Why Erotic Ecology?

Without attachments, no life. From cell division to child rearing, we can understand all processes in the biosphere as processes of relationship—and we can learn from them. In these processes, two different positions must be brought into balance such that something altogether new emerges, something that both contains and completely redefines everything that preceded it. This connection of two (or more) different positions in a common cause—one that remains full of contradictions—is perhaps the most general definition of an ecosystem. It is also the precise description of a loving attachment. 

This book therefore pursues an ambitious goal: It investigates the principles of reality that we can experience and of which we are a part. But it tries to do so through a science of the heart and not by means of a mere biological description of bodies and their senses. The impetus for this risky undertaking is the conviction that we are currently neglecting reality because our efforts to describe and understand the world are directed away from the experience of being alive and being in relationship. In other words: We consider the practice of love a private matter, rather than an instrument of knowledge. 

On the following pages, I describe this reality as the creative, poetic nexus of unfolding freedom toward both individuation and attachments. Traditionally, this drive toward both the self and the fullness of connections answered to the name “Eros.” Throughout natural history, reality has unfolded in the form of living systems, in the form of self-organizing molecules, cells, bodies, biotopes, and landscapes; in each of these, the drive, desire, and longing for attachment and autonomy is foundational: essential in order to perceive, to continue, and to unfold. 

For all these reasons I call my writing in this book an “erotic ecology.” Being in the world is primarily an erotic encounter, an encounter of meaning through contact, an encounter of being oneself through the significance of others—humans, lovers, children, but also other beings, companions and competitors. From birth, and probably even before it, we experience the fundamental erotics of being touched by the world, and of touching it in return, as a life-bestowing power. We experience living exchange as fundamental reality. We long to connect with an other—be it word, skin, food, or air—in order to become ourselves. In this experience, we are not separated from the world, but deeply incorporated into it: feeling parts of the whole, which can thus become transparent to itself in a meaningful way. It is precisely this reality, in all of its creative growth, that we wish to preserve—an expressive, meaningful reality of which we are a part. 

As we are a part of it, we cannot detach ourselves from it in order to paint an objective picture. But we can express what it means to be the participant in a web of mutual transformations and deeply meaningful encounters that are always embodied. We know what it means to be enmeshed in an erotic partaking in reality, and we can express from the inside what it feels like to be alive. And from this vantage point we might be able to give back to the world what it has most painfully been lacking—the experience of aliveness, and the knowledge that reality is not only an efficient organization of matter, but that it also calls forth interiorities full of meaning and expression. Reality is alive, and it is about being on the inside—in the felt experience of pain and joy. Writing about being alive as an “erotic ecology” means becoming a partisan of poetics and striving for the reality of our enlivened experiences through the connections and the transformations they entail. Therefore, this book describes ecological reality as a relational system. And conversely, it comprehends love as an ecological process. 

My conviction is that being alive in an empathetic way is always a practice of love. And only by relearning to understand our existence as a practice of love will we grasp anew the overwhelming ecological and human dilemmas that we face in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century and find the means to deal with them differently than we have thus far. Life is the constant, creative transition from controlled situations to new openings that cannot be controlled. Being in tune with life lies somewhere between following rigid principles and improvising on them vividly. Cultivating a practice of love that tries to remain close to the ecological Eros therefore means caring for oneself but also remaining vulnerable, a balanced center always open to new connections. From an ecological perspective, love is a practice of balancing interests that lead to a state of greater aliveness while also accepting failure in advance. A successful attachment always has two sides: living without fear, and learning to die courageously. 

Love is an answer to the lack that lies at the heart of aliveness, but it does not compensate for that lack—it transforms it. Love transforms that lack into an excess that produces new contradictions; it is the luminous chasm and the ephemeral mass, freedom in impossibility, the always insufficient answer to the paradox of life: “vivacidad pura” (Octavio Paz)—pure aliveness, experienced from inside the world. 

Accordingly, I will tell a series of love stories on the following pages. I will describe and analyze erotic affairs with stones, plants, rivers, animals, people, and words. Through these stories, I will understand the overpowering extent to which reality is determined by the erotic—by the longing for a practice of being meaningfully moved in our embodied existences. I would like to probe the extent to which we have forgotten this reality, and to discover how we might reclaim it.