by Deborah Bird Rose (University of New South Wales)
“Who Wrote the Book of Love?” It’s a corny old song, it asks a ridiculous question, and I had this sudden flash that it invites a truly interesting answer.
It has taken about 3.5 billion years to come into its present form. It is written in DNA and RNA, but that’s only part of it. It is written in sunshine, rain, oceans, salt, forests, pollinators, seed dispersers, migrations, predations, fires, floods, feasts, famines, plate tectonics and slime molds, to name just a few.
The book of love I’m talking about is the book of life, and if there is any meaning to the term “belonging” in this context, it belongs to itself: to its great, diverse, patterned, beautiful self. Eileen Crist uses the term “flame of life” to try to capture the inherent meaningfulness of the biosphere in its robust becoming.
Is it really a book of love? Perhaps we should use the great word eros, because one thing we know for sure is that the biosphere works through desire. The flame is comprised of diversity, complexity and abundance, Crist tells us. If there were no desire, there would be no flourishing, no becoming, no flame. Thanks to geological science we know that every major catastrophe has been followed by the emergence of new forms of diversity, complexity and abundance. Even though we cannot understand why the biosphere desires all of this, we and all else are proof of that desire.
Let us hold it in mind, therefore, that the book of love wrote us humans, too. We are present in it, we’re part of it, and we have the most awesome capacity to love it, along with the most appalling capacity to trash it. In Crist’s punchy words: “human beings have taken aim at the very qualities that define the living planet, dismantling, with an intent that seems paradoxically both blind and demonic, the diversity, complexity, and abundance of life on Earth”(Crist 2010: 329).
According to biologist E. O. Wilson, we (meaning the human species) are plummeting into an “Age of Loneliness” (Wilson 2002: 77). We are losing our earth companions, and most of the loss is caused by us. We are approaching the book of love in the mode of warfare, tearing out pages, chapters, even whole sections, in the race to destruction. How and why we are letting this happen is undoubtedly the big question – perhaps the only great question – of our time. It may be too big to be answered, but at the same time it must be addressed.
To ponder this question, and to take action in arenas of violence, is to enter “heartbreak hotel.” One of many things breaking my heart at this moment is a combination of righteousness, rage, and tunnel vision on the part of those who advocate the on-going demolition of nature. This rapacious way of life (in which most of us participants in consumer societies are entangled) is scooping up our world, wrecking it, trampling those of us who disagree, and accelerating contemporary and future suffering for all life on earth.
And yet, even as violence accelerates, earth life persists. Step into places of diversity, complexity and abundance and you find yourself going straight into the heart of eros. You encounter love, and from love one is moved to care, and from care to action, and from action to imagining a world without all this violence. This is to say that the book of love calls you into itself. Indeed, to wake up to love is to start to see it everywhere, and thus to know that the flame of life glows with its own burning desire.
Crist, Eileen. 2010. “Intimations of Gaia.” In Gaia in Turmoil:Climate, Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis, edited by E. Crist and H. B. Rinker. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Mathews, Freya. 2003. For Love of Matter: A Contemporary Panpsychism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Rose, Deborah. 2011. Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Wilson, Edward O. 2002. The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Deborah Bird Rose: Official Website