Field Notes September 25th 2022
Text by Joost de Bloois
Photographs by Joost de Bloois, Flurina Gradin and Offshore Studio

Unruly Grüningen


Grüningen is an unexceptional place. Not that it isn’t beautiful. In fact, it’s lovely: Grüningen has a castle, a botanical garden and a bridge design by Santiago Calatrava. It’s unmistakably rural, not in danger of being overrun by the city, yet reassuringly well connected to the Zürich metropolitan area. No wonder its demographic is expanding. It is also designated as the site for a future landfill [Deponie]1  for the canton of Zürich.

The local wood, the Tägernauer Holz, will serve as a depository for 1.5 million cubic metres of so-called basic slag [Restschlacke], a left-over of industrial ore processing. Carving out the landfill would involve cutting down an estimated 7000 trees in the Tägernauer wood, about one-fifth of the area, and making what remains largely inaccessible.

Remarkably, the landfill’s principal user may not even be the city or canton of Zürich but may, in fact, be rented out on the international waste market. Consequently, some among the townsfolk of Grüningen protested against the landfill. We were shown around the Tägernauer wood, an unexceptional place in its own right. Used by the inhabitants of Grüningen for walking their dogs, a morning run, horse riding, and taking the kids to walk of their surplus energy, the wood consists of fairly common species of trees and mushrooms; it is populated by hedgehogs, domestic birds and likely a few foxes; a modest network of paths passable by foot or on horseback cuts through the wood; the wood borders on the undulating farmlands around Grüningen, a short walk from the small, immaculate bus station.

The protesters are in it for the long haul: the protests started in 2006, a little under two decades ago and continue to this day, intermittently and in various shapes and forms. These are equally unexceptional: petitions, some legal action on municipal and cantonal level, kids dressing up as forest animals to remind us of the peril to local ecosystems, one or two protest gatherings in the wood, some tied themselves symbolically to trees in the absence of the riot police.

Grüningen is no Lützerath. Grüningen is not the ZAD, not a laboratory, an exceptional ‘liberated’ space for social experimentation. But what if the character of the protests is a form of politics that is emblematic of contemporary politics yet overlooked in most political theory (and media coverage)?

A truly ‘unexceptional politics,’ in the sense that the literary theorist Emily Apter gives to this term?2  In its mundaneness, the politics resonates with what we, with among others Hartmut Rosa, may call a politics of ‘uncontrollability’3, that may be equally emblematic of a ‘politics of withdrawal’?4 

Grüningen is neither a city in any modern sense (though it has ancient city rights) nor suburbia nor the wilderness. As such, it reflects the recent transformation of the countryside as theorised by the architect Rem Koolhaas. ‘While the city becomes more itself,’ Koolhaas argues, ‘the countryside is transforming into something new: an arena for genetic experimentation, industrialized nostalgia, new seasonal migration patterns, massive subsidies, tax incentives, digital informers, flex farming, and species homogenization. It would be difficult to write such a radical inventory of the city.’5 

Over the past decades, the countryside, and its quaint places like Grüningen, have morphed into a new entity that as yet awaits representation, as we remain stuck in what Koolhaas calls ‘the polarization of the city and the countryside in our imagination.’ Koolhaas describes the countryside as ‘a weave of tendencies that are outside our overview and outside our awareness’ that, in turn, prevents us from truly understanding the city and its recent transformations. In our misguided imagination, ‘the countryside’ remains the reserve of the unartificial, the real, the natural; the city, the domain of artificiality, the artificial milieu.

In reality, Koolhaas claims, ‘two different strains of artificiality run parallel’: the countryside more and more becomes ‘a playground’ - in Koolhaas’ words - for a new class of elite digital workers with one foot in the city (where there’s an audience, a market, an office) and one foot in the mud of a countryside where they live to savour what now is a curated authenticity — to ‘re-inhabit the authentic environment of the former farmer and his wife,’ as Koolhaas says, who has now left, thus draining the countryside from any genuine dynamics and reciprocity with ‘nature’, a void filled with ‘heritage’ and ‘authenticity’, the acces to which becomes a form of socio-cultural capital, the currency for buying elite standing.

