The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap. - Novalis

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This blog has been on a long sabbatical - 
I expect to post more here eventually on poetry & language etc. 
The Food, Culture & Agriculture topics will now be here:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bittman on Grantham on the Insanity of Economists

by Mark Bittman

“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world 
is either a madman or an economist.” - Kenneth Boulding

Grantham continued, “I think a portfolio of farms that are doing state-of-the-art [organic] farming over a 20-, 30-year horizon will be the best investment money can buy. So I’m killing two birds with one stone: I want my foundation to make more money than anyone else on the planet, because that gives us much more to spend for the main event — which is saving the planet, in a nutshell.”

Read Grantham's brilliant report here.

all of which reminds me of a classic book which, mostly unsuccessfully, I used to ask students to read:

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Alexander Von Humboldt

This is a great and important book about a great & important man.


From the publisher: Explorer, scientist, writer, and humanist, Alexander von Humboldt was the most famous intellectual of the age that began with Napoleon and ended with Darwin. With Cosmos, the book that crowned his career, Humboldt offered to the world his vision of humans and nature as integrated halves of a single whole. In it, Humboldt espoused the idea that, while the universe of nature exists apart from human purpose, its beauty and order, the very idea of the whole it composes, are human achievements: cosmos comes into being in the dance of world and mind, subject and object, science and poetry.

Watch a short video of the author introducing von Humboldt & reading from the book HERE.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Most Important Thing

Nobody is better on this than Bill McKibben:

in Rolling Stone

and Mark Bittman's fine commentary
in the NYTimes

with the possible exception of nuclear proliferation, 
this really is the most important challenge


& in the "hopeful" category there is this too just in:
US Leads the World in CO2 Reductions (!)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Jorge Luis Borges
The Craft of Verse
The Norton Lectures 1967-8
Complete Audio Online
& this film
Jorge Luis Borges: The Mirror Man
Directed by Philippe Molins 

from the remarkable Ubuweb

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alice Notley

Listen to this amazing discussion from The Kelly Writer's House:

"Structures are prisons."

"Poetry is mercy... Poetry works as mercy by the way the sounds work... its gives you something very subtle by the way the sounds work that nothing else gives you - and it's mercy"

"Everything in the world is in motion, we're all in motion, and we're holding ourselves still with our sense organs."

Friday, June 8, 2012

Homage to Bradbury

"It is thanks to Ray Bradbury that I understand this world I grew into for what it is: a dystopian future. And it is thanks to him that we know how to conduct ourselves in such a world: arm yourself with books. Assassinate your television. Go for walks, and talk with your neighbors. Cherish beauty; defend it with your life. Become a Martian." - Tim Kreider in the NYTimes

Thursday, June 7, 2012

it's not about you

Joan Retallack:

"Mac Low admired Pound more than Cage did. One of the things that was, to me, so always interesting about the way Cage worked was that he thought out his procedures very carefully in advance, not so that he would know what was going to happen in the parts of the structure that would allow chance operations to choose the points, as he would put it, in the text, but because he knew the way you choose your procedure has a lot to do with extremely formal elements ultimately. He chose to let more of Pound in [more, that is, than Mac Low does based on his procedure in our poem] and this was ultimately more unpleasant for Cage because he didn't like the Pound. I think the reason to continue reading Pound and to continue the agonistic relationship we all have to have with Pound when we read [him] is that it is such a presentation of the complexities and the horrifying things that can happen to a mind that is going in directions that are passionate without empathy, without contact with others." (on PoemTalk here)

Steve Beyer on Levinas:

"It is clear that Heidegger’s ideal is in fact a sort of spiritual solipsism. All the Heideggerian virtues — authenticity, resolution, heeding the call of conscience — serve to isolate (vereinzeln) us. Thus, for example, “Death, understood in authentic anticipation, isolates Dasein in itself” (1962, § 53, p. 308); “Understanding the call of conscience reveals one’s own Dasein in the dreadfulness of its isolation” (§ 60, p. 342); “The call of conscience… implacably isolates Dasein” (§ 62, p. 354)

