Founding texts of geopoetics

If, throughout my life and work, I have chosen to concentrate so much on the Atlantic coast, it is for several reasons. First of all, I take « seaboard » to be particularly significant space. We are close there to the beginnings of life, we cannot but be aware there of primordial rhythms (tidal, meteorological). In that space, too, we have one foot, as it were, in humanity (inhabited, inscribed, coded space), the other, in the non-human cosmos (chaos-cosmos, chaosmos) — and I think it is vitally important to keep that dialogue alive. It may be for reasons similar to those I have just evoked that in a text belonging to the tradition which I perhaps bear in my bones, an old Celtic text, Imacallam in da thuarad (The Talk of the Two Scholars), we read : « The shore was always a place of predilection for the poets. » Then, in the second place, I was born and raised on that Atlantic shore of Europe, more particularly, on the West coast of Scotland, and I have its topography imprinted on my mind. I’m far from thinking that a poet’s original landscape necessarily dictates his mindscape : if his intellect be at all energetic, he may well come to decide, beyond any « homeland » fixation, that others are more interesting — but that West coast of Scotland happens in fact to be interesting, extremely so. As Humboldt points out in Cosmos, what largely started up and quickened Greek thought was the topography of Hellas : the multiplicity of headlands and islands, the profusion of creeks and bays. Well, that West Coast of Scotland with its highly irregular outline and its 500 islands has a similar kind of topography, though, up to now, one can hardly say it has given rise to a comparably complex thought (but there have been beginnings, the potentiality is always there — that is what I have been working at). Lastly, now that we are beginning to hear again of the concept « Europe », I think it will be as well for it to look to its West, not only as to a breathing space, but as the locus (topos) of forgotten movements and perhaps a new type of thought, a new sense of culture, a new sense of logos. Perhaps Europe has been too Mediterranean-oriented. But the greatest blockage does not lie there — for from the Mediterranean, one can move out into the Atlantic, as the Phœniciens did, as Pytheas did. No, the greatest blockage lies in the ideology of national(ist) identity and in the intellectual regression to culture-complexes that were productive of those identities, which may be looked to as « havens of stability » in a time of cosmopolitan confusion, but which in fact can be no more than half-way houses full of internal dispute, mere parliamentary discourse and pathetic poetics.

Read more: The Atlantic Shore — A letter on the origins of geopoetics

If you cross the Luxembourg Gardens, in Paris, from Montparnasse to the Latin Quarter, along the main thoroughfare, just before the pond and the lawn that fronts the Senate House, you come across a statue raised in 1906 by the Société d’Économie sociale (the Society of Social Economics) to commemorate the virth centenary of Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play. On one face of the pedestal, you have the social functions performed by Le Play (for example, Commissioner at various times of Universal Exhibitions, Senator of the Republic), on the other, a list of some of his books : Les Ouvriers européens, (« The Workers of Europe »), La Réforme sociale (« Social Reform »), La Constitution essentielle de l’humanité (The Essential Constitution of Humanity)…

If I’ve stopped at Le Play’s statue (indeed I say hello to him every time I pass through the Gardens), which few, very few people do, it’s because this was the man who had such a great influence on the thought and practice of one of the largest and most far-seeing minds to have ever come out of Scotland : Patrick Geddes.

Before picking up on Geddes’ thought, in order to see where it took off from Le Play, it will be useful to look into the Frenchman’s life, work and thought.


Read more: Open Perspectives — Biology, sociology, geopoetics


I live in an old house of stone – granite and schist – on the north coast of the Armorican peninsula. The house consists of three buildings. It’s in the building that was once, on the ground floor, a stable, on the top, a granary, that I set up ten years ago what I like to think of as my « Atlantic atelier », my « geopoetic studio ». It’s there I pursue my meditations, there I work out my methods.


I felt the need to situate a place, and to indicate what it means to live deeply in a place, before speaking of anything like work, art-work included


In an essay entitled « The Ecology of acts », Abraham Moles speaks of the need for a new anthropology of space. Proposing a few elements of this, he distinguishes:

a) a zone of security

b) a zone of distraction

c) a zone of meditation

and asks what might be the optimal relationship between the three.


I don’t think that the propositions of Moles go very far, but the general notion, with its main lines, of an anthropology of space is worth retaining.


To sum up, we can live in a haven (that can become a prison) of habits, a floating world (where one can lose one’s self), and a dwelling in the cosmic flux, let’s say « a house of tides ».


Heinz von Foerster, in his « Notes for an epistemology of living objects », speaks of « a full context ». According to him, the environment is seen as the residence of objects that are stationary, mobile, or changing, and the question is posed: is a primary experience, outside the conventional system of representation, outside humdrum habit, outside psychic fixations, is such a primary experience possible?

Read more: Letter from the Geopoetic Studio

1. Geopoetics and geopolitics

The term « geopolitics », of German origin, became current in Europe in the 1930’s. It was in 1936, for example, that Jacques Ancel, professor of political geography at the Institute of International Studies of the University of Paris, introduced it in France. He used it as title for « a doctrinal essay on political geography » that comprised three parts: Methods (« German geography or French geography? »), Borders (« Frontiers in time, frontiers in space »), Nation (« Territorial principle, psychological principle ? ») As an elegant French stylist, he begs pardon for the use of such pedantic vocabulary, but says he couldn’t leave to « the empty pretentions of German science » such a potentially useful term. On the other bank of the Rhine, it was on the concept of Geopolitik, a notion originally conceived by « German professors » (he’s thinking mainly of Friedrich Ratzel), but grossly simplified by Haushofer in 1926 in his Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, that hitlerian national-socialism was basing its propaganda. Ancel was out to give the term, so liable to misuse and abuse, not only more precision, but different perspectives. He considered it was absolutely necessary for France to advance onto this shifty, shifting ground. Up till then, the French nation had lived more or less in autarcy, enclosed in its identity. However fine and analytical it was, its geographic science was internal and static. The time had come for it to open out on to a space that was external and dynamic – without, however, losing its intrinsic qualities, represented, in Ancel’s eyes, by the human geography of Vidal de la Blache as laid out in his Principes de géographie humaine (Paris 1922).

Read more: Precision Points — Geopoetics and the other « geos »
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