On solastalgia

Interior Views of the Central Social Institution in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1937, home to the world’s largest vertical file cabinet.

Interior Views of the Central Social Institution in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1937

How do you write when the planet is falling apart? “Can you still just tend to your own garden once you know about the fire outside its walls?” These are the sort of questions that not only Jenny Offill asks herself, but I do too. How do we persevere in a world that will burn us alive — or it’s us ourselves who will burn ourselves alive? How will our writings help? Turns out there is a word to describe the ‘solace, desolation, and nostalgia to convey the distress of seeing a familiar environment bitterly transformed by drought, fire, and flood’ — it’s called solastalgia. It was coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, and it is a ‘disorienting sickness we experience without leaving home’, that these worries soon permeate our everyday lives that it manifests in our tasks, however minuscule they might be.

This is the premise of Jenny Offill’s new fiction, a cli-fi called Weather, where it tells about Lizzie, a failed PhD student turned part-time librarian who frets about the littlest thing, but then whose frets soon turned into something bigger — she began to worry about climate collapse after Trump was elected. It reminded me of Ducks, Newburyport, where a housewife’s stream of consciousness works like puzzle pieces — they are all interrelated together to create a bigger picture, and strangely, something all of us who are anxious could relate to. Indeed, to many of us, the worries about climate emergency — however major — could seem to be sidelined by our everyday tasks. But in any odd minutes, the worries emerge, in what the piece calls ‘internal cartographies’, where the apocalyptic scenarios were not explicitly mentioned, but they would then loom upon us unpremeditated, unannounced.

In the recent The Convivial Society, L.M. Sacasas wrote about the notion of a ‘tremendous accumulation of tiredness‘ — taken from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence — the constant tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout, stemming from worries, simply as a matter of living in the modern world.

he most remarkable preliminary symptoms were the variations of my need of sleep. After initial spells of insomnia, nightmare and falling asleep by day, I found that my capacity for sleep was becoming more and more remarkable: till the hours I spent in or on my bed vastly outnumbered the hours I spent awake; and my sleep was so profound that I might have been under the influence of some hypnotic drug. For two days, meals and the offices in the church — Mass, Vespers and Compline — were almost my only lucid moments. Then began an extraordinary transformation: this extreme lassitude dwindled to nothing; night shrank to five hours of light, dreamless and perfect sleep, followed by awakenings full of energy and limpid freshness. The explanation is simple enough: the desire for talk, movements and nervous expression that I had transported from Paris found, in this silent place, no response or foil, evoked no single echo; after miserably gesticulating for a while in a vacuum, it languished and finally died for lack of any stimulus or nourishment. Then the tremendous accumulation of tiredness, which must be the common property of all our contemporaries, broke loose and swamped everything. No demands, once I had emerged from that flood of sleep, were made upon my nervous energy: there were no automatic drains, such as conversation at meals, small talk, catching trains, or the hundred anxious trivialities that poison everyday life. Even the major causes of guilt and anxiety had slid away into some distant limbo and not only failed to emerge in the small hours as tormentors but appeared to have lost their dragonish validity.

How do we map our ‘internal cartographies’ away from this ‘tremendous accumulation of tiredness’? How do we write in a planet that will soon fall apart? Maybe this is where the dog in the burning house muttering ‘this is fine’ GIF should be placed, but really — how do we channel all of this dread into action?

Currently in my tabs:

  • I’m quite skeptical (and I have a lot of questions!) at the premise of yet another social network claiming to be distributed, knowing that most of them would change directions when acquired by bigger corporations, but Planetary is co-founded by technologist Tom Coates so I am interested to see how the platform develops. Also, check out Cocoon.
  • The Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit arm of the company known for its privacy-friendly web browser Firefox, released a guide for helping students navigate ethical issues in the tech industry.
  • Arab Spring in 2011 was one of the events which inspired — although it feels like a weird and inappropriate choice of word — the direction of my PhD thesis to understand the dynamics of protest movements in the age of networked space. It was also one of the events in the last decade of how technology had played a momentous role in shaping the course of history.
  • On TikTok, black girls find visibility.


  • Reading: Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings.
  • Listening: Hit random on any of the (200+) playlists that I have on my Spotify.
  • Viewing: For the weekend: One guy gets the entire park to sing Bon Jovi.
  • Food & Drink: Char kuey teow, and iced tea.

Comment 1

  1. Pingback: On online mourning – Two Kinds of Intelligence

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