Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ian Frazier on How Stories About Bears Help Them Survive

When Ian Frazier is walking in Montana and meets his first bear:

For some reason, I picked up a rock. I felt the weight of the rock in my hand, I smelled the breath from a wild rosebush, I saw the sun on the tops of the mountains, I felt the clothes on my back. I felt like a man -- skinny, bipedal, weak, slow, and basically kind of a silly idea (77-78).
He goes on to engage in what Anne Fadiman once referred to in an essay as "anticipatory plagiarism," i.e., stealing an idea I elaborated on almost a decade later about the supremacy the stories we tell about wilderness has over our actual experience of it:
Today, for grizzly bears to survive in the mountains of several Western states they must also survive in people's imaginations ... [In newspaper stories] and in magazines and on television, too, bears fatten on certain feelings people have for wilderness, and suffer for others ... In a way, a grizzly is as alive in the pages of a newspaper as he is walking through the trees from which the newspaper is made (79).

---from Ian Frazier's essay, "Bear News," from The New Yorker, September 9, 1985.

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