He who binds himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy.
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
—“Eternity,” William Blake
Dark ecology begins in darkness as depression. It traverses darkness as ontological mystery. It ends in dark sweetness.—Timothy Morton
An infernally hot afternoon in my corner of Florida—96 straight degrees, but when you add 80 percent humidity it’s more like 106. This is the killing heat cropping up worldwide as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm. It’s hot also today in the Southwest United States, 116 straight degrees in Woodland Hills (CA), more than a hundred heat records expected to be broken across the region. This doesn’t bode well for California where wildfires don’t need much of a nudge to rage again. And hot oceans are brewing hurricane and cyclone trouble around the world, Super Typhoon Haishen taking aim on South Korea and three new systems forming over the Atlantic.
Ah, but what did we expect? High-pressure heat mixed with depressive lows foment storms whose scale and intensity can cause earthquakes and rattle the Earth’s jet stream. Typhoon Haishen will cause a wobble in the stream which will shoot cold air down into the US West, causing snowstorms where the day before there was record heat.
As the I Ching says, to and fro goes the Way, only now it feels more like dizzy skeltering as we hunker down awaiting a vaccine for COVID-19.
And as the Earth changes, so do our minds. We’re going crazy along with the crazing of our climate. The surface of our sanity is scarred from fire, pockmarked with melting permafrost, the deep time stasis which ballasts our unconscious vanishing with glaciers.
It’s deeply depressing—there are some who avoid this forum because indulging in such poetry feels suicidal—but if we’re already dead (scientists now believe the Greenland melt was already fated decades ago), then depression is for things we’ve already lost which we’ll never get back.
Philosopher Timothy Morton does an interesting take on depression in his book Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence (2016). He locates this condition in the disordered worldview of what he calls agriologistics, the technology of controlling earth processes which dates back to the beginnings of agriculture in Mesopotamia and the locomotive engine which accelerates climate change:
Agrilogistics is Easy Think spacetime. A one-size-fits-all depression temporality, a sad rigid thin gray tube. We are living inside depression objectified in built space. It’s in the way gigantic fields of rapeseed extend everywhere. It’s in the way huge lonely front lawns extend a meaningless one-size-fits-all statement about individuality. It’s in the way malls have gigantic parking lots, and housing lots have giant McMansions without so much as a garden. With its tiny temporality window, agrilogistic depression has turned the surface of Earth into a fatal place. Not only the land but also the oceans, which are the unconscious of the built space, the toilet where the chemicals go. As we have seen, there is a simple Freudian term for a fatal compulsion that keeps on retweeting: death drive.
Contrary to this depression is a style of thought he terms ecognosis, a knowledge centered in the world whose thought emanates Joy:
Now to think the Joy, we simply invert these parameters. Instead of the fatal game of mastering oneself, ecognosis means realizing the irony of being caught in a loop and how that irony does not bestow escape velocity from the loop. Irony and sincerity intertwine. This irony is joy, and the joy is erotic. As Jeffrey Kripal puts it, gnosis is thought having sex with itself. This is not a dance in the vacuum of an oukontic nothing. Eros is an attunement, and if there is attunement there is an already-being. A dance that knows itself: unlike the patriarchal “Woman,” a chora (container) who cannot know herself as such, ecognosis is a chora who can. (154-5).
The Joy is logically prior to life, deep inside life, the quivering between two deaths. Deep in the interior of life there are dancing puppets. In the same way that viruses are logically prior to bacteria, thoughts are logically prior to minds, hallucinations are logically prior to thoughts, flowers are logically prior to plants, patterns are logically prior to evolution. (157)
The Joy is not abstract or uniform, but so intimate you can’t see it, and you can’t tell whether it’s inside or outside: the “cellular” experience of bonds tightening between beings. It’s not an emotion that I’m having. I’m in a passion. A passion is not in me. The Ganzfeld effect of The Joy is haptic, elemental: so close that you lose track of something to be seen. Here thought itself is a way of getting high: human attunement to thinking has been intoxicated into recognizing its nonhuman status. Not simply thinking ecologically (the ecological thought), but rather thought as susceptibility, thinking as such as ecology. The structure of thought as nonhuman. Ecognosis. (158)
So lighten up! We are separated from nature only by our idealization of it. Ennui and nostalgia and yearning are all brewed from the illusion of distance. Civilized societies—and therefore our life–pine for harmonies and raptures too predicated on a false sense of relation. Hard rain’s a gonna fall, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t dance. We are the dance, even though we don’t know it, can’t see it, won’t believe it. What’s there to be depressed about, pining for a structure which doesn’t exist and isn’t worth saving?
I know these are heady, even foggy concepts, but it’s far to easy to stay sunk in depressive depths wishing for Eden to come back.
For this week’s challenge, how about some poems of Joy? For their own sake, in their own manner and diction. High joy, dark joy, sweet joy, profane joy. Let’s see what this dancing is all about. A happier, more earth-centric aesthetics may be found in the difficulty of trying so.
This challenge will last until 4 PM EST Friday, Sept. 11, when open link weekend begins. Have fun, post whatever poem feels relevant or close, visit your fellow linkers and comment.