This article was written on 09 May 2013, and is filled under Urbanities.

Wilderness after the Wild

imageUrbanities unfold new stretches of wilderness. They are home to the weedy species of the world—“plants, animals, and other organisms that thrive in continually disturbed, human-dominated environments.” These species proliferate today, after the “end of the wild,” forging a new wilderness of hinterland and city: the city as hinterland and vice versa. Stephen M. Meyer has catalogued them: raccoons, coyotes, rats, and deer, among others. I’ve seen unperturbed raccoons rummaging through trash in neighborhoods all over Portland, impervious to human presence. Sometimes they approach you like stray cats on the sidewalk. The new wilderness abounds in strays. Like city limits, the boundaries of domestic and feral space become semi-permeable.

But not always and not everywhere: This new wilderness has plenty of fortresses, secured walls that seek to keep predators out. Fenced houses and gated communities, policed by exterminators. Office parks. Walls at borders. Immunizations against the threat of invasion.

Peter Sloterdijk has written eloquently on the connection between interiors and immunization. In one interview, he describes Walter Benjamin’s arcades as vast, fortified immune systems. “Capitalist man,” in this formulation, “uses the most cutting-edge technology in order to orchestrate the most archaic of needs, the need to immunize existence by constructing protective islands.” These islands can be as small as mud huts or as expansive as air-conditioned malls. “In the case of the arcade,” Sloterdijk continues, “modern man opts for glass, wrought iron, and assembly of prefabricated materials in order to build the largest possible interior.” This interior is semi-public, permeable to light (like a greenhouse) but isolated from the air outside.

The Talking Heads once sang about the dangers of undomesticated air:

What is happening to my skin?
Where is that protection that I needed?
Air can hurt you too.
Air can hurt you too.
Some people say not to worry about the air.
Some people never had experience with…
Air… air.

Against this threat, the new wilderness is air-conditioned, whether by window units or by the enormous greenhouse walls ringing our planet. Everything is sealed, but every seal is porous. Hotel guests lie down with bedbugs, not noticing them until much later, after they’ve stowed away, laid their eggs, and made a new home. Tourists live transitorily in a sphere maintained by others whom they most often barely see or acknowledge. “At reception we request a key to an apartment that will be a substitute for our home,” writes Lola Arias in her contribution to Ciudades paralelas (Parallel Cities). “We spend the night in anonymous rooms where anonymous beings make our beds, clean our baths, change our sheets. Most of them are foreigners. And we too are foreigners in the hands of other foreigners who look after us in our absence.” Strays, again, all of us in the endless hinterland of the world.

Urbanities unfold in places like this, places like everywhere. This blog is a glass house where their manifestations may reside.

– Craig Epplin

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