Monthly Archives: December 2017

At the end of the year: six reasons for not reading Robert Macfarlane.

People keep suggesting I read Robert Macfarlane’s books – most recently his Landmarks – and I wish they wouldn’t. I’m aware that, on paper, we might appear to have interests in common but, beyond the topics of landscape and memory, we really don’t. Having tried to read Landmarks I have come to the view that I find Macfarlane’s books largely unreadable because:

1]. I have spent almost twenty years validating, through my own practice and in my own chosen places, Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks’ observation that:

“Reflecting eighteenth-century antiquarian approaches to place which included history, folklore, natural history and hearsay, the deep map attempts to record and represent the grain and patina of place through juxtapositions and interpenetrations of the historical and the contemporary, the political and the poetic, the factual and the fictional, the discursive and the sensual; the conflation of oral testimony, anthology, memoir, biography, natural history and everything you might ever want to say about a place”. (Theatre / Archaeology 2001, pp. 64-65).

2]. I took to heart the insights in James Hillman’s essay Peaks and Vales (1975) long before I read Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2002). Consequently, I’d already understood the need to ‘see through’ the Apollonian association of mountains with solitary ‘highs’, elevated states, and spiritual insights. I also saw that we needed to apply this ‘seeing through’ across the board, as a fundamental aspect of what Felix Guattari calls ‘ecosophy’. For this and other reasons I find Macfarlane’s overall viewpoint outdated and disturbingly reactionary in its underlying presuppositions. This may, of course, account for his popularity.

3]. I have read both Alan Garner’s essay Achilles in Altjira and a good deal of feminist writing. Both teach me to distrust a certain type of scholarship, one that Geraldine Finn, in her The Politics of Contingency. The Contingency of Politics. calls: “high altitude thinking, thinking forgetful of its contingent roots in particular persons, places, and times” (and so always involving, as Garner suggests, the paradoxes life inevitably throws up).

4]. I value everything that Barbara Hurd writes in Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination, a book I regard as the antithesis of Mountains of the Mind on several levels.

5]. If I want to sharpen my sense of natureculture, I submerge myself in a poem, whether by St.-John Perse, Robert Frost, Kathleen Jamie, Anthony Hecht, Naomi Shahab Nye, Don McKay, Hera Lindsay Bird, William Stafford, Martha Kapos, Kenneth Roxroth, Kathleen Raine, Basil Bunting, Anna Saunders, Charles Tomlinson, George Mackay Brown, Penelope Shuttle, Robert Bringhurst, Alyson Hallett, Walt Whitman or Charles Causley. (To name only a few). I can’t do that with Macfarlane’s books, there’s simply too much of his self-regarding sense of his own scholarship and insight in the way.

6]. Landmarks appears, at one level at least, to have been animated by a concern that children are becoming cut off from the natural world because they lack the vocabulary to name its elements. Hence the books numerous lists of regional terms for phenomena grouped according to types of landscape. (It is difficult to see what Macfarlane has in mind re. children here. Perhaps vocabulary lessons equivalent of those images of Victorian schools where every child draws the same leaf?) Surely it would be far better simply to encourage children to read and share appropriately imaginative stories; for example, Lucy Wood’s Weathering (2015) or Sylvia V. Linsteadt and Rima Staines’ Tatterdemalion (2017)? That way they might be allowed to develop their own vivid vocabulary and metaphors for their own experience of place.




The ‘Great Stink’ and the Russell Group of universities

In her review of Rosemary Ashton’s One Hot Summer: Dickens, Disraeli and the Great Stink of 1858 (in the London Review of Books, 4th Jan. 2018), Rosemary Hill recalls the last day of June 1858. The day when the unbearable stench of the Thames, then little more than a gigantic open sewer, finally made it impossible for the British Government to carry out its business as usual. Although the problem of the Thames had been under review for at least a decade, vested interests and administrative inertia had ensured that nothing was done. Only when the politicians themselves could no longer stand to work in an atmosphere so fetid that they gagged, was the Thames Purification Bill introduced, a process that then only took fifteen days to complete. The legislation passed into law on August 2nd, 1858, a reminder of just how quickly those in power can act when they have a mind to.

Which brings me to the Russell Group of universities.

On its official web site The Russell Group claims that its membership of research-intensive universities are world-class institutions that share certain distinguishing characteristics. These include a commitment to: “maintaining the very best research”; something which enables them to have: “huge social, economic and cultural impacts locally, across the UK and around the globe.”

