We were so sad to lose Mary last year, just a month after her 99th birthday. We will mark what would have been her 100th birthday by beginning a year-long commemoration and celebration of her philosophical and poetic vision.

Notes from a Biscuit Tin, supported by a generous grant from the British Society of Aesthetics, is inspired by Mary Midgley’s biscuit tin, gifted to In Parenthesis by her family. From this tin, over many decades, Midgley dispensed to her visitors, friends and interlocutors ginger snaps, wit and wisdom. We are sending the Biscuit Tin on a round-the-world tour, where it will facilitate conversations between philosophers and poets inspired by Mary’s work.

We have commissioned twelve new poems, each on a different theme from Mary’s work. Confirmed poets include: Ruth Padel, Kayombo Chingonyi, Helen Humphries, Deryn Rees-Jones, Gillian Allnut and Ulrike Draesner. Over twelve months we will stage twelve conversations between these poets and a philosopher. Each conversation will begin with the poet reading their poem. At each location, the conversation will end with the poem and notes from the conversation being placed in the Biscuit Tin for the next pair to discover.

The Biscuit Tin begins its journey in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Mary’s home, in September 2019. It will wind its way to Somerville College Oxford and to London, stopping off at Dublin, en route to Kingston (Canada), and onward to two US locations – New York and Idaho – before landing in Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, Munich and Liverpool. The tin will start its journey with 12 empty envelopes into which participating groups will place notes, including poems, over the course of the year. The tin will return to its permanent home at the Midgley Archive in Durham in October 2020.

We have a beautiful website under construction so you can follow along the Biscuit Tin’s journey.

The project is inspired by Midgley’s paper ‘Philosophical Plumbing’, in which she compares philosophy to plumbing – an image playfully conjured to tease those who would rather picture themselves as purveyors of luxury goods than tradesmen.

Plumbing and philosophy are both activities that arise because elaborate cultures like ours have, beneath their surface, a fairly complex system which is usually unnoticed, but which sometimes goes wrong. In both cases, this can have serious consequences. … When the concepts we are living by function badly, they do not usually drip audibly through the ceiling or swamp the kitchen floor. They just quietly distort and obstruct our thinking.

Midgley thinks that philosophy is most necessary when badly functioning concepts cluster together to form a myth or image that dominates our thinking, obscures our vision, and gets in the way our living together well. When this happens – and it is surely happening now – philosophers need the help of poets.

We’ll be posting more announcements soon, including details of the Biscuit Tin’s journey. We hope you’ll be able to catch it on its journey if its passing nearby.