20 May, VIRUS 2020

Largest daily rise in global cases. BBC

Trump says US topping world virus cases is ‘badge of honour’. BBC

Climate explained: why we need to focus on increased consumption as much as population growth. The Conversation

I feel like we are living in a world that we weren’t meant to live in or that wasn’t built for us. Missy Higgins[1]

Peregrine falcons are nesting on Corfe Castle ruins. The Ecologist

Before epidemiologists began modelling disease, it was the job of astrologers. The Conversation

Cyclone Amphan the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal expected to make landfall between India and Bangladesh. CNN

Things are not that bad. We don’t fear hell, the Apocalypse, or war tearing the world apart as people have. Egged on by the Book of Revelation, the very last book of the Bible, Albrecht Dürer’s woodblock ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (c.1496-8) shows war, plague, death and famine. When the 25 year-old published the text of the Book of Revelation with 15 woodcut illustrations, he was first artist to publish own book and transformed the appearance of the illustrated printed book. It also gave him an income for life realised his religious fears. He had apocalyptic visions throughout his life, and was preoccupied with end of the world, yet also a transcendentalist love for nature’s details. His ‘Triumph of Melancholia’ is a brooding masterpiece, packed with imaginative detail.

Melancholy, as it was called until the 20th century, is of course an ancient problem, and was described in the fifth century BC by Hippocrates. Robert Burton wanted to understand and find a cure for, ‘so universall a malady, an Epidemicall disease, that so often, so much crucifies the body and minde.’ [2] His 1621 book, ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ pointed to: passion subduing rationality and, as he put it, ‘I heare new newes every day, & those ordinary rumors of War, Plagues, Fires, Inundations, Thefts, Murders, Massacres, Meteors, Comets, Spectrums, Prodigies, Apparitions, of townes taken, cities, besieged in France, Germany, Turkey, Persia, Poland, &c. daily musters and preparations, and such like, which these tempestuous times afford, Battels fought, so many men slain.’ [3] ‘Lamentable cares, tormentes, calamitys & oppressions’ were brought by the conflicts plaguing Europe caused by irrational passion in a ‘Mundus furiosus, a mad world’.”[4] Now we have fake news and 5G. In the past, Burton says, ‘Sorcerers are too common; cunning men, wizards, and white witches, as they call them, in every village.’

Durer made the image as important as text for the first time, but now the news is all image based, Paul Virilio argues: ‘the image is invasive and ubiquitous. Its role is not to be in the domain of art, the military domain or the technical domain, it is to be everywhere, to be reality.’ [5]

Cupmoth caterpillar, species unknown

Edmund Burke published, Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful in 1757.[6] This revolutionary text introduced embodied experience and emotion into aesthetic and philosophical discourse. Burke also offered a physiological explanation for aesthetic experience, and promoted nature – and not the fine arts – as the basis of aesthetics.[7] However, he did not mention the sublime, the highest emotion or ‘Peak Experience’, as connected to wildlife and nature as opposed to landscapes.[8] Plato knew that art triggers the emotions, usually unhelpful ones, and as irrational was to be banned. Clive Bell tied to define true art [a task now abandoned] by arguing that such artworks elicit from their audience an aesthetic emotion (without defining what that was).[9] We have know for 106 years (about) that art is not necessarily beautiful, carefully crafted, it can be banal, dangerous, frustrating, bizarre and conceptual; but it usually has some emotional affect, even boredom.[10]

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In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philp K Dick examines the constructed nature of reality. Deckard is surprised by his mood of irritability ‘although he hadn’t dialed for it” on his Penfield mood organ. He can’t believe that his wife Iran wants to dial herself ‘a six-hour self-accusatory depression’, which she believes keeps her human. She believes that failing to feel despair in depressing situations is unhealthy and was a sign of mental illness, an ‘absence of appropriate affect’.”[11] Elisabeth Kubler-Ross mapped out the stages of grief that come with the death of a loved one, denial, then anger, then bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. We can’t accept acceptance. The environmentalist Stewart Brand said, ‘Sorrow, anger, mourning? Don’t mourn, organise.’[12]

I can’t believe there is not more anger, but I take Ove Hoegh-Guldberg’s point. The marine scientist says ‘I’m not really comfortable with becoming angry because I’ve been part of the problem, along with you and everyone else. If I was a child I’d be angry.’[13] The Madrid climate conference held in Madrid in December was a failure. Hoegh-Guldberg blames, ‘four standout countries; USA, Australia, Brazil and Saudi who had a huge impact on getting consensus.’[14]

‘Everything on the news, every time I saw one of the leaders who was a chaos agent [regarding climate change], like in America, I was just emotionally overwhelmed, up to the point where I had to get away actually.’ Jonica Newby[15]

Newby interviewed Missy Hiiggins, said she cried listening to Solastalgia, the title of her new CD, a word she loves: ‘I just thought that that was such a beautiful word, it sounds so delicious to roll off the tongue, but also I just loved how accurate it was.’[16] Glenn Albrecht who coined the term Solastalgia  notes that ecological grief is bound to mental health but ‘not a biomedically defined mental illness.’ [17]

