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Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale
When I became a man, I put away childish things. King James Bible He would rather lie down with the animals than stand up with the men. Franz Kafka
Timothy Treadwell has quickly become the stuff of (American) legend, inspiring several books and short films, as well as a feature-length documentary by Werner Herzog, entitled Grizzly Man (2005). Treadwell’s is the story of an individual who lived with Alaskan wild bears for thirteen summers, until his and a companion’s death by a bear in 2003. The narrative arc recalls other stories of young men who shun civilization and seek a more authentic existence in the wild. Early incarnations include real-life figures such as Daniel Boone to more recent ones such as Alex McCandless (in Jon Krakauer’s and now Sean Penn’s Into the Wild).1 Beyond a fascination with the psychic dilemmas and desires that shape the unique contours of these lives, lies a collective, cultural uncertainty and controversy regarding the place of wilderness in (North American) life and different styles of masculinity, all constituted in relation to Nature as Other. What is missing from discussions of Timothy Treadwell’s story thus far—especially its discursive constructions in Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), Treadwell’s own autobiography, Among Grizzlies (1996), and Nick Jans’s bestselling The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell’s Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears (2005)—is the centrality of childhood and so-called childlike
The Lion and the Unicorn 32 (2008) 304–323 © 2008 by The Johns Hopkins University Press
Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale
or childish behaviors and longings to its ideological meanings, including the texts’ understandings of Treadwell’s demise. Most obviously, the adult Timothy positions himself as a boy-child. Herzog’s Grizzly Man, for example, contains “films within a film” by another director, namely, a large amount of video footage that Timothy Treadwell himself shot, narrated, and intended for use in his advocacy work on behalf of Alaskan bears.2 In this footage, Treadwell projects a child-like persona, conveyed in part by his abundant energy (when he is being chased by “Timmy the fox,” the mood is breathless, buoyant, and joyous); by his “Prince Valiant” haircut (which, as one friend recalls, utterly disguises his receding hairline); by his diet of peanut butter sandwiches, candy bars, and Coke; and by the presence of his childhood teddy bear as tent-mate. His narration casts him as a boy surviving alone on a grand adventure, a young hero who has animals as his closest friends: “Now let the expedition continue. Now it’s off with Timmy the Fox. We’ve got to find Banjo—he’s missing!” Further, the audiences for his films were primarily schoolchildren. During the winter, Treadwell—dubbed “a Pied Piper in a children’s crusade” by Jans (23)—used images and segments from these films in presentations he designed to educate children about the risks grizzlies face from diminished wild habitat and poaching, gleaned from the life he shared with them. While the audience, then, for much of his filmmaking is clearly children, Grizzly Man’s mainly adult viewers can simply write Treadwell himself off as “infantile,” criticizing moments such as the one where his narration slips into a child’s intonation and pitch. After filming a grizzly rearing up and scratching his back against a tree, Treadwell goes up to the spot, measures the bear’s size with his own body by way of comparison, and with a deep intake of breath, drawn out vowels, and a breathless intonation, asserts, “Oh he’s a big bear. He’s a very big bear. A very big bear. . . . He’s a big bear.” Because Timothy fashions himself in his films and in his non-fiction autobiography, Among Grizzlies (1997), as someone who is essentially acting out a familiar fantasy ascribed to children—living in communion with wild animals, the bears and the foxes whom he knows “by name”—Treadwell’s story is clearly a feral tale, a genre of children’s literature in which a childhood lived in the wild figures prominently.3 Feral tales have mythic and folkloric roots worldwide, depicting children raised by animals or as the offspring of animals (Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf-mother, for example; Semiramis brought up by birds; Zeus nursed by the she-goat Amalthea; or in Sioux creation myth, the firstborn who talks and walks with the animals), but they exist in abundance in literary form as well. The best-known feral tales within the Western tradition are the Enkidu episode of The Epic of Gilgamesh; the scores of narratives
names. alien. or rational control over. and speaks to the bears. Further. he seeks out physical contact and proximity.” Jans and Herzog. the essay considers at length Treadwell’s persistent efforts. one which Eurowestern culture only tolerates as a form of play during childhood.4 as well as modern children’s classics such as Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books. The transition from the human-animal bond to a human-human one runs aground as Treadwell forms his deepest attachments with the bears. animals). in a reversal of the feral tale’s socially normative temporality. he is depicted as refusing to adopt the mature masculinity of the hunter/scientist that demands men keep wild animals at a distance (in order to enable the killing of. First and foremost. 11.6 This essay will explore the nature of these resistances and how each. though not raised by animals. in the course of the twentieth century in the United States. juvenile adventure fiction such as the “Bomba the Jungle Boy” series.5 And while feral stories. who. or subversive to the adult social order. as well as in its articulations by Herzog and Jans. centers on the resistances to conformity with the genre’s lessons. subjects living untouched by civilization. in its way. Finally. the wildness of boys. and touches. from pack life to individual. 5–7. Scholars such as Kenneth Kidd have recently expanded the genre and its different modes of articulation from the Enlightenment to the present. as well as the narratives of urban bad boys made popular by Charles Loring Brace. depends upon the figure of the child. even to the dismay of Treadwell’s “authors. adult heterosexuality. through a mimetic transformation of his own body. to be recognized as a bear among bears. precisely because of their focus on what is marginal. This endeavor tells a much more radical tale about the rejection of species difference in favor of some more radically hybrid experience. they have mostly been complicit with a variety of social institutions in producing the middle class white masculine subject out of the feral boy (Kidd. offer an occasion for ambivalence regarding the ends of civilization’s developmental narratives. Instead of conforming. were seen during the Enlightenment as the developmental equivalents of wild animals. both “savage” boys. “Treadwell” refuses the passage from nature to culture.306 Ellen Brinks about Kaspar Hauser and the Wild Boy of Aveyron. childhood. and the path to manhood. For Kidd. My aim is not . My interest in the constructions of Timothy Treadwell as feral child in his own films and autobiography. feral tales balloon during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a major symbolic discourse about human and cultural development. He identifies a whole plethora of “wild boys” peopling writings as diverse as scouting manuals with their animal totems. 17). Freud’s animal-identified Rat-man and Wolf-man case studies of children.
