New book: La venganza de la naturaleza, 50 narrativas en torno al medio ambiente
We live in a world of environmental crossroads: contamination of soil, air and water, overexploitation of resources, out-of-control emissions of greenhouse gases, systematic destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity, and demographic and socioeconomic imbalances in a delusion of insatiable consumption and colonial confinements, regarding class, gender and race, that inevitably confront us with our ways of living ... and dying. William Cronon (1996) said that our way of understanding, narrating and explaining nature lies at the epicenter of the construction of contemporary western, urban and industrial societies. Thus, in the scientific-technological world which we inhabit, that nature, which we often refer to as "wilderness", has emerged as a space for transcendent exploration of the human condition through the immersion in the mysterious domains of the unknown: our playground and cornerstone in the dichotomous and seemingly irreconcilable separation between nature (precisely the wild, natural) and nurture (or, in many ways, the civilized, artificial); or beyond, broadening matters, in the same order, and strangely intertwined, the uncontrollable and the determined, irrational and rational, feminine and masculine, rural and urban, colonizable and colonizing. Nature, then, becomes the epitome of what is not human, an object of inalienable interest for scientific inquiry, technological taming, political and economic appropriation and management, and sociocultural commodification.
These narratives of opposition conveniently fit identity values, and expectations and concerns regarding the exploitation of resources that direct our gazes on what we consider natural heritage (property and history), or in a more ambiguous way, the environment. Their consequences are thus decisive for the construction of models of social organization in which nature becomes a persuasive political tool in discourses of modernization and improvement of living conditions in a (consumer) society that is deemed as a (possible, plausible) space of endless well-being. But in the current circumstances, from this sort of toxic cloud that surrounds us, we are becoming aware of the urgent need for renewed looks. Donna Haraway (2016), for instance, from a growing sense of powerlessness in the face of the apparently inevitable, insists on the need to stay (or persevere) with the trouble through kin narratives that allow a fair articulation of actions with, in, and not so much towards or out of nature.
In La venganza de la naturaleza. 50 narrativas en torno al medio ambiente (Tabernero, 2021), a filmography of more than two hundred motion pictures hardly constitutes a meager representation of the extraordinary number and diversity of perspectives and narratives in relation to concepts of nature and the environment, and to the transformations, negotiations and speculations around the multiple dimensions of such elusive concepts that have been produced over the last century and a half. With cinema, which offers us countless ways of looking at ourselves, as a necessary vector of suspension of disbelief in the face of horror, we can explore with a peculiar narrative freedom our ways of understanding nature, our expectations, our wariness, the profound contradictions of those perverse dichotomies and of our ways of organizing ourselves, “the omitted history, the imperceptible traces of our passage through the earth and through time […] the daily life of the soul” (Alexievich, 2005/2015, p. 44). And so, as Mary Shelley (1818/2003) suggested, we understand that the lack of communication and its solution inhabit the realm of the will and not that of any kind of providence: nature's revenge, therefore, is no less than a terrifying pretext.
This article is part of the project PID2019-106208GB-I00 (Urban Narratives About Nature. Contemporary Construction of Natural History Knowledge), funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
Institute for the History of Science (IHC)
Autonomous University of Barcelona
Alexiévich, Svetlana (2005/2015). Voces de Chernóbil. Crónica del futuro. Barcelona: Debolsillo.
Cronon, William (1996). The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. Environmental History 1(1): 7-28.
Haraway, Donna (2016). Staying with the Trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham y Londres: Duke University Press.
Shelley. Mary (1818/2003). Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. London: Penguin Classics.
Tabernero, Carlos (2021). La venganza de la naturaleza. 50 narrativas en torno al medio ambiente. Barcelona: UOC. https://www.editorialuoc.cat/la-venganza-de-la-naturaleza-50-narrativas-en-torno-al-medio-ambiente