on 24 June 2007
Not many of us will visit the places and talk to the people that Jay Griffiths has, and perhaps that's just as well. We accompany her on a seven year journey as she shows us how much damage has been done to the wild corners and cultures of our planet by the resource-hungry and the religious zealots of the 'civilized' world. From the chill of the Arctic, to the heat of the Australian outback, using language that takes you right to the heart of the wild and deep into the recesses of her own soul, she shows us the incredible beauty and savagery of the planet. Her descriptions are as extraordinarily vivid as the landscapes through which she travels. Poetic, alliterative, coarse, rhythmic, her words dance across the page like a verbal ballet. We are even given the etymology of some of her choices, to enrich her meaning. The last section of the book contains the most moving diary of grief I have ever read. This is an odyssey to delight and challenge both the mind and the soul. Both her books are etched in my memory.
on 27 May 2008
This book does generally live up to its reviews. It is instinctive, visceral, and beautiful. It is also wild in every sense. It is a mix of travel writing, nature writing, anthropology, and nature philosophy. Her explorations are thoroughly hands-on and heartfelt, and i particularly like the way she shows how western religious attitudes are so damaging to the natural environment and indigenous people. Because she is so open and honest about her travels and encounters, and so vocal about her beliefs, it is not surprising that many people have commented on the feeling of activism that runs through the book.
Her style of writing is a mix of eloquence and honesty, and it can be very seductive. But it is not without its problems. Her political invective can sometimes feel a little over-done and personal. There are also frequent disparities between the language she uses and the ideologies she espouses. At one turn she will talk of nature as a dispassionate and unfeeling entity, and in the next sentence will extol the thinking and speaking powers of nature in flights of pathetic fallacy that go beyond the empathic points she makes. This made me lose trust in her convictions a little, and made me suspicious of her passion, because it sometimes gets used to hide her theoretical inadequacies. My last criticism would be that the issues she highlights with such alacrity in the first chapter, are basically repeated in the following chapters with a different natural element and location as the metophorical back-beat to her musings.
Despite all this, it is an enjoyable read, with some very valid points to make about nature, wildness, and environment. It should be treated with a little caution however, as once you have recovered from her salvos of passionate indignation, you are often left with a smouldering wreckage of problematic language and ideas.
on 23 August 2010
Jay Griffiths' book `Wild' is a rare blend of carefully researched argument,passionate poetry and simple compelling first-hand experience. Its powerful combination of personal and political is profoundly moving: sometimes the bare facts of so many extraordinary injuries (still on-going) to so many indigenous people in the world but also because for this reader at least (and I suspect for many others) it evoked an innate sense of connection with our earth and with Griffith's idea of `wild' that we all have within us and a profound sense of loss at how deeply I personally and our culture generally have buried it- to our cost.
In particular Griffiths' chapter on West Papua is an excellent example of her rigour in research, intellectual understanding and passionate empathy born of first-hand experience in a country where ignorance and arrogance are still threatening the indigenous people.
Griffiths reports on the experience which indigenous people have of Christianity in particular, and her book includes details of how Christian missionaries in the Amazon encouraged indigenous people to kill their shamans and how this was acted on. There, too, missionaries are still attempting to reach 'uncontacted' people, knowing that this contact can kill with diseases which uncontacted people have no resistance to. Indigenous activists in Peru specifically asked Griffiths to interview one of these missionaries and to write about the situation. There are also links between Christian missionaries and the mining and logging companies which steal the land and resources of indigenous people. Further, the widespread abuse of indigenous children in residential schools run by Christian missionaries has had terrible effects on children, traumatised into adulthood and in some cases committing suicide as a result. In West Papua, Griffiths reports that some Papuans say that they see Christian missionaries as one of the greatest threats to cultural survival. Perhaps some people don't think these things matter, but I would agree with Griffiths when she argues that they are of enormous significance to indigenous people. I suspect that recovering the sense of the importance of these things will also enable us to learn and develop the resources we will need for the difficulties this world faces.
