Paul Kingsnorth and Premonitions of Doom

I was very glad last year to discover Paul Kingsnorth’s remarkable novel, The Wake. I was actually disappointed that he didn’t write all his novels in the same adapted old English. That was a triumph, and the book was a triumph in many ways, though as a story it is somewhat lacking in a sense of completeness. Nevertheless, the literary powers are clearly there. All honor to him for that achievement as well as the rest of the trilogy.

Paul Kingsnorth was clearly thinking his way toward something in it all, and last year it emerged that he was making his way toward Christianity, having started as an environmental activist. And it is with the environmental activism that I get my first pause when it comes to Kingsnorth. He is still pretty alarmist about the environment though he has given up on the activism. And it is his alarm which sucitates misgivings in me because I think Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Longberg are more factual environmentalists who believe the alarm is not only misinformed, but damaging. So I wonder if Kingsnorth has correct information, and why he seems to persist.

Kingsnorth has just come out with a substack which is full of a different kind of alarm. I subscribe. I read it. I enjoy Kingsnorth and what he does–with my annoying misgiving. He has some very interesting observations about vaccination and Africa and Australia. I can understand that part of the alarm has to do with where you live. In the more rural portions of the USA most of us are and have been back to normal for a long time. If we don’t fly, if we don’t go to cities, if we are not in the nursing profession, if we stay where we are, then we read about all the crazy stuff they’re doing in the unfortunate parts of the world that are not America, and we think, that’s life in the rest of the world. But if you live in the considerable portions of the habitable parts of this planet not considered the USA then you may have more cause for alarm. It is like the environmental question: not a big one in spacious green places such as many in the rurs rather than in the urbs inhabit. I think what Kingsnorth is seeing is alarming, and the symbols he puts together make sense. But is he drawn to doom because it stimulates the creative process? One hopes there is more, but would not blame him if that is all. Just . . . misgivings.

I also think that Kingsnorth is an artist and expresses himself in stories, and I wonder if it is not so much discursive thought as it is another story that he is wrestling with in his present writing. Just as a musician expresses things in music, or a painter who doesn’t write about things because he expresses himself through the visual medium and can’t explain the painting because the painting is what he is saying, so a writer like William Golding or, perhaps, Paul Kingsnorth. I am skeptical of Kingsnorth when it comes to logical analysis and argumentation and marshalling facts correctly. He tells stories, he knows he tells stories, he has a good reason to be confident in that ability (though I think the story of his trilogy isn’t finished, but then, it took J.K.Rowling 7 books; I certainly hope Kingsnorth continues with the fiction).

So I wonder if perhaps Kingnorth’s alarm is something caused by the place in which he his and by his gravitation toward alarm. I don’t say he’s not on to something. Perhaps he is more of a prophet than I judge him. I have misgivings. I also remember that George Orwell did not live 1984, what he did was to get a good book out of his misgivings that has been more valuable than much of his other writing.

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