The countryside is increasingly shot through with the artificiality of the city, for example, because the digital elites only inhabit the countryside intermittently, their (working) lives not thoroughly entwined with their rural and natural milieu, the latter increasingly receding into an image.

The city invades the countryside not so much in the earlier sense of urban sprawl and encroaching suburbia. Still, rather it punctuates it with its technology and its economic and political desires. It no longer needs to be a tangible presence to transform the countryside.

In this light, perhaps we tend to look at urban nature as too much of a one-way street: nature as a Fremdkörper in the urban fabric, invading our citadels of artificiality, nature reclaiming or rewilding the city. What if ‘nature’ - and where else can we find nature but in the countryside? - is affected by the city as much as the other way around? Even if the city is not a visible presence. What if the proposed landfill in Grüningen’s Tägernauer wood is the city, from a distance, punctuating the countryside?

Perhaps Grüningen is unexceptional only vis-à-vis the transformation analysed by Koolhaas. Because the Tägernauer wood is deemed not ‘authentic,’ not real enough, it is earmarked as the site for one of the canton’s landfills. Its ‘inauthenticity’ has been decided upon in the distant city, even if the criterium of ‘authenticity’ is itself artificial, as it ignores how the wood is effectively experienced and used. Are the ways in which the Tägernauer wood is used by the people of Grüningen inauthentic?

Is horse-riding, dog walking, running, and building a hut inauthentic (perhaps only in the eyes of the digital nomad expecting more of their woods)? Unexceptional, surely, but inauthentic? And how and when does ‘unexceptional’ slide into ‘inauthentic,’ and how and when does inauthentic become a criterium for being labeled disposable?

As our guide in the Tägernauer wood noted, tellingly, Pro Natura, Switzerland’s oldest nature preservation organization, didn’t want to ally itself with the protests in Grüningen because the Tägernauer wood wasn’t exceptional enough, too mundane, too ordinary (no rare species, no spectacular vistas to protect — nothing to see, nothing to sell). The wood at Grüningen thus finds itself in a peculiar ‘state of unexception’: it is deemed disposable because of its ordinariness.

It is not prey to the elaborate machinations of thanatopolitics - no prior work of exclusion - because there is nothing to see — nothing but the ordinary: a pleasant but unremarkable wood used by the inhabitants of a, to all appearances, prosperous Swiss town. If ‘state of exception’ there is, it is, paradoxically, the result of the Tägernauer wood being branded unexceptional, its users harmless and anyway content with their lot. At Grüningen, there is no homo sacer in sight. How do you fight to preserve the unexceptional? How do you engage politically if what you have to lose is fourteen football fields of woodland in a country saturated with majestic nature?

As Emily Apter argues, political theory is ill at ease with the unexceptional. She claims this is all the more remarkable since, according to the very same theories, politics is everywhere: but how can political theory detect the ‘allness and everywhereness of political atmosphere and milieu’ (2) if its idiom its limited to the exceptional, the eventful? It’s not that political theorists didn’t try.

As Apter shows, modern political theory often opposes (institutionalised) ‘politics’ to (the purely oppositional) ‘the political’, small-p-politics to capital-P-Politics, potentia to potestas, macro, meta- and micropolitics. Yet it misses ‘smallest p politics’ (10), that ‘formless force field […] that keeps the system of capitalo-parliamentarianism in place and prevents emancipatory politics from taking place’ 10), and that, consequently, can only be contested, resisted on that smallest scale, by smallest means.

Here, we are facing not the state of exception, not the law being levered as the mechanism for excluding the homo sacer, but the ‘barely perceptible,’ the ‘debased foil’ of the political, ‘manifest at its most minute scale as a hum, a whisper, a mood, an atmosphere, a trade wind that sends particulates of ambition eddying around evanescent goalposts.’ (12)

Unexceptional politics does not count on the event to occur. It mobilises the mundane, feeds upon the undergrowth of politics, and moves within the ‘intangible milieu’ of politics (12), where the difference between politics and its others is not yet articulated.

