Our Relationship with Earth

Fringe without Limits

Hope Valley Fringe Literature Event April 2018

Posted by Kevin Flint on Jan 16, 2018

Over the past few months Martin Spence, Si Homfray and myself have been working together with others in the Hope Valley with a view to setting up a Hope Valley Fringe event. We have been greatly assisted in this venture by the infrastructure and resources Martin has already established in his 7th Wave blog technology, which a number of us have been using over the last year or so. One of the ideas that prompted us to set up the Hope Valley Fringe was the very possibility of getting a place where people could meet and talk to each other and to other members of public about their work. One of the issues is the very matter of making the virtual real in our lives! 

Our first event will be free entry to all and it will be held on 28 April at the Memorial Hall in Hathersage. Literature forms an important part of the Fringe. This year we've set the theme for the literature event as 'Our Relationship with Earth'. 

As the anthropologist, traveller and writer, Jay Griffiths, suggests in her book, Wild, 'literacy', all-too-commonly, is ever in danger of being reduced to 'an epistemology of the built world' - library bound, 'the constructed artifice of our written culture', she suggests, only encourages 'values' and dialogue 'moving us ever farther away from nature'. 

For Kevin, rather than the many all-too-safe epistemologies, ontologies, etymologies and, indeed, other forms of logos [ie., ologies]; expressions of the written word, is it not time to explore and to give flight to the play of the ever impossible to locate differences, to open more consciously the play of différance, constituting the wildness of everyday practices through literature?  Is it not time to explore and to give renewed expression to the languages of rivers, the call of the mountains, the feel of 'landscapes', of 'childscapes', of 'musicscapes', of 'skyscapes' [that we have as distinct zones in the coming Fringe], no longer neatly wrapped in specialist supposedly epistemologically grounded discourses?  Rather, might it be possible to bring such scapes together in exploration and celebration of the express complex relationships we each have with earth? The questions that emerge upon moving out of any standard epistemologies, away from standard classifications of literature, appear to remain innumerable. 

Just a quick note on the grammar. No, I haven't forgotten the direct article before any reference to earth. But, is it not the case that in our standard English grammar, reference to 'the earth' immediately distances us from this supposed separate object - 'the earth'. Doesn't there remain in the standard English grammar violent echoes of the nineteenth century European cultures wherein landscape had been viewed by many as a 'hideous blank'. English may be becoming an international language, but it's certainly not a universal and inexorable grammar. In Polish grammar, for example, earth assumes a feminise case and is sometimes regarded as 'mother' ['powiazane zwroty' - earth mother]. Here, in simply excluding the direct article and referring to our relationship with earth [and not the earth], in aesthetic terms, it seems to me that such exclusion makes possible an intimacy in our relationship with earth. 

For Kevin the question of our relationship with earth has emerged from a wide range of experiences: along with readings of environmental science, politics, research, education and so on, I have also variously engaged in climbing/mountaineering/fell running /mountain biking and travelling. 

Over the years, too, it has become obvious that many of the debates/ discussions about our relationship with earth tend to remain located within specialist technical discourses, headlined as 'environmental issues'. But, such discourses and debates seem to be largely disconnected from each of us as human beings - largely they belong, it would appear, to small specialist groups with technical expertise. 

In climbing/mountaineering/ running/mountain-biking, too, the literature available tends to remain quite separated and technically focused upon specialist groups of those involved in such activities. Over the last eighteen months of so, with my blog, I have attempted to challenge such specialist hegemonies by connecting writings about running, climbing etc., with other literatures. 

Is it not the case that literatures each open their open space for effraction - so breaking new grounds in our worlds?  

It is the possibility of creating new literature that excited Kevin to attend the Kendal Mountain Festival last autumn, where rightly the Boardman-Tasker award for literature in mountaineering and climbing took centre stage on one day of the Festival.  

It gave Kevin the idea that we could have an event like this in the Hope Valley. 

But, we wanted an event for literature, within our Hope Valley Fringe that is more wide-ranging than Kendal, and concerned with our relationship with earth. 

At its heart the fringe literature event that we're working right now to create is one that opens space for young people, for those who have not yet published, for multi-media work, and for experienced writers. The aim of creating our literature event at the Hope Valley Fringe in April is to open space, too, for everyone to express their own feelings, experiences and thoughts about our relationship with earth. 

What follows, therefore, are a series of snapshots, if you will, that come from different literatures that paint something of a backdrop for the stage set by the Hope Valley Fringe event, which we are currently working to set up on April 28 in Hathersage. 

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The anthropologist and prize winning writer, Jay Griffiths speaks of ‘Telluric[1] Thought’[2]

Wildness is the state of complete awareness. That’s why we need it’.[3]

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In another book, Jay Griffiths has also explored her vision of Childscape

In opening ‘The Riddle of Childscape’[4] Jay Griffiths poses several questions; not least:

Why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy? Why is it that children in many traditional cultures seem happier, fluent in their child-nature?

