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The Disoriented Deliberations of a Hopeless Romantic

Joseph Clarke

Written as a statement of purpose, or gallery manifesto, by the director of Anima Mundi, St Ives. Clarke states that he 'felt it important to do so not only in retaliation to a compounded collision of global crisis but also as a personal investigation in to my own reason for founding Anima Mundi… It is also perhaps a response to a growing sense of isolation within the contemporary media obsessed art world of limited characters… The words are written in response to living and working for the past 25 years at the far corner of our island in search for an inner wildness within the modern world.'


The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth 'The World Is Too Much With Us'

Romanticism. The wild and untamed edict which offered up a counter point to those more civilised and sensible concerns of Enlightenment. Romantics, like Wordsworth, occupied a time and space where the forces which today ravage the world were finding form. The seeds of the industrial revolution were pervasive, accompanied by new ways of seeing the world. Wordsworth returned from the revolution in France, narrowly escaping death, and with sleeves rolled up, began composing poems which would be shot like bullets at the credos of apparent progress. In contrast the permeating philosophies of the time claimed that science would tell us everything that was important to know, economics would chart our capitalist progress and that nature was a mechanical resource which could be divided up - with each strand of knowledge offering us measurement of these most noble and notable expressions of human potential. In atavistic, doubtful response the Romantics were drawn towards the intuitive, mythic and the spiritual for both nourishment and guidance. Waging rage against the machine, for the human heart, born of mother nature and father spirit. Theirs was a calling for an urgent return to something ancient and deeper, not for nostalgic or sentimental reasons but to reconnect the human soul with that of the world and what lies beyond it. They knew, that at the core of their process, was something intangible and immeasurable.

Gradually these principles became outdated in the eyes of the many, ‘feelings’ overshadowed by the ‘thoughts’ of those who believed that the physical and metaphysical complexities of the universe could be better interpreted by linear equations and logical sequence. Revelation replaced the unknowable. Reason and certainty replaced faith.

The ‘spiritual’ or ‘sacred’, remains tightly bound to its man made and less comfortable bedfellow ‘religion’, and as such becomes, in the eyes of many, tainted in the way that the touch of man tends to sully. Thousands of years of conflict in its name, literal interpretations of the mythical and contortions of meaning to effect power and inflict suffering add justifiable layers of toxicity. Religion has been used as a blunt instrument to dampen our freedoms by those who wished to control us for dubious gain with their superstitious fairy tales. It repressed women, homosexuality, non believers and anyone who disobeyed its dogma. It despised science, denied reason, and eradicated those who questioned it dismissing them as heretics. Not even our beloved children were safe in the hands of its corrupted messengers. Our religions became harmful, outdated, thought feeble, mumbo jumbo. Enlightened society had thrown off the burden. Torn down the man in the sky, created in our image, with his book of silly miracles, unbelievable resurrections, and unlikely virgin births. Amen to that…

Yet some see that these accumulated fabricated layers of religion, are merely the hard skin that surrounds a precious delicate and sacred centre. That inexplicable heart that these man made institutions were birthed to elevate. We and our religions do not own the divine, we only offer up our ways of trying to comprehend it. The ancient origins of the word ‘holy’, have the same derivation as the word ‘whole’, it speaks of something complete, continuous and untainted. If we see the Earth as whole, then we see ourselves as part of a wider living thing. If, in contrast, you see the Earth as a resource or machine and all living things as separate components, then we have no reason not to fiddle with them to our own design in pursuit of our own magnum opus. Indeed, once God was eliminated, we could be free to remould the world in our own image. We could progress.

Progress - we follow this straight time line. The problem with straight lines is that eventually you reach an end point.

In our ego centric bubble, inhabiting our modern myths, we became enraptured by our centrality. Like narcissus lost in the importance of his own reflection, in love with our own increasingly artificial intelligence. With each passing moment, it seems that the aspects of life that remain un-colonised by scientific or economic opportunity grow fewer and fewer. Our straight line path has led us into a world in which industrialised, capitalist, technical minded humanity has ravaged the wild earth, shaping all nature to suit its temporary yearnings. A machine world of productive and efficient machine minded, fully programmed citizens - digitally dumb struck awaiting silicon transcendence with uploaded immortality in to the great man made cloud. There is no desire for a creator if you believe you can service your own needs better. Under mankind’s dominion, now cindered forests were set ablaze, plastic waters became baron where only ghost songs remained, and cities began to fester and split open, under the corrupt weight of engorged wealth curdled with decrepit squalor. As we knelt before this master named ‘Progress’ with its tumorous power breaching ever outward and in, forbidden fruit ingested, our choice was made. We were triumphant. The vanishing was underway, and we had lost the language to talk about it or to listen.

The voice we hear no longer serves the part of us which ‘believes but does not know’, instead it serves the part which ‘knows but does not believe.’ The voice speaks of fragments not of wholeness, spoken with limited characters in simple human tongue. We are no longer a part, we are now apart. This separation is what has, reduced the numbers of other species to collapse and altered the ecology and biosphere of our home planet. In the geological blink of an eye in which modern man has been around we have created a potentially catastrophic planetary shift, we have done so knowingly and we still, despite our logical and reasonable knowledge, refuse to stop. The product of a toxic Cartesian nightmare where nature is seen as a collection of decaying elements to be exploited, carved up and distributed for some sort of supposed gain. A poisonous and baron culture of inertia, banality, mediocrity, material idolatry, selfish hunger, senseless greed with straight lines, sharp points and blunt edges. This synthetic new world is unprecedented in its potential to destroy the precious, immeasurable and the meaningful, inside you and in the place you inhabit.

I doubt that there has ever been a civilisation throughout human history so disinterested in the sacred as ours. With such little concern with the path of the spirit, in such denial of the incalculable, and so contemptuous of those who feel that these things are essential to our lives lived or our future posterity. The true devastation of collapse of the natural web of life and culture is spoken in a lost language that we seemingly no longer understand, with wounds so deep and damaging in ways we are no longer able to express. Whatever we chose to name our collective crisis’, it is not a challenge to be overcome through politics, technology or science, it is the anguished symptom of a deeper disconnect. Wasn’t that a core echoing warning present through all the myths and teachings of every human culture on Earth? Whatever your views on religion, at the very least it teaches us that we are not God.

We see small glimpses of an awakening which moves us beyond our stagnant anthropocentric world view - ideas of quantum science and the growing field of ecology, are showing us, with some proof, that all life is interconnected and that much of nature remains very unknown to us - that perhaps intelligence exists that is greater and more magical than our own. Perhaps then we must allow ourselves an urgent moment to pause, so that we can listen for another voice - a less human one. It may whisper us towards a path where life is not lived in a straight line but a circle – a cycle as evident throughout the vast cosmic systems of nature. Perhaps this voice could help drown out the sound of our mortal certainties, with all that they have bought upon us and our planet, with a deeper humming of a greater and more profound unknowing. It is ambitious, I realise, to expect that this can be achieved, certainly on mass at the pace that is perhaps required, but through the vision of individuals, in part through the arts as one beacon, another way can perhaps once again be illuminated.

I have long believed that, through the arts, we have the potential to envision and explore. They provide us with other ways of communicating of seeing and of feeling, and can cause ripples in the fabric of our reality. Introducing ways of being which our wider more rationally minded culture progressively rejects, in turn bypassing those elements which every prior civilisation seemingly both understood and allowed to live within them, since humans made their first mark. That human mark, which re-created the image of the bison, ibex and mammoth floating on the sacred cave wall in knowing act of shamanic ritual or ceremony. Made by the same now evolved hand which attempts to genetically recreate the same mammoth in the lab, as twisted recompense for the part played in its extinction. This journey is notable evidence of our power to create, mutated by our belief that we are the ultimate creator.

The source of true art lies deep down in the less accessible regions of our psyche, it is capable of inciting mystery and as such inducing magic or casting a spell. An incantation which brings forth, coagulates and conducts unfamiliar energy, in ways we cannot reasonably explain, with the potential to affect both mind and matter. We are yearning for such magic, and are bending to breakpoint beneath the stubborn weight of the material world without it. We miss the flow of a different tune sung through bone and senses, a sound pulled from elsewhere, made by something other with greater resonance than our own. In an age of torment, where our secular people are dividing into tribes, with anger, indignance and condemnation engulfing nuance and compassion in flames of rage. We are lost in madness, searching for a light to shine the way, towards a path of transformation and transcendence. Each work of art, if it is true, reassembles a tiny piece of the wider mystery, beckoning us closer to the light. At the heart of art is the same conundrum which lies at the heart of spirituality – that we know nothing and can only act from our place of unknowing, blindly but with faith in search of timeless truth.

We must, once again, learn to be small in the world, and belong to it. When we are silent and enraptured then we intuitively know that there is something beyond the rational mind, beyond our fabricated conurbations and concocted concerns, as every indigenous culture and every society before the advent of modernity knew. Each and every living society in human history, has been constructed around a sacred core, concerning the relationship between ourselves, non human life and a divine connection. These bound values dictating the harmonious limits set by nature, tradition and ecological necessity ensuring survival and well being. The one culture in all human history that holds none of this to be true, is the one we are now living within. Our rejection of the sacred has become a rebellion against everything natural - our collective roots, traditions, culture, community, family, morality and even biology itself. The machine is dissolving the adhesive that once bound it all together. We need a return to a core around which any worthwhile culture is bound for the sake of ourselves and all life to which we are inextricably linked.

In life, through nature, and through love, there are moments when I have lost myself and become entwined and entangled with a sense of that great unnameable force embedded in the world itself, running through all living things and perhaps extending beyond. The sublime, its beauty and its power, and my connection to it, despite my smallness. The fear of its magnitude, my humility in the face of it. An infinitely-turning wheel of joy, pain, tears, blood, death and rebirth. A wild energy of bewitching complexity and enchantment. There is a greatness that cannot be found within this human world alone, and a growing absence in the world that we conjure. The Earth is not a synthetic machine. There is pulsing life where we are participants, not impartial and objective observers. The simple fact is, many of us do feel something essential beyond our domain. We do feel awe, we do sense magic and we do experience a wholeness which brings with it some peace and a notion of momentary balance and harmony. That is real, and is present. Perhaps these beliefs I share now, extending beyond reason, offer some or indeed many, nothing more than the disorientated deliberations of a hopeless romantic. Romantic I concede. Without hope? Not just yet.

Joseph Clarke 2022

-And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear,—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

William Wordsworth, Extract from ‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798’