In Deborah Bird Rose’s most recent post, So Many Faces, on her website Life at the Edge of Extinction, Rose writes about the run-away levels of species loss due to land clearing practices that are still prevalent today. The hook that really drew me into Rose’s writing was her reference to Levinas’ idea that the ‘face’ awakens within us an ethical responsibility:
The great continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote of the ‘face’ as that which interrupts my self-absorption and calls me into ethical responsibility. There has been a lot of discussion in recent years as to whether the face means ‘a human face’. What about other animals? What about trees? What about understory? The definition of face that I find most inspiring treats it as a form of action. Here face is something one does rather than something one has: ‘facing is being confronted with, turned toward, facing up to, being judged and being called’.
The living world is filled with facings – to be alive is to live among faces, many of which are noisy and interruptive. This is good. This is life in the mode of ethics. At this time, this is also tough. There are so many facings, and often one feels so helpless.
I have written before about ‘seeing’ through feeling (liyan) and the process through which I have come to sense a communicable engagement with more-than-human entities. As well as a call to action (facing), the idea that the ‘face’ awakens a recognition with us humans that we have a responsibility to ‘others’ eludes to something very powerful; ‘face’ becomes a metaphor for deep recognition. But recognition of what? Ourselves? Oneness?
Rose introduces the most recent literary work of Australian science writer Tim Low, Where Songs Began: Australia’s Birds and How they Changed the World:
… DNA evidence is now showing beyond any doubt that Australia was the original home of songbirds. In Tim’s words, birdsong brought ‘a new dawn for planetary acoustics’.
This quote stirred within me remembrance of a conversation I had had with an Indigenous elder about lyrebirds. When I ask Uncle Max about the significance of these lyrical birds, his very first and most punctuated word was ONENESS. Through my dialogue with Uncle Max an understanding is unfolding about my attraction to lyrebirds and the role that they play in the perpetual process of co-creation. I have not yet had the opportunity to read Tim Low’s book, but I wonder if the lyrebird plays a role (from his ecological/historical perspective) in the ‘singing up’ of the world and is in fact a creator, not just a mimic. Perhaps the lyrebird, through its songs (if we choose to listen), can remind us of who we are and what we are connected to.