After Nature: Museum of Lost VolumesNeyran Turan
The city gives the illusion that earth does not exist.
—Robert Smithson, “Sedimentation of the Mind” (1968)
Resource-making activities are funda-mentally matters of territorialization—the expression of social power in a geographical form.
—Gavin Bridge “Resource Geographies” (2010)
In the concluding section of his 1864 book, Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, American diplomat, historian and conservationist George Perkins Marsh writes: “It is a legal maxim that ‘the law … [does not concern] itself with trifles,’ … but in the vocabulary of nature, little and great are terms of comparison only; she knows no trifles, and her laws are as inflexible in dealing with an atom as with a continent or a planet.” He goes on to say that “every new fact, illustrative of the action and reaction between humanity and the material world around it, is another step toward the determination of the great question, whether man is of nature or above her.”
One response to Marsh’s “great question” might hold that, if nature as we know it is altogether a new phenomenon in light of the Anthropocene, as I have discussed in the introductory chapter, then our ways of relating to nature reside clearly beyond a question of being “of or above” it. Considered to be one of the earliest thinkers about the human impact on nature, or what we now term anthropogenic climate change, Marsh was keen on incorporating natural history into our understanding of human history, echoing the interests of natural historians like Alexander von Humboldt and others who came before him. For Marsh, this kind of integration was essential to moving beyond the inadequacy of human standards of spatial and temporal dimension when understanding natural processes. According to Marsh, human standards were too narrow to assess the vastness of the natural expanses of time and space, due to the limits of our comprehension.
At the same time, these standards were also naïve in terms of understanding the power of the small scale; they failed to recognize the possibility that something that seems trivial could be as significant as the big picture when assessing natural phenomena.
Museum of Lost Volumes, 2015. Rare Earth Cenotaph.
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