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Butterflies
 
Albino Meadow Brown
 
Albino Small Copper. Bradford, W Yorks 1995 Albino  Meadow Brown. Thorne, S Yorks 1997

 

Perhaps the very title of this website may surprise and bewilder. What on earth can it mean and why put dialectics and butterflies together as surely they have nothing in common? Isn’t this merely pretentiousness worthy of some glib, media obsessed air head and installation artiste? The wording though was proposed by a friend in casual conversation - an eco plumber who, a few years previously, helping dig the tunnels, opposing the proposed Newbury by-pass near Oxford, made contact underground - mud in hand - with dissident minor officials employed by Yorkshire Water desperately trying to rescue the image of its water capitalisation (& distribution) after the catastrophic Yorkshire drought of 1995. Dislocation of role as consequence of calamity produced a fruitful chance encounter that would never have occurred in normal circumstances and our plumber friend went on to create various ingenious schemes to conserve water especially for St James Hospital, Leeds in the cardiac dept. In a sense this was negation and dialectical process leading to an action creating another imaginative intervention.

     One of us was in two minds about the website title ‘Dialectical Butterflies’...It was catchy and raised questions of individual identity and that even such a thing as a butterfly was part of a greater whole and interacting with that greater whole. Butterflies do not alter landscapes like Beavers do. That said theirs is not a strictly passive relationship either, and the ever deepening insights of ecology tends to show this is increasingly not the case. Aside from their obvious role as pollinators, they also serve as indicator species. And though it involves a paradigm shift, our response to their disappearance has an environmental and social impact even when we admit we seem powerless to do much about it.

     If you like on this website we’ve tried to put forward something of Hegel’s “dance of the categories". Inevitably too, we felt uneasy about the wording of the title as it recalled to mind one of the most notorious books in history, Engels’s ‘Dialectics of Nature’ though it is hardly Engel’s fault it became such, though as time passed, he did prepare the ground for its canonization by increasingly eliminating the subject from history. The ‘Dialectics of Nature’ is a philosophy of nature, and, like Hegel’s Logic, purports to be a ‘science of the sciences’ but fares rather worse because it is a universal materialist ontology, an objective dialectic without a subject. Reading Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Nature’ one is struck by the near absence of dialectic and triadic terms (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). He is certainly not forcing nature into the kind of a preconceived schema that Engels’s favours. Rather it is about the conquest of space by a being that is ideally equipped to do just that. Physical movement thus becomes an essential prerequisite of self determination. Once achieved the mind then develops through time i.e. history. We may chortle over the details but the ambitious sweep of the work and its overall conception still holds up after all these years.

    Engels’s book became the bible of the Soviet Union. Given the degree to which the natural sciences were fetishised in the Soviet Union it was hardly surprising it did become holy writ, carved in Moscow stone rather than printed on paper. Teams of philosophers were employed by the state to ensure that the facts could always be made to fit the theory, even if it did mean squashing them out of all recognition. And when quantum physics hit the air waves and the bookstalls from the late 20s onwards wave/particle dualities had to be pressed in to a continuous/discontinuous objective dialectic. However this perverse, state-directed, intellectualism, driven more by fear than a thirst for knowledge, this tireless search for the godhead of dialectical materialism, was a massive diversionary tactic. As H Lefebrve said, ‘What was really at stake was no longer in the forefront of people’s minds, which had been led as far as possible into the depths of nature and cosmological speculation’. The great terror was about to be unleashed and ‘communists’ were to be sent to Spain, not to fight fascism, but to kill anarchists.

     What follows is local and global moving from acute daily observation of Lepidoptera to broader generalisations and back again. Local in the sense Dialectical Butterflies is largely focussed on South and West Yorkshire (the latter in particular) covering the foothills of the Pennines. Here amazing but frightening phenomena are taking place at an astounding pace, although to be fair perhaps only a tad more than elsewhere in the UK - if one can even be so bold as to say that! The cold winters of an immediate yesteryear are gone (for how long one may wonder) and these uplands have become a geographic arena for all kinds of species invasion and/or expansion. This, then, is observation and theory where a certain emphasis has been placed on an accurate environmental, photographic record playing its part and set against the lie that has now become the essence of most contemporary, digitised photography. Global in the sense the changing face of butterflies (& moths) must be placed in a wider context. A passionate and detached study of a particular field of natural history and science can no longer within its own paradigms - as in the past - reveal much of the truth. Studying Lepidoptera is no exception. Such research must inevitably link up with other concerns forcibly impressing upon the simplest observations: ubiquitous Barrett’s type urbanism, urbanism, chemical & emission pollution, extreme weather more than ever conditioned by an ultra-commoditisation and an increasingly imperious law of value. The list is seemingly endless.

      Dialectics today are dormant rather than dead, though they may never re-awaken from their present day rip van winkle of a sleep. And interestingly cosmological speculation plays a similar role today, that of a diversion from the real problems. Only this time it is not natural dialectics but relativistic cosmology and quantum mechanics (e.g. cyberspace and the very computer I am using to type this). The exotic possibilities of space/time providing an illusory escape from an all but ruined planet earth, is central to ‘Our Final Century’ by Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal. Haldane was spot on when he wrote in the 1930s, ‘my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose’. That this very queerness would one day be used as able to provide an exit from the humdrum and terrible destruction, was something that had to await our times. It gathered strength from the late seventies onwards, as all hope of changing the world faded.

      The need to revive dialectical thought is more pressing than ever. And it was for this reason that we came around to accepting the title, to seeing there was a beauty and a succinctness to it, that said more about butterflies than observation ever could. To amend the words of C L R James, ‘What knows he of butterflies who only butterflies knows’.

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(Seeing this is merely a short introduction we would suggest a visit to the page: Butterflies and Political Economy for further explanation).

Horbury

 

Brown Argus

 

Brock Maris

Grayling (Horbury 2003) Yorkshire Brown Argus (Dinnington 2004 Ab: mariscolare - The Blue Female
(Brockadale 2001)