Green Consciousness:  Perspectives from Kenneth White and John Moriarty, the 5th Tony McManus Geopoetics Lecture 12 February 2022 Máiréad Nic Craith

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Green Consciousness: 

Perspectives from Kenneth White and John Moriarty

The 5th Tony McManus Geopoetics Lecture, 2022

Máiréad Nic Craith

Professor of Public Folklore

Institute of Northern Studies

University of the Highlands and Islands 

NB: This is a work in progress, and I am already re-drafting it. It you wish to cite it, please get in touch with me at I would welcome any comments/conversations about John Moriarty and Kenneth White.

Thank you for the invitation to deliver the 2022 Geopoetics lecture in honour of Tony McManus, an accomplished writer, educator and musician. It is a great privilege for me for give this annual lecture, which has been established in his honour by the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. In Scotland, the concept of Geopoetics is attributed to Kenneth White. It is a concept that is highly critical of Western thought which separates humans from the rest of the nature world. Instead, Geopoetics argues for a holistic perspective on the universe and places the planet at the centre of human experience. Geopoetics emphasises the role of the senses in engaging with the earth and encourages creative expression of that encounter.

Drawing on the writings of Kenneth White, this lecture explores the thought processes that influenced the nature of our relationship with the earth within the context of Geopoetics. Given my Irish background, I am going to use the opportunity to profile John Moriarty, an Irish intellectual and contemporary of White. Although Moriarty is not formally part of the canon of Geopoetics, it seems to me that White and Moriarty have much in common. This essay will begin by drawing parallels between the lives of these non-conformist intellectual nomads. It will then explore commonalities in their approach to knowledge and nature with particular reference to the concept of “Green consciousness”, which (like Geopoetics) implies a holistic view of the earth. The reference to the colour green is used to designate a life force that is non-dualistic and non-hierarchical (Caputi 2007).

Fellow Intellectuals

Kenneth White was born in 1936 in Glasgow but grew up on the Ayrshire coast, where his father worked as a railway signalman. John Moriarty was born two years later in 1938 in County Kerry in the west of Ireland. His father was a farmer, and like White’s, Moriarty’s childhood was largely spent in a rural environment. Both men were high achievers at school.  White obtained a double first in French and German from the University of Glasgow. Moriarty gained a double-first in philosophy and English literature at University College, Dublin.

Image 1: Kenneth White


Both men continued their education at university for a period of time. White had a postgraduate  scholarship at Glasgow but departed to self-study Nietzsche and others in Munich. He then left for Paris. In 1963, White returned to the University of Glasgow, where he lectured in French literature until 1967. Following his primary degree, Moriarty was invited by James Cameron, head of the philosophy department at Leeds University, to read for a postgraduate degree, and because of his financial situation, he was offered the post of tutor to first-year students. After a couple of years, John went to the University of Manitoba, Canada, where he taught English literature for a further eight years.

Image 2: John Moriarty (book Cover)


Both intellectuals were disillusioned with academic life. In 1967, White resigned from Glasgow University and moved to France, where he lectured in English at the University of Bordeaux. White was expelled from the university after his involvement in the student protests of May 1968. He subsequently lectured at the University of Paris VII from 1969 until 1983. He then left the Pyrenees for the north coast of Brittany. In 1979 he defended a state doctorate thesis on the theme of ‘intellectual nomadism”. Subsequently, he got a personal chair of 20th century poetics at Paris-Sorbonne. 

Unlike White, Moriarty exited academic life completely and decided to return to his rural Ireland. When his money ran out, he helped out in hotels and then turned to gardening. In 1977, he went to England and became live-in gardener in the Carmelite monastery at Boars Hill, Oxford. On returning to Ireland, he worked as a gardener again in Connemara in County Galway, and, having been given a piece of land, he started building his own house. He subsequently moved back to Kerry. 

Both men were intellectual nomads and were dissatisfied with the compartmentalisation of knowledge into different silos. They devoured a remarkably similar range of reading, In philosophy they engaged regularly with Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger. Both respected Celtic naturalism, and shamanism. (They regarded themselves as having shamanic experiences). Both read far beyond the European canon and delved into Buddhism, Zen and other forms of Eastern knowledge. Both men engaged with Black Elk and Native American traditions.    

