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Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism by Ben Woodard

In academia, literature, nature, philosophy, theory, writers on October 13, 2014 at 23:28

From: Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism: Lovecraft, Ligotti and the Weirding of Philosophy by Ben Woodard, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

The strange trajectory is the following: Kant’s critical philosophy and much of continental philosophy which has followed, has been a defense against horror and madness. Kant’s prohibition on speculative metaphysics such as dogmatic metaphysics and transcendental realism, on thinking beyond the imposition of transcendental and moral constraints, has been challenged by numerous figures proceeding him. One of the more interesting critiques of Kant comes from the mad black Deleuzianism of Nick Land stating, “Kant’s critical philosophy is the most elaborate fit of panic in the history of the Earth.”

An absolute materialism, for Ligotti, implies an alienation of the idea which leads to a ventriloquil idealism. As Ligotti notes in an interview, “the fiasco and nightmare of existence, the particular fiasco and nightmare of human existence, the sense that people are puppets of powers they cannot comprehend, etc.” (Cardin, 2006) And then further elaborates that,“[a]ssuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear” (Ayad, 2004). The externality of the idea leads to the unfortunate consequence of consciousness eating at itself through horror which, for Ligotti, is more real than reality and goes beyond horror-as-affect. Beyond this, taking together with the unreality of life and the ventriloquizing of subjectivity, Ligotti’s thought becomes an idealism in which thought itself is alien and ultimately horrifying. The role of human thought and the relation of non-relation of horror to thought is not completely clear in Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

Philosophy, if it can truly return to the great outdoors, if it can leave behind the dead loop of the human skull, must recognize not only the non-priority of human thought, but that thought never belongs to the brain that thinks it, thought comes from somewhere else. To return to the train image from the beginning “a locomotive rolling on the surface of the earth is the image of continuous metamorphosis” (Visions of Excess, 7) this is the problem of thought, and of thinking thought, of being no longer able to isolate thought, with only a thought-formed structure.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

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The Far North of Experience by Rebecca Solnit

In books, environment, literature, nature, writers on August 19, 2014 at 03:14

From: The Far North of Experience: In Praise of Darkness (and Light) by Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

The far north is an unearthly earth, where much of what those of us in temperate zones were told is universal is not true. Everyone walks on water, which is a solid. In winter, you can build palaces out of it, or houses out of snow. Ice is blue. Snow insulates. Water crystallizes into floating mountains that destroy whatever collides with them. Many other things turn hard as rock in the cold. Nothing decays, and so time stops for the dead, if not the living. Cold is stability and warmth can be treacherous.

Their opposite is the equator, where every day and every night of the year is exactly twelve hours long. The further north or south you go, the longer summer days and winter nights get. In Iceland, each day of spring was several minutes longer than the one before, so that in May the days went from nearly 17 to 20 hours long, and by June there is no true darkness, no night. The sun dipped low around midnight or after and there were spectacular sunsets that melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away.

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar

In biology, chemistry, ecology, environment, nature, physics, science on April 3, 2014 at 23:49

From: Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

Wiesner and his colleagues spent several months designing the experiments that will help them outline some general ecological principles of the unique nanoverse. He knew they wanted to test the particles in a system, but a full-scale ecosystem would be too big, too unmanageable, so they had to find a way to container-ize nature. They considered all sorts of receptacles: kiddie pools (too flimsy), simple holes in the ground (too dirty, too difficult to harvest for analysis), concrete boxes (crack in winter). Finally, they settled upon wooden boxes lined with nonreactive, industrial rubber: cheap to build, easy to reuse, and convenient to harvest.

Some published research has shown that inhaled nanoparticles actually become more toxic as they get smaller. Nano–titanium dioxide, one of the most commonly used nanoparticles (Pop-Tarts, sunblock), has been shown to damage DNA in animals and prematurely corrode metals. Carbon nanotubes seem to penetrate lungs even more deeply than asbestos.

What little we know about the environmental effects of nanoparticles—and it isn’t very much—also raises some red flags. Nanoparticles from consumer products have been found in sewage wastewater, where they can inhibit bacteria that help break down the waste. They’ve been found to accumulate in plants and stunt their growth. Another study has shown that gold nanoparticles become more concentrated as they move up the food chain from plants to herbivores.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman

In human rights, nature, politics, society, video on December 26, 2013 at 13:22

From: Extended Interview with Vandana Shiva and Jane Goodall by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

Watch the full interview with Jane Goodall and Vandana Shiva at the recent International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative Summit, where they discussed their decades of work devoted to protecting nature and saving future generations from the dangers of climate change. A renowned primatologist, Goodall is best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons. An environmental leader, feminist and thinker, Shiva is the author of many books, including “Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars” and “Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.” 
GUESTS
 
Jane Goodall, renowned primatologist, best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons.
 
Vandana Shiva, environmental leader and thinker from India. She is the author of many books, including Making Peace with the Earth: Beyond Resource, Land and Food Wars and Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.


Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

Thoreau’s Wild Fruits by Frances Richard

In biology, literature, nature, writers on October 5, 2013 at 01:30

From: Thoreau’s Wild Fruits by Frances Richard, Cabinet Magazine, http://cabinetmagazine.org

He was deep in a writing project he called Wild Fruits, which he envisioned as nothing less than a handbook of practical woodcraft seamlessly woven into an ars poetica of New England nature—at once a scientifically accurate study of fruiting and forestry in the North Atlantic states, and a soaring though acerbic celebration of the ecological interdependences that link plants to humans, animals, weather patterns, and topography. Thoreau the serious amateur naturalist builds a scaffold inside his hat for carrying home freshly picked specimens, makes bold to taste choke cherries and spotted water-hemlock, and notes the days in consecutive years when muskmelon, fever bush, or bayberry bloom, ripen, wither, and freeze. In his pastoral-hermit guise, he squats down to watch white-pine cones dry and open, measures the tubers of wild artichokes, and draws blown cattails and the seedpods of Asclepias cornuti in his diary. As a polemicist, however, he remains acutely aware that his compatriots are busy building railroads, harvesting old-growth timber, and arguing the legality of slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. He intends his precise botanical observations to refract the moral and aesthetic life of a swiftly modernizing capitalist nation embroiled in civil war, and he seems to know that he is speaking for the conservation of undespoiled lands near a point of no return. Wild Fruits thus emerges as a kind of hands-on record of the motions of the spirit that Emerson called the “Over-Soul.” A journal of ecstatic union with the lilies of the field, the book never ceases to inquire into the biological and cultural processes whereby those lilies—or sassafras roots, nightshade berries, whortleberries, and wild grapes—are germinated, mulched, garnered by squirrels, pecked by birds, marked by rot, appreciated (or not) by farmers, sold (or not) at market, and represented in history. Thoreau’s voice in Wild Fruits, as elsewhere, can turn 
sarcastic—cranberries, he remarks grumpily, “cut the 
winter’s phlegm, and now you can swallow another year 
of this world without other sauce”6—or slides toward the 
different-drummer cadences of Walden—“If you would really take a position outside the street and daily life of men, you must have deliberately planned your course, you must have business which is not your neighbors’ business, which they cannot understand.”7 Like Emerson, he revels in cross-
referenced reading of historical sources, ranging knowledgeably from Pliny to Manasseh Cutler’s “An Account of Some of the Vegetable Productions, Naturally Growing in This Part of America, Botanically Arranged,” published in 1785. He also writes, approvingly, of Darwin. But the lonely ferocity of his earlier years has distilled to something less hotly personal, and he privileges, as kindred spirits, distinctly unlofty sources—elderly Penobscot Indians, housewives, schoolboys. Conspicuously avoiding Christian piety, he refers to Mother Nature as the “midwife”8 of uncultivated growth, and quotes delightedly the battered farmer “who always selects the right word,” when he says that wild apples “have a kind of bow-arrow tang.”9

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, ecology, nature on August 8, 2013 at 05:18

From: A Manifesto for Rewilding the World by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail(1). There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across(2).

The short-faced bear stood thirteen feet in its hind socks(3). One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey(4). The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26 feet(5). Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers(6).

Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it (18,19). Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the Biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

Non-Indigenous Culture by Derek Rasmussen

In civilisation, community, economy, environment, nature, North America, society on July 18, 2013 at 17:21

From: “Non-Indigenous Culture”: Implications of a Historical Anomaly by Derek Rasmussen, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

When Canadian government surveyors first ran across Gitskan people in their traditional territory, the Gitskan asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Surveying our land,” answered the surveyors.

Incredulous, the Gitksan responded: “If this is your land, where are your stories?”

We non-indigenous are the weird and exotic ones. It’s shocking to realize that although we study indigenous societies to death—”you’re always putting us under the microscope” says my Inuk friend Tommy Akulukjuk—we don’t have a single university department or textbook looking into this weird new invention: non-indigenous societies.

Thanks to fossil fuels and our ideology of possessive individualism (en masse you might call it “capitalism”), we are the first civilization not enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land. The West’s 200 year-old industrial civilization is the first to try to split itself off. This is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom,” according to anthropologist Wade Davis. “Ours is a new and original culture that celebrates the individual at the expense of family and community.”

There has never been a non-indigenous civilization on planet Earth before. It’s even a bit of false flattery to call ourselves “settlers”—we don’t actually settle anywhere. The numbers may be slightly better in the United States, but the average Canadian moves once every six years—we have to in order to find work. As Jack Turner writes in The Abstract Wild:

We no longer have a home except in a brute commercial sense: home is where the bills come. To seriously help homeless humans and animals will require a sense of home that is not commercial. The Eskimo, the Aranda, the Sioux—all belonged to a place. Where is our habitat? Where do I belong?…We know that the historical move from community to society pro­ceeded by destroying unique local structures—religion, economy, food patterns, custom, possessions, families, traditions—and replac­ing these with national, or international, structures that created the modern “individual” and integrated him into society. Modern man lost his home; in the process everything else did too.

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Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine

Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall

In agriculture, ecology, interview, nature, North America, philosophy, society on June 23, 2013 at 21:15

From: Farmer-Philosopher Fred Kirschenmann on Food and the Warming Future by Peter Pearsall, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Farmer and philosopher Fred Kirschenmann has made it his life’s work to weave sustainability and resilience into the ever-changing agricultural landscape.

