10 May 2011

Zizek: Why archaeologists are the best lovers

Today's archaeopop moment is brought to you by philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

Wandering around a garbage dump in New York, Zizek holds forth on the ideology of ecology, and why we have to find beauty pollution and garbage if we really love humanity. He's not joking, and I completely agree with him.
I think that this notion of nature, nature as a harmonious, balanced, reproducing, almost living organism which is then disturbed, perturbed, deranged by human hubris, technological exploitation and so on, I think is a secular version of the story of the Fall. The answer should not be that 'there is no Fall, we are part of nature', but on the contrary that there is no nature. Nature is not a balanced totality that we then disturb. Nature is a series of unimaginable catastrophes. And we profit from them!
A lot of ecological thinking embraces the idea of nature as something perfect and external to humanity. As we've said before in this blog (here, here, and here), that's self-righteous idiocy that is harmful to people and biodiversity at the same time. On this planet, in this age (the anthropocene), ecosystems are a cultural phenomenon. Our garbage matters. It is nature. We have to own it, and learn to love it, as Zizek says: 
To recreate, if not beauty, than an aesthetic dimension in things like this, in trash itself, that is the true love of the world. Because what is love? Love is not idealization. Every true lover knows that if you really love a woman or a man you don't idealize him or her. Love means that you accept a person with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points, nonetheless the person is an absolute for you, everything that makes life worth living. You see perfection in imperfection itself. and that's how we should learn to love the world. A true ecologist loves all this. [Points to huge pile of garbage.]
He's exactly right. Trash has a sensual quality: like sex, it can be harsh and garish or light and gentle. Compost in your backyard, or a toxic vortex that covers the sea. Excavating someone's trash, as archaeologists do, gives you a moment of intimacy with people long dead, and gives us the chance to judge them. Archaeologists are obligated to be interested in these moments of waste and discard, since that's what the archaeological record (and the "environment" itself) is. The challenge is to find beauty in the ruins, to love the flaws and ugly moments that we manifest as a species. If we don't, we lose the struggle for sustainability.

It's the new Archaeopop slogan: "give me ruins, middens, and can dumps, and I will show you true love."

No comments:

Post a Comment