Jack Halberstam’s Call of the Wild

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Jack Halberstam mourns the lost dreams of a wilder future. Few practitioners today dare to imagine a world free from environmental degradation and police terror, a world in which humans do not try to control nature. The radical Columbia professor’s new book claims our environmental and cancer crises go back only six centuries. As a European conquest changed In our climate, the state legitimized its violence through colonial ideas of the wilderness: “wild otherness”, “untouched nature” and an “intuitive connection” to black crime. Halberstam lives in the ruins of genocide and slavery, arguing that we need to recreate everything. Wild things is a deconstruction of the colonial logic of the wilderness and a reconstruction of the concept itself.

How knowledge is produced, classified and remembered is a common thread in Halberstam’s work – a work that includes the groundbreaking ceremony Feminine masculinity and The strange art of failure. in the Wild thingsHalberstam expands his nearly three decades of thinking about “subjugated knowledge” – or what our culture has rejected. With this book it is his aim to pursue a “counter-intuitive terrain” of savagery. Jump from Cree artist Kent Monkman’s paintings to animated films such as The secret life of petsHalberstam curates an archive of savagery – what he refers to at one point as the “Record of Stolen Life” – that links anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and radical queer interests. If there is an imperial order of things, so the book, then there is also a disorder of things: a way of being “that does not submit to rule, a kind of ignorance, a resilient ontology and a fantasy of life beyond man. ”

Halberstam is at its best when it takes us to unruly places that defy classification. In a chapter entitled “The Epistemology of the Ferox”, Halberstam searches for alternative worlds in a group of lonely queer writers who want to become hawks. Her desire to go wild may not be “nice or right, good or true,” writes Halberstam, but the inability to fit into a “neat gay-hetero binary” points to realities beyond the narrow confines of modern political Life. Like the “wild thinkers” who inspired the book, Halberstam challenges us to reconsider the entanglements of freedom, domination, expert knowledge, and confusion.

We spoke on the phone a week before the book was published. Curled up next to me, the dog in my house growled softly every time I asked Halberstam a question.

– Taliah Mancini

T.aliah M.ancini: I would first like to ask about the colonial context that gave birth to the wilderness in contrast to modernity and civilization. If the colonial power defines the wilderness, how does the wilderness exceed its colonial definition?

J.ack H.Alberstam: That is the question at the heart of this project: Can we take this term “wildness” out of the discursive context in which it was used against people of color, indigenous and queer people, and find glimmers of other ways in it? Being and thinking? There is a political context where recasting a malicious term is a very effective strategy. Even the queer category is a reclamation of a term that was intended to be an insult and has since been reformulated to reject the policy of seriousness within a dictionary where queerness was an insult. My work ties in with this type of intellectual operation. It’s not easy, I’ll say that. It’s not like we’re now outside of a world where civilization or discourse dominates. We are still living with the consequences of the narratives about the civilization of orders of things that emerged from colonialism and that still establish relationships between white and colored people today. That is, the wilderness category includes a multitude. I have tried both exploring the dangerous terrain of the wild and creating some of the other scripts available if we go a little deeper: to produce the category of savagery as a kind of terrain in which political meaning is realigned and is reorganized.

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