The Monthly Salon: March - Sit back and pour yourself an absinthe
Few thoughts on the latest by Paul Kingsnorth from "The Abbey of Misrule"
As I wrestle with the next essay in my ongoing series here (I’m finding the essays about current events much harder to write than the historical essays I began this project with, which probably ought to tell me something or other) I’ve decided to introduce a new feature here at the Abbey.
..."Beyond being broadly relevant to the topics I write about here, there’s no theme, mandate or expectation. You can talk about whatever you like. Imagine you have just wandered into some Parisian literary salon during your chosen favourite historical period and started up a conversation/provocation/argument. The only rule is the usual one: respect each other, even as you disagree. Beyond that, it’s a free for all."
Like all the best ideas, this one is pilfered (‘Talent borrows’, explained Oscar Wilde; ‘genius steals.’) Like some other Substack writers, I’m introducing a regular, reader-led open discussion for anyone who feels like diving in on a topic of their choice.
Beyond being broadly relevant to the topics I write about here, there’s no theme, mandate or expectation. You can talk about whatever you like. Imagine you have just wandered into some Parisian literary salon during your chosen favourite historical period and started up a conversation/provocation/argument. The only rule is the usual one: respect each other, even as you disagree. Beyond that, it’s a free for all.
To kick off this first salon, I’ll offer up a few things I’ve been thinking about myself as potential conversation starters - but you should feel entirely free to ignore them and talk about something else.
Russia & Ukraine
Along with most other people, I couldn’t find Ukraine on a map a few weeks ago. Now I have daily opinions about what is happening there, despite still basically knowing nothing about it - or I did, until I gave up reading the news for Lent, and for my own sanity. All of my opinions are worthless, because they are being conveyed to me by people who want me to think something, and I am being manipulated from a position of basic ignorance. This is the oldest story - war propaganda from all sides - but in the Internet age, there is such a tsunami of it that it has become essentially unreal, in a very post-modern way. After two years of agenda-led media manipulation around covid, it feels like the same patterns are being replicated on a different issue. Everybody wants something from me, as they do from you. I am being told what to think and who to hate and how to react, and as a result I find myself trusting nobody at all. I wonder what this means for my understanding of the world, or whether I could ever understand it at all. Is it ever possible to actually understand anything you don’t personally experience? At what point does propaganda become so pervasive that it is impossible to believe anything you hear?
Control & Money
The Canadian government recently used national emergency powers to freeze anti government dissidents out of the financial system, thus essentally crushing protests against that system. The same mechanism is now being used on a geopolitical scale against Russia. Combined with the onward march of digital currencies, control of money looks like becoming the ultimate tool for corralling and crushing dissent in the age of the Machine. There will be much more of this. How should we respond to it?
Lent & Less
Orthodox Lent began this week, and I am beginning forty days of fasting, which is supposed to be combined with a greater emphasis on prayer and contemplation (the fasting is easy; the prayer is the hard work.) I’m interested in the meaning of self-denial (and indeed prayer) in an age of self-worship, and not just for Christians.
I’ll stop there. Please go ahead and introduce any topic you like, or respond to any of these.
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About the Author
Paul Kingsnorth is an Orthodox English writer and thinker who lives in the west of Ireland. He is a former deputy-editor of The Ecologist and a co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project.
Kingsnorth's nonfiction writing tends to address macro themes like environmentalism, globalisation, and the challenges posed to humanity by civilisation level trends. His fiction tends to be mythological and multi-layered.
Paul Kingsnorth’s debut novel, The Wake, won the 2014 Gordon Burn Prize and the Bookseller Book of the Year Award, as well as being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Folio Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize, and shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. Beast, the second book in his Buckmaster Trilogy, was shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award 2017. He is also the author of the non-fiction books One No, Many Yeses, Real England, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Savage Gods, as well as two poetry collections, Kidland and Songs from the Blue River.