This article was originally published by Paul Nelson on his website, and is reposted with his permission. The full content can be found here.
David McCloskey Interview
David McCloskey is a retired Professor of Sociology at Seattle University, and founder of the Cascadia Institute. The interview took place on October 30, 2013, at his home in Eugene, Oregon.
After hearing about the concept in bioregionalism (in about 1991 or so) and getting interested in an organizing effort that went deeper than politics, I created the Cascadia Poetry Festival in March of 2012 at the former SPLAB in the old Columbia School. (The details on that fest are here.) And when I started my digging into the nature of Cascadia, I soon came in contact with David McCloskey. A retired Professor of Sociology at Seattle University, he now spends his days in Eugene, Oregon, in the house where he grew up, waving the banner for bioregional culture and autonomy. Literally. And running the Cascadia Institute.
And while I am interested in understanding the culture of this bioregion and have started a multi-decades research project on it, I am also interested, like McCloskey is, in shaping the culture into something just, sustainable and creative. The descendants of settlers and immigrants need to have a sense of place akin to what indigenous people had to be fully alive, in my view. We can’t really know ourselves until we know where we are and McCloskey is doing very important work to help that process. So on my way down to Southern Cascadia for a residency at the Morris Graves Foundation, I would be gifted with the phrase Bioregional Animation to describe what I am after in my efforts.
But Eugene is on the way to Loleta, CA, and found a kind and genial host on October 30, 2013, willing to discuss his notions of bioregional activism, his history with it and other fascinating related subjects. This interview will be serialized the next few weeks, but the whole interview will be archived here.
In the introductory segment the notion of the Cascadia bioregion was discussed, specifically how one must start with a sense of place (oikos) and not from a political or other sense which strengthens what he calls the abstractions and psyche projections that work against a truly ecological way of being in the world. (Part 1, 8:33)
In segment two he discussed his efforts to create a new culture through what her termed: “a poetics of landscape.” He discussed how his effort involves maps, poems and stories. He invited poets and artists to help create a shared story that will inspire an ecologically-centered culture by taking on the imagination of the bioregion. He also discussed how he got to know Cascadia ecology by exploring the North Cascades. (Part 2, 8:21)
In the third segment he discussed how he found out about bioregionalism, how it’s about, in his words “ever deeper levels of relationality.” He discussed how the myth of Cascadia began in the late 1800, early 1900s, the new myth of plate techtonics which started in the 1970s, the search for a new name that was “true to the spirit of the place” and how this was all the result of Bates McKee’s groundbreaking 1972 book “Cascadia.” (Part 3, 11:48)
In segment four he discussed teaching classes on Cascadia at Seattle University in 1980-1982, the bioregional conferences he helped organize in the mid-80s, and the role of a then obscure graduate student, Tanya Atwater, in the revolution of plate techtonics. He also discussed how the dynamism surrounding the notion of Cascadia, comes from the place itself and is the bioregion imagining itself though inhabitants. (Part 4, 8:38)
In the 5th segment he discussed how he began to understand, when attempting to create a new culture based on a bioregional ethos, that Robert Bellah’sHabits of the Heart was a critical text for him and that though people craved community, they had no cultural experience with the real sense of it and tried to get there using a language of abstraction and individualism. McCloskey says that reflected a lack of gemeinshaft, or being in the horizontal life flow with each other. So he began to incorporate the effort to discover a language of place which had its identity in the place (as indigenous people did), rooted indentity in place and with ancestors, he realized that he needed to “short-circuit the analytical and move toward the evocative.” He moved to the creation of maps, flags and other aspects of a symbolic language. he said it is the heart of culture (and the psyche) but he found that it had tremendous evocative power. Cascadia is his “long, extended open poem” that a whole bunch of people are writing, but for which he issued the call. He said that it took only 15 years from a visionary pipe dream to something that has taken root in the bioregional consciousness, reflected by names of businesses, sports competitions and individuals who consider themselves Cascadians before anything else. He says that Cascadia has been imagining through us for over 100 years in different generations and different ways. (Part 5, 7:59)
In segment six he talked about the beginning of a bioregional culture happening now with a fierce devotion by people who may not always understand themselves as Cascadians, per se, but love the place with great intensity. He said we are all captive by a metaphysics and epistemology that ultimately has its source in the culture and logic of Ancient Greece, but does not serve our situation well. He calls it a “secret code” and says knowledge of it is at the core of “success” in our world. He says unlearning that secret code of control of the West is critical in building a new bioregional culture. He says movements of the late 19th century, the extential and the phenomenological are models that jibe well with bioregionalism. Heidigger, Merleau-Ponty and others are examples he cites. Seeing is Forgetting The Name of the Thing One Sees by Robert Irwin is a source McCloskey recommends. (Part 6, 9:46)