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Alaimo and Weiner in Fear of Nature

changing18's picture

 I am afraid of nature. I am afraid of the unpredictability of the woods and forest.  Yes sure, I help plant in a community garden once in awhile and learned about how plants produce oxygen which helps us live.  So why would I be scared of something which I spend time with for recreation and most importantly I (and everyone on Earth) rely on for our being.  Yet I am not alone. In Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” the scientist “ I felt the fear. It kept growing. As if they’d finally known I was there, lying on them there, under them, among them, the thing they feared, and yet part of their fear itself,” (LeGuin 120). By using “Porous Bodies and Trans- Corporeality” by Stacy Alaimo and “Human Cells Make Up Only Half Our Bodies. A New Book Explains” by Jonathan Weiner, I can show why the this fear emerges when humans reconnect alone with nature. I will prove that a human’s, including my own, fear of nature is actually rational, despite plant's innate nature to allow us to continue living.

“Porous Bodies and Trans- Corporeality” is about how the body of each being is open  and susceptible to all other bodies in the world.  Bacteria and other entities are able to seep through the skin, and some with the ability to kill us. Alaimo states “A body or a system as a porous body is an interface with other entities in the world”.  This is one reason that it is understandable/ rational to have a fear of nature.  With all the various elements that live among the wilderness, we are all susceptible to intruders entering our bodies.  “... every encounter between bodies modifies the bodies that encounter one another, such that their affects– their capacities for acting and being acted upon –gain or lose power.”  In the man made society, there are many similar bodies that lead to the same fate yet the wilderness embodied an unknowing fate.  In society, usually a similar routine allows us to stay focused on our secured lives rather than the bodies that may flow into us.  Alaimo also argues though that we cannot make the distinction between wilderness and human society. Yet I disagree somewhat.  I do think that the same bodies that may harm us reside in both places but I see these two places as two different lifestyles.

In addition to our porous bodies, we find out from “Human Cells Make Up Only Half Our Bodies. A New Book Explains Why.” explains to us more specifically about the cells and microbes that make up the human body.  Our bodies make good and bad bacterias, and it makes our whole self. Weiner states, “The human genome consists of about 25,000 genes. But the combined genomes of all of our fellow travelers are about 500 times larger.” So we are made up of many multicellular organisms but yet our inability to see it allows us to turn a blind eye and live as if we are totally in control. But in the wilderness there are many other outside multicellular organisms that it feels like I need to protect myself and the multicellular organisms I have from other outside forces.  I have fallen victim to the redirect of the cleaning companies and scientists for antibacterial, leaving many people with the assumption all bacteria is bad.  “Two hundred years later, in the second half of the 19th century … Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Joseph Lister and others focused the world’s attention on microbes’ ability to cause diseases.” This ideal to stay away and disinfect the unknown has become a widespread concept, and I can not disinfect nature.   

It is rational to have a fear of the unknown in nature/ the woods/ the jungle because with our porous bodies we are a threat to many of the unknowns. Stacy Alaimo’s and Jonathan Weiner’s articles help to understand why I am afraid and as a society we have distanced ourselves into our urban communities. I have learned about all the ability of my body to be infiltrated by any and everything.  The life I have become used to is in the city, and nature with all its infinite silence and unpredictability is something I can be afraid of.  As a society, we have become obsessed about about the diseases we can obtain from bacteria and in nature there is a plethora of them.  The multicellular organisms that reside within us should be protected from the wilderness.  I do not know if we can really ever reconcile our fears with nature that ultimately help us living.


Anne Dalke's picture

You take on the challenge here of “proving” that our “fear of nature is actually rational,” a “natural” (heh heh) attempt to protect ourselves from what threatens us. You do a nice job of this (though there are a number of sentences, passages and words missing here--some problem, maybe, w/ cutting and pasting?). You give an account of your own fear, and of the ways in which this has been nurtured by “cleaning companies and scientists” who have “redirected us to the antibacterial.”

Perhaps the most striking bit for me here is your concluding comment about your being afraid of “nature with all its infinite silence and unpredictability,” and your doubts, more generally, that we will “ever reconcile such fears.” I regularly teach a course on The Rhetorics of Silence, which attempts to understand how silence might “open new possibilities among us.” We take as our point of departure Elizabeth Ellsworth’s query--“What kind of educational project would redefine the silence of the unknowable, freeing it from…’Absence, Lack, and Fear,’ and make of that silence ‘a language of its own that changes the nature and direction of speech itself?”

--which leads to me ask about the implications of your argument here for education. What about the unpredictability of the whole learning process, of making yourself open to what you don’t know, to the realization that the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know (or, “it’s turtles all the way down”)? Is that something you might like to explore in your final revision?