‘There is a difference between measuring the height of a drop and the sensation of falling; between the sight of a wave and hearing it crash on to the shore’, wrote Rafael Behr in a Guardian article after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union two days ago. ‘It was meant to be unthinkable, now the thought has become action. Europe cannot be the same again.’
Since the Dark Mountain Project was launched in October 2009, the distance between the height and the drop, the wave and the shore, has been closing. From the global financial crisis, which destroyed so many people’s faith in the neoliberal narrative of endless, pain-free growth, to the crippling austerity measures imposed on countries around the world, from the fallout of the Arab Spring to the ongoing migrant crisis — not to mention the rise of Donald Trump on the other side of the Atlantic — many previously ‘unthinkable’ things have successfully breached the border to reality in the past seven years. The British decision to leave the EU is only the latest disruption to what we trustingly used to refer to as ‘normality’.
All we can be certain of, now, is that more surprises are on their way. How to navigate the unknown has been central to Dark Mountain’s mission from the start, and today, in acknowledgement of ‘interesting times’, we return to one of the poems that inspired our Manifesto. Written by Robinson Jeffers in 1935, it feels as prescient as ever, and just as instructive in guiding us through territory that becomes less certain every day.
Then what is the answer? Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilisations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history … for contemplation or in fact …
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken.
Robinson Jeffers, 1935
Image: medieval map of Europe, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.