Friday, September 20, 2019

The Word for World is Forest

Reposted from "Chimeras".

Every book by Ursula Le Guin is by definition the best book by Ursula Le Guin. And there is no book by Ursula Le Guin that's not the best book by Ursula Le Guin. But this one, "The Word for World is Forest" may be even better than that!

I read "The Word for World is Forest" maybe 30 years ago, but when I took it up again, every word in it was familiar to me, as I had dropped it in a drawer just one week before. Each word of it carried the rumble of thunder and the force of a hurricane, the same effect on me of a presentation by Anastassia Makarieva on the same subject, the forest.

Anastassia Makarieva is a scientist, Ursula Le Guin was a novelist. It doesn't matter. There is a thread, there is a narration, there is a story that pervades humankind's consciousness. I can't remember who said that trees are the pillars that hold the sky, but I am discovering it is true. Not single trees, the forest, it is the biotic pump, an incredible machine that works pumping water from the air above the oceans and distributes it for free to every living creature. The ultimate gift of life.

I can't understand how Ursula Le Guin could grasp these concepts by pure intuition nearly 50 years ago, but she did. Reread many years later, this book is a pure hit to the stomach. It leaves you breathless, but in a state of mind as if you wanted to be punched again and again, for the pure pleasure of the action, the movement, the sensation.

In 1972, something about this subject was already known and the destruction of the Vietnamese forests using the infamous "agent orange" reverberates all over the book. The basis of the story is the Vietnam war, retold in a science fiction setting, with the Aliens in the role of the Vietnamese and the Terrans of the Americans. The Terrans want to destroy the forest to turn it into plantations, the Aliens want to save it. In fact, it is the same story as that  of the "Avatar" movie, it is just that Cameron's debt to Ursula Le Guin is not acknowledged.

But the book is not just a political statement, it is much more than that. Read this passage ("Selver" is the alien leader of the story):

"Sometimes a god comes," Selver said. "He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. A new kind of singing, or a new kind of death. He brings this across the bridge between the dream-time and the world-time. When he has done this, it is done. You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses. That is insanity. What is, is.

The meaning of this passage may be evident to you, or you may need to mull it over for a while in your mind. But it is one of the deepest statements I've ever read on the predicament we find ourselves in. The beauty of it is that so much hope is embedded in these words: the world changes, ideas evolve, sometimes taking the form of Gods or god-like entities. It is in this way that the world is changed: when dreams become reality. And some dreams are truly beautiful and full of hope, like this one by Anastassia Makarieva

You see, there is a succession process for forest recovery. We first have shrub grasses after some disturbance like fire, then it takes time for that to be replaced by trees. So if we are lucky our grand grandchildren will be walking in such forest, so this dimension should also be stressed. We are working for the future we are not just securing for ourselves some two dozens years of better comfort. Rather, we send a message through centuries such that people will remember us and walking into this forest along the brookes and rivers they will remember us with gratitude for our consciousness and dedication. (Anastassia Makarieva  ( - min 30:05))


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)