This claim interests me because the Group includes Bristol University which, as I’ve reported before, has been trying to prevent Dr. David Tuller from further exposing the fact that, far from: “maintaining the very best research”, Bristol and other member universities have benefitted financially from protecting ‘research’ that, as Tuller and others have shown, is both bad and socially irresponsible science. In a blog post of 23 Dec., Tuller notes that Bristol has recently tried to use its “close and valued collaborative relationship” with Berkeley, where he has a post, as leverage to get him disciplined. Berkeley, to its credit, has reviewed the matter and confirmed not only that Tuller has done nothing wrong, but that it is his right, as both a public health academic and a journalist, to pursue his current line of enquiry.

Like the MPs in the Houses of Parliament during the decade prior to the Great Stink of June 1858, the Russell Group will no doubt try to ignore the bad odour Tuller has exposed. However, Bristol’s attempt to co-opt Berkeley in its bullying of Tuller has backfired, since it has allowed him to further illuminate just how low a Russell Group institution will go to protect the pseudo-science from which it benefits financially. This, in turn, gives the lie to the Group’s claim to represent world-class institutions that share a common commitment to: “maintaining the very best research”. For those of us with noses to smell, this Great Stink gets worse with every institutional attempt to suppress the fact that there is something deeply rotten in the whole system of validation that has allowed this situation to arise.

One obvious lesson to be learned from the events of the Great Stink of 1858 is that it’s only when a stench becomes so overwhelming that even those in authority gag on it that anything gets done. So we need to do whatever we can to draw The Russell Group’s attention to the stench some of its members have created.

‘Reasons for…’ (part two): an invitation on the cusp of the year

After putting up my post on December 7thReasons for proposing a hedge school (part one) – I started sending out invitations to people whose work speaks to me, some but by no means all of whom are involved in deep mapping. I invited them to send me a ‘guest post’ to go up on this site. This could be on any topic, up to 2,000 words in length, and illustrated if appropriate.


As this blog shows me, I’ve been toying with this idea since 2015. The recent reasons I gave for this were, however, still set out in a language that, while accurate enough, increasingly feels stilted and inappropriate. I want to facilitate something I called a C21st hedge school, a post-disciplinary exchange that’s not bound by the presuppositions of either the art world or the universities. But I’m increasingly thinking the shift I’m looking for needs to include the language I use to describe it. There are various reasons for this, one of which has to do with the work of Val Diggle. After attending her doctoral viva as an examiner I realised that her PhD has taken the possibilities inherent in deep mapping into a new place, and in doing so clarified many of my own concerns.

Back in March 23, 2014  I wrote that I wanted to explore the possibility of a community of transverse action. I took the term ‘transverse’ – from Felix Guattari’s book The Three Ecologies – as referring to a working or cutting across of existing social presuppositions, assumptions, and hierarchies and the disciplinary, professional, and other structures both built upon and sustaining them. I think the ability to engage in this transverse activity is closely related to Geraldine Finn’s understanding that we are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us. Action here is used in the sense proposed by the philosopher Hannah Arendt, as the vital act of keeping-open human horizons. For Arendt, action manifests both the capability to initiate – to begin something new, to undertake the unexpected and a commitment to plurality; that is to the presence and acknowledgment of others. These two qualities give action its social value and meaning. Action then is the enactment of the relationships between material environments, social relations, and the inter-subjectivities that animates the ecology of becoming. But all this is set out in an academic framework that I now think needs repositioning.

Thought of the Heart

Another way to explain why I feel the need for a change is by quoting from the biography of Flora Buchan that I’ve been working on for the last five or six years. In a letter to me she writes that maybe I need to ask myself: “what really lies behind all the ‘deep mapping’ you’ve done?”

Drawing from Joan Didion’s ‘On Keeping a Notebook’, she identifies herself as one of: “a breed apart, lonely re-arrangers of events, somehow always anxious and dissatisfied, maybe with longstanding resentments or a sense of loss.” One who keeps notebooks as: “a way to stay in touch with the life that always exceeds what we can call ‘mine’, with a world and all that is intimately bound into it, all the kith and kin.” In sending her notebooks to me to work with, she suggests they may be: “a useful counterpoint to all that scholarly plundering and sifting … My ‘heart work’ to your ‘head work’, if you like”.

Flora was an ‘invisible friend’ of the best kind, someone whose ‘heart work’ has balanced my own ‘head work’, allowing me to recognise an important impasse. Namely, that the language I’d evolved to discuss the protean ‘space-between’ the worlds of art and the university, the space in which open deep mapping can take place, is in danger of cutting me off from “the life that always exceeds what we can call ‘mine’,” from the wider ecology named by the old phrase “kith and kin”. So, I’m trying to open an exchange with people I regard as tuned to that ecology, in the first instance by creating a shared platform.

