We deconstruct necrophilia in Western culture by exposing how it valorizes death and perverts the dignity of life.
Western science favours mechanism and reductionism – two theories that separate humans from nature and support a worldview, which holds that nature is inert and mindless compilation of parts which have no inherent meaning.
Francis Bacon, the so-called father of modern science, turned science into a gendered activity in which men exercise hegemony over nature and ‘others’ (Sardar, p 2). Bacon was Attorney General for King James VI who reigned during the worst of England’s witch-hunts, and this fact provides context for his misogynist language in which nature is no longer a wise, venerated Mother Nature, but a wanton female who should be conquered by a male aggression. Using language of the Inquisition, Bacon urged the domination of nature for human use:
Bacon compared miners and smiths whose technologies extracted ores for the new commercial activities to scientists and technologists penetrating the earth and shaping “her” on the anvil. The new man of science, he wrote, must not think that the “inquisition of nature is in any part interdicted or forbidden.” Nature must be “bound into service” and made a “slave,” put “in constraint,” and “molded” by the mechanical arts. The “searchers and spies of nature” were to discover her plots and secrets… Nature placed in bondage through technology would serve human beings” (cited by Merchant, Radical, p.45).
The science of mechanistic reductionism reduces nature to a machine that has value only insofar as it has utility for humans and can be converted into a commodity that supports capitalist economics. Newtonianism posits that the cosmos is “like an immense clock, a mechanism whose basic components and principles could be revealed and examined through science. According to a Newtonian worldview, nature is a machine and is no more than the sum of its parts,” meaningless in itself and subject to control by humans (Suzuki, p.15).
The transformation of nature from a living, nurturing mother to inert matter enabled capitalism to expand its exploitation of nature (Merchant, Death, p. 182). “The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature – the most far-reaching effect of the Scientific Revolution” (Merchant, Radical, p.48). Today, mechanistic science is the ideology that legitimates industrial capitalism and its domination of nature (p.58), feeding a culture of greed that is emotionally disconnected from the earth. Necrophilia is indicated by Western addiction to self-gratification through consumption, an addiction so intractable that it must be fed even when it clearly contributes to climate change.
In contrast, a philosophy of natality disrupts mechanistic reductionism by drawing on the sciences of relationality that understand organic nature as creative, self-organizing systems which are active, intelligent, communicative and intentional. Charlene Spretnak, in Relational Reality (2011), insists that New Sciences show us that “all entities in the natural world, including us, are thoroughly relational beings of great complexity, who are both composed of and nested within contextual networks of dynamic and reciprocal relationships” (p.4).
By deconstructing necrophilia, we clear a space in-between paradigms to imagine a different future and to begin moving forward to that future paradigm which I call natality.
The full article on Deconstructing Necrophilia will be published in Canadian Woman Studies Journal (CWS/cf) Vol.31, #1 & 2 – a special issue on Women and Environmental Justice.
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