Heidegger’s philosophy is thus an egology: the relation with Being is more important than the relation with other people. But where Heidegger finds significance in existence as a project, Levinas locates it precisely in responsibility for the Other. “This is the question of the meaning of being: not the ontology of the understanding of that extraordinary verb, but the ethics of its justice. The question par excellence or the question of philosophy. Not ‘Why being rather than nothing?’, but how being justifies itself” (Levinas, 1984, p. 86)."  (from blog post here)

Martha Nussbaum:

"... in a deep sense one's life is not about oneself." The New Religious Intolerance, xiii.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Land Grabbers - Who Owns the Earth?

by Fred Pearce
Random House, May 2012

This REVIEW by Rachel Oldroyd from The Journal of Investigative Journalism:

The latest book by science and environment author Fred Pearce is a breezy waltz through a key global problem that has yet to register with most people.

In 2008, food prices around the world spiked, tipping many on the edges of poverty into crisis. But the rise in the cost of food also focused the minds of financiers, businessmen, oligarchs and Gulf oil sheikhs. After the disaster of subprime mortgages, land seemed a surefire bet and there was something comforting about this red-hot investment being tangible.

The rush for land has also been given the blessing of many in power, including the British government’s chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, who argues the only way to feed a growing population is to hand over the world’s farmland to productive agri-businesses.

Pearce’s Landgrabbers is an attempt to knock a hole in this argument. With half the world’s poor and hungry living on small farms, how can it make sense to take away their land in the context of feeding the world, asks Pearce. Indeed far from solving the problem, he argues, landgrabbing is having a greater impact on the lives of poor people than climate change. People are invariably cleared from the land when foreign investors lease or are given ‘state-owned’, but usually common land.

Ethiopia sells off good land
The book starts in Ethiopia, where the government intends to lease three million hectares to foreign investors by 2015. Much of this land is in one of the poorest, most underdeveloped parts of the country. It sets up the issues well, highlighting the irony of a country so often plagued by drought handing over its best land to foreign businesses intending to develop it for profit, rather than feed the local population.

With half the world’s poor and hungry living on small farms, how can it make sense to take away their land in the context of feeding the world?
The situation in Ethiopia also illustrates the huge environmental catastrophe caused by many landgrabs – much of the land buy-ups are threatening one of the biggest and most important animal migration routes in Africa.
A quick side-step takes the reader to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia. Armed with technological know-how and billions of petrol dollars the Saudis have turned desert into pasture. Tapping on an underground reservoir, the desert sand has been transformed into lush fields supporting the world’s largest diary farm, and millions of hectares have been turned over to wheat, to such a level that Saudi is now one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain.
The trapped underground water is, however, a finite resource, which like the country’s oil is rapidly running dry. And so the agri-rich princes and sultans have turned their focus abroad buying up land in Sudan, in Egypt, in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Pakistan.
It is the same all over the Middle East, from Qatar to the UAE. And it is not only petrol-rich Arabs that are buying up land. In South Sudan it is a Wall Street investor who has bought land from an alleged war lord.

Tapping on an underground reservoir the sand has been turned into lush pasture supporting the world’s largest diary farm.
In Kenya we meet the do-gooder – an American agriculture entrepreneur, whose Christian evangelicalism has brought him to Africa. Here a plan to drain swampland to create a huge farm intended to bring prosperity to the area is moving apace. Sure enough, many workers are happy and prospering. Bicycles and tin roofs have proliferated since Calvin Burgess arrived. Bankers and a shopping complex have opened in the nearby town, and poverty has dropped from 85% to 60%.
But the seeming success also illustrates how nothing in this story is black or white. On the other side of the fence to the farm, Pearce finds hardship and anger. Villagers claim their common pasture lands have been taken from them, that crocodiles have become a problem since they have been trapped downstream by a large weir constructed by the company, and there are even allegations that locals need permission from the farm to travel down what seems to be a public road.
And so the reader is taken around the globe. To Liberia, where an estimated $16bn (£10.3bn) of investment has flowed in from abroad since 2005. To Ukraine, where despite regulations banning the sale of farmland to foreigners, $8bn has been spent on land leases betwen 2008 and 2010.