If the use of that platform gains any kind of purchase, then we may have a basis for something useful, a ‘hedge school’ made up of learner/teachers and teacher/learners, or whatever we choose to call it.

Postscript to ‘Reasons for proposing a hedge school’.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning with an only-too-familiar sick feeling in my stomach. This stemmed, I soon realised, from a fear that I have thought and written myself into a place where what I was writing would simply not be believed by the people, either artists or academics, with whom I have professional interaction.

Then, this morning, I picked up a copy of the Guardian with it’s front-page headline: ‘Students failed by rip-off fees, says watchdog’. This prompted by a statement from the Head of the National Audit Office that if, universities were subject to the same controls as banks, they’d be under investigation for mis-selling. (Although not, sadly, for the excessive salaries they are paying their Chief Executives). Within minutes of my reading this, my wife had sent me a link to the academic and investigative journalist David Tuller’s most recent post: Trial by Error: My One-sided correspondence with Professor Crawley. This brilliantly summarises an exchange that, among other things, highlights Bristol University’s attempts to stifle legitimate criticism of the (pseudo)-science on which one of its professors has built her reputation as a researcher. A situation that, as I’ve commented on in a recent post, is also an attempt to protect the University’s own income stream from research.

Of course the situation is more complicated than Tuller’s excellent posts can really cover. As he has shown in the past, Bristol is by no means alone in trying to stifle legitimate criticism of its researchers’ poor science. These attempts at bullying critics into silence, along with false claims about attempts to ‘intimidate’ researchers, now seem a common strategy among the elite Russell Group of universities, no doubt desperate to maintain both their income stream and their cosy relationship as providers of ‘official’ advise to Ministers, etc. At one level, however, this is undoubtedly the result of universities having been bullied into following Government agendas by the REF audit. This does not, of course, excuse  universities, in turn, adopted almost totalitarian tactics to ensure that staff come up with the necessary ‘quality research’. (The research necessary to ensure that the 16% rack-off for ‘overheads’ continues to flow into the university’s coffers).

I do think the situation, for all its complexities, supports my claim that universities are increasingly becoming unfit for purpose. A situation that makes alternative ways of sharing genuinely innovative forms of knowledge and understanding, almost by definition troubling to the status quo, necessary. This can only reinforce the case for starting to develop some kind of hedge school.

PPS. Anyone who feels that my take on the ‘art world’ is unreasonably jaundiced might want to read Nicholas Penny’s Top Brands Today (London Review of Books Vol. 39, no. 24 14th., December 2017 pp. 31-34). This is not, of course, a reflection on the many artists who are committed to working in the space-between described in my last post. It does, however, demonstrate, in uncomfortable detail, the (in my view) malign relationships between the commercial, academic and arts worlds.


Reasons for proposing a hedge school (part one).


I have a simple proposal to make. I want to explore the possibility of a modified, twenty-first century version of the old Irish ‘hedge school’.

A hedge school based on critical solicitude between people who acknowledge their incorrigible plurality and whose work emerges out of a specific intersection of peripheries. Work that is always to a greater or lesser extent entangled in an understanding exemplified by two interrelated observations: that our common humanity: “begins in shared pain”[1] and that: “we are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us”.[2] This would be a hedge school with a difference, neither solely oriented to the arts or academic concerns, but animated by the intersection of these with the broader concerns of lived experience in all its complexity and multiplicity.


I find this difficult to explain, so please forgive the length of what follows. If you are short of time, or unconcerned with questions of ‘why’, please stop reading here. In due course, I’ll put up a second section of this post that addresses the practicalities of a Hedge School, actual and/or virtual?

I’m anxious about the way the economics of austerity is enforcing higher and higher degrees of cultural conformity. Today it seems that the university and arts worlds, largely inseparable from those forces that drive global capital, increasingly determine which intellectual orientations and creative activities survive and which do not. As a result, there seems a growing danger of our arriving at a point where “nothing recognizable” as knowledge (analytically or aesthetically understood) can be circulated unless it conforms to the ever more strictly enforced presuppositions of the dominant cultural.[3] (Trump’s prohibition on officials articulating concern about climate change and the environment are indicative here).

