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CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 03. No Nature

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1. The Social and the Ecological

2. A Dialectical Holism

No Nature [1]

So much for the truth of the whole. However, a dialectical holism refuses to objectify, reify or absolutize any whole, including the whole of nature. Just as our experience of objects or things points to the reality of that which escapes objectification and reification, our experience of the whole of nature points to the reality of that which which cannot be reduced to nature.
Since the beginnings of philosophical reflection, dialectical thinkers of both East and West have proposed that beneath all knowing and objects of knowledge there is a primordial continuum, the eternal one-becoming-many, the ground of being. It is what Lao Tzu described in the Tao te Ching as the reality that precedes all conceptualization, or « naming, » and all determination, or « carving of the block » :

« The Tao (Way) that can be told is not the eternal Tao ;

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth . . . . » [2]

This reality is ontologically prior to ecological differentiation, and indeed, to « nature » itself—which is one reason that a mere « naturalism » can never be adequately dialectical. It is an apprehension of the conditional reality of all phenomena that drives dialectical thought to an affirmation of both the being and non-being of all objects, categories, and concepts. This ground is what social ecological theorist Joel Kovel refers to as the « plasma of being. » It is also what mystical philosophers like Böhme have, quite dialectically, called « the groundless Ground, » attempting to express the idea that it is a non-objectifiable grounding of being, rather than an objectified ground, or substance, on which anything can be thought to stand, or which « underlies » other realities. If we wish to attach any concept to this ultimate, it should perhaps be (following Whitehead) « creativity. »

Kovel points out, contemporary science has shown that such a continuum underlies the diversity of beings.

« In the universe as a whole, there is no real separation between things ; there are only, so far as the most advanced science can tell us, plasmatic quantum fields ; one single, endlessly perturbed, endlessly becoming body. » [3]]

Kovel’s account of the our relation to this primordial ground is both phenomenological and psychoanalytic. It reveals the ways in which we are ecological beings, and indeed spiritual beings, because our being extends beyond the limits of the ego or socially constructed selfhood. Much of our experience reveals to us that this self is not sufficient, or primary,

« but is rather that ensemble of social relations which precipitates out of a primordium which comes before social causation—a core which, crucially, remains active throughout life. Before the self, there is being ; and before being is the unconscious primordium. Society intersects with the individual through a set of cultural representations. It is a naming, a designation, an affixing from without. Without this naming, the stuff of a person would never take form. But the unconscious, in its core, is prerepresentational. » [4]

Thus, there are fundamental aspects of being that connect us, physically, psychologically and ontologically, with greater (or deeper) realities—with other living beings, with our species, with the earth, with the primordial ground of being.

This idea of connectedness leads us to the question of the place of the concept of spirit in a dialectical holism. The most radical « critical » and dialectical views after Hegel, beginning with the Young Hegelians—Feuerbach, Stirner, Marx and their peers—were intent on banishing Hegel’s central category from the philosophical realm. The post-Hegelian dialectical tradition has been dominated by a reductive materialism that has dogmatically rejected the possibility of dialectical inquiry into the most fundamental ontological questions. Some versions of social ecology have inherited this anti-spiritual tendency of Western materialism. Thus, while Bookchin has sometimes invoked the concept of « ecological spirituality » in his writings, it has usually been in the weak sense of a vague ecological or even ethical sensibility and he has increasingly sought to banish any strong conception of « spirit » from his social ecological orthodoxy.

It is becoming evident, however, that the most radically dialectical and holistic thinking restores the ontological and political significance of the concept of spirit. Without implying any of the dogmatic and one-sided idealist aspects of Hegel’s conception of spirit, a social ecology can find in the concept an important means of expressing our relationship to the evolving, developing, unfolding whole and its deeper ontological matrix. Kovel begins his discussion of spirit with the statement that it concerns « what happens to us as the boundaries of the self give way. » [5] The negation of ego identity that he intends by this concept takes place when we discover our relationship to the primordial continuum and to its expressions in the processes of life, growth, development, and the striving toward wholeness. A social ecology can give meaning to an ecological spirituality that will embody the truth of the religious consciousness, [6] which is a liberatory truth, however mystified and distorted it may have been for purposes of domination and social conformism. Such a spirituality is the synthesis and realization of the religion of nature and the religion of history. It consists of a response to the sacredness of the phenomena, of the multiplicity of creative expressions of being, and of the whole that encompasses all beings. It is also an expression of wonder and awe at the mystery of becoming, the unfolding of the universe’s potentiality for realized being, goodness, truth and beauty.

Continued :

4. The Ecological Self

5. A Social Ecology of Value

6. An Ecology of the Imagination

7. An Ecological Imaginary

8. Freedom and Domination

9. Eco-Communitarian Politics

10. Social Eco-nomics

11. The New Leviathan

12. The Future of Social Ecology


[1One of the most dialectical moves in recent ecological thought is Gary Snyder’s choice of the title « No Nature » for his collected poems. Starting out from Hakuin’s allusion to « self-nature that is no nature, » he reminds us corrigible logocentrists, « Nature is not a book. » No Nature (New York : Pantheon Books, 1992), pp. v, 381.

[2Tao te Ching 1 (Chan trans.) in Wing-Tsit Chan, A Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 139.

[3History and Spirit : An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation (Boston : Beacon Press, 1991), p. 161. It is in relation to this idea of the primordial continuum of being that Merleau-Ponty’s dialectical phenomenology can make an important contribution to a social ecology. David Abram explains Merleau-Ponty’s concept of « the Flesh, » as « the mysterious tissue or matrix that underlies and gives rise to both the perceiver and the perceived as interdependent aspects of its spontaneous activity. » [David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous : Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York : Pantheon Books, 1996), p. 66.] This concept unites subject and object dialectically as determinations within a more primordial reality. Merleau-Ponty himself refers to « that primordial being which is not yet the subject-being nor the object-being and which in every respect baffles reflection. From this primordial being to us, there is no derivation, nor any break ; it has neither the tight construction of the mechanism nor the transparency of a whole which precedes its parts. » [« The Concept of Nature, I » in Themes from the Lectures at the Collège de France 1952-1960 (Chicago : Northwestern University Press, 1970), pp. 65-66.

[4Kovel, History and Spirit, pp. 166-67.

[5Ibid., p. 1.

[6According to Harris, Hegel sees religion « as the felt awareness and conviction of the infinite immanent and potent in all reality, in both nature and history, and transcendent above all finite existence, » and as « one form of that final self-realization of the whole which is the truth, and without which there would be no dynamic to propel the dialectical process, » so that, consequently, « [t]o repudiate spirit and reject all religion is thus to paralyze the dialectic, and in effect to abandon it. » Harris, The Spirit of Hegel, p. 54. If we are careful to read « transcendent » as « trans-finite » and not as « supernatural, » and if we remember that no self-realization of the whole is « final, » then this also describes an important aspect of the meaning of « spirituality » for a dialectical holism.


Mis en ligne par : CREAGH Ronald

Pour citer cet article :
CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 03. No Nature,
Dernières modifications : 25 avril 2015. [En ligne].
https://raforum.info/spip.php?article1046
[Consulté le 13 décembre 2017]



CLARK, John P. (New Orleans, USA. 21/6/1945 - )
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