. as childish for doing so. Treadwell pushed himself to learn to become animal. with their characterization of the psychosexual maturation of the boy and. emphasizing the progress or growth from feral child to civilized young man. Herzog’s.” whose speaker is the fantasized offspring of a man and a ewe. Dreaming of me. different. Grizzly Man is geared in reverse. though Treadwell’s self-construction at times articulates the pervasive ideological assumption that children are instinctively close to nature. which recuperates the wild boy for civil society. or dismissed. plotted as the movement from an unsettled to a stable existence. yet no less important. as his adult body reconforms into a child’s in order to transform itself into a non-human animals’: “I run wild with the bears. They go into woods into bean fields they go Deep into their known right hands. by extension. and species with which he is affiliated. in contrast. then. They groan they wait they suffer Themselves. race. “The Sheep Child. . points to the way feral tales’ otherness push their human readers ultimately toward normalcy: I am he who drives Them [boys] like wolves from the hound bitch and calf And from the chaste ewe in the wind. In Grizzly Man. Treadwell’s feral tale. James Dickey’s poem. I want to suggest that Treadwell’s feral tale tells us another. they marry.” . so wild so free so like a child with these animals. or to abandon a mode of object relating that yields unpredictable. the class. . story: about the refusal to abdicate desires for deep cross-species relating. Treadwell breathlessly speaks of a seamless coexistence with the animal kingdom. as Kidd has observed. Indeed.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 307 to endorse romanticized strains in the narrative that Treadwell himself fashions. Modern incarnations of the feral narrative. It wreaks havoc with the linear progress that modern incarnations of the genre stress. In underscoring how Jans’s.7 the aspects of his story with which I am concerned reveal that just as children must be pushed to learn appropriate adult behaviors. they raise their kind. To do so. and Treadwell’s narratives deviate from the standard feral tale. evidencing a retrograde motion: Timothy Treadwell goes from being a man to becoming a man-child. to a child attempting to divest itself of humanness altogether to become a bear. and at times. Instead of substantiating this evolutionary story. embodied forms of knowledge—despite the consequence of being stigmatized. have increasingly underscored the Bildungstale’s developmental trajectory. he was compelled to adopt a number of modes of relating that are culturally denigrated as belonging appropriately only to childhood. is much less certain about these ends.
A self-avowed substance abuser. which. work to reinforce the sameness that the bears—and Treadwell—are subject to. the individual bears are often referred . by the maintenance of sameness.9 and in Alaska there is not only little forward momentum. was also its low-point. 93). for beginnings presume goals. and Treadwell invests the Alaskan wild with a quality of kindness and nurture able to undo the toxic effects of urban misery. Treadwell’s “retrogression” to living a child’s fantasy existence with Alaskan brown bears amounts to a refusal to accommodate himself to the dead-end life that the adult world offers him. rye-grass meadows he calls the Sanctuary. tellingly if paradoxically. abandoning. he eked out an existence as a waiter in southern California while he tried to break into acting. lost in a series of menial. however. The dangers and violence in the wilderness may in the end be more a substitute than an alternative to those of Los Angeles.” with its high concentration of bears competing for food during the salmon run. Meadows and maze temporally and spatially define summertime in Alaska.8 As he and Herzog both detail in Among Grizzlies and Grizzly Man. or movement over time toward an end. In Grizzly Man. Treadwell is there to assure that the bears—and Treadwell himself—live in a world largely defined by a resistance to time’s intrusion. or losing the intense affective bonds of the child with the animal. because cyclical. (the high-point of his professional career. but Treadwell defines his purpose “negatively”: to insure that things do not change. in the same “eternal” way. it is presented as a rejection of an adult life not worth living.” a fictional geography whose association with animals belongs especially to childhood (xxxv. that is to say. was narrowly losing the role of bartender in the TV series Cheers to Woody Harrelson). with the Sanctuary evoking what Gaston Bachelard has called the “the image of a felicitous space. and not simply because that social contract makes him a partner in his own destruction. “Starting over” is the wrong metaphor. yet they have a longer history of being romanticized. before his life with the bears. This is not to say that temporality is wholly absent in this magic space. They spend the early part of the summer at Hallo Bay on the Katmai coast. in the tidal flats and expansive. Treadwell substitutes another fantasy and “starts all over again” as a child among the animals. lush. to create the conditions for a kind of timeless idyll of childhood. before moving in late summer to the Kaflia bay area. into the so-called “Grizzly Maze.10 Seasonal imperatives. one that he himself creates. Rejecting the middle-class path of professional success and happiness. In Grizzly Man and Among Grizzlies.308 Ellen Brinks When Treadwell chooses to live an adult fantasy of a romantic return to nature as a child. the presence of his childhood teddy bear in his tent (and later by his mother’s side) bespeaks this kind of psychic resistance to sacrificing. each year. unfulfilling jobs.
