- Oct 2020
Vicariously Through Impressio
In addition to this passage from The Geography of Plants, Humboldt, in his book, Cosmos, references impressionist art, i.e., European landscape painting, poetry, and plant cultivation. He writes, "I regard it as one of the fairest fruits of general European civilization that it is now almost everywhere possible for men to obtain-by the cultivation of exotic plants, by the charm of landscape painting, and by the power of the inspiration of language,- some part, at least, of that enjoyment of nature, which, when pursued by long and dangerous journeys through the interior of continents, is afforded by her immediate contemplation" (Humboldt, 100).
Humboldt, Alexander V. Cosmos, 7th ed. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1849.
Both passages embody centralized globalization. Humboldt writes of cultural globalization specifically by describing exploration and translation of experience to an art form for the common man to experience. What is written of less is the concurrent economic and political globalization occurring as explorers (botanists included) extract people, plants, and animals from places of origin either literally or symbolically (in art) and colonizing or dominating the plant species Humboldt so lovingly mentions. Praise of impression of natural ephemeral qualities is especially interesting to read about in the current time of a pandemic when our only access to lands unbeknownst to us is through the image- rather written or seen, we are quite literally the man isolated in this passage.
Jane Hutton refers to Humboldt's exploitation of the guano for the intention of scientific analysis in France in the early 1800s- like we have spoken of Francis Bacon's dissection/ research approach to the ecological phenomenon, Humboldt's "analysis" turning into globalized trade is another example of the evolution of human detachment and compartmentalization of the earth.
Hutton, Jane. Reciprocal Landscapes: Stories of Material Movements. London: Routledge, 2019.
E. O. Wilson was quoted in an interview with PBS, saying, "Children who learn about nature solely from television and computers are not developing fully', Wilson argues. 'They need to experience wildlife firsthand, like this child holding a snail." Wilson focuses on children's upbringing in the time of technology, suburbia, and "soccer moms." He compares children absorbed in technology to cattle in a feedlot. However, both species are content in their spaces; they are not fully the species that they have the potential to be. They are not in their most natural environment. He claims that this comparison is quite extreme. Wilson claims that children are perfectly content experiencing African wildlife or even dinosaurs from a computer screen where they cannot fully develop the sense of discovery and physiological euphoria experienced in the wild on their own. I see this thought translating not only to children but to all people, post-Globalization. One can go to an art museum or botanical garden and experience what they might imagine the actual wilderness may feel. We live now, more than ever, in an imaginative world that debilitates us from actually experiencing the earth.
"A Conversation With E.O. Wilson." PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Last modified April 1, 2008. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/conversation-eo-wilson/.