The Inhabited Space of Tomorrow
Tomorrow’s living space cannot be a burrow. The life of the soil is precious and must be protected. We must remain suspended without weighing down upon it.
We need to disburden ourselves by casting off superfluous furnishings, unnecessary loads, and objects whose only purpose is to delight us.
We need to get rid of the lifeless parking lots where vehicles stagnate all day, and let trees come into places where life is always welcome.
We need to change our way of looking at the world and cast aside our mindset based on greed. We need to prefer allure to the pure aesthetic of design, we need to seek beauty in the unexpected, and favour diversity over the repetition of objects that level down, turning everything into mere market commodities.
We need to reinvent a natural, non-polluting form of nomadism. Reinventing pastoral migration, moving gently from one area of life to another, banishing borders. The migration has started and it will not stop. The climate is changing, and so is our way of life.
We once again need to work on biological opportunism and settle where we can live, without speculating on the duration of our abode but planning for its possible and permanent recycling.
We need to rediscover the human animal that we have destroyed by forcing it to follow the rules of cultural correctness and by adapting technology and engineering to remove the effects caused by the impact of life.
Tomorrow’s inhabited spaces must leave no traces.
There will no longer be architects of historical monuments but inventors of permanent transformation.
Of course it is a dream.
But what would we do if it were not for our dreams?
Gilles Clément, August 2021
What follows is an archipelago-text that starts out from the words of Gilles Clément, one of the great masters of contemporary thought. It is an attempt to reconstruct and draw up a geography of thought (or rather, of the Western part of thought) on a topic that is of crucial importance: the relationship between man and the environment today, in 2022, while the effects of an illusory rebalancing of our post-pandemic lifestyles are giving way to new winds of war. There are some words that, more than others, have defined, and still define, the present as it slips away. They are the ideas and intuitions that have been expressed in recent years by writers and scientists, and sometimes by journalists, geologists, and explorers. What follows is an archipelago-text to the extent that it starts out from a search for a possible linguistics, a horizon of new words that can define a space and a time we do not yet know but that is somehow already under way. We know that if we want to ensure a future for humanity on this planet, we need to act right here, now. Whatever you’re doing: even reading or eating. The End of the End of the Earth as we know it is the title of a book by Jonathan Franzen who, some time ago, said to me during an interview: “You can concentrate on a particular place, a particular bird, instead of trying to save the world, which is impossible”. The world is being twisted out of shape right now. It will all depend on how we move and produce and buy and inform ourselves, and on how we consume energy. Humanity has no future if we fail to recognise the connections and the network, which may even be technological, that binds us, all of us, to everything else. I saw the air stand still in Białowieża Forest, the primeval forest on the border between Poland and Belarus, which has been there for 11,000 years. That is where, for the first time, I distinctly felt space and time stretching out. Entering an ancient forest is like meeting a titan: life is everywhere. Cathedrals of wood and rock, tangles of trunks and branches charred by storms who knows how many centuries ago. A time when all this, the present, did not yet exist and the god of thunder smashed the earth with incendiary flashes and crackling flames. It was when I touched the bark of a 700-year-old spruce that I felt I could sense the something that we already know but have forgotten: the arboreal remains of a world undiscovered, as Anne Carson, a Canadian poet and essayist, would say. 70% of the planet is made up of water, and we humans are some of the inhabitants of its landmasses. Even though we often forget about it, we have an ever-changing planet below us: eruptions beneath the ocean cavities, melting glaciers, high levels of smog in the largest cities, Jakarta sinking and Indonesia forced to move its capital, the tropical forest of Borneo increasingly destroyed by unstoppable anthropisation, and entire ecosystems depleted, along with their wealth of biodiversity. We keep demolishing the homes of countless other species just when we should be working to regenerate multiple, complex forms of life in the crevices, with animals, rocks and plants – together with, and next to, mankind. Gilles Clément speaks with the power of the time of trees, of thousand-year-old oaks, showing us that in addition to the passing of “man-days” there is also the time of bees. As Carl Jung wrote, the very word “future” needs to be reinterpreted in terms of synchronicity, since it is not the past that determines what will happen, but rather the future that determines our actions today. The world is a forest, as Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger would say. The concept of simultaneity needs to be introduced when remodelling our urban spaces, which were built for twentieth-century man, with his moustache and overcoat. It needs to reflect the role of women and bring in the new vectors of an age that has already changed. “Fridays For Future” the generation of Greta Thunberg, the emergence of new identities, both individual and collective, fluid love and society. Philosophers and poets tell us that we need to reconstruct archipelagos of villages, an urbanised countryside and forest-cities with the wind in mind, as in the work of architects like Stefano Boeri with his Vertical Forest. As a species, Homo dates back a mere 300,000 years. 4.5 billion years of evolution have brought mass extinctions and mass systems; and in another 4.5 billion the Sun will die out, possibly exploding or, on the contrary, cooling down. For all time. We do not know. In any case, we will not be there. We calculate the time of the world against our own, and yet: “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are”, the Talmudic words resonate in the work of Anaïs Nin. We come up with precise ideas about things when we have only seen just the tip of them. Except that, in the river we are immersed in, in the Great Time that we try to put in order, everything tends towards a state of rest. This is entropy, the second law of thermodynamics. We are used to the idea that the future is a product of the past, but this is a self-absolutive vision: we polluted the planet yesterday, and so it will be tomorrow. Environmental thinking can show us a different aperture – a measure of space viewed as a habitat to be reconstructed, or rather co-built by man together with the many other species that live, reproduce and develop in what is in effect an earthly garden, or paradise. The word “paradise” comes from the Greek paradeisos (from the Iranian pairidaeza), and refers to the protected enclosure in which all species coexist. The future is a bridge and we will live a hospitable tomorrow if we manage to change our lifestyle today.
