No Nature, Not Ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Gary Snyder quotation recently and how it has been bastardised to become some generic caption for an inspirational poster in your dentist’s waiting room.

In every instance it is shared online — search “Gary Synder” on Twitter and 75% of tweets are replicating this line and anchoring it down with hashtags — it seems to invert its own logic by setting up a false dichotomy. It seems to beg the question: If nature is home, where are we now? But, for Snyder, often somewhat controversially, it is instead the case that nature is home and your home is nature; i.e. nature is the place I live, no matter where that is.

It is this immanent and Zen-like view of nature that allows Synder, as poet laureate of the Pacific North West, to encapsulate the veil we’ve discussed repeatedly in recent weeks, between subject and void, nature and society. His poems take form as he picks holes in the thin paper that separates planes.

I wonder if his collection No Nature is a response to this bastardisation of his poems. What is it for one of America’s foremost “nature” poets to declare there is no nature? It’s a kind of punk contrarianism. Sometimes there’s nothing more fun than shouting “no fun, not ever.” Similarly, for Synder, true nature is revealed when we declare there is no nature. Synder’s is a kind of poetic postnaturalism in this regard.

Snyder’s poem “In the Santa Clarita Valley” is often chosen as being most representative of this turn.

Like skinny wildweed flowers sticking up
hexagonal “Denny’s” sign
starry “Carl’s”
loopy “McDonald’s”
eight-petaled yellow “Shell”
blue-and-white “Mobil” with a big red “O”

growing in the asphalt riparian zone
by the soft roar of the flow
of Interstate 5.

His later poems have often entertained a post-natural view of the world in which the flows of human life and capital become riparian zones of their own; invisible rivers, no less natural than the ones we already know.

For Synder — like D.H. Lawrence before him — alienation is not caused by capitalism in and of itself; not any longer. Alienation is not the sight of a McDonald’s sign but our othering of it. The false dichotomy of nature and society, which we think we make for nature’s benefit, only others ourselves from its flows. Capitalism, as shapeshifting current, does as much to plug us back into the nature that we distinguish ourselves from (ideologically) than it does to destroy it (materially). This is to say that capital is precisely the vector that drives our interventions in our own environment. Nature and society’s modes of productivity mirror each other. What we require more than anything is not a new moralising incision between the two but a way to think both together in a new relation. Mountains and websites.

All this reminds me of that moment, late last year, when a proper push was made to give voice to an ecologically-minded accelerationism. But what use is ecology to accelerationism, really? It doesn’t mean accelerationism cannot inform a thinking about our environment but environment and ecology are subtly different things. Synder himself makes the point when he is asked in an interview about the poetic distinction between the two terms, in relation to his poem above:

Look at the words. “Environment” means the surroundings. The surroundings can include an oil refinery, can include all of Los Angeles and the I-5 strip. That’s the environment too, whatever surrounds us. … Everything surrounds everything else. … What is “ecological”? Etymologically, the “household of nature” is what’s being called up. “Ecological” refers to the systems of biological nature, which include energy, and mineral and chemical transformations and pathways. “The environment” is used more commonly to also include human and technological productions. And it’s not an absolute, hard and fast separation. …

Such is the problem of accelerationism more generally. It’s speciation is often productive but only if we understand this process within a grander scheme of things. Mutations are welcome but when we make them distinct from the world in which they are acting, which accelerationism (without conditions) has always spoken to, then we fall into that all too human tunnel vision. It slots accelerationism into a more general trend within the humanities, claiming itself necessary because we can no longer see the trees for the commodity that is wood. It asks: How can we protect nature from Acceleration? In the process, it abjures one of accelerationism’s central observations (going back to the geophilosophy of the Ccru and Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia and even the solar economy of Georges Bataille): Acceleration is natural.

The challenge of accelerationism was always to complicate our understanding of a world-for-us and a world-without-us in this regard. “What are things-in-themselves?” is one philosophical starting point. “What is the world-without-us?” is another, slotting itself into a present confluence of speculative fictions and hypotheticals that are increasingly defining how we see our own futures. “What is capital-without-us?” is the speculative-realist juncture that first birthed an accelerationist thinking.

It is time that complicates and stitches together all of these perspectives. An environmental accelerationism is no different; always included in the Ccru’s accelerationist musings and explored through their preoccupation with geotrauma. In this sense, there is no nature; only time. You do not rectify this outlook by focusing on nature but by opening up time. As Snyder puts it, we require an “openness not just for the human community but for the natural community; it’s for our immediate neighborhood of all the other species, all of us passing through time.”

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