The opposition of nature and culture is one traditionally of that which cannot be changed and that which can be changed. Thus, nature is natural in that it is the normal state of things and culture is constructed, actively passively or (false) consciously and can through human means be changed. Obviously, it is not as simple as this though as those worlds themselves are but in a mystified hierarchy of divine nature and base, human culture. Thus, the words and our interaction with them start us out on a path that sees the resultant columns of data (the natural and the cultural) in particular ways. The following will read in part as a long rumination on the categories and categorialization at play in theory. It will also attempt to link these concepts and categories to the general themes of subjectivity, the liberal, the social, agency, ideology and particularly the idea of criticism, or demystification.
Nature is what is. It is outside of human consciousness, but also structuring human consciousness. The natural state of things it he untouched and unobstructed state. However, nature is also divine: it is both in Western thought the pristine (untouched by humans) and the sublime (ultimate, god given state of things). Thus, the natural is both the Ur state from which we have fallen (the garden) through becoming human, but also the state that can never be obtained/attained. On a completely banal side it is also the world itself, as it exists outside (trees, plants, waves, people and even all produced things). However, the natural is also that which has come to resemble any of the above through repetition or even temporal distance (the garden, the unknowable, is nature[e/al]), but so is the city to those born and raised in cities).
On the opposite side is culture, which unlike nature is, according to Raymond Williams, one of the most complex words in the English language. Culture is the social, it is the human derived, the changeable/malleable aspect of the world. It is that which is not nature, but it is not unnatural. Culture has levels and differences and implies, unlike nature, a teleology regardless of postmodern moves to fragmentation. Culture, from cultivate implies an action, a chronology and a history. While nature is timeless, culture cannot exist without time.
All of these statements/claims of both culture and nature are arguable and most are problematic. Both nature and culture are context specific ideas that have been decontextualized and mystified/naturalized. Culture comes from the concept of cultivation, to cultivate, which is a very specific form of action that relates to farming and growing. It was then moved to the debate about cultured as a state of advancement: that which was cultured was not base, but superior. From there it enters the 19th/20th C meanings discussed previously. However, Marx points to a specific aspect of the idea of cultivation in German Ideology that bears on this discussion. He writes that the conscious acting upon the environment in order to produce his sustenance separates man from animal: man is man because he cultivates, not because of some internal determination. This leads to the (teleological) understanding of cultivation, culture and civilization as the linear progression toward some ultimate moment/epoch/event/civilizational level.
To the aptly named moment called Modernity, it is the ultimate level. There is nothing after the modern, the present, because the future always becomes the present when we get to it. The continual deference of getting to the present results in the perpetuation of an idealized non-time. Modernity is the stasis of time.
Of course nature has aspects that existed before modernity, but such meanings had little to do with us as people. Instead, nature exists as the continually offset alterior clause to culture. If culture is the means of consciousness, the subject, then it comes to exist off of the other, nature.
But, what happens when nature becomes culture? What happens when nature is manipulatable to the degree (we idealize) culture is manipulatable?