“Nature”, ch. 1-5

Coates talks about ancient writings that discuss the environmental impact of human life, which I found really interesting as it made me realize that the problem is usually posed as a modern phenomenon. I think the changes felt were much more immediate in this time, as the technology necessary to transport and displace waste had yet to arrive. In line with Sarah Moore’s arguments about waste as a class identifier, I think there would be more immediate action taken if we were truly aware of the magnitude of our detriment, especially living in the first world.

This idea unites our viewpoint with that of the past in a lot of ways, and I think this book was effective in simultaneously outlining the ways in which those attitudes have evolved, but also how they’ve grown out of one another, and are still relevant in our understanding of nature itself.

“we have not made the natural world but we have, in a sense, created nature” (9)

“more accurate to talk about representations of nature rather than reflections” (9)

Coates describes this idea of representation through popular symbols of nature as a “function of culture”, assigning objects based on their associations. They take on their own meaning when removed from context, and in our society, largely lead to cultural associations. Removing objects from their context leads to monolithic representation, essentially frozen in time. This is paradoxical in thinking of nature specifically, as it is very much a timeless entity.

This idea of representation via actual objects reminded me a lot of Jasper Johns’ work, which employed universally understood symbols to assign meaning. In doing so, he argued that the symbols became real, rather than merely representative.

  • semiotics, study of signs, symbols to identify how meaning is constructed
  • attitudes towards nature are largely socially constructed

“Numbers in Color”, 1958-1959


“Nature, in short, was an internal property rather than a physical territory, a principle and process rather than a material entity” (23)

“vital distinction between concern with nature in its capacity as the phenomena of the universe, which has been a central feature of all religions since they first appeared … and concern over nature as a fragile entity in a late twentieth-century, ecological sense” (15)

  • The idea that nature can be represented places it as tangible, reflective of a more modern attitude. Thinking about nature as an internal element was prominent in ancient times, accounting for the natural order of things

Considering what it represents in a more spiritual rather than actual context, adhering to a “natural law” that people once also organized themselves amongst. In thinking about social order and the placement of things, nature largely dictates that.

  • Natural law overrides human generated laws, we accommodate them out of necessity — natural disasters, governments coming together to address

“Yet animals, and plants rivers and forests – like non-whites, non-elites, women, gays and other ‘marginalized’ groups of people – have a history that should be restored to them” (18)

This quote draws on an idea that Bruckner presented, in that the earth has become the ultimate outcast. It addresses the power associated with the dissemination of knowledge, which, in discussing oppressed peoples, has largely been written out of history, or via a hegemonic state. In the case of the environment, this matter becomes more complicated, because the “voice” of the environment must be taken by people, the question is who?

  • Human hegemony, irrespective of any race/class/culture/religion/gender


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