The intensity of his cross-species attachment. he opts out . he says “I love you” to the animals a total of twenty-three times). Sort of the same way people contract AIDS” (150). a blogger whom Jans quotes manages to trope Treadwell’s death as “risky sex. and I use libidinal here in the broadest sense. Third. He cuts himself loose from his family. reveal a profound ambivalence about subjecting himself to this same generational and temporal matrix. by being both a chosen and a preferred “love object. for example.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 309 to by age and by reference to their respective family units. First. when. speaks of desires for the future.g. interferes with or even supplants his accommodation to the customary sociosexual trajectory. And to work for the survival of the species. with the result that normative (e. and in the service of the moment. remains to the bears—about which he remains unapologetic (in Grizzly Man. than an altogether different and unique form of eros. however. independent of gender and perhaps of sexuality. I believe.” Instead. though he hints at his sexual prowess in his films. become inappropriate. albeit a future based on a commitment to preserving the present in an unchanging guise. indicating a specific past and gesturing toward futurity. he fabricates his past. This makes it interesting ground for connections with “queer” forms of desire.” bears become an appropriate one. wherein maturity is measured by heterosexual marriage and/or reproductive sexuality. as Treadwell saw himself doing. he sees an “intense all-consuming passion” (215). Treadwell’s life choices make the bears his primary relational objects. a tragic obsession that culminates with Treadwell dying “in the arms of his own true love” (79). I think mistakenly. human) ones.” aligning the inappropriateness of his attachment with same-sex desire and reveling in its deadly consequences: “[that] Treadwell was killed doing what he loved did not surprise many of those who knew him. he ultimately confesses to a failure at sustaining relationships: “I always can’t understand why girls don’t want to be with me for a long time. and to be from the London streets to others. as cubs and parents and mates. draws on conventional figures of heterosexual desire in describing Treadwell’s affection for the bears. presenting himself (falsely) as an orphan and claiming to be from Australia to some. Indeed. and it is clear that in doing so.. however. Second. if only by default. he deliberately conceals his partner Amy Huguenard’s presence in his life in Alaska and elsewhere.11 Jans. In a much nastier tone. Treadwell’s love for the Alaskan animals he lives with is less a copy of some unavailable or high-risk human passion. his primary libidinal attachment. keeping her “out of the frame” in his films and indeed out of the cognizance of many of his friends. suggesting that his identity is provisional at best. Timothy’s own self-fashioning in both book and film.
is visible in the two personae he projects. where the aggressiveness of the bears is heightened by their competition for food. animals whose large size is coupled with unrivalled physical strength. For one thing. wherein time in the meadow is followed by time in the maze.12 In Alaska. Treadwell must find the strength to claim a place among rivals in what amounts to a test of his manhood. to a more defensive. To question Treadwell’s manliness. radical shift in Treadwell’s existence between the Alaskan wilderness and urbanized southern California. if we think about the annual. when he stands up to the bears there. charged rivalry within a competitive space. adult profession in the lower forty-eight. 311). In keeping with this hierarchical space. I would argue. each of these personae can be loosely affiliated with a fantasy of space. To live . his desire for the imprimatur of scientific legitimacy for contributions that he felt were valuable was something he felt acutely (Jans 56–58).” as they “[swerve] from the Oedipal path” (Stockton 299. Treadwell develops another persona in response to the dangers of the maze. coded as the fantasy space of early childhood. then we can see another recurrent developmental trajectory that is stalled or impeded: the successful conversion or transition of “childish playtime” in Alaska into a serious. though. as many have done. Further. each year Treadwell replays this psychodynamic transition from the innocent sympathy and merging within Edenic nature. Further. while the adolescent Treadwell belongs to the hierarchical Maze. The childlike Treadwell roughly corresponds to the egalitarian geography of the Meadows.310 Ellen Brinks of generational temporality and embraces a nongenerational one. This suspension ties Treadwell’s story to stories of (queer) children with their animals. Treadwell’s strongest capitulation to conventional measures or narratives of human sexual identity and development. may seem ironic. Accompanied by his diminutive animal-alter “Timmy the fox. where the human-animal bond serves as a metaphor for a different temporal interval.” Timothy Treadwell of the meadows lives a by-and-large felicitous coexistence in brotherhood with the bears and foxes. The difficulty that Treadwell had in gaining national recognition from wildlife biologists for his observations about Alaskan bears. Since Treadwell’s summers in Alaska follow a regulated and cyclical division of time. This struggle with male authority figures (or rivals) psychologically replays the hierarchical interactions of the maze. one who developmentally evokes the child and one who evokes the adolescent. it is not to assert his dominance but his right to share that charmed space. the space of adolescence—without ever resolving it. he chose to live with Alaskan bears. a “precious kind of shelter for [queer children’s] feelings and their growth.
