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Knowledge of the other is always simultaneously self-knowledge, as Kan-Si’s project illuminates. Haraway (1989) notes that in Western masculinist accounts “disconnection from the category of nature is essential to man’s natural place; human self-realization (transcendence, culture) requires it” (p. 282). The patriarchal “subject” is constituted in this disavowal of dependence on the other, the earth.


Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1977) describes the mirror-stage as formative of self-consciousness. In the brittle plane of a mirror, a child sees only surfaces. Reflections there say nothing of bodily fluids, organic needs, and interior functions. All the eye perceives in the mirror is an “I” who appears to be whole, complete, and independent. While still “sunk in motor incapacity and nursling dependence,” a child overcomes fear by assuming an identity with the insentient object he or she appears to be, in the mirror. The “I” is formed in this mirror-stage as a self-consciousness that is separate and self-sufficient. “I” forgets fear and danger. “I” repudiates knowledge of time and space, where we are interwoven with an intricate web of life. Yet no one has blood and breath apart from this. So “I” must stay trapped in paranoid structures. “I am” always poses (historically, linguistically) as a self-sufficient entity, disavowing identity with what it lacks. All that is other becomes viewed as inessential. The subject inhabits a negatively characterized world of objects. Lacan describes this “mirror stage” as a misrecognition that comes to characterize the ego in all its structures. He calls it a “knot of imaginary servitude that love must always undo again, or sever.”*


Sandilands (1999) relates Lacan’s description of the “subject” to the limitations of identity politics. For Sandilands the notion that self-knowledge is constituted imperfectly in discourse rather than a priori in nature invites us to explore a more fluid and open-ended version of “the subject.”


The anxious self-certainty of ordinary self-consciousness can only be achieved by the transcendence of objectivity. It is the objective truth of separation and independence that guarantees one’s insufficiency and need. An alternative consciousness lives in the world of objects: organic, endangered bodies; trees and rain; food and water; books and music; blood and skin. Instead of claiming transcendent self-certainty through the repudiation of risk and dependence, we can listen to uncertainty and live in cognizance of incompletion.

As Lange (2004) writes, “The self is at once itself but, fundamentally, all other things. It does not just belong to the world; it is the world.”


M’Gonigle (2000) writes that acknowledging the self as but one point within circles upon circles of being potentially transforms both politics and culture. “If we exist in relation, then the very fact of that relational existence dictates not a good life of the separate self, but an involved life of respect for the wholeness of that other which breathes life and consciousness and meaning into our self” (p. 27). He notes that historically, Western politics and culture have been driven by a compulsion to escape shared being and dependence by implementing structures of control. The “project of progress has been a process of development through enclosure, conquering and developing whatever wild or communal spaces and traditional communities remained….”(37).


These issues are developed by artists in different ways. Kestler (2005a) notes that in conventional approaches to artistic expression, “the world exists as a vehicle for your own redemption and fulfillment as a subject” (p. 25). Through adopting a Collaborative Aesthetic practice, artists engage the world through a durational process in which the goal is not simply to acknowledge the truth of interdependence, but to practice it, to develop it, to work it, and to allow it to unfold over time. Artists and communities become skilled practitioners of dependence via “a reciprocal, durationally extended process of exchange.”


Other artists work independently to confront these entanglements. Poet Estella Conwill Majozo writes, “The challenge for the artist is…to map the terrain of the outside world through confrontation with the inner territory of the soul – the earth that, in fact, we are.” (cited in Lippard, 1997, p. 18). Artist Alan Sonfist believes that “it is not enough to repair the landscape; one must also ‘repair the hole in the psyche which is left when all traces of biological and ecological roots are obliterated.’” (Spaid, 2002, p. 5).


In a project first proposed in 1965 and finally built in 1978, Sonfist developed Time Landscape – a 45 x 200 foot patch of pre-Colonial landscape (including oaks, hickories, junipers, maples, and sassafras) planted in Manhattan. Time Landscape continues to evolve. The project is habitat for wildlife and memorial to the forest that once thrived there. It has inspired an ongoing city-wide project that converts barren street spaces into parks planted with trees and shrubs.


Sonfist’s project has received criticism as a visible but locked park that may in some ways reinforce a division between human and nature. But the project also suggests an understanding of world and self which moves to “repair the hole in the psyche” by making space in which healing can unfold. Eschewing the conventional pathways of objectifying knowledge and healing interventions, Time Landscape imparts a space for self-knowledge like that suggested by Jung (1968), who writes that the deepest insights of consciousness and highest intuitions of spirit cannot be thought up (p. 273), but must grow in time, from unknowable roots, nourished by fluidity and connectedness.




Alan Sonfist, Time Landscape, New York, New York



Creating expanded space for self-knowledge was also a goal for Lange (2004), who designed an adult education class wherein participants explored the notion of sustainability in work and world. She writes, “The human task most commonly forgotten in a having-oriented society is affirming self-as-world. The self is at once itself but, fundamentally, all other things. It does not just belong to the world; it is the world.” Lange and her students developed a dialectic of restorative and transformative learning to approach this task. The course, titled “Transforming Working and Living,” drew on transformative learning theory and critical pedagogical practices to foster Conscientization, facilitating students’ understanding of their situation within the world, and their potential to transform the world.


And yet Lange (2004) found that it was a dialectical process of transformative and restorative learning that worked best to foster profound personal change and active social engagement. She writes: “Throughout the course, the participants clearly stated that they did not transform their fundamental principles and values as transformative learning theory often supposes. Through their self-reflections, most of the participants [said they]… were able to return to their inner compass, which was submerged under the deluge of adult expectations, cultural scripts and workplace practices.” Re-acquaintance with deep values helped participants become open to new ideas and engage in a critique of global economic relations. Lange continues, “A second part of restorative learning was to restore an organic or radical relatedness to time, space, body, and relationships.”


Bowers (2005) has also explored how critical pedagogy and its transformative aims may work to reinforce cultural beliefs that underlie ecological problems. Conscientization can mean shaking off local knowledges and traditional ecological knowledges and adopting a western knowledge paradigm, with its individualism, belief in the progressive nature of change, and anthropocentrism. Transformative aims can contribute to anti-ecological thinking. As Gruenwald (2003a) comments, “deciding what should be conserved suggests a trajectory for critical inquiry that may be missed when transformation is pedagogy’s paramount goal” (p. 10). Compare, for example, a educational practice that aims to preserve cultural traditions, resist change, and advocate for a future in which whole living world – including rocks, water, and other species – is understood as invested with soul and agency.


Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo (2002) note that Traditional Ecological Knowledge is often regarded as a static body of information that can be learned and exploited. They write, “knowledge is treated as content and human minds as individualized containers. The extractive, textual nature of knowledge is an Anglo-European, top-down assumption congruent with modernization, even when applied by those critical of modernization. To the contrary, when villagers apply indigenous knowledge in development, they are involved in a process of constantly (re)theorizing, (re)creating, and (re)structuring knowledge” (p. 381). These indigenous critical practices for constructing and applying knowledge may not conform to Western practices, nor yield the outcomes and relationships that can be predicted through Western approaches to knowledge and inquiry.



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Thinking Nature References


*This argument was development for the project QueerMap.com. See http://www.queermap.com/orientation/Water-Surfaces.htm

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