Wednesday, 12 June 2019
Wild by Jay Griffiths
This is a book, seven years in the making, that sees the author travel the world in search of the essence of wild. The book is subtitled an elemental journey and split into chapters based on the ancient elements: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water with Ice as an extra. For each of these she visits a different indigenous culture including Aboriginals in Australia, Inuit in the Arctic and a tribe in West Papua.
At her best she is brilliant, unravelling the meanings of words and wondering about the languages of cetaceans:
'They may have a thousand terms for different types of spins and different reasons to spin. Humpbacks may applaud new songs or be singing parts of a song cycle a thousand years old. They may have verbs we don't. They may be attempting to make up new terms now for things they've never needed to think before. Exploitation perhaps. Or extinction or finity, which has nothing to do with dorsalness or pectoralness. They may have a very specific term that means 'feeling nostalgia for the ancient Greeks with their lovely lilting language and their respect for us' They may have named emotions that we have not yet identified......They may have mapped the world in songlines....'
She is also passionate and articulate about the exploitation of indigenous people's, particularly with respect to the Freeport mine on West Papua, which has destroyed a mountain locally considered to be sacred.
However it's not an easy book and definitely flawed. Her language, beautiful though it is can become overpowering. Her use of sexual metaphor (particularly rape to refer to damaging the earth) though valid is overdone. She is also overly critical of Europeans and Christianity, yes the historical settlers and present day miners have done and continue to do a lot of bad things in the name of progress but white men aren't entirely evil.
Wild by Jay Griffiths published 2007 by Hamish Hamilton an imprint of Penguin.