Solastalgia: The Definition and Origins

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Solastalgia

I define solastalgia as the pain or distress caused by the ongoing loss of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the existential and ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change, manifest as an attack on one’s sense of place. It is characteristically a chronic condition, tied to the gradual erosion of identity created by the sense of belonging to a particular loved place, and a feeling of distress, or psychological desolation, about its unwanted transformation. In direct contrast to the dislocated spatial dimensions of traditionally defined nostalgia, solastalgia is the homesickness you have when you are still located within your home environment. Solastalgia is derived from the words; solace, desolation, nostalgia and algia or pain.

The word “solace” is derived from the Latin verb solari (noun solacium or solatium), with meanings connected to the alleviation or relief of distress, or to the provision of comfort or consolation in the face of distressing events. In this dual connection, solace has meanings for both psychological and physical contexts. One emphasis refers to the comfort one is given in difficult times (consolation), while another refers to that which gives comfort or strength. A person, or a landscape, might give solace, strength or support to other people. Special environments might provide solace for those looking for consolation. If a person lacks solace, then they are distressed and in need of consolation. If a person seeks solace or solitude in a much-loved place that is being desolated, then they will suffer distress.  The word “desolation” has its origins in the Latin solus (noun desolare), with meanings connected to devastation, deprivation of comfort, abandonment and loneliness (to be solitary or alone). It also has meanings that relate to both psychological and physical contexts … a personal feeling of abandonment (isolation), and to a landscape or structure that has been devastated.

In addition, I wanted a concept that had a ghost reference or structural similarity to the concept of nostalgia or homesickness, thereby ensuring historical continuity and affinity with that concept, and that a place reference remained imbedded. All the elements were present with the ‘sol’ of solace and the ‘sol’ of desolation, plus the reference to ‘home’ that ‘nostos’ in nostalgia provided. That this new concept was an ‘algia’ was abundantly clear to me right from the start. Algia has connotations of pain, sorrow and grief.

“Solastalgia has its origins in the New Latin word ‘nostalgia’ (and its Greek roots nostos and algos), however, it is based on two Latin roots, ‘solace’ and ‘desolation’, with a New Latin suffix, algia or pain, to complete its meaning. In essence, although a combination of words from Greek and Latin, solastalgia is primarily a New Latin neologism.

From Glenn A Albrecht. Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World. Cornell University Press. May 2019. See: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140104119890&fa=author&person_id=6248