A world-renowned leader in sustainable agriculture and professor of religion and philosophy at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann is no stranger to practicing what he preaches. His 2,600-acre farmstead in North Dakota serves as a model for what’s possible on a mid-sized organic farm, showcasing the results of diverse crop rotation paired with soil remediation, and all of it done without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Kirschenmann decided to convert his farm to a wholly organic operation in 1976, after being introduced to the concept in the 1960s by one of his students. Crop yields sank initially, but five years of trial and error restored productivity and eventually boosted it. Today, he grows seven different grain crops—including winter rye, millet, and hard red spring wheat—on two-thirds of the land, while on the rest cattle graze on native prairie. The farm has been featured in such publications as National Geographic, BusinessWeek, Audubon, the LA Times, and Gourmet magazine.

As the Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, Kirschenmann travels across the country and the world to spread new ideas about land ethics, soil health, and biodiversity in agriculture. He is also an author, and the president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York.

Peter Pearsall: You’ve been called an “agri-intellectual” by Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott. What does that phrase mean to you?

Fred Kirschenmann: I think what Tom means by that is that I have put together a kind of vision for the food and agriculture system based on my own experience as a farmer, and my own efforts to anticipate the kinds of challenges we’re going to see in the future.

Peter: How has sustainable agriculture changed over the last 20 years?

Fred: For a long time, I think, there’s been two views on sustainable agriculture. In the first one, the aim is to increase or intensify what we’ve done in the past. There is some effort to reduce the negative impacts of conventional agriculture—such as reducing chemical inputs, soil erosion, and negative effects on water quality—but there is still the goal of maximizing production for short-term economic returns. That particular view looks at it like, “We’ve been so successful in increasing the yields of our crops and we’ve saved the lives of billions of people. Therefore we’re going to use the new technology to keep doing that, and intensify it even more.”

This older view says that the basic system of conventional agriculture was OK, but we needed to reduce our soil erosion, we needed to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals, we needed to improve our water quality. So we had to “green up” the system to make it sustainable.

“Simply intensifying agriculture in one part of the world to feed the rest of the world is not going to solve the problem.”

More recently—and I include myself in this school of thought—we’re recognizing that we’re going to have some significant challenges in the future, where we’re not going to have the resources to sustain the agriculture of the past. So we’re going to have to fundamentally redesign it. Our agriculture system in the past was based on cheap energy, it depended on surplus available fresh water, and it depended on a stable climate. None of those things are going to be there in the future.

So those of us who are thinking about the future are thinking about it more in terms of resilience.

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Gardens and philosophy by Damon Young

In audio, nature, philosophy on June 23, 2013 at 20:59

From:  Gardens and philosophy by Damon Young – Presented by Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, http://www.abc.net.au

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Damon Young, Writer and philosopher, Honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne

Damon Young explores what he calls ‘one of literature’s most intimate relationships: authors and their gardens’.

Listen to the broadcast

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis

In Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on May 27, 2013 at 18:40

Featured: On Waiting by Raymond Tallis, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

Reposted in full with permission from: Philosophy Now

On Waiting
Raymond Tallis thinks about queuing and milling about.

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton, On His Blindness

The eponymous hero of T.S. Eliot’s anti-heroic poem Sweeney Agonistes has this to say about human life:

Birth, copulation, and death.
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks:
Birth, copulation, and death.

This seems to leave an awful lot out. There is rather more to life than this alphabetically and chronologically ordered trio of biological events; more to our patch of living daylight than the beginning, the end, and a few intervening highlights designed to satisfy life’s longing for more of itself. Tying one’s shoelaces, handing over a heavy object, challenging the Zeitgeist, winding people up, worrying about a cousin’s health, making soup, effing and/or blinding, setting up a business, putting aside money for a grandson’s university fees, pausing for breath, envisaging the consequences of a new policy strategy, simulating amusement, are just a few of the non-copulatory things that populate the nano-thin slice of light between the darkness before and the darkness after.

This occurs to me as I am waiting for a train, and (multi-tasking being the order of the day) thinking about our infinitely complex, infinitely varied lives. The list grows – trying to remember a joke, peering into the dark, running an outpatient clinic, practising a knowing look, crossing Antarctica on foot, campaigning against cuts in public services, and so on – until I come upon the thing I’m doing at this very moment. No, not thinking – that’s had more than its share of air-time in philosophy – but waiting.

The more I think about it, the bigger waiting appears. It fills so much of our lives – certainly more than copulation, even in the life of a dedicated seducer such as Don Giovanni. It comes in a thousand shapes and sizes and modes. A few examples will have to stand for a trillion instances: waiting for someone to finish a sentence; for a friend to catch up on a walk; for the bathwater to run warm; for the traffic lights to change; for the message on the computer screen to pass from ‘connecting’ to ‘connected’; for a fever to abate; for the music to reach a climax; for the wind to drop so you can fold a newspaper; for a child to grow up; for a response to a letter; for a blood test result, an outcome, or news; for one’s turn to bat; for someone to cheer up, admit they were wrong, or say they love you; for Spring, for Christmas, for Finals; for the end of a prison sentence; for The Second Coming (steady work, as Christopher Hitchens said); for a long-awaited heir; for fame or wealth or peace; for retirement; for the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization… by Rachel Armstrong

In civilisation, ecology, nature, technology on May 27, 2013 at 18:26

From: Any Sufficiently Advanced Civilization is Indistinguishable from Nature by Rachel Armstrong, IEET, http://www.ieet.org/

In Western cultures, nature is a cosmological, primal ordering force and a terrestrial condition that exists in the absence of human beings. Both meanings are freely implied in everyday conversation. We distinguish ourselves from the natural world by manipulating our environment through technology. In What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly proposes that technology behaves as a form of meta-nature, which has greater potential for cultural change than the evolutionary powers of the organic world alone.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [1]

 

With the advent of ‘living technologies’ [2], which possess some of the properties of living systems but are not ‘truly’ alive, a new understanding of our relationship to the natural and designed world is imminent. This change in perspective is encapsulated in Koert Van Mensvoort’s term ‘next nature’, which implies thinking ‘ecologically’, rather than ‘mechanically’. The implications of next nature are profound, and will shape our appreciation of humanity and influence the world around us.

