Alternative Wildernesses: Finding Wildness in 21st Century America
Bunting, Ben S
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This dissertation is a critique of the American concept of wilderness. Traditionally, this concept has assumed the necessity of a geographic locus that embodies the qualities of "the natural," but I challenge this assumption, positing that what we value most in our interactions with wilderness places is not the physical location, but instead a quality of experience that we find at that location. By theorizing how this quality can be transplanted to contexts beyond the wilderness place in the first two chapters, I argue for a new concept of wilderness that is not constrained by geography, that allows us access to experiential wildness nearly anytime and anywhere. The remaining three chapters provide practical examples of how this wildness can be deterritorialized. First, I examine literature dealing with the practice of urban exploration - including L.B. Deyo and David Leibowitz's Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of New York and Julia Solis' New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City - to show how it functions as a method for bringing wildness to city space. Second, I discuss the recent video game Minecraft, arguing that it intentionally presents a gameworld to the player that encourages meaningful experiences of wildness not unlike those afforded to the urban explorer. Third and last, I investigate the possibilities for wildness represented by mobile gaming and the integration of the location-aware interface with "real life". Here I draw on the examples of Foursquare and geocaching to illustrate how these games can encourage a reinscribing of walked space by the player through the mobile interface's superimposition of a virtual layer of place-information onto the physical world. Ultimately, in addition to constructing a new theory of "wilding" space from a synthesis of previous space/place theorists' works, my dissertation argues for the relevance of three different-but-related spatial practices that I believe are all deserving of more serious critical attention. Weaving these practices together theoretically, I make a case for a more inclusive "wilderness," one that could productively alter what it means to read literature, video games, and the very spaces that we inhabit ecocritically.