If a way to the better there be, it lies in taking a full look at the worst – Thomas Hardy
I came across Dark Mountain in 2009, the year Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine founded the project, and I haven’t looked back since. That’s to say, I found a community of people – eclectic, far-flung – who shared my views on the failure of cultural narratives, particularly in relation to climate change and environmentalism, topics I’d been engaged with for years. Dark Mountain was to be a literary project – and it is – but it also mushroomed into a series of festivals, (Uncivilisation; Basecamp) and smaller, offshoot events in the UK and abroad. It’s also an online forum and there are Dark Mountain groups scattered across the UK and overseas – people who get together in the pub and talk.
Dark Mountain is impossible to succinctly describe, and whenever I get asked about it, I set off on a long story of 21st century consumer-capitalism; the economics of collapse; the loss of species in an anthropocentric world; the fallout from privileging logos over mythos; the role of art during the sixth mass extinction…etc, etc. Except I don’t do that anymore. I mumble something about ‘new stories for troubled times’ and wait to see if the listener asks more questions. Some people do.
But Dark Mountain has moved beyond the discursive for me now. In the early days, I needed the intellectual exchange of ideas and (mis)understanding, but now I don’t. Dark Mountain has become less about discussion and analysis for me, and more about feeling a way forwards in the dark. It’s more about being here (or just being); about waking up, a kind of spiritual homecoming and exploration of how to creatively respond to ‘troubled times’.
I’ve been working as poetry editor for the project since 2013 and was on the steering-group before that. Each year we publish two beautiful books (the feel and look of the books is important, almost sacred). Until recently, these have been anthologies of fiction, poetry, art, essay and hybrid work in response to a loose Dark Mountain theme (for example, The Humbling as callout for Issue 9). In 2015, we decided to make every other book specifically themed. So far we have published Issue 8: Techne, and Issue 10: Uncivilised Poetics, which I devised and lead-edited came out in October 2016.
The name for the project comes from a Robinson Jeffers poem, ‘Rearmament’:
These grand and fatal movements toward death: the grandeur of the mass
Makes pity a fool, the tearing pity
For the atoms of the mass, the persons, the victims, makes it seem monstrous
To admire the tragic beauty they build.
It is beautiful as a river flowing or a slowly gathering
Glacier on a high mountain rock-face,
Bound to plow down a forest, or as frost in November,
The gold and flaming death-dance for leaves,
Or a girl in the night of her spent maidenhood, bleeding and kissing.
I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.
Robinson Jeffers, 1935
DARK MOUNTAIN MANIFESTO
If any of this interests you, check out our manifesto, and get in touch:
“That civilisations fall, sooner or later, is as much a law of history as gravity is a law of physics. What remains after the fall is a wild mixture of cultural debris, confused and angry people whose certainties have betrayed them, and those forces which were always there, deeper than the foundations of the city walls: the desire to survive and the desire for meaning.”
Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto was the starting point for the whole Dark Mountain Project. It takes aim at the myths of civilisation – the myth of progress, the myth of human separation from nature – and the way they shield us from recognising the depth of the mess in which we find ourselves.
It is also a call to a deeper cultural engagement with the ecological, economic and social crises of our time. How good or bad a job we make of navigating the end of the world as we know it will depend not least on the stories we tell ourselves.
First published in 2009 as a hand-stitched pamphlet, this new edition is a slim paperback with a new introductory essay from the manifesto’s co-author Dougald Hine. ‘It is unusual for a twenty-page, self-published pamphlet to be given a two-page lead review in the New Statesman,’ he writes, ‘and rarer still for that pamphlet to start a cultural movement that the New York Times can introduce to its readers as “changing the environmental debate in Britain and the rest of Europe”.’
That has been the journey on which this manifesto led us. If you want to understand more about where Dark Mountain came from, then this is the place to start.
(Authors: Paul Kingsnorth & Dougald Hine)