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The Sabbath
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“It is not, on the whole, that natural phenomena and entities themselves are
disappearing; rather that there are fewer people able to name them, and that
once they go unnamed they go to some degree unseen. Language deficit leads
to attention deficit. As we further deplete our ability to name, describe and
figure particular aspects of our places, our competence for understanding and
imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly
depleted. The ethno-linguist K. David Harrison bleakly declares that
language death means the loss of ‘long-cultivated knowledge that has guided
human–environment interaction for millennia … accumulated wisdom and
observations of generations of people about the natural world, plants,
animals, weather, soil. The loss [is] incalculable, the knowledge mostly
unrecoverable.’ Or as Tim Dee neatly puts it, ‘Without a name made in our
mouths, an animal or a place struggles to find purchase in our minds or our
Robert McFarlane

“Noise is the trundle of everyday particles through the air, the din of the ordinary atomic world going about its business. Radioactivity is deafening noise. Cosmic-ray muons are noise. If you wish to listen for sounds so faint they may not exist at all, you can’t have someone playing the drums in your ear. To hear the breath of the birth of the universe, you must come below ground to what are, experimentally speaking, among the quietest places in the universe.”
Robert McFarlane

“Like Kimmerer, I wish for a language that recognizes and advances the animacy of the world, ‘the life that pulses through pines and nuthatches and mushrooms . . . well[ing] up all around us’. Like Kimmerer, I relish those aspects of discourse that extend being and sentience respectfully and flexibly beyond the usual bearers of such qualities. Like Kimmerer I believe that we need, now, a ‘grammar of animacy’. A modern predisposition to regard animacy as anomaly runs through what the poet Jeremy Prynne once called ‘mammal language’, by which he means the language that is used by humans, encoding intent, agency and muscular power deep in its grammar.”
Robert McFarlane

“Dissonance is produced by any landscape that enchants in the present but has been a site of violence in the past. But to read such a place only for its dark histories is to disallow its possibilities for future life, to deny reparation or hope – and this is another kind of oppression. If there is a way of seeing such landscapes, it might be thought of as ‘occulting’: the nautical term for a light that flashes on and off, and in which the periods of illumination are longer than the periods of darkness. The Slovenian karst is an ‘occulting’ landscape in this sense, defined by the complex interplay of light and dark, of past pain and present beauty. I have walked through numerous occulting landscapes over the years: from the cleared valleys of northern Scotland, where the scattered stones of abandoned houses are oversung by skylarks; to the Guadarrama mountains north of Madrid, where a savage partisan war was fought among ancient pines, under the gaze of vultures; and to the disputed valleys of the Palestinian West Bank, where dog foxes slip through barbed wire. All of these landscapes offer the reassurance of nature’s return; all incite the discord of profound suffering coexisting with generous life.”
Robert McFarlane

“Our language for nature is now such that the things around us do not talk
back to us in ways that they might. As we have enhanced our power to
determine nature, so we have rendered it less able to converse with us. We
find it hard to imagine nature outside a use-value framework. We have
become experts in analysing what nature can do for us, but lack a language to
evoke what it can do to us. The former is important; the latter is vital. Martin
Heidegger identified a version of this trend in 1954, observing that the rise of
technology and the technological imagination had converted what he called
‘the whole universe of beings’ into an undifferentiated ‘standing reserve’
(Bestand) of energy, available for any use to which humans choose to put it.
The rise of ‘standing reserve’ as a concept has bequeathed to us an
inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with
ourselves too, because we have to encounter ourselves and our thoughts as
mysteries before we encounter them as service providers. We require things
to have their own lives if they are to enrich ours. But allegory as a mode has
settled inside us, and thrived: fungibility has replaced particularity.”
Robert McFarlane

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