Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Why Ambient Poetics? Outline for a Depthless Ecology

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Why Ambient Poetics? Outline for a Depthless Ecology

Article excerpt

What state of consciousness is appropriate to an age of global warming--apart from just a cry of terrible pain? (Which wouldn't be a bad reaction ...) Is there a poetics that might help point out this state of consciousness? I believe that there is, and have called it ambience. Ambience is a poetic enactment of a state of nondual awareness that collapses the subject-object division, upon which depends the aggressive territorialization that precipitates ecological destruction. Furthermore, this collapse of subject-object dualism, however temporary in experience, spontaneously gives rise to howsoever weak a sense of warmth towards one's world, in which one is included. This world, to say more, is a world without center or edge that includes everything. Ambient poetics evokes this world by undermining that which Jacques Derrida calls the fundamental metaphysical distinction between inside and outside.

I believe that ambience persists in corrupted materialist forms, and also that these forms are what Walter Benjamin would have called dialectical images, Janus-faced. They point two ways. On the one hand they offer a soothing panacea for capitalist and technocratic alienation. In music this ranges from New Age relaxation compositions all the way to the Beethoven that masks the screams in Auschwitz; or a direct incarnation of capitalism's abstract notion of value, for example in communitarian space (where, for example, hanging out washing is forbidden), lawns, huge vacant parking lots, gigantic airport concourses, the Rauschenberg cracked black of tarmac, nuclear radiation or global warming itself--instances of an environmental suffering pervading even the experience of pleasure, an encroaching global creepiness sensed by the technocratic medium itself in the form of concepts such as Ulrich Beck's risk society. On the other hand, ambient images offer a sort of gate into another dimension, a dimension that turn s out to be none other than the nowness that is far more radically "here" than any concept of "here," such as nation, race, gender--and even the universalism as neutral medium that holds these terms in place--or Martin Heidegger's concept of Dasein (that implies history reified as destiny). Ambience exists beyond any notion of conceptuality. Conceptuality of any kind, however subtle, implies an aggressive grasping and fixation. Thus, to put a label on the nowness, rather than experiencing it, is somewhat beside the point. I am only too well aware that my own words here risk this trap--and that not using them and adopting a reverent silence would also be to solidify ambience into that which cannot be spoken.

These dialectical images thus at once mask and open up the possibility of a more profound view, shocking to the egotism that separates human being and its life world. Ambient poetics points out what the structuralist Roman Jakobson calls the contact or perceptual dimension, medium or environment in which communication takes place. By indicating that which in phenomenology is called the perceptual field, prior to any distinguishing of subject and object, ambient poetics troubles those processes of differentiation that are elemental to forming the subject. The aesthetic dimension proper should thus be distinguished from any ideology of the aesthetic (such as aestheticism). The gap between the aesthetic and aestheticism is that between nonconceptuality and conceptuality--a gap between socially reified ways of making us more alienated and the moment at which the bubble of alienation could be popped. However, since the aesthetic is often equated with a Coleridgean reconciliation of subject and object, rather than their undermining, perhaps it might be best not to use the term "aesthetic dimension" at all.

How excellent then that the writer of idiotic enjoyment and of artifice par excellence should give us the key to environmental awareness not based on conceptuality, or what elsewhere I have called "ecologocentrism. …

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