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Dave Pollard: Climbing a Dark Mountain, and Thoughts on a New Culture

Posted Sep 08 2010 6:00am

I‘ve recently finished reading Dark Mountain issue 1 , the first publication of the global artists’ collective of the same name, of which I am a member.

It’s an astonishing collection (work of 37 different authors) of appreciation and reflection on our civilization’s beginning collapse, and I recommend it without hesitation to anyone who has reached the point of understanding that our unsustainable civilization culture can’t be saved, and is trying to cope with that terrible knowledge. I am working on a submission (a work of fiction, I think) for issue 2.

And if you haven’t yet read the Dark Mountain Manifesto , which started the whole project, please, please do so.

The book begins with a wonderful poem by Rob Lewis that explains the purpose of the whole project: To encourage and enable artists to add their perspective and voice to the scientists and activists and transitioners and new-culture pioneers proclaiming our civilization mad, unsustainable and suicidal, and looking for a better way. “Meanwhile, poor scientist holds extinction | in a palm full of numbers | with nothing but data to howl with.” The artist’s role, indeed responsibility, we assert, is not only to speak out, but to do no work that does not either (a) hold a mirror to our crumbling civilization and show it as it really is (not as the corporatists, technophiles and media portray it), or (b) help us imagine a better culture, a better way to live, now or after civilization’s fall. This work is what founders and editors Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine call “finding the new stories.”

John Michael Greer’s submission to the book is a remarkable review of Robinson Jeffers’ prescient poetry and a re-cap of the environmental ‘movements’ three stages: from recreational through sentimental to apocalyptic environmentalism, all of which have fallen victim to our propensity for anthropocentrism and seeing ourselves as apart from “the environment.” Whereas climate change is a narrative on human power, he explains, peak oil is a narrative on human limitation, and hence is embarrassing to us and gets much less attention in the media, even though it will, along with economic collapse due to “peak debt”, almost certainly stagger our civilization culture well before climate change delivers the final blows.

Louis Jenkins’ lovely poem Wrong Turn begins “You missed your turn two miles back because you weren’t paying attention, daydreaming, so now you have decided to turn here, on the wrong road”, and ends “You are going to have to follow this road to whatever nowhere it leads to.” A great example of the work of holding the mirror to our civilization culture that Dark Mountain is all about.

Paul Kingsnorth’s essay confesses “I don’t have any answers, if by answers we mean political systems, better machines, means of engineering some grand shift in consciousness… What am I to do with feelings like this? Useless feelings in a world in which everything must be made useful… Feelings like this provide no “solutions”… But this is fine; the dismissal, the platitudes, the brusque moving-on of the grown-ups. It’s all fine. I withdraw, you see… I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving.” The job of the artist is not debate, but truth and imagination. There are others better suited to the debating. If there is still any purpose to debating at all.

The book includes an illuminating discussion that Anthony McCann had with Derrick Jensen, in which Jensen explains the need for a culture of resistance that recognizes that we cannot battle civilization culture on its terms (i.e. through voting, choices of consumption etc.) but rather on our own what do we really want and how do we get there, who is the enemy, what do we have to do, and what’s stopping us?… Continue reading this article

This article is excerpted from How to Save the World , Dave Pollard’s blog.

Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot .

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