Introduction

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Abstract:

This book is an exploration of the fascinating borderland between ecology and the arts. A hybrid and interdisciplinary subject, it is fascinating precisely because it is fraught with epistemological uncertainty and controversy, not least of all regarding the relation of the world of human culture to the wider natural world. As we explain in more detail below, the book engages with a number of conflicting views on that relation, suggesting that ‘nature’ in total is always already plural. The book partly has a debt to those theories which argue that since nature is constituted ‘in the chain of the signifier’ (Soper in Robertson et al. 1996: 22) it is part of culture (Featherstone and Burrows 1995: 3), so much so that the differences between nature and culture have collapsed (Haraway 1997) and nature must henceforth be interpreted from within the parameters of culture (Lyotard 1984; Jameson 1991; Baudrillard 1994). But the book equally represents those with an investment in nature as an ‘independent domain of intrinsic value, truth or authenticity’ (Soper in Robertson et al. 1996: 22) who believe it is possible to remove ‘layer upon layer of culturally derived preconceptions and predispositions’ to achieve a disinterested apperception of that natural domain as it is in itself (Fallico 1962: 7). And there again, other parts of the book reflect the idea that nature is neither merely cultural nor purely ‘there’ (Haraway 1997), but rather a process of endless exchange and interactivity between the human and the other-thanhuman that leads to ‘co-produced nature-cultures’ (Szerszynski, Heim and Waterton 2004: 4) about which, through language, we can become socially and ethically reflexive and politically aware (Robertson et al. 1996: 1).

These various forms of nature do not just differ but often contradict each other (Macnaghten and Urry 1998) because they are produced ‘by and through different social practices’ (Macnaghten and Urry 2001: 4). In this sense, nature is always performed and can only be appropriated by means of performance. Whether we see nature as only in and through culture, feel it as the ‘real’ or hear it between the human and other-than-human, nature needs to be physically encountered in order to be perceived. The ontology of nature, then, lies only in the performance of nature – in nature's capacity to appear as action, or in our capacity to act within it. And, as the book also reveals, the limits of our capacity to perform nature mark the limits of life itself.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0375-9_1

Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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