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The Weird Reality of Christmas Trees

Updated: Mar 18, 2019

by Julian Langer

"Christmas trees are Man-as-God triumphing over nature..."

No One Likes a Grinch

When I first started thinking about what to write for this collection on “Farewell Earth”, I was sat on a bus, feeling mildly disgusted by the Christmas lights that are currently hanging in the spaces between the shops and streets. Sure, they’re pretty and I know no one likes a Grinch - not really true, though that is what they say - but given the situation we are in, giant trees hanging 15ft in the air, made out of more tiny lights than were ever necessary, just seems insincere.

But that’s Christmas isn’t it? Insincerity is all around us … or is that joy ? Honestly I don’t know at this point. A pagan festival adopted by those who sought to eradicate paganism and earth-centred-philosophy. Sure, we romanticise the Christmas tree and the snow, but all of that wildness appears only as the background to all that it really values - the rise of Christendom-as-civilisation.

Whether it is found in the corner of the main room of the house or is hanging above a high street, a Christmas tree signifies Man-kind tearing what is wild from the earth it once was a part of. This is Man-as-God triumphing over “nature”, as civilisation Being-in/Being-as the winter, rather than merely surviving it.

The tradition of Christmas trees, whilst having historical roots in pagan practices that were co-opted by Christendom, owes it’s origins to 19th century nobility. During the heights of European colonialism and the Industrial Revolution (the early years – it hasn’t really “finished”), the tree became an image of (European-colonialist and industrialist) Man-kinds triumph over the cold of winter/nature. Christmas trees function as propaganda for the ideology of meliorist progress – an ideology which very much totalises the space we now live in, as it is one that is entirely totalitarian.

As progress over winter, as Being-not-in/as has distanced us perceptually and bodily from “nature”, the image of the living-world looms ominously in the background, like a spectre whose physicality is being repressed and denied. Equally, nature looms over us in the background, as climate change and depleting “resources” threaten all potential “futures”.

There are those who preach hope and shiny optimism, like Christmas trees hanging above us all. But winter is coming( and winter is here). No matter how many walls get built!

The world of politics – the affairs of the city/urbanism/agrarianism – is one of building walls, in order to form bounded spaces of exteriors and interiors.

Winter is Coming

Tyrion Lannister stated in A Song of Ice and Fire “[w]hy is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?” The answer of course is obvious: walls either keep out the death (that is life), which is the wild freedom we feel instinctually drawn to in moments of authentic desire.

This is called death-drive by Freud, will-to-power by Nietzsche and Being-toward-death by Heidegger. Walls are build to preserve cities, which keep life and death at as far a distance as possible.

In Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, a great wall keeps the land of Westeros (white European-style civilisation) “safe” from the “wildlings” (non-urbanised communities); the monsters that live behind it (non-domesticated animals, giants and other “magical” creatures) and winter (the shit-fuck-ton load of snow behind that wall).

Meanwhile the Westerosi butcher each other, in the name of various political families, all grasping for authority. Then an undead Night King, commanding an undead army, destroys the wall with his undead Ice Dragon’s ice blast-breath, unleashing winter upon Westeros.

The Night King is a being created by the children of the forest, known as woh dak nag gram by giants, as an attempt to stop Man-kind from deforesting sacred trees. They inhabit clan-based tribal communities, living gender-equal lives as hunters, with no written language – no symbolic-culture. Their extinction arrives shortly before winter comes.

The Night King and his coming to Westeros, while denied by most of those still playing the game-of-thrones, brings an intensified darkness to the threat winter poses. He renders a sense of defiant-hopelessness in those who know of his coming.

Those characters within the narrative who have only lived through the years of summer are those who will face the long winter years, the Night King and all that entails. They will have to learn what has been forgotten of the world of the woh dak nag gram and that Man-kind embraces the power of dragons and their mothers.

Farewell Earth

The parallels with climate change and political narratives within contemporary discourses are obvious. But there is an obvious insincerity in this parallel. Its creators are intending to teach us that saviours hold the means of providing salvation – especially if that is through the lineage of kings and queens.

Both Christmas trees and Song of Fire and Ice/Game of Thrones, highlight the way in which, generally, winter is conceptualised through art and perceived throughout our culture. Winter as either cold, harsh and unforgiving; or as a beautiful, magical signifier for communal spirit – where Man-kind has overcome the wild. In The Day After Tomorrow the beauty of the ice and snow of the polar caps, studied by scores of researchers, is contrasted with the freeze of “global cooling” and the events preceding from this spectacle.

There is much value in these conceptualisations. The personal enjoyment of the simple beauty of the ice, cold, wind and rain which winter brings, is something I take immense enjoyment out of. I know that many others within the space of de-domesticating feral life do as well. Equally the horror and fear of winter expends valuable psychic-energy.

There is another aspect of winter that is less explored. Between the beauty and the horror - around, inside and outside of those qualities - winter poses a quality of weirdness often missed within artistic representations.

Think of the confusion, for instance, that heavy snow causes, as people try to go about their normal day-to-day lives. Think of how something as familiar as walking becomes a near alien activity on ice. Winter transforms the landscapes we are used to into strange places, where we are no longer able to move around as usual.

Weird Realism

Winter highlights how little control society really has in the world; how wild-Being will flow regardless of our attempts to assert authority over the living earth; and how fragile the systems that maintain every-day normal life really are. As we shiver with the cold, the bare-nakedness of our being manifests uncannily strange-but-familiar.

Timothy Morton in Dark Ecology, calls this a type of weird realism. This weird-realism can be summed up as “I’m aware that there is some sort of external Real, that I intuitively sense is beyond my “me”, but I only encounter the experience of this Real as something that is Uncanny (strange-but-familiar)”.

Despite its worrying stench of 'truth providence', weird realism interests me. To paraphrase Giles Deleuze, concepts are bricks to smash through the windows of shops covered in Christmas decorations: symbolic theatres to a very normal-reality. Weird realism has the potential to inspire a form of radical aesthetics which breaks through these windows.

As winter covers the earth, we will have to wait and see what art manifests out of the weirdness of this space. If art is a process of signifying our Being-there, Being-in and Being-as, weird realism seem inevitable to me, as Being-in-the-world becomes Being-in-winter. I cannot claim to know what that process will create, but I hope that an emergence of dark ecology in our culture will reignite the activities of dadaist and surrealist anarchy. As the earth melts away, radical psychic warfare of this kind is becoming ever more necessary.

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