‘Isn’t it strange how most significant human activity has to do with loss? Because we lose things we try to find them. The trying sends us on a journey. We encounter other things, things we hadn’t noticed that we had lost: and then we create. Art springs out of both alienation and loss. Art replaces what we have lost in spirit. It is therefore a magic replacement. And so it is with Arcadia, it seems to me. We’ve long lost our easy relationship with nature, with the universe. And so the ancient Romans betrayed themselves as the first alienists when they dreamt up and crafted the legend of Arcadia. It showed just how fucked up they were that they needed to invent an ambiguous Eden for themselves, where love is akin to madness. And so it would seem that art is a condition of unease, of dislocation, of being out of it all, an exile. Art cannot come from the happy and contented, from the lucky and the beautiful, from the blessed and the whole, unless an unrevealed tragic condition or premonition dwells under it all like an unseen volcano or an unsuspected cataclysm about to wipe away all that unnatural tranquillity. The last days of beautiful things are the most artistic. It seems then that art is a secret sign of dwelling under a guillotine, under a swinging sign of doom, under a hidden question mark, beneath the dread of death, in unwholeness, wanting to be healed and to heal, with a whiff of mortality and the inferno in one’s spirit, with a sense of sin, of unredemption. It seems that art is a magic plea, a magic howl, an enchanted cry, a delaying of madness, a deflection of insomnia, a canalising of negative energies. Art is finding one’s way in the dark, seeing with one’s fingers, divining water in the desert, creating an abstract realm made up in the mind of others to replace the realms of childhood and innocence lost for ever with the death of a mother. Art is finding a new homeland, and yet always setting sail. It is being deceived and lured by the gods into roaming the whole wide earth many times over and leaving bright cities behind in search of that which can never be found, but which seems as if it might be found, because of a dream which keeps moving like a bird, a magic bird, or a love, or a dream of rest, or the hint of a beautiful city in the middle of an ocean. But it keeps driving us on, keeps us going, till the skeleton wanders into a golden gate, and into a sunlit landscape where the sunlight is a perpetual darkness, while another part of us has ceased its wanderings, having found what it was looking for in a place where nothing is ever lost or found, a place without a name or an idea. Which is why there is a fatality in finding, and an agony in seeking. But between seeking and finding there is another place, a special place, and maybe it is such a place that we journey towards now, that we call Arcadia, a place that for some is a book, a piece of music, a face, a photograph, a landscape, a lover, a city, a house, a land, a ritual, a path, a way of being, even. Maybe, my dear friend, we are journeying towards an elusive thing in the desert, where thirst is quenched miraculously in the air, and the fragrance of a great love lingers in the shade…’

ben okri, in arcadia