Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound (including The Great Humbling)
The Great Humbling S5E2: 'Words in Wartime'

The Great Humbling S5E2: 'Words in Wartime'

We recorded this episode on Dougald’s birthday – and Ed starts with the image of him wearing Anna’s family’s Coyote coat, triggering unsettling flashbacks to the QAnon shaman, who is apparently now running for Congress. Welcome to the dark weirdness of 2023.

Ed quotes from Paul Mason’s ‘Gaza: Time for Restraint’, a story brought to our attention by listener Richard Brophy, about a conversation between George Orwell and Stephen Spender during the Second World War.

Before we head further into the core themes of this episode, Ed talks about a recent visit to the Time & Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth and the stories he found in Sarah E Doig’s The A-Z of Curious Norfolk. Among these is the story of the first bomb dropped on British soil, from a Zeppelin over Sheringham on 18th January 1915.

Moving to the present, Dougald reads from ‘Two Feather Sunday’, a recent post by Andrew at Bog-down and Aster. ‘I have been in a quiet lately,’ Andrew writes. ‘I think a fair few of us have.’ What lifts him from this quiet and sets the theme for our conversation is another Substack post, from Caroline Ross, ‘Writing a Chalice’, and her image words used ‘freely, generously,/as though you were passing/the simple birchwood cup you carved/among friends.’

Responding to a reader, Andrew also describes a realisation that the potency of his work doesn’t lie in seeking ‘more likes, more readers, more subscriptions’, but in finding ‘a handful of close readers’ and ‘a small circle of others writing around the same ideas’, where ideas and images start ‘cross-pollinating’.

This takes Ed back to Yancey Strickler’s ‘Dark Forest’ theory of the internet, which we spoke about in S3E8 – and he describes a recent encounter with Yancey and learning about Metalabel, a project supporting ‘creativity in multiplayer mode’.

Dougald brings in Adam Wilson’s recent post at The Peasantry School, ‘A warning to readers: this story can’t be told in prose’, about how we write about what we only glimpse from the corner of the eye. Two observations from this resonate with the wider discussion: ‘We are invited to generate opinions about how to live while others shoulder the consequences of our opinions,’ Adam writes – and: ‘We see ourselves as powerless even as we wield unprecedented power.  Privilege seems to beget a felt sense of victimhood, which in turn breeds a nearly insatiable hunger for more privilege.’

This brings Ed to a recent post from Tom Hirons, ‘a quick reminder that we all live in the varying shades of a dystopian nightmare set in paradise’.

Dougald talks about Ivan Illich’s troubling words about the refusal to ‘care’, when care is reduced to a feeling rather than an action. (There’s more in this post.) And from there we come to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words about the contrast between ‘cheap grace’ and ‘costly grace’.

Still wondering about what it means to ‘care’, Dougald brings in a poem by Dylan Thomas (brought to his attention by Andrew Curry’s Just Two Things), ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London’.

Ed reflects on the 70th anniversary of Thomas’s death, how ‘Under Milkwood’ drew inspiration from the name of a road in Herne Hill, his own reworking of it as ‘Beyond Coldharbour’, and what happened when someone played Martin Shaw the Dubwood Allstars’ recording of the poem, ‘Under Dubwood’.

Ed brings in a post from Liz Slade on Remembrance Sunday and the poem ‘Making Peace’ by Denise Levertov.

Dougald talks about rereading John Berger’s essay, ‘The Hour of Poetry’ from 1982 (in The White Bird).

Ed describes reading Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Everyone Sang’ at Sandhurst – and the reminder that this is not a poem about the end of the Great War, but about a moment of extraordinary beauty experienced in the middle of the horror of the trenches.

This brings us to Sacii Lloyd’s recent appearance on Ed’s Other Podcast, The Futurenauts.

Dougald picks up on the story of Sassoon’s poem, the way that the world is woven through with both horror and wonder, and Betti Moser’s photo essay, ‘From Grief to Awe’ (soon to appear in the online edition of Dark Mountain), with her father’s neighbours in a Greek valley devastated by floods telling her, ‘Nature will help, bit by bit, to make it beautiful again.’

We end with the lines from Bertolt Brecht about ‘singing in the dark times’, which inspired Tamsin Eliot’s song, ‘When the times darken’.

Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound (including The Great Humbling)
How will they look in hindsight, these strange times we are living through? Is this a midlife crisis on humanity's road to the Star Trek future – or the point at which that story of the future unravelled and we came to see how much it had left out? What if our current crises are neither an obstacle to be overcome, nor the end of the world, but a necessary humbling?
These are the kind of questions which we set out to explore in The Great Humbling. We hope you'll join us and let us know what you think.
Ed Gillespie & Dougald Hine