And, in response she begins by noting –  ‘nature is the core of the riddle’ and inquiring into the ‘nature of childhood’.

In arranging this Hope Valley Fringe Festival, we simply wish to find ways of engaging young people in relationship with earth – that our relationship with earth may become a natural part of their experience. 

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The Lost Words 

These have been presented in 'a spell book' by the prize-winning writer, Robert Macfarlane and the illustrator, Jackie Morris [2017: UK Penguin, Random House] give expression to words that have begun to vanish from the language of children:

‘words children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker – gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, raven, willow, wren… all of them gone! These words are becoming lost, they have argued: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories’.

Their book deals with things that are missing in the lives of young people. Their book paints an interactive and engaging picture of words that are now missing from the new edition of the children’s Oxford English dictionary, bringing into life aspects of the relationship we have with earth.

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In concerning himself with 'politics, equality and nature', the Guardian columnist, George Monbiot [2016] poses the question: How did we get into this mess? 

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The visionary Naomi Klein [2014] has suggested This Changes Everything.

In drawing up her own battle lines in a war between 'capitalism vs the climate'. 

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Here's our initial take on the literature event for the Hope Valley fringe. 

Along with countless other species, we each come from earth, and at some point, we’ll return to it. With 8 billion of us, and rising, it’s already giving expression in different ways to its own voice on this matter. Obviously, there are many technical discourses on this subject. But, don't they carry with them the risk that it’s always someone else’s issue, someone else’s responsibility?

We believe it’s time to cultivate soul – at the heart of our own cauldron of collective emotion and passion in our relationship with earth – here in the Hope Valley.

The Hope Valley Fringe event, 28 April 2018, seeks to bring people together to share feelings, experiences, stories and ideas that connect each of us with earth. As a literary event at one special place on earth, Hope Valley in Derbyshire, it seeks to bring people together and to break open new pathways in celebration and in exploration of the passions, love, pathos and profundity experienced in everyday occasions.

We’re aiming to encourage young people to take the lead in this project – we believe their voices are vital in leading the way and in opening new space in which to spawn, nurture and cultivate new practices in our relationship with earth. 

We have in mind discussions, interviews, talks, dramas, prose, poetry, the arts, the sciences, various combinations of multi-media which seek to explore, open new ground and to make new connections through literatures in our everyday world of eating, drinking, making music, making food, gardening, walking, mountain biking, cycling, climbing…

That’s the whole point of the Fringe – there’s no arbitrary limit to the categories used in exploring the unconventional, the frontiers, the radical edge of what’s possible in cultivating our relationship with earth. Surely, as a relationship, its express spirituality, its scientificity, its aesthetics, its ethics and economics needs some countervailing voices.  Especially when viewed with earth’s almost innumerable life-forms being ever-plundered by our seemingly insatiable drives to extract hydrocarbons, or ripped apart by industrial trawling of sea beds; with climate change threatening nothing less than the collapse of the planet, is it not time to give voice to our relationship with earth?

Many will have experienced, too, the deafening silence as the Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, has noted, ‘on climate related disasters in areas of the world where populations are most vulnerable – most recently, on the devastating floods across the globe, from Niger to South Asia’[5].

We now have the technologies to make connections around the globe – we see the Fringe Event as opening a melting pot for exploration of such connections.  What’s being called for is a small step: taking-action – let’s do something…!

Hope Valley Fringe is not, then, about inviting groups of experts, celebrities and other luminaries – of course such people are most welcome – but, it recognises that in many places on earth there are great numbers of persons with riches of experience beyond measure and talent in plenty. Hope Valley in Derbyshire is one such place.

The Fringe opens space for persons to come together and talk in different ways about their own literatures. We would love to know more about:

  • what they are doing;
  • what they hope to achieve; and,
  • the connections they are variously making through their literature. 

The whole point of our Fringe Literature event is get everybody involved in talking about and exploring their own and others' feelings, experiences, thoughts... variously concerning our relationship with earth. 

Any thoughts, suggestions, ideas and so on would be most welcome. 

We look forward to meeting everyone on the day…

Kevin, Martin and Si. 

[1] From the Latin, tellus – earth.

[2] Jay Griffiths [2006] Wild: An elemental journey, London & New York: Penguin Books

[3] Gary Snyder [2000] The Practice of the Wild, North Point Press

[4] Jay Griffiths [2013] Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape,  London and New York: Penguin

[5] George Monbiot [2017] ‘We Can’t Be Silent on Climate Change or the Unsustainability of Capitalist System’, Democracy Now, 31 August

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