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Sunday, July 03, 2011

The modern disease? 




In 'The Wild Places' Robert Macfarlane dichotomises the human social world and the natural world, and I think that's the weakness, or at least the romanticism, of his project. At best, in his writing, he captures the baroque in ways that equal Deleuze, and details the specific in a style reminiscent of Bachelard. But I think that the thesis that man is alienated from the natural world in a sort of latter day fall is a romantic fallacy. So the author slips all too easily from observations of our current condition into a sort of moral panic as the following extract illustrates: 'In so many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different forms of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost infinite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of contact. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesses which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world - its spaces, textures, sounds smells and habits - as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our innere world of imagination. The feel of hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on one's outstretched palm: such encounters shape our being and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.' (Macfarlane, 2007:203). Bring back Rousseau! It's an argument that's not exactly wrong, but incomplete. But in the end, you have to admire Macfarlane's rugged frontier spirit - when things get really wild his unstoppbale reponse is to strip off and go for an icy-cold swim - naked probably, although that's the kind of detail we're spared!

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