Unreal Nature

March 15, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:36 am

… At last we exist on a natural scale. Mind has grown into a beast and the beast is growing into a plate.

This is from The Natural Contract by Michel Serres (1990; 1995):

… the decisive actions are now, massively, those of enormous and dense tectonic plates of humanity.

… The earth needs only to be observed by satellite, at night, for these dense spots to be recognized: Japan, the northeast American megalopolis from Baltimore to Montreal, this city that is Europe, an enormous herd of monsters that Paris seems to watch over like a shepherd from afar, and the broken rim of the Dragons: Korea, Formosa, Hong Kong, Singapore.

… When it is unevenly distributed, skyrocketing demographic growth becomes concentrated and stuck together in giant units, colossal banks of humanity as powerful as oceans, deserts, or icecaps, themselves stockpiles of ice, heat, dryness, or water; these immense units feed on themselves, advance and weigh upon the planet, for worse or for better.

Can an individual actor, lost in these gigantic masses, still say “I” when the old collectivities, themselves so lightweight, have already been reduced to uttering a paltry and outmoded “we”?

In bygone days, the individual subject was practically invisible, blended in or distributed on this Earth among the forests or mountains, the deserts and ice floes, lightweight in body and bone. There was no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water was enough to kill him. Swallowed up like a single point, that was man of not long ago, against whom the climate was winning the war.

If we imagine that a satellite, in those eras, had been flying over the plain, what observer, on board, could have guessed at the presence of two peasants standing there at the hour of Millet’s Angelus? Immersed in being-in-the-world, indissolubly bound with-one-another, their ploughing tools at hand, their feet plunged unto death into the immemorial soil, below the horizon, they-are-there, piously, hearkening to the language of being and time, when the angel passes, the hourly bearer of the word. There’s nothing more or less in our peasant or forest philosophies than in nostalgic and conventional paintings.

Millet’s Angelus [image from Wikipedia

A frail bent reed, man thinks, knowing that he will die of this universe that, for its part, does not know that it is slaying him; he is more noble, therefore, more dignified than his conqueror because he understands this.

Nil in the universe, dissolved in the locality of being-there, man thus hadn’t attained physical existence: this is his state, naturally weightless, at the hour of Millet’s Angelus or of farm ontologies. At present he is becoming a physical variable through an exchange of power, weakness, and fragility. No longer swallowed up like a dimensionless point, he exists as a collectivity, transcending the local to extend into immense tectonic plates, just as astronomically observable as the oceans. Not only can he take up arms to crush the universe, through science and technology, or equip himself to take its helm and steer it, but he weighs upon in by the very mass of his assembled presence …

… Now we are starting to understand the role of great stockpiles in the regulation and evolution of the globe, the specific and combined functions of the seas, the atmosphere, giant deserts, and glaciers. From now on there will be lakes of humanity, physical actors in the physical system of the Earth.

… At last we exist on a natural scale. Mind has grown into a beast and the beast is growing into a plate.

My previous post from Serres’s book is here.



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