Lacanian Review Online: No Natural Disaster

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When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do

(Leonard Cohen, The Partisan)

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LRO 244
16th September 2020

 




The Swan and the Ship
Gustavo Dessal

 

Freud studied the three great factors that cause discontent in human beings: the action of nature, one's own body, the relationship with others. Today it is urgent to bring the first up to date, because the notion of nature has changed substantially.

Nature, as the realm of material life that ranges from the most elementary subatomic particle to the most distant galaxies, is no longer a totality that we are part of but has become something that does not exist without us because we are immersed in it.

Everywhere we have left a trace of our passage. Whether we dive into the depths of the ocean, or climb to the highest mountain peaks, we will find ourselves there. We no longer see nature, we can only see the traces we leave on it. We have intervened in such a way that even in its way of attacking us we always find the human mark.

The human trace is everywhere in the current pandemic. This is perhaps one of the reasons why so many paranoid delusions are spreading about the intentional manufacture of the virus.

But we have forgotten about other catastrophes, erroneously called "natural". The mistake of the name is not innocuous, because it conditions our way of perceiving – badly – things. There are no natural catastrophes, in the same way that nature does not exist. This leaves fate in our hands.

The great lie of denialism consists in making us believe, for example, that climate change is a natural cycle, as was the extinction of the dinosaurs. From the moment when man left the first footprint on earth – and that footprint always assumes the form of detritus, garbage, excrement, which are our avatars – we can no longer speak of natural cycles, natural causes, or natural events. Nature is an anthropological myth promoted by Romanticism to combat the expansion of scientific rationality.

There is no return to an age of nature, because nature has always been expelled from itself by man. Even if there was such an age, no human being could prove it. Only human catastrophes exist, even if they manifest as tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes.

The reconstruction of what happened in Louisiana with Katrina in 2005 clearly shows the magnitude of a tragedy that was not at all natural, a calamity that took place following the course traced by history, in which the major role played by the legacy of slavery and racism could be seen in retrospect.

Natural disasters do not exist. Only human, historical catastrophes, which also occur with the help of water, fire, and the quaking of the earth. "Nor forget I to sing of the wonder, the ship and the swan up my bay," wrote Walt Whitman in "Year of the Meteors, 1859-60."

The swan is not without the ship. They both live together in the poem. The destinies of the swan and the ship are united. They cannot be saved separately.
 

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