Wednesday, 4 November 2009

"An ageing giant" - Arne Næss in memory

I have just come across the newsletter wherein my brief text "An ageing giant" appears (p13).

Volume 20, No. 2 Spring/Summer 2009
Morten Tønnessen, Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia:
An Ageing Giant
It is hard to summarize what Arne Næss has meant to me—first of all because he has been so decisive in forming me as a practicing philosopher. For years I had difficulties seeing where, at all, I would disagree with him (a problem I have now to some extent overcome). I was early on inspired by his interpretation of Gandhi’s political ethics—that’s how I made the leap from activist to student of philosophy. As is the case for so many Norwegians, it was his work that introduced me to philosophy. A course in deep ecology at Åkerøya in Norway in the late 1990s was central in giving me a more solid basis for eco-philosophical reasoning (a couple years later Knut Olav Fossestøl, another course participant, and I founded the “Eco-philosophical colloquium” at the University of Oslo). By then Arne was already a familiar face for me as a philosophy student—30 years after he retired as professor, he was still around offering public lectures. In 2001 and 2003, I arranged public events with him myself. By 2003, however, it was clear that this brilliant mind struggled to remain intellectually alert and coherent. A request to partake in a proposal (concerning the Norwegian Petro-fund) from the Green Party of Norway, for which I was the national secretary at the time, was therefore revoked.

I interviewed him a couple of times. After the Åkerøya seminar I sent him my first booklong philosophical manuscript, Dialog. He had agreed to comment it, but now I got it returned, with an exact explanation: “372 pages!” I never knew whether to call him Arne or Næss. Despite having met him around a dozen times, he never appeared—with certainty—to recognize me (I wish he had). Today I have the fortune of being in contact with some of his closest colleagues at the eco-scene. The last time I was in contact with him (through Kit-Fai) was in 2006, when I was conducting a survey of attitudes in the Norwegian environmentalist establishment—partly inspired by his own little survey on attitudes to nature among Norwegian bureaucrats and others carried out a generation or so earlier. As I heard the news of his death, I pondered home to our house in Magé, Brazil, where we were at the time, and stepped into our outdoor swimming pool, as the day darkened. A couple of bats joined me. I retreated to a corner, offering the two nocturnal creatures (ecological!) space enough to rejoice undisturbed in their playful bath.

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