Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Dark Mountain

I started writing this blog for two main reasons, firstly because I’m convinced that writers and artists have a central role to play in changing our current disastrous attitudes to ecology, and secondly because it's often difficult to recognise where they are already doing this. Many writers have sought to tell stories that would lead us into healthier relationships with our habitats and with other species, but they often aren’t widely celebrated here in the UK or that aspect of their writing is not adequately recognised. What’s more, the scale of the challenges facing us today require a much more concerted, urgent response from writers than is currently taking place. It’s hard not to scream when reading Ian McEwan describe climate change as a ‘background hum’ in his next novel. A ‘hum’? This sort of diffidence is precisely the problem – if climate change sounds like a hum, we haven’t understood what it is.

So I’m very excited that two people have launched a project for writers that fully recognises the scale of what is happening, and that we need new kinds of stories. The Dark Mountain Project launched on Friday night here in Oxford on the banks of the Thames. There was good music, a beautiful sunset and provocative ideas. Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine have written a manifesto and promise to establish a journal to follow. The Project appears to have taken its name from a Robinson Jeffers poem, but it's especially evocative since everywhere mountains really are darkening. Here are the principal points from the manifesto:


‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident

As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

                                                (Robinson Jeffers, ‘Carmel Point’)

1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.

2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.

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.

5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.

6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.

7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.

8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

 From point three I’m in enthusiastic agreement. But it would be a bit disturbing to agree entirely with a manifesto, wouldn’t it? I’m sure the writers want conversation as well as praise, so I have to admit to having a problem in the second point. The writers spoke convincingly of environmentalists wasting energy in seeking to shore up the present systems, but I do think many of us are putting our energy into seeking fresh ways of living, which surely are necessary. Climate change really is a problem we should try to solve, especially if we wish to respond to non-human views, otherwise we can look forward to our rewritten lives on an almost sterile planet. The manifesto ends upbeat so I’m sure it’s a misreading to suggest that the writers think we should give up on trying to limit climate change. It does, however, draw our attention to the ways we’re doing this, in whose interests we're working and the assumptions we’re making about humanity’s role on the planet.


  1. Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for engaging with the project. The conversation about "problems" is an important one - and I've just written a post on the Dark Mountain site, responding to what you write here. I'd be very interested in continuing the discussion.


  2. Thanks for visiting - I've replied to your post over on your blog.