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Title: Alienation and the Siren Song of Nature
Author(s): BOLLEN, Wim
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 14    Issue: 4   Date: December 2007   
Pages: 479-500
DOI: 10.2143/EP.14.4.2028828

Abstract :
In this article we discuss Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s hermeneutical interpretation of Odysseus’ encounter with Circe in their Dialectic of Enlightenment. This encounter is further interpreted – via the ecofeminist homology between women and nature – as an answer to “the siren song of nature,” in which the elements of attraction and threat to human subjectivity are deeply intertwined. Whereas his crew gives in to the siren song and experiences the pleasure of being swine, enlightened Odysseus himself resists the temptation by forcing Circe to establish a contract with him, the prototypical marriage that leads to the schizophrenic mythification of housewife and prostitute. It will be argued that there exists towards nature in late-modernity a homologous stance – that of environment and wilderness. Based on these assumptions, we are able to draw a few conclusions that are relevant for the wilderness-debate in general and the plea for wilderness restoration in particular. First of all, I accept the social-constructivist argument of the inaccessibility of pristine, wild nature, as I argue there is an ontological alienation from nature that cannot be overcome. Indeed, it appears that the Marxist distinction between first nature and second (humanized) nature affiliates with social-constructivist assumptions. Nevertheless, I seek to avoid the moral indifference often implied by social-constructivism by employing Adorno and Horkheimer’s eudaemonist critique of enlightenment, and argue that another, historically determined form of alienation from nature operates in the background. Although Adorno and Horkheimer do not provide us with practical measures to effect a reconciliation of humanity and nature, they do provide us with a conceptual instrument to critique certain tendencies within our society’s ecological policy.

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