Kuidas jääda ellu? Jaan Kaplinskiga antropotseenis / How Are We to Survive? With Jaan Kaplinski in the Anthropocene


  • Marek Tamm Tallinna Ülikool, Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia / Tallinn University, Estonian Academy of Sciences




Jaan Kaplinski, antropotseen, ökoloogia, holism, keskkonnakriis, loodus, looduslik mitmekesisus, Anthropocene, ecology, holism, environmental crisis, nature, natural diversity


Jaan Kaplinski kireva loomingu kese on ökoloogiline mõtlemine. Nii tema luule, proosa, esseistika kui ka laiemalt eluhoiak põhineb dünaamilise tasakaalu otsimisel inimese ja looduse vahel. Põhiküsimus, millega ta oma loometöös tegeleb, on küsimus elu järele – kuidas elu mõista, kuidas tagada elu mitmekesisus ja jätkumine ning kuidas saavutada mõtestatud elu. Artikkel esitab visandi Kaplinski ökoloogilisest mõtlemisest, tuginedes peamiselt tema esseedele. Fookuses on küsimus, mida on Kaplinskil öelda meile praegu, keset süvenevat keskkonnakriisi: mida me saame õppida tema tekstidest eluks – ellujäämiseks – antropotseenis.


Ecological thinking lies at the core of Jaan Kaplinski’s (1941–2021) diverse catalogue. His poetry, prose and essays were grounded in the quest to achieve a dynamic balance between humans and nature. Life was Kaplinski’s primary focus: how it can be understood, how to ensure its continuity, and how to attain a meaningful existence.

Today, Kaplinski’s ecological writing has acquired new relevance. An ever-keener awareness of human responsibility for the environmental crisis, the declaration of a new geological era (the Anthropocene), and a re-evaluation of the relationship between nature and culture give us an opportunity to read Kaplinski from a fresh perspective.

Kaplinski’s ecological worldview essentially boils down to three principles.

The first of these is holism. As Kaplinski saw it, life forms a complete network in which everything is interconnected and interdependent. The clearest expression of this belief appeared in his 2000 travelogue Spring on Two Coasts, or A Sentimental Journey to America: “In fact, Life on Earth is not a chain, but a web, a network. If a knot or an eyelet breaks then it is still a web, albeit broken. Earth’s biosphere is currently a broken web, one so vital to us all. It is broken, but still working.” (Kaplinski 2000, 25)

Secondly, there is the principle of anti-economism. Life cannot be subjected to economic thinking, which tends to view people as creators of value, and thus believe that more work equals more value. Economic thinking leads to environmental destruction and devastation. Ecology is uneconomic. Kaplinski wrote his main essay on this topic,  titled: “Ecology and Economy”, in 1972.

Thirdly, there is the principle of pluralism. In much of his writing, Kaplinski emphasised that reducing nature’s diversity weakens its self-regulating mechanisms. As a member of a tiny nation, he expressed equal appreciation for natural and cultural diversity, writing in 1972: “The biosphere is very strange and our cautious existence in it can be summarised with the slogan ‘reverence for information’. For not one genotype, community, language, or culture can be restored if they should disappear.” (Kaplinski [1972] 1996, 71)

Kaplinski’s perception of today’s global ecological situation was highly pessimistic. The preservation of natural diversity was one of his greatest concerns, as he was convinced that humankind is taking more from the environment than can be restored through its renewal. Humanity has become a force of natural destruction, which simultaneously means self-destruction.

Pessimistic diagnoses of the state of the world are abundant, to say the least. However, the value of Kaplinski’s writing for the modern readerfirst and foremost lies in his proposals for how to emerge from the crisis. In the interests of symmetry, one can select three items from his extensive catalogue.

