Matter and Desire

Jun. 8, 2020

In Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology, Andreas Weber rewrites ecology as a tender practice of forging relationships, of yearning for connections, and of expressing these desires through our bodies. Being alive is an erotic process--constantly transforming the self through contact with others, desiring ever more life. Weber invests life with a vital emotional dimension. He describes nature from a poetic perspective of relational experience, as subjective process rather than a collection of objects. He uses the term erotic as an ecological phenomenon in the broad meaning of an embodied experience of being in relationship which creates our aliveness. Erotic because this world has a lot to do with the desire to be alive and the joy of being one’s authentic self in sensory involvement with the rest of the world.

We encounter the world that nourishes us and matter is transformed and exchanged constantly. Our chain of being begins with the transformative process of our biosphere turning sunlight into flesh, translating the sun’s energetic gift into body. We take in food and water, intimately engage with it, and then transform it into ourselves. Weber claims this is an erotic exchange because metabolism is an intimate physical contact with other. This process transforms the exterior world into an interior world, constantly creating meaning out of touch and physical interaction. We give away carbon in our breath which flows out and we take in air from all others who we share space with. When we eat, the carbon in the food is given back to us. This basic transformative relationship is essential to life, essential to ecosystems. We cannot thrive without transforming life into other life. A constant transformation guided by desire. Desire embodied as a material process is Eros. Yearning of the skin, a yearning of continuity and personal identity. All mediated by encounter and touch, which has erotic undertones. Erotic not reduced to sexual consumption, but a much broader appreciation and meaning through embodied encounters with the aesthetic wonders of the world, its unique creatures and each other.

“Reality is fluid and constantly bringing forth new beginnings—and so is our intercourse with it.”

Being alive means unfolding oneself as part of a network of perpetual transformative relationships. We need one another to grow and unfold and understand our interior. One becomes conscious of self through encounter with the other. Love is an act of truly encountering another. Weber recognizes that love--the impulse to establish connections, to intermingle, to weave our existence poetically together with that of other beings--is a foundational principle of reality. The fact that we disregard this principle lies at the core of a global crisis of meaning that plays out in the avalanche of species loss and in our belief that the world is a dead mechanism controlled through economic efficiency. Ultimately, Weber discovers, in order to save life on Earth--and our own meaningful existence as human beings--we must learn to love. Love as a practice of aliveness and an exchange of the gifts of life.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we have come to think of love as something wherein the beloved fills a lack. It is a concept born from the thinking of possession, from the view of ego as needing to have, rather than as needing to simply be. Loving means to grant to yourself the full extent of your aliveness by allowing others to exist fully in their aliveness. The successful relationship is the process of mutual transformation that makes both more enlivened. Even as we try to balance the drive for individuality and the drive for connection, surrendering to the erotic experience means understanding that the other is not a means to salvation from the misery of an imperfect existence but the opposite. Love opens the window to accepting reality with all of the resignation that this entails. At the deepest core of the erotic experience lies the act of showing ourselves naked and vulnerable. Love is an act of truly encountering the other, a willing engagement of the self whose first action is to risk its own skin. We have become so entrenched in our egoic separateness that we search to alleviate the torment of isolation and every partner turns into a resource for our needs. Life is an expression of the joy of being alive and the agony of pain which cannot be avoided. The full authentic experience is both and avoiding the pain leads us away from our aliveness. We sacrifice our aliveness in favor of comfort, convenience, efficiency and brighter economic future.

Although rooted in scientific observation, Matter and Desire becomes a tender philosophy for the Anthropocene, a "poetic materialism," that encourages us to not to strive for solutions, but for enlivenment.Sustainability from this perspective no longer means protecting the ‘other,’ but cultivating ourselves. 

“Laughter arises from the joy of experiencing that beauty that has its own power to exist. That it asserts itself. That it sustains. That it greets me. That it recognizes me. That I recognize it also. That I am able to see into its eyes, in the eyes of the water lilies with their alluring center of pistils and stamen, of innocent male and dreamy female sex organs, into the curious eyes of the ducks, into the calm eye of the lake itself, which welcomingly opens its watery mirror to the hesitant heavens. Happiness is a tangible essence in space. It is cool and green and transparent and it caresses and carries me, so long as I don’t do anything to prevent it. I just have to go on breathing.”