Nothing to Fear Here
In the eighth lunar month of 1868, amid the collapse of the Tokugawa samu-
rai government— even as civil war raged in the North— a pamphlet ap-
peared in Edo (modern- day Tokyo) assuring its readers that Benjamin
Franklin had made them safer: “In the past, devoid as it was of scientists
(shikisha), it was endlessly repeated that lightning was the scolding of an
angry god, an object of awe, something to be feared. But ever since a man
named Franklin came into the world there is no one who would explain
lightning this way. He has even built the device by which this disaster may
be avoided— people’s joy is truly boundless.” So begins Tenpen chii (The
Extraordinary Workings of Heaven and Earth), by Obata Tokujirō (1842–
1905). An eleven- page work divided into eight chapters, Tenpen chii was
dedicated to “subdu[ing] the strange (ki o osaeri), . . . showing that neither
does Heaven act strangely nor Earth go mad.” One by one Obata attacks the
introduction
Questions like Where is nature? or What is nature? have long lost any
residual probity or innocence they may have had (or pretended to). . . . Th e point
here is not that nature has become cultural; one might as well argue that culture
has become feral. . . . Rather, the point is that nature has become po liti cal.
—Peter van Wyck, Signs of Danger
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