Sexinggendering the common realm

The common realm is not sex or gender blind. To argue that the relations between humanity and nature are best understood only in mutual co-explication with the triunity of God is not thereby to obscure the different relations and associated power differentials between women and men,

46. Shiva, StayingAlive, p. 42. Cf. Shiva, 'Development as a New Project of Western

Patriarchy', pp. 189-200; Shiva, 'The Greening of the Global Reach', in Wolfgang Sachs (ed.),

GlobalEcology: ANew Arena ofPolitical Conflict (London: Zed Books, 1993), pp. 149-56.

47. Shiva, StayingAlive,p. 48. 48. Ibid., p. 5. 49. Ibid., p. 107.

on the one hand, and between men, women and nature on the other. (Nor, as I hope to have indicated, does it propose a monochrome account of the domination of women.)

Yet there remains the suspicion that theology seeks to simplify relations by generalisation and abstraction. Salleh captures this suspicion nicely: 'in an attempt to bridge its experiential fracture from the life process and 'natural time', the alienative consciousness of men has invented compensatory 'principles of continuity' such as God, the State, History, now Science and Technology'.52 To the contrary, my argument, which reaches its full complexity only in part III, is that the theological principles of an ecosocial ontology are not compensatory obfuscations but instead reflective attempts to deny such continuity. By way of a Trinitarian interrogation and reconstruction, I am arguing, the concrete detail and intimate relations - the fine dependencies and modalities of transcendence - of humanity in nature are revealed.

Such detail turns upon an account ofhuman reproductions in nature. Space, time and society, the central themes ofthe ecosocial ontology proposed throughout this book, are the basic ontological commitments governing the reproductions ofhuman interaction with nature. The spatial, social and temporal dynamics of theological anthropology are always reproductions: in short, the common totality of human-nature relations notes the centrality of reproductive activities and their non-liberative implications for women, and, arguably, for men also. Put positively, the concept of un/natural relations proposes the non-identity of women and nature against pressures to see women and nature as identical and external. Un/natural relations include reproduction.

In its theoretical commitments, such a theological position is not so far from some social/ist ecofeminisms. For example, Mary Mellor writes:

I do not think that for humanity there is an original harmony that has been lost or a teleological harmony to come. If anything, humanity is essentially in conflict with non-human nature in using human consciousness and reflexivity to create a special and privileged niche. In doing this humanity is neither natural nor unnatural.53

In my terms, she rejects 'natural' and 'antinatural'/'non-natural' relations. But in denying a common telos for humanity and nature (which is

52. Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics,p. 40. 53. Mellor, Feminism and Ecology, pp. 187-8.

not in my view best described by the phrase 'teleological harmony'54), she is obliged to discount the descriptions of'natural' and 'antinatural'/'non-natural' of the human situation in nature. What is required is a third term - un/natural relations in a common realm - which seeks to deny and affirm naturalism and deny and affirm the transcendence of personalism. That is, we require a Trinitarian materialism.

Indeed, as Val Plumwood points out, what is at stake here is a new conception of the human.55 But, against Plumwood, we must add that a new conception ofthe human cannot be constructed without attention to the un/natural identity of humanity in relation to nature. That is, we need a new conception of nature. To be included in this new anthropology would be, as Plumwood indicates, 'a different concept of closeness to nature'.56

Or, rather, the notion of the common realm surpasses notions of'close-ness to nature' and, further, 'distance from nature'. One lesson to be learned from social/ist ecofeminism is that the common realm cannot be constructed upon domination. A second lesson is that there are insights into human-nature relations which ecofeminism furnishes from the perspective of women's practices of reproduction and production. There can be no falling behind the insight that un/natural relations include reproduction; the common realm is not sex or gender blind. But we need to find some way beyond the antitheses of'closeness to nature' and 'distance from nature' towards a richer, active, more dynamic account of un/natural relations.

At the back of a more dynamic account of un/natural relations is a re-construal of nature. Ynestra King argues along these lines: to overcome the dualisms that in her view undermine all types of feminism to date, what is needed is a non-dualistic or dialectical theory in order to 'reconcile humanity with nature'. However, the ontology that she proposes for this speaks merely of the requirement to see the human as emergent from nature, the organic as emerging out of the inorganic. This she calls a project of 'rational reenchantment': the attempt in practice to bridge the dualism of spirit and matter.57 The concept of nature operative here is not at

54. For a different account of eschatological telas, see my 'The Future of Creation: Ecology and Eschatology', in David S. Fergusson and Marcel Sarot (eds.), The Future as Gad's Gift (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000), pp. 89-144.

