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A seasick pirate on spaceship Earth

Country Sickness
Forfatter: Nikolaj Schultz
Forlag: Polity Books (Storbritannia)
ECOLOGY: In this story, life on the sailboat becomes a microcosm. Tourists' life in the south disturbs the wildlife – while underwater life has been lost due to overfishing, erosion is increasing due to lost kelp forests. Is it possible to understand that the world that supports the body and consciousness is nature itself?


Here is a subtle ecological travel report. An attempt to escape from the environmental problems became an opportunity to learn – and navigate towards a new self-understanding.

Climate change is experienced at its most direct and intense during heat waves, where we really realize that we live in a climate that surrounds us. The air that allows us to live and breathe becomes a suffocating tormentor, and we are forced to internalize the situation. This is precisely the starting point for the Danish sociologist Nikolaj Schultz's essayistic narrative, Country Sickness, originally published in French as Earth disease – which gives it a sound similarity to the expression had de tete. It is also in France, more specifically Paris, that the action begins, during a heat wave that the book's I-person – Schultz's alter ego – describes in a partly delirious, partly analytical rendering of the direct impact of climate change on thought and emotional life, right down to different forms of bodily discomfort that mingle with existential anguish.

In our time, we tourists have become the new pirates, who plunder and ravage.

Schultz has made a name for himself with another publication, the manifesto-like book New Class Memo Éecological, co-written with the recently deceased science theorist and philosopher Bruno Latour. As Latour did in his last book After Lockdown – which was loosely based on Kafka's short story The transformation – Schultz uses allegorical and narrative techniques to dramatize the ecological crisis that Decorientering – and rightorientering. The most disorienting with heat waven is that it is part of a larger recalibration of human life i environmental crisisns time, where we influence our surroundings which in turn influence us. This situation is difficult to escape from, as it involves not only the atmosphere, but the entire planet.

The colonization of the tourist pirates

The story is just as full Country Sickness about an escape attempt – from Paris to a voyage out to an island in the Mediterranean, said Porquerolles.

In the rest of the story, sailboata – the island where it adds – a microcosm. The I-person constantly meets itself at the door, and everything that happens, everything is infected by the existential discomfort of the heat wave. For example, he finds a deserted, idyllic beach, but is chased by an old lady who despairs of the tourists who have invaded the island. When he does not retaliate, it is because he immediately realizes that he even is the problem – that touristone in our time has become the new pirates, who plunder and ravage. The tourist pirates' colonization initially does not affect the local population so much, who welcome them for economic reasons, but it has negative consequences for the landscape: the water is polluted by the boats and the large summer population. Deeper, there are bigger problems: Wildlife is being disrupted, while underwater life has been lost due to overfishing, erosion is increasing due to lost kelp forests, while climate change is creating drought, which in turn leads to forest fires and water shortages.

All things are infected by the heat wave's existential discomfort.

The I person finds a local guide, a street sweeper who has had enough of the tourists. In the course of their conversations, it soon becomes clear that those who turn a blind eye to the pressure on nature for short-term financial gain as a goal, in the long term destroy the island's ability to regenerate itself, its life and ability to support the lives of its inhabitants. In this way, the island becomes an image of deep divisions in the world's population, between those who are concerned about one productive economy, and those who want to defend one reproductive, sustainabilityin nature.

His journey of discovery appears more and more like an allegorical journey where all conflicts become symbolic and philosophical. At the same time, the island is real enough, and the problems are real, concrete and recognisable. It soon becomes clear that the purpose of the narrative is precisely to weave together philosophical ecological questions with an intimate everyday experience, where we ourselves are both part of the problem – victims as well as perpetrators – while at the same time we can be part of the solution.

Ramses (Cuba)-Modern-Atlas

The existential crisis

The Lace speaks of his esteem for the starry sky above him, and the moral law within himself, it seems impossible for the narrator to distinguish clearly between himself and the world – the external objective reality and himself as a moral subject. Even the atmosphere, in its imbalance, becomes a product of questionable moral choices – for example, publishing a book becomes a small contribution to deforestation. Freedomone can no longer be thought of as a freedom from limitations. On the contrary, it is the desire to be untouched and independent that makes modern man careless and irresponsible in dealing with the environment – which we realize we are a part of, which is a part of us. The existential crisis of the I-person actually turns out to be a crisis for existentialismn and its premises: It is no longer a question of the self's personal consideration of its own relationship to the world, but rather a recognition that the world that supports the body and consciousness is nature itself. In contrast to Descartes' solipsistic Cogito ergo sum ('I think, therefore I am') presents Schultz's point So I'm confused: I blend into – and am blended with – the world, therefore I am.


This 'mix' as a principle is reflected in the book's hybrid genre. It is difficult to separate the personally experienced and the biographical from the symbolic and the fictional. At the same time, it has the touch of a coming-of-age and generational novel. It depicts living and coming to terms with oneself in a new age where desorienteringone opens enormous perspectives. To understand ourselves, we must understand both the planet and the local environment, naturehistory and the crisis period of late capitalism.

The problem is finding firm ground under the feet in the climate and environmental crisis.

Schultz's sly little book is an easy read philosophyso-called travelogue where the more demanding ideas are hidden in the footnotes, from the classics of Kant, Heidegger, Sartre and Marx – or to Schultz's own theoretical landscape, with names such as Charbonnier, Coccia, Chakrabarty and Latour.

The irony in the title, country sick, gets his explanation at the end. The I-person constantly experiences vertigo, which his host, the sailboat captain Victor, laughs off: It's normal to feel lightheaded on land after spending a day at sea! With his practical sense, the captain does not see the existential overtones of country sickness – that the problem is finding firm ground under the feet in the climate and environmental crisis. Moral discomfort over territories that are increasingly difficult to inhabit, increasingly contested, can haunt us even on idyllic summer islands.

When Schultz, or his alter ego, leaves the island, the onward voyage assumes mythic dimensions and becomes an image of spaceship Earth, heading into high seas and wild storms. Only when we give up the longing for solid ground under our feet are we ready to learn to navigate, to (loosely translated) go from "piracy to sailing, from plunder to negotiation, from a destructive voyage to an enriching journey".

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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