Some Thoughts on Poetry and Environment / Joshua Alan Sturgill
First, you must look on reality As being like yourself. Fragile and vast Mystery clothed in metrics. Placed Yet free. A self with fuel and desire Strong enough to become all flame
One of the clearest signs of confusion in our relationship with the world is the Environmental Crisis. This is a spiritual malady, not a (merely) mechanical/physical cycle or event. Our inability to reverse the crisis is compounded by the loss of poetic language, by pseudo-Christian notions of Adam’s dominance over creation, and (relatedly) by the proponents of the scientific method. Francis Bacon, for example, believed that Nature should be forced to “reveal her secrets” for mankind’s practical use and intellectual curiosity.
In contrast, from the perspective of a poetic metaphysics, the whole of the physical universe should be regarded as humanity’s body. The cosmos is not something other than humanity; and when, under the guise of science, we vivisect and excavate the world, we are dissecting, distorting and (perhaps permanently) damaging ourselves. One of the obvious meanings of current scientific theories like the Uncertainty Principle and the Observer Effect is that we can never be impersonal and objective spectators when we interact with physical phenomena—precisely because we are putting our own flesh under the microscope—cutting, irradiating and engineering our body into oblivion.
Since I like allegory, here is an extended metaphor to illustrate what I believe modern culture has done to the environment—
We are like a heart surgeon so dazzled by his own skill and so curious about his own circulatory system that he has forgotten his dependence on it. He decides to demonstrate his ultimate power and control over his circulatory system by attempting a heart transplant on himself. He realizes, vaguely, that he can’t survive without a heart. But he proceeds with the operation, undaunted, confident he will be able to devise machines that will perform the functions of the heart even better than the heart itself.
This metaphoric heart surgeon began with two fatal assumptions. First, he believes he knows from his research every aspect of what the heart does and how it works. Second, he believes his heart is something apart from his life. Having reduced his concept of personhood to his reasoning faculty alone, he assumes that everything not directly connected to the reason is (ultimately) unnecessary. For him, the heart is merely part of an improvable/disposable life-support system for the logical brain—a system destined to be upgraded, evolved or cured.
If we imagine that the heart surgeon succeeds with his experiment, then he has, in a sense, cheated death. He has not abolished death, but he’s made a compromise with it: Death can determine the content of his life, as long as it allows him to go on experiencing comfort and pleasure and curiosity. He is now dependent on lifeless machines, electricity and “resources” to keep and maintain his mechanical heart. From now on, he must be always mining his own body in order to maintain his pleasures and interests. When the planet runs out of resources, he will expire. But there are other planets, other elements, other “secrets of Nature” which Death might reveal to him to keep him in thrall for millennia.
The irony of this slow destruction of the body (earth) to maintain the damaged body (society) is that it eventually eliminates the need for reasoning faculty that devised the system! The whole of humanity, having forgotten its connection to the cosmos revealed through poetry, now also forgets its science and learning, its great ideas, its multi-dimensional Self, and reduces itself to body alone.
This seems to be where we find ourselves today. The whole cosmos is aging, becoming rigid and impenetrable—a dead world. Society is becoming all body with no soul. Contemporary religion is concerned only with morality and texts, not with beauty and devotion. Contemporary philosophy is only interested in categories of wisdom, not in wisdom itself. Contemporary government is interested in economics, not well-being for its citizens.
The problem of the Environmental Crisis is reality-wide. Our spiritual and intellectual environments, once explained and nurtured by a poetic metaphysics, are collapsing. Along with this collapse of our soul, we are currently witnessing the end of the complex and irreplaceable physical environment of our body, the Earth.