Category: opinions

A Short History of Dance

I picked up a flyer the other day for Rebellion Festivals which, I discover, take place in London and Amsterdam next year. Oh, and there’s a four-day event at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool – a venue I associate with much daintier and more decorous leisure pursuits like ballroom dancing. Here are poster images of the Empress and nearby Tower Ballrooms from their heyday in 1938:

Image result for ballroom dancing winter gardens blackpool

The Blackpool Tower Ballroom (from an original painting by Fortunino Matania, R.I.) - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens Complex

I wonder what these audiences would have made of the pogo-inducing punk bands who will be playing at the Rebellion Festival 80 years later. But setting aside the culture chasm, those conventional 1938 crowds and their 2018 punk progeny do have one thing in common – both are a decade into austerity arising from a major financial crash.

We may or may not be talking about similar social stratas but it’s still worth considering how different generations respond to economic adversity: in 1938 by escaping into a conformist gentility originating in our aristocratic past and in 2018 by, er, escaping into an anti-bourgeois revolt with working-class roots. Two escapes: the first escapist and the second more akin to escapology.

It was the cheeky insouciance of the Beatles that first turned the tables on the cultural dominance of the upper crust’s Hooray Henrys and Henriettas. The Fab Four got their feet in the door and 15 years later the punks kicked it open. Deference had disappeared and with it – or so it seemed – the hypocrisy of sweeping stuff under the carpet and drawing a discreet veil over, ahem, unsavoury subjects.

You can hear the resounding echo of all that iconoclasm in the names of bands appearing at the Winter Gardens. Several I recognised but here are some I didn’t:

Lower Class Brats
Peter & The Test Tube Babies
Subhumans
Dirtbox Disco
Toxic Reasons
Gimp Fist
Culture Shock
The Defects
Newtown Neurotics
Vice Squad
Rubella Ballet
The Stupids
Los Fastidios
Rude Pride
Cheap Sex
Paranoid Visions
Barstool Preachers
Filf
Drongos For Europe
The Crippens
Hagar The Womb
The Restarts
Contempt
Choking Susan
Spunk Volcano & The Eruptions
Hands Off Gretel
Geoffrey Oicott
Knock Off
Warwound
Wolf Bites Boy
The Mis-Made
Tiger Sex
Pizzatramp
Headstone Horrors
Boots N All
Surgery Without Research
Flowers In The Dustbin
Millie Manders & The Shut Up
Fire Exit
No Thrills
The Droogettes
Vomit
Delinquents
Litterbug

What teenager worthy of the seventy-year-old label hasn’t wasted an afternoon or three sitting around with a couple of mates inventing stupid names for bands? I remember being hugely impressed with one that Peter Sellers came up with, probably on one of his solo record albums produced in his pre-Beatle days by George Martin who also produced the Goons’ records such as the immortal Ying Tong Song:

What a treat for us kids to hear grown-ups coming up with such inspired nonsense! And the band name that impressed me so much? Snotty and the Nosepickers!

Hmm, guess you had to be there … wearing short trousers and still laughing like a drain when references to anything mildly rude arose. This was the stuffy 1950s, of course, when the scope for cultural rebellion was so much wider. Tiger Sex or Knock Off   wouldn’t have got anywhere near the Winter Gardens at a time when TV would only show Elvis the Pelvis from the waist up.

The 1960s – much-maligned by sexual puritans and social conservatives – brought an end to paternalist censorship. Abortion and homosexuality became legal, capital punishment was abolished and measures were taken to improve the position of women. The 1970s brought further social reform, including the Race Relations Act.

The economic deregulations of the 1980s were, in my view, a backward step. The responsibility of Maynard Keynes was replaced by the anarchy of Milton Friedman, which culminated in the 2008 crash and consequent austerity – an austerity that bears down unfairly on the young.

If I was 18 now, with hair, I’d be dyeing it green … and dying to pogo up and down to a punk band called Screw The System or something! Better anyway than having to take part in dance marathons for peanuts, like youngsters 80 years ago, before they were marched off to fight in a war whose primary cause was the very same Depression that had forced them to dance for their dinner and a temporary roof over their heads in the first place.

Image result for dance marathon

Ah, what the hell, enough of this Black mood … I’m going to cheer myself up with another listen to the Ying Tong Song!

Images:     Arthur Lloyd      History By Zim

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Acts of Worship

“Human beings have a great need for rituals. We go in for uniforms and pageants. Our rituals tend to be militaristic or religious.”  –  Opher Goodwin

Opher and I have been talking about this for a while and we agree that it would be good to write some secular rituals that acknowledge the wonder of life: rituals that don’t require belief, religion or celebrate violence. He suggested we look back over past posts for writing that might fit this description. Here are a few things I found, starting with a moment of secular epiphany exclusively available to the blog community!

A few days ago I read three WordPress posts back-to-back whose mutual connections set my head spinning.

The first called for sustainability to become the new religion, dedicated to our offspring, where blasphemy would be conspicuous consumption and the failure to recycle.

The second described how university scientists have determined the best technology to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and try to reverse global warming. It turns out to be trees.

The third spoke of a spirit of inquiry which forgets previous knowledge, questions without agenda, listens with openness and curiosity … and suggested tree-climbing as an example of natural investigation teeming with insight and revelation.

These three ideas are fascinating, although I’d be inclined to put the phrase ‘new religion’ in inverted commas to show it was a metaphor. And my partner observed that a mass outbreak of tree-climbing might damage rapidly-depleting woodlands – sensibly suggesting artificial climbing-walls as an alternative – though she took my point that such leisure opportunities would abound with a concerted push to ‘re-wild’ the environment.

But what excited me most was the conjunction of ideas. Each of them appeared to correspond with one of Buddhism’s Higher Worlds – Compassion, Learning, Realisation. Now I’m no expert but I’ve heard that these three activities, practised side by side, can lead to enlightenment or nirvana. This, I understand, is a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.

I’m not a magical thinker so would want to interpret this in psychological and, therefore, social terms. Not so much I, then, more I & I – the two that is one. My thoughts go back to the good friend who told me how his depression lifted once he realised he was more like other people than unlike them. Instead of focusing on differences, he concluded, it helps to seek common ground.

A paradox here is that variety is the spice of life. Living with paradox is a condition of life and nothing to be ashamed of, as the poet Walt Whitman memorably observed:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Poets celebrate and, yes, sing the praises of life in all its rich diversity. Appreciating the full breadth of earthly existence enriches our shared experience. Only connect and we come to see the beauty of our mutual ‘heaven on earth’.

So to speak. Which is where the search for new ways to communicate comes in. Someone – perhaps Salvation Army founder William Booth, perhaps not – once asked Why should the devil have all the best tunes? Well, I wonder, has the time has come to ask Why should organised religion have a monopoly on the language of celebration? Common ground, for me, is hallowed ground. An indivisible sense of life as sacred is our common birth-right and therefore sacrosanct from all attempts to brand any part of life as sacrilegious. Without contraries, said the poet William Blake, there is no progression.

To become enlightened, perhaps, is to understand how time can be both finite and forever. The poet John Keats, acutely aware of the likelihood that he would die at a young age, concluded that life was a process of soul-building. By ‘soul’, he didn’t mean something separate or separable from our flesh and bones – much as modern science makes no significant distinction between mind and body.

Time to Keats was precious. The friend I mentioned earlier would have appreciated this verse from Ode On Melancholy:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
       And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
       Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
               Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
       Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
               And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water. This is the inscription on John Keats’ gravestone, dictated by him on his deathbed. He needn’t have worried. He is gone but his words live on forever. He is also remembered for his notion of ‘negative capability’, a quality he saw in Shakespeare, evident ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’.

In other words, open the doors of perception. Perhaps we serve (and save) time best by indulging our natural love of serendipity. And things being various, let our legacy be to keep them that way …

… here endeth the lesson!

Phew! Thanks for bearing with me thus far – and here are those previously-promised past-post poems, including some acrostics. The final piece was composed together with other bloggers.

I doubt if any fall into the bags of hymn or psalm – too personal, probably – but they might encourage further attempts by me or anyone else who fancies a go. Please share if you know of others who might want to contribute.

Songs, poems, prose and links all welcome …

 

o Gaia hold us rapt within your arms
that life be one with love and one with all
let sense be always open to your charms
and spirit never falter at your call
o Gaia keep our step upon the way
that leads to wild places sacred shrines
where pilgrims catch a glimpse of yesterday
and dream of leaving children cryptic signs
o Gaia turn our thoughts to simple joys
and tune our hearts to nature’s steady beat
that we might hear the hush beneath our noise
and feel the dance begin to move our feet
for only celebration stirs the blood
enough to build an ark against this flood

 

S top the clock & turn back time to
O nce Upon when world was green &
I nnocent of crime we lived by
L etting well enough alone.