Despite their discomfort with academia, both men received honorary doctorates in recognition of their intellectual abilities. White holds honorary doctorates from a range of universities in the UK. He is an honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and was appointed as visiting professor at Scotland’s University of the Highlands and Islands. Before his death, Moriarty reluctantly received an honorary doctorate from University College Galway – not because he felt he didn’t deserve it – but that in accepting it he was subscribing to a formal system of education which was ruining minds. Moriarty died at a relatively young age in 2007. Kenneth White lives on the north coast of Brittany with his wife Marie-Claude, who is a translator and photographer. He is the recipient of many awards and honours, in Europe and Scotland.

Both intellectuals have published widely. Kenneth White has published a range of poetry anthologies, narratives, collections of essays in both French and English, which can be viewed here: In particular I’d like to draw attention to what are called his Waybooks. These are prose narrative books that combine mental investigations with geographical exploration of various territories and terrains. His publications have divided critical opinion between those who hail his poetry and radical thought as ground-breaking, and others who dismiss his continental celebrity and exclude him from poetry anthologies and Scotland’s literary canon. Cairns (2019, 154) suggests that White

“remains marginal to modern Scottish poetry – let alone to Scottish culture in general”. Bowd 1988, indicates that White has generally been regarded as an outsider to Scottish writing. 

Like White, Moriarty published widely during his short lifetime. Just two weeks before he died from cancer, aged 69, John Moriarty sent the checked proofs of the second part of his autobiography, What the Curlew Said: Nostos Continued, (2007) to the Lilliput press who have published most of his writing. During the last two years of his life, he managed to finish and have published three other books: Invoking Ireland, challenging contemporary Irish attitudes to their land, history, religion and culture; Night Journey to Buddh Gaia, a monumental work which builds a vision that confronts our western Enlightenment assumptions and conceptions; and Serious Sounds, a personal reflection on the seven Christian sacraments. Moriarty has divided opinion in the same way as White. Several of his books have worn awards. While his writing has been described as visionary, it is also regarded as very challenging to read. Like White in Scotland, Moriarty has been neglected in the Irish literary cannon – although that is now changing.  Michael W. Higgins (2019) notes: “John Moriarty’s utterly personal, autobiographical and poetic way of philosophising is so far outside the norm – acceptance in the canon is a long-term undertaking”.  Bissell (1996: 11) makes a similar point in relation to White. “As usual with those who break new ground, whilst arousing great enthusiasm, White has had his share of detractors.”  Philosophy pervades the writings of both these men and I am keen to explore the impact of some of their readings on their understanding of the human/nature relationship. (Although Heidegger was a powerful influence on both men, I am not dealing with it here. This is a topic for another essay.)


Moriarty’s first formal encounter with Descartes possibly occurred with his philosophy degree in Dublin. Frequently regarded as the father of modern philosophy, Descartes adopted a “method of doubt” in his search for scientific truth (Scruton, 1982). Doubt led to verification. ‘From the mere fact that I thought of doubting the truth of other things, it followed quite evidently and certainly that I existed’ (Descartes 1637). This inevitably leads to the conclusion ‘I think, therefore I am’ (Cogito ergo sum). Thought was the essence of the human being, and although humans have bodies, they could conceive of themselves without those bodies. Mind and body were separate entities. This distinction dominated philosophy for centuries and had monumental implications for the human/nature relationship.

Image 3: René Descartes


Moriarty was not impressed with Descartes’s cogito. He could not understand how a man such as Descartes, raised in a pre-industrial environment, had given such priority to rationality: 

What I couldn’t understand about Descartes is that, like Leonardo and Rembrandt, he too must have grown up in a house lighted by candles that sometimes guttered, lighted by the alarms and calms of an open fire. Almost like kittens playing with each other, the light of candle and fire would have played with the darkness, not driven it out. So how come that the mood of the house he grew up in didn’t continue to be the mood of his mind, as it did in Rembrandt. (Moriarty 2001, e-book)

In his autobiography, Moriarty stated: “Descartes’ cogito was a country I couldn’t inhabit”, and yet it dominated the entire system of education – not just in Ireland but also in Europe. Moriarty regarded this as a catastrophe. Unlike his fellow philosophy students, Moriarty rejected Cartesian dualism and argued for a different way of knowing: 

From the moment I first heard it, I resisted the call to Cartesian clarity. In an argument one day with three other students, I had insisted that there is a night knowing, a knowing not narrowed by instinct or intellect. Damning myself irredeemably in their eyes, I further insisted that Europe’s recent horrors could be traced to the fact that we had chosen to live by Descartes’ over-clear and over-conscious cogito rather than by Leonardo’s chiaroscuro (Moriarty 2001, e-book).

With Descartes (and others such as Newton and Darwin), Moriarty believed that human beings had taken a wrong turn. This was not necessarily because these intellectuals were wrong in their thinking, but humans had abandoned too much in search of rationalism and separated themselves from the natural world. Human beings now live in a “great and terrible res extensa desert of Cartesian clarities”  (Ó Ciaráin, 2020). In focusing on the concept of reason, people assumed that thinking was the primary reality for humans. The mind was superior to and separate from the body, which was “cut off from nature” (Charleton 2007: 245). The world of the cogito was pitched against the world of nature. Moriarty named this promotion of the mind at the expense of the body “The Gorgon Cogito”. Here he was drawing on classical literature where Gorgon’s head turned anything it looked at to stone (Charleton 2007: 245)

In contrast to Moriarty, White had a certain admiration for René Descartes and points to the philosopher as a “starting point to his thinking” (Malpas, 2012). Malpas suggests that the significance of Descartes for White lies in Descartes’s questioning of oneself and one’s place in the world.  White (1998: 185)  writes that “What Descartes did, for a start, was to put the whole of the ideological universe in question, until all that remains is the subjective thinking self (ego and cogito)”.  White further argues that: “Within modernity, Descartes’ attempt had been proto-foundational of a live intelligent world” (White 1998: 186). 

In the search for knowledge, the thinker must begin with himself and travel on the path from “egopoetics to geopoetics – from self to world” (Malpas 2012). However, White argued that rationalism `(rather than rationality) had been detrimental to the human experience of the world. He writes” “What happened in the modern age was that rationality turned into rationalism, which means among other things, a loss of the sense of world, a culture that rings more and more hollow… and a proliferation of narrow specialities” (1998: 184) 

Lived Experience

White was much more interested in Edmund Husserl and the concept of phenomenology as an explanation of human relationship with nature. While re-affirming the Cartesian premise “the immediate knowledge that I have of my own conscious mental states is the one sure foundation for an understanding of their nature”,  Husserl placed strong emphasis on the concept of intentionality which “makes ‘meaning’ or ‘reference’ essential to every mental act” (Scruton, 1982: 252).  White (1998: 183) writes that “Husserl’s aim was to jettison superficial rationalism…. without abandoning reason”.  White (2001: 32) notes that Husserl placed emphasis on feeling “not as mere sentiment, impression, allied to imagination, fantasy (all that can arise from historico-cultural sedimentation, and which is the usual stuff of ‘art’ and ‘poetry’), but as primary experience, the moving on earth-ground, within the earth-sphere.” Husserl stressed the concept of intentionality “that fills in the blanks, the voids, the whites” in our experience (ibid). The lived  experience “leads, potentially, to a living world that has different levels, that has room for the singular and the plural, that has both a given background and a horizon of open possibility.”

Image 4: Edmund Husserl

After Husserl, phenomenology was adapted by Maurice Merleau-Ponty who argued that what is most important about our experience is that it is holistic – there is no separation of body and mind, which in turn has implications for relations between humans and nature. In The Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (2002) rejected Cartesian Dualism and proposed that thought and perception are embodied. The body is not separate from the mind.  It is a “lived body”. The focus of Merleau-Ponty’s work is the significance of embodiment for perception. The body is central to our engagement with the world. People are not disembodied minds. Through their bodies they are connected to the natural world. The world is perceived from a particular time and place.. It cannot be ignored since it is permanently present and is the angle from which we sense the world. 

