2015-06-01

Spring Romance

Now also at Urbanwildland.org

There's a place where bleached grasses form a ridge when viewed from Koenigstein Road looking south over the valley in which Highway 150 is enfolded. Nowhere, from this viewpoint, is the road visible but instead, the top third of the north face of Sulphur mountain rises up beyond the grass like a dark scenic flat so that the foreshortened view is of blonde on black.

In the foreground is an old oak, set amidst the grasses, and its shadowed leaves create a tenebrous void that somehow sinks into the mountain oaks beyond as though a ragged hole has been torn in the time/space continuum. The valley of Highway 150 is swallowed up in an existential warp - the third dimension, for the moment that this view exists, entirely absent.

The experience is one of a brief dissociative trance, a return to the primitive mind where the intellect is subsumed by the elemental and experiences a return to the animus mundi, the animating spirit of the universe (the light hidden in the darkness) and represents perhaps, a brief moment of clarity in our numbingly mediated lives. Or not. But I am a Romantic, and I cling to these moments of grace (as I choose to perceive them).

Perhaps I had been primed to experience this aper├žu by my casual rumination on the meadow flowers of late spring. Along the track that leads off of the local metaled road, in the hard pan over-trodden by Lorrie and I on our evening walks, there are yellow pincushion (Chaenactis glabriuscula), wild Brodiaea (sp.jolonensis), purple Clarkia and Mariposa lilies. Bordering the track are wild oats, foxtail bromes, erodium, rye, native bunch grasses (stipa spp), occasionally the golden-star lily and often the pink flushed milky flowering buckwheat: sometimes, the warm honey yellow of Mimulus monkey flowers.

Across the way, the north facing slope harbors ferns, solanum, poison oak, toyon, walnut, coffee berry and bay beneath the predominant oaks but engulfed in oak shadows it registers as a dark, mounding mass lightly riddled with oak foliage that is scarcely less somber. My mind attuned to the pointillist blooms against the bold masses of color, tone and the blank canvas of the whitening evening sky, I am alert to the phenomenology of this place.

Recently, I have been in England and it is traipsing across the nation's beleaguered countryside long ago that I first developed a Romantic susceptibility of mind - the most fundamental trait of which is a nostalgia for a pre-capitalist past which now, in Ojai, manifests (for me) as a fascination with the tribal society of the Chumash and their predecessors, the Oak Grove People. Like figures such as William Morris, an avowed Marxist, Arts and Crafts designer, writer and architect, the great British Romantics fantasized about a return to the societal structure of the early medieval era, or perhaps to the even earlier times of the indigenous pre-Roman tribes.

To suggest that England is a palimpsest maybe a truism but the image of the much overwritten map reflecting a cultural and infrastructural layering is irresistible in Norfolk where Ickfield and Peddars Way mark the spirit path of the Iceni (and other more ancient British tribes) rising south from Avesbury; Roman roads and ruins lay across the land and the city of Venta Icenorum lies beneath modern-day Norwich; where the earliest Saxon village yet to be unearthed is just north of Bury St Edmunds and where medieval tracks have now been substantiated as B roads, Royal Highways as A roads and the wide, all-obliterating erasures of the twenty-first century Motorway have made inroads into the west of the County.

Wherever you drive, the route is measured in Ancient Market Towns, heralded in signage as though the development of a vicious system of proto-capitalism inherent in regional trading zones and with their rise the devolution of cooperative systems of patronage (of feudalism) is something to be celebrated - as glorious way stations in the history of western civilization that David Graeber condemns as 'the first 5,000 years of Debt'.

A return to reciprocity, to a world of exchange and gift giving is a profoundly romantic impulse. As. Karatani notes in The Structure of World History (2014) in primitive societies, "reciprocity was not limited to the living; it was assumed that reciprocal exchanges were also carried out with the dead (ancestors) and the not-yet born (descendants)." This profound sense of the cycle of life engendered a stewardship of the environment now entirely lacking in a global culture predicated on inexhaustible natural resources existing at the service of the system of industrial production. Thus in harkening back to pre-Raphaelite (and then some) societies, the Romantic outlook contains within it an implicit critique of capitalism. Karatani suggests that in adopting modes of exchange based on exploitation, humans have "disrupted the processes of exchange between humans and nature......The only hope for solving our environmental problems lies in our first superseding capital and state".

Having identified the three stages that characterize the economic history of mankind as Gift Exchange, Plunder and Redistribution and Money and Commodities (which more or less align with tribal society, feudalism and modernity) Karatani identifies a borromean knot of State, Capital and Nation that supports what he calls the 'the modern social formation'.

In the U.S., the State, comprising the military, the bureaucracies of taxation, intelligence, international relations, domestic law enforcement and justice, exists largely independent of the oversight of the people (manifested by electoral politics and its farcical representations in Washington) but is profoundly coupled with Capital. The mythologies of Nation are dutifully spun by the media in ways that reflect their fractal differences across the so-called political spectrum; manifested every two years in the horse-race ritual of voting; and carefully nurtured in K through 12. Capital, characterized by its relentless appetite for growth, is sustained within its own global bubble of structural imperatives.

In the twenty-first century, coalitions of State and Capital vie for the earth's remaining resources and this duopoly continues to act partially under the guise of fulfilling national mythologies. But as the world continues to globalize, national identities wither and personhood is increasingly characterized by life-style choices rather than geographic allegiance: beware the Hipster nation!

The collapse of the philosophical, mythological and psychological constructs that make up the abstract fabric of nations (which in turn provide the emotional and intellectual bulwark to Capital and State) may well unravel the borromean knot that still entwines all three and thus create opportunities for communities based on a variety of alternative ideologies. It is within the poetic imagination that such alternatives may develop. The mind of the Romantic, which attends to the wild Brodiaea (or the daffodil), is such that it embraces notions of an idealized relationship with the natural world - where we may return to the time of gifts and endeavor (like William Morris) to re-enchant the world.

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