Once upon a time ‘narrative’ and ‘story’ weren’t the buzz words of modern-day intellectuals, but actually meant something. Now it seems you can’t read a blog or open a book of a certain kind – or even listen to the Radio 4 news – without the word ‘narrative’ splashed all over it. And if I hear one more group or person proclaim the need for a ‘new story’ for civilisation without having understood either the implications of the old one, or what stories are actually FOR and how they work, I’m going to spit.
I’ve been talking about this recently with Martin Shaw, who runs the Westcountry School of Myth and Story, is the author of the very wonderful book A Branch of the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness, and writes an excellent blog to which I recommend anyone interested in myth and wildness should subscribe.
There is, in short, no point adopting a story, new or otherwise, which envisages a ‘return to the wild’ – either inside ourselves or outside – unless you actually get out there and be in the wild. There is a certain romantic overly-intellectualised tendency these days to sit back and wish for less ‘civilisation’ and more ‘wildness’ – but there is an equal tendency not to know wild if it hit you in the face because you’re too busy sitting at your computer trying to figure out what it means. Which is civilisation’s big joke, really. Just as many of the people who keep harping on about the need for a ‘new story’ don’t see that it isn’t the old stories that are the problem – it’s us, and what we make of them. The old stories – the ones that relate to the land, to the spirit of a place, the ones that teach (I’m less interested in a ‘meta-narrative’: the one springs from the others, for heaven’s sake) – are still alive and well. It’s just that these stories relate to the land, to being out in it. These stories only begin to make sense, and newer versions of them only begin to emerge, if you go out and listen to the land’s dreaming. They certainly don’t come from sitting in front of a computer or doing a one-hour workshop trying to think them up.
With that in mind, here is a link to a recent blog post by Martin, talking about this very issue in the context of a celebration of the local – of a true relationship with the land rather than with globalised information that comes from the head and not the heart: http://theschoolofmyth.blogspot.com/2012/02/mytho-natural.html. I quote:
‘Myth in the way I am thinking about it is a form of echo location coming from the earth itself … When this form of echo location is lost, we fall out of myth. We fall out of relationship. We start to get an atrophy of image, thinned-out allegories that are a fallen, Barthian, attempt to promote and control ideas of the state. The hallucination of empire emerges. The subtle ears that receive the earth’s pulse keep it lively, add some of their own animal-flavour to the transmission, allow a constant re-visioning to take place. By their spontaneity, oral tellings especially cannot help but assist that constant re-seeing of an eternal image. In doing so, it doesn’t become religion, it doesn’t try unduly hard to anchor its deepest meanings in historical time and space. There is great hope in this. So to follow a wild mythology involves a lot of listening, a stilling, to get connected to this ancient form of calling. It is a love story really. Some old lover is gently trying to call us home. When confronted with panicked ideas about ecological ‘narratives for now’ – I suggest that this awareness is paramount. We need bush soul.’
That about covers it. Rant over …