Saturday, August 7, 2010

218 / Human Traces #2

Sebastian Faulks' book, Human Traces, explores both psychiatry and memory, and ends with a suggestion that all things human are impermanent. Disappearing footprints in the sand convey, in a powerful and poetic way, the transitory nature of human life.

Earlier in the book, one of the main characters takes a trip to Africa, where he sees the footprints of what he thinks may well have been the first truly "human" family, preserved in solid stone. In the trajectory of the narrative, those permanent footsteps are left behind, at the point of human origin, and the conclusion of the book speaks not of the permanence, but of the impermanence, of human action. The steps we take, and the paths we make, leave only disappearing traces.

So it is with human memory, too. Efforts to regain it fail; what has been is there, somehow, and somehow complete, within the human mind, but inaccessible to human recollection.

In the human world that we create, impermanence is, in fact, the rule; in the world of Nature, the opposite is the case: there is no end to life, for in that world of Nature, the death of one thing gives rise to the new life of something else.

Unless we can find the reconciling sentiment found at the end of Faulks' book, or in the poems of Antonio Machado -- unless we can accept our place -- our quest to combat death through human action not only wastes our own lives, but puts the natural world, that sustains all life, in peril of its own extinction. Such a possibility, the death of Nature, the death of everything, is what we hazard now, with all our human projects.


  1. What is our place in Nature, though, ..?

    Are we not Nature's mind? Are our hopes and dreams not her own?

    Surely, we need to stop cutting out our forest lungs, and surely need to quit smoking in our air, --

    ...but I think "our place" in Nature is divine. And without that, -- if we forget that, -- I think that the depression that is pervading our culture, a depression I believe stems from this creeping sense of futility, will only be the beginning...

  2. Well, I'm not sure that we agree on this one. My sense is that the Bible story of the Garden of Eden is one way to talking, metaphorically, about our relationship to "Nature," and we've been kicked out. So we live in our own world, now.


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