There is much talk of culture. In the advanced civilisations, it’s becoming the principal topic of discussion. But the mere accumulation of culture leads nowhere. What we lack – beyond all the « deconstructions », beyond all the « post-modernisms » – is a new global context: the horizon of a world. It’s in that area of research (open, not yet defined) that geopoetics is situated.


The first steps on the geopoetic road, at least the first recognized and proclaimed as such, go back to 1979. That year, in a short text published in a little collection, I wrote this: « I’m travelling in the Laurentides, along the North bank of the St. Lawrence, making for the great white space of Labrador, with a new notion in my head: that it’s time to get out of the historical and literary text in order to find the elements of a spatial poetics in which intelligence can flow like a river. It isn’t just a questioning I have in my head. It’s as if something is calling me out. Something that’s lifting me out of my familiar self. A voice, a great anonymous voice, saying the ten thousand things of a new world. It has to begin somewhere. Maybe here, and now. »



So, in the first instance (and it’s always necessary to come back to the first instances), the accent was on travelling in the great outdoors. But it was a very particular kind of travelling, with very particular demands, not just a displacement, but an itinerary that was intellectual, founded on a fresh conception of the nature of things. I wanted a whiteness, an emptiness (a void full of waves). I wanted a language that would move out of the rut, an energy of mind outside all the systems and contrivances. When Doughty, one of the greatest « travel writers » I know, author of Arabia Deserta (which has to be read in its entirety, not in the abridged versions available on the market) took a look back over his life at the many roads, tracks and paths he’d followed, he said, unambiguously, that all his travelling had been done to arrive at poetics.


Let’s be quite clear about this. I’m not out to make a defence of poetry. In most of what is called « poetry », I ‘ve found very little of the poetics I have in mind. I’ve found more where many would least expect it: in papers on geology, physics, botany, but also in certain texts that stand outside all the recognized disciplines – I’m thinking, for example, of Leibniz’s Protogaia.


I remember what I read at the beginning of the 1960s in Francis Ponge’s Grand Recueil (« The Great Collection »): « Our hope lies in a poetry via which the world invades so powerfully the human mind that it stands almost speechless, then begins to invent a jargon. Poets have no time to waste on human relations, what they have to do is enter the nether regions. They are the ambassadors of the silent world. As such, they explore the night of the logos, until they get right back into the strata of roots, where thing and formula become one. That’s why, despite what people think, poetry has more importance than any other art, any other science. That’s why real poetry has nothing to do with what one finds in most volumes of poetry. It’s in something that doesn’t pose as poetry, that doesn‘t call itself poetry. It’s in the sketchbooks and scribbled notes of a handful of maniacs. »


I’ve never been in total agreement with such formulas, and I don’t think that Ponge’s own texts at all reached the poetry I had in mind. But I went with the general tenor of such statements. Geopoetics recognizes there one of its sources, one of its confirmations. And it finds others in the work of Roger Caillois (« To see poetry purely and simply as a unique luxury or fantasy of the human species would be to considerably restrict its scope »), in that of Saint-John Perse (« the great writing of things »), as with other minds scattered across time and space. It is obvious that a concept such as this doesn’t arise ex nihilo. It is founded on a re-cognition. It reveals elements not yet recognized. Of these elements it makes a synthesis, it gathers them into an open coherence, and projects them farther, in view of a world.


A world emerges from a relationship between the human being and the earth. When this relationship is sensitive, intelligent, complex, the world is world in the deep sense of the word: a fine space-place in which to live fully. When the relationship is simplistic, stupid, the world is a dreary wasteland, and all talk of « culture » pathetically superficial. That is the situation today. To such an extent that one can sometimes ask oneself if it’s worthwhile trying, publicly, to do anything at all. « A drunken sleep on the shore », said Rimbaud some time back. And Hölderlin: « Why be a poet in a time of dearth? » If we consider things at their worst it might be said that the Institute of Geopoetics, with its review, that gathers together individuals from all countries and all walks of life who think more or less along the lines I’ve just indicated, is, at minimum, a kind of last stand.


But, at maximum, what could really take place is a new world-space. Because if the general political-economic and sociocultural scene is so obviously indigent, in isolated areas, as the result of prolonged silences, ideas and works have gone on that blast established conceptions, break through conventional behaviour, open up unheard-of perspectives. When they have been noticed at all, those breakthroughs have been applied only partially, have never been allowed to come together and open up a new general space. The aim of the Institute and the review is to do just that. Beside this new space opened, the other will appear more and more as a sad and sinister caricature, the bottom of history’s bucket.


We’re out to begin something else.


For the review, I’ve got in touch with individuals – artists, writers, scientists – whose work has seemed to me, in one way of another, close to the idea of geopoetics I’ve conceived. Some texts published may be closer to the idea than others. The essential thing, for the moment, is to give the sense of an emergence, present the possibility of a convergence.


What the world needs, radically, is a new poetics of politics (by « politics », I mean general organization). Towards the end of 1989, that is the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, several formulas were put forward. In place of national patriotism, Edgar Morin spoke of a « patriotism of the earth », in place of a « social contract », Michel Serres evoked a « natural contract ». Both of these formulations have their attraction, but they’re still too close to outdated systems. Henceforth, it can never be a question of « patriotism » or « contract ». To make at least a start in the right direction, let’s think in terms of a cartography: co-ordinates of space, topographies of place, territorial script. After all, the first formulations of the rights of man (humanity having now to be neither crushed nor adulated, but resituated), doesn’t date back to 1789, but to 1215. I’m thinking of the Magna Carta.


The ambition of The Geopoetics Review will be, from points of view not restricted to humanity, to draw up a magna mundi carta: a great map, a great chart, of the world.


We’ll see.


Kenneth WHITE