Seascapes: Shaped by the Sea

SeascapesI am delighted to have received my copy of Seascapes: Shaped by the Sea, a book edited by Mike Brown and Barbara Humberstone exploring ‘different perspectives of being with the sea’, in which I have a chapter.

This book aimed primarily at an academic market. The editors use words like ‘autoethnography’ and ‘embodiment’ to frame it. But it seems nevertheless that it would appeal to non-academic readers. I am particularly looking forward to reading my friend Robbie Nichols account of explorations in his sea kayak. (Although its price at over $100 will put a lot of people off. Who pays this kind of price for a book? If you are an academic maybe your can get your University library to buy it!).

My chapter is in many ways a companion to Spindrift and part of my explorations ‘on the western edge’,  in that it explores issues of sustainability through eco-literature. I call it Sailing with Gregory Bateson in tribute to that great systems thinker and polymath, a man who has so influenced the way I think. Much of the chapter tells of a passage through the Chenal du Four – the tidal passage on the northwest corner of France that leads from the English Channel down to the Rade de Brest – how the tide turns against us and I chose to stop sailing and push through with the engine.

The whole sensation of moving through the water had changed: we were forcing our way into the wind rather than working with it. A mechanical wake of water stirred up by the propeller streamed out astern; the bows crashed directly into and through the waves rather than riding obliquely over them. No longer balanced against the wind, Coral sat level in the water yet pitched up and down as if irritated by the waves. And instead of the slap of the waves, the hum of the rigging, and the wind in our ears, the steady roar and vibration of the twin cylinder diesel engine under our feet, running at almost maximum power, dominated everything.

I use this story to illustrate the argument Bateson develops in his paper Conscious Purpose vs Nature: how as we humans pursue our purposes, drawing on fossil fuels and advanced technology, we cut through the complex cycles of mutual influence that balance natural ecosystems. In this case it is just me and my little diesel engine, but writ large on the planet this is devastating: it leads to degraded ecosystems, species loss, climate change.

It also makes the world and our experience of it less beautiful and at times even ugly. In his later life Bateson explored a theme he first developed in his early anthropological studies, linking the aesthetic and the beautiful in nature and in human art with the possibility of enlightened ways of being.

Creative activity and appreciation of art is a means of recovering grace, the reintegration of the “diverse parts of the mind” – especially those we (maybe wrongly) call the conscious and the unconscious. And he increasingly began to link these two themes, suggesting that aesthetic engagement is an essential part of a path toward ecological wisdom, for the appreciation of the systemic quality of the natural world is primarily an aesthetic, rather than an intellectual experience.

I have drawn on this notion of grace a bit more in an article that will come out soon in the magazine EarthLines. The appreciation of the systemic quality of the natural world is primarily an aesthetic, rather than an intellectual experience. Aesthetic engagement – through all the arts, and also through just getting out in wonder – is an essential part of a path toward a sustainable human presence on Earth.

Seascapes: Shaped by the Sea. Embodied Narratives and Fluid Geographies, edited by Mike Brown and Barbara Humberstone, London: Ashgate, 2015.




  1. I’m always so pleased to hear that you are writing. And I was glad to see your name pop up in my inbox with this blog entry after what seems like a long time.
    I’ve been talking with students at Winchester about their experience of the separation of art and science, creativity and ‘fact’, logic and intuition. So many tell of how this has affected their lives since entering formal education. I’m encouraged to find that many also feel committed to bringing these different ways of learning about and experiencing the world back together, without feeling they must value one more than the other. What is even more encouraging though is that some just say ‘of course’!
    I hope universities will buy the book for their libraries and that I’ll have a chance to read it.

    • Hi Melanie, thanks for your comment. I am writing lots, just not blogging it.. Still trying to find the form for the next book. I am pleased with the EarthLines piece which will come out quite soon I think. Px

  2. 17635338uws says:

    My copy is winging itself across the seas towards Aotearoa as we speak….. can’t wait! Jo

  3. Peter, this is fascinating. can you make sure you let me know when the earthliness article comes out, please?
    I particularly like passages like, ‘..suggesting that aesthetic engagement is an essential part of a path toward ecological wisdom, for the appreciation of the systemic quality of the natural world is primarily an aesthetic, rather than an intellectual experience.’ Without wishing to lessen the place of intellectual activity, I am grateful to you for articulating the idea of art as a means of recovering grace, with such, well,….grace.

  4. says:

    Hi Peter,

    I hope you’re well and that Elizabeth is improving?

    Your piece about the Chenal du Four has struck a chord with me, the number of times we end up against the tide ….! But you’ve broken the experience down into it’s components and yes, we’re trying to go against nature – not a good idea and always feels wrong. I’ve enjoyed reading your articulation of the experience.

    I went to the boat show to help on the Amelie Rose stand last week and came across my notes of our time in Scotland. For me, it was a once in a life time, wonderful experience. Have you had any interest in Coral from potential buyers?

    I think Melanie has told you that I’ve done a crazy thing in buying a gaff cutter! She’s an Oysterman 22 with glass hull, a long keel, draws 4’6″ and is very pretty! Quite a lot of work to do which is enjoyable but expensive, you know all about that. My plan is to keep her in the Falmouth area, travel down once a month for four days at a time and hopefully, spend a week or more on her during the summer.

    Anyway, we look forward to seeing you here soon and catch up properly, you’re welcome to stay of course.

    Best wishes to you both.


    Sent from my iPad


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Bath Writers & Artists Group

Working Site managed by Sue Boyle


ecoculture, geophilosophy, mediapolitics

Rain on Arrakis

I'm Franklin Ginn, a cultural geographer at the Unviersity of Bristol. My research interests are in multispecies landscapes, plant politics, environment-society relations, Anthroposcenes/ Chthulucenes and philosophical questions concerning the nonhuman.


"The safest general characterization of the philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." —Alfred North Whitehead

fire in the head

28 years inspiring creative & reflective writing

Richard White

explorations in place and time


light seeking

The New Citizenship Project Blog


Shiny New Books

What to Read Next and Why

Tidal Cultures

Explorations of cultural and natural aspects of tidal landscapes in the UK, The Netherlands and beyond


Sometimes I want to write things down

Joe Minihane

Travel, technology, lifestyle

Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic


Recent work and work in progress and anything else that interests me


Going wild on Scotland's west coast

qualia and other wildlife

Ecological writing between ocean and land

Dark Mountain

Ecological writing between ocean and land

Joanna Macy and Her Work

Ecological writing between ocean and land

The Island Review

the online home for island lovers, writers and artists

Coming Home to Story

Notes from a journeyman writer, storyteller, and narrative consultant

%d bloggers like this: