Beauty as Relationship, Relationship as Emancipation: A Post-Phenomenology of the Potentiality of Beautiful Places in Nature

Authors: Matthew John*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Human-Environment Geography, Landscape
Keywords: Alaska, post-phenomenology, phenomenology, beauty, Anthropocene, political ecology, relationship, emancipation
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 28
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Anthropocene is nothing if not a crisis of relationship. Heidegger referred to this crisis as the "technological mode of being." Adorno named it "instrumental rationality." More recently, Rosa (2019) has called it a "crisis of resonance," a "muting" of humanity's relationship to the world. However we name it, such are its scale and intensity that technological, scientific, or political solutions alone are unlikely to suffice. Also necessary is a fundamental shift in humans' mode of relating to the world. Toward that end, in this paper I experiment with the emancipatory potentiality of engaging with places in nature — in and around Juneau and Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage in particular — as beautiful. Beauty is theorized not as an aesthetic quality or gripping experience (à la the Romantic sublime), but in terms of relation: beauty as a mode of relating to the other not out of self-interest, but — akin to Buber's "I-Thou" — out of self-gifting other-interest. Following Hannah (2013; 2019) I also experiment with first-person (post)phenomenological methods in my own relationship with Southeast Alaska to examine the potentialities (and potential pitfalls) of relating to nature as beautiful as a means of emancipation. It is clear that to avoid irreversible environmental ruin of the Anthropocene, nothing short of a transformation in how humans relate to the earth and one another is necessary. This paper explores the possibility of engaging with places in nature as beautiful as a step in that direction.

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