Posts Tagged ‘Frank Herbert’

Book Review: Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience

July 10, 2016

Ecofascism Pic

By Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier (Edinburgh: AK Press 1995).

Biehl and Staudenmaier are two activists in left-wing, Green and Anarchist politics in Germany, while Staudenmaier has also been active in the US. The Green movement generally is the product of the 1960s ‘hippy’ counterculture, and its experiments to create a more peaceful, egalitarian society in harmony with the earth and the natural world. The ecological movement was launched by a congress of scientists, concerned at the damage to the natural world by pollution, in Rome in the early 1970s. Among the most influential works that launched the movement is Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring, of 1962. Apart from its immense political influence, it also influenced SF literature in Frank Herbert’s massive Dune series of books, based around the desert planet Arakis, its sandworms, and the consciousness expanding spice they produce, which allows human to traverse the galaxy.

Germany was the country where the Green movement first became a formidable political force. Like Green parties and movements everywhere, German Greens were largely left-wing anti-authoritarians. I think the leader of the German Green party at one point was the Baader-Meinhof gang’s former lawyer. Back in the 1980s I wrote to the German Greens asking for information about them, and they kindly sent me an English language version of their manifesto. It’s cover showed that piccie from Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, in which the great clown is crushed between two massive cog wheels. I can’t remember much about it, but as well as creating a more ecological aware and sensitive society, the party was also concerned to free people from being crushed by modern industrial society.

It was most definitely not Fascist stuff. But Fascists in Germany have been determined to appropriate it to gain electoral support. After Rudolf Hess died in the 1980s, for example, there was a Neo-Nazi rally, including outlaw bikers, outside his former home. They read out their noxious manifesto, which included their promises to find alternative forms of energy and properly conserve the environment. Noble ideals polluted by being adopted by such a politically vile group. It was combat this that Biehl and Staudenmaier wrote their book.

The book is actually written in two parts. The first, by Staudenmaier, is entitled ‘Fascist Ideology: The “Green Wing” of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents’. The second, by Biehl, is ‘”Ecology” and the Modernization of Fascism in the German Ultra-Right’. Staudenmaier in his piece traces the emergence of a peculiar, Volkisch, German racist ecological consciousness. This arose in the 19th century as part of the Blut und Boden, ‘Blood and Soil’ ideology, that became an intrinsic component of Nazism. Peoples were formed, both physically, mentally and spiritually, so volkisch ideologues argued, by their environment. And so German nationalists argued passionately for the conservation of their country’s landscape and its natural beauty. It’s quite a shock to read of how these writers combined ideas that at other times and places were highly progressive – concern for the natural world, and the respect and dignity of indigenous first nations, with virulent nationalism, and particularly anti-Semitism. This concern for the German environment continued into the Third Reich. The Nazi dictatorship set up a series of writers and officials, whose duty it was to minimise the damage produced through the Nazi state’s construction of vast industrial complexes and the autobahns. Care was taken to make sure these were specially sited and built to respect the landscape around them.

Biehl’s piece also discusses the emergence of mystic volkisch racial essentialism in the 1920s, and its rejection of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, including democracy, as enslaving and hostile to the fundamental German national character. She then describes the various neo-Nazi groups, organisations, and businesses that have tried to present themselves as ecological aware and active. These include the National Revolutionaries, Freedom German Workers’ Party, the Republicans – founded by a former SS squaddie, Franz Schonhuber – the National Democrats and the German People’s Union. Organisations with a rightist political orientation include the World League for the Protection of Life, and the former East German dissident Communist, Rudolf Bahro. Bahro was originally a Marxist thinker, who was persecuted by the East German state for his ideas. Since then, he became increasing occupied with Green issues and moved towards the extreme Right. Biehl describes an exchange between him and the veteran American Anarchist, Murray Bookchin, at a Green conference in Germany. Bookchin was one of the creators of post-scarcity Anarchism in the 1960s, an Anarchism adapted to the changed circumstances of the modern ‘affluent society’. He was also deeply concerned with the environment. At the conference, Bahro declared that ‘we need a Green Adolf!’, which rightly annoyed Bookchin. If I remember correctly, it drew a deeply critical response from Bookchin. I doubt if he was the only one disgusted by the comment.

In her conclusion, ‘A Social Ecology of Freedom’, Biehl notes how these developments were not limited just to Germany. Nick Griffin was also trying to present the National Front as being ecological aware, proclaiming ‘Racial preservation is Green’, and similar sentiments have been made in the US by White supremacists and racists there.

She writes

A love of the natural world and alienation from modern society are in themselves innocent and legitimate ideas, and it was by no means a historical necessity that they be permutated into a justification for mass murder. Nor is ‘ecology’ limited an interpretation as a social Darwinist racial jungle, or politicized along tribal, regional and nationalist lines. Nor is ‘ecology’ inherently an antirational, mystical concept. Finally, the ecology crisis can hardly be dismissed; it is itself very real and is worsening rapidly. Indeed, the politicization of ecology is not only desirable but necessary. (p.64).

