The Ecology of Being, or The Winding of Trees
The other evening, I'm walking along Land's End in San Francisco and was overtaken with laughter, and not for the first time, by the sight of the trees. They wear their environment so explicitly, letting us see the ecology of being, as if the cosmos itself was grabbing us by the head and making us see the way of things. Look, you morons! It's right in front of you! Being is ecological!
Of course, you could look at the same trees and say, Well, those trees are the way they are because of the wind. It's simple cause and effect: the wind blows, the trees bend. Duh. And, from a certain perspective, you wouldn't be wrong. Isolate an event and you can say this caused that.
But look at those trees again. You can't separate how they find their way, how they go — their internal mode of self-production — from the winds, a so-called external element. They didn't grow and then bend. The wind is constitutive of the tree's way of going. These cypress take up the wind just as they take up sun and rain. It would seem a bit silly to say that they grow because of the sun. The sun is an essential component in their growth but it is neither sufficient nor causal. Well, the same is true for the wind and the way the trees wind through space: the wind isn't the cause of their bending.
The wind — and the wind — is constitutive of the tree's becoming. Think about it this way. There are other ways these trees could have gone in reaction to the wind. For instance, rather than bending, they could fortify, grow thicker and stronger, lean into the wind rather than away from it. You wouldn't say that the way the trees grow, the way they wind, is not part of the tree. So why make the ocean wind an external term rather than an internal element?
Now, the very architecture of internal and external is precisely what we're talking about. At times, we imagine being begins with itself and then deals with the world. A tree is a tree. What it does after that depends on its environment. But, as Lear says, nothing comes from nothing. Everything is made of other things. What separates this from that is not just material — you drink beer, I drink gin — but in how this or that operates, its speed and intensity, its metabolism and style: I have my cocktails before and with dinner, rarely after.
This is all to say that being is a process of taking in, taking up, other things. What I am is the very act of taking up of DNA, Deleuze, bacteria, ideas, gin, kisses. This is why being is probably not the right word; this is why we say being is not being at all but the act of becoming, not in the sense of transforming from this to that — boy to man — but of ceaseless action and hence change. I am the process of wearing these parts of the world like this just as the trees wear the sun and the rain and the wind. Being is always turning inside out.
Those cypress trees are wind, at least somewhat, just as they are sun and bugs and the knife carvings of adolescent lovers (DC + CW 4ever; human becoming is not external to the cosmic ecology). The trees exaggerated posture shows us what's everywhere, visibly and invisibly. What it is to be the ocean is to take up the moon and the undulations of the earth due to ground and spin. Now, I was about to say "watching the fog come in" and questioned myself. Does fog come in? Or does it emerge from this play of elements? Is it latent in this juncture of ocean, land, and sun? Or do they conspire to create it, a misty love child? In any case, watching the fog come to and move across the bay as the sun settles behind the horizon, the ecological nature of being screams at me. And then I see these trees who seem in the end to be mocking me: You bozo! You think your thinking is revelatory? Oy.
Those cypress trees are teachers, turning what might have been missed into a clear, articulate lesson. They teach me the grammar of the cosmos. As I look at them, I see them bending away from the wind. And then I think, well, they could have hunkered down and stood their ground, as it were, or even leaned into the wind. Or, as I came to see, they wind with the wind.
A lesson, then, in prepositions. Prepositions define our relationships to and with the world. They are positional, architectural, and distributive — this above that, with this, over this but below that. In an ecological cosmos, a cosmos in which things are how they stand towards other things, the preposition is contractual, the very terms of cosmic connection: Are you with me? In me? Against me? Into me? For me? The preposition is ontological.