15 Treadwell’s behavior with the bears—and his anxieties about illegal poaching—are strongly reminiscent of Goodall’s and Fossey’s. indeed. Yet despite these accomplishments. and courage that would seem to epitomize a familiar trope of manliness and. The depth of those relationships was measured by the fierce grief Goodall and Fossey experienced when favorite animals were killed or kidnapped by hunters and poachers. baby. that potent signifier of manliness. You don’t say things to them like ‘Czar. if. and Thumper. . without firearms. respectively. by talking (and singing) to them the way an adult or child does to another child. You don’t go around on Kodiak Island or Katmai crawling on all fours. . but through cross-species violence (hunting).’ (Jans 10) Further. I would not go into a bear’s home and kill a bear. and after using pepper spray once on a threatening bear.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 311 with these bears for months at a time. Booble. I’m so worried! I can’t find little Booble. Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey. by calling the bears Czar.” then what does “bagging a grizzly” prove? Treadwell refuses to use or carry a gun. one would think. required the qualities of physical endurance. over thirteen summers. Critics of Goodall and Fossey charged them with . giving them names like Thumper. incomplete and inconsistent—performance of rugged masculinity: Treadwell was the sort of guy most Alaskans loved to hate.14 Further.13 Challenged for the proximity they assumed with chimpanzees and gorillas. or to pets.” In adopting eclectic styles of interaction and communication with the animals he lived with. native Alaskans have. Goodall and Fossey adopted the movement styles and vocalizations of the primates they studied. he decides he will never use it again. As Treadwell says in Grizzly Man: “I would never ever kill a bear in defense of my own life. determination. The “peaceable kingdom” of friendly bears sung and talked to violates typical adult masculine forms of self-definition established not through cross-species relating. Setting aside the question of whether it is ever appropriate to see these animals in this light. similar too are the criticisms leveled at them/him by the scientific community. not infrequently. singing and reading to bears. Treadwell resembles two legendary primotologists. Treadwell domesticates the very animals against which normative masculinity (in Alaska) defines itself. garner Treadwell immense respect. they named their primate subjects and cultivated close ties—one could say friendships—with individual chimpanzees and gorillas in order to better understand them. names right out of a storybook. whose work violated long-standing rules on how to study animal behavior without compromising objectivity. . if Alaskan bears are not as dangerous as cultural myths proclaim them to be. at times they are “teddy bears. revealed their disgust with Treadwell for his flawed—that is to say.
making huffs. rearing up. as evidenced in a great deal of his own testimony and of those who knew him. at the threat that his study of the bears posed to the authority and authorized methods of an overwhelmingly male scientific establishment. The child not only plays shopkeeper or teacher but also windmill and railroad train” (333).” for mimesis has long been associated in Western discourses with children and with evolutionary primitiveness (Taussig 20). achieve remarkable insights.312 Ellen Brinks dangerously habituating their objects of study to human presence. and stomping. One wonders to what extent the scientific animus against Treadwell’s “feralization” is directed first.16 Treadwell seems increasingly comfortable morphing into a bear. in effect. While clearly serving his interest in survival. grunts. takes Treadwell to task not only for habituation. For someone hoping to contribute to a scientific understanding of bears. bear or fox or wolf. What Fossey and Goodall succeeded in doing was linking women scientists’ study of non-human animals to a “becoming animal” (DeKoven 146).” One could also add. therefore tainting any results and rendering them useless to researchers. and in knowing how to mimic that language himself in his interactions with them (Jans 166). but also for violating “a prime biological directive—altering the behavior of his subjects. It . “playing” at being a bear—becoming like or a part of the object under study—mocks traditional protocols of objectivity as mentioned. Marc Davis. and snapping noises. 144).” Walter Benjamin describes mimesis as a child’s way of knowing the world: “Children’s play is permeated everywhere by mimetic forms of behavior. dressing in black and rolling in the bears’ beds to look and smell more bear-like (Among Grizzlies. a pseudonym for a biologist interviewed by Jans. at his “childlike” (not appropriately masculine or scientific) mode of relating with animals. 90–91. his affinity for mimicry also demonstrates the extent to which Treadwell was willing to “go feral. because it might. he would act in the same way a bear would were he surprised” (biologist Larry von Daele in Grizzly Man).17 Humans encountering him in the field reported that “he would act like a bear. woofs. and its realm is in no way limited to what one person can mimic about another. he would woof at them. Some attribute his survival among the bears to his facility in understanding what the bears were communicating with their bodies. Treadwell was notorious for adopting the bears’ body language and vocalizations. endangering their survival. Not to mention permanently altering the behavior of entire populations of bears” (161–62).” It functions as another marker of his “regression. as Goodall’s and Fossey’s did. and second. crawling on all fours. growls. avoiding eye contact. In his essay “On the Mimetic Faculty.
