About the event
In Other Tongues: creating metaphysics, embodying language
a conference and creative summit. June 7-9 2017
Dartington Hall, Devon UK
The cultural buffeting of 2016 has left many with a profound sense of loss and fear. Here in Europe, and in many other countries (including, of course, the United States where recent change is perceived widely as more seismic than most) grounds have shifted and many feel diminished and threatened. There seems a new threat, too, to the precious world around us in a time where political and religious forces seem to weigh against any concern or care for the natural world. Notions of ‘truth’ have become slippery and without inherent value.
As we grasp for new sureties we should remind ourselves that our understanding of the world around us has always been fluid. For millennia we have called on rational thinking to puzzle, to explain, to solve –– to help us live our lives clearly and logically; where that falters we call on other understandings – myth, ritual and gods – to guide us.
For the past two hundred years or so we have become a little giddy with our power over knowledge as our understanding of the material world has grown with little let or hindrance –– with other older knowledges often dismissed in the process as mere superstition. With all we have learned have we in our confidence perhaps forgotten that knowledge is a fleeting thing, held only through the permissions and presuppositions of the dominant culture.
In this country in just a few decades we have lost (or been on the verge of losing) vast swathes of knowledge: how to farm without chemicals, how to build railway engines, how to house ourselves and those we love at a proportionate cost, how to co-exist with a radical dependence on the natural world. Fundamental ways of knowing – what Berman (1981) refers to as the ‘archaic tradition’ – have increasingly been overturned. He reminds us that earlier cultures understood ‘certain things about light and colour…electricity and gravity that modern science has left out’.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
— Wordsworth (1804)
We cannot – and should not, of course – dismiss a few centuries of extraordinary scientific understanding and a few more centuries of technology and mechanical engineering, but Bateson, Gablik and others have nonetheless helped jolt our thinking and provoked some among us to view the world once again in richer more inclusive spiritual and animist terms (without necessarily re-embracing the notion of a supreme spiritual being and contrasting, perhaps, the clear rise of a new rational/transactional religious fundamentalism across the globe). The poetic voice can be heard anew amongst the clamour.
We do not come together to mourn lost knowledges or vilify entire cultural processes, but to court a discourse where science and enchantment may co-exist; to proclaim the power of poetic gesture alongside an ethics of criticality and accountability.
We have brought together an eclectic collection of voices, forming an event that mixes the best of academic thought and tradition with the experiential and the experimental. Sound artist Tony Whitehead leads us into the sonic world of night-time and dawn-time; Felix Prater, Laura Cooper and Cherie Sampson lead us toward animal lives and our animal selves; Lori Diggle, Nancy Miller and Melissa Sterry amongst others remind us of the power of myth and story-telling and its continuing and new relevance; John Hartley leads us on to the river; others are materialists, guiding us to new insights of stone, field, water, fungi. We will encounter languages familiar and strange, and we’ll aspire to co-elaborate new forms of communication together through this unique gathering amongst the long, heady days of summer along the River Dart.
Recent discoveries about the world alongside old knowledges –– things we already know in our bones –– invite empathies; they occasion relations both strange and familiar, inviting our continuous translation of – and into – other tongues, reinvigorating our connection to the world and everything that lives here alongside us. It’s time for some re-claiming.
To us the land was alive. It talked to us. We called her our mother. If she was angry with us, she would give us no food. If we didn’t share with others, she might send harsh winters or plagues of insects. We had to do good things for her and live the way she thought was right. She was the mother to everything that lived upon her, so everything was our brother and sister. The bears, the trees, the plants, the buffalo. They were all our brothers and sisters. If we didn’t treat them right, our mother would be angry. If we treated them with respect and honor, she would be proud. (quoted in Nerburn 2002)
Berman, Morris. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Nerburn, Kent. Neither wolf nor dog: on forgotten roads with an Indian elder. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002
Wordsworth, William. Ode: Intimations of Immortality (from Recollections of Early Childhood 1804)
In Other Tongues
a residential short course. June 10-14 2017
Dartington Hall, Devon UK
Taking the idea of geographical intimacy as its starting point, this five-day residential course offers a special opportunity to explore how we relate to the poetics of place. It’s a chance to engage in practical, playful and serious enquiry into our experience of landscape and all things that inhabit it – from those that can be seen and heard, to those living in more in-between or imagined spaces.