Notes for the E-book Edition of On the Integration of Nature
When North Atlantic began making e-books out of its backlist, this was the title of mine that seemed most mysterious to me and whose context I could least place; it is also my one book that was translated into Russian and I had—still have—no idea why it was selected. So I was curious to proofread it in 2012 and refresh my memory as to what I wrote back in 2003-2005. After changing roles from writer to reader, here are my thoughts for future readers:
1. On the Integration of Nature reads best as a book of poems. Of course, it is prose not poems, but each piece is a self-contained conception, an independent act of discovery, with its own rhythm and ecology. Read conventionally as a collection of short essays, the individual pieces become tediously repetitive in theme and assertion, as if each is unaware of the existence of the others. However, as stand-alones, they mostly work. Their underlying genre is poetry not prose.
I suspect that these “biopolitical notes” are repetitive, in part, because the ideas I came to while writing them were so fresh and new and provocative to me then that I kept reformulating them in wonder. They no longer seem fresh and new, but that is only after a thorough exhuming.
2. This book serves as an axial bridge among my phases of writing. Most immediately it is a bridge between, on the far side, my two embryology books (Embryogenesis: Species, Gender, and Identity and Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life) and, on the near side, my later metaphysical writings (The Bardo of Waking Life, 2013: Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration, and Dark Pool of Light: Reality and Consciousness). My embryology tropes were initially conceived and composed during the mid-eighties and then reconceived and rewritten from mid-1996 through mid-2003. Subsequent texts rooted in “integration of nature” were written between 2005 and 2012. On the Integration of Nature is the link between them (2003-2005).
My Lucretius- and Pliny-like title for this book points to the fact that it transposes embryology from the layers of a gastrulating egg into a greater realm of natural philosophy and geopolitics. “Integration’s” opening themes are explicitly embryogenic, as its early sections pick up directly from an “Afterthought” that I added in blueline to the last two pages of Embryos, Galaxies…. That tack-on was, in truth, an early clue to a new direction I did not yet recognize.
9/11 took place during the writing of Embryos, Galaxies…, and that book’s seventh chapter (“The Wahhabi Critique of Darwinian Materialism: Religious Fundamentalism and the Global Economy”) breaks with my prior narrative thread to acknowledge and “honor” a historic crossroads and make its own course change in medias res. Nothing—at least nothing biopolitical—written after 9/11 sounds quite the same as anything written before it. For me this violent break in global consciousness in the middle of Embryos, Galaxies…is what becomes explicated in “the integration of nature,” giving it its subtitle. The books that follow then inhabit the universe that these “biopolitical notes” propose.
On the Integration of Nature is also the bridge between my earlier memoirs (New Moon and Out of Babylon: Ghosts of Grossinger’s) and my autobiographical writing that followed in various post-Integration books and essays, not only the above titles but “A Phenomenology of Panic,” The New York Mets: Myth, Ethnography, and Subtext, and various blogs on my 2009-debuting website, www.richardgrossinger.com. This is partly because while I was writing Integration… my brother Jon, a key figure in my personal story-telling, stabbed himself to death.
In a larger sense, On the Integration of Nature is a life bridge back to my earliest experimental prose—Solar Journal: Oecological Sections and Book of the Earth and Sky through the six-book Cranberry Island sequence that ends with The Windy Passage from Nostalgia and The Slag of Creation (as well as my unpublished writing under the rubric The Planet with Blue Skies). Published in something like fifteen different bindings, it was actually a continuous scroll broken artificially into books and forming a literary expedition from sophomore year at Amherst College (1964) till mid-1977 at which point I had been a professor at Goddard College in Vermont for five years.
As such, On the Integration of Nature arches over decades of expository writing that include multiple editions of Planet Medicine and The Night Sky as well as twin embryology books, to pick up where I left off before moving to California with an advance from Angela Cox at Doubleday Anchor in ’77 to write a history of alternative medicine. Her commission back then severed the scroll and got me out of academic life, while handing me a new agenda.
In Integration…I intentionally returned to my original experimental-prose format in order to rediscover and reinvent it. From there I proceeded in that genre through Bardo and 2013 before returning to expository writing in Dark Pool of Light.
3. On the Integration of Nature reads to me now like a coming to awareness of a whole new field of meaning and activity that took many subsequent books to sort and disclose. The “boil that somehow contained the entire cosmos” on its page 265 originates in The Slag of Creation on page 218 as “an absolutely external and verifiable point, that does not enter into the world’s activities…[whose] paradox is purely situational…not unknown, not unsolved, not that we are in need of more comprehensive procedure or better apparatus.” It became “a huge Cocoon on a branch that didn’t exist…dangling nowhere” by page 65 of 2013: “the forerunner of matter before the Big Bang…packed with unrevealed knowledge and percipience, spores of prior information.” It was then split open to pour from “the latency of a vast unknown” across the remainder of that book and three subsequent volumes of Dark Pool of Light.
In addition, the somewhat fanciful psychic exercises and acts of spontaneous transformation that I proposed throughout Integration I then trained as practices and offered as real exercises in 2013 and Dark Pool.
4. Another piece of Monday morning quarterbacking is that, if I had it to do over, I would leave John Holt out and save him for a website appearance (but I didn’t have a website in 2004). The long review of his work is too long, too detailed, and suffers from the hyperboles of a new enthusiast. Music is that way for many of us; we immerse ourselves in a particular sea of melodies and lyrics and lose sight of either shore. I still consider Reggae John Holt an undiscovered gem, but I would no longer make him the hybrid second coming of Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, Paul McCartney, and Bob Marley, nor lavish such hyperbole on each of his songs.
5. One more reconsideration: without being able to foresee what was to follow W. Bush (the Tea Party, a major economic downturn, and the right-wing shift of American politics), I viewed him during his first term as an anomaly, a boorish party-crasher. I now see him as a harbinger of things to come. But in a way I could not have imagined then, I credit him with at least artless sincerity and passion that contrast with the utter soul-lessness and cynicism of his Repug successors. Compared to them, he was a compassionate conservative.
In any case, I pounded too heavily and shrilly on what was in 2004 a public novelty. My subsequent writings have nuanced its condition more cautiously. My editor Kathy Glass was on target in 2005 when she warned: the politics in ntegration…would become quickly dated. They are too often re-bleated as is, but they are not “wrong.”
Overall, I read this book now as a complex atom that I have spent seven subsequent years trying to get inside of and emanate into detail and form. In that sense, it is indispensable to me.