tom m wilson

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About Me

Thomas Wilson is a writer who focuses on the areas of literature and the environment.  Thomas’s most recent book, Stepping Off: Rewilding and Belonging in the South-West (Fremantle Press) is part environmental history, and part answer to the question ‘Where do I come from?’  It will be available from all good bookstores from 1 February, 2017.

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The author’s previous book was the first to consider the work of one of the most widely popular post-war English writers, John Fowles, from the perspective of ecocriticism. To order the book go to Amazon.

 

Cover of The Recurrent Green Universe of John Fowles

 

Thomas is currently at work on a book that will discuss what rewilding personal identity means. This book will bring together the worlds of literature and the evolutionary science of human health.  The author has a PhD in Literature and Environment and is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia.

 

For the expanded ‘about me’ section of this site read on…

“I was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1978. I studied English and Philosophy at the Australian National University in the late nineties, and for many years I had been a metropolitan culture vulture: interested in literature and music and seeing myself as ‘human’ in a sense unrelated in important ways to nature. Surely nature was just a bit boring compared to Herman Melville’s novel about existential confusion, compared to Mervyn Peake’s turrets of Gothic prose, compared to Miles Davis’ languid trumpet? I also wasn’t particularly political for many years. Surely the ills of the world are just too overwhelming to contemplate? One should cultivate one’s garden, I thought with Voltaire, and avoid the negative emotions that go with contemplating all the death, destruction and ugliness that are out there beyond the personal sphere. At the end of the year 2000 I was sitting on a sofa in an old stone apartment building in the middle of a wintery Paris, reading Wyndam Lewis’ novels about lovers and artists, and feeling that I had reached the centre of things.

In 2002, while reading Edward O. Wilson’s account of the evolution of biodiversity and our prospects as a species in the coming years, The Diversity of Life, I was staying in a wet, tropical bioregion on Reunion Island, near Madagascar, and the beauty and profusion of life was all around me. Guided by Wilson’s well-mannered, elegant, and optimistic prose, I realized that I am an animal and that my native habitat is wild nature. Thinking of all the life around me, of the clouds and the rains, the growths, the decays, the animals, the birds, the lights and the shadows, gave me solace. I felt at home in the world with unfaltering certainty for the first time in my life. Natural history opened up some of the amazing workings of nature to me. The physical creation was, I realized, worthy of awe and veneration. I wanted to do something to conserve it.

Back in Western Australia I realised how wrong the Dutch had been in the 1600s when the got off their sailing ships only to dismiss the land as flat and uninteresting, and continue on their way. I started to notice the Ringneck parrots tending their nests in the dead limbs of Tuart trees, to see that the Zamia palm was native to the soil beneath my house, and to enjoy the fragile and transient Everlasting flowers which bloomed each September and October as our winter came to an end. Mediterranean climate regions like this one cover only 2.2 percent of Earth’s land surface, yet they account for 20 percent of all known plant species. I began to be proud of the heritage of thousands of plant species that had evolved here in isolation over tens of millions of years.  I discovered that no other Western nation, apart from America, had such a huge number of endemic plant and animal species.  Finally I had found something I was happy to identify with as a Western Australian (the local football team never did it for me). Now I could say that I come from banksia country, sand-groper country, blue sky country.

I respect and admire the culture of the original Australians. However I and my family come out of a European cultural tradition. Over the course of the last fifty or sixty years democratic countries like England and Australia have been more and more over-taken by market-driven consumerism, time-efficiency, and materialism. Western cultures have, for the majority, become barren voids of secular, individualistic pluralism. Even the symbols and habits of my English ancestors have slipped away, to be replaced by a text inscribed in ‘the advertisers book of dreams’. As a man in today’s world, I don’t have any wise elders to tell me what life is about, to tell me how life should be lived and what should be valued. Unlike my ancestors, stretching unbroken back through time, I haven’t been handed down a shared cultural framework to understand my place in the universe.

As it turns out the elders who have guided me are people like Henry David Thoreau, Ellen Dissanayake and Edward O. Wilson. Evolutionary science has recently shown that there are a set of physical and psychological needs, shared by all of the humans walking around on the street out there right now, which we acquired over hundreds of thousands of years living in small bands of hunters and foragers on the north-eastern African savannah. All humans have a need to belong to a stable and closely bonded social group. Humans have a need to find meaning through participation in the arts and ritual. Humans have a biophilic instinct, an urge to affiliate with wild, natural environments.

As inhabitants of a modern Western society we have vaccinations, antibiotics, libraries, abundant food, and less physical violence than in our historic and prehistoric past, yet many of us are suffering from loneliness, a sense of meaninglessness, and the effects of chronic stress. In our ancestral environment we would have naturally been able to satisfy our evolved needs. However in today’s technological, competitive, materialistic, built-up and efficiency-orientated society, many of our evolved needs have been thwarted and diverted. Many people are confused or misguided. Many uncritically accept social norms. But these social norms are formed by suburbs full of unreflective materialists. Many think they must validate themselves through having a ‘successful’ career. Many people simply don’t understand who they are as a member of the human species. With the sub-personality of the pusher (that aspect of one motivated by time urgency) taking up much of their psychological space, creativity and play retreat. Insomnia is rife, and suicide, never a factor in traditional societies, is not unknown. Many people are lost in the city. I don’t mean to sound too biblical, but there is much darkness and confusion.

I have discovered that I need an experience of closely bonded community, a participation in the arts, and experiences of being in a natural environment. I need to live with people. I need to take the time to sit and appreciate drinking a pot of green tea. I need to laugh with my friends. I listen to W. H. Auden speaking his poetry, and Gil Scott Heron speaking his jazzy poetry. Orality in literary art is important, I now think. And the arts give us meaning (of course not the same art will appeal to each individual). Auden’s voice connects me with my ancestors past and his art helps me cope with existence. Music is important. Faure’s Requim, for example, enriches my life (but then so do the ambient soundscapes of Max Richter and the nineteen seventies Jamaican wisdom of early Burning Spear). My cultural heritage is important. Symbols like reading the Guardian, listening to Eliot’s voice read poetry. But also reading the words of Western Australians like George Fletcher Moore, George Grey or Daisy Bates. Each week I go and spend some time in Bold Park or King’s Park and try and occasionally identify some of the plants and animals there. Feel my senses be activated by the wind and the smells and the movements. Each day I move my body like my ancient ancestors did, vanquishing the stress hormones in my blood.

My view of myself and the universe gives me strength. When I think of all the cultural symbols in my past, and of how I can reinstate my deep needs for friendship and art and nature, guided by recent developments in evolutionary history of the human species, then I don’t fret about what and where I’ll be during the next year, or the next ten years. I relax. It has all been put in perspective, and I see that the underlying symbols and framework transcends daily details. Strength and peace of mind come from knowing one’s cultural and evolutionary roots.”

For past podcasts go here.