It is at the level of the unexceptional that we find red tape, legal proceedings, filibusters, diplomacy or lack thereof (but in its mundane sense of being tactful/less), petitions, interruptions at council meetings, various forms of obstruction, inoperativity, the impolitic, withdrawal. Protest, but of the unexceptional kind; a smallest p politics ‘that speaks in its own language, that defines distinct modes of acting or articulating politically that evolve and mutate’ (34), as Apter writes.

Politics befits the Tägernauer wood: as the ‘imperceptible milieu’ of small-town everyday life (in sum: of the unexceptional), the wood can only be defended via unexceptional politics, just as it is targeted by unexceptional politics (by run-of-the-mill bureaucratic planning).

To defend the wood, to be impolitic as defined by Apter (in dialogue with, but against philosophers such as Robert Esposito and Massimo Cacciari)6 : ‘impolitic’, here, means ‘not politic’ (rather than not political); impolitic means ‘contrary to policy; unwise; imprudent; indiscreet; inexpedient; undiplomatic’ (85) (the ‘politic’ precedes the political, envelopes it imperceptibly, accompanies it without being noticed).

The impolitic is the domain of dissent understood as ‘insolence, impertinence, discourtesy, truculence, tactlessness’ (84), not as political grandstanding but as ‘speaking out of turn, ill-timed or well-timed kairos’. (95) The impolitic turns the unexceptional in politics (bureaucracy; the procedural aspects of democracy, local or higher-up; tactful navigation of conflicting interests; legal loopholes; an elementary, unspoken sense good citizenship), its instrumentalization in favor of capitalo-parliamentarianism cemented by it, against itself.

As it taps into the inarticulate milieu, it challenges political routine (better still: the routines of policy that, precisely, lives off routine), the patterns of deal-making, power-brokering, and lobbying that limit imagination and political experiment’ (97).

Referring to Brazilian social theorist Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Apter calls this a form of ‘disentrenchement’: ‘To disentrench […] is to undertake the disarrangement of social relations, the recuperation of nonintentional agency (recognizing the hidden potential of unorganized willing), and the imagination of non-foreordained institutions of governance’(101). To disentrench is to crack the routines of the everyday, the recalcitrance of social order, to refuse ‘to abide the prostration of individual agency to the exigencies of routinized life’ (101), but by tapping into the mundane politics underpinning any politics (such as ‘the untapped resources of jurisprudence [and] planning’; 99), by remaining firmly within the milieu — a politics of small practices (101).

As profoundly impolitic, unexceptional politics thus involves a certain obstination. For Apter, ‘obstination is distinguished not as a moral value earned through survival in adverse circumstances, but as an interval of experience […] that mobilizes the obstacle within existence and as well as resistance.’ (134) In obstination, the very thing that is resisted is mobilised (in the case of the Tägernauer wood, the (im)politic elements in politics), or rather: it is immobilised through repetition, like a musical ostinato, ‘a technical term for the repetition of a musical phrase that anchors a movement or an entire composition, as well as the fancy name for a hook or jazz riff played at the lower register and usually understood as the background to a main melody in the foreground’, Apter explains. (p132)

The unexceptional protests at Grüningen are obstinate in so far as they resemble this ostinato: rather than being eventful or confrontational, they take the shape of a series of repeated gestures, of ’small acts of perseverant obstruction’(133). It’s not the exceptional event, but sheer obstination - rendering inoperative the very policies and politico-legal milieu it engages - that is the method of choice for unexceptional politics (which also involves persisting in the mundane activities the wood is used for: dog walking, building cabins, simply getting out for a bit).

Although not mentioned in Apter’s lexicon of unexceptional politics, the concept of withdrawal seems apt to seize the particularities of the protests to save the Tägernauer wood from being turned into a deposit for industrial waste.

‘Withdrawal’ is the common denominator between a series of apparently dispersed, and often unexceptionial, phenomena: from ‘quit quitters’, digital detoxes, and burnout to the ZAD and both far-right and far-left rejections of modernity and technology (but also, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Silicon Valley-type fantasies of leaving our dying planet and colonising Mars).