The dominant culture remains wedded to an outmoded, ‘monolithic’ approach, the limitations of which can be examined by looking at two distinct ways of experiencing life worlds. In the first a life world is a given, framed by prior expectations, as a ‘life-as’ (a banker, an artist, a farmer, an academic, and so on). In the second, a life world is experienced as an open project: multi-stranded, dynamic, as ‘being-as-becoming’.[4] (This does not, of course, preclude engagement in any of the activities named above, or facing the contingencies, vulnerabilities and responsibilities inherent in human being). This conceptual distinction between modes of experience is never absolute and parallels one made by the philosopher of place Edward S. Casey.

Casey differentiates between a position, taken as “a fixed posit of an established culture”, and our experiencing of place which, notwithstanding its normally settled appearance, he characterizes as “an essay in experimental living within a changing culture.[5] This parallel further suggests the spectrum across which life worlds are experienced. From the given, fixed, or positioned (whether willingly adopted or imposed by others), that constitutes ‘life-as’; through to a becoming that requires continual negotiate as to how we are placed in relation to a world always in process.  In actuality of course our experience fluctuates between these two poles. If the first is best described as given and unitary, the second is dynamic, experimental, and plural – a ‘polyverse’ (a term borrowed from the theologian Roger Corless, both a Benedictine oblate and a Gelugpa Buddhist, who uses it to articulate his experience of the richness of both these spiritual lifeworlds without denying the irreconcilable differences between them).[6]

Our experience of the world as polyverse is rarely acknowledged because it raises difficult questions about identity and self-consistency and opens us to increased levels of cognitive dissonance. However, denial of the world as polyverse, with its corresponding sense of plurality and internal difference, has real social consequences. It restricts our capacity to deal with change and, critically, to accept the plurality and difference of others. Fortunately, many people experience their life worlds as a polyverse, whether tacitly or explicitly, learn to manage the resulting cognitive dissonances, and welcome the new understandings that result.

An example may be helpful here. Alan Garner makes a sharp distinction between ‘life-as’ a scholar or an artist, seeing the first framed by the concept of a “purely academic mind” that insists on “the primacy of analytical categories”, and the second by a rejection of the primacy of categorical thinking in the name of creativity.[7] Yet I know artist/academics who live in a polyverse that includes these supposedly antagonistic positions which, as the art educator Jon Thompson suggests, actually provide a generative paradox necessary to good art education.[8]

I have spent almost twenty years supervising and examining arts-led doctoral research projects, work that frequently requires creative acts of translation between the values of individual life worlds and an academic institution as a ‘world unto itself’ based on “a distinct cultural and linguistic tradition and a vehement sense of territoriality”.[9]  Such institutions are designed to perpetuate particular presuppositions about professional work, and increasing put pressure on individuals to constitute their identity as a professional ‘life-as’.

However, the doctoral students I work with are engaged in projects which, while conventionally categorized as art, are better understood as examples of new ways in which meanings are actively produced in relation to life worlds as a polyverse. This claim makes two assumptions. The first is that the work actively mediates between distinct, even antagonistic, framings of life worlds. The second is that, in doing so, it also mediates between the dominant aesthetic, one that privileges ‘Art’ to the exclusion of all other categories, and an ‘aesthetic of the everyday’ essential to ecological awareness.[10] Consequently, what is distinctive about these projects is not their relationship to the given category ‘art’, but that they creatively translate or mediate between what are conventionally regarded as distinct, even antagonistic, values, positions, framings, and perspectives.

‘Incorrigibly plural’

The phrase ‘incorrigibly plural’ is borrowed from Louis MacNeice, via Declan Kiberd’s discussion of MacNeice’s “protean identity” and refusal of “any simple self-description” and, in so doing, illuminates my concern with a life world as polyverse.[11] The underlying question here is how to support our giving greater attention to living in and between the dominant lifeworlds pre-given as a ‘life-as’, so as to facilitate greater attention and respect towards the multiplicity of interwoven narratives that constitute both our multiple selves and those of others. Given our worsening eco-social situation, lack of such attention can only make our situation worse. We need, at the very least, a common, empathetic, and respectful sensing of the plurality of lifeworlds from which to recognize, acknowledge, and argue our differences and similarities.

Unfortunately, the opposite appears to be happening. Collective “incommunicability through a protective withdrawal”[12] is increasingly reinforced by a constellation of factors. These include our culture of possessive individualism (in which identification with ‘life-as’ is increasingly socially adaptive), an almost pathological desire to avoid cognitive dissonance, and the persistence of deep-seated and archaic presuppositions generated by many hundreds of years of monotheistic theology and its secular off-shots.[13] All are equally antagonistic to the understanding of a life world as polyverse. Yet such an understanding is now central to the properly ecological praxis necessary to address our present troubled social and environmental situations.

