When I first discovered the Dark Mountain Project in 2014, it quietly connected to something I had inside my head. Questioning the stories and systems around us that define how we live, promoting other ways of thinking about the world — it put words to ideas I hadn’t yet defined. But it felt like a secret, not something that I could talk to others about. Three years later, the stories and perspectives of the project are more relevant than ever.
Started in 2009, Dark Mountain began as a self-published manifesto, born out of the need for different ways of thinking about the massive political, economical, and material forces that drive the world. Entitled Uncivilisation, the manifesto promoted a mentality that was more grounded in the natural world, putting aside myths of progress, growth, and human dominance. The name of the project was taken from the poem Rearmament by Robinson Jeffers, which introduces the term “dark mountain” as a metaphor for the spiritual, contemplative, boundless place more deeply connected to our roots than our present.
Since that initial publication, the project has grown into a core network of hundreds of writers and artists, with thousands of others around the world connected to it. The project publishes two volumes of art and literature annually, including work from contributors such as David Abram, Naomi Klein, Jay Griffiths, and Mark Rylance.
It’s easy to misinterpret these stories as inherently pessimistic, or as a sort of “doomsday” narrative, and although there is a darkness to it, for many people, it’s about exploring that darkness as a process of becoming more connected to one’s own humanity. More than anything, the project is saying that the dark can be just as empowering, nurturing, and guiding as the light.
I spoke with Dougald Hine, the project’s co-founder and editorial coordinator, about the project and about navigating that darkness.
Dark Mountain has been about creating spaces where we can face the darkness and have ways of talking and thinking about the darkness of what it means to be alive right now.
What does the dark mean to you?
I have spent a lot of my life looking at questions that a lot of us find hard to think about. You take a thing like climate change, for example; it’s not unusual to sit down with highly educated, engaged people who can talk to you about all kinds of issues that are going on, and then you get to a certain point and they say, “I try not to think about climate change.” I’ve heard that from political advisors and people working in in influential places.
If you look at the way that climate change does get talked about, a lot of the time in public situations, I’d say it actually gets talked about in what I think of as a daylight language; a language of facts and figures and plans and strategies. And one of the things that I’ve seen over the years is that there is a need for other languages in which to talk about these things — languages that come from the twilight, or the moment in the middle of the night where you’re lying awake, because anybody who lives with these kinds of questions, they have those moments.
When we talk about a thing like climate change, we don’t have languages for talking about fear and doubt and uncertainty. I’ve worked with scientists who are experts in the science of climate change but nothing within the training you have as a scientist equips you with what it does to you as a human being.
And so part of why Paul [Kingsnorth] and I ended up creating Dark Mountain has been about creating spaces where we can face the darkness and have ways of talking and thinking about the darkness of what it means to be alive right now.
Do you find that the dark, especially in the context of Dark Mountain, it’s not entirely a bad place?
Sure. There are kinds of dark that are nurturing and intimate and maybe even comforting. And there are kinds of dark that are properly terrifying. It’s easy when you start trying to say these things, to sound like you’re speaking against the language of facts and figures and measurement, and actually it’s not to speak against it, it’s to say we need both, we need all of these languages.
It makes no sense to say you only want to have the daylight or you only want to have the night. They’re two halves of the experience of living on a planet like this, and in the same way I think the dark is part of the experience rather than, like you say, something to be simply treated as a bad thing.
Dark Mountain is all about promoting the work of artists and writers, so is that where the role of artists come in, to speak this different language?
I think that writers and artists have something to bring, in terms of showing us all that there are many languages. That the languages we choose to use, the symbols, the images, are not simply obvious but are choices, ways of approaching a situation.
Certainly the place where daylight expertise runs out can often be a place where the different elements of human experience can pick up, and provide the space within which we deal with the knowledge that comes to us in the daylight. We see things in the daylight, but in the night we have dreams and we process the things that we’ve seen and try to make sense of them, try to find a way of weaving them into our knowledge of ourselves and our ideas of ourselves in the world.
It’s interesting to think about dreams as a way for us to start to comprehend what we see in the light. I feel like, even though we live in the light, everyone has a connection to that darkness. And it’s really tough to open up to that.
Yeah. We live at a point where our ways of thinking and making sense of the world are deeply shaped by the Enlightenment. We live in a world where electric light has spread down our streets and into every corner of our homes, so we’re not prepared, either in our ways of thinking, or just from our practical daily experience, for cohabiting with and being comfortable with the dark, in the way that people have almost always previously had to be.
Right, it’s very hard to actually get into the dark nowadays, there’s light everywhere.
Yeah. How many stars can you see in the city? I’m just thinking of a Swedish artist, Ruben Wätte, who I’m writing about at the moment, and he says, we have this pocket light of reason, and you’re out walking in a dark wood, and if you switch on that pocket light, you get this very sharp, bright, focused beam, being able to see really clearly this bit in front of you. Meanwhile, everything around that falls much more deeply into the darkness if you choose to switch that light on.
We need to be able to choose when we want to go into that part of ourselves, when it’s good to switch on that beam, and when it’s better to leave it switched off and let our eyes adjust to the darkness and remember that we have other senses that allow us to navigate besides that clear light of reason.
Excerpt from The Dark Mountain Manifesto
“If we are indeed teetering on the edge of a massive change in how we live, in how human society itself is constructed, and in how we relate to the rest of the world, then we were led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves — above all, by the story of civilization.
This story has many variants, religious and secular, scientific, economic, and mystic. But all tell of humanity’s original transcendence of its animal beginnings, our growing mastery over a ‘nature’ to which we no longer belong, and the glorious future of plenty and prosperity which will follow when this mastery is complete. It is the story of human centrality, of a species destined to be lord of all it surveys, unconfined by the limits that apply to other, lesser creatures.
What makes this story so dangerous is that, for the most part, we have forgotten that it is a story. It has been told so many times by those who see themselves as rationalists, even scientists; heirs to the Enlightenment’s legacy — a legacy which includes the denial of the role of stories in making the world.”
To read the full manifesto, along with the Eight Principles of Uncivilisation, visit dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto