What place can we give the violence today?

The ecology of silence
Forfatter: Erland Kiøsterud
Forlag: Oktober (Norge)
ECOLOGY / In autobiographical form, Kiøsterud continues his rethinking of modernity in the era of the eco-crisis. He points to a normalized brutality that most tacitly accepts.


The first part of Kiøsterud's essay "Growing up in the blind zone of modernity" is about waking up and understanding that one belongs to the abusers. We hear about how he comes from a highly bourgeois family of industry owners and shipowners, who self-consciously carry on a set of values ​​that will secure the position of power and wealth. His own break with this background is also part of a larger settlement of the values ​​of modern society – expansion and growth economics and various forms of violence and oppression that are not always visible on the surface.

It is precisely here that Kiøsterud finds the blind spot of modernity – for culture is in a sense nothing but a superstructure that legitimizes violence. This cultural interpretation, for its part, is somewhat dissatisfied, but it must be read as a passionate rhetoric, for in its settlement with colonialism and expansionism's oppressive forms and self-indulgent ideology are increasingly ingrained by culture. Wherever Kiøsterud looks, he sees the man's comfortable lies. Even modern Norwegian social democracy is just a shift and extension of the violence in the class community and of the dominance of the West: «predatory fishing, logging, natural plundering, monocultures and exploitation of cheap nature in other parts of the world continued as before", He notes, pointing to a normalized brutality that we all know about, which we are sometimes ashamed of, but which most tacitly accept.

The outside

The strength of his project lies in the willingness to challenge himself, in experiencing the collapse of modernity and the ecological unsustainability of modern life – as a personal crisis. The meaning systems and language we have been handed down sound hollow, because even in our modern times, we are left with the ideals of the Bronze Age, and the underlying patterns of culture still reflect the war, the blood sacrifice and the defeat of the surroundings.

Man is guilty, but also innocent, natural, but also unnatural, capable of clarity and responsibility, but also blind
of blind life forces.

Kiøsterud's life on the outside of the language with his eyes on nature becomes a lonely walk with a kind of shamanistic clarity of vision and an almost inhuman claim to truth. When he collects a quote from his own youth writings, we get a glimpse of how he experienced his own quest: "I am no Odyssey on his way home, no Enneas on his way to founding a new kingdom, nor any Dante on his way to his Beatrice and God. Hungry and tormented, with an eagle on my back and a snake by my side, I walk through the deep night of men in search of the new alphabet. " Kiøsterud's dealings with silence appear most of all as an attempt to endure, to refrain from deceiving himself and others.

The violence of life

Humans, Kiøsterud believes, seek refuge in a symbolic order, just as we in the past sought refuge behind safe city walls or in religious and aesthetic conceptions of perfection, beauty and eternity. In the modern world, this longing for a reassuring perfection has been built into the modern consumer society and the glittering seductions of advertising. Although Kiøsterud stands outside much of this, he remains a human being in the world who occupies a place – and he does not claim to be innocent. He tells vividly about his own nature experiences with elk hunting and trout fishing, where, despite mixed emotions, he experiences the violence in an honest, visible and strong way, as something he must face. In modern industrial society, on the other hand, violence takes place on a huge and grotesque scale in slaughterhouses and on trawlers – and it is carried out by deputy professional and insensitive machines. What place can we give the violence today? Are we guilty or is it something natural? Are even our overruns, even the pressure on ecosystems to the brink of collapse, something natural?

Biological language

In the most challenging, but also the most unresolved part of the essay "In the Ecosystem Violence", Kiøsterud opens that human moral anguish is still a human construction of meaning, which we seek refuge in. Nature itself is described as amoral. When he describes life's processes in a system-theoretical and energy-economic vocabulary, it is not entirely clear about this biological language also is a symbolic order, a place of refuge, or whether it is intended as a language on the outside, a neutral point of view.

But the use of such a biological language, in which human culture and thinking are naturalized and seen as a biological form of expression – a natural survival strategy – has deep philosophical roots. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche talked about the blind willpower and the will to power, which produces illusions in the human mind, and which actually serve blind drives. The problematic question is not such descriptions also is ideologically charged, an ideology, a form of biologism.

Tjeer Royaards, libex.eu

The lack of clarification causes Kiøsterud's thought material to twist and twist in the wake of a larger cultural spasm. Kiøsterud is the most conscious of the contradictions in the Western concept of nature, without it being enough to dissolve them. Man is guilty, but also innocent, natural, but also unnatural, capable of clarity and responsibility, but also blinded by blind forces of life.


When the book is nevertheless satisfactory, it is perhaps because Kiøsterud, in an artifice, allows himself to isolate the frustrated nature and violence against nature as a western complex. In the Eastern tradition, which, although admittedly Westernized, he finds the seed of something different and better.

In Taoism's minimalist embrace of emptiness and the beauty of perishability, he sees elements of a new language for nature and silence. On a more systematic level, too, he enters a Taoist simplicity: Instead of wasting energy in highly complex projects that make us vulnerable, we must seek simple solutions that require little energy and that make culture robust. Simplicity is also aesthetic: In the Taoist tradition, man's quest for beauty is not a monumental demonstration of power or a quest for the unchanging; the Japanese aesthetes developed "an understanding of beauty as the presence of the fragile, unloving," he writes. "With the phrase wabi, the lonely, simple, for himself, and sabi, the fleeting aging, the understanding of the fragility and temporality of all living was gathered in the expression monkey not aware, which can be translated with sensitivity to everything that is about to end. " In the sensitivity to the perishable, to death, something new and different begins.

In this latest book, Kiøsterud is about to find his new alphabet – and surprisingly, the most important characters are Japanese and Chinese.

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