As recent passages here — TERRA and The Library of Ice — hint, my reading’s had an Arctic preoccupation recently. I’ve never been north of 60o, so my polar regions are imaginary zones. Although reading is intensely visual, photographs still jolt my every-day, word-fed way of ‘seeing’ the distant world. I’ve dabbled in photography, but my brother does the real thing, and I’m envious of his skills and travels. I’d forgotten his recent Iceland trip, my anticipation of his new images and, checking his website, there they were: freshly discovered places that others’ words had been walking me toward.Continue reading “msb ~073 Picture this”
In his beautiful, stark contribution to Dark Mountain’s new collection,TERRA, Andri Snær Magnason takes us from his family’s Iceland home — “one of the harshest homesteads in Europe … you can only see the next house with binoculars” — into northlands of moss-covered lava fields and geothermal zones. Here, “it is like a window or a wound on the surface, you can feel the power that moves continents and you can feel the hostility.”Continue reading “msb ~072 “We will grieve the glacier””
Early on in the introduction, she describes her day job at a manuscript dealer prior to her artist’s residency in Greenland – a formative experience for the book. A photographer bearing a box of transparencies of an abandoned and ruined family house invited Nancy to write for the exhibition. “How do you write about that kind of loss?” Nancy wondered and found herself researching the science of photography as a way in.Continue reading “msb ~069 Loss, light and ice”
“They say that travelling opens doors, gives people new perspectives. This is only partially true. People carry their doors with them: perspectives seldom truly change.” I’m setting one foot into Terra, The Dark Mountain Project’s new book, and this image is from one of its earlier essays, by Nick Hunt. Every journey, the next village, the next continent: a portal into that new perspective, new dimensions. Nick is recounting his travels in Ethiopia: the cultural and natural experiences that bring new things into visibility, push others into invisibility; and the “preconceptions [that] can be destroyed” with each one although, as he suggests, we carry so many with us without noticing the load on us or on the land.Continue reading “msb ~068 One foot through the door”
I’ve mentioned the book Anticipatory history and how I keep returning to it. The term also describes a loose collection of approaches that extend beyond the book’s collection of texts, each a means to open up conversations about change in places we feel deep attachment to, now facing uncertain futures.
To help us bring in new perspectives when we try to make sense of change, ‘anticipatory history’ approaches might include:
Looking imaginatively at past changes and at the contingencies which underlined (and could have undermined) the events and actions that shaped what it is now. Examples are reverse chronologies, timelines, oral histories and artistic representations.
Taking a fresh look at the language we use to talk about the natural and cultural processes at play. The book itself provides one way into this, as a form of glossary arising from a dialogue between specialisms.
Imagining and naming unfamiliar or new ways of living with change that might be adopted in this place.
Louisa Thomsen Brits’ Path narrates place and personhood through poems that make ‘a short story about reciprocity’. This small book treads lightly through wide scapes of spirit and land; beginning with a quote from Robert Macfarlane: “paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.” Perhaps all beings (human/non-human) are also paths: expressions of particularity and process; routes and roots to our essential connections.
I am footfall and track, trail and trace, thread of passage and possibility.
Trodden-through with a region-specific ‘word hoard’, Path is both intensely local to those paths Brit walks and universally translatable to our own natural geographies, histories, biographies.
Following Philip Dick, here’s another favourite speculative writer: Christopher Priest. I just finished the Ordnance Survey ‘Britain’s islands’ quiz after rereading Anticipatory History‘s Dream-map entry, so it’s no surprise that Priest’s Dream Archipelago came to mind. There’s a slipperiness to his decades-long project of stories set on these fictional-but-familiar islands on a world (un)like ours. In a2011 interview ahead of The Islandershe’s asked, “Creating the climate, topography and various customs of the islands must have been quite challenging … Did you use a map or some other technique?” Priest: “No map is allowed. Not even to me … Living in the islands, or trying to travel through them, you almost always get lost. No one knows the way, everyone is a bit muddled.”Continue reading “msb ~039 The truth? Dream on”
I consumed Philip Dick’s novels by the handful as a teenager: just part of my science fiction diet. Many of his stories sit well with that other fare, but the shock of A Scanner Darkly, VALIS and The Divine Invasion comes into sharper relief away from the glare of rayguns, hyperdrives and aliens. Dick wrote his experience, not ‘fiction’. In BBC Radio’s Great Lives, actor Michael Sheen discusses Dick’s influence on him: “the moment where the central character begins to discover that maybe the reality he’s taking for granted is not what’s going on, maybe there’s something else going on behind it. That is a very frightening moment.”Continue reading “msb ~038 “Let’s hear it for the vague blur!””
In his contribution to the fascinating Future Remains, historian and geohumanist Jared Farmer discusses ‘technofossils’. Our technological remains last far longer than our personal relationships with these relentlessly multiplying gadgets, structures and infrastructures. Will probably outlast current civilisations. Possibly our species. And technofossils will not be just our artificial constructions; our (re)engineering of the biosphere is also a technological feat that leaves its mark for future archaeology. So, while long-forgotten subway tunnels — “worm tracks of mammoth size — might become sedimentary molds for locomotion traces”, just as telling a marker will be the distinctive layer of fossilised bones of trillions of broiler chickens, a “proxy for the ‘Great Acceleration’ of postwar global change.”Continue reading “msb ~023 Technofossils, fuel for thought”
In this Edge Effects interview, Lauren Groff offers perspective for any ‘climate fiction’ writer feeling environmental despair even while celebrating nature. “My only talent is as a writer. That’s the only thing I can do. So now I feel as though I am being immoral if I am not addressing it somehow in my work. Of course, I write literary fiction, so it can’t be polemical. If it’s polemical, I’ve failed. I need to do something more scalpel-like, something a little bit sideways.”Continue reading “msb ~019 Tell it slant”