The other Amazon
In Brazil, the government has done well to tide the onslaught on the Amazon, but it has ignored the plight of another environmental treasure – the great plains of the cerrado. This area, as rich in biodiversity as the Amazon, is being ploughed up by soya businesses.
In Paraguay, a remote and important forest is being lost at a rate of a thousand hectares a day, or a soccer pitch every 90 seconds. In Papua New Guinea, loggers are penetrating one of the most unexplored areas on the planet. In Cambodia, a European incentive that allows the world’s poorest countries to export unlimited quantities of certain goods to the EU with zero tariffs has resulted in thousands of people being thrown off their land in favour of sugar growers. In Laos, traditional rice fields are being replaced with giant Chinese rubber plantations.
The catastrophic situation in Indonesia is left until two-thirds of the way through the book. It is a well-told tale. But in the context of the pages that have gone before the extent of the destruction of the rich rainforest by paper and plywood manufacturers still hits home.

In Paraguay a remote and important forest is being lost at a rate of a thousand hectares a day, or a soccer pitch every 90 seconds. 
Even Australia, a country that is hugely protective of its land, has seen millions of hectares fall into the hands of foreigners as Australian landowners struggling against drought and frozen credit lines have taken the foreign buck.
It is not all slash and burn. In his trek across the continents of the world, Pearce does find a handful of examples of good land management where foreign investment has brought relative prosperity to the local population and where sustainability has been considered. In Liberia, for example, British farm manager Peter Bayliss seems to be doing a good job. And in Patagonia Pearce finds a large area of land bought up by a number of green-minded super-rich intent on preserving a wild, empty backwater of the world.

Green wash
But even ‘green landgrabs’ are not all good. In Tanzania, Pearce describes the plight of the Maasai, who are largely banned from the nature reserves that take in their tribal lands.
Landgrabbers is a well-paced and thorough examination of the situation on the ground. It is packed with case studies and in the most part rather depressing statistics. But in his desire to cover the global extent of the problem, Pearce’s trek becomes a bit of a catalogue that never quite gets to grips with the drivers.
It starts with the premise that this is a ‘new fight over who owns the earth’, and yet time after time examples are drawn upon where land has been in foreign hands for decades. Clearly this is not a new phenomenon. Campaigners have been highlighting the fate of the Amazon for years, for example.
What seems to be new is the scale. But then from the beginning Pearce says that nobody really knows how much land has been lost to rich corporations and individuals since the food crisis of 2008, and he makes no attempt to quantify it.
He also fails properly to answer the question of why the sudden rush has occurred. There is a short chapter on market speculation, where Pearce states boldly that ‘hedge funds and anonymous investment houses and asset managers have driven much of the Western-funded landgrabbing to date. But even bigger than the hedge funds are the pension funds, with their trillions of dollars of assets.’ But the book does not  examine who these hedge funds, anonymous investment houses, and pension funds are, bar a handful of examples. The numerous case studies cited in chapter after chapter are corporations or rich individuals.
But the book’s launch is well timed. Just last week US Pension giant TIAA-CREF announced it had raised $2bn to invest in land. And earlier this year the UN proposed countries should set a limit on agriculture land sales in an attempt to limit landgrabs. Pearce may not have nailed the size of the problem or the City pot pouring into land, but he certainly highlights what has been described as ‘the biggest swindle of the 21st century’.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Less Meat, Less Global Warming - by Mark Bittman

Pieter Aertsen - 1551

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wendell Berry - American Hero