 

G o through, bold wanderer, no lock prevents your
A ccess to a world of open wonder. Do not
T ake your burden of passing years. Wear your
E xperience lightly. Look again through child eyes.

 

A child discovers wonders every day
And paints a golden picture of his world,
As stepping-stones to island haunts make way
For archipelagos and tales untold.
O where can he belong who seeks from birth
The answers to all questions – keys of mind
To treasure-chests of truths – but here on Earth
In free and equal friendship with his kind?
Though walls arise imagination soars
Beyond their shadow to a sunlit land
Where smiles greet strangers, sorrow opens doors
And dreams come true by popular demand.
The child I was once painted this in gold
And will not let me rest now I am old.

 

listen to the band play guitar
people come from very far
standing in a crowd you can’t hide
and your joy is multiplied

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in their eyes

an old man stumbles in the street
all he can hear is the passing feet
go up to him and hold his hand
feel his life running out like sand

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in his eyes

live your life just for yourself
line your nest and count your wealth
build your walls as high as the skies
you can’t buy a mirror that will tell you lies

open up your eyes
this is no surprise
don’t look to the skies
just see it
in your eyes

 

to expect nothing
is to keep a door open
to pleasant surprise

 

S ome things, you say,
A re blessed and some are
C ursed. But my
R eligion worships
E ach and every
D ifference with rapture.

 

H ere’s to the unsung lives
O f you, our countless forebears, unknown
M akers of our hearts
A nd minds.  May we
G race the world that once you walked,
E ver mindful of those who are still to come.

 

Each life bears upon
Or else ought to bear upon
The lives of others

Symbiosis of the web
A spider spins intricate

In shoots of fine silk
Like the pearl net of Indra
Interconnected                                                                 Christine Valentor

Connections breed fair patterns
Of symmetry and fractals

All bound together
Universal complexities
Nature can breed life                                                        dave ply

Sun, moon and seas sing in tune
A chorus to greet each dawn

Falling on the earth
Within white flesh, five ripe seeds
The fragrant orchard                                                         cathum

Arachne weaves worldwide webs
Eight wise fingers feel the pulse

High wire artist
Show how to nurture nature
Help us spin it out

 

Image result for cobweb with dew

 

Image: Pinterest

Well, Shiver Me Timbers!

Image result for a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor

This old English proverb, famously quoted by President Franklin D Roosevelt, packs a powerful punch. No wonder it often appears on motivational websites. Chins up, people, gotta roll with them punches! When the going gets tough, the tough get going …

But we’re not talking fisticuffs here, we’re talking sailing! It always amazes me how many English words and phrases come from our proud seafaring past. Here are just some of them:

A shot across the bows
All at sea
Batten down the hatches
Between the Devil and the deep blue sea
Broad in the beam
By and large
Chock-a-block
Close quarters
Copper-bottomed
Cut and run
Edging forward
Fathom out
Full to the gunwales
Get underway
Give a wide berth
Go by the board
Groggy
Hand over fist
Hard and fast
High and dry
In the offing
Know the ropes
Loose cannon
On your beam ends
Panic stations
Plain sailing
Push the boat out
Shipshape and Bristol fashion
Shake a leg
Slush fund
Taken aback
The bitter end
The cut of your jib
Three sheets to the wind
Tide over
Touch and go
Walk the plank

A saying similar to the one used by FDR is, Take the rough with the smooth. Bet that one has a nautical origin too!

I suppose proverbs like these stand the test of time because they express simple, obvious truths. You only learn to handle difficulties by, well, handling difficulties. Children are often, though not always, protected from difficulty but gradually learn to take the strain – another salty saying? – as a natural part of growing up.

But what if we were prevented from growing up? What if our community or society kept us in an infantile state, by chance or even intention, our only role to passively consume the untruths they chose to feed us? Buy this and be happy. Watch this and believe it to be real. Buy into the collective dream. It’s a common enough theme in plays and movies, from Death of a Salesmen to Pleasantville and The Stepford Wives.

