Wisdom From The Mount - Freya Mathews-HD

"Presentation for ‘Three Wise Women’: a panel discussion with Mary Graham, Freya Mathews on video, Merle Thornton. Facilitator: Michelle Boulous Walker
World Philosophy Day 2016
Hosted by the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry 12:00pm – 8:00pm Thursday 17th November Abel Smith Building The University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus.”

Ardea: A Philosophical Novella

Freya Mathews
Earth, Milky Way: punctum books, 2016

ISBN 978-0615845562.

What is soul? Can it be forfeited? Can it be traded away? If it can, what would ensue? What consequences would follow from loss of soul — for the individual, for society, for the earth?

In the early nineteenth century, Goethe’s hero, Faust, became a defining archetype of modernity, a harbinger of the existential possibilities and moral complexities of the modern condition. But today the dire consequences of the Faustian pact with the devil are becoming alarmingly visible. In light of this, how would Goethe’s arguably flawed drama play out in a 21st-century century setting? Would a contemporary Faust sign up to a demonic deal? Indeed what, in the wake of two hundred years of social and economic development, would be left for the devil to offer him? A contemporary Faust would already possess everything the original Faust in his ascetic cloister lacked — affluence and mobility; celebrity and worldly influence; access to information; religious choice; sexual freedom and the availability of women — though women, it must be noted, currently also partake of that same freedom. The only thing a present-day Faust would lack would be his soul. Would he miss it? Does soul even exist? If it does, it would of course be the one thing the devil could not bestow. So from what or whom could Faust retrieve it? What, in a word, would a contemporary Faust most deeply desire?

In pursuit of these questions, Ardea engages a familiar but possibly faulty archetype, that of Faust, with an unfamiliar one, that of the white heron, borrowed from a short story of the same name by nineteenth-century American author, Sarah Orne Jewett. In Jewett’s tale, a soul-pact of an entirely different kind from that entered into by Faust is proposed. It is a pact with the wild, a pledge of fealty, of non-forfeiture, that promises to redraw the violent psycho-sexual and psycho-spiritual patterns that have underpinned modernity. How would a present-day heir to the Faustian tradition, ingrained with the habit of entitlement but also burdened with the consequences of the old pact, respond to the new proposition?

You can order Ardea: A Philosophical Novella at: Punctum Books 


Freya Mathews

Philosophy Program/CACE
Latrobe University
VIC 3086

Phone: 61 3 9479 1673

Fax: 61 3 9479 3639

Email: email


“Wild animals are starving, it’s our fault. Should we feed them?”, The Conversation 19 August, 2013 <>

“Is an Ethic of Biodiversity Enough?” The Conversation, 7 Feb 2013 <>

“When the media won’t report the environment, it’s time to rethink the news”, The Conversation, 20 August 2012 <>

“Scientists Warned Us This Was Going To Happen”, The Age, 10 Feb 2009; also in Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times. <>


Kimberley Calling

The Kimberley is on the brink of large-scale industrialization that will destroy its sublime beauty and miraculous integrity forever. To those who can hear, all around Australia and in the wider world, the Kimberley is calling. But how can we articulate this call? To what part of us does this vast empire of nature speak? Time and again we have seen set out in the campaign literature the scientific arguments and the legal cases based on them - the charts and litanies of endangered species, biodiversity values, migratory species and remnant vegetation communities – but arguments of this kind are barely distinguishable from one environmental cause to another. Important and key to our understanding as science is, such arguments do not capture what the Kimberley means to us nor why it is imperative to preserve such a vast realm, a realm not merely of remnants and last things, but of abundant life, where life still marches to its own tune, to the rhythms of the planet. The scientific arguments spell out the facts but have little purchase on our imagination, on the spirit we share with all life, with all existence – the spirit in each of us to which the Kimberley is calling.  To articulate this call, and to explain why we should listen and respond, is surely a task for writers, poets, artists, musicians and philosophers. The purpose of this web site is to begin to bring such a medley of voices – specifically those of writers, poets and philosophers - together to “sing up” the Kimberley in its hour of danger.

New Ecological Discourses Reading Group

We are an independent group of scholars who meet monthly in Melbourne to sample and reflect critically on emerging ecological discourses and publications for the purpose of maintaining our literacy within this burgeoning trans-disciplinary field.

PAN Philosophy Activism Nature

PAN is a journal publishing articles, short prose pieces and poetry exploring the philosophical, psychological, mythological, religious, and aesthetic underpinnings of sustainability thought, design and practice. PAN aims to foster perspectives that depart from conventional understandings of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ in order to open alternative pathways of thinking and living ethically and creatively at a time of deepening environmental and social crisis. PAN seeks in particular to provide a forum for emerging conversations between indigenous and settler cultures around questions of reinhabitation, especially, but not exclusively, in Australia. Aiming to bridge the gap between activism and the academy, PAN is pitched at a general readership with an interest in creating a new ecological culture of sustainability. Each issue includes scholarly articles which have been subject to independent peer review as well as other contributions selected by the editors.

HfE Australia Pacific Observatory: Environmental Humanities, Sydney Environment Institute

Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology, Sydney


Wallaby pictures on this site appear with the kind permission of the State Library of Victoria

Thanks to Kate Lee for use of “kangaroos in the mist” photographs.


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