Tomorrow morning I’m giving a zoom talk entitled “The Ethics of the Wild” to the archaeologists in Norway. By “wild things” I’m not referring to beings of pure nature. For example, there are no wild things on the moons of Io and Europa orbiting Jupiter. Wild things are a dimension, a vector, of civilized things. Civilized things that we produce as mirrors of ourselves. They are what Hegel referrered to as “objective spirit”. They are roads, sidewalks, homes, buildings, cars, books, etc. They are matter that we’ve formed and that we would like to reduce to our conceptual forms and mastery. We must endlessly maintain them. Wild things, by contrast, are the unruliness ar the heart of civilized things. They are the pothole, the cracks in my driveway and the walls of my home due to shifting foundations, the door that won’t properly close, the waste that fills landfills, or the drift that fills our oceans and rivers. Viewed from one perspective, they are the entropic dimension of culture and society. Viewed from another perspective, they are emancipated things or things that have made a jail break from society and civilization. They disclose the potentiality within things that unsettled our mastery.

In the context of this talk I’ve been thinking a lot about Freud’s ethical imperative “wo es war, soll is werden.” “Where it was, there I should come to be.” Freud is referring to the formations of the unconscious: slips of the tongue, bungled actions, forgetting, jokes, dreams, and above all symptoms. Freud gravitated toward the detritus of our experience, the debris, the scraps, the remainders. From the standpoint of the ego, we treat these things as senseless or meaningless, as without significance. Our tendency is to disavow these things, or more properly repress them, exclaiming “I am not that!” Freud’s thesis, to use JA Miller’s memorable term, is that these misfirings are extimate. The extimate is an absolute intimacy, that which is at the heart of our being, that is nonetheless experienced as Other. Hence the thesis that that the in unconscious is the “discourse of the Other.” There is something absolutely foreign— a sort of extimate Cthulhu—that speaks within us that we can never fully identify with or subjectivize, that we nonetheless are. “Thou art that!” Of course, in his magnificent article “Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through”, Freud remarks that we are doomed to repeat that which we don’t remember.

Wild things are archaeological objects. Like Freud’s extimacy, they are foreign bodies at the heart of society and civilization that we nonetheless repress or disavow. Beware that that lurks in the earth! We code these things as both culture and not culture. They are strange things that have taken on a life of their own. Psychoanalysis tells us that we are split subjects ($). There is the ego on the one hand, and the extimate, the discourse of the Other, within us on the other hand. Similarly, we can say that there is split culture (-C-) as well. There are the civilized things we endlessly strive to master and domesticate by maintaining them and through which we give ourselves the illusion that we have made the earth in our image, and the extimate wild things that rumble restlessly at the heart of civilized things. Of the wild things we endlessly say ”we’re not that!” What is it Lacan somewhere says? “Civilization starts the moment shit becomes a problem.” Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to think climate change and the Anthropocene. It forces us to identify with and subjectivize the extimate at the heart of culture, the split nature of culture (-C-), the debris that culture as well. It forces us to encounter the identity of identity and difference and that nothing is ever simply thrown out.

There are three times of the archaeological object. There is, of course, the archaeological objects as an index from the past. Through the careful excavation of shards of pottery, glass, animal bones, buttons, and even shit we try to paint a portrait of the past, of how things went. At its best it explodes myth and presents a foreign world across time, disclosing the contingency of our own way of doing things and therefore that other ways of living. There is next the archaeological object of the past that is the present, the wild things that continue on. Bjørnar Olsen comes across a dead reindeer entangled in a bit of barbed wire from WWII and wonders whether the war ever ended. The things continue to act and exercise their force. These are the things of the Anthropocene: the things we have abandoned and thrown away that globally transform the planet in myriad ways we can’t easily anticipate. Then there are the archaeological objects of the future, of what will have been. These are a sort of memento mori, for as we engage with the wild things we don’t simply encounter indexes of the past, but of the future to come. We are presented with the disavowed or repressed wildness at the heart of the things we fabricate. We are presented with a shadowy mirror image, an upside down, we can never fully identify with.

At any rate, beyond this post, I haven’t written anything for this talk. I simply have a very schematic Prezi. It’s been a long time since I’ve given an extemporaneous talk— though arguably I do it every day in the classroom as I have no notes or PowerPoints —and last time it was a disaster. I’m therefore a bit terrified. Hopefully it goes well.