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—— 9 —— Revaluing Earth, Air, Fire, and Water Elemental Beauty, Ecological Duty, and Environmental Policy First use the fourfold spell . . . / Whoever ignores / The elements’ cores / Their energy / And quality / Cannot command / In the spirit’s land. —Goethe, Faust It [is] a question therefore of acquiring familiarity with the element, whereupon everything [will] take its course. —Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before “Excellent!,” I [Watson] cried. “Elementary,” said he [Holmes]. —Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Crooked Man” We have explored and attempted to reanimate the earliest Western understandings of the elements and to suggest that environmental implications exist for a critical reclamation of such a perennial and pervasive idea. We have looked closely at ancient theories of earth, air, fire, and water, examined their domestication and transformation, and discussed the philosophical reappearance of elemental ideas within recent and contemporary thought. Through sustained and sustainable ecological practices along with a rekindled attentiveness to natural phenomena and the elemental imperatives they urge on us; by a vigilant remembering of the feral flesh and the passions of the lived body; via ongoing recollection of poetic and philosophical reverie; and a renewed focus on landscape, dwelling, and place, we may start to rediscover—even re-enchant and recover—an elemental connection with the natural world and earth, fire, air, and water more particularly. In so doing, we might find once again like the early Greeks that the elements are also our letters , our spell-binding means of constructing and connecting with the cosmos. In 333 334 | Elemental Philosophy such a way, we might eventually help to create a more livable environment and a more bountiful and ecological abode for the interactions of air, fire, earth, and water as well as the creatures that inhabit or rely on them. All of this suggests that we can transition toward an active ethical, aesthetic, and cultural relationship with the elements and that we can bring the elemental world to inform, guide, or challenge our existing philosophical or political frameworks. What could an elemental sensibility or ethos entail? How might steps be taken in this direction? Let us close our investigation with a few concluding thoughts about the relation of the elements and the elemental to environmental aesthetics, ethics, and policy in order to better appreciate, value, and defend the places, phenomena, and forces associated with earth, air, fire, and water. Elemental Ethics How and why does the elemental world matter, and what kind of value should it be accorded? We have already provided an analysis of the linkages among the elements and human identity, natural place, pollution, the body, landscape, language , and other subjects. Most fundamentally, cultivating an ecological sensibility involves first actively noticing and regularly exposing ourselves to air, earth, fire, water, night, ice, stone, and the like and allowing them, in turn, to take hold of us through an array of perceptual, aesthetic, or ethical imperatives. Despite their increasing mediation by human artifacts and our tendency to forget them, elemental forces still abound all around us, and even within us. A Zen parable is instructive: “It is too clear and so it is hard to see. / A dunce once searched for a fire with a lighted lantern. / Had he known what fire was, / He could have cooked his rice much sooner.”1 With respect to earth, several writers have likewise summoned us to reflect on the sensuous surface of the planet and to delve into its elemental depths: “From soil we come, and to the soil we bequeath our excrement and remains. And yet soil—its cultivation and our bondage to it—is remarkably absent from those things clarified by philosophy in our Western tradition.” Toward this end, they have issued a call for a “philosophy of soil” that entails “a clear, disciplined analysis of that experience and memory of soil without which neither virtue nor some new kind of subsistence can be.”2 We might try, in other words, to open the domestic human household to the vast untamed realm both inside and outside of our own material or mental walls, a task and opportunity that points to the value of be-wildering—making wild—our conceptions of ontological, epistemological, and social order itself. Once considered profoundly animate, social, and even divine—whether in the guise of localized bodies, purposeful forces, or powerful deities—the elements now strike us as largely impersonal, lifeless, and without agency. On first blush, they may appear to be too indifferent, remote, or inhospitable for many of us to Revaluing...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438432465
Related ISBN
9781438432458
MARC Record
OCLC
794698971
Pages
449
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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