Last entry, I reviewed Paul Kingsnorth's deservedly acclaimed, if harrowing and relentless, novel The Wake. Evoking by a "shadow language" adapting Old English, he conveys a first-person narration of a selfish, snobbish small-holder with big plans to fight the Normans who have invaded and ruined his land, and the nation of England itself. Kingsnorth's name seemed vaguely familiar, and I realized that I had read about him last year in this article in the NY Times Magazine, "Ït's the End of the World as He Knows It, and He Feels Fine." Ever since his teens, he has protested as an activist the destruction in his homeland, a millennium later, that never ceases. Forests fall, shopping centers rise.
What can we do? Increasingly, he viewed his fervent struggles against the Machine and Man as futile. “I’m increasingly attracted by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.“ He cites poet Robertson Jeffers, who also retreated from the fight, and was outcast by his peers once he spoke too loudly against Uncle Sam during WWII, its profiteering, and patriotism demanding fealty from war objectors and dissidents. He lived in Tor House on the Carmel coast, once a modest bohemian burg.
Jeffers as it happens lived as a teen near me. I found this out when researching a local history booklet to which I contributed. I find it impossible, a century later, to imagine him wandering down to a mountain-fed river, full of boulders. Plein-air artists came to the Arroyo Seco to capture its vistas. Now it's the site of the world's first freeway, built in 1941 as a scenic parkway, but all around most of it, houses (like mine, yes) soar, cars whir, and the "urban hum" of Los Angeles runs day and night.
Like Jeffers, those at this Dark Mountain Project seek renewal in a bold response to the havoc wrought by our "progress." But it isn't a political campaign, as he once hoped. (Greens, after all, flounder compromised by coalitions.) He links to this piece on his homepage, where he asks himself FAQs, too. As with any artist, he must promote his views, and like few I read, his views please mine.
The answer that resounded with me, despite the fact I suspect he's one of "those" Oxford grads pretty cocksure of himself, is below. As I saw via my friend Andrea Harcher on FB this photo the same day, and I'd been wondering about the fate of the forests in both The Wake and our own devastating era, I share his reflections. There is sentiment in this photo, and sadness on the Dark Mountain site. Both are fair responses. If you are keen, visit his page as well as his Dark Mountain Manifesto, the subject of the NYT profile. He and colleagues seek to come to literary and aesthetic terms with the end of civilization as we know it, as ecocide replaces ecology. For we stand looking down at/on earth.
What are your politics?
I used to be a political obsessive. But the older I get, the further I want to run from anything with the p-word attached. It’s partly a desire to avoid defining myself, and to allow my mind some freedom. But it’s also because ‘politics’ seems mostly to be thinly-disguised primate tribalism. I think that what we call ‘politics’ is a means of clumsily rationalising deep psychic impulses and then fighting about them. There is very little that is more fruitless than this kind of behaviour. You’re more likely to find truth in science, poetry or the caves of a desert hermit, and I’d suggest you look in all those places first.
Still, you’re going to want more than that, aren’t you? So here’s my best stab right now. It might change tomorrow.
I am left wing. That is to say that I am opposed to obscene concentrations of land, power and wealth, I instinctively favour the underdog and, like anyone else who is paying attention, I am anti-capitalist. Capitalism is the name applied to an economic and cultural machine which makes paper profits for agglomerations of private individuals by externalising its costs onto nature and the weaker bits of humanity. It functions by turning living things into dead things and calling this process ‘growth’. Capitalism is like a tank: it’s a death machine which feels safe and warm as long as you’re sitting inside it rather than in its way.
I am also right wing. That is to say that I am suspicious of ‘progress’ when that word is used to denote the onward march of the industrial machine (see above), and I think that a feeling for place and locality, history and human community, are things worth paying close attention to. I think that the State as an institution is the root cause of many of the world’s problems, and I think that the tradition of Western liberalism is decaying into a kind of self-righteous illiberalism, surrounding itself with a wall of isms and phobias in order to avoid the encroachment of inconvenient realities.
Will that do?