Alan Turing noted in his essay on morphogenesis that mathematical abstraction couldn’t capture the richness of the natural world [6]. Life is a complex system that is governed by a variety of unique processes that machines simply do not possess. Life responds to its environment, constantly changes with time and is made up of functional components that enables life the ability to self-regulate [7]. Complexity challenges the epistemological basis on which modern science and industry are grounded.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter

In architecture, astronomy, ecology, nature, North America, photography, space on May 13, 2013 at 21:43

From: From Disc to Sphere by Volker M. Welter, Cabinet, http://cabinetmagazine.org

In October 1969, at the height of the irrational fears about the imminent detonation of the population bomb, about one hundred hippies assembled in the San Francisco Bay area to stage a “hunger show,” a week-long period of total fasting. The event was inspired by a hashish-induced vision that had come to the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, when reading Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book The Population Bomb. The goal was to personally experience the bodily pain of those who suffer from famine and to issue a warning about the mass starvations predicted for the 1970s. From the outset, the lofty intentions conflicted with a more dreary reality. Originally, the communal fasting was to be held inside an inflatable, one-hundred-by-one-hundred-foot polyethylene pillow. The structure, dubbed Liferaft Earth, was designed by Charlie Tilford, a graduate student in engineering at Columbia University, and the participants were to live exclusively within it for the duration of the fast. But the organizers could neither secure a prominent site nor a permit for the innovative shell, which was deemed to be a fire risk, and so the event took place instead in a motel parking lot in the city of Hayward. There, a four-foot-high inflatable wall delineated a compound within which those who were fasting camped. The press and the curious lingered outside the wall, joined by the occasional participant who could no longer bear the hunger pangs, made worse by the temptations of a nearby Chinese restaurant.

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet

Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith

In animals, biology, Europe, nature, science on April 27, 2013 at 20:20

From: Bananas! Kafka’s Ape by Justin E. H. Smith, Berfrois, http://www.berfrois.com

In his 1917 short story, “Report to an Academy,” Kafka tells the story of Red Peter, a chimpanzee captured in Africa and brought back to Europe to be studied by the members of an institution very much like the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Red Peter, by some unusual transformation that is never fully explained, develops after his capture into a cultivated, language-endowed gentleman, and the titular report is in fact his narration of his own autobiography, beginning shortly after his first encounter with humans while still in his merely animal stage.

Peter recounts how, early in his captivity, he had been subjected to various experiments in which, for example, scientists hung a banana from the ceiling in order to see whether he had the requisite intelligence to stack blocks together and climb up to reach his reward. This sort of experiment, of course, takes a number of things for granted. Among other things, although it purports to be testing for something human-like, it does not allow for the possibility of individual whim; it does not allow for the possibility of a response such as that of Zira, the fictional chimpanzee in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), who cannot help but exclaim, when the human scientists try a similar experiment on her, “but I simply loathe bananas!”

The fact that experiments such as these require a certain course of action in order for an animal to be deemed intelligent suggests that what is being tested for is not really intelligence in any meaningful, human sense –since humans are permitted to have arbitrary whims and individual tastes– but rather a certain automatism that reproduces the kind of action of which a human being is capable, e.g., stacking blocks, but in the pursuit of a species-specific goal, a goal that a creature is supposed to have simply in view of the kind of creature it is, and that for that reason is not the result of a human-like willing, e.g., the will to obtain a banana. If ‘being intelligent’ is defined as ‘being like us’, we may anticipate in advance that non-human animals are doomed to fail any possible intelligence test.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Call of the Wild by James Searle

In film, nature, North America, society, visual arts on April 17, 2013 at 20:10

From: Call of the Wild by James Searle, The Oxonian Review, http://www.oxonianreview.org

I’m not the first to see elements of Terrence Malick’s epic The Tree of Life in Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut feature of Benh Zeitlin. Both are ambitious, dreamlike parables about the nature of existence relying on formless, wandering structures. Likewise, both films have attracted devout camps of supporters and detractors prepared to argue at length over their merits and failings. That said, there are two major distinctions between the films. First, Zeitlin’s film, based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, is far more accessible and narratively coherent than Malick’s. Moreover, while The Tree of Life obsesses over the balance between the way of Nature (harsh, passionate, male) and the way of Grace (reserved, gentle, female), Wild abandons all traces of civilisation and restraint. This is not a film about balance, but one about raw emotion and embracing nature completely.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review

You Are Where You Live by Susan Griffin

In civilisation, ecology, film, nature, politics, society on April 8, 2013 at 17:59

From: You Are Where You Live: How the sky, rain, geography, and cultures of our place shape us by Susan Griffin, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

Concerned about the loss of forests, increasing pollution, and the diminishment of the ozone layer, I was beginning to make connections that I had not seen before. For instance, between the oppression of women I experienced and the wanton destruction of nature I was witnessing.