Understanding a life-world a polyverse

My own understanding in this respect has been influenced by A. David Napier, who writes:

Now in our petri dish we see not only how static and complacent cells become at the center of our ‘culture,’ but by contrast, how those at the periphery of the colony – where toxic wastes do not collect in high concentration – tend to have access to the nutrients of change and, therefore, to be the most vibrant. Remember, cell colonies are cultures that are engineered not only to promote certain types of growth but to limit others.[14]

Following this metaphor, the work that matters most to me takes place somewhere along an indeterminate border, the uncertain zone that both joins and separates the cultures of ‘the university’ and ‘the arts’. However, this zone is also the site of a hard-learned empathy or critical solicitude born of ‘not (quite) belonging’, of finding oneself in a ‘place-between’ and accepting its demands. That acceptance is, in my experience, facilitated by the contingencies of an individual’s life. (In my own case, by long-undiagnosed dyslexia and through living with the innumerable ramifications of my daughter’s long-term Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). What is shared, however, is what I described earlier as an entanglement exemplified by two interrelated observations: that our common humanity begins in shared pain, and that we are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us.

A problem of identity

In the past, I’ve tried to identify this indeterminate place-between through the lens of ‘open deep mapping’, a perspective that I now see as far too limiting. I’m increasingly aware that any name can be used “to control and even destroy something”; while the alternative, living “with the paradox of …transformation is far more problematic, uncertain and, indeed, creative”.[15] It is also deeply problematic on various levels. In an age of austerity as social control, the weight of practical problems and uncertainty that accompany that paradox can be overwhelming, leaving us lost in an amorphous liminality ungrounded in sociability and shared endeavor. This is however an issue that might be addressed through collective action, which returns me at last to the notion of a hedge school.

What will follow in the second part of this post will be written ‘in lieu of’ a manifesto, then, since one cannot write a manifesto for what, of necessity, needs to remain unnamed.

[1] Ursula Le Guin (2002) The Dispossessed London: Orien Books.

[2] Geraldine Finn (1996) Why Althusser Killed His Wife: Essays on Discourse and Violence Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International p.156.

[3] Michael Gibbons, Camille Limoges, Helga Nowotny, Simon Schwartzman, Peter Scott & Martin Trow (1994) The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies London, Thousand Oaks, & New Delhi: SAGE publications Ltd pp. 1-2.

[4] Paul Heelas, Paul and Linda Woodhead (2005) The Spiritual Revolution: why religion is giving way to spirituality Oxford: Blackwell.

[5] Edward S. Casey (1993) Getting Back into Place: Towards a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press p. 31.

[6] Roger Corless ‘Many Selves, Many Realities: The Implications of Heteronyms and the Plurality of Worlds Theory for Multiple Religious Belonging”, October 6, 2002, consulted March 16, 2014.

[7] Alan Garner (1997) The Voice That Thunders London: The Harvill Press pp. 104-105.

[8] Jon Thompson, ‘Campus Camp’ in Paul Hetherington (ed) (1994) Artists in the 1990s: Their Education and Values London: Wimbledon School of Art in associate with Tate Gallery, 1994.

[9] Irit Rogoff Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture (London: Routledge, 2000), 122.  

[10] The aesthetic concerns at stake here are clearly articulated by Yuriko Saito (2007) Everyday Aesthetics Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007.

[11] Declan Kiberd (2001) Irish Classics London: Granta Books, 2001 p. 553.

[12] Paul Ricoeur ‘Reflections on a new ethos for Europe’ in Richard Kearney (ed) (1996) Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: SAGE p. 4.

[13] For discussions of the continuing impact of secular monotheism see Ernest Gellner (1992) Postmodernism, Reason and Religion London: Routledge pp. 94-5; Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis (2013) Moral Blindness: The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity Cambridge: Polity Press pp. 19-29; and the work of James Hillman and others engaged in a post-Jungian ‘polytheistic’ psychology.

[14] A. David Napier (2003) The Age of Immunology Chicago & London: Chicago University Press p. 12.

[15] Ibid. pp. xxi – xxii).

Simon Read’s Cinderella River, ‘notitia’, and the art of both/and.


Cinderella River, the Evolving Narrative of the River Lee (2017) is, taken literally, a case study undertaken by Simon Read as part of Hydrocitizenship, a three-year national research project funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is, however, also directly informed by Read’s work as an artist, speculative cartographer, environmental activist and Associate Professor in Fine Art at Middlesex University.

