Jay Griffiths

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Wild: An Elemental Journey

“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 Henry David 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

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Introduction and chapter titles

Excerpt from the opening of “Wild”

“This book was the result of many years' yearning. A longing for something whose character I perceived only indistinctly at first but which gradually became clearer during my journeys. I was looking for a quality of wildness, which, like art, sex, love and all the other intoxicants, has a rising swing ringing through it. A drinker of wildness, I was tipsy with it before I began and roaring drunk by the end.

I felt its urgent demand in the blood. I could hear its call. Its whistling disturbed me by day and its howl woke me in the night. I heard the drum of the sun. Every path was a calling cadence, the flight of every bird a beckoning, the colour of ice an invitation: come. Every mountain top intrigued my mind, for the wind at the peaks was the flautist, licking his lips, dangerously mesmerizing me with almost inaudible melodies. This was the calling, the vehement, irresistible demand of the feral angel – take flight .

I was looking for the will of the wild. I was looking for how that will expressed itself in elemental vitality, in savage grace. Wildness is resolute for life: it cannot be otherwise for it will die in captivity. It is elemental: pure freedom, pure passion, pure hunger. It is its own manifesto.

So I began this book with no knowing where it would lead, no idea how hard some of it would be, the days of havoc and the nights of loneliness, because the only thing I had to hold onto was the knife-sharp necessity to trust to the elements my elemental self.

I took seven years over this work, spent all I had, my time, money and energy. Part of the journey was a green riot and part a deathly bleakness. I got ill, I got well. I went to the freedom fighters of West Papua and sang my head off in their highlands. I got to the point of collapse. I got the giggles. I met cannibals infinitely kinder and more trustworthy than the murderous missionaries who evangelize them. I went to places which are about the worst in the world to get your period. I wrote notes by the light of a firefly; anchored a boat to an iceberg where polar bears slept; ate witchetty grubs and visited sea gypsies. I found a paradox of wildness in the glinting softness of its charisma, for what is savage is in the deepest sense gentle and what is wild is kind. In the end – a strangely sweet result – I came back to a wild home.

From shamans in the Amazon, I learnt something of how the wastelands of the mind, its dark depressions, could be navigated, and from them I learnt to see the world through the eyes of a jaguar. From Inuit people in the Arctic, I learnt something of the intricate ice and how all landscape is knowledgescape. From whales and dolphins I learnt how much we do not know, the octaves of possibilities, the maybes of the mind. From Aboriginal people in Australia, I learnt the belowness of deserts, how land is heavy with significance and how it sings. From West Papuan people, I learnt how freedom is the absolute demand of the human spirit. Everywhere, too, I learnt of songlines, how people who know and love a land can hold it in mind as music.

To me, the human spirit is one of the most striking realizations of wildness. It is as eccentrically beautiful as an ice crystal, as liquidly life-generous as water, as inspired as air. Kernelled up within us all, an intimate wildness, sweet as a nut. For us all, every dawn, the lucky skies and the pipes. Anyone can hear them if they listen. We are – every one of us – a force of nature, though sometimes it is necessary to relearn consciously what we have never quite forgotten; the truant art, the nomad heart.

I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately – how resonantly – I belonged there. We all do. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice. We may think we are domesticated but we are not. Feral in pheromone and intuition, feral in our sweat and fear, feral in tongue and language. This is the first command: to live in fealty to the feral angel.”

