Kenneth White, 1968 and Geopoetics

Remembering the poet and writer Kenneth White 1936 – 2023.

Kenneth White was in Scotland at the end of May 2018 for a series of talks, film screenings, poetry readings and lectures, organised by the Research Network in Existential Philosophy and Literature in collaboration with the Institut Francais, Alliance Francais Glasgow and the University of Glasgow. I interviewed him at the time (listen below).

White was a poet and writer originally from the Gorbals, Glasgow. He set up the Jargon Group in 1964 which explored a mix of social and cultural forces including Nietzsche, Whitman, Taoism and anarchism. He was later part of Project Sigma dedicated to “conflagrate a million minds”. Project Sigma was a loose coalition of of experimental writers in Europe and America including William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi.

Between 1968 and 1989 his work was written in English but published in French and other languages. Since then his work with the International Institute of Geopoetics has seen a resurgence of interest and is now culminating in a collected works being published in English.

“Geopoetics is strictly of this world. Its background lies neither in myth, metaphysics, or religion. It is out to begin again, from the ground up. Taking geology as ground-level, it is a new way of being human and of living a human life on this earth. Geopoetics concentrates elements from science, philosophy and poetry scattered across the world and gathers together minds on the edge of the various disciplines and looking for new space.”
Cairns Craig, 2021

We discussed his work and the need for a radical unlearning, the memory and political lessons from May 1968 and some of his new and emerging projects and publications.


Read Kenneth White Remembered from the Scottish Poetry Library.

A biography of Kenneth White from the Centre for Geopoetics.

Collected works listed here.

From Paris to Nantes, State Violence 1968-2018 by Chloe Farand.

Our Radical Past and Future May 1968 – May 2018 – 50 Years of Liberation by Mike Small

Burroughs and Scotland by Jed Birmingham.


Comments (4)

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  1. 230817 says:

    I met Kenneth White once, while he was over visiting Chris and Valda Grieve. We talked about Heidegger, Nan Shepherd, deep ecology, and On a Raised Beach. I’ve also written for Stravaig, the journal of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.

    Kenneth wrote and published much his work in France, and his work enjoys much greater recognition in Europe than it does in Scotland. This is possibly because his ‘geopolitics’ is rooted in Franco-German antecedents, which are largely foreign to Anglophone Scots.

    Geopoetics is concerned with ‘worlding’. According to Kenneth, worlds emerge from human engagement with the things, the lines, the rhythms of the earth. When this engagement is sensitive, subtle, and intelligent, we produce worlds that are strong, life-affirming, and ‘enlightening’ in the Nietzschean sense of aletheic truth (as opposed to doxa). When it is insensitive, simplistic and stupid, you don’t have a world at all, you have a non-world, a pseudo-culture, a dictatorial enclosure or a mass-mess. Geopoetics is concerned with developing sensitive and intelligent engagements with the earth. This project was prefigured in the writing of Nan Shepherd (e.g. The Living Mountain) and Hugh MacDiarmid (On a Raised Beach), and finds it most developed philosophical expression in the Nazi philosopher, Martin Heidegger. (esp. in the two 1951 lectures, ‘…Poetically Man Dwells…’ and ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’) and the subsequent deep ecology movement in Germany.

    The impetus to geopolitics is what its adepts nowadays call ‘apocalyptic disruption’ and what its prophet, Nietzsche, no less dramatically called ‘nihilism’ or ‘the Death of God’. These ‘end times’ allegedly manifest themselves in our present culture as the series of existential catastrophes (war, pandemic, climate change, etc) that currently beset us, which disrupt our traditional ‘instrumental’ or technological engagement with the earth and call for a more ‘loving’, less exploitative engagement. They also allegedly manifest themselves in the ongoing anti-globalisation, regressive nativist, and recrudescent fascist movements that feed on our eschatological fears, which are facilitated by a social media through which conspiracy theory and panic thinking can proliferate.

    Geopoetically, the story goes, this runaway proliferation of fear lies at the core of our contemporary worlding. It is a cultural development that is fuelled and distributed through social media and the analysis and manipulation of big data. Conspiracy theory abounds, sowing fear and disrupting our solidarity by locating us on different sides of all sorts of ideologically charged divides.

    Kenneth’s geopoetics offers us a diagnosis of the ills of out contemporary world-making or ‘culture’, which it claims is deconstructing under the weight of apocalyptic disruption, and a prescribed route to surpassing our current predicament through a more authentic form of dwelling or engagement with the earth.

    Which is all very well, But, of course, the important question is: How good is that diagnosis and prescription? Does it pass the test of our scepticism? How can it be surpassed?

  2. SleepingDog says:

    The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics claims:
    “Geopoetics is deeply critical of Western thinking and practice over the last 2500 years”
    yet seems to embrace its thinking and practice on copyright:
    “Copyright © 2020 Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, All rights reserved.”

    This seems to me not the best way to openly share ideas. A better example is set by the great World Communism of global science. But I don’t expect better from poets.

  3. 230818 says:

    Copyright gives the creator of a work the exclusive right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, and perform that work for a limited period. It protects the original expression of an idea but not the idea itself. It doesn’t prevent anyone from openly sharing anyone else’s ideas. It only prevents them from reproducing the creator’s original expression of those ideas without her or his permission. For example, it doesn’t prevent me from publishing an exposition of the ideas expressed by Shon Faye in their book, The Transgender Issue, but it would prevent me from publishing their book without their permission.

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