Here are a few books that have “stuck” with me lately, or rather that I am sticking with for their themes on embodying ecological thought, deep time, and planetary complexity.
World as Lover, World as Self, Joanna Macy
Ever since we published Sean Kelly’s Becoming Gaia at Integral Imprint, Joanna Macy’s work has been queued on my ever-expanding shortlist. I’m glad my graduate studies created an opportunity to finally read her work. I can’t recommend Macy’s World as Lover, World as Self enough for its Gebserian themes, centering on the fullness time, the ecological self, spirituality and activism. There’s also the apparent deft, and mastery, that Macy is able to convey complex thinking (which, as a writer in this field, I admire greatly).
What is so beautiful about being alive at this moment is that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. We are retrieving the projection.Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
Students may already be familiar with Macy’s deep time practices (see The Work that Reconnects practice resource page) through Mutations calls or our annual Gebser course. Many of those practices are drawn from World as Lover, World as Self.
Otherlands: A Journey Through Earth’s Extinct Worlds, Thomas Halliday
Halliday’s new book, Otherlands, recently came to my attention. His introduction for the book offered something unique, I feel, in that he points the importance of place with respect to time.
Note the choice word place over space.
Space could be anywhere, but place is always somewhere, and thinking with time, somewhen. So this “temporal wanderlust” encourages ecological thinking — thinking with place and relational time — as it takes us from site to site across deep evolutionary time.
I’m reminded of Bill Thompson’s work on cultural history. Thompson, too, thought it was better to situate any schema on the history of consciousness within in an ecological or Gaian context. So there are the “cultural ecologies,” of riverine, transcontinental, mediterranean, oceanic and biospheric.1
The overall effect of reading Otherlands is an enlivened sense of what Bruce Clarke calls the “planetary imaginary.” It’s the story of the human species, de-centered yet marvelously there, entangled in that greater story of the living world.
The Actual Star, Monica Byrne
Moving from non-fiction to fiction, I am still early on in the pages of The Actual Star by Monica Byrne, but I have to recommend it for its brilliance, an instance of ‘bodying forth’ planetary imaginaries through the medium of storytelling literature. It’s something like a cross between Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas but also, because of its exploration of “ambiguous” utopias, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed.
Of the three timelines that Monica’s story imagines, I am most taken with the future, and its character, Niloux, who has a uniquely situated identity as a planetary nomad. Set 1,000 years into our future, Byrne imagines a post-civilizational, post-capitalist and nomadic planetary culture.
We live in utopia. Right now. I hate to tell you, but this is as close as humankind is ever going to get. The world has been at peace for four hundred years. We can control our metabolisms. We have endurance and heat tolerance. We’ve reengineered the planet for freedom of human movement. We can learn any subject or skill in hours. No one goes hungry. No one is imprisoned. No one fears violence. No one lacks shelter or companionship or medicine. Everyone has an equal voice in local tzoynas or the global Tzoyna…Any system will fragment. That’s entropy. Stratifications always form in any social system, no matter how hard we try to prevent them…I’m saying that all systems change, but we can choose to direct that change for the good. Utopia is dynamic.The character Niloux, The Actual Star
Yet, as stated, ‘real’ utopias are ambiguous affairs. I won’t give too much away (the above quote is very early on in the book), but the inquiry explored in this story hits close to home. The Actual Star feels like a literary, storytelling analog for what the Mutations project (and many adjacent communities) are sensing into: the emergence of planetary identities, or planetary cultures, that are simultaneously rooted (in kinship with place and people, human or otherwise) and cosmopolitan.
As an exercise in imagining post-capitalist and planetary futures, The Actual Star is an important contribution to further intensifying the planetary imaginary in our present, doing the vital work of all good fiction: enacting the latent possible.
It feels as though a theme has coalesced through my spring 2022 reading list, holding and conveying this sense of planetary complexity, leaping from place to place across deep time and “cultural ecologies,” imagining futures that have successfully hybridized ecological thought, that know how to live it in their movement, through and in the world.
More thoughts soon, I am sure. Happy reading.
- See Abraham, Ralph. “Galileo’s Father.”