Slowly it dawned on me that the imaginary boundary, drawn centuries ago, that separates nature from culture is the same boundary that has also separated us from each other too, creating categories of gender and race, in which women or those with darker skin or those who earn a living with their hands are described as less able intellectually than the men at the top of the scale; by the same token, we are deemed untrustworthy because we are so mired in sensual experience and extreme emotion, or to put it more succinctly, since we are closer to the Earth.

But another world is possible. As a child, I found more than one refuge. All through the year I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, the rush of water in my ears singing to me of a vastness way beyond what was indicated in the strange dystopic landscape I thought of as ordinary. In the summer I camped in the High Sierras, the sound of wind through conifers becoming an inextricable part of my soul. Occasionally, my family would take a trip to the Mojave or the Baja Peninsula where I learned to see the subtle eloquence of deserts. And since I was very small, I took an interest in Native American cultures, which, though they spoke in languages I could not translate, seemed redolent with another response to the lands we shared, the diverse wisdom of earthly existence, voices, to paraphrase Gary Snyder, that capture the pitch of the phenomenal world “totally living, exciting, mysterious, filling one with a trembling awe, leaving one grateful and humble.”

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Reposted with permission from: YES! Magazine

Points of Light by Ian Marcus Corbin

In ethics, film, nature, photography, theory, visual arts on April 2, 2013 at 20:25

From: Points of Light by Ian Marcus Corbin, The New Atlantis, http://www.thenewatlantis.com

Rumors of our civilization’s collapse have been somewhat exaggerated. When the National Society of Film Critics announced its awards for the year 2011, the top two films — Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, in first place, and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, in second — were separated by a single vote. It is fitting that they should vie so closely: they are opposite and in some ways equal attempts to show the essential nature of reality and the best way to live in it — openly flouting the au courant truism that art is fit chiefly to interrogate, unsettle, and subvert. Both films debuted at Cannes. If there had been any separation between their release dates, it would seem certain that one was made as a rebuttal to the other, for while the symmetry of the two films is striking, there is a deep philosophical quarrel between them. Von Trier and Malick can’t both be right: Melancholia argues that reality, including life, is best understood in the light of death; The Tree of Life argues that reality, including death, is best understood in the light of life. These propositions are familiar enough; more surprising and important are the force and grandeur with which the two films substantiate them.

The tone and the source of light in The Tree of Life are vital to Malick’s philosophical vision. He is a rhapsode of the Emersonian order — plainly enchanted with the stuff of existence. His world is one of illuminations. Rich, clear light suffuses leaves, grass, fabric, hair, water, even skin. The lovely, if sometimes flickering, radiance of earthly life echoes a deeper, more enduring light. As Mrs. O’Brien says, love smiles through all things. We simply need eyes naked and patient enough to see them as they are. The journey of the movie, from Jack’s conjuring of the Big Bang onwards, is an effort not to impose a novel vision, but to shake the scales from his eyes. In Melancholia, by contrast, things in themselves don’t shine. Life has nothing to say for itself. Illumination always comes from without, whether it is cast by the comforting artifice of human technology, the very occasional glimmer of sunlight, or by the sharp white light of heavenly death. Only one of these sources of light has the power to reveal the truth. For von Trier, to bathe in the stark, blanching light of death is simply to become reconciled with reality; death is the one star that illuminates everything.

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Reposted with permission from: The New Atlantis

Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson

In anthropology, ecology, ethics, nature, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on March 16, 2013 at 15:44

From: Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

For the vast majority of our 150,000 years or so on the planet, we lived in small, close-knit groups, working hard with primitive tools to scratch sufficient food and shelter from the land. Sometimes we competed with other small groups for limited resources. Thanks to evolution, we are supremely well adapted to that world, not only physically, but psychologically, socially and through our moral dispositions.

But this is no longer the world in which we live. The rapid advances of science and technology have radically altered our circumstances over just a few centuries. The population has increased a thousand times since the agricultural revolution eight thousand years ago. Human societies consist of millions of people. Where our ancestors’ tools shaped the few acres on which they lived, the technologies we use today have effects across the world, and across time, with the hangovers of climate change and nuclear disaster stretching far into the future. The pace of scientific change is exponential. But has our moral psychology kept up?

With great power comes great responsibility. However, evolutionary pressures have not developed for us a psychology that enables us to cope with the moral problems our new power creates. Our political and economic systems only exacerbate this. Industrialisation and mechanisation have enabled us to exploit natural resources so efficiently that we have over-stressed two-thirds of the most important eco-systems.

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

Artificial wombs by Dick Pelletier

In civilisation, medicine, nature, research, science on March 12, 2013 at 15:38

From: Artificial wombs: is a sexless reproduction society in our future? by  Dick Pelletier, IEET, http://ieet.org

Although naysayers believe that this bold science makes us less human, most experts predict that artificial wombs will one day be accepted by mainstream society as more people recognize its many benefits. Babies would no longer be exposed to alcohol or illegal drugs by careless mothers, and the correct body temperature would always be maintained, with 100% of necessary nutrients provided.

Concerns over losing emotional bond between mother and newborn are unwarranted, say scientists. Artificial intelligence advances expected over the next two decades will enable doctors to reproduce exact parent emotions and personalities via vocal recordings, movement, and other sensations. The developing infant would be maintained in a safe secure environment, connected electronically to the mother 24/7.

