Nature and Technology and Mankind and stuff

I just recently watched the amazing film Baraka, a sort of documentary that ‘examines’ natural and technological phenomena through phenomenal imagery. Whatever the take home message…this movie really affects you. Here’s the trailer below:

I like the theme of ‘man’ and nature. Having just biked across Canada, I feel like I got a good glimpse of both nature, civilization, and their intersection. While I was in Newfoundland, a host we stayed with introduced me to the book The Grey Islands, by John Steffler. The amazon book description states:

Using a broad range of forms and styles – lyric, anecdote, field notes, documents and pseudo-documents, ghost story, tall tale – Steffler relates the story of one man’s pilgrimage to a remote island of Newfoundland’s northern peninsula. Often comic, and always deeply passionate and sensuous, The Grey Islands tells of the sharpening of perceptions whetted by solitude, wind and rock, and of the pilgrim’s people – living and dead – who have striven to exist under its harsh regime. As in his other books, like That Night We Were Ravenous or his acclaimed novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright, Steffler’s writing delivers the bite of raw experience and embraces existence at the edge in all its terror and beauty.

If you can get your hand on a copy, it’s well worth it. Maybe I really liked it because I was on a sort of solo adventure of my own… but whatever it is, that book really moved me. His description of being alone on the island, or the anecdotes he tells, or his encounter with the moon one night…are all so moving and touching. I’m no good at translating my experience into poetic words… but Steffler is. I should check out some of his other writings.

Reading that book really made me think of Phil Elvrum and his bands The Microphones and Mount Eerie. Elvrum is a master of mixing the natural with the human and the technological. His thesis behind his (albeit lackluster) album No Flashlight (by his band Mount Eerie) is as follows (as interpreted by a reviewer on Amazon…man I’m so unacademic):

What Phil seems to be trying to convey is that this media-saturated, hyper-commodified world we live in is what we tend to call ‘reality,’ and we accept this version of the world as truth because we simply don’t know any better. But this ‘reality’ is ideological, mythological, illusionary, and constructed. What is being ignored, then, is what Phil ambiguously refers to as the night, or what could more appropriately be called an absence of our constructed ‘reality.’ So: instead of using a flashlight at night, Phil says “no flashlight.” With no flashlight, you’ll be that much closer to ‘seeing’ through ideologies and constructions, to see the “the pregnancy of night.” You’re on the right track, for example, if you can crawl in the dark without seeing it as ‘undignified’ to do so. However, just because so much of what we know is culturally constructed, doesn’t mean we should retreat into the woods. Phil says you have to be honest with yourself, which is why he’ll sing his songs “in the parking lot.” Essentially, no flashlight means seeing the world with a new perspective. “Every camping trip must end, but the feeling is permanent.”

…Just listen to this song (from The Microphones album The Glow Pt. 2 …one of my favourite albums), which nicely connects John Steffler’s book with Phil Elvrum’s work


I drove up to the city at night and found the place
Where you grew up and then where you stayed
And we walked around and stayed up late under city lights
I spent the night, next to you in the house where you grew up
Next to you I miraculously woke up
In your parents’ house I laid in bed with you

I went back to feel alone there
I went back to wipe it clean

I took the lights and radio towers out of my dreams
And we went all the way up to the small town where I’m from
With foggy air and the wind and the mountain top
And we clung to rocks and looked off and you held my hand
You almost got to start feeling me
I finally felt like I was breathing free
Under swaying trees we fell asleep and we had the same dream
The stars were bright, we dream the same every night
On my island home I spent some time with you

I went back to feel alone there
I went back there by myself
I gave up on everything that we’d felt

We found a precious place in the sand right out in the wind
And we laid under a blanket and heard the furious sound
The roar of waves, the pounding surf, two bodies on the earth
It was intense just getting to be there next to you
And you trying to get me then, and I was happy to let you in

I went back and wished I hadn’t
I went back and felt regret
I went to the beach and I stared west

Every night when the sun went down in the town where we lived
The empty streets were lit up by reflected light from a distant sun
Bouncing off a glowing ball of rock and we just laid on the roof
And watched the moon, the moon, the blue light of the moon
We didn’t talk and silently we both felt powerful
And, like the moon, my chest was full because we both knew
We’re just floating in space over molten rock
And we felt safe and we discovered that our skin is soft
There’s nothing left except certain death
And that was comforting at night out under the moon

I went out last night to forget that
I went out and stared it down
But the moon stared back at me
And in it’s light I saw my two feet on the ground

I’m not a big fan of Heidegger…essentially because I hate philosophers who write in dense/archaic prose. But he seems to have some great ideas (at least the people who interpret him have suggested he has some great ideas…again, I can’t understand a single thing the guy is trying to say). Here’s a summary of his ideas on technology and culture and such (from this blog):

What Heidegger identifies as existential risk is not that nature can be enframed, measured and extracted per se, but that this calculable set of presences may harden to the point where we don’t realise we created them, and where we fail to see there are other modes of bringing objects and worlds to presence:

enframing [through the technological attitude] does not simply endanger man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is. As a destining, it banishes man into the kind of revealing that is an ordering. Where this ordering holds sway, it drives out every other possibility of revealing…They no longer even let their own fundamental characteristic appear, namely, this revealing as such.

Fundamentally, technology is a way of relating to objects: and for Heidegger, the danger is not so much in the exact nature of the relating, as in the fact that we may not see it as a relation at all, but just as the way things are: a fixed and immutable strife between the human and the nonhuman. It is then a question of contingency rather than alienation.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to communicate…I just wanted to share some things I’ve been into recently…and to sort of flesh out some of these themes that have been swimming through my brain… about relating to nature and technology and so on and on.


About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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