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The French geographer and philosopher published a new book on mesology last January with Le Pommier. This discipline, still little known to the general public, studies the relationship between living beings and their environment in a transdisciplinary manner.
Augustin Berque is a familiar name for those who are passionate about geography and faraway places. A former director of the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) and the only European to win the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in Japan, this geographer and philosopher left a mark on his time. He has long been developing a mesological approach to spaces, a “science of the environment” linked to ecology and physiology. “Mesology (…) will place the living subject, in particular the human subject, in what he perceives of the environment in order to make it his own, in the values he gives it and in the fabric of the evolutionary and historical links he has with it. This involves, among other things, ethical questions“, explains the author.
In Entendre la Terre (Hear the Earth) – Listening to the Human Environment, Augustin Berque examines the way in which changes in the world affect mankind, particularly in Japan, where he has travelled extensively. “A geographer must feel the places, the spaces he is talking about. Before writing about territories, he must experience them”, he emphasises. His book is constructed as a conversation with Damien Deville, geographer and anthropologist. Questions help set the pace of the book, allowing for digression while keeping a link to basic but essential considerations.
Destruction of the environment and culture
Augustin Berque starts from an observation: the Land of the Rising Sun has undergone profound changes in recent decades. Since the 1950s, industrialisation of the country has led to rapid urbanisation and disappearance of the countryside. This abrupt paradigm shift, through the destruction of the natural environment, is not without consequences for Japanese civilisation: “Japan’s western-style modernisation has flouted the principle that had historically guided its spatiality and temporality: y-presence, in other words, the exaltation of place and time” laments Augustin Berque.
An example that acts as a cautionary tale for other countries. The author invites the reader to question the way of life proposed by modern society and to inhabit the Earth differently by rethinking territories, architectures and democracies. He also emphasises the consequences of global warming: “Today, our great problem is that by destroying our environment, we risk destroying ourselves,” warns Augustin Berque.
But far from being purely alarmist, the geographer also makes a concrete list of what can be done to weave links in our individualistic societies, of the ways to evolve in these uncertain worlds, of the solutions to repair the foundations of our societies, but also of the existing architectural and landscape possibilities to reinvent the environment without denaturing it.