Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Derrick Jensen

Derrek Jensen is an author, environmentalist and all-round political philosopher. He is one of my favourite authors, and I am deeply grateful to him for expanding my mind in areas I wouldn't have considered otherwise and for inspiring me as a writer.

The reason why I love Derrick Jensen is because he writes differently. He is a writer before he’s an “environmentalist”, and indeed any label other than “writer” would be a small fit. I don’t usually read about environmentalism, seeing as most of it is, cold, soul less, and based on empty promises. I have no time for people who patronize me for not being wealthy enough to afford “organic”. Jensen is on a different dimension to the mainstream environmental talk. He has created a new language to discuss political issues, one that is personal, intimate and poetic. This language dissolves the barriers between “us” and the “environment”, and in doing so it makes Jensen’s argument for him. It is impossible, while reading his words, to see ourselves as separate from Nature, which in turn makes it almost impossible to disagree with him on any level. He does use traditional forms of discourse like logic and theory, but he writes in such a way as to make them personal. Reading Jensen’s words becomes effortless, which is quite an achievement considering the topics he writes about. He seems to be tapping into the state of mind (and heart) that made native Americans into poets by the simple fact of living consciously in their land and honouring it.

Jensen is quite radical, if one were to commit the atrocity of placing him somewhere on the political spectrum. I suspect it is because of this language of his that he gets away with striking generous blows to pacifism, the idea that “personal lifestyle changes” will save the world, education, patriarchy, technology and even hope. May I repeat that he strikes against patriarchy? This is a man who gets it.

The only line I remember from him comes from his book “A Language Older Than Words” and it’s thus: “I called myself a writer, but I didn’t write much”. I still cling to that line for the strength to carry on doing what my heart tells me I should do. Knowing that a writer like him struggled in his twenties to write despite knowing he was a writer gives me hope that my story may turn out in a similar way to his. And it’s always great to hear him say that the twenties sucked, the thirties were ok, but the forties so far are great.
This public recognition of his flaws and mistakes, imperfection, this admission of vulnerability, only makes him stronger as a writer, and brings him closer to the reader. And it lends a much welcomed breath of fresh air from the harsh, icy logical, purely theoretical and distant and intrinsically masculine language used by know-it-all authors to discuss political issues. Jensen makes the language personal, and in doing so he makes the issues that appear to be distant also personal. And it is here that Jensen’s arguments get their greatest strength from.

His “greatest” book, both in quality and size, is “Endgame”. Published in two volumes, “The Problem of Civilization” and “Resistance”, this book starts from the premise that civilization is unsustainable and we must put an end to it. Though it would perhaps be more appropriate to say the book starts on 20 premises, on the same idea. He also expands on the similarities between civilization and the relationship dynamics between an abuser and his family, drawing from his own personal experience.

You can read some excerpts from his book here and I strongly recomment everyone to do so, if you can't get hold of the book.

Alternatively you can watch Jensen talking about the book here. He is full of insight and even cracks the occasional joke, which makes for very entertaining watching on what is, admittedly, a rather grim topic.

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