Dark Mountain Issue 2
25th August, 2011
The dystopian take on the environmental movement provided by Dark Mountain’s second anthology, is a wonderful, if disturbing, read says Mark Newton
To enter the world of this fascinating anthology does not require any prior knowledge of the Dark Mountain project, whose ideas are, according to the Guardian’s George Monbiot, ‘spreading rapidly through the environmental movement.’ This, the second of their publications in this format, includes a selection of non-fiction, prose, poetry and art that sheds light on the movement and its vision; beginning with its despair at the current state of play, before moving on to an exploration of its hopes for the future.
Eastern philosophy encourages us to face the inevitability of our own deaths; a notion that due to our attachment to our own existence, we tend not to want to examine. In a similar way, the Dark Mountain anthology encourages us to face the impending ecological and social collapse. This doesn’t mean to we shouldn’t try to help out with environmental issues, but need to consciously face up to the fact that our economic and political system is primed to utterly destroy the natural world, therefore grinding our own society into the ground. Surprisingly, accepting this fact in the context of the anthology isn’t as depressing as you might imagine.
The essays within collectively reject much of what we have become used to in environmental philosophy. Notions of stewardship are abandoned. Humans are no longer separate to the natural world; they are a part of it. Many of the results of current environmental thinking will simply contribute to a system that is inherently destined to destroy the natural world. The anthology attempts to grapple with these concerns and does not always use direct science as the method of exploration. In the construction of a greener society, there is plenty of room for philosophy and the creative arts.
So what of the challenges that this Dark Mountain sets readers? Naomi Klein, in her essay On Precaution, calls for ‘stories that replace linear narratives of endless growth with circular ones that remind us that what goes around comes around’. Throughout, the writings include overt and subconscious notions of ‘letting go’ – prompting the reader to abandon his or her attachments to current methods for dealing with environmental and economic problems. Former Ecologist editor Paul Kingsnorth’s essay Upon the Mathematics of Falling Away directly discusses control, suicide and accepting collapse.
Dougald Hine’s intensely intellectual conversation with David Abram confronts the issue of truly acknowledging our place as animals in nature, while Rob Lewis’s poetry wryly observes that ‘The scientist holds a steel ball / over a thin pane of glass/ then drops it… / the audience flinches at the crash / yet remains / unconvinced.’ The subjects covered are, as is obvious even from this small sample, wide-ranging. There are musings on death and love, food and farming, language and history, and philosophical engagements with nature. The choice of media is also varied and includes prose, poetry, and lithographs among others. Contributors, too, come from a range of different fields and from all over the world: there are scientists, farmers and novelists. The anthology is a patchwork of radically different approaches, which makes for a unique reading experience.
This variety is important. It’s a disarming strategy at first, designed to open our minds. It appears that the editors are first and foremost trying to change mainstream thought processes: not easy to do and frequently unappreciated. But using so many ideas and contributors is a clever idea, with the result – as planned - that to neatly summarise the anthology risks misrepresenting what it is all about. A few of the broader promises aren’t quite delivered. So much of the anthology was spent informing us of the problems of our culture, that little room remained in which to fully explore solutions or what really happens next. What solutions were offered came through as artistic expressions, so it feels at times as if the reader is left in an environmental Bardo: simply waiting to explore future paths. The success of the Dark Mountain movement may depend on how effective it is in communicating its philosophy and its solutions to people who seek their answers to environmental problems in neater and tidier packages. So far, it has proved excellent at the former but not so hot at explaining its answers.
Dark Mountain Issue 2 is one of the most unique environmental books out there – part dystopian poetry along the lines of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; part post-apocalyptic River Cottage with the rest being a slice of philosophy that only ever becomes clear once the reader immerses themselves in the works within. The contributions are consistently of a high standard, no matter what the form. In fact, it’s worth reading for the sheer variety of literary reaction to the potential ending of our cultural systems as much as to see what the movement is about. As with many natural systems; the whole provides far more to think about than the sum of the individual elements.
Dark Mountain Issue 2 edited by Paul Kingsnorth, Dougald Hine et al (£17.74, Dark Mountain) is available from www.dark-mountain.net
Mark Newton has a degree in Environmental Science and is a genre novelist for Pan Macmillan. He blogs about all sorts of things at markcnewton.com, or you can find him on Twitter at twitter.com/MarkCN
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