A ‘politics of withdrawal’ involves different forms of disengagement that, paradoxically, take on a political meaning. Withdrawal suggests the possibility of a non-confrontational politics that is neither an admission of defeat nor a politics of compromise. As this paradoxical non-confrontational politics, withdrawal may offer an alternative to the biopolitical idea of politics as essentially a war over life and death (of the polis, the republic, the people), as identified by Roberto Esposito and Giorgio Agamben7.

For Esposito and Agamben, struggle and (civil) war remain at the heart of the European conception of politics: the latter signifying the struggle over the organization of the polis (who belongs to the polis? Who is allowed access to it? Who gets to share its alleged universalism? to whom does the polis need to be defended?). Withdrawal seeks to reorganize our ways of living together, without regressing into imaginaries of warring fractions. How to move beyond a sense of politics based on exclusion/inclusion or immunological defense?

In this sense, withdrawal is a fundamental question of political philosophy, a search for truly different politics. This is not to say that withdrawal is a purely negative gesture: withdrawal is certainly not equivalent to negation.

In withdrawal, there’s obviously an element of refusal, of breaking away, but it’s not a ‘politics of negation’ per se. Rather, withdrawal taps into potential. It’s a gesture that interrupts the status quo: to withdraw is to make oneself unavailable, uncontrollable (but perhaps not in the grandiose sense of the anarcho-autonomist creed of ‘becoming ungovernable’). A ‘politics of withdrawal’ occurs at the edges of the political and the non-political: gestures of withdrawal always have both a subjective and collective meaning.

We withdraw (from our jobs, from unsustainable consumerism) to preserve our mental or physical health, but at the same time in protest against a system that drifts further and further away from our ethical and political beliefs. As Roland Barthes argues: we withdraw not so much out of anger (often fuelled by idealism) as out of ‘weariness’8. If, as we saw, politics permeates everything, it becomes less significant as a separate (exceptional) domain with its proper institutions.

Withdrawal may constitute an appropriate tactic to engage with this saturation of the mundane with politics by building a shelter, a cabin of sorts, in which to retreat (if only momentarily).

Like the wood, the cabin is not a citadel or a fortress; it’s not a place we can dwell in indefinitely, but it’s a place where we can shield ourselves when things get too much, where we can contemplate alternatives to the status quo, especially when that status quo becomes (psychologically, ecologically, politically) unbearable9.

Withdrawal, then, signifies rendering things inoperative, as in: no longer playing along, no longer complying, no longer making yourself available; it signifies not putting up a fight, but stepping aside, suspending the operation, interrupting the script (taking yourself out of the script). In this light, withdrawal is a specifically modern gesture - although not without much older precedents such as anachoresis and otium10- a response to the mobilization of every unexceptional aspect of life in the service of capital, to capitalist (late)-modernity with its emphasis on technology, progress and connectivity (this can take many different forms: ecological withdrawal, autonomist refusal of labour, right to laziness and anti-work, counter-culture and Aussteiger) — even if (late-)modernity comes in the guise of technocratic planning of a landfill.

Withdrawal does not mean ‘to flee’, to run for the exits (another form of negation). Paradoxically, withdrawal also entails what Sarah Sharma calls a certain staying power, ‘the staying power of refusal and the insidious power of that which stays’ (187, Sharma’s italics). To withdraw into the wood, the cabin, the ZAD, is to remain, but obliquely, no longer in alignment or agreement with the status quo.

In this light, to withdraw into the woods at Grüningen does not mean chaining oneself defiantly to a tree, but turning everyday gestures - walking the dog, voting at the council meeting, building a cabin - into a gesture of refusal, in so far as they come to signify the interruption of the techno-bureaucratic quotidian and no longer let themselves be available to its logic. To make use of the Tägernauer wood - to persist, obstinately in making use of the wood - now means that the everyday is no longer unreservedly controllable, at least.

In his book Uncontrollability - the original German title Unverfügbarkeit11  also means ‘unavailability’ or ‘inaccessibility’ - the sociologist Hartmut Rosa describes what he calls ‘the drama of our relationship to the modem world’ (2) as a fundamental double-bind: ‘The driving cultural force of that form of life we call “modern” is the idea, the hope and desire, that we can make the world controllable. Yet it is only in encountering the uncontrollable that we really experience the world’ (2).

For Rosa, our modern desire whispers, 'Our life will be better if we manage to bring more world within our reach’ (11, Rosa’s italics). Hence our fundamental drive to make the world controllable [verfügbar]: to turn the world into an object of knowledge that subsequently can be appropriated (reified and turned into the literal property), manipulated, and controlled. The world has to be made transparent, available and brought into the closest proximity to ourselves for it to be controlled by us. ‘Rendering [the world] visible, reachable, manageable, useful’ is the quadrivium of modernity (17). ‘The socio-cultural formation of modernity,’ as Rosa calls it, inevitably turn the world into ‘a point of aggression’ (14): to control the world, is to render it inert, to make the world available is to turn it into a static resource — to turn a wood into a landfill, to measure its value (economic, aesthetic, ecological, politico-strategic).

As moderns, we cannot, Rosa claims, simply take the world for what it is, to simply let it be, to encounter it in its alterity, that is to say, in its irrevocable ‘uncontrollability’. To control the world, to relate to it as a ‘point of aggression’, turns our relation to the world into a one-way street: there cannot be a real encounter, only the conflation between I and the world.

For Rosa, politics and the law thus flatten the world, and remove any obstacles to our desire for transparency and control: ‘legal regulations and political-administrative apparatuses are charged with managing the social and cultural preconditions and consequences of this program of always expanding our reach - or rather they are charged with ensuring that social processes can be predicted and controlled. ’ (18, Rosa’s italics) It’s no wonder that Rosa sees environmental struggles as the ‘manifest symptom’ of our urge to extract whatever we may use from our planet, instead of seeking the ’adaptive transformation of the world’ (19) In this sense, the technocratic apparatus deployed at Tägernauer wood, as unexceptional as it may seem, is of ontological importance: it (literally) flattens yet another piece of the world, makes even the most humble and accessible wood verfügbar.

Consequently, as mentioned earlier, it also makes even the unexceptional uncontrollable: using the wood, that now acts as a ‘point of aggression’ becomes an act of resistance of sorts, a defiant acknowledgment of uncontrollability. This is the double-bind Rosa stresses: the more we make the world ours, the more it escapes us. ‘Loss of world constitutes the fundamental basic anxiety of modernity,’ he claims (20) — the more controllable, static and inert we render the world, the more it gets obscured and disappears beyond our reach (the more we solidify what Rosa coins ‘a relation of relationlessness’; 28). In contrast, Rosa proposes that our relatedness to the world should be embracing the world’s (and our own) Unverfügbarkeit.

To leave the modern mode of aggression is to be affected by a fraction of the world (another person, a landscape, a melody, an idea), to be ‘touched or moved in such a way as to develop an intrinsic inter¬est in the segment of the world so encountered and to feel somehow “addressed.”’ (32) This appeal is uncontrollable (as it interpellates us, not the other way around), and it emerges from the uncontrollable, it renders its emissary uncontrollable: ‘Something suddenly calls to us, moves us from without, and becomes important to us for its own sake. The person or thing from whom or from which we experience such a call appears to us to be not just of instrumental value, but intrinsically important.’ (32) It is this experience of being affected and appealed, this invitation to non-aggressively relate to something or someone, that Rosa calls ‘resonance’.

Resonance is the opposite of the modern conflation between I and the world that merely instrumentalizes the latter (and impoverishes the former). Resonance is inherently uncontrollable, as it engages with the uncontrollable (having accepted the uncontrollability of the world).

As understood by Rosa, resonance is thus a transformative experience: it is in the appeal to ‘respond to the multitude of voices all around us’ (34, Rosa’s italics) that we are forced to relate to and engage with the uncontrollable (and thus to stand in a fundamentally different relation to the world). It is evident, for Rosa, that resonance also - if not primarily - affects our relation to the non-human world: ‘resonant experiences also significantly change inanimate objects (if only for us). The mountain I have climbed is different (for me) from the one I only saw from a distance or on television’ (35, Rosa’s italics). The wood I use for walking my dog, chasing hedgehogs, building cabins, taking an early-morning run, or walking off bad moods fundamentally differs from the wood that is considered only for its economic use-value. The inherent uncontrollability of resonance affects both subject and world: the protests at the Tägernauer wood - even (and perhaps especially) when these constitute of small, impolitic gestures - revealed the wood, unexceptional as it is, as something that exists in its own right, beyond the reach of technocracy-assisted capitalism, as something that allows for modes of being, and being-together, that is irreducible to the logic of planning and markets. The protests - or perhaps better still: the appeal from the Tägernauer wood itself - transformed those among the inhabitants of Grüningen involved in them into subjects, uncontrollable vis-à-vis the aggressive logic of capitalo-parliamentarism (even while continuing to act as city counsellor, to take the family for a walk, to pick mushrooms).

Does the city not have its own Unverfügbarkeit? Gentrification has made large parts - the most attractive or convenient ones - of contemporary cities ‘unavailable’ to most. In the populist imagination equally large parts are supposedly ‘uncontrollable’ in different but not unrelated ways, as they have become ‘no-go areas’.

According to Rosa’s definition of Unverfügbarkeit, these two urban manifestations are, in fact, false forms of ‘uncontrollability,’ as both result from the enduring neoliberalization and marketisation of urban space; the commodification of urban life is one of the more explicit contemporary manifestations of ‘controllability’. As Rosa reminds us: ‘A modern society […] is one that can stabilize itself only dynamically, in other words one that requires constant economic growth technological acceleration, and cultural innovation in order to maintain its institutional status quo’ (9; Rosa’s italics) In the past dozen decades or so, the urban has served as the ideal playground for this tripartite economic, technological and cultural acceleration to tighten its grip on what (from the Paris commune to the squatters’ movement) has attempted to resist this somewhat perverse stabilisation of capitalist control through intensified deterriorializations.

This tragedy has been well documented and thought through by the likes of Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord and Jane Jacobs: the riotous, festive and thus ‘uncontrollable’ urban commons have been neutralized, first through ‘modernisation’ and then through gentrification: by first turning the city into an infrastructural hub for capital flows, and then by turning what little remains of the original urban landscape into an object for speculation and mediated capital extraction cashing in on aesthetic value and ‘liveability’ (leaving the ruins of urbanist modernity to the precariat to inhabit, and now restored ante-modern beauty and archaic human-centric proportions to the professional classes) — resulting in the form of ‘controllability’ that is both material and immaterial, and that has led to unprecedented forms of socio-economic segregation of the urban milieu.

But none of this is Unverfügbarkeit in Rosa’s sense, but rather a form of control through the modulation of urban space12: even though, in Europe’s post- (or quasi-?) welfare state, urban area remains de facto, physically accessible - the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund is any urbanist’s dream - your presence is de jure entirely dependent on socio-economic status. Can you afford to sit down and enjoy a coffee in the old town? If not, keep moving, and get yourself a takeaway; you’re rushed through the urban labyrinth by a myriad of invisible trapdoors. To not be allowed to dwell, never to be fully present, never to get a change to resonate with anything or anyone, is to be controlled, verfügbar.

In contrast, ‘urban natures’ seem to represent a peculiar form of uncontrollability. To an extent, urban natures are always a phantasy — a phantasy of ‘rewilding’ the city; like the wolf or Highland cattle, it needs to be ‘reintroduced’, and brought back to life.

At the very least, it needs to be the object of some form or other of restoration: ‘forgotten’ and ‘invisible’ rivers and streams are made visible in the urban landscape again, like the streams - like the Leutschenbach - in the former marshlands of Schwamendingen and Opfikon that have been brought back to the surface again, flowing - perhaps not freely, but at least for all to see - in between the tower blocks of the Messe and the SRF TV studios, and new middle-class, ‘sustainable’ habitats.

It’s an obvious cliché, but worth repeating: there is nothing authentic about urban nature; it’s presence is entirely hauntological13: the beaver dams in front of the TV studios have been invited by us city-dwellers as much as they are the beavers’ doing. They have been ‘conjured up’ as much as they are a primordial, natural presence.

As Fernand Deligny claims, the beaver dam is radically different from an artificial dam or hut: we’re making a dam, building a hut for ourselves, conscious of the final product14 (always already contemplating how to sell it on); the beaver dam, on the contrary, is a work - if ‘work at all- of doing [agir], not the fruit of labor, not the result of making but of a mode of being — and therefore, in a very real sense, uncontrollable: not being a product, it remains non-commodifiable (which precisely is the reason why it had to be removed from the city in the first place).

But the beaver dams in the Leutschenbach now visible again in the Leutschenbachstrasse are the fruit of a non-human doing as much as of our making — better still: of our making having come back to haunt us. The beavers were invited in, and set loose to indulge in their doing. For Derrida, ‘hauntology’ implies an appeal: to be haunted means to be interpellated, addressed by an uncontrollable entity (the dead father, a guilty conscience, an industrious beaver).

The appeal of urban nature is an appeal on behalf of ourselves to ourselves, by means of the non-human other’s (uncontrollable) doing. It often appeals to our sense of guilt: ‘You sent me away, destroyed my habitat, I’m here to remind you of your past misdeeds,’ we make the beaver say. But the fact that the beaver is interpellating us, as we invited it back to judge us, is also the key to our atonement: ‘You brought me back to life, there is hope for change, you can and will do better’ — if only because thus anthropomorphised natural beings remind us that their demise is ours, that their disappearance is merely a prelude to ours.

Urban nature consists of a peculiar kind of ‘staged uncontrollability’ (the TV studios seem a fitting background): the beaver dams are a reminder of the uncontrollability of ‘nature,’ an invitation for resonance, but without any guarantee of either nature or ourselves effectively responding to it. The appeal that we so carefully make to ourselves - nature acting as a third party - may remain without answer: perhaps we remain unwilling to accommodate the uncontrollable other in our (urban) lives after all, preferring the comfort of business as usual; on the other hand, nature may remain unruly, divert itself from us, remain absorbed in its uncontrollable doing.

Streams, beavers - the tiger mosquitos we hunted for at the bus station - are just doing their thing, out of our reach (if we let them), beyond our control. They offer themselves up for resonance, but without any guarantee of this actually occurring. Urban nature thus introduces a series of blind spots on the city map - here be beavers! - a proliferation of areas of uncontrollability (part manufactured, part nature-doing) where a different kind of (non-circular) appeal may occur: a resonance that would, as Rosa writes, puncture ‘the shell of reification behind which we usually operate in a world oriented toward escalation, optimization, calculation, and domination.’ (32) — a resonance that would transform the reflexive appeal of man-to-himself that now inspires the rewilding of cities into another form of affection as being ‘touched or moved in such a way as to develop an intrinsic interest in the segment of the world so encountered and to feel somehow “addressed”.’ (32)

In this sense, the Leutschenbach echoes the Tägernauer wood — another resonance perhaps as both interpellate us and appeal to the uncontrollable.


2 Cf Emily Apter. Unexceptional Politics.

3 Cf. Hartmut Rosa. Uncontrollability.

4 Pepita Hesselberh and Joost de Bloois. Politics of Withdrawal. Roman & Littlefield, 2021.


6 Roberto Esposito.Terms of the Political. Fordham University Press, 2013; Massimo Cacciari. The Unpolitical. Fordham University Press, 2009.

7 Roberto Esposito. Politics and Negation. Polity Press, 2019; Giorgio Agamben. Stasis. Stanford University Press, 2015.

8 Roland Barthes. How to Live Together. Columbia University Press, 2012.

9 Marielle Macé. Nos cabanes. Verdier, 2019.

10 Cf Hesselberth and De Bloois, Politics of Withdrawal, introduction.

11 Hartmut Rosa. Unverfügbarkeit. Suhrkamp, 2021.

12 Gilles Deleuze. Postscript on the Society of Control. October, volume 59, 1992.

13 Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx. Routledge, 1994.

14 Fernand Deligny. Camérer: À propos d’images. L’Araignee, 2022, pp191-192.



Essential references 


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