 Cinderella River

Cinderella River is primarily derived from a series of scrupulously documented walks along the Lee, undertaken by Read with students, colleagues or alone. Like any good case study, the book is scrupulously researched, offers astute observations, and provides informed suggestions for practical implementation. The rich and varied material it articulates flows from Read’s informed attention to issues as diverse as water governance, the placement of art in public spaces, limitations inherent in the planning of green spaces and open space amenities, the needs of the local wild life, and so on. A valuable and detailed case study then, albeit one written from a first-person perspective informed by certain wry humour, an unusual breadth of understanding, and enriched by numerous, carefully chosen, images. My concern here, however, ultimately has less to do with the book as a case study than with it being the physical trace of an exemplary engagement, to the point of being a form of deep mapping, with and of the River Lee. In short, I am interested in it as a significant example of ‘the art of both/and’, an inclusive art that helps address: “a deficiency in the mainstream art-based philosophical aesthetics by being truthful to the diverse dimensions [italics mine] of our aesthetic life”, a life lived in a pluriverse in which experience of the aesthetic “is not confined to the artworld and other art-like objects and activities”.[1]

The notion of an art of both/and is predicated on a conversational, relational, and inclusive understanding of the aesthetic, one that recognizes the implications of our living in a pluriverse and set over against the dominant presuppositions of our culture. (Presuppositions predicated on the assumption of a monolithic universe; the same assumptions on which our current university educational system and its research culture is based). Consequently, the art of both/and could be said to be a response to our need to abandon our culture’s reductive naturalism, it’s “faith in a single natural world, comprehensible through Science—or rather, through a mistaken definition of (Western) natural science whose purpose has been to eliminate entities from the pluriverse’.[2] A need that reflects the growing sense of crisis in our psychic, social and environmental concerns.

 Locating Cinderella River as an example of the art of both/and.

 I see Cinderella River as the outcome of different energies moving back and forth across three distinct but semi-permeable ‘worlds’ located in productive tension with each other. These are Read’s own diverse set of creative practices, his long-standing educational engagement as a tutor and lecturer (which he regards as “a duty as much as a congenial way of earning a living”), and the all-too-often Byzantine complexity of the world of State-funded academic research. (In this case, the hydrocitizenship project referred to above).

I’ll touch briefly on each of these ‘worlds’ in turn.

As the Portfolio page of Read’s web site makes clear, his creative work encompasses a diverse range of activities loosely-related practices. These include large-scale art work such as his Thames Profile, commissioned by the Countryside Commission; conference papers and talks relating to his practice and related concerns; a broad range of drawing work; both cartographic and sculptural environmental interventions; and the photographic work produced using hand-made panoramic cameras for which he was originally best known. Much of this diverse set of practices has, however, been directly or indirectly informed by the fact that his home base and studio have, since 1980, been a seagoing barge that has given him intimate access to the East Anglian Coast and its concerns.

Simon Read’s active concern with art education is, in my view, central to the perceptiveness, tolerance, and critical solicitude that permeates the text of Cinderella River. These qualities relate to a rarely discussed and poorly understood distinction between what might be called ‘monolithic’ and ‘pluralist’ conceptions of the artist. The term artist is usually (and misleadingly) taken to refer to somebody whose art practice is their sole or primary source of income and so their exclusive concern. To survive, such a person must negotiate and compete in the fickle, unregulated, and highly competitive ‘art world’ dominated by a global market predicated on conspicuous consumption. Those who wish to engage successfully with this market-driven world must adopt a single-mindedly and aggressively partisan position vis-à-vis their own work and, consequently, engage in continual and often strident self-promotion. The artist (who is also an) educator must, by contrast, constantly negotiate a paradox. She or he must square the circle of maintaining the necessary degree of partisanship to sustain their own practice with the disinterested openness necessary to meet the diverse educational needs of their students. Something of how Read himself squares this circle is hinted at in a section within the book called Walking the Walk. This includes reflections on Read’s introducing fourteen first-year art students at Middlesex University to the sculpture trail known as The Line, which roughly follows the Greenwich Meridian between the Olympic Park and the O2 stadium.

It is difficult to provide any kind of brief introduction to the world of academic research to which the hydrocitizenship project (funded to the tune of over one million pounds) belongs. This is due to the Byzantine complexities and opacity of the academic research world, but also to my own involvement in the hydrocitizenship project itself. (For my views on the early stages on this project, see my posts on 06.03.2016, 18.07.2015, and 11.02.2015). Consequently, I will restrict myself to making one general point here.

This concerns the realpolitik of disciplinarity which still underwrites almost all academic research projects. The Research Councils have, for some time now, encouraged the inclusion of the arts in inter-disciplinary academic research projects, arguably to increase the impact of their outcomes. While there are legitimate arguments for seeing the inclusion of arts elements as extending the reach and effectiveness of discipline-based research, these represent a somewhat partial view.

Arts practitioners have long complained that their inclusion in research projects is often either cosmetic, a means of ‘sexing up’ or rendering more accessible the data provided by ‘real’ research, or as a tacit form of academic ‘neo-colonialism’. That is, as a way of co-opting the aura of the arts, but without addressing the fundamental ontological and epistemological issues that should be raised when they are included in research projects. This leads to the suspicion that the academy is merely using the arts to paper over the cracks in a logocentric system increasingly unable to adequately address the ‘wicked problems’ at the heart of our most pressing psychic, social, and environmental difficulties. In my view both views outlined above contain a degree of truth.

I’m concerned here to think about Cinderella River in the context of this ambiguity, and to point up the book’s significance in relation to the type of research project that occasioned and funded it.

 The ‘art’ of both/and.

“We are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us”.

Geraldine Finn[3]

In this section I want to offer a brief justification for referring to Read’s book as an exemplary engagement, to the point of being a form of deep mapping, with and of the River Lee. (A claim which, I suspect, will not concern him one way or the other). For reasons already hinted at, this justification is likely to appear indefensible to most artists because it runs counter to the cultural presupposition that art only appears as such in its own exclusive aesthetic space, one entirely ‘other’ to that occupied by such instrumental activities as the production of a case study. While practitioners of the art of deep mapping are likely, almost by definition, to be more inclined to adopt more inclusive notions of what constitutes ‘art’, they too may view my claim as over-extending the notion of what might reasonably constitute a deep mapping.

Put briefly, the justification for my claim is as follows.

In his Preface: Deep Mapping and Spatial Anthropology for the online, open access Journal Humanities,[4] Les Roberts refers to a statement by Jane Bailey and myself in which we describe the process of deep mapping as consisting of: “observing, listening, walking, conversing, writing and exchanging . . . of selecting, reflecting, naming, and generating . . . [and] of digitizing, interweaving, offering and inviting.”[5] He adds that although this “will not apply to all variations and permutations of deep mapping practice”, it usefully signposts “the way that very little of what deep mappers are doing is in fact oriented towards the production of maps”. Rather, he suggests, they immerse themselves:

“in the warp and weft of a lived and fundamentally intersubjective spatiality. It is from that performative platform—that space—that the creative coalescence of structures, forms, affects, energies, narratives, connections, memories, imaginaries, mythologies, voices, identities, temporalities, images, and textualities starts to provisionally take shape”.[6]

In my view, Reed’s book precisely articulates just such a warp and weft of lived and fundamentally intersubjective spatiality. Roberts goes on to add that whether what emerges from the process of articulating that space is a “map” is less important than the process involved; “an embodied and reflexive immersion in a life that is lived and performed spatially. A cartography of depth. A diving within”.[7] On this basis, I feel wholly justified in claiming that Read’s Cinderella River is both a case study and, additionally, the outcome of pursuing the fundamental qualities ascribed to a deep mapping by Bailey and myself, as taken up by Roberts.

This argument pre-supposes a view of the art of deep mapping in which collective relationality, rather than a traditional artistic exclusivity, is taken as central. One in which “listening”,[8] understood as a form of notitia,[9] is the founding principal. Notitia is understood here inclusively, as the exercise of an imaginative facility common to the creative articulation of insight central to the practices of art, education, ethics, and conversation, properly understood.[10] As “a careful attention that is sustained, patient, subtly attuned to images and metaphor”, it is able “to track both hidden meanings and surface presentations”.[11] Neither a technique nor a methodology, notitia constitutes an informed “seeing through” that is “never accomplished once and for all” and which is, of necessity, “slow, observant, and participatory”.[12] In the educational and research contexts relevant here, the practice of notitia is best seen as “an attempt to recover the neglected and perhaps deeper roots of what we call thinking”.[13] This attempt is necessitated by our being “inhabitants of a culture hierarchized by a logos that knows how to speak but not to listen”; the hierarchization designed to restrict our acting between and across the “competing monologues”[14] that make up the academic culture of disciplinarity.

