Every breath you take is comprised of bits and pieces of your immediate surrounding. While outside the confines of the manmade structures that stand strong before you everyday, you’re unavoidably absorbing nature. You unconsciously and almost immediately determine how well the day will progress: Can you smell the presence of rain in the air? Are the pollens scattered throughout the atmosphere hinting to your itchy nose that allergy season is fast approaching? Whichever the case, it’s obvious; the environment is communicating with you.
In “Arts of the Contact Zone”, Mary Louise Pratt defines contact zones as “the space in which transculturation takes place – where two different cultures meet and inform each other, often in highly asymmetrical ways. ” Both “Arts of the Contact Zone” and David Abram’s “Animism and the Alphabet” attempt to form an interpretation between the relationship of our natural environment and our everyday lives. According to both the author’s writing, Pratt’s concept of contact zone is useful in helping us become better acquainted with our natural ally – the environment. Pratt’s definition of contact zone can be applied to our everyday lives.
A contact zone is a comparison of the differences between two clashing cultures or ideas in general. In “Animism and the Alphabet”, Abra¬m believes the environment and civilization are of these so-called competing cultures because both attempt to communicate with one another. In his writing, Socrates and Phaedrus’s have a heated debate on whether or not humans have the ability to adapt these so-called different cultures. As mentioned, one culture was to “ponder the tree from outside of its world” and the other was to ponder “from outside of the world in which both oneself and the tree were active participants” (45).
According to Socrates, nature does not offer him a worthwhile amount of knowledge as compared to the bountiful bank of knowledge within his city’s stonewalls. Phaedrus, on the other hand, believes in the opposing culture. He believes “nature itself is articulate; it speaks” (45). In attempt to apply contact zone to history, Pratt goes in detail into the story of Guaman Poma – an Incan man who believed the Incan and Spanish civilizations could coexist to form a more superior culture. Acting upon this belief, he proceeded to write a letter to convince King Phillip III of Spain.
However, his letter was disregarded due to the Spanish’s belief that Incans were academically inferior. In a way, the environment is similar to Poma’s letter. The nature surrounding us everyday is constantly attempting to communicate with us humans for the better of both cultures. However, like King Phillip III of Spain, we refuse to accept help due to, like Socrates, believing nature is inferior. Living in today’s society, it’s no wonder we believe so. Brick by man-made brick added to our communities, we grow further and further from our natural selves.
We have become more akin to slabs of concrete than the beautiful animate trees and flowers growing underneath our toes. The analogy between the contact zone of our environment and civilization is useful. We can use it to reevaluate our lives: How is nature serving humankind? And, how is humankind serving nature? In retrospect, humans may not be contributing to nature in the same measures as the environment is for us. We pollute the earth with our culture’s technology. Despite the earth’s cries for help – the atmosphere choking and species extinction – we continue because we are unable, or maybe unwilling, to listen.
At this rate, we will destroy the land we are walking on until it’s inhabitable. Based on Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone”, the most noteworthy of contact zones is autoethnographic text. She believed autoethnographic text is “a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them. ” In order words, the text is a person’s opinion of themselves with the input of others. Autoethnographic text – or the lack of – can be seen in the natural world. An example is natural tragedies, such as volcanoes eruptions and hurricanes.
Nature does not take into consideration our attempts to stop these disasters. The most we can do is try. In order to take full advantage of autoethnographic text we are given everyday, we can try to listen more intently and take action more effectively. A problem with translating the natural messages this world contains into language we can understand is accuracy. After all, what human can actually understand the music of the rain and the barks of dogs? The most we can do is infer. The bits and pieces of nature we breathe in everyday is aids our wellbeing.
Listening to the language of the culture of nature enables us to make better decisions in our lives. The wet surface of the earth outside your house signals you to bring an umbrella – which will prevent you from becoming wet and catching a cold. The scent of flowers in the air sets off a sneezing fit reminding you to take your allergy medication. However, people will not always understand the hints nature dishes out to us. An example is the signs of global warming, which has not procured enough awareness in our population. Despite inconsistencies in our translations, we continue to try. We continue to live.