EPITAPH: CHANNELING THE LIFEWEB
Research Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Director of Harrisons Studio, and Professor Emeritus, the University of California at San Diego (CA, USA).
Newton Harrison was among the pioneers of the eco-art movement, a member of the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison (who died in 2018) that worked for over forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development. It seems like a recent illness of Newton's has inspired him to have some new ideas about our relationship with the environment, which he has put in the artistic message called "Epitaph." It is published in the journal together with a page of comments or a "debate."
After encountering a non-curable cancer, and 3 years after Helen passed. I asked the web of life: Do you have any rules beyond self-making? The web of life responded:
I have 1 rule from which all others spring. It enables the livingness of all and everything to continue. I have gifted all living with intelligence. And how do you know this you may ask?
All that lives knows how to continue. All that lives knows what is good for itself to continue and does so. All that lives knows what’s bad for itself and avoids it. These are intelligent choices.
I have also gifted all living things with a ring-pass-not which you call an ecotone. I have gifted all living things free will to act as they will within the limitations of their ecotones. Rogue species as you have become so self-pleasing that your system of extraction and consumption ignores or consumes anything that does not benefit itself.
I have only one all-encompassing, ultimately unforgiving rule. That is, every species, without exception, in order to be part of my continuum, must give back as much or more than they take.
When this is the condition of all living, my living system becomes more complexly auto-poetic.
All of my 11 million species and counting, with the exception of you, obey this rule to the benefit of all. In fact, all species except you help create their own ecotones.
Unless you change quickly, you will not be able to continue. Not true for myself. I have regenerated, in 10 to 20 million-year increments, from other extinctions and will do so again and again.
Shrink, cease, desist, reverse your extractions and consumptions, all that interferes with your ability to give back more than you take. Accept limitation immediately – even gladly.
Rejoin with me again, learn from many of your ancestors who lived their limitations to free will, so living in this manner are more than 11 million companion species.
Shrink, and once again become your own niche in my universe of niches large and small. Then, like all other living species, I WILL BE YOU AND YOU WILL BE ME.
I, the web of life, am indifferent to all the injustices in all forms and beliefs that you talk about in social and environmental terms. They are every species’ invention and responsibility. I reject your belief in endless growth. My one rule is the rule of exchange as practiced by each of our companion species, with yourselves as the very destructive exception. All others participate in the infinity of exchanges which bring forth my domain of livingness.
If the extinctions are extreme, I say again, it will only take me another 10 to 20 million years for a species like you to emerge again changed into more empathic beings accepting of limitations and finally embodied with your own auto-poetic powers.
Response to Newton Harrison’s Epitaph
I like that he gave “voice” from the web of life and “as” the web of life, though unrecognized by the Westernized mind.
I think the idea that the Web-of-Life doesn’t concern herself with our “social-political” concerns could be re-imagined. For example, the consciousness that has produced the terror and turmoil at the human social-political level is the SAME consciousness that violates all the principles put forward in this epitaph. So…in my view, it would behoove (and I think does behoove) the Web-of-Life to guide us toward repairing that consciousness toward one of reciprocity, wonder, compassion and connection. Perhaps our social issues are escalating to do just that, so perhaps the Web does care and is compelling us to see and change our violent disconnected behavior in all forms of living.
With regard to "ecotones"; they have been recognized in Celtic spiritual reflections and shamanic traditions as transitional places or spaces. And because they are betwixt and between; between the ocean and the shore, between the forest and the field, they are considered to be areas of power, of the imaginal realm...areas of soul...
I think this is interesting given its scientific ecological richness and necessity as described in the Epitaph. It also made me wonder if we, as human animals who have been defying the mandates of ecotones and ecological niche, are perhaps in a shifting "ecotone" of consciousness
Response to Newton Harrison’s Epitaph
Newton Harrison embodies as a person his great care for the planet, it glows in his eyes, carries in the resonant timbre of his voice. A great warmth infuses the large-scale maps he uses to educate and share about his and his partner Helen’s vision. These displays, despite being digital creations, have an aliveness of flow, colour and scale, to brighten rooms across the globe, stirring further creativity.
I preface everything that follows with unqualified appreciation for everyone who dedicates time and energy to speak up in protection of the planet, from their unique perspective.
So having seen these I was surprised by the form chosen for Epitaph’ and my strong reactions to it. I had expected something different from artists who practice what they call ‘shamanic inquiry’ and ‘ask the web of life’ for guidance in their work.
All art is within a tradition, including those that claim to be subverting past forms, and this interplay of echoes with traditional forms that stir resonances within the perceiver are an important component of their power. My personal immediate response was to see 19th century, rural Protestant tombstones, Moses’ tablets of commandments and the very disturbing and controversial ‘Georgia Stones’ interestingly recently damaged by an attack.