I went to the Białowieża forest, now little more than a patch of land between north-eastern Poland and the border with Belarus, in September 2021, a few months before the Russia-Ukraine war broke out. “War: a massacre of people who don’t know each other, for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other”, wrote Paul Valéry. This is where the oracle alludes to the world that will come: Venice, Los Angeles, Mumbai. And where once they scraped the roots of the sky, their buildings will be submerged. And huge fish of a new Cambrian era will sail along what once were roads. I imagined the last cities after reading Alan Weisman, an American writer and thinker who starts his book The World Without Us right there, in Białowieża. What is positive about Weisman’s perception is that it acknowledges that we are already losing: we know that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed year by year, while in another part of the world, in Lapland, the ice is melting (the Arctic reached 33.6°C in July 2021), and now the lands of the Sámi risk being sold to make way for a new railway to carry goods by 2030. Plantae, the vegetable kingdom, includes over three trillion trees on Earth. It is plants that allow all living things to survive and multiply: grey wolves, pumas, bears, bonobo monkeys (who share 99% of our dna) and insects, as well as rocks. All biodiversity beyond man. Together we form the largest population of surface dwellers while below us, in the secret subsoil of the Wood Wide Web, with its tangle of roots, mycelia and Paul Stamets’s fantastic funghi, a vast vegetal network pulsates and interacts, as Stefano Mancuso wrote, as did Emanuele Coccia, one the most evocative Italian thinkers, in his The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture. Our habitat acts upon our individual and social identity. It is our provenance. Since the second half of the twentieth century we have rendered the chemical workshop of nature sterile. We have brought about uncontrolled land and building speculation, and we have believed in the phenomenology of an invincible industry. While we applied post-Fordism to social relations (profit) we overlooked the need to protect the land, and we forgot our need to safeguard nature and we made our environment unhealthy. Not just for our own species but also for the animals that found themselves evicted from their original homes. And we have polluted rivers, and uprooted cultivated or preciously uncultivated fields. For years we thought we could exist outside of Nature. Now we know that man is an inhabitant of the Earth and that imagining a species outside of a living space, however rich in resources, is improbable to say the least. A community forms around a place, but what corrodes a part of it will corrode it all: a poisoned land will lead to crises and, in the long-term, to famines, which will spread out: guns, germs and steel, as Jared Diamond puts it in his A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. Nature is everywhere. The forest – a single, enormous, sentient organism – existed before us, and will long outlive us. It will hold the memory of the age of humans, who once inhabited the planet. “This is my Church” I found myself replying to a guide who asked me what I believed in, and I pointed to the mountain, the clouds, and the embankments above Porto Santo, a white island off Madeira, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Elsewhere, female bison carry their new-borns to the heart of the primeval forest. Images of deserted cities, which we all saw during the pandemic: bears roaming the centre of Moscow. A deer in a church in Quebec, and lynxes (the ghost of the woods) are back in Chernobyl, setting back the hands of time. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki the first trees to grow back after the atomic bomb were ginkgo bilobas. At yet another latitude, in the state of Utah, grows the Pando clone: red and yellow aspen trees form orderly rows, all growing from a single male clonal root that dates back more than 80,000 years. On the dirt tracks of Białowieża, Tsar Alexander II used to go deer hunting on horseback. Just a few hectares remain of what was once Europe’s great primeval forest. As I walked beneath the leafy branches of lime, oak and spruce trees, in the mud I saw the footprints of a pack of wolves hunting deer; a vole inside the rotted trunk of an alder, shaped vaguely like a whale. Wolves and woods – lupus and lucus – tutelary deities and the environment, share the same semantic root. It is language that binds together the words of the world: “The way into the underland”, as Robert MacFarlane calls it, “is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Late-summer heatwave, heavy air. Bees browsing drowsy over meadow grass. Gold of standing corn, green of fresh hay-rows, black of rooks on stubble fields. Somewhere down on lower ground an unseen fire is burning.” Yet farther down, in the incandescent core of the Earth the magma reaches over 5,400°C. “A pale blue dot” – Carl Sagan’s description resonates from the picture of Earth, seen from the Voyager I probe far across the universe. Planet Earth is the only home we have.
This inclusive, co-existing pronoun. Part of a single world-forest.
Planet Earth belongs to future generations. The following are some “new” environmental terms that we need to know how to use:
1. outcropping. The geography of bodies, ideas for a co-construction of our future;
2. multiplicity. An archipelago of villages, roads, fields, deer, leaves: life, time, and collective breathing;
3. borders. Baudelaire-correspondences, Benjamin-passages;
4. utopias. Rebuilding as a space for humans, from myth to intra-spaces;
5. otherness, or of the other. What we can learn from the language of the four kingdoms: animal, plant, mineral, microorganism;
6. reforestation. Ernst Jünger, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, or of the forest as an act of freedom;
7. emergence. Surface dwellers and the subsurface world, volcanoes, glaciers, landmasses, oceans of air;
8. failure and awareness. Accepting the possibility of defeat as the driving force of change;
9. amplitude. We need to broaden our vision and perspective of space-time: planet Earth belongs to the new generations and must be handed over to them;
10. humanity. Proposals for co-habitation on planet Earth.