Q & A: Jay Griffiths. author of 'Wild: An Elemental Journey'
1st June 2009
The author on wilderness, activism, homemade veggie lasagne and the value of sturdy boots
What inspired you to write Wild: An Elemental Journey?
An instinctive loathing for all forms of enclosure: of time, land and perhaps most of all, the enclosure of the human spirit. Also, I wanted to listen to the voices, experiences and philosophies of indigenous peoples.
Where do you live and why?
In the dampest, gentlest, greenest valley in Wales. I came here because I had friends here and because I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else, and while that is still the case it’s also now true I do not want to leave. After a long time living in class-riddled England, the sense of classlessness in Wales is a massive liberation.
Can you describe a typical day?
The sun rises eastish and sets westish, and in between the songlines of all the world ring with life, with swampy, basking, effervescent, kind, wild life.
What is your favourite meal and made by whom?
A vegetarian lasagne cooked by me for a small number of close friends, with a couple of extra places laid for chance and strangers.
You’ve spent many years travelling the wildernesses of the world – what is the most important lesson your travels have taught you?
To love my boots. To endure. To listen. To sing, badly and out of tune, whenever I can, even if I can only half-hear the music.
In an increasingly fast-paced, stressful and built-up world, do you have any tips on how can we get – and stay – in touch with our wild, ‘force of nature’ selves?
Through language, through sensuality, through instinct, through all that is vivid, all that has spirit, everything through which life lives most ferociously and most sweetly. Lorca called it el duende, the spirit from the earth itself that charges art with power, and I believe that the indigenous human being within us all can feel that.
Where are you most happy? In your view, what is the key to happiness?
Reading John Clare, sitting on an unnamed stone by a stream almost too small for any map. If I knew a key to happiness I would call it the Zapatismo of the human heart, which stays tender to an intuition of plurality, as both an aesthetic and a rebellion. That said, I’m not sure that being happy is something I’m particularly good at.
What one book or film would you recommend all politicians should read?
[Proust’s] À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, in the Russian translation by Lyubimov (unfinished), with instructions to complete the text for themselves. This would keep many of them out of mischief until they are out of office. For the minority properly equipped with a moral compass then Eduardo Galeano’s The Open Veins of Latin America or Our Word is Our Weapon by Subcomandante Marcos.
What makes you angry?
Lies, bullying and the abuse of power. It’s just a wee bit awkward how often they, like buses, come in threes.
What book or project have you got lined up next? A truanting novel inspired by the life of Frida Kahlo and a book about childhood.
What environmental or social movements/campaigns do you most actively support?
In the widest sense, I try to oppose what I call the ‘intellectual apartheid’ by which the dominant culture degrades, denies and destroys the culture of indigenous peoples.
In Australia, there is a carving that is probably the oldest artistic representation, anywhere in the world, of the human face. That alone gives pause for thought. It is part of the world’s oldest and largest rock art collection, but the site, on the Burrup peninsula, is threatened by a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant, and virtually no-one gives a toss because it is part of Aboriginal art, spirituality and epistemology. If Stonehenge were to be bulldozed or there was a plan to turn the Pyramids into an industrial complex, there would be an outcry in the press, but an equivalent crime takes place against a site of indigenous spiritual, historic and artistic importance and there is an eerie quiet.
I actively support the West Papuan people in seeking their independence and an end to the genocidal policies of Indonesia. Sadly, the British government seems to feel not wanting to be murdered is just silly fussiness on the part of the Papuans, who clearly need to realise that their extermination is necessary for the greater good of the international corporations sucking out the resources of their lands.
Jay Griffiths is the author of Wild: An Elemental Journey, Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time and Anarchipelago, a short story about the Newbury road protests. More information on: www.jaygriffiths.com
Laura Sevier is the Ecologist’s Green Living Editor.
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