Griffiths' book is not just good. It is important.
on 13 May 2008
An utter wonder of a book, at once vulnerable and ferocious, elegiac and giddy. It's a work that honestly engages the many-voiced vitality of the earth in all its elemental weirdness, a polyphonic fugue written in a style that for once matches the intensity of its topic. Luminously awake, politically astute, without a doubt "Wild" is the expression of a uniquely capacious intelligence, the song of a heart pulsing with compassion for divergent places, plants and creatures as they weather the insanity of contemporary civilization. Yet it's written with abundant empathy for the human animal, too, in our instinctive eloquence and our institutional stupidities. The author's rage sometimes nudges her into over-facile dichotomizing, but the polymorphous exuberance of her imagination steadily bursts the bounds of any such black-and-white theorizing. Meanwhile, her keen attunement to the music of language - and to the rootedness of words in the more-than-human soundscape of wave-surge and cricket-rhythm and thunder - enlivens this work with a magic that provokes the involvement of all one's senses. It's a deliciously erotic read.
This is an interesting book, which would have been better had it been 25% shorter. Some points (such as wilderness actually meaning a "lack of knowledge" and the maleness of exploration) are made over and over again, without really expanding on the ideas themselves. Does this distract from the message that we need to understand the landscapes in which we live - no. Does it make you wish that the book had been more tightly edited - yes. The author finds a much clearer voice in the final sections of the book, and these sections really are the highlight of the book.
Books that I really like, I recommend, but am loathed to lend - for fear that they may never return. I'd been willing to lend this book!
on 22 May 2007
Having just finished reading "Wild: An Elemental Journey" by our associate Jay Griffiths, we at Bracketpress are for once lost for words ... and as so many express our feelings more articulately we offer the following ...
"A major book by a major writer...powerful and uncompromising... she writes like four kinds of gorgeous, so deep in love with the world that when the right word isn't there she simply births it... a majestic anthropology" - Bill McKibben, The Ecologist
"I used to think the wild did not have words, that it lay beyond the edge of logic and expression. With her journey and her struggle, Jay Griffiths proves me wrong...Her words are intense, episodic, gripping, and sensual, somewhere between Edward Abbey and Jeanette Winterson-who knew there was such a place? Wild is the first great nature writing of the 21st century." - David Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing and Wild Ideas.
"Insightful, effervescent and lavishly written...She shrouds her amazingly strenuous physical journey with a rich literary penumbra. The book has a profusion of historical allusions and a fertile bibliography; the vivid, excited writing draws haunting, lovely connections among multiple cultures, landscapes and ideas." - Ruth Padel, The Washington Post.
"Passionate, rigorous and utterly honest, Griffiths' remarkable book is written in a style as wild and exciting as its subject." - Robert Macfarlane, author of Mountains of the Mind.
"Like Thoreau, Jay Griffiths wants to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life....an immersionist... [her] research is impressive... [her] writing dexterous and lush... a passionate plea for the preservation of wilderness." - New York Times
"Wholly original...Griffiths's project is wildness itself, in all the philosophical glory that the 'sublime' held for the Romantics... Griffiths is fascinated by, and fascinating on, wild language, and her writing builds in extraordinary poetic sequences.... Indeed, of the many literary elements that make up the book - travelogue, memoir, journal, reportage, extended essay on feminism, sociology, anthropology, religion, ecology and geopolitics - it is probably poetry that comes closest to defining this undefinable and untameable work. Perhaps its most remarkable achievement is its own quality of wildness. Wild is alive with its subject. Language is thrown around in the most earthy, vital way... A vital, unique and uncategorisable celebration of the spirit of life wherever it is found, Wild is a profound and extraordinary piece of work. - Ian Beetlestone, The Observer
"An exuberant and erudite exploration of the meaning of wilderness and its place in our lives... Griffiths' love for words and her skill in using them, her easy familiarity with a host of poets, novelists, naturalists and anthropologists...her willingness to reveal so much of herself, make this a fascinating journey." - Kirkus Reviews
"A book of staggering power, honesty and wit" - BBC Wildlife Magazine.
"Jay Griffiths brings fierce conviction and impressive scholarship to her work... great erudition and a real sensitivity to language... a gifted writer." - Publishers Weekly
I see why people are seduced by this, but a hundred pages or so in, I fled back to Hemingway. A hundred pages of images like 'clouds mulled on the horizon'. A hundred pages of drama and ecstacy, with many proliferating adjectives, and whole flights of those alienated verbs Macfarlane likes too. It was like a Plath poem written out in long lines, but those poems need the space around them to make thier impact. I know the author is trying to say something about nature, and about its wildness, but the extreme expressivity loses impact when repeated and repeated over and over and over. I felt bludgeoned. It felt immature and starstruck, like a girl's letter to a rock star - touching, but not wise. (And the stuff about menstruation is total rubbish.) All the same, a little pruning (yes, I know) would have made a very good book of this. The wild doesn't have to be a screaming harpy. It can be gentle, too.
