My interest in words that sum up melancholia or human yearning (in a way that standard English just can’t) continues. A Twitter friend (Dr Daz) sent me this read about “solastalgia”, a word invented by (retired) Murdoch University professor of sustainability and environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht.
Solastalgia describes “the homesickness you have when you are still at home”.
By the late 1990s open-cut coal mining had drastically changed the landscape of the Upper Hunter region of NSW – for the worse. As a result, the people of the region were suffering from a form of chronic distress that saw their previously positive sense of place (“topophilia”) and love of their home and landscape, turn bad. Albrecht realised that there was no concept in the English language that adequately described this distressed state. And so he invented the term to describe the existential melancholia experienced with the negative transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment.
But it soon took off around the world as A Word that summed up succinctly A Thing we’re collectively feeling about the planet. That is, bad stuff is happening and we feel ill-at-ease about it.
“One of the reasons for international interest in the concept of solastalgia is that we are in the middle of a pandemic of earth-related distress that will only get worse. Everything that was once familiar and trusted in our environment will be experienced as the “new abnormal” as development and climate pressures continue to build.”
“Solastalgia gives expression to those gut feelings by creating a whole new psychoterratic (psyche – earth) typology to describe what sensitive people already feel but could not express in language.”
My solastalgoia exists when I’m in the city. I get it when I see people in their hermetically sealed cars, rarely touching real earth. When I hear the drone of electric leaf sweepers, air conditioners and other contraptions that distance us from the real environment. Hand sanitiser does it, too. I long for a closer connection to realness, not just in myself, but in others. I despair that as the earth gets more damaged, the more we try to distance ourselves from it, which in turn damages it even more. And us.
There is an antidote, however. Albrecht goes on:
“There is a positive side to psychoterratic classifications, one where positive earth emotions and feelings such as biophilia, topophilia, ecophilia, soliphilia and eutierria can be used to counter the negative and destructive.”
You’ve probably seen folk use these terms with hashtags on instagram when they post pics of themselves with a tree or a sunset. Yes?
I can be cynical about this kind of thing. But I also do feel it’s the way forward. Making nature familiar, not something to be kept at sanitised arm’s length, is key. But so is sitting in the damage. I wonder if we can invent a word to describe the responsible act of partaking and existing mindfully in the damaged environment we’ve created so that we can really face it? Mr Albrecht?
Have you experienced solastalgia? Does it help you to be able to label the emotion with a word?