On Wildlife
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
On Wildlife Saturday, March 16, 2002
"Wildlife" is usually a term that distinguishes life that is outside the scope of human design and will--"untamed" life, in other words.  This is preeminently an idea and as such a human construction.  Leo Marx analysed this idea in various contexts in American Literature in his Machine in the Garden.  Perhaps others studies have been done since.  The notion of untamed nature as an analog of the garden of eden is certainly a modern notion; prior to enlightenment it is generally an analog of fearful, primordial chaos which we see in Lears's heath, in various medieval "wildernesses" where heros sojourn, in various corners of Goethe's Faust.  What unites the two ideas is that they both genrerally function as places of renewal.

The most contemporary notions of wildlife are modern but in a far more self-conscious manner attempt to raise their own philosophical foundations, and have thus become ideologies. The Sierra Club slogan coined from Thoreau, "in wildness is the preservation of the world," has been championed in literature by Gary Snyder and other Americans who have attempted to invest the notion of wildness with sacred connotations while at the same time divesting it of any Judeo-Christian connotations.  Without ever adequately defining "sacred" (see Snyder's essay "Good, Wild, Sacred" in The Practice of the Wild for one attempt at such a definition) this view of wild nature as a unitary, sacred thing corrupted by man's predation seems pervasive today and you find it in many American writers from Snyder to Barry Lopez to the early Annie Dillard to Barbara Kingsolver.  The most recent addition to contemporary notions of wildness seems to be the introduction of genetic and other forms of scientific reductionism that seek to show that there really are no valid distinctions between the human and wild worlds beyond certain human conceits that, in the interests of reconciliation, need to be ditched.  This is major theme in Barbara Kingsolver's last novel, Prodigal Summer.  This is an unusually ham-handed book and I've seperately posted a little review.

Related Posts: on Wildlife
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Gary Snyder: Good, Wild, Sacred
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