One of the very best satires of reality television and its arrested development is Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show which features Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the unsuspecting star of a reality television show which is broadcast live around the clock and across the globe. His entire life has taken place within a giant dome in Hollywood, fashioned to create the seaside town of Seahaven Island and equipped with thousands of cameras to monitor all aspects of Truman’s life.

SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t seen The Truman Show you might want to stop reading right there! In fact, if you’ve not seen it, do yourself a big favour and see it as soon as you can. Required viewing, I’d say. It often makes for uncomfortable viewing but it’s impossible to stop once you’ve started.

All of Seahaven’s residents are actors, either acting out a script or repeating lines fed to them by the show’s creator and executive producer who seeks to capture Truman’s real emotion and human behaviour, give audiences a relatable everyman and protect him from the outside world with an illusion of ‘normalcy’. We identify with Truman because the people he views as friends and Neighbors are secretly two-faced, a childish fear we can all share.

As you might expect, most of the film charts Truman’s dawning realisation of his predicament and growing desire for independence. This comes to a climax when he tries to escape Seahaven by boat. Will the executive producer continue to play God, we wonder?

Aha, you cry, here’s the link to all the nautical stuff that naughty old Nomad was flagging up and tying to the mast earlier! Well, the following clip from the film should make the connection even more obvious, though I think the proverb A Smooth Sea Never Made A Skilled Sailor has something relevant to say about Truman Burbank’s disenfranchised plight before he makes his bid for freedom and by extension asks us hard questions about how free we are who watch the watchers watching him …Image result for dr seuss bee watchersImages:  Threadless   The Art of Dr. Seuss

 

Links & Other Thinks

Image result for human terence

 

Image result for cyberspace is the human transition

I have this theory that what seems to be coincidence is in fact anything but. We may think we are surrounded by random stuff but deep down inside us there’s an intelligence beavering away to make sense of what’s out there and discover how we fit in. The more we panic about disconnection and incoherence, the harder our consciousness seeks out connection.

All this is implicit in the 2000-year-old quotation above from the Roman comic playwright Terence – actually a freed slave of North African Berber ancestry – and explicit in the quotation from Terence McKenna who is described in Wikipedia as an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer and author. Google helped me make the connection and I regard their invention of a search engine based on popular choice as a big step towards McKenna’s ‘collectivity’.

Some people see any advance towards group-think as problematic, even dangerous. But the key word above is ‘optionally’. A creative approach seeks original directions rather than well-worn paths, deep associations before superficial correspondences. Examples of the latter would be the coincidence of name – both called Terence, big deal! – and the similarity of beards and Beatle cuts, but a more profound connection lies in the word ‘human’.

Reading a rather creaky old whodunit play by JB Priestley – Mystery At Greenfingers (1937) – I was struck by the following piece of dialogue. The first two characters are interviewing the third after a crime has been committed.

Crowther: What do you want to go and tell her that for?

Miss Tracey: Because she’s a sensible woman – and I believe an honest one – and we ought to deal sensibly and honestly with her.

Mrs Heaton: Thank you, Miss Tracey …

Crowther has a browbeating style of interrogation and, when he claims he’s entitled to ask anything following a serious offence, Miss Tracey plays good cop:

Miss Tracey (gently, encouragingly) : I think that’s true, Mrs Heaton. Though of     course you needn’t answer questions if you don’t want to.

As you might expect, her courteous style gets Mrs Heaton talking where Crowther’s bluster has met a brick wall.

What struck me was an obvious resonance with something I’d just read in a newspaper article on ‘new’ approaches to interrogation pioneered by psychologists Emily and Lawrence Alison who have studied thousands of interviews. It begins with a real case, a terror suspect with the pseudonym Diola who refuses to answer leading questions from ‘jobsworths’ that he regards as uncaring and insincere. A second interviewer tries a different tack:

“On the day we arrested you, I believe that you had the intention of killing a British soldier or police officer. I don’t know the details of what happened, why you may have felt it needed to happen, or what you wanted to achieve by doing this. Only you know these things. If you are willing, you’ll tell me, and if you’re not, you won’t. I can’t force you to tell me – I don’t want to force you. I’d like you to help me understand. Would you tell me about what happened?” The interviewer opens up his notebook, and shows Diola the empty pages. “You see? I don’t even have a list of questions.”
“That is beautiful,” Diola says. “Because you have treated me with consideration and respect, yes I will tell you now. But only to help you understand what is really happening in this country.”