Image 5: Jacques Merleau-Ponty,


Although neither Moriarty nor White make very explicit reference to Merleau-Ponty, both share the significance he attaches to the sensory perception of the world. Charleton (2007: 42) argues that unlike Merleau-Ponty (or Heidegger), Moriarty was not particularly drawn to explaining that experience of open-ness to the world in terms of Being. “Perhaps  he found that too abstract, too much a withdrawal from direct participation in His Nostos, homecoming, is to his “bush-soul” (Charleton 2007: 242). However, Moriarty placed strong emphasis on using the senses of smell and touch to engage with nature. In one instance, Moriarty asked the earth to be a cocoon bringing a new and blessed mind, a mind of Nature, to life in himself. This is a way of knowing that prioritises the body, the gut and the senses. This is about experience rather than information. 

In another tale he relates about a visit to a forest, Moriarty makes a point about how formal education gets in the way of engagement with nature. In the words of Moriarty: “I had recently walked through this wood with Professor Westhoff. Delightedly, as we walked this way and that, he filled page after page after page of his notebook with the names of what, quite clearly to him, were botanical wonders, revelations almost, not just familiar specimens”. When they emerged from the wood, Moriarty was disappointed since the professor had “walked through the wood but he at no point walked into it. Having an educated, expert eye, the professor met his own knowledge but he didn’t meet the wood”. (Moriarty 2007 e-book)

Science’s quest for objective knowledge had excluded lived experience. Ward (2022:9) says that the key point in this episode was “the professor’s alleged inability to move beyond an experience of the wood as a projection of his own knowledge”. The cleanliness of his clothes when he emerged from the forests was symbolic of the Professor’s lack of sensation in the forest.  “For Moriarty, this experience demonstrated the dangers of a monopolized mind which sees the outward world as a representation of one’s inner expertise, viewing reality as a predictable plane of causal laws which can be understood and recited.” (Ward 2022: 9) There is no role for empathy or embodied knowledge in a system which priorities rationality above any other skill. Moriarty and White regard this as an inappropriate way to engage with nature and propose different ways of knowing which involve other skills – a direction that is heavily influenced by phenomenology.

In 1984, White journeyed to Japan and followed the trail of the 17th Century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō who advised direct sensual engagement with the earth. “Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And, in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupations with yourself. Otherwise, you impose yourself on the object and do not learn” (In McManus 2007: 114). Overthinking kills direct engagement with nature. As McManus (2007: 114) notes: “The Westerner who requires to question and get all wordy about a flower kills it in order to do so”. In thinking rather than feeling, the human destroys the experience. Rather than thinking about the flower, Bashō, merely looks at it carefully” and does not discuss his feeling. Instead, he invites the reader to reach the same feeling by achieving the same perception” (McManus 2007: 114).  

In a poem entitled “Interpretations of a Twisted Pine” which begins with a line from Bashō, White elaborates on knowing nature holistically: 

The branches of my brain

are alive to sun and rain 

my forest mind

is in tune with the wind


there is reason in my resin

Learn of the pine from the pine (White 1989, 81)

Phenomenology infuses the writings of both Moriarty and White who  regard the scientific quest for objectivity as naïve. Instead, they promote an engagement through first person experience. This approach places emphasis on sensing rather than thinking. Perception is lived rather than conceptualised. There is no “consciousness to perception”. Instead, there is the embodied experience which registers on the body in its totality (including the mind).  


Both White and Moriarty have a similar approach to formal education and were deeply uncomfortable with a system that considers the mind a tabula rasa to be filled with data. At schools and universities, professors tend to fill students’ heads with facts. Humans across the world have lost contact with nature and are drowning in information that is presented to them at ever-increasing speed via the internet and electronic gadgets. Instead of overburdening students minds with data, White and Moriarty propose a radical new way of “knowing” which favours “emptiness” rather than “fullness”. In getting to know someone or something, One empties oneself of the superfluous.  

Moriarty advocates emptying the head of useless facts which blind the ability to engage with nature. He illustrates this with reference to an occasion when he was out walking in a field. A hare sprang away from his feet. Moriarty immediately reached down to the ground and eased his head, face down, into the warm form left by the hare. It was a perfect, sheltering fit for his head. As he lay there, breathing in the rich warmth of the earth and the rich musk left by the hare, he asked the earth to suck out all that was damaging and limiting in the European way of seeing and knowing things. It was this emptiness observed by Moriarty in his father, a profoundly wise (although not necessarily educated) man.

