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Brief Notes on the Concept of Solastalgia

Earlier today I was reading, or rather listening, to Rob MacFarlane’s excellent book Underland when I came across a fasctaining concept that I wanted to share, and that I think will have a lot of mileage with various GCSE and A Level texts. 

The concept is that of ‘solastalgia’, which, as MacFarlane outlines, comes from Glenn Albrecht to mean a ‘form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change’. It was originally coined in the context of mining in New South Wales to help capture the distress people felt by the landscapes they inhabit being fundamentally changed before their very eyes. 

In this sense, the term conjures a feeling or emotional pain that comes not from leaving one’s home, but rather by the home, as you know it at least, leaving you. It is a kind of nostalgia for the time before, but with no possibility of return. As MacFarlane elaborates, ‘solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognizable by climate change or corporate action: the home become unhomely around its inhabitants’. 

When reading it struck me immediately that this would provide rich and fertile conceptual ground for a lot, if not all, of the texts that deal with issues of landscape or the environment as well as the relationships between inhabitants and the places they inhabit. 

Whilst it lends itself especially to a modern inflection, it would, as a concept and way into a text, work especially well for Romantic writers (amongst others) like Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, or John Clare. It would also work especially well, I think, for someone like Owen Sheers whose poetry, especially Skirrid Hill, deals explicitly with notions of industrial and corporate change on the landscape and how one reckons with such change whilst living through and in it. Stephen Collis’ volume of poetry, The Commons, would also work superbly well when framed by such a consideration of ‘solastalgia’. Indeed, much of these texts are doing a lot of this framing already, even if not using Albrecht’s specific term.


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