More Wilderness!

During the lockdown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the water in Venice turned clear and the air smelled fresh again. At least this is how one of the first short stories about corona started with a markedly positive outlook on prospects for change. Obviously, people’s retreat coincided with a recovery of nature in many places around the world. Similarly, in many places mutual support and sympathy was tangible for those who were shielding because they were at risk. During this initial period of such exceptional circumstances, lots of questions came to the fore concerning the future of our world. How and whether man’s relationship with nature will change in the aftermath of mass quarantine? How and whether in times of economic crisis society will maintain solidarity and cultivate forms of community life? What are the alternatives to economic and social conflicts to overcome crises?
The ordered retreat brought to light a particular longing that, not by chance, has recently played an increasingly important role in European literature. Plenty of books in the nature writing category made our view of nature a focal point once more. The books were about plants, animals, entire ecosystems and particularly the return to archaic and community-oriented models of human cohabitation. In short, nature writing highlights the positive connotation of ‘wilderness’, so reviving influential ideas in 19th-century romanticism.
At the latest since Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (Or, Life in the Woods) and, one hundred years later, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, a literary genre has been explicitly dedicated to ‘wilderness’. This topic concerns nature’s wildness that humans protect themselves from in one sense; and in another sense they seek to escape the excesses of civilisation. Wilderness means not only the promise of being in sympathy with untouched nature but also affects the literary works themselves. Reading literature suggests a wild, primal experience and heightened perception. Indeed, the wild reminds us of the human body, of desire and unperceived wishes.
The European Literature Days 2020 focus on many different forms of wilderness. This applies also to the experience of lockdown due to COVID-19 and the critical reflections on an emotional state that many people currently perceive. The discussion addresses the anxiety about climate change and artificial intelligence, or the consequences of a pandemic as well as our personal experiences in a bid to lead our lives beyond the extreme pressure of our achievement-oriented society. This mind-set is also about the urge to slow down! just as much as a less regimented way of life!
At issue here is also the meaning of wilderness. Once it was wild nature that humans retreated from by building urban centres for shelter. Nowadays, nature exists in enclosed reserves that are protected from technology’s clutches. Regreening has long been a feature of metropolitan space; green areas have also become so vast and unmanageable that the wild has taken hold. Wild nature is spreading in modern metropolises as much as it reconquers the abandoned ruins of civilisation – for instance, around the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl.
Is wilderness the opposite of something man-made? It’s helpful to consider the original meaning of the term human, deriving from a word that meant earthling. Whenever stories focused in a literary sense on humans’ relationship with nature, they ultimately highlighted what it means to be an earthling, to be a part of humanity. Our notion of the wild implies the unknown in our inner being just as much as it refers to the unknown in our physical body as well as external reality. The fascination of a novel like Jack London’s The Call of the Wild starts with an individual’s self-realization in discovering the dark side of nature, in experiencing wisdom and empathy and ultimately in finding freedom. At least, every grand adventure hints at this.
The anthropologist and poet Gary Snyder offers an interesting inspiration for the topic of wilderness and literature in his book The Practice of the Wild. He mentions a kind of poetry, which is like walking in open country, like that original meditation – Snyder calls it man’s basic experience, as he walked and explored the countryside and also discovered the magic. “The world is watching”, he writes, “one cannot walk through a meadow or forest without a ripple of report spreading out from one’s passage.”
In this instance, wilderness might not be what is dehumanized. Rather the wild is everything; it is our earth, which absorbs all things. Wilderness adapts and is everywhere. Our bodies are wild, and there is more in our fantasies, feelings and ideas that emerges unbidden: thoughts, images, memories, hallucinations, phantasms and desires.
Many of the best literary works are defined by the authentic, the ‘outsider’ and the magical. The European Literature Days 2020 highlight wilderness as a point of contrast for the appetite for anxiety in our contemporary culture, as the philosopher Andreas Urs Sommer identifies it, as a basic attitude that almost exclusively focuses attention on negative messages. How do writers currently think and write about the wilderness? How can we encounter wilderness in our technically-oriented world? To explore these questions, the European Literature Days invite a group of international writers to give their reflections on various aspects of wilderness, to present readings from their works and to engage in dialogue about this key topic with an enthusiastic audience.
We warmly invite you to join us!
Walter Grond
Artistic Director of Literaturhaus Europa  

My Visit

0 Entries Entry

Suggested visit time:

Send List