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"Absolute Freedom and Wildness:" An Exhibition for the First-Year Reading Experience Selection Into the Wild, 2010

Thomas Cooper Library West Gallery
Aug 5, 2010 - Sep 30, 2010
Is the need to enter into wild places a necessary component of the American character? Can the urge to experience wildness somehow be tied to our national identity? Why do we continually seek out wild places, and what is their true attraction for us? Do we do it to escape from our built environment and pressing social conventions or to escape from ourselves? The tension between wildness (or wilderness) and civilization has been a constant in the life of this continent, at least since its earliest exploration and settlement by Europeans. This exhibition attempts, in some small measure, to highlight some similar questions that are posed by Into the Wild. It highlights original editions of some of the source material that its main character encountered before and during his own travels. Thoreau’s Walden and his essay “Walking,” which bookend this exhibition at beginning and end, are cornerstones of American thought, deep reflections on what it means to live in society, how our lives can – and should – be ordered, and where our social responsibilities lie. They both attempt to answer important questions about the tension between wildness and civilization. Hemingway’s Michigan wilderness in “Big Two Hearted River” is a world mastered by a skillful visitor and is used as a source of healing. But it is dwarfed, many times over, by the immensity of the Alaskan landscape and its extreme conditions. As John Muir remarked in 1879, “To the lover of pure wildness Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”