What I learned from him [Moriarty’s father] is that you don’t need to be an intellectual to be a philosopher. More often than not, it isn’t through intellect at all that deepest life in us mediates its deepest wisdom. Deepest wisdom comes to us sitting behind cows in a cowstall, sitting there quietly, listening to them chewing the cud. Poor René Descartes! He didn’t seem to know that there is a wisdom that will not inhabit ideas. Above all, it will not inhabit clear and distinct ideas.  Little wonder that so many of us emerge so damaged from the twenty-year assault, onslaught and assault, of a modern Western education. (Moriarty 2001, e-book)

The process recommended by White and Moriarty is a complete reversal and disruption of the way we acquire knowledge in formal systems of education. We must re-define the process of gaining wisdom, emptying of heads of facts and figures and instead allowing ourselves and our bodies to engage directly with nature.  As McManus (2007: 97) notes: “For Husserl, the founder of Transcendental Phenomenology, objectivism is “naivety”. We must learn to look at things stripped of all that is superfluous… This is a process akin to the Buddhist idea of ‘emptying the mind.’” An  example of this approach is evidenced in the first two lines from White’s poem “Last Page of a Notebook” (White 2003, 123). 

A bird yell

Emptied my skull

Above the poem are the words “fuze shin, fuze butsu, fuze motsu” which is a zen saying: “don’t seek the truth. Just drop your opinions”. 

The emptiness advocated by White involves dropping pre-conceptions and baring oneself to nature (Cairn 2009) An illustration of this is found in White’s poem “Letter to an Old Calligrapher”: 

A hundred days

Along shore and mountain

With eye open

For heron and cormorant

Now writing this

At the world’s edge

In a silence become

A second nature

Coming to know

In brain and in bone

The path of emptiness (White 2003: 106) 

The path of emptiness leads to knowledge. Cairns (2009) suggests that the title of White’s collected poems – Open World – is symbolic of the emptiness that exists before knowledge – “the “o” being the bland, the zero before the “pen” inscribes meanings on it”.  

Sometimes White seems to equate this open-ness or transparency with Whiteness. When he finds “Whiteness” in different places, critics assume is that he is talking about himself and accuse him of being egotistical. I think it far more likely that the Whiteness referred to is a form of emptiness. White confirms this is the case in an interview with Paterson. He says: 

In short, “white world” came to mean for me a world no longer obfuscated by our own projections and our constructions, but a world clear, transparent, simply (and completely) there. Total evidence. A space of living and thinking disencumbered of overheavy mental architecture such as the platonic Idea, God, Reason, Culture, Humanity etc., and those ponderous “principles” under the shadow of which we lived for a very long time. (White 1996: 78-9)  

In his poem,  “Into the Whiteness”, White pens:  

Now I have burnt all my knowledge

And am learning to live with the whiteness naked

What I call art now is nothing made

But the pure pathology of my body and mind

At the heart of a terrible and joyous world (White 2003:109)

Emptiness allows the human to apprehend the world directly and “the concept of openness is a fundamental element of White’s work” (Szuba 2019, 39). McManus (2007: 185) notes that Kenneth White’s poetry “opens up spaces”. Such openness also has implications for the relations between human and nature. It implies non-hierarchical relations between nature and humans. There is no domination and no possession. Instead, there is a holistic relationship with the land, The assumption that humans are at the centre of the world – that they inherit the earth – should be cast off  (Szuba 2019, 39). 

 Silver Branch Perception 

Scientific logic has crippled the Irish mentality. Cartesian dualism which ushered in modernity split the world in two and placed humans in a hierarchical relationship with nature. It restricted their engagement with the world. Moriarty compared these restraints to Hadrian’s wall that was built across the north of England. Originally a wall designed to protect the empire of Rome, it served as a barrier to the movement of people from one realm to another. Although the Romans never physically conquered Ireland, the Irish had constructed their own inner mental wall against  their native epistemological tools. Like any colonised people, they began to neglect their indigenous sources of wisdom and continued to deepen and widen the “wall of rationality”  which disempowered a traditional Celtic way of knowing. This “inner wall” was consolidated by Cartesian logic. There were no cracks. Rationality was the route to wisdom. The power of the body and its senses to acquire wisdom was disregarded and rejected.

