The International Institute of Geopoetics has existed for almost thirty-five years. This means that its foundation is based on solid ground, proven by time.

Kenneth White, who was its founder and president until 2013, passed away in August 2023, not without having mapped out the future.

But let us return for the moment and in broad strokes to the history of the geopoetics movement.

Founded on the birthday of Kenneth White on April 28, 1989, the International Institute of Geopoetics has seen a rapid influx of people who sense new existential and intellectual perspectives — an unprecedented freshness. This is was the time of the publication of the Cahiers de géopoétique, where White brought together transdisciplinary contributions covering the field that his work was opening at the confluence of art, science and philosophy. This was the time when the essay Le Plateau de l'Albatros (1994) appeared, an introduction to geopoetics to which those who wanted to understand the basics of this theory-practice never failed to refer. It was also the time, at the organisational level, when White proposed an archipelagisation of the Institute (1993) to promote the creation of research groups here and there in France, Europe and the world. A successful initiative, with a dozen centres emerging rapidly.

Until the 2010s, this structure unfolded like any movement, with its ups and downs. In “Clarifications and Perspectives – Lettre ouverte de Kenneth White” (2015), he wrote: “When I proposed an ‘archipelagisation’ to the Institute in 1993, I knew what I was exposing both the Institute and the geopoetics idea to: dilution of the concept, personal ambitions, separatist tendencies… suffice to say that the possible tendencies that I had foreshadowed did not fail to manifest themselves, here and there, on various occasions.” A quick glance on the internet, in particular, was enough to note a multiplicity of very approximate uses of the geopoetics idea. Kenneth White then proposed, at the 28th General Assembly of the IIG (2016), the oceanisation of the Institute to «include and transcend» this state of affairs. The legitimate hope was that a “well-understood and well-developed geopoetics, that is to say, without hasty amalgams, without confusion” would flourish, and that the Institute would remain, “for groups and for individuals, like a lighthouse”, continuing «to play the role that was his from the beginning, remaining the main reference point in terms of geopoetics, the place of the maximum concentration».

How can the geopoetics idea not be misconceived, circumscribed and weakened? The most obvious, but one that deserves to be said and repeated, is to listen to Kenneth White. It is indeed to read and read him again. It is also important to point out, by insisting, that the theoretical work continued for thirty years after Le Plateau de l'albatros, in that an introduction to geopoetics: Panorama géopoétique, Au large de l'Histoire, not to mention The Fundamental Field have taken thinking further. The dilution of the concept, the personal ambitions have not failed to manifest themselves again since the death of White, where one sees some waking up from a sleep of twenty years and deciding that only poetry counts in his work. They make the basic mistake of confusing poetry (the literary genre) and poetics, which White developed and implemented in his essays, his waybooks and his poems[1]. Here we see others bringing down geopoetics to its lowest common denominator as with our time. A work like White’s requires patience and above all humility. Those who think that geopoetics is obvious, is simple, are mistaken. Accessing a new space of thought is always complex and any simplification is falsification.

I have been one of Kenneth White’s closest companions for ten years—ever since he proposed that I succeed him as head of the Institute—and have accompanied him on his last moments. He entrusted me, as literary executor, to watch over his material work (his house Gwenved is destined to become a house of artists and writers) and immaterial (the Institute and his work). But he knew that his faithful friends would also be there so that his work would continue to unfold in all its present and future extent.

The theoretical work of geopoetics will also see, with unpublished essays by Kenneth White, new developments confirming that this theory is an attractor of post-historical thought.




Gwenved, February 2024

[1]As for the other part of this dense and complex term, geopoetics, there is no word in our civilisation that is more misunderstood than ‘poetic’. It would appal me to make a list of all its trivial uses, not to mention all its limited practices. In my own research I went back to the poietikos (poetic intelligence) of Aristotle, enriching it in various ways, in order to find the equivalent for us today that were, for Greek culture, the oceanic poetics of Homer, which irrigates the agora, and, for Chinese culture, The Book of Odes, which, contrary to the excessive centralisation of Chinese culture, conveys “the wind of the territories”. (Kenneth White)