"Savage Gods" by Paul Kingsnorth -- reviewed by ~lagrev-nocfep

by ~darlur, published on

"I want to do all of these things at once—be called a writer, be a rooted family man, be a tribal elder, be an outcast shaman—and this is ludicrous, impossible. Art that doesn't come from pain is just entertainment. And what does that mean for a man with a young family and three acres of land, a man with responsibilities and a burden of ideas in his head which he has just realized do not serve him anymore, and may not do so again?"

A farewell to writing. No, not that. A farewell to ... trying. Zenlike withdrawal, recognition that creativity needs space to play and cannot be on tap. Our commercial Machine World seeks to destroy what it cannot regulate. Regulate, regular, regula, rex → rule.

I don't know that this is the kind of book I would have thought would appeal to me. The marketing pulled it through: "What does it mean to belong? What sacrifices must be made to truly inhabit a life?" I grabbed it on a whim on the strength of his strange and sprawling Wake.

Savage Gods is an essay writ large, his attempt to grapple with the brute facts that creativity is fraught with deception and self-deception, as well as that man changes over his arc. I think anyone would walk away with something different from what he says. Of course, I am not the creator that Kingsnorth has been. I've created some things: in wood, in bits, in text. Nothing that a large audience has ever seen, other than the few thousand students who use what I teach.

One day you wake up and are middle-aged. I am the youngest of Gen X or the eldest of the Millennials, and I know that day approacheth if it has not already come. Kingsnorth is an advance guard into that territory: suicide, responsibility, maturity, creativity, dreams in flight, dreams buried. Dante's dark wood.

Kingsnorth is careful not to offer solutions or recommendations, merely acknowledgement of the deep divisions that mark intellectual moderns. We yearn to fit in and stand out, we strive to re-enchant the world but are enamoured of systems thinking. Jocosely, "there are two wolves inside of you." "This is not a conclusion. Nothing is being contained here. I have nothing to sell you. I don't have a message."

This book assumes a place in my heart similar to that of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: it's a vade mecum of how to approach life and living even while offering no bullet points or twelve-step plans. It's one I'll return to again and again. Homecoming is the longing of every heart and the theme of many a great tale, yet the real work only begins after home is reached.

Can I recommend this book? I don't know. I wanted to write this review for myself at least, but it feels rather like telling someone of a secret grove or cemetery walk: a fundamentally close and private holiness that cannot be communicated. If you feel to tread here, tread gently.


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