I have to admit to chuckling when reading your first sentence, for as a fan of Steven Pinker, I must admit his books are not exactly pleasant (or easy) reading! And I was not so much defending humanism as giving my instinctual definition of the word (and probably some readers') and making the distinction between a humanist in regard to within the human sphere as opposed to outside and our current human domination of the planet. Also, to clarify, I did not intend for arrogance to be read entirely as the cause of our separation from nature as much as it is the result. Certainly, it is much more complex than that, as you indicate. However, at this point our arrogance expressed through the cult of the ego and greed has widened that gap considerably.
So, this 300-year lost weekend would start around when? My first thought when reading your comment went to the early years of Christianity (although I think you mean more recent) and its control over books/knowledge (primarily classical Greece). This made me think of Stephen Greenblatt’s book The Swerve, which suggests the re-discovery of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things in a German monastery in 1417 might have played a part in sparking the Renaissance. Whereas it is likely to be more complex than that, after reading On the Nature of Things, which lays out the philosophy of Epicurus (341–270 BC), I couldn’t help but be taken a bit with the notion. I also couldn’t help but wonder where we would be if the church had not had such a stranglehold on knowledge. On the Nature of Things struck me as quite refreshing and opposite in many ways to my own Christian upbringing. I wonder had it, and others, not been suppressed could this mechanistic worldview have been avoided? Or did it contribute? Have you read the Greenblatt book and if so, I would love to hear your take? I am curious also about these other worldviews that were present along with the mechanistic one and will get the Carolyn Merchant book you mention. Also, you write: “The supposedly entirely “Autonomous Individual” of Enlightenment thought is actually the human-in-relationship.” By human-in-relationship do you mean a relationship with the natural world? I see you have written another post regarding Humanism which I look forward to reading next.
Comment from Charlene Spretnak:
It is possible, of course, to trace both the constructive and the problematic results of Renaissance humanism. Regarding the latter, though, what I have in mind by the long “lost weekend” would begin when the neoclassicist, humanist enthusiasts in the mid-15th century championed the “Ancient Wisdom” of the Corpus Hermeticum for its teaching that humans and nature have different sources: humans were created by God, but nature was created by the Demiurge (at God’s direction). Talk about separation! Interestingly, other sections of that cobbled-together text present elements of ancient cosmological, nature-honoring spirituality, but those teaching were not taken up. What really carried the day were teachings about man’s destiny to become as gods on Earth. That sense of the unbounded human, freed finally from medieval virtues such as humility and caritas -- and freed from seeing nature as the Creation -- was very influential in countless ways in the post-medieval, early modern societies.
Democritus’s theory of atomism, via the writings of Epicurus and Lucretius, was brought into the neoclassical mix and delivered a new understanding of physical reality: that all entities in the cosmos are composed of unchanging, invisibly small, indivisible hard bits. This theory was accepted by Newton and Descartes in spite of the lack of any empirical evidence for these bits of matter, and the notion of atomism then informed the beginnings of modern social theory and economics – such as the idea that society is inherently atomized. What could possibly organize such random bits/people? Why, it’s the invisible Hand of the Market.
If you are interested in how four foundational movements, beginning with Renaissance humanism, contributed to the emergence of modernity, you might want to look at The Resurgence of the Real, a book I wrote. It also considers the subsequent movements that sought to correct what the modern worldview got wrong. The arts were quite important in several of those movements that challenged the mechanistic worldview and the humanist sense of living on top of nature. Yet the Western belief in the radical discontinuity between humans and nature proved to be resilient. For instance, about 20 years ago there was a smog inversion over Paris so severe that most cars were banned from the city for a few days. A journalist asked a man-on-the-street how the cumulative situation could have gotten so bad. The Parisian replied with some disdain, “We do not think about nature. We are humanists!”
Your question about the human-in-relationship will have to go into a different post a bit later.
I just want to second Charlene's recommendation of her book. The Resurgence of the Real is at the top of the reading list I posted here; it was certainly one of the books that inspired this conference. If you haven't already read it, Daniel, I would also recommend Charlene's States of Grace, whose assessment of the deconstructive postmodernism we both dislike I think you would very much appreciate. This book might also soften you to the word "spiritual," which I know is another thing you experience with some distaste!
Charlene- Thank you- how fascinating! "..neoclassicist, humanist enthusiasts in the mid-15th century championed the “Ancient Wisdom” of the Corpus Hermeticum for its teaching that humans and nature have different sources: humans were created by God, but nature was created by the Demiurge (at God’s direction)." Say what we will about the ancient Greeks, but I am continually amazed by the depth and quality of thinking that came out of classical antiquity. I am particularly interested with the so-called Ionian Enlightenment that took place in archaic Greece beginning in the 6th century BCE and is associated with thinkers like Anaximander, Aristarchus, Heraclitus and Democritus among others. Their ideas might have had flaws (some big ones!), but it appears a stunning advance in motivation and problem solving which upheld thinking over superstition. The aspect of the pre-Socratics, which I find to be of particular interest, is the quality of their thought. Thought like this is a beautiful gesture: it is open, fresh, and playful; simple, yet profound. Thought like this is not exclusionary, nor is it arbitrary, but has made use of the sublime power of our forgotten imagination. By using their intellect and imaginations in harmony, they were to discover a profound process for thinking about the world around us. As an artist I can identify with this way of thinking, as I am limited to the simple tools of my mind, my senses, and my body. Process Philosophy, which is quite interesting, also has ties to these thinkers.
I am curious about these neoclassicists that made this separation- what consequences this choice had! One would think that if these neoclassicists, if they were studying the source works, would not make such a huge blunder! Of course, they were probably reading Plato and Aristotle- admittedly I am not so interested in either. But was unaware that a “god/creation” theme was so prevalent here.
Truly fascinating. I just ordered your book, The Resurgence of the Real and I am very much looking forward to reading it! Thank you for this informative response.
Taney- Thanks- I have ordered Charlene's "The Resurgence of the Real" and will also definitely get States of Grace as yes that is a topic that is still resonating (post modernism). As to "spiritual"- I have no issues with the notion of "spirituality" and in fact was surprised to see myself essentially writing about just that in my last essay, "A Return to the Cave: Drawing as an Essential Tool for Thought and Reflection". I chose to use terms like "inner world" but this pandemic and my mother's illness have had me (and probably many others) thinking about this inner world quite a bit. So not much warming up will be necessary. Find myself constantly returning to definitions and trying to understand what I really mean when I use certain words. I will talk about that a bit in my next post I am currently working on, "Mind/Body Equivalence and the Aesthetic Form of Thinking".
Post a Comment