Nature is Not Great: Platonov’s Dialectical Nature

Oxana Timofeeva, History of Animals

My summer reading, Oxana Timofeeva, History of Animals, has been immensely enjoyable. There were many highlights, but the most exciting sections were where Oxana excerpts from Andrei Platonov’s work:

Nature is not great, it is not abundant. Or it is so harshly arranged that it has never bestowed its abundance and greatness on anyone. This is a good thing, otherwise — in historical time — all of nature would have been plundered, wasted, eaten up, people would have revelled in it down to its very bones; there would always have been enough appetite. If the physical world had not had its one law — in fact the basic law: that of the dialectic — this would have sufficed for a few people to have destroyed the world completely in a few short centuries More: even without people, nature would have destroyed itself into pieces of its own accord. The dialectic is probably an expression of miserliness, of the daunting harshness of nature’s construction, and it is only thanks to this that the historical formation of humankind became possible…[…]

Of course, it is a tragic picture, because the real historical work is being done not on the whole earth, but in the lesser portion of it, with enormous overloading.

The truth, in my view, lies in the fact that ‘technology […] decides everything’. Technology is the subject of the contemporary historical tragedy, if by technology we understand not only the complex of artificial instruments of production, but also the organisation of society, solidly founded of the technology of production, and even ideology. Ideology, incidentally, is located not in the superstructure, not ‘on high’, but within, in the middle of society’s public sense. To be precise, one needs to include in technology the technician himself – the person – so that one does not obtain a cast-iron understanding of the question. […]

The situation between technology and nature is tragic. The aim of technology: give me a place to stand and I will move the world’. But the construction of nature is such that it does not like to be beaten. […] Nature keeps itself to itself, it can only function by exchanging like for like, or even with something added in its favour, but technology strains to have it the other way around. The external world is protected from us by the dialectic. Therefore, though it seems like a paradox: the dialectic of nature is the greatest resistance to technology and the enemy of humankind. Technology is intended for and works towards the overturning or softening of the dialectic. So far it has only modestly succeeded, and so the world still cannot be kind to us. At the same time, the dialectic alone is our sole instructor and resource against an early, senseless demise in childish enjoyment. Just as it was the force that created all technology.’

 Oxana Timofeeva, History of Animals, Maastricht: Jan van Eyck, undated, pp.145-146 (quoting Andrei Platonov, Soul and Other Stories, p.28)

Though Oxana discusses Platonov’s less well-known work, Chevengur, the following passage is not quoted in her book. Nonetheless it’s highly pertinent to her account of Platonov’s inhuman communism, in which both animals and humans long for sensual emancipation from the cruelty of the ‘state’, ‘work’ and the ‘state of nature’.

Zakhar Pavlovich’s anguish was stronger than his awareness of the uselessness of labor and he continued to cut stakes until full nocturnal exhaustion: Without a craft Zakhar Pavlovich’s blood flowed from his hands into his head and he began to think so deeply about everything at once that only gibberish resulted, while ‘in his heart’ arose a saddened fright. Wandering around ‘the sunny yard in the day, he couldn’t overcome his thought that man is descended from the worms. After all, the worm is simply a terrifying pipe which has nothing inside, just empty blackness. Observing the village houses, Zakhar Pavlovich discovered that they closely resembled closed coffins, and he was afraid to sleep in the carpenter’s house. An animal, work capable force, finding no place, was eating Zakhar Pavlovich’s soul. He did not control himself and was tortured by various kinds of feelings which never appeared when he worked.

Andrei Platonov, Chevengur.p.11

Andrei Platonov, Chevengur

Andrei Platonov, Chevengur

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