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This article was written on 12 Jul 2017, and is filled under New Ecologies.

Landscape and Memory: A Review of The Word for World is Still Forest

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Facsimiles courtesy of Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest. London: Granada Publishing, 1980. Excerpt by Anna-Sophie Springer. Typesetting by Elise Hunchuck.

 

Not to find one’s way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling. Walter Benjamin, “Tiergarten”

It is fitting that the launch for Intercalations’ newest volumes—The Word for World is Still Forest and Reverse Hallucinations in the Archipelago—will take place today in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. Like Walter Benjamin in his wayward rambles through the park and its artificial islands, which become the “first chapter in the science of a city” that is Berlin Chronicle, so too do editors Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin in The Word for World is Still Forest offer a schooling in disorientation:

If you get lost in the forest, authorities advise that you stop moving and stay in one place to avoid confusion and increase the chances of being rescued. We see things differently: we suggest you stray far from paths cut by familiar habits and explore some of the innumerable perspectives on and of the forests that sustain this world.

Kaleidoscopic practices of reading and writing have informed the Intercalations series from the very outset, as I observed in a review of the first volume, Fantasies of the Library. These new volumes are no less prismatic. But while the library and its paginated affairs determined the promiscuous layout of the inaugural volume, in The Word for World is Still Forest arboreal affairs facilitate an entangled book that consists in photographically touring the Tiergarten and its ancient trees, observing riparian erasure along Berlin’s Landwehrkanal, thinking with the tropical rainforest of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, visualizing genocidal violence through a botanical archaeology of central Amazonia, witnessing the incremental decimation of teak trees in an Indonesian conservation forest, visualizing the extensive data sets of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, surfing the subterranean “Wood Wide Web” via elder Douglas fir trees in British Columbia, chronicling the interplay of apocalypse and exuberance in forest mythologies (on this see also Simon Schama’s chapter on forests in Landscape and Memory), remediating the fictional forests of an imaginary exoplanet in Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, and, finally, becoming lost in (and, for the patient transcriber, finding one’s way through) the literal forest of a tree alphabet. (This is just one possible reading itinerary among others.)

Multi-perspectival, The Word for World is Still Forest takes as its object of inquiry the multinaturalism of the forest that perhaps can be best glimpsed through “the Amerindian way of perceiving images in and of the forest” that Pedro Neves Marques elaborates in his contribution. Though its method may be one of defamiliarization, this volume—a forest school staffed by visual artists, curators, ethnographers, anthropologists, forest ecologists, data scientists, and forensic architects—can be judged not by its capacity to disorient but rather by its potential for emancipatory orientation that for Marques consists in the question of

how to inhabit the space of the in-between, the interval between “worlds”—collaboratively and politically—in order to contribute to a decolonization of the many worlds from the imposition of the “one world.”

Taking place in an urban forest in the historically divided and fragmented metropolis of Berlin, the launch-walk promises to rehearse this volume’s main discovery: that the city haunts the forest just as the forest haunts the city. Curiously, it is a walk that has been rehearsed by Benjamin’s collaborator Franz Hessel, whose path in Walking in Berlin (1929) takes him past this walk’s very starting point (Tuaillon’s Amazon on Horseback sculpture) and then onward “without a specific direction” (ohne eine bestimmte Richtung) only to find himself “auspiciously astray” (glücklich verirrt). May its participants be so lucky. These rehearsals, like the one announced in The Word for World is Still Forest, are vitally important for maintaining the extremely tentative ecological relationships that sustain “worlds” and for recalling the forgotten colonial histories that still threaten to undermine them.

Anna-Sophie Springer, Etienne Turpin (eds.)
intercalations 4: The Word for World is Still Forest
Berlin: K. Verlag & Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 2017.
With contributions by Sandra Bartoli, Kevin Beiler, Shannon Castleman, Dan Handel, Katie Holten, Elise Hunchuck, Silvan Linden, Yanni A. Loukissas, Eduardo Kohn, Pedro Neves Marques, Abel Rodríguez, Carlos Rodríguez, Suzanne Simard, Anna-Sophie Springer, Paulo Tavares, Etienne Turpin, and Catalina Vargas Tovar.
ISBN 978-0-9939074-5-6
In English, € 19 Buy at the webshop.
Download as PDF [ca. 26 MB]

 

 

 

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