Paradise Lost? The Climate Crisis and the Human Condition

One of my Cranborne Chase images used in this very important book
I am honoured that one of my images of the Cranborne Chase landscape should have been featured in this new and important book by Paul Hoggett and published by the Simplicity Institute

The Text by Paul Hoggett follows:-

Bowerchalke is a tiny village occupying the upper reaches of a short valley that cuts into the Cranborne Chase. There’s something about the landscape of this Wiltshire/Dorset borderland that pulls me to it. I love the folded hills that roll from east to west. In places they are quite bare, covered only by chalk grassland or vast fields of wheat and other cereals. They curve and undulate like bodies partly immersed in the earth. In many ways Bowerchalke is unremarkable. The chalk stream1 that runs through it is barely visible in the overgrowth of the summer, the village itself is strung out along the length of the minor road that climbs south over the Chase to the next village which goes by the wonderful name of Sixpenny Handley. Like many of these rural villages the pub and post office and shop closed years ago and are now private residences. But the church remains and contains the burial place of the novelist William Golding, known for his Nobel Prize winning book Lord of the Flies. Photo courtesy of Roger Lane2 Golding came to live in Bowerchalke in 1957, soon after the publication of his famous novel. By all accounts he was a troubled man, full of self loathing and very sensitive to criticism. He had a terrible inferiority complex PAUL HOGGETT 182 particularly in relation to social class. He tended to self-medicate with alcohol, a habit that intensified when his novel The Spire, published in 1964, received bad reviews. Golding’s incipient depression deepened further when he lost his beloved sailing vessel Tenace in a collision in the English Channel in 1967. The same year a new neighbour arrived in the village by the name of James Lovelock, who by this time was working for the National Space Agency (NASA) in the USA. The two men became walking and drinking companions. According to Lovelock in either 1968 or 1969 he put his hypothesis about the Earth being a complex self-regulating system to Golding as they were walking to the post office. Golding who had a background in the classics suggested that Lovelock should consider calling it the Gaia hypothesis. The two men continued walking as they got into an argument, one they eventually realised had been caused by a misunderstanding – Lovelock having heard ‘gyre’ (a vortex) and not Gaia! Gaia was, for the ancient Greeks, the Goddess who personified the Earth. In 1974, whilst still living in Bowerchalke, Lovelock wrote his famous scientific paper with Lynn Margulis which introduced the Gaia hypothesis to the scientific community. As Lovelock said about his hypothesis: ‘(U)nless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive …we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy’.3 I like to think that somehow the sensuous landscape of Bowerchalke and Cranborne Chase had an unconscious influence on Lovelock, rendering him open to Golding’s suggestion. Meanwhile Golding’s personal crisis had deepened. He began to suffer from writer’s block and insomnia, he was besieged by family anxieties and sank into heavy drinking. But there was one area of his life which paradoxically began to flourish, as he put it to a colleague: ‘he couldn’t write but had these amazing dreams’. By the early 1970s, fascinated by the work of Carl Jung, he initiated a dream diary, one that he continued right up until the day before his death in 1993. The dream journal eventually totalled 2.4 million words! In August 1971 whilst in Italy, Golding had a dream that would change his life. He would later refer to this as his ‘great dream’ and it seemed to initiate a process in the next decade which enabled him to emerge from his crisis and renew his creative writing. The dream is examined in detail in an illuminating essay by Tim Kendall.4 Suffice to say the dream is set on the Spanish Steps in Rome and the key figure is a very old man. According to Golding’s dream diary, PARADISE LOST? The Climate Crisis and the Human Condition 183 There was a very, very old man there who was related as closely to me as the steps were. He had been famous as a great singer and/or maker of folk songs, ballads and the like. He was Yeats, perhaps, or perhaps no one. He explained that he was too old now to sing; and he began to go away down some steep narrow steps at the side of the violin-shape. He became older as he went and more crooked; but as he went down into the darkness he began to sing. Immediately the whole mass of the Poetry Party rushed to the railings by the steps to listen, as the great voice went away into the dark. Kendall suggests that the dream offers a vision of a creativity that goes singing down into the dark. As Golding writes in his journal: ‘to look forward down the small slope to death is proper; and to find the work that should go with that look forward is proper’ (13 January 1972). The work he eventually ‘finds’ consists of six further novels all, according to Kendall, bearing traces of the ‘great dream’ and one of which, Rites of Passage, won the Booker Prize. Golding’s great dream seemed to unlock what he referred to in his journal as his ‘crisis’. Kendall reflects that Golding was ‘fascinated by dreams because they make us all visionaries, receiving unbidden wonders from mysterious forces that leave us uncertain as to how (or whether) to act on them’. These ‘mysterious forces’ haunt both our internal and external landscape and are part of what in the last chapter I referred to as the trans-subjective. Golding and Lovelock in their different ways seemed able to surrender to these forces and, through their re-agency, then let something wholly new come into being. 1 86% of the Earth’s chalk streams are to be found in England. They constitute a rare and fragile ecology. 2 Available at Reproduced from his book 'Cranborne Chase - A Secret Landscape' published by Amberley Publications. 3 Lovelock, J. (2007) The Revenge of Gaia. London: Penguin. pp.21-2. 4 Kendall, T. (2018) William Golding’s Great Dream. Essays in Criticism, 68(4): 466-487

This book is now available to review and purchase on Amazon

Summer landscape above Bowerchalke
Summer landscape above Bowerchalke