In the near term though, experts predict most women will probably gestate their children the old-fashioned way; but career-minded females might welcome a concept that allows them to bear children and raise a family without becoming pregnant, a physical condition that often weakens their job status.

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland

In art, books, ecology, nature, video, visual arts on March 12, 2013 at 15:32

From: Books of Ice: Sculptures by Basia Irland & Text by Kathleen Dean Moore, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

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Balls of ice sowed seeds of life on Earth. That’s what comets are, just clumps of ice holding interstellar rocks and dust. But in that dust are amino acids and nucleotides that build living things. Many scientists think that this might be one way life began on Earth, 4 billion years ago, when the spinning arms of the galaxy cast comets over the planet, comets and comets and comets, protolife smacking onto the broken lava plains, until basins gathered the meltwater into oceans, and the oceans nurtured onrushing life.

Ice sows ice, too. The first grains gleamed in white sunshine, throwing back the sun’s heat and cooling their own small shadows. More ice formed in the cool places, and the shine of it cooled a larger shadow, until the reflectivity of the growing ice sheets cooled the whole planet, finally draped in dazzling layers of ice. Now the glaciers that remain in mountain valleys give life to rivers—the Ganges, the Fraser, the Colorado—as meltwater slides down blue rills and finally cuts a channel through gravel and till.

Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan

In anthropology, civilisation, Featured, nature, philosophy, society, theory on March 12, 2013 at 15:24

Featured Essay: Happiness by John Zerzan, http://www.johnzerzan.net

Reposted in full with permission from: John Zerzan

Is happiness really possible in a time of ruin? Can we somehow flourish, have complete lives? Is joy any longer compatible with the life of today?

A deep sense of well-being has become an endangered species. How often does one hear “It is good to be here”? (Matthew 17:4, Luke 9:5, Luke 9:33) or Wordsworth’s reference to “the pleasure which there is in life itself”[1] ? Much of the prevailing condition and the dilemma it poses is expressed by Adorno’s observation: “A wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”[2]

In this age happiness, if not obsolete, is a test, an opportunity. “To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without being frightened.”[3] We seem to be desperate for happiness, as bookshelves, counseling rooms, and talk shows promote endless recipes for contentment. But the well-worn, feel-good bromides from the likes of Oprah, Eckhart Tolle, and the Dalai Lama seem to work about as well as a Happy Meal, happy hour, or Coke’s invitation to “Pour Happiness!”

Gone is the shallow optimism of yesteryear, such as it was. The mandatory gospel of happiness is in tatters. As Hélène Cixous put it, we are “born to the difficulty in taking pleasure from absence.”[4] We sense only “a little light/in great darkness,” to quote Pound, who borrowed from Dante.[5]

How do we explore this? What is expected re: happiness? In light of all that stands in its way or erodes it, is happiness mainly a fortuitous accident?[6]

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Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball

In aesthetics, art, biology, nature, photography, science, visual arts on February 24, 2013 at 01:03

From: Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, near Mull in Scotland, has inspired artists (this is Turner) and composers – Felix Mendelsohn wrote his orchestral piece named after the cave in 1829. But it also made an impression on an awestruck Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, when he sailed to Staffa in 1772 during an expedition to Iceland. This is what he said:

    “Compared to this what are the cathedrals or palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, as diminutive as his works will always be when compared with those of nature. What now is the boast of the architect! Regularity, the only part in which he fancied himself to exceed his mistress, Nature, is here found in her possession, and here it has been for ages undescribed.”

Banks had noticed that the entrance to the cave was flanked by these great pillars of rock. Close up, you can see the regularity that Banks spoke about: hexagonal cross-sections.

Now, this of course has its counterpart on the west coast of Ireland itself: the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, built in legend by the giant Finn MacCool.

There are something like 40,000 pillars of rock in the giant’s Causeway, and they generally have this extraordinarily regular and geometric honeycomb structure. When we make an architectural pattern like this, it is through careful planning and construction, with each individual element cut to shape and laid in place. At Fingal’s Cave and the Giant’s Causeway, the forces of nature have conspired to produce such a pattern without, we must presume, any blueprint or foresight or design. This is an example of spontaneous pattern formation.

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry

In Europe, humanities, nature, philosophy, science, theory on February 10, 2013 at 18:12

From: Timothy L. S. Sprigge – The Last Idealist? by Leemon McHenry, The Philosopher, http://www.the-philosopher.co.uk

Idealism is much less an option today than it was in the nineteenth century because of its association with universal, absolute religious principles and totalitarian, imperialistic political ideas. The decline of such thinking, especially in England, was also marked by the skepticism generated after the senseless carnage of World War I. For Sprigge, all of this was irrelevant to his quest for a satisfactory metaphysics.

Today, the idealistic doctrines are generally regarded as historically interesting but philosophically inconsequential. Idealism is largely viewed as implausible because of its disregard for the physical and biological sciences. Sprigge could rightly be accused of sidestepping science in his attempt to arrive at first principles, and he was well aware that his ignorance of science was a shortcoming of his philosophy. How far metaphysical thinking could get at first principles without the aid of detailed empirical studies was a great source of concern. He admired Spinoza and Whitehead for their scientifically informed metaphysics.

