Monday, June 11, 2007

Ecology and the imagination

I am taking part in Passionate Natures: Ecology and the Imagination, a conference open to all in Cambridge from 22-24 June. There are some awesome, near legendary people speaking over the three days.

The panel I will join, just before lunch on the Saturday (so people may still be awake), will focus on 'wildness'. The chair and convenor is the tremendous Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places: A Wonder-Voyage (forthcoming, 2007). The other panelists are Jay Griffiths, whose recent book Wild: An Elemental Journey is reviewed in several places including here and here (and extracted here), and Gareth Browning, a partner in Wild Ennerdale. Please join us if you can!

What to say about coral reefs? I will probably build on some remarks in this review of Steve Jones's recent book, together with a not-yet-published review of Julia Whitty's The Fragile Edge. If there's time and it seems the right thing to do I will also explore some hard political and scientific issues that can shape imagination, and vica versa. I may post a paper based on those remarks on this site, but please come to the conference. Meanwhile, some science and some art:
This...is a very impressive animal. It has eyes larger than a blue whale's, a sharp slicing beak as big as a rockmelon and a tongue covered in sharp teeth. Its eight arms and two longer feeding tentacles are armed with toothed suckers and sharp hooks. It swims with muscular fins and a big funnel for jet propulsion, and the undersides of its eyes have rows of lights like truck running lights.
-- from Monster warning to protect oceans by Mark Norman, curator of molluscs at Museum Victoria, Australia.
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him well
Huge sponges of millenial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
-- from Alfred Tennyson's The Kraken, quoted by Jorge Luis Borges in El libro de los seres imaginarios.

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