Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thank you, Arne Naess

Arne Naess.

Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer who articulated the concept “deep ecology,” died on January 12, 2009 at the age of 96. Deep ecology is the essential perception that all living beings have intrinsic value, and, as Naess has said, “a right to live and blossom.” Naess also stated, “The earth does not belong to humans,” even though he understood that because we’re human, we look to our own first. Profoundly influenced by Spinoza and Gandhi (he wrote books about each), Naess was fascinated by the complexity of our relationship with the rest of life.

David Rothenberg, a philosopher, musician, and writer I greatly admire and learn from with great pleasure, studied with Arne Naess and worked on the translation of one of the prolific philosopher and ecologist’s major works, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle (1989). Rothenberg is the author of Why Birds Sing and Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound, and you can listen to Rothenberg talk about his music and writing right here on this site in Nonfiction interviews.

Rothenberg is currently working on a novel based on his experiences in Norway with Naess, an excerpt of which will appear in a forthcoming issue of TriQuarterly. In 1991, Rothenberg completed his Conversations with Arne Naess: Is it Painful to Think? (University of Minnesota Press). This is an excerpt from his introduction:

“Arne speaks of the small self and the “Self” with a capital s. The latter is the great Self, which is as near as he will come to the mention of God. It is the unity of the natural world, a singular thing with which we are meant to identify, as when we suddenly feel the suffering of the earth as a whole, under the vast weight of human transformation. And Self-realization is a way to link this intuition of the unity of life with our own individual lives and pursuits. . . .One approaches fulfillment through empathy with the world beyond the ego. This expansion of concern does not diminish humanity, but enriches us by pushing the meaning of humanity further and further away from any one person’s interest. As Spinoza says, we approach perfection with the more connections we apprehend of the innumerable links and branches that hold the world together as one.”

Arne Naess’ long list of books includes Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper World (2002), and Harold Glasser has edited The Selected Works of Arne Naess (2005). When asked how he viewed the future in terms of humankind’s environmental impact, Arne Naess described himself as a “short-range pessimist and a long-range optimist.” What optimism we do feel is due in large part to Naess’ deep vision.

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