Butterfly Space—The Intimacy of Nature and Culture

Standing in my kitchen today, staring out the sliding glass doors, I practiced (as I do more and more frequently these days) perceiving my environment filled with objects. This is relatively easy from my kitchen as there is a good view with a fair amount of depth. So I could measure off the “space between” the trees at the edge of the yard, the tree in the middle, the porch rail, the glass doors, the “space” in the kitchen, the imperceptible something pressing up against my flesh, the air in my lungs . . . and imagine those “spaces in between” as being completely full of objects. I could “see” this very real, concrete, and unpretentious connection of things. If our living “space” is completely full of objects, then there is no possibility of separation.

It’s hard to think of the air as being in any sense material or dense or viscous (to use Timothy Morton’s term), but then I remembered an experience at a butterfly exhibit this past summer.  In a small green house at the Chicago Botanic Garden surrounded by butterflies, I had a very clear apprehension of the density of the air around me.  The butterflies articulate, in their seemingly random movements, the “space between.”  The space in the greenhouse then seemed not empty, not even like a net, but like a pool filled with water.  I hope you can follow this idea.  As the butterflies occupy any and every potential point of reference in that confined space, you can begin to see the something that was always there. (The first 45 seconds of this video give the effect to a degree: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLPaE9B5ftk)

So what does this have to do with nature and culture?  Well, it can help us realize that our actions do not and can not exist in a vacuum.  Every breath you take, every move you make . . . is literally connected to other life forms and the a-biotic material things (the non-living parts of air, water, and soil for example) on which life depends.  And all our actions have both local and distant consequences in this very basic material sense.


Henri Matisse. Le Bonheur De Vivre


Image Sources

Butterflies:  http://www.npr.org/2012/10/04/161741289/flight-a-few-million-little-creatures-that-could

Matisse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bonheur_Matisse.jpg


Filed under Environmental Ethics, Humanities and Ecology, Nature, Objects, OOO, Uncategorized, Urban Ecology

2 responses to “Butterfly Space—The Intimacy of Nature and Culture

  1. may be more something like immediacy than intimacy but the general point of our being-in-the-midst-of is always worth re-membering.

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