. his body relates to the external objects/world and talks to him—as a bear. stopping just short of the bear. Because her scripts are based on and edited from the extensive interviews of the real people whom she interprets through her performance. “dismantling the self” in experiencing animal being (Baker. He watches a bear swim across and “summoning the power of the grizzly within [himself]. fearful situations often prove to be the catalyst for Treadwell’s animal “metamorphoses. . as Charles Wolfe describes it. With a mouth full of foam. as the excitement born of fear leads to physiological changes. 86). Based on mimesis.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 313 also lifts him out of his own humanness and positions him in a different relation to the object world. Deavere Smith faces the daunting task of inhabiting dozens of characters in the course of an evening. growling fiercely” (Among Grizzlies 68).18 One could argue that this by definition would produce interesting and new forms of knowledge (an alternative science?). stance.” In Treadwell’s case. stretching to his full ten feet. according to numerous accounts. let me take a brief detour and evoke the actor/playwright/ director Anna Deavere Smith’s “visceral” method of creating character in her theater pieces. [he dives] in and vigorously paddle[s] across. I want to stress proprioception here. Let me give two examples of this mode of sensing. and walk in the speech . desires to make his own body “feel” to itself like a bear’s body. It relies above all on voice and proprioception. that inner sense of where the different parts of one’s own body are in relation to one another. snarling and growling the whole way” (Among Grizzlies 29). a technique that would empower the other to find the actor. If we were to inhabit the speech pattern of another.” a way the body “can talk to itself. a passage from one set of experiential body states to a radically different set. Treadwell’s mimesis lets him go into the life of the object he is trying to understand. .19 She has developed a technique different from what she calls the “self-based” one (exploring one’s own experiences/oneself to find the character): I wanted . and voice of a grizzly: “I charged. yet it is also. In the first. In another example. “a rapid heart beat . a tremor that opens the body to intensity and [unmakes] the secure and fearful self”—in effect. Interestingly. Treadwell defends his right to share the same space. He reacted by standing up on his hind legs. To explain this. the sense of “how your body is located in space” (22). corporeal understanding is by nature performative. . Treadwell finds himself stranded on one side of a turbulent and dangerous mountain river that he must ford. he tossed his head wildly while I stood my ground. . a kind of “thinking through the body.” as they have been for others. and it gives us a new way of conceptualizing self/other relating. because Treadwell. . . adopting the movements. or in Andy Clark’s definition. Proprioception is a sensory modality. this kind of sensuous.
I’ve been down that street. or they may occlude that realization. yah. Let me tell you. to “speak” with them on their own communicative terms. thinking. . It was a miracle. an absolute miracle. 123). The frame of reference for the other would be the other. they point to the impossibility of locating: . These modes of identification may help prepare for full ursine proprioception. . In considering stories of feral children. about another individual than the process of learning about the other by using the self as a frame of reference. he equates his experience to theirs as he talks to “Mickey”: “Mickey. Indeed. . (Smith xxvii) Instead of plumbing the depths of one’s emotions and understanding to identify points of commonality with the other. I’ve had my troubles with the girls.314 Ellen Brinks of another. . he compares watching the bears with “looking into a mirror . After a bear fight.20 This is not to say that Treadwell does not engage in another kind of relating—identification—which involves finding and seeing yourself in the other. but instead represents a kind of “unselfing. in Treadwell’s feralization we might see what Guy Hocquenghem and René Schérer call “an inhumanity immediately experienced in the body as such” (in Deleuze. we could find the individuality of the other and experience that individuality viscerally. The miracle was animals. if not more. . He don’t give up even when it looks shitty . narcissism. and projection that can and do comprise it. Treadwell often over-identifies with the bears. or to prop up a compromised self almost destroyed by alcoholism and drug abuse: “They [the bears] become so inspirational and living with foxes too that I gave up the drinking. And the miracle was animals. Emotions and understanding follow from this visceral recreation.” Far more than a resemblance achieved through imitation. . one born of his desire to incarnate the bears’ otherness. projecting what they were feeling. in Among Grizzlies. into the face of a kindred soul” (10). assimilation. I became increasingly convinced that the activity of reenactment could tell us as much.” Further. is the way that Treadwell’s mimesis does not facilitate narcissistic mirroring. (to himself/audience) He’s after my own heart. there are times when Treadwell uses the animals either to explore the recesses of his own wounded psyche (“I’m in love with my animal friends I’m in love with my animal friends I’m in love with my animal friends—I’m very very troubled—It’s very emotional—I’m so in love with them and they’re so fucked over”). You don’t always get the chick you want.” What seems to me more radical and interesting. with all the elements of fantasy. however. . and suffering. Smith begins to know her characters by making her body and voice conform as closely as possible to theirs. Treadwell’s efforts to inhabit his body and voice proprioceptively as a bear’s speak of a similar method.
Within Eurowestern culture. or to put himself in the place of the animal other.22 While this capacity to recognize difference is part of most humans’ lives from a very early age (except those with profound relational disorders). it establishes a shared reality between human and animal. As the plethora of feral tales suggests. outside the programmed body. interspecial communication is categorically and facilely dismissed in our culture as projection or anthropomorphism). The question that the Treadwell texts pose their readers: is his crossing of species difference the violation of essential. Because of the danger inherent in his proximity to the bears. but also those distinctions between adult and child that constitute children as other. independent of the evolution carrying them toward adulthood. In this way. It often takes a feral tale to point out that children becoming animals are the guardians of this kind of sensuous knowledge. Instead. . something that grasps at alternatives to constrictive habits or predictable forms of knowledge? Unfortunately. .21 Treadwell’s mimesis enables him to become. The kind of “cross-identification. . because fantasy negates the animal other’s reality—but by way of a visceral and empathetic understanding. . children are central to retaining this memory. other contemporaneous possibilities . insofar as it reinscribes child/adult binarisms and seeks to validate adult values and behavior.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 315 where the boundary between human and animal lies. which reinforce the demarcation between “man and . and the constructions of childhood and adulthood implicit within them. . this “exploratory science” is by and large sanctioned when it is articulated by children. . while experiencing the animal as equivalent. relegating it to a childhood phase preserves not only the human/animal divide. or is it instead a socially redemptive communication. yet different. socially crucial norms. this is not a question that Herzog or Jans take seriously. Herzog and Jans conform closely to the pedagogical project of much of children’s literature. [It] is as though.23 What Treadwell’s mimetic performances remind us of is that we can approach animals—not based on fantasy. one cannot speak of it as non-differentiation or an oceanic submerging.24 As the adult who refuses to give up. . both allow their texts to patrol the human/animal divide. we are not accustomed to thinking of the human-animal bond in this way (all too often.” to use Jessica Benjamin’s term. of which Treadwell retains a heightened awareness. enclosing the meaning of Treadwell’s mimesis within their interpretive frames and editing choices. indeed as one who seeks to reclaim childish things. “Treadwell” interrogates the ideologically imposed limits on sensuous experience and knowledge. there were room in the child for other becomings . that Treadwell engages in leads to an appreciation of the different reality that the animal inhabits. At the same time.
”25 Herzog’s policing of this border begins with the indeterminacy of his film’s title: just what is a “grizzly man”—a hairy. . as the film’s raison d’etre. which.” Asserting that there is a “line between bear and human. . an unknown boundary but when we know we crossed it.26 But Grizzly Man mostly records voices that condemn his transformative urges and reinforce ontological distinctions between human and animal. an unnatural conjunction? As narrator. connecting so deeply you’re no longer human. yet his focus dwells primarily on the consequences. the ecologist Marnie Gaede. either a self already plural. to act like a bear and for us on the island you don’t do that. The helicopter pilot Sam Egli finds Treadwell at fault for “acting like he was working with humans wearing bear costumes instead of wild animals. If I look at him from my culture Timothy Treadwell crossed a boundary that we have lived with for 7000 years. oddly enough. . we pay the price.” Herzog shores up his own authority by claiming it is “something that has always been respected by native communities of Alaska. or perhaps more interesting. .” Instead of articulating what that “line” is or investigating the role or meaning of the countless myths of humananimal metamorphoses or shamanistic practices within native cultures. burly man? A man who has a rapport with grizzlies? A human/animal hybrid? Or an impossibility. identified as an Alutiiq.316 Ellen Brinks animal” that has grounded a great deal of Western philosophical and religious discourse—exhibited in such statements as Georges Bataille’s “Our idea of a man is in a fundamental way opposed to our idea of an animal” or Georges Louis-Buffon’s “If animals did not exist. it’s an unspoken. implying that we change nature in our observation of it. .” but rejects their “siren song” by asserting the “facts”: “we never can [enter their world] because we are very different than they are. Of course.” His film purports to weigh the experience of Treadwell’s decision to go feral. .” an ungrammatical turn of phrase suggesting.” Wildlife biologist Larry van Daele recognizes the bears’ “calling that makes you want to come in and spend time in their world. One exception is Treadwell’s friend.27 the film cuts to Sven Haakanson. Herzog early on states that Timothy wanted to “leave the confines of humanness” and that he “crossed an invisible borderline.” Treadwell too adopts the language of mutation (in one of his letters read aloud in the film). the nature of man would be even more incomprehensible. who outright condemns Treadwell’s behavior: He tried to be a bear. . perhaps he wanted to mutate into a wild animal . . the price is Treadwell’s horrific death. who speaks of his longing to divest himself of humanness: “he wanted to become like a bear . points up its moral and meaning: as Sam Egli suggests. asserting that he has “to mutually mutate into a wild animal to handle the life out here.