Moreover, while Sprigge followed Bradley and Royce in defending the sharp distinction between appearance and reality, or between the investigations of structural phenomena undertaken by physical science and those of introspective psychology, it is unlikely that physicists, chemists and biologists see themselves as engaged in anything less than a quest to know reality. Scientists do not see themselves as investigating what is merely abstract or phenomenal but rather an underlying reality. As far as the critiques of Russell, Moore and Ayer are concerned, the charge that metaphysical construction is a sort of Hegelian megalomania has not quite the force it had in the first half of the 1900s. The anti-metaphysical, linguistic methodologies ran their course and eventually faced fatigue, but the idea that idealism could serve as a metaphysical foundation for any system adequate for the sciences is upheld by relatively few.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: The Philosopher

Echoes of the Phenomenon by Ben de Bruyn

In civilisation, ecology, interview, nature, philosophy, theory on January 29, 2013 at 18:18

From: Echoes of the Phenomenon – A Conversation with Robert Pogue Harrison by Ben de Bruyn, Image & Narrative, http://www.imageandnarrative.be

What if forests are not simply natural but also cultural sites? If deforestation is not only depleting our oxygen supply but also our cultural memory? And what if living human beings are always already dead, being fundamentally connected to the afterlives of their predecessors and of their offspring? What if our expulsion from the Garden of Eden was not a curse, but a blessing? If paradise was not – andcan never be – paradise? These are just some of the fascinating questions Robert Pogue Harrison has raised in his seminal studies on Forests, The Dominion of the Dead, and Gardens. As I have tried to show in my essay on Harrison‟s work in the previous issue of Image & Narrative, these studies have established the Stanford professor as an important critic with regard to topics such as ecology, memory, and humanity. His oeuvre lends a voice to the cultural echoes of phenomena, the things in the world. But how did this oeuvre about the earth and its dead, about natural and cultural conservation first emerge? And what is the relationship between these three studies which, as Harrison suggests, actually constitute a trilogy? How does he position himself vis-à-vis issues as diverse as Deconstruction and ecocriticism, humanism and existentialism, modernity and Christianity? What is the nature and value of literature, to his mind? And what, finally, does the future hold in store for him? These are just some of the questions that will be addressed in the present interview with Robert Pogue Harrison.

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Reposted with permission from: Image & Narrative

Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball

In astronomy, biology, literature, nature, philosophy, research, science on January 14, 2013 at 06:41

From: Life’s Matrix by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

In myth, legend, literature and the popular imagination, then, water is not a single thing but a many-faced creature: a hydra, indeed. This is the essence of water’s mystery, and it remains even when water is picked apart by science. Water is the archetypal fluid, the representative of all that flows, and yet science shows it also to be a profoundly anomalous liquid, unlike any other. Some scientists doubt whether water inside living cells, the very juice of life, is the same stuff as water in a glass; at the molecular scale, they think its structure may be altered; perhaps cell water even congeals into a kind of gel. Water behaves in unexpected ways when squeezed or cooled below freezing point. Life needs water, but it remains a profound mystery why water, a lively and reactive substance, didn’t break apart the complex molecules of the earliest life forms on Earth almost as soon as they were formed.

When a substance becomes mythical, it works curious things on our imagination, even without our knowing it. Substances like this are ancient, and they have magical powers. Gold and diamonds, bread and wine, blood and tears are agents of transformation in story and legend. But none, I think, surpasses the beauty, the grandeur, the fecundity and the potency of water. This is why water is, and must always be, much more than a simple compound of hydrogen and oxygen, or a dance of molecules. To explain its role in our imaginations, its life-giving potential, its bizarre and perplexing properties, its sweet nourishment and its glittering surface-to fully explain these things, we do perhaps have to reduce water to its mundane constituents. But even when we do so, we have to remember what we are dealing with: not just a chemical compound, but a fundamental part of nature, with aspects that are serene, enchanting, enlivening, profound, spiritual and even terrible. In the voice of the babbling stream, says Wordsworth, ‘is a music of humanity’. And Bachelard bids us listen well to this music: ‘Come, oh my friends, on a clear morning to sing the stream’s vowels! Not a moment will pass without repeating some lovely round word that rolls over the stones.’

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Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood? by Jønathan Lyons

In animals, biology, ethics, nature, science on January 8, 2013 at 00:35

From: How Do We Judge Nonhuman Beings’ Personhood?  by Jønathan Lyons, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, http://ieet.org

“Various debates have focused on questions about the personhood of different classes of entities. Historically, the personhood of animals, women, and slaves has been a catalyst of social upheaval. In most societies today, living adult humans are usually considered persons, but depending on the context, theory or definition, the category of ‘person’ may be taken to include such non-human entities as animals, artificial intelligences, or extraterrestrial life, as well as legal entities such as corporations, sovereign states and other polities, or estates in probate. The category may exclude some human entities in prenatal development, and those with extreme mental impairment.”

Because this definition has built-in limits that impede our purposes – which is to say, for the purpose of eliminating the far too limited definition of person that includes only members of our species, homo sapiens sapiens (HSS) –  it is necessary to evolve that definition, adapt it into a more inclusive form. A “natural person,” legally speaking, means a human being. Other entities, such as corporations, ships at sea, and states, also have legal personhood – a bone of some contention here in the U.S. For our purposes, legal recognition of corporations and states and ships serves little purpose. For that reason, I hope to focus on the a notion of personhood that includes natural persons, but also extends to include not only nonhuman biological species who meet certain criteria, but also abandons substrate chauvinism by embracing the possibility of technological beings meeting those same criteria, and therefore qualifying as persons.

