Artists and scientists will explore “Moving Perspectives – approaches to understanding water through geology, environment, art and society” at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois, October 13, 2009. The panel discussion includes George Roadcap, Illinois Water Survey; Cecily Smith, Prairie Rivers Network; Brett Bloom, artist and activist; Brigit Kelly, poet; choreographer Jennifer Monson; and moderator Michael Scoville, an environmental philosopher. The talk is part of Monsons Mahomet Aquifer Project, a series of public dance performances, workshops and a mobile gallery, October 10-18, to inform and engage the communities in East Central Illinois dependent on the aquifer and draw the audience into their own understanding of their relationship to water. Monson intends the iLAND project to “draw connections between our scientific and political relationships to natural resources and the cultural frameworks that shape our perception and relationship to these resources.”
Paul Kingsnorth, poet, environmentalist, journalist and author of Real England, attempts to kick off a ground-breaking new literary movement this month, The Dark Mountain Projectwith social-web frontiersman Dougald Hine. Its premise is a radical one; if I represent it right, it’s that we are on the brink of catastrophe and it’s art’s reponsibility to face that, and to reflect it in its output. We have been telling the wrong stories. It is time to start telling the right ones:
We don’t believe that anyone – not politicians, not economists, not environmentalists, not writers – is really facing up to the scale of this. As a society, we are all still hooked on a vision of the future as an upgraded version of the present. Somehow, technology or political agreements or ethical shopping or mass protest are meant to save our civilisation from self-destruction. Well, we don’t buy it.
Kingsnorth and Hine have written a remarkable manifesto that’s well worth reading; it’s erudite, lyrical and, most of all, apolcalyptic in an almost William Blake-ish kind of way, seeing civilisation treading on a “thin crust of lava” as the environmental catastrophe looms. Its eight principles of “Uncivilisation” include the following:
3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
4. We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
There is a growing debate here at the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre about the role of apocalyptic art in changing minds. We are fond of quoting Raymond Williams here, “that to be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing”. If you want people to change, you have to offer them a way to a future that inspires them, rather than terrifies them. Pessimism convinces nobody.
But what if that act of making hope possible only bluntens the urgency of the situation, dissipates the urge to action?
I’ve posted an interview with the poet Jen Hadfield up on the main site. I’ll admit I hadn’t even heard of her until she won the T S Eliot Award a few weeks ago, but Nigh-No-Place turns out to be really great for its vivid, unruly, close-up-view poems about life in the back-0f beyond.
Two things I found intersting: Hadfield is, self-admittedly, a poor reader. Despite a love of language, she finds getting through novels hard. Which is one of the reasons why she graviates towards poetry.
Also, by her own admission again, she doesn’t have a single political bone in her body.
I’m almost alarmingly apolitical, which is something I have anxiety about in the same way as I do about the reading thing. I think that I’m not political is possibly partially about the generation I come from but also to do with me as a person.
But it’s inevitable that anyone with Hadfield’s subject matter becomes political, in the sense that – as Siân Ede was saying – nature is no longer just out there as the ineffable, unstoppable force. “It is tainted. It is sad. It is ending.” It’s something broken, and if you write about it now you are inevitably writing about catastrophe. Hadfield sees herself as writing from within the ecopoetic tradition, but with that modern knowledge:
It’s not just about people going out into the landscape and looking at it. “Oh how lovely and interesting and possibly sublime!” There’s an anxiety in there as well about how it’s changing and about how we make ourselves at home out there, how we impact on it.
Read the full interview here.