Editor's Letter

To Appreciate Nature: Feel Intimidated, Become Inspired

Amy Gahyun Lee | July 16, 2018

In Eastern mythology there is this mythical faceless being named Hundun, who’s creation of the cosmos marks the beginning of time. In consideration of his benefaction, the emperor of the South Sea, Shu (Brief) and the emperor of the North Sea, Hu (Sudden) realized the seven openings (eyes, nose, mouth and ears) of Hundun’s face—one per day. And on the seventh day, upon receiving the final opening—with a face complete—Hundun would suddenly pass away.

As you may have intuited, Hundun signifies the chaotic state of affairs before humankind would impose order on nature. The described allegory illustrates how the provision of nature evokes a delicate balance that may be disrupted—and ultimately destroyed—by the artificial constructs of humankind. In the myth, humankind appears only after the death of Hundun. In other words: We, humans emerge from nature; however—and rather ironically—our existence is ultimately antipodal to her.

In Demanding the Impossible, the renowned Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek cites the view of his friend—a German ecologist—that the best prospect for nature is urban development that would entail optimizing for the greatest proportion of humankind living in big cities in order to preserve the largest domain of nature. It may sound utopian and overreaching; however, in light of the current conversation about ecology and “going green,” it is certainly thought-provoking as these days urbanites see value in maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. They appreciate nature by going on weekend hikes in the great outdoors with their pets, and growing organic veggies in home gardens. And while this all might seem ‘nature-friendly,’ it’s worth stepping back to consider how human-centric it actually is.

“As for the infinite variety of nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in nature. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her,” Vivian tells Cyril, in Oscar Wilde’s essay in the form of a Socratic dialogue, The Decay of Lying. Vivian continues, “...we, human(s) created art to supplement nature’s imperfection.”

Wilde’s essay would seem to suggest that nature represents a lack of design—or a defect of incompleteness. Art—the core of aestheticism—is to eventually come to nature’s rescue by remedying this incompleteness. Like the tragedy of Hundun who obtained a face though creation, in Wilde’s essay, nature’s incompleteness—her ‘unsightliness’ as he suggests—is remedied by the fruit of humankind—art.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that all art was an imitation of nature. During the Renaissance, art went beyond imitating nature to idealizing her. How should art reflect humankind's relationship with nature today? How have we evolved our relationship to her in engineering our environment? Throughout humankind’s history nature has been simultaneously feared and worshiped. We have always been in awe of her as we seek to dominate her. Perhaps in our ongoing quest to coexist with nature, perhaps we have lost track of our relationship with her.

Like the hiker looking upon the sea of fog in the midst of an overwhelming landscape in Caspar David Friedrich’s The wanderer above the sea of fog, humankind stands intimidated and inspired. How can we reconnect with nature?

We should accept a feeling of intimidation and allow ourselves to become inspired by nature.

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