Awards & Honors: 2012 Jefferson Lecturer
Wendell E. Berry Lecture
“It All Turns On Affection”
"The term “imagination” in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb “to imagine” contains the full richness of the verb “to see.” To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly, with “the mind’s eye.” It is to see, not passively, but with a force of vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of appearances or with 'dreaming up.' It does not depend upon one’s attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things seen or envisioned."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

CCP and eco-poetics

Photo credit: Ariel Goldberger
Photo credit: Ariel Goldberger
 “Nature” is the unconscious.   READ THIS ESSAY

Wendell Berry Honored

February 6, 2012, 5:51 pm
Wendell Berry to Give 2012 Jefferson Lecture

The farmer-writer Wendell Berry will deliver the 41st annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced on Monday. The lecture, to be given on April 23 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, is considered the federal government’s most prestigious honor for intellectual achievement in the humanities. READ THE NYTimes ARTICLE

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Happy 200th Birthday Charles

My first (and by far the greatest) professor of entomology had a passionate love for the Hemiptera, the music of Johannes Brahms and writings of Charles Dickens. My only contact with Dickens had been in junior high and high school. Though I can't say I hated the reading we did, it left no lasting memory. But when Carl Schaefer many years later convinced me to try Dickens again it was with a sense of wonder that I discovered the many pleasures of his enormous output. I began with Bleak House, loved it, and immediately set about reading all of his novels, in chronological order (with the sole exceptions of the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the, I think, unreadable The Old Curiosity Shoppe). Thus began a few years of memorable delight. This might be a good time for others to take up the challenge. Listen to the piece on Dickens on NPR here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sakra Boccata

José Antonio Mazzotti: from Sakra Boccata, five poems
Translation from Spanish by Clayton Eshleman

In his Introduction to the book, Raúl Zurita writes: “These poems display a carnal, erotic version of the never-exhausted Neo-Platonic theme of perfect love achieved by two beings to erase all the physical and mental distance between them ... a merger not only of bodies searching for each other but of language itself ... as if the poems would like to devour themselves in a grand sexual act in which culture, eroticism and nature would once and for all erase their borders.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

On Raul Zurita's visionary poetics

Don't miss this review : On Raul Zurita's visionary poetics by Leonard Schwartz. Stunning.

An excerpt:

Grace of its linguistic and visionary commitment, its capacity to imagine what is perforce outside experience, Zurita has written a poetry that surpasses what a more politically committed poetry could have achieved. Zurita’s poems might be figured as an eco-poetry in which the space between nature and history is closed up, once we realize that the work reimagines the entirety of the ocean in such a way as to include those thrown from planes into that ocean. And reimagines the mountains in such a way as to include the Disappeared thrown from planes into their snows until one can only speak of those mountains as containing those people. And renders the desert no longer conceivable except if the voices and the deaths in the desert are made a part of that desert. It was Camille Dungy, the editor of the anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African-American Nature Poetry who pointed out in her CCP appearance (#221) that the poets in her book do not necessarily view a tree as simply a tree, since it might also be the case that someone was lynched from that particular tree; they do not look at an agricultural site as an idyl, since one’s ancestors might have worked that land in slavery. Indeed, only certain privileged, bourgeois perspectives can divorce “nature” from “history” in order to yield a “nature poetry” that refreshes us in its aftermath. I have argued that to view Nature apart from other discourses and entities (like language for example) is analogous to the pornographic (without taking any position pro or con on pornography), where one function (Nature) is fetishized and isolated from other functions and possibilities (as sex is in pornography). By contrast to a nature poetry, an eco-poetics seeks out complicated interrelationships between multiple modes of the sensual.  Zurita’s is one of the great poetries to overcome the artificiality of the nature/history distinction, to give us the Tree and the invisible histories enacted in and around the Tree, as Dungy calls for.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Infidel Poetics

Infidel Poetics, Daniel Tiffany, 2009.

& on google books

this looks potentially exciting - I hope I get a chance to read it.