The Abstract Wild


Jack Turner?s The Abstract Wild is a complex argument that discusses many issues and
ultimately defends the wild in all of its forms. He opens the novel with a narrative story about a
time when he explored the Maze in Utah and stumbled across ancient pictographs. Turner tells
this story to describe what a truly wild and unmediated experience is. The ideas of the aura,
magic, and wildness that places contain is introduced in this story. Turner had a spiritual
connection with the pictographs because of the power, beauty, and awe that they created within
him upon their first mysterious contact. Turner ruined this unmediated experience by taking
photographs of the pictographs and talking about them to several people. His second visit to the
pictographs was extremely different- he had removed the wild connection with the ancient mural
and himself by publicizing and talking about them. This is Turner?s main point within the first
chapter. He believes that when we take a wild place and photograph it, talk about it, advertise it,
make maps of it, and place it in a national park that we ruin the magic, the aura, and the wildness
of that place. Nature magazines, photographs, and films all contribute to the removal of our wild
experience with nature. It is the difference between visiting the Grand Canyon after you have
seen it on TV and read about it in magazines, or never having heard of the place and stumbling
across it on your own during a hike. Unfortunately, almost every wild experience between
nature and the public has been ruined by the media. Through Turner?s story he begins to explain
the idea of the wild and its importance and necessity of human interaction with the wild.
The second chapter contains two major ideas. The first is Turner?s defense and
explanation of the appropriateness of anger. Turner thinks that society wrongly taught the
people to repress and fear their emotions. Turner finds primal emotions to be necessary to our
survival, as well as the survival of the wild. He explains that anger occurs when we defend
something we love or something we feel is sacred. He reminds us to cherish our anger and use it
to fuel rebellion. Turner criticizes the cowardice of modern environmentalists in the following
passage: "The courage and resistance shown by the Navajos at Big Mountain, by Polish workers,
by blacks in South Africa, and, most extraordinarily, by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square
makes much of the environmental protest in America seem shallow and ineffective in
comparison(21)." Maybe if we knew and loved wild nature we could properly defend and
preserve it. Maybe if we felt an intimate connection with wild nature we would react to the
damming of a river or the rape of an ancient forest as we would to someone raping our children.
The second major idea is Turner?s argument of how modern man is far removed from wild
nature. He describes how different nature is today compared with the mid-nineteenth century
nature of Thoreau and Muir. Government laws and organizations have severely degraded the
wild nature. They seek to preserve and remove problems within the wilderness; however, they
only remove the wild from nature. Zoos and national parks are poor substitutes for authentic
wild nature. Government laws and organizations, such as national parks and the Forest Service,
use anthropocentric ideas to manage the wilderness. They use surveillance and control every
aspect of ecosystems, and thus removing the process of wild nature from these ecosystems by
making them dependent on human maintenance. National Forests were created for humans for
recreation and resource utilization. They are literally a business, and only seek to preserve
nature based on anthropocentric needs rather than geocentric needs. Turner claims that true wild
nature does not exist within national forests because they are constantly being tampered with and
altered by humans. Wild nature, however, still exists in more remote wilderness areas.
The third chapter Turner returns to more narrative writing and explains his respect and
love for mountain lions. He expresses a relationship with mountain lions similar to that of Doug
Peacock and his experience with Grizzly Bears.
In chapter four, Economic Nature, Turner explains how John Locke and Adam Smith
shaped the ideas of our economy and how that has affected society?s perception of nature.
Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Adams decided the early fate of the American wilderness
through Christian and Enlightenment ethics. They divided the land into a grid and sold it to
men. The land became the private property of men, who farmed and extracted resources as they
pleased. Turner comments on how language has added to ecological ignorance. The