7 Pages


Throughout western intellectual history, civilisation has consistently been constructed by or against the wild, savage and animalistic, and has consequently been haunted or ‘dogged’ by it. The wild man of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lurked at the dangerously liminal fringe of a consolidating European Enlightenment civilisation; and if, during the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth centuries, slavery, and its accelerating racism, both necessitated and enabled Europeans to exile the animalistic to Africa and the New World, this was to return at the end of the nineteenth as the terror of a primordial Heart of Darkness: civilisation, it was feared, might be no more than a veneer over a still savage European ‘inner man’. Theories of European degeneration in both metropolis and colony, and the capacity of European visitors and settlers to ‘go native’ in the tropics, seemed to bring such reversions home; but it was also in the second half of the nineteenth century that the impending disappearance of the wild – in the form of wilderness – became imaginable through the American experience, leading to the 1864 establishment of Yosemite Valley as the world’s first national park. While the Enlightenment trajectory of humanist essentialism deman-

ded the repression of the animal and animalistic in all its latent and recrudescent forms, it is not until our own century, in the urgent contexts of eco-catastrophe and the extinction of many non-human species, that a radical re-drawing of this foundational relationship has occurred. Contemporary humanity, having materially destroyed vast areas of wilderness – and many other animals – is now routinely configured as spiritually hollow, as lacking the essence of the human through the repression, withdrawal, destruction or absence, rather than latent threat, of the ‘inner wild’. This repression is expressed, in both literal and spiritually refractive terms, as a result of the all too successful extermination of that earlier Heart of Darkness; and so it is that what had initially been banished by the Enlightenment in order to constitute

human civility – the animal and animalistic – is now paradoxically being returned as its essence, its inner core.1