Firstly, a shift in thinking and in imagination is required. According to Kaplinski, improving the ecological situation starts with a change in thought, by replacing economic thinking with ecological thinking. Life-endangering dreams must be replaced with ones that can cause no harm: “There are two possible courses of action: either we slow the economic engine, refrain from accelerating, and leave most of our dreams unfulfilled, or we change the dreams themselves and dream only of what isn’t dangerous to achieve.” (Kaplinski [1972] 1996, 69)

Secondly, the new self-regulation of mankind is mentioned. Kaplinski believes that it is possible to alter the relationships between humans and nature by consciously adjusting our behaviour. In his 1973 essay “Thoughts on Ecosystems and Human Culture”, he suggested that the history of human development seems to prove that we once possessed an ability to self-regulate, similar to that of other species: “If the stability of the ecosystem hinges greatly upon human activity, then man has, in principle, the opportunity to preserve or even restore stability by steering that ecosystem via his own actions. Man can govern nature by governing himself.” (Kaplinski [1973] 2004, 54)

Thirdly, and most importantly, humankind as a whole can learn how to think ecologically and consciously regulate our behaviour based on the experiences of peoples that exist within nature. Kaplinski’s ecological worldview has strong roots in anthropology and one of his primary long-term interests was searching for ties between religion and ecological thinking. In sum, Kaplinski’s message to today’s world is this: humanity’s sole chance to survive in the Anthropocene is to learn to consider all living beings as an interconnected web, to exist in a way that disturbs as few other living beings as possible, and to seek an optimal balance between our needs and the environment’s possibilities. This will require a tremendous revolution of human thought; a cultural shift that places our attitude towards nature on new foundations that lie beyond simplistic contrasts such as culture vs. nature and humans vs. animals.


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Author Biography

Marek Tamm, Tallinna Ülikool, Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia / Tallinn University, Estonian Academy of Sciences

Marek Tamm – PhD, Tallinna Ülikooli humanitaarteaduste instituudi kultuuriajaloo professor, Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia kultuuriajaloo akadeemik, Tallinna Ülikooli kultuuridevaheliste uuringute tippkeskuse juhataja. Ajakirja Acta Historica Tallinnensia peatoimetaja, ajakirjade Journal of the Philosophy of History, Revue d’Histoire Nordique ja Vikerkaar toimetaja. Peamised uurimisteemad on keskaja Euroopa kultuuriajalugu, ajalookirjutuse teooria ja ajalugu, kultuurimälu uuringud ja digiajalugu. Praegu juhib Eesti Teadusagentuuri grandiprojekti „Digitaalne Liivimaa: keskaja Liivimaa digiajalooline analüüs“ (PRG1276). Viimased olulisemad publikatsioonid: „The Companion to Juri Lotman: A Semiotic Theory of Culture“ (toim. koos Peeter Toropiga, Bloomsbury, 2022); „A Cultural History of Memory in the Early Modern Age“ (toim. koos Alessandro Arcangeliga, Bloomsbury, 2020); „Making Livonia: Actors and Networks of the Medieval and Early Modern Baltic Sea Region“ (toim. koos Anu Männiga, Routledge, 2020).


Marek Tamm – PhD, Professor of Cultural History at the School of Humanities, Tallinn University, member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences and Head of Tallinn University Centre of Excellence in Intercultural Studies. Editor-in-chief of Acta Historica Tallinnensia, editor of the Journal of the Philosophy of History, Revue d’Histoire Nordique and Vikerkaar. His primary research fields are cultural history of medieval Europe, theory and history of historiography, cultural memory studies, and digital history. Currently he leads a research project funded by the Estonian Research Council, “Digital Livonia: For a Digitally Enhanced Study of Medieval Livonia (c. 1200-1550)” (PRG1276). His recent publications include The Companion to Juri Lotman: A Semiotic Theory of Culture (co-edited with Peeter Torop, Bloomsbury, 2022), A Cultural History of Memory in the Early Modern Age (with Alessandro Arcangeli, Bloomsbury, 2020), and Making Livonia: Actors and Networks of the Medieval and Early Modern Baltic Sea Region (with Anu Mänd, Routledge, 2020).