on 13 March 2007
Jay has produced one of the best books I have ever read - and I have read a lot. She combines a joyful playfulness of language with a passionate love of the natural world. She has created a manifesto for a new world - but she has done it so cleverly that you could mistake this book for an adventure story. There is great daring and sacrifice as she explores the Wild-est parts of the world - shamanic drug-induced hallucinations in the Amazon, shredded feet in West Papua and erotic loneliness in the heart of Australia make for a great romp. But they sugar a very powerful medicine that will seep into your bones - we have to change our view of the world, we have to accept that there is great value in the Wild. My only criticism of the book is that it ends.
on 30 April 2008
`Wild' is a breathtaking masterpiece. It balances passion and energy with precise meticulous reflection and expression. It has the sweep of a great symphony with the subtlety of intricate craftsmanship.
`Wild' is the work of an artist. It takes as its pallet the four ancient elements, plus two, and explores the surface of the earth and its indigenous peoples in all its primal and feral reality and beauty. From the Amazon (earth) to the Arctic (ice), from the Sea Gypsies (water) to the Australian aborigines (fire) and the mountain peoples of West Papua (air); with a final moving personal meditation on the `wild mind.'
Jay Griffiths is intoxicated with the love and experience of freedom; she takes that deep archetypal sense of `wildness' and the longing `to be wild' and expresses it perfectly, profoundly and astonishingly. Her prose is sheer poetry. Whether reflecting on the exquisite culture that is woven into the very texture of the rainforest, or upon an understanding of `the kindness of the wilderness', the language, the ideas and the emotions are at times overwhelming. Jay loves words; their sounds, their connections and their meanings. Each word has precision, each sentence balanced and shaped to perfection; sometimes to draw out a deeply hidden treasure, most of the time simply to inspire us to dance with abandon. I shall be quoting whole paragraphs for years to come.
`Wild' is no travelogue, but rather the journal of a deeply personal journey to places described variously as `desolate', `nothingness' and `wasteland' and to meet people dismissed as `primitive' or `savages'. What Jay Griffiths reveals is that words like these tell us everything about the observer and nothing about what they claim to see. Vast expanses of land, water or ice are alive with vibrant contours and pulsating `songlines', voiced by their original peoples, have a presence and stories beyond imagining. Jay's thinking is profound and reflective, her insights and observations draw on wide reading around her subject (the bibliography is worth the price of the book alone).
Jay Griffiths has all the instincts of an activist. She is a voice to the voiceless. Indigenous peoples struggling to maintain their fragile yet highly sophisticated life-ways in the face of indifference and exploitation by European explorers and missionaries, or callous commerce and national governments. Jay listens to peoples' stories, experiences their pain and shares their rage. So often, powerless to change their circumstances, we meet people with astonishing dignity, generosity and wisdom; people who put so-called `civilization' to shame, revealing its inherent barbarism.
I did not want this remarkable book to end, its sheer celebration of freedom and everything wild is liberating in itself. This review does not begin to do it justice; I hope, however, that by reading it you will.
on 6 June 2009
The author travels worldwide to people living closer to nature than we have done for a long time. She says straight out that our accepted attitude of yanking them brutally out of their stone age or medieval cultures is cruel, amoral and usually done for our financial advantage. I, too, have travelled the 'third' world - I prefer to call it the 'seventh' world when it is a better place to live than the first world. Yes, I agree so much with what she says but when I've said such things people want to lock me up and stop me putting the seeds of truth into people's heads. Mustn't say things that threaten the profits of our corporations, or the sanctity of Christianity. Why do we feel we must hold back from criticising missionaries who kill 'lost' tribes? Whose priests beat the life out of children as a side effect of killing the devil within?
The chapters read like a set of travelogues where we get a close-up personal view of the author's day to day adventures. There is a lot of good stuff about far-away tribes, but some exaggeration too. She goes on a bit too far for my liking when claiming to have climbed the Annapurna circuit in Nepal. No, there is no climbing at all there. The details of her suffering in remote places annoyed me at first - the book veered towards Himalayan climbing epics of which my bookshelves are pretty full - but on reflection it is time that the objective, neutral and veiled observer of the natural world came out from behind the veil.
I would like every tourist to the third (or seventh) world to be given a copy of this book to read before they go. And every government development officer. The cat is out of the bag now and we have permission to question our western motives. For this reason alone, it is a 5-star book even though repetitive, too personal, inconsistent and overlong. But never boring!