Monday, 7 December 2009


here is a brief segment from this current essay, that in many regards follows on from last weeks section.I would read that section first for this to make some coherance (scroll below). As they gather in Copehagen for the eco- summit this is a belief that something like the below is needed in all these frantic polemics. I am still tinkering with it, so this will only be up for a day or two before i drag the words back into the tool shed and bring out the poetic spark-plugs. Thrashing rain outside here, everyone ill or about to be-Onwards! screamed the Khan.

A Culture of Wildness

Culture…had meant, primarily, ‘the tending of natural growth’, and then, by analogy,a process of human training. But this latter use, which had usually been a culture of something, was changed, in the nineteenth century, to culture as such, a thing in itself.
(12) Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, (The Hogarth Press, 1958) p.xvi

I think that the chymeric posture of the ancient storyteller offered a contribution to William’s ‘tending of natural growth’, in fact amplifies the sense of ‘culture’ past more contemporary anthropocentric connotations, offering a perception that includes the wild-nature, visions, ecstacies, contact with the spirits of whales, owls and the antelope. Initiation rites, which have diminished widely since the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century, were an attempt at a culture of wildness.I think that Williams assessment of the current associations of the word ‘culture’ connotes grave damage.

I suggest a reassessment of what constitutes culture is necessary, and the return to the use of a culture ‘of’…its current, rather monolithic status, in the face of ecological issues, appears shaky to say the least. This assumption of culture or wildness (wildness is not chaos), has created a legacy we see daily writ large all around us.

An association of the etymology of the word ‘culture’ is colere, which means ‘to till’ (13). To till is to dig, to sweat, to make contact with the texture of soil, root, and worm; it is a move downwards, towards the subterranean. Its seeks relationship to the information of earth- through a certain labour and discipline- that ultimately flourishes into clear wine for the wider community.

Imaginative Health and the Language of Injury

This broadened perception is also crucial for the health of the imagination: it creates a conduit for un-prescripted image to carry the myth of a person, community or country forward and into uncertain futures, rather than caught in the petrified symbology of the entirely consensual. The stories are again in movement.A desire to return to childhood is often really a desire to be connected again to a free-ranging imagination (the reality of such a return would be untenable to most.) A culture of wildness would seek to engender that associative, curious consciousness in an adult, rather than a regression to childhood. To be child-like in this regard, rather than child-ish.

It is this very capacity that enables us to revision the transgressions and triumphs of our lives, to mythologize our pathologies. This is all symptomatic of the imagination in full health, rather than anchored to a tiny set of ingrained symbolic references. Oddly, it is often a descent from physical lustre that creates that very imagistic freedom-Andre Gide says that illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the healthy point of view.

So this re-seeing deepens perception, encourages metaphor and includes attention to marginalised, abandoned, bizarre, troublesome, absurd mythic impulses that arise without permission. When the orchestrated crisis of initiation is abandoned, we are more likely to encounter such heretical visions in the throws of illness than the brightly lit lecture hall. As the discredited, shocking image-language shuffles forward we create accord again with the wisdom of stagnant pools, roadkill and the shovel of the gravedigger. We allow the propulsions of unbidded vision to be accommodated within the wider remit of ‘knowledge’. This propulsion offers linguistic health too; this essay claims that there is a significant passivity in much contemporary language, a disappearance of vital, thoughtful words that match the fast decline of certain animals, forests and stretches of wilderness. I would suggest that words are quietly disappearing from dictionaries daily.

A culture of wildness is accommodating of these rough but subtle images. It does not seek to stagnate but to stay true to its essential mythic promiscuity. If there is no move to the margins, no complicated assignation of rationality and intuition, then myth cannot truly exist.

The etymology of the word ‘wild’ includes associations of ‘astray, bewildered, confused’ which indicates its very genius lies next to vulnerability and the bereft. It is a culture of inclusiveness, and suddenly the Gods are everywhere; implicit in conversation, symptoms of illness, fetish, relationship-we start to possess a vision-language of the deity that stands behind the impulse.This perception is polytheistic , un-literal, and connected to imagination more than belief, at least in its concrete sense.

To function in their deepest vocation, the storyteller must stand in the burning ground of prophetic image, a scarecrow of words, pushed by invisible winds.

As even governments crane their heads towards those very winds, as nations bend once more to strategize some form of ecological recovery, it is this very position of illumination through descent, and openess to what the metaphors as well as the literalness of crisis is informing us with, that suggests a holistic response to our nefarious challenges.

The storyteller in all of us needs to till dark earth, to wander into bewilderment, to allow the cracks of sacred hallucination to broker new images of transformation and dialogue. ‘Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry’ wrote Auden of Yeats. Agender and assignation are only half the task; how do we discern the myth-language being spoken through the depleted ice cap and fatigued bee?

The tangled picture of a statistic needs the balance of imagistic vision for the souls intelligence to be truly roused.

Myth, not history, tells the true story of human identity.

(15) N. J. Giradot, Myth and Meaning in early Taoism; The Themes of Chaos,(University of California, 1983)p.165


Barbara Spring said...

Thank you for this essay. People say I am child like. It left me wondering--is this good or bad? I will accept it if it helps me return to the days of imagination.

Thanks for the photo. I have seen these three wild men in person, but not all at the same time.

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