I was attacked during January’s Nambucca Council meeting by a conservative councilor for being emotional. Kyle Bladow and Jennifer Ladino argue that feeling is important to take into account when there is so much fake news about. They argue that ‘altruistic emotions as a foundation for action.’[18] Shannon Lambert notes that in their book, ‘An overwhelming number of scientists discuss how ‘frustrated’ they feel, with a cluster of other feelings like ‘tired’ and ‘angry’ making frequent appearances. Amongst these “negative” feelings, almost all of the letters end with a sense of optimism or hope.’[19]

Jonathan Lear writes, ‘Humans are by nature cultural animals: we necessarily inhabit a way of life that is expressed in a culture. But our way of life – whatever it is –  is vulnerable in various ways. And we, as participants in that way of life, thereby inherit a vulnerability. Should that way of life break down, that is our problem.’[20] Lear shows that the problem of the Crow people, and of indigenous people world wide, is shared, but in a much less violent, savage and anguished way, by all of us in a time of plague and pandemic.

Allbrecht stresses the importance of ‘topophilia’, the love of place and landscape.[21] ‘Only those with close and intimate ties to particular places are in a position to best know their place and to make decisions about its health and vitality.’[22] And when in doubt, when distressed watch a caterpillar going about its business of being present to eating, and with no idea of the miraculous transformation that will happen soon.

[1] ABC RN, the Science Show, Climate grief 2. 20 May, Singer-songwriter Missy Higgins interviewed by Jonica Newby (originally broadcast: Sat 16 May 2020. Solastalgia is her latest collection.
[2] Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling and Rhonda L. Blair, commentary J. B. Bamborough and Martin Dodsworth, 6 vols. (Oxford, 1989–2001), i, 110, ‘Democritus Junior to the Reader’.
[3] Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, i, 4–5,. See Angus Gowland, ‘The Problem of Early Modern Melancholy’, Past & Present 191.1, 2006, p120.
[4] Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy.
[5] Paul Virilio, interview, Block 14, 1988.
[6] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Ed. & intro Adam Phillips, OUP, 1990. Writing in 1927, the art historian Christopher Hussey attributed seven characteristics to the sublime, based on his reading of Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful: obscurity, both physical and intellectual; power; privations, such as darkness, solitude, and silence; vastness, either vertical or horizontal, both of which diminish the relative scale of the human observer; infinity, which could either be literal or induced by two final characteristics of the sublime: succession and uniformity, both of which suggest limitless progression. Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque: Studies in a Point of View (1927) Archon Books, 1967.
[7] He attacked formal clarity and celebrated vagueness and obscurity. Adam Phillips writes, ‘In Burke’s Enquiry, we find the beginnings of a secular language for profound human experience: in rudimentary form, a new erotic empiricism.’ Intro to Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, edited with an introduction OUP, 1990 Rather than eros it is the simple sense of emotions as being central to the aesthetic experience that strikes me as important, exemplified by the wilderness painted by Salvador Rosa (1615-1673) and beauty exemplified by Claude (1600-1682).
[8]
Wild animals and wilderness provide ‘peak experiences’ connected to aesthetic experience whether from drugs, devotion or music, which Lyell Watson describes as ‘a sense of openness and freedom, a feeling of belonging, just for a moment to something bigger … surrender to the sympathy of all things.’ Lyell Watson, Lifetide, Bantam, 1980, p306.
[9] Clive Bell, Art, Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1914.
[10] Anjan Chatterjee, The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, Oxford UP, 2013.
[11] Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, New York: Ballantine Books, 1968. See Sherryl Vint, ‘Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’,  Mosaic : a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Winnipeg: Mar 2007. Vol. 40: 1.
[12] 2013 TED talk. Quoted by Thom Van Dooren and Deborah Bird Rose, ‘Keeping Faith with the Dead: Mourning and De-extinction,’ Australian Zoologist, 38.3, 2017.
[13] ‘Climate grief 1’, The Science Show, ABC RN, May 9, 2020.
[14] The 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP25 Madrid, Decemeber, 2019. ‘The Madrid climate conference’s real failure was not getting a broad deal on global carbon markets’, Robert Stavins, The Conversation, 19.12.2019.
[15] ABC RN, the Science Show, Climate grief 2. 20 May, 2020.
[16] ABC RN, the Science Show, Climate grief 2.
[17] Glenn A. Albrecht, Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2019, p39.
[18] Affective Ecocriticism: Emotion, Embodiment, Environment, Ed., Kyle Bladow and Jennifer Ladino, University of Nebraska Press, 2018.
[19] Shannon Lambert review of Affective Ecocriticism, American Imago 77:1, April 9, 2020.
[20] Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, Harvard UP, 2006, p6.
[21] ‘From the 1980s onwards, under the combined impacts of coal mines, power station pollution, and persistent drought, the people of the Upper Hunter were suffering from a form of chronic distress that seemed to me to be the opposite of topophilia. Their relationship to their home environment had turned bad.’ Glenn Albrecht, ‘The age of solastalgia’, The Conversation, August 7, 2012.
[22] Glenn A. Albrecht, ‘Negating Solastalgia: An Emotional Revolution from the Anthropocene to the Symbiocene’, American Imago, Volume 77:1 Spring 2020, p27.