22 Jun 2007 - 24 Jun 2007All dayFaculty of English, Cambridge




The world shall not perish for lack of wonders, but for lack of wonder – JBS Haldane





Love, wonder and personal passions for species, habitats and landscapes play a strong and often unacknowledged role in our relations to the natural world. At a time when global biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and global warming offer us ever-more compelling visions of environmental apocalypse, it is still the case that authoritative understandings of the natural world are assumed to rest solely on dispassionate, scientific foundations. Ignored in such understandings are passionate responses to the natural world, passions which are the province of amateurs as well as experts, of hunters as well as conservationists, of scientists as well as artists, academicians as well as foresters. Passionate Natures aims to bring together delegates from an unusually broad sweep of disciplines to interrogate the question of passionate natures. We ask: what is the nature of these strong emotional engagements? How does the personal inflect or shape the general? From land artists to environmental philosophers, from historians of science to poets to dancers to literary theorists, the question of what passionate responses to nature might be, and how they inform, are elided, or attached to authoritative knowledge-claims about nature, is not only vastly pertinent to academic enquiry, but has immense real-world political and practical consequence.


The conference will take the form of a series of workshops, paper-led discussions and seminars. To encourage dialogue, speakers will be asked to offer an intervention, reflection, or provocation, rather than an extended paper. The day will include ample time for general discussion. We plan also for delegates to spend a proportion of the conference continuing discussion on a field-trip to local natural habitats, a strategy which not only grounds the conference's concerns but offers new arenas for interdisciplinary dialogue away from the familiar cognitive architecture of seminar room and lecture hall.


For a central question in shaping these discussions is: can nature help us think? Conventional arguments hold that remarkable natural environments should be valued and preserved as repositories of natural resources for the human project: resources such as medicines or crops, for example. This argument can be usefully translated into cognitive terms. Certain places are remarkable because they possess, or enable, types of experience and forms of wisdom which are unavailable elsewhere. Thoughts, as well as species, require particular environments to exist. Can thoughts be considered 'indigenous' to particular landscapes? In such remarkable places, the imagination is urged differently. The self emerging from contact with these places is not the same self that approached them. The experiences provoked by such places often occur at the edges of intellection, or above reason, but are subsequently translated into forms of aesthetic, ethical, or other modes of thought. In this way, and in a strong sense, cognition is site-specific. One is reminded of the observation of the poet-forester Gary Snyder: “That's the way to see the world, in our own bodies”.


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk