Primitives in the Wilderness

Deep Ecology and the Missing Human Subject

By Peter C. van Wyck

Subjects: Environmental Theory
Paperback : 9780791434345, 186 pages, July 1997
Hardcover : 9780791434338, 186 pages, July 1997

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Table of contents




Whither Environmentalism?
Phantom Limbs


1. The Move to the Outside


Earth Day I: The View from Space is Better
Reform and Radical
The Social
The Deep
Theoretical Fog
The Minority Tradition


2. Ecology/System/Totality


Prosthetic Ecology
State Ecology
Ecology and System
Ecological Patois
Modernity as Paradigm


3. Displacing the Humans


Nature Knows Best
The Anthropocentric Circle
Wilderness and the Mirror of the Primitive
Primitive Others
Going over the Hill


4. Boundary Disputes


Boundary Games
The Cyborg Trope
The Wager
Objectivity and Others
Critical Weakness: Toward a Weak Ecology





Brings the radical environmentalism known as deep ecology into an encounter with contemporary social and cultural theory, showing that deep ecology still has much to learn from such theory.


In Primitives in the Wilderness, Peter van Wyck brings the radical environmentalism known as deep ecology into an encounter with contemporary social and cultural theory. With an eye to critically exposing unexamined essentialist and foundational commitments, the author shows how deep ecology remains profoundly entangled with the very traditions of thought it has sought to overcome. The author critically assesses deep ecology's relations with the Enlightenment, modernity, systems theory, anthropocentrism, the figure of wilderness and the trope of the primitive, and the imagined promise of posthistoric primitivism. He demonstrates the manner in which deep ecology (and much of contemporary environmental thought) has remained blind to the lessons (and possibilities) of contemporary social and poststructural theory.

Drawing from an array of contemporary theoretical works (including Haraway's figure of the cyborg and situated knowledges, Deleuze's conception of an image of thought, Foucault's panopticon, Trinh on ethnographic authority, Lingis on the "Other," Torgovnick and Clastres's work on the primitive and power, and Vattimo's "weak thought"), van Wyck opens a clearing within which the ecological problematic and the question of the human subject may be rethought.

Peter C. van Wyck is a doctoral candidate at McGill University and is currently working on a project concerning the problems of ecological threat, psychoanalytic conceptions of subjectivity, and the burial of nuclear waste.