“Jay Griffiths is a five-star, card-carrying member of the hellfire club… a strange, utterly compelling book, Wild is easily the best, most rewarding travel book that I have read in the last decade. It is a bold rag-bag of a work, full of pagan energy, and at times richly beautiful. The author keeps the reader engaged with her challenging insights and ideas. In Griffiths, wilderness has found an eloquent new champion.”
Mark Cocker, The Guardian

“If a tiger could write poetry or a polar bear prose, they might write a book as exciting as Wild .”
Adrian Mitchell, Shadow Poet Laureate

“Like Rebecca Solnit and John Berger – dwellers in the fecund borders between the social and the personal, the political and the epiphanic – Griffiths is primarily a storyteller. Speaking to the planetary tribe at a moment of extraordinary collective crisis, she operates shamanically, making a series of remarkable journeys through cultures, conflicts and language, and she returns with the wisdom of profoundly lived experience. A bardic hymn to the necessity of the unfettered in envisioning possibility and change, Wild is radical in the original, etymological sense. It goes to the root of the problem and it sings its way there."
Gareth Evans, Time Out “Book of the week”

 

Chapter titles

WILD EARTH

Absolute Truancy
Drinking Hemlock and Stars
Telluric Thought
On the Río Marañón
Wild Language
Green Songlines
“If you go to the river-mouth...”
Up, Heathens All
Self-willed Land
Bewitched, Bebothered and Bewildered
The Genius of the Forests
Nothing Unthrust
“Not Enough Cunt. That's the Problem with Genesis.”
A Gentle Rapport
The Axe-Man Cometh
Caging the Land
The Wasteland
The Jaguar's Apprentice
Feral Song

 

WILD ICE

Ice Music
Sight and Ice-Light
Nightwinter, Daysummer and the Twilight of Fall
The Poles of Meaning
The Whale Hunt
On Ice
Survival
Lost, Unlost and Temporarily Misplaced
The People Who Change Nature
“The Nothingness. The Nothingness.”
Arktikós – The Country of the Great Bear
The Kind Wild
We Are Wild
Polar Psyche
“Fear Not – There is a Briton at Thy Door!”
Soloists in the Ice
Vagabond Fungi
Virgin
Caging Wild Time
Stir Crazy
Land as Medicine
A Melting World

 

WILD WATER

Sea Gypsies
A Marine Rattlebag
Underwater Mind
A Soundscape the Size of the World
And Death Also Rises
Mothersea
A Hazard to Shipping
The Lower Depths
Maps
Paradiso Giocoso
Utopia
Caligula to the Seas

 

WILD FIRE

Out Bush
A Compass in the Head
Songlines
“Land our Heart. Soul. Country.”
Art, the Well of the Desert
Belowness
“A Hideous Blank”
Naming and Taming
White Man's Rubbish
Land Rights
Terra Nullius
Headhunters
“A Man Can Only Be Free in the Desert”
The Law of the Wild
Desert Days
“My Ey Dazels My Tong Burn”
A Sand Algebra
Eternity in the Sand
The Newspapers of the Desert
Mirages
A Desert Caprice: Phallus to the Fore
The Desert Fathers
The Devil in the Desert
Purity and the Scapescape
On Fire
Nomads All

 

WILD AIR

On the Bare Mountain
A Ruck in the Map
Coinspiring Air
Songlines of the Hills
Cannibals and Quarrels
Wild Mountain-Lust
Tell Me About the Savages
Fire on the Mountain
Why Climb?
Merdeka. Eleutheria. Saoirse. Libertate. Freedom.
Rebel Angels
Cry Freedom!
Paradise Found
The Anarchic Will
A Nod to the Gods
“No Tobacco, No Hallelujah.”
Cliffs of Fall

 

WILD MIND

The Wasteland of Tragedy
The Wildness of Comedy

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“Jay Griffiths's Wild is part travelogue, part call to arms and wholly original…Griffiths's aim is not to explore the world, nor its people, though she inevitably and fabulously does so. Her 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

 “A fine compendium of insights and annotations: the culmination of a seven-year, world-walking odyssey to delve into the deep meaning and wide paradox of wild landscape and wild mind.”
Gretel Ehrlich , author of This Cold Heaven and The Solace of Open Spaces

“Insightful, effervescent and lavishly written.”
Ruth Padel, The Washington Post

“Jay Griffiths brings fierce conviction and impressive scholarship to her work, great erudition and a real sensitivity to language… a gifted writer.”
Publishers Weekly

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