For Jans himself. Ghost—Jans insists that the animal before him “had no name. Resonating with this scene. Treadwell “knocks on the door of interspecies kinship” as he “walks on all fours [and] thinks in grunts or growls. Treadwell rhapsodizes about the warmth of one bear’s fresh excrement. Jans quotes from a letter where Treadwell claims that he’d “be honored to end up as grizzly shit” (42). Treadwell attempts to bring it into contiguity with.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 317 in a startling display of Schadenfreude. “he got what he was asking for. Jans and Herzog conclude their narratives by “reading” the animal other in order to both frame and manage Treadwell’s feral alterity. Enos Mills). a bear seen near Treadwell’s campsite makes him realize that the bear “didn’t need anything from us.” The riddle of Treadwell’s identity is clarified once and for all. Perhaps the ultimate expressions of his desire for transmutation circle around recurring visions of incorporation or appropriation: in Grizzly Man. Yet for bear-viewing guide Gary Porter. children will tell their own about the man who wanted to become a bear. Aunt Melissa. trespassing against such “natural” distinctions does not go unpunished. In a strikingly similar way. and in doing so.” Jans emphasizes this bear’s—or any bear’s—lack of singularity. no understanding. Downy. Unlike Treadwell’s confirmation of each bear’s and fox’s uniqueness—conveyed by the bestowal and use of “proper names.” sings to the bears. In a close-up of a bear’s face. he got what he deserved. but only after tracing how Treadwell’s growing urgency to “go feral” is of a piece with other twentieth-century American bear-men (Stan Price. kisses one.” Rowdy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. he reduces him to generic status. . To me there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears and this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. By picking the shit up and holding it reverently in his hands. Lynn Rogers. whose admonitory purpose is clear: “Fifty years from now . He had no name. For men whose narratives work to repress the rewards of interspecies communication by hyping the risks. Mr. Herzog claims he sees “no kinship. Saturn. Treadwell’s “strange and ambiguous signals” about his species confuse the bears and lead to his death (215). it is a bold stroke to project their own misgivings imaginatively in the guise of the animal’s rejection of relating. or attach it to his own body. . as what was once part of the bear’s body separates and becomes external to itself and therefore appropriable by him. Chocolate. He wasn’t our friend. and warns other bears of human presence (not his own) by making mother bear sounds (31). Treadwell’s story is already a part of our cultural inheritance. Iris. no mercy.” For Jans. All he wanted was to be left alone” (219). Nick Jans’ The Grizzly Maze also reaffirms similar notions of unitary species identity. and died trying” (xii). to the .
a “neocolonialist” lesson—except what now needs to be re-learned is the proper colonization of animal others by humans. tigers. and Mowgli’s fantasy of inclusion and adoption by them “inevitably” gives way to a recognition of his humanness (in this context. ultimately both he and Herzog capitalize on the feral tale. as Jacques Derrida has argued elsewhere. and mongooses of Kipling’s jungle have been decoded by critics as figures for racial and cultural others. In consequence. his racial and cultural superiority).” assuming it to be symptomatic of the immature developmental stage he inhabited. exploiting the (adult) audience’s fears of becoming child and then animal. namely.” when he insists that the animals are dependent upon him for their protection. Herzog and Jans similarly insist on species purity and loyalty. and esp. In fact.” That rhetorical move. There. when he refers to the Alaskan wilderness as “the jungle. Treadwell’s tale becomes then. warning them of the untimeliness and the dangers risked by overstepping species boundaries. they make a specific construction of the child serve. Though Jans at times deeply identifies with Treadwell. no matter how much their narratives flirt with crossspecies metamorphoses. wolves. specifically. In Treadwell’s own imaginary. the most well-known exemplar of which is Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books. the feral tale is the repository for mimesis’ potential to validate forms of sense experience and knowledge that are integral to. 383–86. but not limited to childhood. “objective” science. something the subversive elements of the Treadwell narrative jeopardized. they trivialize Treadwell’s desire for cross-species relating as “childish. Jans’s and Herzog’s cautionary tales are directed at adults. and when he claims to speak on the bears’ . Treadwell himself falls into this role at times. Mowgli’s feral childhood serves ultimately as a lesson about the proper (British) relationship with other (colonized) lands and (native) peoples.” It is tempting to read Herzog’s and Jans’s adoption of Treadwell’s feral tale in terms of the long-established pedagogical project of colonialist feral tales for children.318 Ellen Brinks condition of the “animal. they establish one legitimate mode of animal relating. Indirectly. not for nostalgic reasons. in India. at the very least. It is ultimately also conscripted by Jans and Herzog to negate that same potential. in their hands. The bears. In doing so. a set of restrictive norms they authorize by identifying them as “human” and “adult. and it is in accordance with this genre that Treadwell shapes his own selfunderstanding in his films and writings. or be complicit with. 415–16). reinforces the hierarchical splitting of human/animal and reasserts humans’ right to dominate other living creatures (378–79. but in order to reify species or ontological category distinctions.28 Without the need for allegory.
Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 319 behalf. they permit him to be in the meadows and in the maze. he probes alternative forms of kinship and communication that have their foundation in child’s play. doomed to destroy not only himself but the things he cherished most” (215). and for the establishment of a shared space of mutual respect and nurturance with those radically other. 3 Kenneth Kidd coins the term “feral tale” for this genre of children’s literature. Nick Jans repeatedly puts this story in the realm of the literary: Treadwell’s story is “part myth. Living out a “childhood fantasy” as an adult male. The connection of the unsocialized (e. Further. and cautionary tale” (xii). Notes In his biography of Timothy Treadwell. Park Service (one of his supposed enemies). Treadwell is a “tragic hero . . 4 .. tragedy. . passion play. far from being threatened by the U. to outrun his own humanness. Treadwell’s benevolent paternalism is actually made possible by this institution.S. will only tell us what we think we already know about ourselves and the wild animals with whom we have chosen not to live. His story leaves open the possibility that science’s tendency to classify and compartmentalize taxonomic differences between species. Treadwell’s feralization—his own version of the colonizer’s “going native”—is an attempt to reanimate or reincarnate cultural and literary constructions of the child as the permissible body for crossing-over the category divide of human/animal. Nevertheless. and thus their authority ultimately bounds and encloses the spaces in which he attempts. and his death in the “arms of his own true love” derives from “the best nineteenth-century folk-song tradition” (79). Ellen Brinks is an associate professor of English at Colorado State University. by returning to childhood. young) child with animality in our cultural discourses is discussed by Richard Mills (26–28). both on the degree of ontological difference and on the necessity for a pre-scripted form of relating with wild animals.g. He acts against strong cultural prohibitions that insist. 1 2 Werner Herzog indicates in Grizzly Man that Treadwell shot over one hundred hours of film over the last five years of his life. law-like. like the earlier parsing of blood purity in colonialist policies.