This tombstone form, which may evoke sobriety, mourning and solemnity in some, stirred aversion in me: the form of a list of ‘commandments’ on tablets of stone, a familiar form of the dominant, Judaeo-Christian patriarchal voice. I contrast this with one of the earliest, and still most viscerally beautiful, powerful and sadly undervalued work by Susan Griffin in the 1970s, her polyphonic expression of all the voices of the planet’s life, ‘Woman and Nature’. This single book provoked decades of ecologically oriented art work by myself and thousands of other feminist artists. Her form, letting the voices of beings be heard, could become a living encyclopaedic archive, with new voices being added endlessly…
During fireside conversations with a group of Nepali and Indian labourers in 2019, they expressed what they saw as a difference between certain religions, between those which present a set of rules to be adhered to and those which work through dialogue; they present stories which present the wise and foolish, harmful acts of gods and humans, and their consequences, stories of dilemmas and errors that provoke questions, sending the listener on a personal journey of inquiry and contemplation of their own conduct. Rules are static, unlike life, become dogma and historically have often dominated thought.
In my view this is important: Failures to honour the fluid interdependence of all life processes and living being’s rights to autonomy and freedom, has often its roots in reliance on dogmatic beliefs abstract principles laid down as ‘laws’, rather than on an embodied, empathic inquiry and ‘asking the web of life’ for guidance. The ‘unified field’ approach tends towards yet another monoculture of knowledge, where only a single source or very few dominant voices and forms of wisdom, are respected. This is the perilous path we have been on for too long and what the Deep Ecology and Deep democracy movements attempt to counter.
Any summary of basic ecological advice is maybe to be welcomed as a starting point for populations completely dissociated from nature in their daily life. However, in simplifying, the urge among many, the relentless drive in, I’m sorry to say, mostly male researchers, for a ‘unified theory’, runs counter to what we observe in nature, which is often contradictory truths. Material reality seems to be a sort of Zen Koan: Trees seem to strive and compete for maximum perpetual growth, emitting aerosolised chemical and subterranean bioelectrical signals to support the success of their own species and disable growth in the saplings of other species nearby. At the same time, it seems evident that, as Newton Harrison says all life ‘participates in the infinity of exchanges’.
This non-duality fits with all our most ancient spiritual teachings. However we fail to do this justice when we over-simplify or collapse metaphoric levels this into our own ecoethical political stance. It becomes propaganda, not art. I find myself hungering for the vastly more complexly woven vision of Griffin’s polyphony and Buddhist non-dualist pantheon.
Some statements in ‘Epitaph’ I felt could be so much more powerfully presented for interactive reflection and development using art. Art can embrace and embody non-duality, contradiction and awaken a far deeper perception and inner discourse.
Some ecologists have adopted a saying now quoted by psychotherapists, that ‘there is most energy for change at the liminal edges of systems’ – shorelines, the limits of our concepts, where conventional thinking seems to be breaking down, the zone where one coherent form or pattern comes into dynamic relationship with another and fluidity or transformation is maximised.
Poetry is an art from that connects our thinking dissociated from embodied life with sensory experience, bringing us home to our life in matter, ensouled bodies. Earth-life. The poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer expresses a fragment of this in,
Like trying to contain the sky
in the word blue -
saying I miss you.
I believe we need a more democratic, biodiverse ecology of visions and narratives and support for the hundreds of thousands of locally created, local-scale, eco-sensitive strategies for survival and planetary care. I see how, where local populations have the authority to be custodians and guardians of their own homelands, they create inspired eco-responsive solutions that do not prioritise profits for large corporations’ investors. My personal feeling is that in these times, while they may serve as an introduction to the urgency of ecological issues, we do not need another unitary set of directives imposed from above by a few, most likely to be found to be over simplistic and have unforeseen negative impacts in the near future. Maybe the primary unity we need is of intention and willingness.
I think living in this community we are very familiar with people's inspired visions and schemes, the issue is more political - how to get any of this acknowledged by the CEOs of large companies & the politicians they influence, & to change the core business model that all companies exist to make profits for their shareholders. That's how it looks from here, anyway. The public and artists in particular have so many wonderful ideas ....
In accordance with the Law of the Russian Federation on the Mass Media, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Communications (Roskomnadzor) on September 22, 2020, the web-based publication - The peer-reviewed scientific online journal "Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice" was registered (registration number El No. FS77-79134).
“Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice” is the international multidisciplinary Journal focused on building an eco-human paradigm, disseminating eco-human knowledge and technology based on the alliance of ecology, humanities and the arts. Our journal aims to be a vibrant forum of theories and practices aimed at harmonizing the relations of mankind and the natural world in the interests of sustainable development, the creation of Eco-Humanity as a new community of human beings and more-than-human world. The human being is an ecological being, not separate from the world. The Ecopoiesis journal is based on that premise and aims to develop a body of theory and practice within that framework.
The Journal promotes dialogue and cooperation between ecologists, philosophers, doctors, educators, psychologists, artists, musicians, designers, social activists, business representatives in the name of eco-human values, human health and well-being, in close connection with concern for the environment. The Journal supports the development and implementation of new environmentally-friendly concepts, technologies and practices in the various fields of health and public life, education and social work.
One of the priority tasks of the Journal is to demonstrate and support the significant role of the arts in their alliance with ecology and the humanities for the restoration and development of constructive relations with nature, raising environmental awareness and promoting nature-friendly lifestyles.
The Journal publishes articles describing new eco-human concepts and practices, technologies and applied research data at the intersection of humanities, ecology and the arts, as well as interviews and conference reports related to the emerging eco-human field. It encourages artwork, music and other creative products related to eco-human practices and the new global community of Eco-Humanity.