You can read the whole article – lengthy but well worth the effort, I’d say – by clicking on this link:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/13/the-scientists-persuading-terrorists-to-spill-their-secrets

This further quotation from the article provides a quick summary, however:

The premise of interpersonal psychology is that in any conversation, the participants are asking for status – to feel respected and listened to – and communion – to feel liked and understood. “Power, love,” says Laurence. “The fundamental elements of all human behaviour.” Conversations only go well when both parties feel they are getting their fair share of each.

Liberty, equality, solidarity … our old friends! Other people are the same as us. Who knew? Turns out things go better when we treat one another with civility, respect, even love. And in an age when divisions between people seem to be widening – economic, cultural, ethnic, political, strategic, philosophical –  it feels like a moral responsibility to argue for more amity.

Ed.   For what? Who ever heard of a protest march with banners that say, ‘More Amity’? Time to chuck out the liberal waffle, Dave, and cut to the chase! 

Right, then, cards on the table! I belong to the brotherhood of man or I belong nowhere. My family is all humankind or nobody. I revere life or nothing.

My creed is simple. I believe other people are just like me. I believe that when a loved one runs into trouble or falls ill, anywhere in the world, they will be cared for by others. I believe those others should expect the same from me. The ancient obligations of human hospitality pre-date statute law. If you shake me by the hand, you have my word.

Nearly 400 years ago Blaise Pascal suggested that before disagreeing with someone, we should first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord.

Civility opens doors closed to compulsion. Period.

Everything else is poppycock. Don’t come to me blathering about the need for hierarchy in human affairs. And, please, no more calls for strong leaders! Any concern, be it company or nation, that can only function under an autocrat should immediately overthrow the tyrant for gross incompetence. After all, who else could be to blame for such dysfunction?

I recently heard an episode from the excellent Radiolab series which explored  ‘Emergence’, defined in Wikipedia as “a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit”. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it seems, but only if growth is from below. The episode questions the need for leaders and you may be able to access it on:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b098ply3

And finally – while the main mood is jauntily jacobinical – I should include a link sent to me by a valued regular correspondent, Mike, who writes:

An alternative to small power groups telling us how to conform and how to make them more powerful has been proposed by an ex-diplomat, Carne Ross. He makes a compelling case for anarchy.

More details can found on

http://www.carneross.com.

Up the workers and down with the drones!

Image result for workers and drones

(PS. Can it just bee coincidence that the worker is the smallest?)

 

Images: iz Quotes  AZ Quotes  Basic Beekeeping – blogger

 

 

A Leaf Must Fall

Walter Pater said that all art aspires to the condition of music. Music plays games with time which may be why it can evoke the past so powerfully. Our first encounters with a song or tune can focus attention in a uniquely memorable way and remain permanently accessible.

Playing a favourite recording is a bit like revisiting a memory although memories, we are told, alter each time they surface and meet the light of day. A little bit of now leaks in which results in our remembrances constantly being rewritten. Wonderfully creative, of course, although it’s worth recalling that ‘being creative with the truth’ is the new euphemism for telling lies!

Music is your only friend until the end, Jim Morrison sang, and in some moods I can’t disagree. Listening to familiar records puts me in touch with who I was but can also show me how I’ve changed. As so often, the poet Philip Larkin has something interesting to say on the subject. The ‘you’ in this poem is his mother.

Reference Back

That was a pretty one, I heard you call
From the unsatisfactory hall
To the unsatisfactory room where I
Played record after record, idly,
Wasting my time at home, that you
Looked so much forward to.

Oliver’s Riverside Blues, it was. And now
I shall, I suppose, always remember how
The flock of notes those antique Negroes blew
Our of Chicago air into
A huge remembering pre-electric horn
The year after I was born
Three decades later made this sudden bridge
From your unsatisfactory age
To my unsatisfactory prime.

Truly, though our element is time,
We’re not suited to the long perspectives
Open at each instant of our lives.
They link us to our losses: worse,
They show us what we have as it once was,
Blindingly undiminished, just as though
By acting differently we could have kept it so.