55. Val Plumwood, 'Women, Humanity and Nature', Radical Philosophy 48 (1998), 16-24.

56. Plumwood, 'Women, Humanity and Nature', p. 23.

57. Ynestra King, 'Healing the Wounds: Feminism, Ecology and the Nature/Culture Dualism', in Diamond and Orenstein (eds.), Reweaving the World, pp. 106-21 (pp. 116,120-1).

all clear and seems to presuppose a kind of dualism. Certainly, it is not a dualism that requires an account of nature as objectified, contained and domesticated; nor is nature to be understood as some kind of naturalistic web to which humanity conforms. However, neither is nature construed as some kind of dialectical other: as subjector agent. The dialectic with which King operates is surprisingly inert, related in turn to the lack of liveliness in her account ofnature.

The religiously charged language of 're-enchantment of the world' is also employed by Mies and Shiva. Previously, Shiva had spoken of 'Nature as a living force' and had identified nature, together with women, as 'active subjects'. Indeed, in an excellent example of nature construed as natura naturans, the Hindu notion of prakriti is defined as 'the living force that supports life'.58 Using the phrase 'the sacredness of life', Mies and Shiva later insist that spirituality is to be construed actively as immanence: 'There is only immanence, but this immanence is not inert, passive matter devoid of subjectivity, life and spirit.'59 Their qualifying phrase is important, but none the less it is not easy to see how an account of the immanence ofnature in which human beings participate supports a notion of its liveliness, of nature as an active subject. Shiva will speak of the importance of acknowledging and respecting nature's capacity for self-renewal. Nevertheless, how her account of immanence supports this commitment is unclear.

My reading suggests a more radical account of the otherness of nature than Mies and Shiva propose. The notion of difference with which they operate is benign, as if the otherness of nature only identifies a space in which human beings and nature cooperate. The sometimes raw indifference of nature to human projects suggests a different, more dialectical, notion ofthe otherness ofnature. Such an account ofotherness is assured by considering the transcendence of nature: the destiny of the natural parts of the common realm in their author, God. Yet precisely such an account of transcendence is not presented by Mies and Shiva.60 In a strenuous attempt to avoid the tendencies of personalism and naturalism, the fundamental matter of the telos of nature is occluded. Therefore it remains unclear whether or not nature is anything other than oriented towards humanity. Put differently, the theme of the spatiality of nature is not foregrounded in their account. This occlusion is in its turn obscured because

58. Shiva, Staying Alive, pp. xix, 46, xvii. 59. Mies and Shiva, Ecofeminism, p. 17.

the structure of engagement with nature in their account focuses on the carefully controlled zones of the agricultural and the medical.

A more dynamic account of nature is also present in the ecofeminist literature. Subscribing to the view of'the world's active agency', Jim Cheney resists the containment of nature and insists on nature's encounter with us and therefore, in turn, its difference from humanity. Drawing on Haraway's work, Cheney denies that the anthropomorphising of the world is the result, although he is not above such formulations as 'the land must speak to us'.61 What is required then is an ontology of difference. Indeed, Cheney agrees with Tom Birch that what is required is a 'principle of universal considerability' by which 'universal attentiveness to otherness, to difference, promotes the kind of experiential encounters which lead to the discovery of our moral obligations'. Despite a welcome emphasis on the agency of nature manifest in encounter, Cheney offers no ontology. Indeed, we should note that the common realm of God, nature and humanity secures such universal considerability: the source and end of nature and humanity is God. Moral considerability can thereby be ascribed - not merely imputed or extended - to nature on account of its eschatological destiny. In a gross caricature of'salvational movements', which he claims 'desire to create a safe place outside time and circumstance', Cheney denies himself these resources.

Furthermore, salvation does not negate time according to the Christian schema, as he seems to think. Indeed, his affirmation that 'truth and justice be negotiated'62 is only intelligible from the theological view I am promoting here. For the affirmation of negotiating with non-human nature is defensible only if nature's destiny is not identical or equivalent to humanity's. Such a destiny bestows on nature its true otherness: the social, spatial and temporal movement ofnature is oriented towards God and thereby towards humanity. The differentiations and distinctions are secured as wholes and parts, as we have seen, by their reference to God. Cheney's nature is merely alien, not other.

The account of Trinitarian totality that I am developing in this political theology of nature is deeply indebted to ecofeminism's account of nature as active subject in the dynamic of encounter. This is a vital lesson, hopefully well learned. However, I am unconvinced that ecofeminist theory can supply the ontological commitments required to support its insight. In

61. Cheney, 'Nature/Theory/Difference', pp. 158-78 (p. 175).

turn, the account of un/natural relations proposed by ecofeminist theory is caught between personalism and naturalism, between temporality and spatiality and thereby remains insufficiently dialectical. Differently from deep ecology, ecofeminism none the less emerges as a very important resource for the conceptual articulation of the common realm of God, nature and humanity. As such, ecofeminism as critique will be found through most of the remaining chapters of this book.

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