Monday, October 01, 2007

Goethe & climate change


The Arctic melt has reached a tipping point. The fight for the top of the world has begun. The UN Climate Change Conference 2007 will take place 3-14/12 in Bali, Indonesia. And here are the top 100 ways global warming will change your life.

Why is the climate revolution taking so long? The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is 15 years old. The Kyoto Protocol is 10 years old. A global majority wants action. But in the initial gathering 9/24 for the Bali talks, the U.S. president was a no-show. Instead, he hosted his own meeting to derail the UN climate talks. That U.S. policies cause planetary climate change does not trouble Americans. They have not impeached Bush. Why does the USA delay the international response to climate change? Why does the notion "CLIMATE" or the word "NATURE" not compute in the Republican mind? Compared to other cultures, how do neocon Gringos think differently?

Recently an odd thing happened at work that may be part of the answer. We had a guest here, a philosophy professor from up north, who talked about a poem by J. W. v. Goethe, who is for us Krauts what Shakespeare is for Gringos. The poem is called "Wanderer's Nightsong". It's the second poem with this title; the first one he wrote on the slope of a forested mountain in 1776, a year famous for another event. This poem here he wrote on the wall of a hunting lodge in 1780.

"Wanderer's Nightsong II" was quite popular; the romantics put it on their flag; Schubert & Liszt wrote music for it, and today it survives as a lullaby. Milan Kundera translated it:

On all hilltops
There is peace,
In all treetops
You will hear
Hardly a breath.
Birds in the woods are silent.
Just wait, soon
You too will rest.

A bit creepy, eh? Fast forward 227 years to here & now, or to USF a week ago, and enter a cultivated American professor who reflects on what the poem may mean. To the general approval of his American audience, he declared that the poem is about The Subject. Forget hilltops and treetops. It's not about mountains, trees, birds, or sunsets--it's not about the outdoors in general, or The Object, or The Other; -- no, said the American, the poem is about people. It's about us. It's about our feelings. It is about the Self. And the other Americans sat there, obediently nodding, and thoughtfully wrote it down: Goethe is "me". The last sound of the poem, the hooting "you-too" voice coming from the evening forest is not an owl either -- Uhu in German; Goethe's original "ruhest du" puns on it -- no; who speaks there, so the American scholar from up north, is the child.

So the Global Village has been waving large-lettered signs that say "Global Warming" and "Climate Change" and "Biosphere" and "Hello?" at the USA for 15 years, and only now & ever so slowly are the Gringos coming around. That's an entire culture, nearly five percent of the global village, operating like this professor who just minds his Subjectivity and wonders about the inner child when reading on Nature.

Oh, and then there was this blackout and the denatured consumers got scared at the sight of the Milky Way. Tell that to Goethe.


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