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the nature of nature

In one of his last essays, 'The Nature of Nature' (1995), John Fowles returned to the theme of 'The Tree', the importance of nature in his life and work, as well as for all humanity, to remind them of their own nature.

Fowles recommends reading this "tangled nest of memories and thoughts" in association with 'The Tree', and this indeed makes his dense, free-flowing prose easier to follow. For he covers a lot of ground here, ranging from a re-evaluation of 'The Two Cultures' debate - the hostility between science and the humanities, and between what he calls the two modes of knowing and feeling - to a discussion of the cosmic forces he sees as governing our existence: sideros, keraunos, eleutheria, or "iron necessity, lightning hazard, freedom". (Familiar concepts for readers of 'The Magus', whose working title was 'The Godgame'.)

But central, again, is his attempt to put into words the value of nature, which ultimately lies in the fact that it has no value - and hence might be regarded as a very subtle form of the pathetic fallacy.

As in 'The Tree', Fowles realizes all too well that analysis of his subject threatens to annihilate it, somewhat like the act of observation in quantum physics. Or as Virginia Woolf summed up the problem in her novel 'Orlando':

Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.

In spite of this, and defiantly so, a highlight of the essay is his description of "beingness, existingness", of the essential equivalence of nature and our own nature. It represents the culmination of a patient, wandering exploration - of nature, in letters - started in 'The Tree'. Describing a period of convalescence after a stroke, Fowles writes:

What has struck me about the acutely rich sensation of beingness is how fleeting is its apprehension. It's almost as transient, as fugitive, as some particles in atomic physics: the more you would capture it, the less likely that you will. It refuses all attempts at willed or conscious evocation, it is deaf to pure intelligence alone, it envelops you in a double or twinned feeling. One is of intense nowness, the other of realizing that you (oneself) alone, in your individuality, are infinitely fortunate to experience it, perhaps in nothing so much as its seeming to fall from something whole and unindividual on your separateness. It is being, being, being ... a perpetual miracle, so vivid and vital that ordinarily we cannot bear it; always rare enough to be a shock, no similes or metaphors can convey it; like a sudden nakedness, a knowing of oneself laid bare before a different reality.

(Note the frequency of paradox - "no similes... like", "perpetual... rare", "envelops... nakedness", "a feeling... a knowing" - which is perhaps the best defense letters can mount against being torn to pieces...)

'The Nature of Nature' can be found in the essay collection 'Wormholes'. It is also included in some editions of 'The Tree'.


the tree

...an experience whose deepest value lies in the fact that it cannot be directly described by any art... including that of words. In his long essay 'The Tree' (1979), John Fowles attempts to describe something for which by his own admi… Read the full post »

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