeling of at-homeness-upon-the-earth because we also know the feeling of being lost in the world" (Bate, 2000, p. 260). In one sense, feelings of inadequacy and the uncanny can be expressed linguistically. But in another sense, "they may also be conditions which we convince ourselves we can feel pre-linguistically -- instinctively, in the guts. This contradictory apprehension brings us directly to the central paradox of poetry. Poetry is merely language. Yet poetry is not merely language, because when we allow it to act upon us it seems able to conjure up conditions such as dwelling and alienation in their very essence, not just in their linguistic particulars" (Bate, 2000, p. 260).

Furthermore, the arrangement of poetry is crucial in the sense that the space for pause and breath is itself a clearing or opening that we ourselves are open toward. Though not mentioned by Bate, this rings notes of Gendlin and his approach to insights formed when ideas rest on the tip of our tongue. "Space and pause are poetic, yet they are not linguistic. The pause at line's end or the backdrop of the page "is an enfolding, like the blue of the sky which enfolds the cries of the swallows. To dwell poetically might mean to enter such spaces and to find that they are not only 'lovely' but 'loving' " (Bate, 2000, p. 261). 

Poetry may be the best measure of existence. Poetry exists "as taking a measure for all measuring. This measure-taking is itself an authentic measure-taking, no mere gauging with ready-made measuring-rods for the making of maps" (Bate, 2000, p. 261, quoting Heidegger without saying exactly where). All of this was Heidegger's way of telling us, as Bate says, that "We achieve being not when we represent the world, not in Vorstellung, but when we stand in a site, open to its being, when we are thrown or called. The site is then gathered into a whole for which we take on an insistent care (Besorgung). ... "For Heidegger, poetry is the original admission of dwelling because it is a presencing not a representation, a form of being not of mapping. 

Heidegger dealt with Rilke as well in his thought. For Rilke, the work of the poet is the work of transformation. For Rilke, poetry aims "to instantiate 'what is here seen and touched' into a living whole 'in a purely earthly, deeply earthly, blissfully earthly consciousness' " (#Bate, 2000, quoting Rilke, 1925, p. XX). The goal is to attune the audience toward immersive chthonic resonance. Elsewhere, Rilke's mood "is enjoyed by a gnat, glimpsed by a child, and recovered in death. [Reminds me of the phenomenology of the secret place of the child that Van Manen has translated.] 

However, I must be clear, given my scientific allegiance, that these moods are not meant to overtake representational thinking. No, "the purpose is not to elevate 'naive' modes of being over thoughtful ones, but rather to seek to reconcile the two" (Bate, 2000, p. 265). Bate then moves into familiar territory covered best by Borgmann in his Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. But Rilke has more to say about things, the hearth and the Laral gods. To turn from mere representation to existence means a duty. "On us rests the responsibility not alone of preserving their memory (that would be little and unreliable), but their human and laral value. ('Laral' in the sense of the household gods.) The earth has no way out other than to become invisible: in us who with a part of our natures partake of the invisible" (Bate, 2000, p. 264, quoting Rilke, 19XX, p. XXX). 

This is so crucial to my project. Wilderness character is more than qualities and metrics, it's more than narratives that merely keep memories alive. Wilderness character is invisible out there and it's in us as literal wilderness constituents. And "so the poets must stand in for the ancient Roman lares, those everyday gods who guarded hearth and home" (Bate, 2000, p. 264). Not only do the poets stand in for the everyday attunements (gods as moods), so to may they stand in "as the realm of nature -- the wilderness, the forest, that which is untouched by the human, the Being that is not set upon -- has diminished almost to vanishing-point with the march of modernity, of technology and consumerism, so a refuge for nature, for the letting-be of Being, must be found in poetry" (Bate, 2000, p. 264). Things, true things in Heidegger's thought, wild things "need us to that they can be named. But in reciprocation we must return from our experience of things, from Rilke's mountain, content with word and wonder" rather and more than inventory and monitoring (p. 265).

I move past some material in the text to it's conclusion for the sake of my own academic purpose.

"The poem is a clearing in that it is an opening to the nature of being, a making clear of the nature of dwelling. But such a clearing can only be achieved through a dividing and a destroying" (Bate, 2000, p. 280). If we replace poem with metaphor in the sentence above the connections to Harman's use of metaphor in his ontology is apparent. Metaphor bursts two things into a clearing whereby building comes through to manifest the unique notes of dwelling with the metaphorical object.

I'll invite my collaborative participants to draw from their own home, their own dwelling images of their wilderness meanings. By imagining that wilderness is X, wilderness and X burst into the clearing and what gets built are new X factors of wilderness. Factors of wilderness that people dwell with in their everyday lives. And so, by becoming poet, they stand in for those moods cast by the attuning ones. The participants, it's hoped, bring to bear some of the invisible within themselves and their understanding of wilderness. The moment of poiesis occurs through the images of dwelling. It remains to be seen if the poiesis comes to the fore in the later interview. 

Bate warns that "when we reflect upon the poem, when ... we interpret it rather than dwell in it, we cannot escape Cartesian dualism. But the goal will be to reanimate the moment and stay true to the metaphor in order the break open new clearings. What is a poem? For Bate, and for my dissertation project using poetic images, "a poem is not only a making of the self and a making of the world, but also a response to the world and a respecting of the earth" (Bate, 2000, p. 282).