March 2007

If modern man finds his highest enjoyment of nature in the snowbound
regions of the Alps or on the shores of the North Sea, then this an
hardly be explained solely in terms of the heightened need for
excitement. It is also to be explained by the fact that this
inaccessible world, which actually rejects us, represents the extreme
enhancement and stylization of what nature as a whole still means to
us: a spiritual distant image that confronts us even in moments of
physical proximity as something internally unattainable, a promise
that is never fully kept and an entity that responds to our most
passionate devotion with a faint resistance and strangeness. Landscape
painting, which as an art depends upon distance from the object and
upon a break in our natural unity with it, has only developed in
modern times as has the romantic sense of nature. They are the result
of that increasing distancing from nature and that particularly
abstract existence that urban life, based on the moeny economy, has
forced upon us. This in no way contradicts the fact that it is precisely the
possession of money that has allowed us to take flight into nature.

Simmel, Philosophy of Money (1907 edition) (Tom Bottomore and David Frisby’s translation): 478-479.

The fateful question for the human race seems to be whether, and to
what extent, the development of its civilization will manage to
overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive
for aggression and self-destruction. Perhaps in this context the
present age is worthy of special interest. Human beings made such
strides controlling the forces of nature that, with the help of these
forces, they will have no difficulty in exterminating one another,
down to the last man.

Excerpt from Sigmund Freud’s conclusion to Civilization and Its Discontents (1930)

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

From: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1848)

It is no longer continents that have become agglomerated but the totality of the planet that is diminished. . . .The continental translation that, curiously enough, we find both in the geophysician Wegener, with the drift of land masses, and in Mackinder, with the geopolitical amalgam of lands, has given way to a worldwide phenomena of terrestrial and technological contraction that today makes us penetrate into an artificial topological universe: the direct encounter of every surface on the globe.
Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics