Humanize the Earth

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Book by Silo wrote in spanish in 1989


Humanize the Earth is a collection of three writings that have in common their style of poetic prose, an exhortative turn of phrase, and numbered passages. The first work, The Inner Look, was completed in 1972 and revised in 1988; the second, The Internal Landscape, was written in 1981 and subsequently revised in 1988; and finally, The Human Landscape was completed in 1988. Between the initial publication of The Inner Look and its revision sixteen years elapsed, during which time the book circulated in many languages of both East and West, giving rise to personal communication and correspondence between the author and readers from many latitudes. That exchange surely contributed to the author’s revisions of several chapters as he observed how the different cultural substrata in which the work was circulating gave rise to many differences in interpretation of the texts. Certain words in particular presented serious difficulties in translation, and readers would frequently misunderstand the sense in which they were used. Much the same took place with The Internal Landscape, although in that case seven years elapsed between the original publication and the author’s revisions to the text. The revisions of the first two books were finished in the same year the third book was completed, fulfilling the author’s intention to revise and update the first two books as he wrote the third and to compile all of them into a single volume. The Human Landscape, while maintaining the basic stylistic qualities of the preceding two works, unlike them emphasizes particularities of the cultural and social world. This forces a turn in the treatment of these themes that inevitably involves all aspects of this literary work. Regarding content, we can say that The Inner Look focuses on meaning in life. The principal theme of its discourse is the psychological state of contradiction. It makes explicit that suffering is the register that one has of contradiction, and that surpassing mental suffering is possible in the measure that one’s life is oriented toward non-contradictory actions in general and non-contradictory actions in relation to other people in particular. The Internal Landscape studies non-meaning in life in relation to the struggle against nihilism within each human being and in social life, exhorting readers to transform their lives into activity and militancy at the service of humanizing the world. Finally, The Human Landscape treats the question of establishing a foundation for action in the world, realigning meanings and interpretations of values and institutions that had seemed beyond question and accepted as established once and for all. The three writings that comprise Humanize the Earth are in fact three moments that follow in a sequence running from the most profound internal world—the world of dreams and symbols—toward the external and human landscapes. They involve a journey, a movement in point of view that begins in the most intimate and personal and ends in opening toward the interpersonal, social, and historical world.

Author's Conference

Scandinavia Center, Reykjavik, Iceland, November 13, 1989 Humanize the Earth is in fact a collection of three works. The first of these, The Inner Look, was completed in 1972 and revised in 1988. The second, The Internal Landscape, was completed in 1981 and revised in 1988. And the last, The Human Landscape, was written in 1988. These are, then, three productions from different periods that are related to one another in a number of ways, as we will soon see. But they are also conceived sequentially—they build upon one another. For the moment, I ask you to accompany me in considering the formal aspects of the book.

These three works are written in poetic prose, and divided into chapters, which in turn are made up of paragraphs, often numbered. This division into paragraphs, combined with the direct address so often apparent in them, along with some of the subject matter they deal with, has led some critics to situate this work within the genre of mystical literature. While this classification does not offend me in any way, I do not think that the elements that have been cited are sufficient to justify it. The first criterion used by these critics—segmentation into numbered paragraphs—is indeed common to many works of mystical literature. We see this in the numbered verses of the Bible, in the suras of the Qur’an, in the Yasnas and Fargards of the Avesta, as well as the divisions of the Upanishads. But we should also note that there are many other works of mystical literature that do not conform to this type of textual organization, while there are texts from many other fields—those of a legal nature, for example—that do. Indeed, civil and penal codes, along with procedures and regulations of many kinds, not to mention other documents of that general nature, are typically organized in numbered sections, subsections, articles, paragraphs, clauses, and so forth. Much the same thing is seen today in works in the fields of logic and mathematics. If one examines Russell’s Principia or Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, for example, one will surely agree that they are not exactly mystical works. Let’s take the second criterion, then: direct address, that is, discourse formalized into imperative statements (as opposed to declarative ones) that cannot be subjected to the test of truth. While this form often occurs in works of religious literature, it is also found in works that are not religious in nature. Moreover, in the work at hand, the sentences or phrases are not simply imperative but are also often discursive, giving readers an opportunity to examine their own experience and thus test the validity of what is being said. What I mean to say is that if this work is being classified, elliptically, as “mystical,” when in fact what is meant is that it is “dogmatic,” then the criteria given for classifying it in this way do not seem to be sufficient. The third criterion, the subjects addressed in the book, would seem to establish connections with religion. And, in fact, such subjects as faith, meditation, meaning in life, and so on, have often been addressed by religions, but of course also by thinkers and poets concerned with the fundamental questions of human beings as they find themselves facing problems in everyday existence. It has also been said that this work is “philosophical” in character, but anyone who takes a moment to leaf through its pages will see that it bears no resemblance to a text of that kind, much less to a treatise organized with systematic rigor. (“The Human Landscape,” the third work of this collection, is the one that might most strongly incline some to that error of classification.) Others have seen the book as a sociological or psychological text. But in reality, all of that has been very far from my intention in writing these works. What is certainly true is that throughout the collection there are indeed statements, opinions, and expressions that fall within the scope of all those disciplines. And how could it be otherwise, when one is attempting to address the broad range of situations within which human life unfolds? So then, to say that some subjects are treated from a psychological, sociological, philosophical, or mystical perspective would be entirely appropriate, and I would certainly accept that statement. But to classify the work as belonging exclusively to any one of those forms seems to me incorrect. The truth is, I would be pleased if people would simply say that this is a work written without concern for narrow categories and that it deals with the broadest and most general themes that people encounter throughout the course of their lives. And if someone were to insist that I further categorize or define it, I would simply say it is a meditation on human life written in poetic prose. Having come to the end of this brief discussion of formal issues, let’s proceed to the heart of the matter. The first work, titled “The Inner Look,” deals with meaning in life. The principal theme addressed is the state of contradiction, and the work shows clearly that the register one has of contradiction in life is suffering, and that overcoming mental suffering is possible in the measure that one orients one’s life toward non-contradictory actions. Non-contradictory actions are those that go beyond the personal and are constructively directed toward other people. In summary: The Inner Look speaks of overcoming mental suffering by launching oneself into the social world, the world of other people, so long as that action is registered as non-contradictory. The text is rendered a bit obscure by the numerous allegories and symbols that appear—the paths, dwellings, and strange landscapes through which people pass according to the vital situation in which they find themselves. One of the most important of these allegories is that of the tree, that ancient Tree of Life that appears in the Kabbalah and in the creation myths of the Makiritare, the indigenous Amazonian people who follow the Yekuaná cult. This is the Tree of the World that connects the sky with the earth and that your own Icelandic Vlüspá calls Yggdrasill. Thus, in “The Inner Look,” there is a kind of map of the inner states in which a person may find him or herself throughout the various moments of life. The states of confusion, desire for revenge, and despair, for example, are allegorized in the locations of the paths and dwellings through which one journeys in the “Yggdrasill” of The Inner Look; but one also encounters the way out of those contradictory situations: hope, the future, joy—in sum, the state of unity or non-contradiction. In this work we also find a chapter dedicated to the “Principles of Valid Action.” These are a set of recommendations, sayings that enable one to remember certain laws of behavior that contribute to a life of unity and meaning. Not escaping the allegorical style of the entire work, these Principles have a metaphorical character. Here we may cite a few examples: “If day and night, summer and winter, are well with you, you have surpassed the contradictions”; “Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens, then advance with resolution.” We find recommendations of this kind in the Hávamál, too, for example, in Verse 64: A wise man will not overweening be, And stake too much on his strength; When the mighty are met to match their strength, ’Twill be found that first is no one. The Principles in The Inner Look are, in reality, laws of behavior of a sort, although they are conceived not as moral or legal prescriptions but rather as constants, descriptions of how forces will function in action or reaction depending on the placement, the location, of the person who acts. The second work, “The Internal Landscape,” continues in the style of the first, but with less emphasis on allegories and symbols. The description turns outward, toward the world of cultural values, and contains increasingly specific references to the social sphere. In the early sections of this second work, we read: “Leap over your suffering, and it will not be the abyss but life that grows within you. There is no passion, idea, or human deed that is not linked to the abyss. Therefore, let us turn to the only thing that deserves our attention: the abyss and that which overcomes it.” This apparently dualistic statement makes clear certain fundamental concerns with the growth of life and the annihilation of life. Annihilation appears to take on a certain substantiality when it is termed the “abyss,” but this is merely poetic license, for to speak of the nihilization of being, or the “crossing out” of being as Heidegger does, would cause an irreparable break in style. We are not speaking of the abyss in terms of substance, then, but rather in terms of an annihilation or darkening of meaning in human life. It is clear that the first dualistic effect disappears when we understand the concept of abyss as non-being, as non-life, rather than as an entity in itself. The concept of abyss was chosen for its psychological implications, since it evokes internal registers of the kind of vertigo associated with the contradictory sensation of repulsion and attraction. This attraction toward nothingness leads to suicide or mindless destructive fury, and it can mobilize the nihilism of an individual, a group, or an entire civilization. This is not anxiety as in Kierkegaard or nausea as in Sartre, in the sense of a choice at a crossroads or a passive disintegration of meaning. Rather, it is vertigo and attraction toward the nothing as an activity-toward-destruction, a kind of motor of personal and social events that wrestles with life for preeminence and power. Thus, if the human being has the freedom to choose, then it is possible for people to modify those conditions that would portend catastrophe if left to follow their mechanical development. If, on the other hand, human freedom is only a pious myth, then it does not matter what individuals or nations decide, since events are already foreordained to develop mechanically either in the direction of the growth of life, or instead toward catastrophe, nothingness, non-meaning. This work affirms the freedom of human life, freedom within certain conditions, but ultimately freedom. Moreover, it says that the meaning of life is in essence liberty, and that this liberty rejects the “absurd,” rejects the “given,” even when the given is Nature itself. It is this struggle against the given, against pain and suffering, against the adversities that Nature has imposed on the human being, that has allowed the development of society and civilization. Human life has not grown due to pain and suffering, but on the contrary has equipped itself precisely to defeat them. The decision to expand human liberty reaches beyond the individual, and since this being has no fixed nature but rather follows a historical and social dynamic, it is the individual who must take responsibility and act for society and all human beings. Following this, Chapter VII of The Internal Landscape says: “Namer of a thousand names, maker of meanings, transformer of the world, your parents and the parents of your parents continue in you. You are not a fallen star but a brilliant arrow flying toward the heavens. You are the meaning of the world, and when you clarify your meaning you illuminate the earth. When you lose your meaning, the earth becomes darkened and the abyss opens.” It goes on to say: “I will tell you the meaning of your life here: It is to humanize the earth. And what does it mean to humanize the earth? It is to surpass pain and suffering; it is to learn without limits; it is to love the reality you build.… You will not fulfill your mission if you do not apply your energies to vanquishing pain and suffering in those around you. And if through your action they in turn take up the task of humanizing the world, you will have opened their destiny toward a new life.” In the final analysis, The Internal Landscape deals with meaning in life as a struggle against nihilism inside of each human being and in the life of society; furthermore, it exhorts people to convert this life into activity and militancy in the service of the humanization of the world. As you can understand, this work does not speak of solutions that are merely individual and personal, since there is no such thing as a purely personal solution in a world that is social and historical. Those who believe that their individual, personal problems can be solved through some sort of introspection or psychological technique make a crucial error, for we are only able to move toward solutions thanks to action directed toward the world, that is, through meaningful action directed toward other people. And if someone should insist that a certain psychological technique has its usefulness, this work would seem to reply that its worth can be measured only from the perspective of action directed toward the world, that is, from the perspective of whether or not that technique is something that supports coherent action. Finally, this text deals with the problem of time, and it does so allegorically. This is time that appears in its true temporality—that is, where past, present, and future act simultaneously—and not as in naive perception or those numerous philosophical theories where time has no structure but instead is viewed as a succession of instants flowing infinitely toward a “past” and a “future” without touching one another. The work presents lived time as a structure in which everything that has happened in my life acts simultaneously along with all that is taking place with me at the present moment and all that I imagine may happen to me as possibility, as “project,” in the more or less foreseeable future. Although that future presents itself to me as a “not yet,” it determines my present through the project that I launch toward it from my now, from my “at this moment.” The idea of time as structure and not as a simple succession of independent instants is an intuition that human beings have had since antiquity, though it has most often been expressed in the form of myths and legends. Thus, we read in your own Icelandic Poetic Edda in “The Seeress’s Prophecy”: I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasill, a high tree, soaked with shining loam; from there come the dews which fall in the valley, ever green, it stands over the well of fate.

From there come three girls, knowing a great deal, from the lake which stands under the tree; Fated one is called, Becoming another— they carved on wooden slips—Must-be the third; they set down laws, they chose lives, for the sons of men the fates of men. Thus, past, present, and future are not successions of instants, but structural determinants of situation. And so in The Internal Landscape we read the following, in which the rider speaks: “Strange encounters these, where the old man suffers for his short future, seeking refuge in his long past; the middle-aged man suffers for his present situation, seeking refuge in what has happened or what will happen, depending on whether he grasps before or behind him; and the youth suffers because his short past nips at his heels, spurring on his flight toward a long future. “And yet I recognize my own face in the faces of all three, and it seems to me that all human beings, whatever their age, can move through these times and see in them phantoms that do not exist. Or does that offense of my youth still exist today? Does my coming old age exist today? Does my death already dwell here today in this darkness? “All suffering steals in through memory, imagination, or perception. But it is thanks to these same three pathways that thoughts, affections, and human deeds exist. So it is that even while these pathways are necessary for life, if suffering contaminates them they also become channels of destruction.” The third work, “The Human Landscape,” dedicates its opening chapters to a clarification of the meaning of the ideas of landscape and the looks with which one gazes upon that landscape. It questions the way in which we look at the world and understand its established values. This work also examines the significance of one’s own body and the bodies of others, and it examines subjectivity and the curious phenomenon of the appropriation of the subjectivity of others. It is, further, a study (divided into chapters) of intention: intention in education, intention in the story that is told of History, intention in ideologies, intention in violence, in Law, in the State, and in Religion. It is not a work, as I have said, that is simply polemical; rather, it proposes new models in each area that it criticizes. The Human Landscape attempts to ground action in the world, reorienting meanings and interpretations regarding values and institutions that might seem to be “givens.” With respect to the concept of landscape, let me say that it is the cornerstone of our system of thought, as can be seen in other, more recent works such as “Psychology of the Image” and “Historiological Discussions” in Contributions to Thought. In the book we are concerned with today, the idea of landscape is more modestly explained, and within the context of a work with no pretensions to rigorous thought. So it is that the work The Human Landscape begins with the following: “External landscape is what we perceive of things, while internal landscape is what we sift from them through the sieve of our internal world. These landscapes are one and constitute our indissoluble vision of reality.” And who better to understand these ideas than you Icelanders? Although human beings are always to be found in a landscape, that does not mean that they are always aware of this. But the landscape becomes a living datum for people when the world in which they live presents itself in full contrast as a contradiction impossible to bear, as unstable equilibrium par excellence. The inhabitants of vast deserts or infinite plains have in common the experience that there, in the distance on the horizon, the earth merges with the skies so gradually, so subtly, that finally one cannot tell what is earth and what is sky… only empty continuity appears before the eyes. And there are other places where utmost ice clashes with utmost fire, glacier with volcano, island with sea that surrounds it; where water erupts furiously from the earth in geysers hurling skyward; where all is contrast, all is finitude, and the eye turns upward to the immobile stars, seeking repose. But then the very skies begin to move, the gods dance and change shape and color in gigantic aurora borealis. And the finite eye then turns back upon itself, generating dreams of harmonious worlds, eternal dreams—dreams that sing histories of worlds lost in hope of the world to come. And so I believe those places are landscapes where every inhabitant is a poet who may not recognize him or herself as such, every inhabitant a traveler who carries his or her vision to other places. That being the case, then in some measure and in some form all human beings have something of the Icelander about them, because their original landscape always imposes itself on their perceptual vision, because all of us see not only what is there before us, but our comparisons and even the discovery of the new are based on what we have already known. Thus, we are dreaming even as we gaze at things, and then later we take them as though they were reality itself. But the concept is even broader, since landscape is not only that which is natural, that which appears before our eyes; it is also that which is human, that which is social. Every person interprets other people from within his or her own biography, investing the other with more than what is perceived. That being the case, we never see in the reality of the other, what the other is in him or herself; rather, we have of the other a schema, an idea, an interpretation, that arises out of our own internal landscape. One’s internal landscape is superimposed on the external landscape, which is not only natural but also social and human. Clearly, over time that society continues to change, and the generations succeed one another, and when a generation’s time comes to act it does so trying to impose values and interpretations that have been formed in an earlier moment. This can go relatively well in periods of historical stability, but in times like the present, of tremendous dynamism and change, the gap between the generations widens alarmingly as the world changes before our very eyes. Toward what is our look to be directed? What must we learn to see? It is not surprising that in these times the idea of “turning to a new way of thinking” is becoming more popular. Today, one must think fast because things are moving faster all the time, and what we took as late as yesterday to be immutable reality we find is no longer so today. And so, friends, in today’s world we can no longer think from our landscape if this landscape does not become dynamic and universal, if it does not become valid for all human beings. We need to understand that the concepts of landscape and look can serve to help us advance toward that much-heralded “new way of thinking” demanded by this ever-accelerating process of planetarization, of converging diversity moving toward a universal human nation. To return to the third work, “The Human Landscape,” let me say that just as the themes of institutions, law, and the state are relevant in the formation of the human landscape, so are the reigning ideologies, the education that people receive, as well as their conception of the historical moment in which they live. This third work speaks of all those things, not simply in order to criticize their harmful aspects, but above all in order to propose a particular way of observing them, in order to help the look seek other objects, in order to learn to see in a new way. To conclude these comments, let me add that the three works that make up the body of Humanize the Earth are three moments arrayed in a sequence extending from the most profound interiority, the world of dreams and symbols, outward to the external and human landscapes. They are a journey, a shifting of the point of view, beginning from the most intimate and personal and concluding with an opening to the interpersonal, social, and historical world. Thank you very much.


The book was traslated into: Catalan, Dutch, English, finnish, hebrew, italian, portuguese, russian

Original edition

Editions in other languages