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Paul Kingsnorth Is Writing Again!

Paul Kingsnorth, from Unherd

Here’s the best news I’ve heard in ages: Paul Kingsnorth has started a Substack: the Abbey of Misrule! Here’s an excerpt from his first essay:

Two years ago, I was hoping I could retire.

It wasn’t a realistic hope, and I knew it: my writing and teaching is the only income source my family has, so unless some anonymous donor had looked kindly on me, I was going to have to keep going. But I thought seriously that I might be able to find some other way of earning: gardening, maybe, or working in a shop. Anything but writing. I had come, literally, to a full stop.

I had just published a non-fiction book called Savage Gods – still my favourite piece of non-fiction, as it happens. It’s a raw, short book that I began in 2017, in the midst of a personal night-sea journey. I was lost: spiritually lost, not at home in my (fairly) new country, and most of all, lost as a writer. I had stopped believing in words. They had come to seem less like a liberation, and more like a trap; less like a glass I could see through, if darkly, and more like a wall which prevented me from touching the real world on the other side.

So I wrote it all down – inevitably – and then I stopped. I made a vow to write nothing new for a year and a day. I kept the vow, the date passed, and I still had no words. I thought, well, that was that. I had written ten books in my life, which was a nice round number. But what to do instead? What else can a 45 year old writer do? How to feed my children? I said to God: show me what to do. I’ll burn all my pens if you want. But show me the way. I didn’t even think I believed in God, which just goes to show how confused I was.

Still, it turns out that God doesn’t care whether you believe in Him or not, and it seems also that He has a sense of humour. Savage Gods turned out to be – and I had an inkling about this when I wrote it but I couldn’t face the implications – a prelude to a spiritual drowning. Under the water I went, down to the bottom, and when I emerged earlier this year I had become, much to my surprise, an Orthodox Christian. Meanwhile, the strange plague raged all around, and everything and everyone was changing, including me. That same year I completed the trilogy of novels I had been working on for a decade. Things rearranged themselves inside me and all around me – around all of us. I had no further commitments. I had no plans. I was not the same person I had been. I could do anything I wanted. I was free.

But the world was not, and it is less free daily – the Machine is closing in on us all, and this is what I am doing here, back with words again. I tried not to. But it became clear that what was going on all around me was enormous, and that I could not avoid its implications and the changes it was bringing. My unexpected conversion to the Christian faith felt like the result of some spirit moving in the world, racing through the waters and the woods and through our minds, shaken from its slumber by apocalyptic times. I was, I discovered, not the only one feeling this way. Something is happening, and we are all part of it.

For a while I have been watching the poisonous so-called ‘culture war’ flooding from America into my homeland, and I have been mourning my country when I haven’t been confused or angry. But above all I have been wondering: what does this signify? Why is this culture so broken, so weakened, so lost? What is going on beneath the surface? I have watched, as we all have, these growing divisions as I have watched much bigger problems enveloping the world – forest fires, droughts, climatic shifts, ongoing extinctions, the dark litany that I have written about for so many years now. And I have watched, especially this last year, with the covid pandemic as an accelerant, the rapidly growing power and reach of the digital matrix of surveillance, control and manipulation, further eroding freedom, community and reality itself.

The churning of the surface waters of our societies – the fights, the divisions, the polarising ‘issues’ dangled before us like carrots to squabble over – these are all symptoms of deep shifts beneath. Add it all together – the coming-apart of (supposedly) liberal nations, the ongoing global eradication of rooted cultures and so much of the wild and non-human world, the rise of a techno-feudal new order, the replacement of older values with those of the globalised consumer machine – and what you get, I think, is a revolution.

Or, perhaps, a revelation.

There’s so much more — read it all. Paul goes on to say that he can’t sit this global calamity out, that he has to write through it. Man, I can’t express how encouraging this is to me as a writer and as a Christian.

I strongly encourage you to subscribe to The Abbey of Misrule. If you know anything about Paul Kingsnorth’s writing — see more of his past essays here — then you know that this Substack of his is going to become one of the most important sources of cultural criticism, cultural inquiry, and spiritual insight we have. Read about Paul here. Let me put it to you like this: if Wendell Berry were a Gen X Englishman expatriated to rural western Ireland, he would be Paul Kingsnorth. It’s not an accident that Paul was chosen to write the introduction to a recent collection of Berry essays.

One more passage from his introductory essay:

I will attempt to write here without becoming evil. I will try to fight for what I love and not against what I don’t, avoiding too many abstractions, trying to keep my feet on the ground. I will hope for a good conversation with those who subscribe, and welcome disagreement and alternative views. But I will deny commenting rights to anyone who attempts to bring those fragmentary oppositions into this space. We’re going to try and practice kindness and mercy here. It’s an Abbey after all.

In the end, I think it can be good to daily remind ourselves that we are all lost in this maelstrom. It has probably always been that way. If I have a reason to return to words, it is because I still believe that at their best they can help us find some useful path to follow.

Here’s a recent video podcast interview with him on Unherd. Paul does not fit into left wing or right wing molds. He’s a real original:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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