Psychic Rewilding

  In last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine there was an article by Daniel Smith entitled “Is there an Ecological Unconscious?” which addressed the stress and discomfort visited upon the psyche of those subjected to forced dislocation (eg Trail of Tears) or environmental degradation (eg exploitation of newly discovered nearby coal deposits).

  Researcher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to describe this condition of “place pathology” leading to the diminution of “one’s heart’s ease”.  The article reminds us that Freud attributed just about everything to sex and how modern psychology is primarily concerned with urban interpersonal interaction, largely ignoring the primal bond between humankind and the rest of nature.

  The premise of echopsychology is that “an imperiled environment creates an imperiled mind” and that there might be a relationship between a resilient environment and a resilient mind.  Research shows that natural settings are far more effective than urban for the enhancement of cognition.  Researcher Peter Kahn calls for a ‘rewilding’ of the psyche.

   Well, yippee ki-yay, I quite agree.  “More and more”, he writes, “the human experience of nature will be mediated by technological systems.  We will, as a matter of mere survival adapt to these changes.  The question is whether our new, nature-reduced lives will be impoverished from the standpoint of human functioning and flourishing.”

  How much of a stretch is it then to ask about the degree to which TV, digital social networking, video games, etc are responsible for global warming?   Well a lot I guess, but you get my point.  How can one have a meaningful sense of self and surroundings without a vigorous dose of the environment from time to time?

  Paradoxically, it dawned on me that an emerging departure from rectiliniarity in architecture enabled by technology might be relatedly salubrious.  I have long been interested in the emotional generosity inherent in good design and wonder if this will prove to be an unexpected and fecund vector.

  Japanese architect Toyo Ito has said that: “I sometimes feel that we are losing an intuitive sense of our own bodies.  Children don’t run around outside as much as they did.  They sit in front of computer games.  Some architects have been trying to find a language for this new generation, with very minimalist spaces.  I am looking for something more primitive, a kind of abstraction that still has a sense of the body.”     

  I have only read about and seen photos of Ito’s built work and am eager to one day experience a product of his line of thinking.  New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff calls him an “urban poet”, “someone who has been able to crystallize, through architecture, the tensions that lie buried in the heart of contemporary society.”*

  No two of his projects are alike, maybe not even remotely similar.  Ouroussoff: “By embracing ambiguity, his work forces us to look a the world through a wider lens.  It asks us to choose the slowly unfolding narrative over the instant fix…  A building that seems to have been frozen in a state of metamorphosis”

  The photos are of his stadium in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Ouroussoff tells us that it is “a space that manages to maintain the intensity and focus of a grand stadium without that intensity becoming oppressive.”  As opposed to other stadiums, “it seeks to maximize our awareness of (the outside world) while still creating a sense of enclosure.”

  Might such places help relieve solastalgia?  Help rewild a psyche, even?

*NYT 6 12 09

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One Response to “Psychic Rewilding”

  1. andrew Says:

    I think it is as simple as our psyche’s recognition of its own architecture. By that I mean that our brains and everything else about us was developed in a similar method and system that the natural world emerged from. So the fact that our brains are more comfortable and productive in a natural setting rather than solitary confinement comes as no surprise to me.

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