Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Live on Top of Our Own Past Ruins

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

We Live on Top of Our Own Past Ruins

Article excerpt

There is an aphorism in James P Carse's Finite and Infinite Games that for me has the highest per-word poignancy quotient of recent years: "Nature offers no home," Carse writes, in a discussion of how human beings attempt to control nature "for societal reasons". And it is true, we are not at home in nature; on the contrary, with every year that passes, technology and our way of life distance us more from the physical ground of our being.

Proof of this, if proof were needed, is the notion (now ubiquitous, though mainly for commercial and PR reasons) of "green" living, "green" products and, most dispiriting of all, "green" politics.

If we were not so far from the wild, we would scarcely need this notion; it is only because we feel divorced from the rest of the physical world that we experience a need to construct ideas of "green" at all (and because "green" is an artificial construct, it is easily manipulated by the very commercial and political forces that distanced us from the natural world in the first place).

Yet even though we feel dislocated from the wild nature that exists, not only in the world around us, but also in ourselves, it is also true that we are not entirely cut off from that world. If nature offers no home, then we must make a home one way or another. The only question is how.

At the same time, we stand in a strangely similar position with regard to history. With each passing decade, history becomes less real for us, less immediate and essential to our way of life, and so, like "green" nature, more of a commodity, or an advertising gimmick.

In other words, we have become homeless, or almost so, as much in time as in space -and I cannot help thinking that an essential task of the artist, the writer, the architect and the urban designer, in the current climate at least, is to find ways of reminding us of our essential wildness and, at the same time, of the depth and richness of our past. …

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