And

‘Ecological’ fascism is a cynical but potentially politically effective attempt to mystically link genuine concern for present-day environmental problems with time-honored fears of the ‘outsider’ or the ‘new’, indeed the best elements of the Enlightenment, through ecological verbiage. Authoritarian mystifications need not be the fate of today’s ecology movement, as social ecology demonstrates. But they could become its fate if ecomystics, ecoprimitivists, misanthropes, antirationalists have their way. (pp.65-6).

The American Right has also bitterly attacked environmentalism and Green politics, deliberately linking them to the environmentally engated parts of the Nazi programme during the Third Reich. As this book shows, genuine Green activists like Biehl and Staudenmaier are well aware of the Nazis and their legacy, and actively reject those, who would attempt to appropriate ecological awareness in order to promote racism and tyranny.

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Giger’s Dune Sandworm

July 19, 2015

I found this extremely cool concept painting of a Dune sandworm by H.-R. Giger over at the 70s Scifi Art tumblr page.

Giger Dune Sandworm

Giger, who died last year, is best known for his work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, and for designing the creature, ‘Sil’, for Species. He was, however, one of the concept artist, along with Chris Foss and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, who worked on the designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film version of Dune in the 1970s. That never got made, as the film’s backers dropped it at the last minute. Jodorowsky himself and his co-workers have said it’s because, in Hollywood the producers want to be far more involved than simply just putting up the money for the film. They backed out simply because they didn’t know who Jodorowsky was, or quite understand what he was doing.

The other reason was probably the sheer cost of the film itself. Jodorowsky himself has said that he hired Salvador Dali the play the Galactic Emperor (!). Dali demanded a million dollars, and stated that he would only play the Emperor for half an hour. Astonishingly, Jodorowsky agreed, and the contract was duly signed. Standing in for Dali in the rest of the movie would be a robot.

Giger’s own designs for Dune have been published, and are on-line, as are Foss’. His plans for the Baron’s spacecraft, the Galactic Emperor and his palace, and for spice freighters and attacking pirate ships have been published in the album of his work, 21st Century Foss, by Paper Tiger.

After Jodorowsky’s version collapsed, Ridley Scott was hired about a decade or so later to make the 1980’s version. It’s for his, later version of the film that Giger made the above design for the worm. Unfortunately, Scott’s brother died, causing him to abandon the project. As a result, it was then passed on to David Lynch.

Lynch’s film has been critically panned, and the received opinion of it is negative. It’s widely held to be a notoriously bad movie. I have to say that I like it, and I think it’s actually a good film. It’s main problem is that it tries to compress Herbert’s lengthy and complex novel into a single movie. It really needs to be split into about three, as the Dune 2000 miniseries did, and Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Even as it is, I think Lynch’s version still holds up and is massively underappreciated.

As for Scott, he went on to make Bladerunner, which is now justly recognised as one of the great SF film classics. And despite the failure of Jodorowsky’s film version, Jodorowsky and Moebius managed to use the material they had produced for it in their SF comics. The film’s look and concept designs are even credited with influencing later, successful SF movies like Bladerunner and Alien.

Two years ago a documentary on the making of Jodorowsky’s Dune came out. I’ve looked for it on the shelves in HMV and elsewhere, but I’m afraid I haven’t been able to find it this side of the Atlantic on DVD. It is, however, on the net.

Here’s the trailer:

jodorowsky states that he wanted to produce the effect of taking LSD without having people take the drug. Looking at the designs created for the movie by Giger, Moebius and Foss, and Jodorowsky’s own, unique take on the material, it would have been an awesome and truly mind-blowing experience.

Which is what good SF does. C.S. Lewis, the fantasy novelist and Christian apologist, was a strong fan of Science Fiction at a time when it was regarded, in the words of Brian Aldiss, as ‘worse than pornography’ by the literary elite. He wrote three SF books himself, strongly informed by his own Christian convictions: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra/ Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength. He declared that ‘Science Fiction is the only true mind-expanding drug’.

He’s absolutely right, and it’s a tragedy that too many people have got ensnared by chemicals, rather than picking up a good paperback.

Dune: Towards the Still Suit

July 21, 2013

One of the most fascinating pieces in Frank Herbert’s SF epic, Dune, is the still suit. This is a suit composed of semi-permeable membranes that takes the body’s sweat and purifies it, supplying the wearer with drinking water. Thus clothed, he or she can survive weeks out in the dry wastes of the desert planet. It came closer to reality yesterday, when Swedish scientists created a device that can turn sweat from clothes into drinking water. The device spins the clothes to release the sweat, which it then filters, distils and purifies. The BBC’s report into it can be read here

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23360907

The machine was produced to provoke public awareness of the importance of drinking water in the developing world. It’s makers state that it will never be put into production, as there are better ways of purifying water, such as water purification pills. Nevertheless, if the purification process used could be combined with a type of garment permeated with channels to hold and circulate water, something like Dune’s stillsuit would be produced. Astronauts already where something similar in their water-cooled undergarment, which regulates their temperature during space walks. And if a stillsuit could be produced affordably, it would allow greater human exploration and exploitation of Earth’s deserts, like the Sahara, Namibian and Gobi.

Spacesuit

Astronaut’s watercooled undersuit

Source: Michael Freeman, Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979)

With that technology, we could be a small step closer to the time, when no-one should die for lack of water.