Placing human beings against nature was a regressive move for the earth. A hierarchical paradigm with humans at the top of the chain generated an inward-looking focus with a different, materialistic set of values and expectations. As master and possessor of nature, humans have become more and more obsessed with materialism. The relationship between human beings and the natural world changed fundamentally. Instead of “us” and “us”, it had now become “we’ and “them”. Children are suffering from nature deficit disorder, and it is no longer “I think therefore I am” but instead “I consume therefore I am”.  We have moved from “ Cogito Sum” (I think therefore I  am) to “I consume therefore I am”. Moriarty was appalled with the way “our eyes are economic brain tumours. We look at a cow and we see gallons of milk and kilos of meet. We look at a tree and we see timber. We look at a person and we see workforce and manhours, something to be exploited for material gain” (Moriarty 2007, e-book). We ourselves have become human resources, “mere units of labour or skill” for the businesses that “own us”– a reaction he railed against. 

The materialism and economic aspirations of contemporary society has seriously depleted the resources of the earth – a way of being that has implications for future  generations and the well-being of the planet. Moriarty argues that humans need to recognise that their greed is breaking down the earth’s immune system in a manner akin to the aids virus in human beings. According to Moriarty, the world is HSS positive; “Homo Sapiens Sapiens positive”. Our eyes have grown tumours that narrow our focus primarily on economical worth.  Cows are valued in terms of kilos of beef and gallons of milk. Pigs are sources of pork and trees are reservoirs of timber. Even human beings are described as units of labour or skills – a  perspective that is captured in the widely used phrase “human resources.” 

Image 6: Consumerism


© M Nic Craith

If Irish people were to break this cycle of materialism and greed, they would need to reclaim their native way of knowing and adopt what Moriarty entitles a “silver branch perception”. Rather than using logic and Cartesian dualism as epistemological tools, Irish people  would reclaim their imaginative, creative tools. The concept of “silver branch perception” is drawn from Irish mythology and refers to the tale of the Voyage of Bran. In this Old-Irish narrative, King Bran Mac Feabhail goes on a voyage to the otherworld. There he encounters Manannán Mac Lir, the God of the Sea. Manannán bestows the gift of a silver branch with golden apples on Bran. This gift enabled Bran to see the otherworld, which is not necessarily separate from the natural world as we know it. It facilitated a heightened perception of the world and the place of humans in it. 

Image 7: Manannán Mac Lir, the God of the Sea


Alastair McIntosh (1998) suggests that this silver branch (bough) perception is the branch of apple blossom given by fairies to enable humans to pass into musical and poetic realms. The imagery is not confined to Celtic folklore. A similar feature occurs in the Aeneid during Aeneas’s quest to find a golden bough in order to gain access to the Underworld. When Aeneas begins his descent into the Underworld, the golden bough is shown to Charon who then allows the visitors to enter the boat and cross the Stygain river. 

While the narratives differ in detail, the key feature remains the same. Silver or Golden branch perception enables a wider perspective on relationality within the universe. It is not bound by logic but is open to different insights. Silver Branch Perception represents a transition. it involves a heightened awareness of the oneness or holistic nature of the world . It “is a shift towards an acknowledgement of a reverence in being, to the wonder inherent in the living world.” (Ward 2022: 6) In consequence of this change in perception, “what once appeared ordinary becomes extraordinary” (ibid). Moriarty described this enhanced perception as mirabili’. This is a way of knowing the world that acknowledges the strangeness of reality but does not attempt to explain it or master it.  It involves a new way of looking at the earth, and a new relationship between human and nature.  

Knowledge and Green Consciousness 

The relationship of humans to the earth is a central theme of both Moriarty and White’s work. Moriarty was very clear on the damage done by rationalism and modernity to the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. With Modernity, the paradigm had changed. Instead of creator-creature, it had become subject-object. This led to a desire for mastery and possession. Descartes had inaugurated a conception of the human being which was separate from and superior to the animal world. Humans were elevated because of their ability to reason. As modernity progressed, the gulf widened between human and nature. The latter became commodified.  

