CHRIS FREMANTLE

Fear and Loathing in the West Highlands Pt 2

Posted in CF Writing, Research, Texts by chrisfremantle on August 29, 2011

The Water of Life, a Spirit Not to be Exorcised, Lonely Piper, 2006

 

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”

This is the infamous advice contained in Fear and Loathing at the Superbowl, and this seems to be another very apt quote to attach to some further thoughts on Nemeton by Norman Shaw, awarded his PhD in 2003.

What is Nemeton? There is a lot of psycho-geography around at the moment (Sinclair, Self, Sebald) and a lot of nature writing (MacFarlane, Mabey and perhaps also Monbiot and McKibben). Nemeton isn’t either exactly. Psycho-geography is usually defined as the exploring the emotional and psychological impacts of geography, about ways of exploring the urban landscape, about rediscovering somewhere and introducing its idiosyncrasies to others. Nemeton is not in the mode of rediscovery, although the knowledge is in some respects lost. Nor is Nemeton concerned with the urban. Rather this is a landscape that is known and inhabited, even if Shaw is transgressing what might be regarded as the perceived norms of communities in the Highlands (although Scotland has regularly been a place where transgressive communities can find refuge under the radar, on the periphery). But Nemeton does explore the emotional and psychological, in particular in relation to the spiritual. Nor is Nemeton nature writing exactly. It’s not a celebration of nature. Rather its a celebration of the specific spiritual dimension of the West Highland landscape.

“It was dangerous lunacy, but it was also the kind of thing a real connoisseur of edge-work could make an argument for.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p.80)

Edge-work is a term coined in Fear and Loathing. It captures the spirit of transgression that applies equally to both texts. The edge in question isn’t just the edge of consciousness, it’s also the edge of art, the edge of social acceptability, the edge of sanity, as well as working along the edge of what most people have experienced and then diving into spaces that they haven’t. Many people have been to Calanais, not many to the other stone circles, let alone carrying an electric guitar, modified amplifier, etc. seeking to capture the energies in the stones.

Just as Raoul Duke is searching for the American Dream in the hotels and conferences of Las Vegas,

“Let me explain it to you, let me run it down just briefly if I can… Well, we’re looking for the American Dream, and we were told it was somewhere in this area…. Well, we’re here looking for it, ’cause they sent us out here all the way from San Francisco to look for it. That’s why they gave us this white Cadillac, they figure that we could catch up with it in that…” (ibid, 164).

The Lonely Piper is looking for the Dreamworld or Otherworld of the West Highlands, the strange alternate universe of the faeries, of the mother….

The tour involved visits to selected nemetons in the Highlands, the fruits of which constitute the material gathered together in this publication. … As the project developed through accumulated visits and collaborations, a range of sub-themes emerged. Chance encounters during particular collaborations resulted in unforeseen iconoclasms and subversions, the direct result of unplanned happenstances and contingencies. These tangential developments were welcomed, and expanded upon, looping back into the main themes. (Nemeton, p.8)

Nemeton starts with an argument that magic mushrooms must have been used by the Celtic bardic culture to access the dreamworld and enter the faerie land under the faerie hills,

In my mind I was right back there in the doctor’s garden. Not on the surface, but underneath – poking up through that finely cultivated earth like some kind of mutant mushroom.” (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, p.65)

Talk about a trip… this is gonzo research.

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