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25 March 2011

Queering Ecology

In a recent article in Orion Magazine, Alex Johnson offers lessons for overcoming the Nature/Culture dualism - a false dualism which does far more harm than good.  Here's a quick excerpt:
Let’s stop congratulating ourselves. Instead, let’s give a round of applause to the delicious complexity. Let us call this complexity the queer, and let us use it as a verb. Let us queer our ecology. Cranes can be ancient, but they can also be modern. Might their posterity extend past ours? 
We’ve inherited a culture that takes its dualisms seriously. Nature, on the one hand, is the ideal, the pure, the holy. On the other hand, it is evil, dangerous, and dirty. The problem? There’s no reconciliation. We accept both notions as separate but equal truths and then organize our world around them. Status quo hurrah! Irony be damned. 
Take sexuality, for instance: 
We have come to believe, over our Western cultural history, that heterosexual monogamy is the norm, the natural. People who call gays unnatural presume that Nature is pure, perfect, and predictable. Nature intended for a man and a woman to love each other, they say. Gays act against Nature. And yet: we rip open the Earth. We dominate the landscape, compromising the integrity of the living world. We act as though civilization were something better, higher, more valuable than the natural world. 
Our culture sets Nature as the highest bar for decorum, while simultaneously giving Nature our lowest standard of respect. Nature is at our disposal, not only for our physical consumption, but also for our social construction. We call geese beautiful and elegant and faithful until they are shitting all over the lawn and terrorizing young children. Then we poison their eggs. Or shoot them.
What I’m getting at is this: those who traditionally hold more power in society—be they men over women, whites over any other race, wealthy over poor, straight over queer—have made their own qualities standard, “natural,” constructing a vision of the world wherein such qualities are the norm. And in so doing, they’ve made everyone else’s qualities perverse, against Nature, against God. Even Nature—defined impossibly as the nonhuman—becomes unnatural when it does not fit the desired norm: the gay geese must be affected by hormone pollution!
A man who has sex with a man must identify himself by his perversion, by his difference. If straight is the identity of I am, then gay becomes I am not. Women are not men. Native people are not white. Nature is not human. 
Instead of talking about nonconformity, I want to talk about possibility and unnameably complex reality. What queer can offer is the identity of I am also. I am also human. I am also natural. I am also alive and dynamic and full of contradiction, paradox, irony. Queer knocks down the house of cards and throws them into the warm wind.


michael- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michael- said...

Hey J,

I'm wondering, do you think anthropology can operate without the concept of "culture"?

Jeremy Trombley said...

I'm not sure that queering the Nature/Culture dualism requires abandoning either term. It just means that both need to be queered - creating a hybrid/cyborg/avatar/etc. conception of both nature and culture. Nature is human and culture is non-human. I think an anthropology with such a conception of culture becomes richer, more useful, and more revolutionary.

michael- said...

What use does the concept of 'culture' have, then, if it were queer enough to incorporate non-human relations?

How would you define culture? What would it signify in relation to non-human?

I'd like to know your thoughts on this.


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