Moriarty offers an alternative vision where all things live ecumenically with all things, uniting man with nature, magic and the divine. Sometimes Moriarty used the concept “commonage consciousness” to describe the revised relationship between all living beings. Ward (2022: 4) suggests that this involves an acknowledgement of the mutuality with all human life. The “I” becomes a “we”. The concept of “commonage consciousness” breaks down the divide between humans and the rest of the world. It topples the hierarchy which places humans at the top of the evolutionary chain. In Nostos, Moriarty writes: 

I had long believed that, not so deep in us, there is a consciousness that isn’t fenced off from other consciousness. I was in the habit of calling it commonage consciousness, a consciousness not fenced off from the consciousness of cheucau or fox, iguana or finch, not fenced off for that matter from rock and star. (2001: e-book).  

Commonage consciousness is a liberation from Cartesian dualism and the focus moves from categorisation or analysis to the experience and – in a manner reminiscent of Næss (1973), the individual ego merges into the greater whole. “Like Næss, Moriarty viewed the development of commonage consciousness as a progression or maturation of the ego which involves a gradual transition from an atomistic identity to one that incorporates a greater and greater range of beings” (Ward 2021: 7). It is also one in which we may rely on animals rather than humans to save us: 

Do the animals know we are in trouble? Are they going to help us? Are they opening old trails for us? Trails to possibilities and depths of nature inside and outside ourselves that we have lost contact with? Are they calling us back into commonage consciousness not just with themselves but with all that exists? (Moriarty 1997: e-book)

Green consciousness is also at the heart of White’s writings – a term which he captures in the concept of Geopoetics. McManus (2007: 183) explains: 

We must perceive the human in relation to the earth that is develop that “sense of world” whose felt loss has been the spur of all his [i.e., White’s] world. That is the ‘geo’ in ‘geopoetics’. The “poetics” covers the realisation, also derived from that nomadizing, that when the human being hits upon genuine perception of reality the desire to express that perception is part of it. 

 The human race is currently in denial, and has been for over a century and a half with regard to its long-term survival. This denial we can no longer afford. Moriarty’s counsel would be one of walking on the surface of the earth without hurting it. We need what American poet Wallace Steven’s called a new intelligence; an intelligence, that would lead us away from cruelly emptying the seas and burning the forests and poisoning the lakes and the rivers, an intelligence that would protect languages and traditional cultural heritage also. (see Ramazani 2020) 

We are not separate from the elements or the biosphere around us. We are one with our fellow creatures and with our habitats too.  The world does not only ‘environ’ us, we are it, it is in us and we in it….No longer can we assert dominion over animals. Were we to damage say a river or a forest we would only after all be damaging ourselves.  (Moriarty 2005)

One cannot but notice a corelation between Moriarty’s and White’s invocations and current activists for climate change. Both philosophers ask for a vision of humans as part of, but not, dominating nature. This option imposes an unbearable morality, a seemingly impossible responsibility of care, i.e., that we are the universe and, as Moriarty wrote, ‘matter is mind in hibernation’. Climate change is a scientific issue, but it is also a cultural one, which requires a major re-adjustment of the way we look at the world and see our place in it – a major re-adjustment of the way we know and value the world.  If we take a sense of interconnectedness seriously, then we will know that in damaging the earth we are damaging ourselves.   


Bissell, Norman (1996) “Introduction” In: Kenneth White, Coast to Coast: Interviews and Conversations 1985-1995, Glasgow: Open World in association with Mythic Horse Press, pp. 9-13. 

Bowd, Gavin (1988) The Outsiders: Alexander Trocchi and Kenneth White: an Essay (Kirkcaldy: self-published. 

Cairns, Craig (2009) ‘Kenneth White’. In: Matt McGuire and Colin Nicholson eds, The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Poetry, Edinburgh University Press, pp 154-71.

Caputi, Jane (2007) ‘Green Consciousness: Earth-Based Myth and Meaning in Shrek’, Ethics & the Environment, 12(2), pp. 23-44. 

Charleton, Manus (2007)  ‘Two Narratives: On John Moriarty & George Moore’ Irish Pages, 4(1), pp. 241-255.

Descartes, René (1637) Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, translation by  F. Sutcliffe, (2005), London: Penguin Classics.

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