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  • How To (Un)Globe the Earth in Four Easy Lessons
  • J. Hillis Miller (bio)

And fast by hanging in a golden ChainThis pendant world, in bigness as a StarrOf smallest magnitude close by the Moon.Thither full fraught with mischievous revenge,Accurst, and in a cursed hour he hies.. . .. . . [Satan] toward the coast of Earth beneath,Down from th'Ecliptic, sped with hop'd success,Throws his steep flight in many an Aerie wheele,Nor staid, till on Niphates top he lights.

—John Milton, Paradise Lost, II: 1051-1055; III: 739-742 (Milton 195, 209)

Things are not going well these days on this old earth of ours. We need all we can get of wisdom, insight, perspective, and "theory" (in the etymological sense of "clear-seeing") to understand what is going on and perhaps to decide to do something about it. One problem is that we are interwoven within what is happening here on earth. We are therefore perhaps prevented from seeing it clearly. We have, however, been granted for the first time in human history an ability to look at the earth from outer space—that is, from outside what is happening here. Millions of people all over the world have seen one of the unsettling space-ship or satellite photographs. They provide a distant and detached perspective on the earth with a vengeance. To be, or to pretend to be, wholly detached and objective is, nevertheless, perhaps diabolical. John Milton imagined Satan as one of the first space-travellers in literature, as in the passages from early in Paradise Lost cited above.1 Satan was not exactly detached, since his goal was to bring about the fall of man, but he certainly could see the whole earth from a distance, hanging in space, as all the sons and daughters of Eve can do nowadays. We are not exactly detached and indifferent either.

The phrase "globing the earth" combines two of the common words in English used to name the whole planet. "Planet" is another such word, as are "world," "creation," "environment," "land," "climate," "Gaia," "nature," "eco-system," and "terra." "Terra" is used in compound words [End Page 15] like "territorial" and "terrestrial," or in "Terra Mater," the Latin equivalent of Gaia. Each of these words has a different nuance, a different history, and a different range of ideological and metaphorical associations, though they all are intertwined and tend to be mutually or tautologically defining, as in "globing the earth."

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Jacques Derrida, for example, prefers the French neologism "mondialisation" to the English word "globalization." This is because he, correctly, sees that the word "world" (monde) connects to the Biblical roots of globalization as a concept. "Mondialisation" might be translated, barbarously, as "worldwideification." The word "world" echoes all through the King James translation of the Bible. The Apostle James, in the Book of Acts, declares that "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts, 15: 18). The apostles, in Acts, were given the gift of tongues at Pentecost so they could go forth to convert all the world. Those unconverted Jews of Thessalonica who oppose the Apostle Paul, in Acts, say that he and the other preachers of Christianity have "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17: 6). Jesus, in Mark 14: 9, speaking of the woman who has poured a costly box of spikenard oinment on his head, says, "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her." Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are not only the three great "religions of the book." They are also the three greatest world religions—that is, religions that aspire to be universal.

"Globe," on the other hand, does not appear at all in my small Biblical concordance. As Claire Colebrook correctly asserts (see my footnote 1), the word "globe" has connotations of the inclusiveness, the interconnection [End Page 16] of all parts into a whole, and the totalizing perfection that has long been associated with the circle. Relevant, in this connection, is the medieval definition of God...


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