In the context of reflecting on Cinderella River, notitia is understood as related to parrhesia, a classical term revisited by Michel Foucault and often paraphrased as ‘free or fearless speech’. This mode of speaking is intended to: “unearth alternatives to the dominant, post-Cartesian approach to truth as disembodied and objective”,[15] an approach that still dominates the presuppositions on which disciplinary realpolitik is predicated. Zitzewitz characterizes this alternative approach in terms of: “a variety of practices in which truth is dependent upon the ethical disposition of the speaker” [emphasis mine].[16] In this respect, parrhesia sits in direct contrast to notions of professional and academic authority predicated on the rhetorical use of an exclusive discourse that draws heavily on ‘power words’ that derive their authority from the taken-as-given intellectual or cultural positions of an academic status quo. “Parrhestastic speech” is, then, “characterized by the frank and unornamented declaration of … what is in the speaker’s mind”[17]; the product of a person whose spoken or otherwise articulated truth: “is subjective, verifiable not through recourse to claims of expertise” [whether that expertise is conventionally ‘academic’ or ‘artistic’], “but rather through the ethical labour … of the speaker”[18] (ibid). (A point that reinforces the inclusive understanding of notitia as common to both art and ethics). Zitzewitz adds: “The audience accepts these truths because of their relationship of trust with the speaker, a trust that is maintained through the speaker’s exposure to risk”,[19] for example, the risk inherent in setting aside any recourse to claims of a special or elevated position predicated on taken-for-granted professional expertise.

My own thinking in respect to the above draws on Guattari’s conception of the ethico-aesthetic as this relates to parrhesia. That is, in terms of a thinking that derives in part from Foucault’s desire, in the discussion of art, to move its practice “away from an exclusively discursive situation” by placing “parrahesia within the realm of sensible experience”.[20] In terms of Simon Read’s work, that sensible experience is used both ‘artfully’ and to construct a practical case study. That is, it’s located within an inclusive realm of imagining, drawing together, conversing, story-telling, all framed by extensive walking and other bodily practices oriented by the River Lee. An inclusive realm that, in its paradoxical marriage of specificity and diversity, responds to Geraldine Finn’s observation above, that “we are always both more and less than the categories that name and divide us” and, in doing so, is also: “truthful to the diverse dimensions of our aesthetic life”, producing a book that is both a work of art predicated on the expanded aesthetic of notitia  and a case study responding to forms of everyday aesthetic experiences that are: “not confined to the artworld and other art-like objects and activities”.[21]


[1] Yuriko Saito (2007) Everyday Aesthetics Oxford: Oxford University Press p. 242

[2] Bruno Latour (2004) Whose Cosmos, Whose Cosmopolitics p. 458.

[3] Geraldine Finn (1996) Why Althusser Killed His Wife: Essays on Discourse and Violence Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International p. 156.

[4] The Deep Mapping double issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787) from 2015–2016, is available online at:

[5] Jane Bailey and Iain Biggs “‘Either Side of Delphy Bridge’: A Deep Mapping Project Evoking and Engaging the Lives of Older Adults in Rural North Cornwall.” Journal of Rural Studies 28 (2012): 318–28, p. 326.

[6] Les Roberts ‘Preface: Deep Mapping and Spatial Anthropology’ reprinted from: Humanities 2016, 5(1), 5 p. xiv.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Gemma Corradi Fiumara (1990) The Other Side of Language: a philosophy of listening trans Lambert, C London & New York, Routledge.

[9] Mary Watkins (2008) ‘”Breaking the Vessels”: Archetypal Psychology and the Restoration of Culture, Community and Ecology’ Marlan, S (ed) Archetypal Psychologies: Reflections in Honor of James Hillman New Orleans, Louisiana, Spring Journal Books pp. 415-43.

[10] See Monica Szewczyk (2009) The Art of Conversation, Part One e-flux Journal no. 3 Feb. 2009: ‘…if, as an art, conversation is the creation of worlds, we could say that to choose to have a conversation with someone is to admit them into the field where worlds are constructed. And this ultimately runs the risk of redefining not only the “other” but us as well’.

[11] Watkins (2008) op. cit. p. 419.

[12] Mary Watkins (2013) Hillman and Freire: Intellectual Accompaniment by Two Fathers p. 8. (consulted 1/12/2017).

[13] Fiumara (1990) op. cit. p. 13.

[14] Ibid p.85.

[15] Karin Zitzewittz (2014) The Art of Secularism: the cultural politics of modernist art in contemporary India London: Hurst & Co. p. 128.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Thanke quoted in Zitzewitz (2014) op. cit. p. 146.

 [21] Saito (2007) op.cit: p. 243.