»And God blessed them, and God said to them, Bring forth fruit, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heaven, and over every beast that moveth upon the earth« (The first book of Moses).
THE SEARCH OF PARADISE
The word »paradise« origins from the Zoroastrian idea of the closed garden, pairidaeza. It is composed of two Persian words: pairi (eng.: around) and diz (eng.: to melt or to shape), which indicate the ability of paradise to deform itself, on its tendency to constant changing and re-imagining. It highlights its potential of strict hierarchy with all the limits and closings that include and exclude (Deckard 2010). So paradise, etymological speaking, differs itself from Eden, which is a Hebrew notion for delight and pleasure, although those two terms will later combine and will represent future heaven, the holy city of Jerusalem, Champs Elysees, …
From its beginning as enclosed garden, hortus conclusus, paradise had experienced constant religious transformations and secular mutations. It had been located in Asia, and then in America, and also in Africa. It had meant garden of love and a labyrinth of passion. It had been a land of cocaine, a colony. Later it has become a tourist attraction, pharmacology hallucinations …
Still today some of Mediterranean isles suffer because of neverending desire to accomplish perfect picture of paradise. Abundant with forests, they have become models on which they tried to create a perfect image of mystical Sacred Isle. Once these places were spoiled by the establishment of cities and towns, the retrospective nostalgia and anxiety of conquerors had persuaded the people that paradise they were looking for is somewhere in the west where endless sea spreads. But the mystical landscapes weren’t only set up in the west. Especially after conquests of Aleksandar the Great when trade routes between Europe and Asia were forever set.
In the sixth century, before Christ was born, as a respond to the Babylonian captivity, paradise had, influenced by Persian culture, moved, in Hebrew imagining, from the nebulous reality to somewhere out of space and time, representing the garden of delights and award for all obedient believers. In the Middle Ages, both of paradises started to exist: heavenly, which remained out of space and time, and the one present on the Earth. The Earthly paradise represented inaccessible promised lands (Deckard 2010).
America had been, before the arrival of Europeans, developing quite independently from the rest of the world. When first conquistadors had arrived they found all sorts of social life: from the primitive hunters and gatherers to a gigantic, urban, rich, class societies. But the arrival of Europeans changed it all. They have drastically changed the ecology of the continent. Before Columbus set his foot on the new land, a primary source of food for most of the people was agriculture. They didn’t know about steel, they only used wooden tools. There had been more than 40 cultivated crops: corn, potato, tomato, peanuts, tobacco, … Besides the agriculture, hunting played a significant role in the life of native Americans. Not only because of the meat, but also because of products they were able to make out of a dead animal. In less than a century after Columbus arrived, there were around 118.000 colonists fighting for a piece of their paradise. Soon they dominated over the Southern and Central America. Besides complete deformation and transformation, they did on a landscape, colonialists also caused a demographic catastrophe. People of America have never experienced diseases that Europeans had brought with themselves, therefore his bodies didn’t have any defense mechanism developed. Consequently, a vast majority of them was helpless in a fight against smallpox epidemic which took place in the year of 1531, and against typhoid which spread among people in 1564 and 1567. Diseases were fatal for three-quarters of the population. That was a huge disappointment for Spaniards who were looking forward in enslaving them – they were left with no other choice but to eventually import slaves from Africa.
The same way they took over the people, they did with nature. Although Columbus was dreaming of gold, he returned home with a jar of sugar. And he was surprised by the reaction. In Europe, sugar was so valued, that soon, they had to transform certain regions of Southern America in huge plantations of sugar cane. It meant a conscious converting of land due to European interest (Empson 2014).
Corps, wars, diseases, the irreversible transformation of the environment, extermination, deforestation, the plundering of the earth and its resources – all this, for the sake of those who came in the name of God, seeking for paradise (Deckard 2010).
BIRTH OF THE CONSUMERS’ PARADISE
As the money that was earned by selling other people’s fortune was constantly pouring in the cult of extravagance gradually started to take place. Paradise was more and more defined in secular terms of exceptionality and luxury. Consumer paradise which can be reached through the accumulation of money and social status was born. The pleasure of Eden wasn’t anymore just some feature of life after death or a comfort available only to aristocracy and settlers. With the arrival of Renaissance ever increasing middle-class could participate heaven on the Earth. Transformation of imaginary paradise that was placed somewhere far away back to the state and home happened about the same period in which the last heavenly places were discovered (and plundered) (Deckard 2010). People started to realize that their invasion to glorious lands had robbed these angelic places of their charm. It destroyed a mind of “innocent” indigenous people. That enhanced an image that Europeans have had about non-European people. They have thought about them as noble savages in South Pacific and so created a picture of the new paradise of erotic primitivism. And as Orient ceased to represent any military or economic threat mentioned imagination was carried to those places also. Men were allowed freely to dream of the sensual exotic land of harems and seraglios. Religious model of paradise had converted itself into men’s sexual perversion. After the acquisition and devastation of endemic places, Europeans started to create their own heavens in their own homes. The French revolution had just encouraged the process under the eschatological slogan: “the old, corrupted order, shall be cleared with violence, and a new era will be born. The era that will bring a secular heaven on the Eart”. (Deckard 2010).
“The Angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from a Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the Angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future from which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him goes skyward. This storm is what we call progress” (Walter in Deckard 2010).
The storm from the paradise, that prevents angel from coming back, indicates that myths of paradise interfere with the reconstruction and that partially are responsible for historical nightmares. Loss of ability to obtain what has been destroyed contains a myth of progress, an illusion of capitalists power to restore ruined. Blind faith in that myth, however, block any other way of changing the world (Deckard 2010).
There was and still is a constant raping of our minds with something that can not be reached, with something we must yearn for. Once upon a time, they desired for untouched nature which represented to them the landscaped of heavens. They lust for exotic women and men, whose figures arouse in our fantasies … Our effort to reach heavens remain, it just changed shape. Likewise, the devastation of the environment continues as we search for our paradise.
- Deckard, S. (2010). Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization. Exploiting Eden. New York.
- Epson, M (2014). Land and Labour: Marxism, Ecology, and Human History. London