wedges his clothes between/ Two moulded garden urns. In 1974. 7 8 See Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reiner (87). he made The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (in German the title is Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle). . was seen as more animal than human. The desire of the human animal for the timelessness of non-human animal life. divested of these human habiliments. and how they eclipsed their status as scientists (245 and 250). 13 . is beautifully evoked in Thom Gunn’s “The Allegory of the Wolf Boy. such stories “[draw] force in part from a widespread dissatisfaction with the qualities and (im)possibilities of normative human-human attachments” (165). introduction. 1987). as was Treadwell. Grizzly Man was not the first time Werner Herzog felt drawn to the magnetism of the feral child unadaptable to the social order. 244–45). Marianne DeKoven notes that Jane Goodall won success. . imagined as only attainable during childhood. while not raised with animals but in virtually solitary confinement. often contemptuously dismissive male scientific establishment [at] Cambridge University and beyond. Further. an establishment that for many years scorned and repudiated her findings about the complexity and sophistication of chimpanzee society” (147). see Farley Mowat. There are other similarities between these female primatologists and Treadwell: Goodall has been beloved by schoolchildren. For a glimpse into the bitter controversy surrounding Fossey’s scientific methods during her life.or unconscious impulses (“loose desires hoarded against his will”). 12 Eric Tribunella argues that there is an erotic component within stories of boys with their dogs that deserves to be considered as a facet of childhood sexuality (152). are stashed between moldy urns. . the boy’s escape into animality is a release from time’s depredations. despite a “skeptical. 10 11 Alice Kuzniar explores this point within the context of human-dog bonds in chapter three. synechdoches of his human body. James Krasner’s essay describes the representational politics through which Goodall and Fossey were read. Woman in the Mists: The Story of Dian Fossey and the Mountain Gorillas of Africa (New York: Warner Books. Acting on semi. and goes beyond/ His understanding. was criticized for “going feral” (see James Krasner. . .320 5 6 Ellen Brinks See Kenneth Kidd. “the boy. and Fossey. breaks from the house. Judith Plotz maps out Romantic discourses that treat childhood as inextricable from “Nature—both as Law and as the green world” (5) in chapter one. 9 Edward W. Said 5–6.” another feral tale. an image of mortality.” His clothes. like Treadwell. a film about a tragic figure who. still boy .
19 Anna Deavere Smith’s plays are part of a larger project “On the Road: In Search of American Character. Joel Bennett.’ or give us orders to back off. 21 I am not claiming that Treadwell really became a bear. based on the Rodney King beating and its aftermath in LA. In the words of my colleague William Marvin. W. As she says. 23 For this kind of cross-identification. Steve Baker also using a Deleuzian idiom.” 32). For Hocquenghem and Schérer. ‘This one’s OK. “I try to close the gap between us. Los Angeles. 16 The highly experienced nature film-maker. but I applaud the gap between us” (xxxviii). taking cues from behavior. speaks of the possibility of “experiencing an uncompromising sweeping away of identities. is primarily a rejection of Oedipality (quoted in Deleuze.” You could hear a pin drop. 123). He’d look over a bear and tell us. 88–89. the “connivance” with the animal.Uncovering the Child in Timothy Treadwell’s Feral Tale 321 14 During a U. see Jacqueline Rose. see Jessica Benjamin. for many the most uncanny and memorable moment of the evening was when Goodall greeted the audience with the cries a (friendly) chimpanzee would use to greet another. which begins but extends beyond childhood. 15 See Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. speaking tour to raise environmental awareness.S. 20 Smith remarks that there is always a gap between the person she is representing and her attempt to seem like them. who spent thousands of hours making five films with Treadwell. Her best-known works are Fires in the Mirror. . based on the Crown Heights Riots in Brooklyn. In an auditorium of thousands. 24 According to Perry Nodelman.” begun in the early 1980s.” 17 18 Baker refers to self-descriptions of artists—here Dennis Oppenheim—who stress the role of fear in exploring animal becoming in their art (80–89). becoming suddenly and utterly “other. describes his adeptness at reading the bears: “He was always paying attention. he’s acquired “ursine literacy. 33–47. 22 For a theoretical model of this kind of relating to an other. Jane Goodall came to my university as a featured speaker. within the dominant discourse of children’s literature. whether human or animal” through the de-territorialization that “becoming animal” enables (68). And he was always right” (166). Twilight. Winnicott. see D. 1992. for children’s literature as the repository of adult norms and fantasies. a child is “a non-human in the process of becoming more human” (“The Other.
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