 

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Reposted with permission from: IEET

Tears of Laughter by Christopher Turner

In animals, art, biology, history, nature, research, science on December 8, 2012 at 21:38

From: Tears of Laughter by Christopher Turner, CABINET, http://cabinetmagazine.org

Nearly half a millennium after Leonardo, contemporary scientists have discovered a neurological explanation for the affinity between physical expressions and emotional sensations of joy and grief. In the centuries between, scientists took over where artists left off in urgently pursuing the question. Charles Darwin notably fused the two approaches, using the art of photography to further his scientific inquiry. In order to formulate The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) with scientific veracity, Darwin broke with both schematic artistic representations of the passions and aristocratic conventions preventing extreme displays of emotion. He hoped to use photography to portray emotional subtleties—like the close similarity between the laughing and crying face—with a renewed realism.

Capturing particular expressions, inherently transitory, volatile, and ephemeral, at first seemed almost impossible with the long exposure time photography then required. (Eadweard Muybridge had only just begun his experiments recording sequences of a horse in motion the year Expression came out.) Darwin described the spasms a laughing fit provoked, which would have rendered any photograph a blur: “During excessive laughter the whole body is often thrown backward and shakes, or is almost convulsed. The respiration is much disturbed; the head and face become gorged with blood, with the veins distended; and the orbicular muscles are spasmodically contracted in order to protect the eyes. Tears are freely shed,” he noted, appending a key observation, “Hence . . . it is scarcely possible to point out any difference between the tear-stained face of a person after a paroxysm of excessive laughter and after a bitter crying-fit.”­

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET

Wolfbane by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, community, ecology, Europe, government, nature, politics on November 25, 2012 at 20:45

From: Wolfbane by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

One of the biggest political shocks of the past decade has been the transformation of Canada. Under the influence of the tar barons of Alberta, it has mutated from a country dominated by liberal, pacific, outward-looking values to a thuggish petro-state, ripping up both international treaties and the fabric of its own nation.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a meeting between the Norwegian and Swedish governments, at which Norway intends to lay claim to some of the wolves which live on the border between the two nations. This may sound like a good thing. The government’s purpose is anything but.

If it can classify these wolves as Norwegian, even though most of them breed in Sweden, it can go ahead with the extermination of wolves elsewhere in the country. It can claim that, due to the newly-nationalised border population, it is still meeting its international obligations to maintain the species.

Wolves are very popular in Norway: surveys suggest that around 80% of the public – in both urban and rural areas – wants to keep them at current or higher numbers. But as so often with rural issues – in Norway and in many other parts of the world – the dominant voices are those who belong to a small but powerful minority.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting by David Clayton

In architecture, art, Europe, history of art, nature, religion, visual arts on November 24, 2012 at 01:04

From: A Traditional Artistic Training Method for Landscape Painting – How We Can Apply This Today by David Clayton, The Way of Beauty, http://thewayofbeauty.org

Thomas Girtin trained in England in the late 18th century and trained for three years from the ages of 14-19. He was apprenticed to the established artist Edward Dayes and began by doing supporting work (grinding pigments etc) and by watching his master painting. Only later he was allowed to copy his master’s work. He was expected at this stage to pick up the idiosyncrasies of his teacher’s style as a necessary stage in the longer term goal of his emerging with a similar but independent style. From the start he was given talks about art and especially the moral purpose of art. Consistent with academic theory and following Joshua Reynolds in his Discources given to the Royal Academy, Dayes announced that the artist only selects the best parts of the natural world in order to reflect an idealised Nature. In addition, Girtin was expected to read in order to form his taste.

For his painting training, he would be introduced to colour by being asked to colour prints (so don’t hesitate to photocopy and colour-in today!). He then progressed on to his own landscapes by working in the studio and creating amalgamations of different works by Dayes and others and drawings and sketches.

In painting from nature, he would start to observe and sketch doing either line drawings or broad tonal renditions depicting scenes using sweeps in monochrome; through this he could start to control the sense of space by changing the intensity of shadow according the to distance from which it was viewed. He would also do repeated studies of individual items – bushes, trees and so on – both from works of others and direct from nature.

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Reposted with permission from: David Clayton (The Way of Beauty)

Two Views of the Storm in Brooklyn by Anya Ulinich and Anya Yurchyshyn

In community, nature, North America, society on November 19, 2012 at 22:25

From: Two Views of the Storm in Brooklyn by Anya Ulinich and Anya Yurchyshyn, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

I knew the water came because I saw it from my new apartment, where the lights never went out, not once. I spent the beginning of the storm trying to work while my roommates watched movies. The wind was thumping our rickety windows enough for me to move away from them, but I felt safe. “I love a good storm!” I thought, and I do. I also thought I was going to get a lot of work done. I didn’t.

Why didn’t I leave? I thought I’d be safe—I figured that if the water came up to the fourth floor we’d all be so fucked that it wouldn’t matter where I was. Also, I love Red Hook, and I wanted to be there if something happened to it. People always talk about its incredible community, how it’s a village, and all that’s true. But it’s not like I know everyone there, go out all the time, or am on a first name basis with the old guard, or even the new one. I’m no shut in, but that level of exposure makes me shy. But I’ve always recognized what it is and knew I was living in the best neighborhood in New York City and was surrounded by the best neighbors. Red Hook was the only place I wanted to live, even though, or precisely because, it’s kind of a pain-in-the-ass to live there.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1

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