Although the thing I was at last week was called the Atlantic Islands Festival, it was also the summer school for the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, and many of the speakers talked about the impact of geopoetics, and in particular the work of Kenneth White on their particular discipline and artistic practice.
We struggled, though, to find a workable and concise definition of what we meant by geopoetics. Norman Bissell provided an overview at the start of the school, which may be rather brutally summarised as
1. a world view that is critical of western philosophy and civilisation in particular the division between mind and body and the isolation of the human from nature.
2. it has a holistic view of the universe – a poetics which places the planet earth at the centre of experience.
3. it is influenced by people Kenneth White defines as ‘intellectual nomads’
4. it has a new sense of world combining the responses of the intelligence and the senses, using techniques such as meditation or tai chi which ‘decondition’ the mind to produce a poetics which is the expression of this interaction, in language but also in all forms of artistic expression. It encourages collaboration and multi-media work.
5.it involves networking with all forms of intellectual and scientific knowledge and activity.
There are some extraordinarily sweeping statements here, and if we go into it, we can find plenty of ignorance, prejudice and some rather neat moving of the goal-posts which leave Kenneth White in the privileged position of defining the game and imposing his own rule. However.
It is certainly the case that modern civilisation consists of a lot of over-specialised and over-organised (but seriously under-educated)individuals who are capable of living a lifetime in ignorance of what the weather is like or where their food is coming from. We know we are not as aware of the seasons or the state of the moon and tides as our parents were. Many of us can’t identify common wild-flowers, or lay a fire or set a budget without a calculator. Scientists do not know history. Linguists don’t understand physics. In short we no longer have our feet on the ground. We don’t know who we are or what we really want or what is likely to happen to us.
Geopoetics has a counter to this, and the summer school was an excellent demonstration. We had, among other things, film, poetry, art, sculpture, botany, geology, history, and tai chi. But the most common comment, which came over and over again, was, “It leaves so much out.”
Mostly this came from women. Geopoetics is overwhelmingly a guys’ game, and it’s not because the guys are mean and won’t let us play. On the contrary, the guys are not mean at all. But women do not get the ‘intellectual nomad’ thing. It’s not just that society makes it hard for women to be nomads ( a real issue, though, nonetheless), we just don’t seem, by and large, to think like that. It’s not that we can’t stop worrying about the state of the kitchen and has someone remembered to feed the cat, it is simply that if you have ever undertaken those responsibilities, you don’t see the world in quite the same way. It’s not even the difference between Ents and Ent-wives (remember Tolkien saying the Ent-wives had gardens so that things would grow where they set them?). Even Tolkien’s Ents, though freer and more nomadic than the Ent-wives, were shepherds and took care of the forests. I, for one, found it hard to believe in the value of a world-view that does not lead to involvement and action.
This is where we get to the next generation of geopoetical thinking, and I’ll get to it tomorrow.