Der Schwarzwald

There has been a tendency in modern philosophical texts to reduce the work of poets, landscape poets perhaps in particular, to romantic bullshit; or more violently still, to trace a history through Heidegger from early Romantic poetry to the fascism of the previous century. It now seems as if there is a greater level of truth in the philosopher writing about rubber plantations, junkyards, cellular phones, and slapstick pranks, whereas writing about trees, woods, rivers, hills, styles, and mills is to inflict peasant Kitsch, even dangerous, romanticism. However, if as speculative realism would argue, realtional intermingling things withdraw from each other, and the subject should be de-centred to the extreme, then these Kitsch romantic things are speaking to the trendy everyday things incessantly. So, why not write about the Schwarzwald if you are dwelling there, as Heidegger did, witnessing space? Why not celebrate the countryman, as Edward Thomas does in ‘Lob’ for saying so little compared to what he does, and contemplate those poems by Wordsworth (Michael, Resolution and Independence, Old Man Travelling, Animal Tranquillity, and Decay), which turn on the outsider status of the poet-narrator and the immanent being of the rural worker?

This would be the argument why not to…

“Indeed the most paradoxical aspect of this, as has been noted by a number of commentators, is that the elitist tendency seems most manifest when those who do the talking have discussed an inarticulacy of peasants and agricultural labourers as itself as a mark of an enviable closeness to nature: of an immanence within it of an almost animal kind, which is denied the more self aware and alienated spectator.”

(Kate Soper, 2003, Priveleged Gazes and Ordinary Affections)

It is a strange argument to make in itself however, as there is a reason for Heidegger discussing the difference between the use of a hammer by a carpenter and his own use of a hammer, he is trying to get at the essence of things, not merely their surfaces. Things as they really are, as opposed to things as they appear to us. It is a neccesary move to make on Heidegger’s part. Furthermore, both Edward Thomas and William Wordsworth could hardly be described as insensitive to this issue. Edward Thomas in the 150 line poem ‘lob,’ which Kate Soper mentions, unsurprisingly talks to the country folk, as he often did. Just because he was a poet does not mean he was aloof, and unable to speak to the man working the plough, in fact he spoke to him every time he reached the end of the field where Thomas was stood, under a tree. Therefore, this is not simply posh blokes narrating poor-in-world peasants, there were reasons for Heidegger and Thomas writing in this way. They wished to understand this weird connection we have with things; this weird tool-being that occurs in our being thrown into the world.

Finally, If Heidegger inaugurates a weird realism, does Harman not inaugurate a weirder realism? There is as much romantic mysticism in the arguments of speculative realists, as in the wanderings of Heidegger in the Schwarzwald. And how can the answer for Harman be to tweak Heidegger to exclude the necessity of the subject after reducing much of his thought to immobile, boring, Kitsch, dangerous romanticism?

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Filed under Landscapes ~ Poetics

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