Saturday, December 15, 2007

"The earth is utterly broken"

Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836.

Many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists and writers felt that the only way to combat the negative (physical and spiritual) effects of industrialization was through exposure to wilderness in its pristine and awe-inspiring state, untouched by the hands of Man. Nature with a capital N. This exposure to things outside the realm of human control served as proof that there were limits to the destructive force of industry.

These artists and writers spoke too soon, as the only thing left to inspire in us a sense of the sublime is the destructive force of industry itself. Whereas before Nature caused people to forget themselves and contemplate the infinite, now we are left with infinite industry (humanity itself now being merely a cog, nearly replaceable) before which a finite "environment" lies wilted, defeated. We're doomed to stare ourselves in the face.

The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and
the heavens languish together
with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse devours the
and its inhabitants suffer for
their guilt;
therefore the inhabitants of the
earth dwindled,
and few people are left.
The wine dries up,
the vine languishes,
all the merry-hearted sigh.

- Isaiah 24.4-7

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