Statement of Interest. Notes.
I’m fascinated (
obsessed by, perhaps) by the notion of ferality, as described by Merriam-Webster as;
a. of, relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast (feral teeth) (feral instincts).
b. not domesticated or cultivated (feral animals).
c. having escaped from domestication and become wild (feral cats).
This definition pictures a previously domesticated animal that has returned to a natural state; city dogs, ponies, humans who have ‘gone wild‘. One way of thinking about this is a previously colonized creature now living in nonnormative ways, and exhibiting nonnormative traits.
City to Nature, Nature to City
But ferality is complicated when we place it besides the state of indigenous creatures displaying new behaviours in urban environments. We might think of urban foxes becoming dependent on left-over KFC in trashcans, or raccoons and boars in Germany.
Is a rock pigeon, displaying scavenging, colony-making and cliff-nesting behaviours in London so very different from it's 'wild' cousins in nonhuman environments?
Wild vs. Colonized
The problem has to be that word ‘wild’ – a catch all phrase to denote whatever is not-human, not-us, untouched, pristine, or as-it-is, ‘natural’. There is a danger of ‘wild’ becoming an idealized Othering, further reinforcing the false division been human/animal, culture/nature, psychology/environment.
Perhaps we can nuance and blur these rigid definitions by using colonized, currently- or previously- colonized instead. So, a previously-colonized cat now living outside of the house displays a mixture of domesticated and non-colonized behaviours. Or a ‘wild’ fox family is now taking advantage of, becoming reliant on, and maybe even subverting the colonial power structures that surround it..?
What differentiates these feral, urban-wild, or previously-colonized creatures is they are creatures that are living in between-spaces; whether legally, imaginatively, or physically. Between city and the nonhuman. Between the decorous and the instinctive.
(1. Although the City of London has outlawed pigeons from its centre, they continue to exist… 2. Boars in the sewers and sidings of a city are deemed dangerous, untamed, other-than-civilization threats).
These between-spaces, these wilding edges to steal a phrase from permaculture – are also quite often refused spaces in the industrial mind, where refused narratives occur. The derelict house or plot of wasteground where feral cats make colonies or foxes make dens, is one which You Must Not Trespass Upon! It is most often viewed as a forgotten space awaiting the enlightenment of planning and development… In sympathy then, humans or animals displaying feral characteristics are deemed at least uncouth or quite possibly dangerous. When we think about it, there are all sorts of characteristics that are refused by decorous, colonized and industrialized society: visible signs of disability, emotion, concern for happiness rather than productivity, care.
Those words. Wasteland. Disused. Unwanted. Uncouth. Trash. Rejected. Un-developed. Un-cultivated.
An Important Ecological Function?
But these wilding edges where different habitats meet; the places where structures break and fray and merge – often also play very important ecological functions. ‘Wasteground’ where wild things self-seed and grow encourage water retention in the soil, allows habitats for pollinators, encourages habitats to deal with toxins and damaging chemicals. There is a kind of recycling and rejuvenation going on here.
What should we think then of the communities living, whether through choice or abandonment, in these refused, nonnormative, or between-spaces? In wastegrounds and derelict places, or in rare legal loopholes. For humans, I’m thinking about co-housing or eco-communes, homeless communities and migrant camps, travelers, nomads, or squatters…
We can start to see some of the same pejorative, accusatory language used against these humans as are used against rock pigeons and urban foxes: dangerous, unwanted, uncouth, illegal.
But the nonnormative is also a survival mechanism, a need, and an act of joy to those living in other ways, isn’t it? Leaving aside the question of social freedoms for a moment, we can still clearly see how industrial society and capitalism creates wastelands, incarcerations, and refused places (as Foucault points towards, or anarchist writers have described) thus forcing the human animal as well as our non-human kin into ever more smaller and smaller between-space.
Returning vs. Ferality
In some sense, a whole heap of the life on this planet at the moment can be considered feral creatures. Almost all of us are trying to find ways to survive in the face of industrialization, capitalism, or neoliberalism – or are directly affected by these forces through issues such as waste management, climate change, social division, etc…
Ferality, in our definition, was the display of nonnormative, uncolonized traits. In that sense then, maybe we can consider that ferality isn’t an alter- state at all, but that of a returning. We might point towards the work of Deep Ecology or Joana Macy, in allowing the other parts of our psyche to speak – parts that have been previously suppressed, abused, or actively denied in normative culture.