The Poetic Species: A Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Robert Hass
Edward O. Wilson, Robert Hass
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“Enchanting. . . . The Poetic Species is a wonderful read in its entirety, short yet infinitely simulating.” —MARIA POPOVA, Brain Pickings
In this shimmering conversation (the outgrowth of an event co-sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History and Poets House), Edward O. Wilson, renowned scientist and proponent of “consilience” or the unity of knowledge, finds an ardent interlocutor in Robert Hass, whose credo as United States poet laureate was “imagination makes communities.” As they explore the many ways that poetry and science enhance each other, they travel from anthills to ancient Egypt and to the heights and depths of human potential. A testament to how science and the arts can join forces to educate and inspire, this book is also a passionate plea for conservation of all the planet’s species.
Edward O. Wilson, a biologist, naturalist, and bestselling author, has received more than 100 awards from around the world, including the Pulitzer Prize. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, he lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Robert Hass’ poetry is rooted in the landscapes of his native northern California. He has been awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice), the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award. He is a professor of English at University of California-Berkeley.
Natural World First Published in the United States in 2014 by Bellevue Literary Press, New York FOR INFORMATION, CONTACT: Bellevue Literary Press NYU School of Medicine 550 First Avenue, OBV A612 New York, NY 10016 Copyright © 2014 by Bellevue Litterary Press. Elizabeth Bishop, “The Fish” from The Complete Poems, 1927–1979. Copyright © 2011 by the Alice H. Methfessel Trust. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is
centimeters in the present time. And in pushing to such a high level, it acquired a tremendous advantage over the rest of life on Earth. That achievement suggests that the meaning of humanity had to change, the point you’ve made. The life cycle and the whole manner of communication and organizing had to change. And out of that comes the necessity of group selection—group versus group. There had to be an instinctual emphasis not only on the family, and how well it functions as a group, but also on
in a way, by writing about the evolution of culture. One of the interesting things about this idea is that it has so many echoes in art making. Artists almost always start with a kind of play based on elements that are fixed and variable, things that conventions express, set forms in music, set patterns in comedy, fixed rhythms in poetry, on the one hand, and, on the other, departures from those conventions that lead to new ways of seeing and feeling. In a way, it’s the same oscillation, between
time, but something that is true for humanity as a whole for all time. If the humanities are tightly prescribed in literature and the other creative arts by the unique properties of the one species, Homo sapiens, as appears to be the case, will they ever go beyond that? The same can be asked of the humanities as a whole. Are they in danger of becoming biological, or what? What’s going on? HASS: You’ve written about the evolutionary origin of culture, and on the evolutionary origin of the arts,
wildernesses. I’ve been there. I’ve studied thousands of species living there, in ecosystems much the same as they were millions of years ago. I believe, I think, in reference to the species that we might still save—and a growing number of them are endangered—that we need parks, big ones, lots more of them. I think we should be thinking about giving a large part of the world’s surface to wild land. To do so is not just being a conservationist—not just saving species—we must hold on to the rest of