There’s so much in this poem that it’s hard to hold in the mind. It gnaws away at my thoughts, which must be why I keep going back to it. Bit like probing an aching tooth perhaps? I find myself wondering if present unhappiness can damage happy memories. Another poet, TS Eliot, wrote that humankind cannot bear too much reality. Maybe we’re all busy re-editing the past to fit new realities or worse, new virtualities … ha, my spellchecker doesn’t like that word which I’ll take as a signal to stop! Besides, I’m getting out of my depth here …

Sometimes you come across old music you never heard at the time which has a freshness that evokes an era better than some of the stuff from it you keep playing … such a find was The Famous Jug Band’s album Sunshine Possibilities. If there’s a Genius of place, there must be a genius of time. Listen to these two tracks (lyrics provided for the first) and you may find yourself magically transported back to 1969 …

If you must go, go now 
Before the summer fades 
Before the geese have flown
Before the rivers rise 
Or would you take my heart? 
Would you take my mind?

And if they ask where you are 
I'll say that you have flown 
Before you died of cold
And while your wings were strong 
And that I love you still 
And that all will fade. 

And as you fly away 
You'll think no more of me 
For autumn has no tears 
For summer's fading leaves 
And that is how it was 
And how it will be.

Fly Like An Eagle

My recent mini-story posts were inspired by Rob Cowen’s Common Ground, a book I can thoroughly recommend.

It’s one of those nature meditations that get under your skin: a compelling personal story, enhanced by fictional scenes and factual sections, which brings to vivid life a small patch of ground – he calls it the edge-land – close to a built-up area.

To hear a short extract, click on this picture.

Image result for Rob Cowen common ground

The humourist and playwright Alan Bennett called it a “cracking book and having finished it I now feel deprived”. Fellow comic and travel presenter Michael Palin found it “sensitive, thoughtful and poetic … leading us into a whole new way of looking at the world”. As for me, it took me straight back to my suburban childhood and the neglected acres we used to explore and map as if they were exotic far-off lands.

In this paragraph Rob Cowen attempts to pin down the importance of place:

When people talk of ‘knowing’ or ‘belonging’ somewhere, this is what they mean. Familiarity comes with the overlaying of our experiences, memories and stories … We project all we are and all we know onto landscape. And, if we’re open to it, the landscape projects back into us … a melding and a meshing that can feel a bit like love … I not only see where I’ve walked before, but who I was when I walked there … And isn’t this how we navigate this sphere … drawing cognitive maps that make sense of the realm beyond our comprehension? Our connection to the world is always two things at once: instinctive and augmented.

When I think back, much of the literature I loved as a child was about exploration and its associated adventures – and if the story had a map, so much the better! This started early with Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows, continued with Swallows and Amazons and progressed via the Narnia books to Lord of the Rings. 

I was studying ‘grown-up’ English Literature by the time the Earthsea books were published but I made much use of them when I began teaching. And if you wanted kids to write at length, a good starting-point was to ask them to draw a map of an imaginary place or even world.

Recently, though, I’ve been drawn to reflections on the real world – perhaps the true-life adventure of the future will be in preserving that from destruction. Writers like Cowen and the many he acknowledges as mentors – the likes of Robert Macfarlane, Helen Macdonald, Simon Armitage, Mark Cocker, WG Sebald, George Monbiot, Ian Sinclair and Will Self (to mention the few that I’ve got round to reading!) – seem to be a vital vanguard of a new cultural tradition that celebrates the fragile link between humankind and the natural world.

I’m familiar with these British authors but I hope and believe that there are similar kinds of nature writing going on all over the world. Where wild-life photography and TV documentary have gone, literature appears to be following. We really are in need of some good-news stories and fresh narratives – what could be more thrilling than the notion of gifting a healthy natural world to future generations?

We could start, perhaps, by taking the kids out for some nature rambles …

 

What’s Your Story?

I was struck by how well the following extract seems to fit my previous post, the Marshal Amp monologue, which features a character who rejects hard evidence that goes against his favourite story:

Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand.

When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something “makes sense”, the “sense” we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress?

A string of facts, however well attested, will not correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative “truth” established in their minds. The only thing that can displace a story is a story. Those who tell the stories run the world.

The extract is from a newspaper article by environment campaigner George Monbiot who makes a powerful case for replacing our old, cantankerous narratives with a new and kinder story. The full article is quite long but, in my opinion, well worth a read:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/09/george-monbiot-how-de-we-get-out-of-this-mess

 

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Image: TED.com