What Might Georgical Jubilism Be?

The word georgical derives from the same origin as other geo-prefixed words as well as agriculture: the Greek root γῆ (yeor, earth) and γεωργός  (yeorgos, earth-work / farming).  The Georgics of Virgil—a four-volume Latin poem published in the first years of the reign of Augustus Caesar (~29 B.C.E.) did not invent the poetic genre of this name, but it certainly defined and exemplified it through Western history.  It is a book dense with unfamiliar references, and unfortunately (in English) stripped of the cadence of its Latin verse—but if one can move beyond these barriers, then what one finds is a curious and delightful combination of genres, tied into one composition.  At times it is a how-to book and technical manual for various agricultural enterprises; at times a moral homily worthy of the pulpit; at times a book of praise of the landscape and natural history of Italy; at times a mythological quilt and a theurgical gesture to the gods (and to Caesar); perhaps most often it is a sustained physical and metaphysical evocation of various different natural systems and beings as they relate to the human body/soul through cultivation and husbandry.

The word jubilism has a dual root: from the Latin term jubilo (as in jubilate deo), meaning joy/rejoice; and from the Hebrew yovel (יובל), whose meaning is more elusive and multiplicitous.  Yovel refers perhaps principally to the horn of the male ram, which is carved into a sound-making instrument (like a shofar).  But it is also related to the roots for “produce/crop” (yevul, יבול) and “bring along/carry/flow” (hovil, הוביל), and it becomes metonymically linked to the fiftieth year of the land cycle in Israel (yovel, jubilee), marked by the blowing of this very horn, which is considered to be the culmination of seven “weeks” of seven years, each of which is punctuated by a sabbatical shmitah (שמיטה, from l’hashmit, to release/relinquish), in which all land is left fallow, all debts are released, all commerce in food is ceased, and all perennial growths on private farms are available to be harvested equally for personal use by all citizens of the nation.  This radical periodical relinquishment and reorientation is meant to reflect the seven days of the week, and the seven days of Creation—and therefore the divine plan for right relation to this world.  And the yovel (jubilee) year is the completion of the shmita system, bringing a second continuous year of relinquishment (after the 49th year), and an added dimension of 1) release of all human bondage, and 2) return to ancestral terrains.  The idea is a powerfully redemptive, even messianic one, especially when it is translated into the context of perennial / regenerative agriculture, which indeed does give rise to different forms of social/economic relation, which could perhaps some day withstand such a periodical release.  The “accident” of the Latin infusion of joy into the word is a felicitous one, since working in the light of this huge (but also hugely distant) aspirational frame is more healthy and productive (and convincing as a model) when married to an awareness of joyful and thankful return.

In our precarious moment, on the brink of ecological disaster, and on the edges of powerful landscape corruption, the call to re-connect to our most powerful roots in spirit and creation could not be more clear.  The medicine we need, and could potentially provide, is not only what can be concocted and prescribed from barks and roots but what could become corresponding vessels in higher symbolic domains.  This fellowship is an invitation to enter this arena, through the unique combination of forces available to us.  Just as plants endeavor to work with the modes of being and pathways of translation present in the ecological sevivah (surroundings) to arrive at strategies for dissemination, so too the history of art and science and cultivation of land and soul stand ready to be adapted and re-deployed, to enwrap redemptive seeds for our economy of attention, and for the economy of spirit at its root.

—Jorian Polis Schutz

 

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