As a writer, though, this means that he’s placed himself in a somewhat precarious position. As he writes in the book: “I realized, after a while, that anything I have ever written in the past which has even approached being any good at all has been written from some place of desperation. It has been written from the edges: from the dark slope of the mountain, not the warmth of the campfire.”
Kingsnorth’s image of a writer necessarily being apart, watching those around the campfire from the dark slope of the mountain, is an apt metaphor for the distance that we fear language places between us and an authentic life. But Kingsnorth seems not to consider the possibility that to be human is to be both on the mountain and around the fire, at the same time.
The Italian writer Roberto Calasso explains in his book Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India that the Hindu Vedas say the Tree of Knowledge and Tree of Life “look like a single tree.” On two different branches, two birds sit at exactly the same height. One eats a berry while the other watches. Both are aspects of self, and both are necessary, the eating and the watching. As Calasso writes, affirming Kingsnorth’s initial perception while rejecting his conclusions, “Consciousness slowly strangles life. But life exists—or is perceived to exist—only to the extent that it allows the parasite of consciousness to grow upon it.” One is reminded here of how William Burroughs called language the “word virus.” But what traditional and religious wisdom tells us is that the virus must necessarily be kept in harmony with our animal selves in order for us to spiritually flourish.
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