Theater of Cruelty

The truth of the heart, the meaning of life

Ny Tid chose as a monthly newspaper this time to also collect a comment on Kiøsterud's essay (see above).


Nature romance and swarming become for Erland Kiøsterud an appeal against Arne Næss' deep ecology as well as against Arne Johan Vetlesen's efforts to establish nature's intrinsic value in panpsychism – an understanding of nature that animated. Kiøsterud has also previously debated with Vetlesen in Ny Tid. Kiøsterud seems to equate the nature romance with the sentimental melting into an idealized nature. He himself wants a union of heart and brain in a new language where natural romance and science meet. But in his insistence on a contradiction between the two quantities, he risks distorting both extremes.

Soak the heart?

It shines through that Kiøsterud, by the way, juxtaposes nature romance with a kind of soft-hearted idyll. To be eaten by the crocodile is not idyllic, unless you literally achieve unity with nature. In the documentary Grizzly Man portrayed the nature romantic and bear lover Timothy Treadwell, who sought friendship and a close relationship with the bears, but ended up consumed by a hungry grizzly. Filmmaker Werner Herzog sarcastically comments that in the bear's eyes, unlike Treadwell, he only sees a blank look and a thirsty appetite.

Identification with nature is often portrayed as a questionable projection, a naive longing for unity. An anti-romantic insistence that nature is brutal, neutral and meaningless appears more intelligent. If we go deeper into the romance as both concept, epoch and approach to life, it soon becomes clear that its time spirit is not about harmony, but rather about Sturm und Drang; stormy conflicts, internal and external forces beyond human control. The Romantics sought an intuitive understanding of and empowerment in these forces. Transferred to ecology: to believe that nature has something to teach us – that it carries what we, in the absence of a better word, refer to as "meaning": a guiding participation in a larger context.


The self-proclaimed unsentimental existentialism, which Kiøsterud has previously advocated, takes for granted that nature has no real meaning: Nature's value is a construct. With his skepticism about romance, Kiøsterud is close to naturalism in terms of both the spirit, the literature and the sensitivity of the epoch. From Émile Zola to Michel Houellebecq, the naturalistic literature has taken a cynical look at man, inspired by the natural sciences. Kiøsterud takes this science to income for its basic intuition – that what deep ecologists refer to as "intrinsic value" is a semi-religious fiction – and says, "The ecosystem itself has no meaning, [...] nor any direction."

That there is one fat "for nature" about life on Earth may be true on a cosmic level, but untrue for any earthly being who constantly strives to live on.

In his latest book, the Swedish social philosopher Andreas Malm discusses whether nature itself wants something, and thinks it is wrong to make coal and oil "actors" that makes og vile, while living things have goals and purposes after all. The ecosystem, as Kiøsterud points out, consists of both living and dead matter and is thus seen as a matter of doubt.

But to say that the heart as an organ has none function – that everything is about that heart purposes is a human projection or a construct – is undoubtedly going too far. Although Malm regards the French philosopher Bruno Latour as a "constructivist" and ideological opponent, much of what Latour wants to do is: Science apparently comes with neutral statements about neutral objects, he says, but it is still obvious that the researchers themselves vile things – understand, uncover, master, map. Nor can they avoid admitting nature's systems, organisms and organs will – needs, tendencies, striving, health or imbalance. Kiøsterud also talks about ecosystems "seeking stability". Isn't this just a meaning, a value and a direction?

Not one fat

To say that nature really is indifferent – as Kiøsterud seems to be in favor – should mean that there is one fat "for nature" if the biosphere collapses and life on Earth goes away. This seems both true and false, which reveals that there is something wrong with the concept of nature. The assertion may be true on a cosmic level (life on Earth fails, whatever), but untrue for any earthly being who constantly strives to live on. Living in the Ecosystem The Earth just means being one with living nature – in the sense that we understand what it is to want to live. It does not mean that nature is harmonious – but to strive for harmony is a condition for survival, and this brings us close to Kiøsterud's goal: that the truth of the heart should also make sense for thought.

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

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