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Nature's Desire

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Organizer: Tom Carlson

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In “The First Elegy” written at Duino, Rilke tells us “Yes—the springtimes needed you. Often a star / was waiting for you to notice it.” The statement is exhilarating. Why? Could it be because we sense, with some more obscure and yet more primary portion of our self, that he is absolutely correct? Springtimes do have needs. Stars wait on heartfelt attention. But this can never be proven. Nature, the universe, the “eternal torrent” as Rilke calls it, if this force and energy that has carried time forward since the cosmological anterior has a desire, it is one that will remain far away from the human range of the fathomable.

But things that are unfathomable, things that lurk outside and after the threshold of the understandable and possible, are as good as nonexistent things to the modern mind. Descartes believed that, because of geometry, everything was available to the possibility of being known. Science may pride itself on its openness to fallibility, its capacity to update itself, but the attitude therein is that, if a thing (such as the needs of springtime) has not been pushed through a rigorous and skeptical sieve of scientific verification, then the thing may as well not exist and anyone who believes in the thing is a mystic, superstitious, and deserving of pejoratives and slurs because they slander the megachurch monopoly over what qualifies as knowledge.

So Mallarmé declares glorious lies, admitting and rejecting that we are, as humans, just bags of matter. To concern oneself with the desire of Nature means to also be someone willing to lie, someone in revolt against the agreed upon certification process that qualifies knowledge.

The maverick capable of this rejection is a lonely and ostracized being. Hölderlin gave us the chance to develop a new poetic form, one that would restore its original cosmological obedience and articulation. They said he was insane and strapped an Autenrieth mask to his face.

Hölderlin said that while the lyric poet makes metaphors referring to their feelings, the tragic poet makes metaphors from a point of view that makes one’s personal feelings something foreign. The tragic poet begins, through an intellectual effort, from a point where their consciousness, their being, feels itself without an interior or exterior. Ekstasis: to stand outside oneself, a removal of elsewhere. If Nature could be itself a lyric poet, the tragic poet would be their pen.

We are interested in writers that speak glorious lies and mean to heed to the needs of things like springtimes—writing and theory that celebrates the blind spots of science and knowability by developing critical modes that attempt to map and bring this unknown side of living into the discussable realm. Blanchot comes to mind. Merleau-Ponty’s perception projects showed that our personal being is a medley of the impersonal, outside, and inner. How else have we seen poets and thinkers try to give agency to Nature?

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