"Wild Enlightenment" charts the travels of the figure of the
wild man, in each of his guises, through the invented domain of the
bourgeois public sphere. We follow him through the discursive
networks of novels, broadsheets, pamphlets, and advertisements and
through their material locations at fair booths, the Royal Society,
Court, and Parliament. He leads us on in various disguises: as
Tyson's Orang-Outang, Swift's Yahoos, and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.
Yet Richard Nash is not primarily telling a story of the English
gentleman abroad in the realm of the wild man; instead Nash
explores the wild man abroad in the realm of the English gentleman.
His is the tale of the wild man as complex alter ego to the
idealized abstraction of "the citizen of the Enlightenment."
Nash eloquently argues that following the movements of the wild
man through the public sphere helps illuminate the process by which
an abstract figure comes to constitute human nature. He contends
that expressions such as wild man and noble savage operated as much
more than metaphors: if anything, the trajectory was not one of a
metaphor being taken literally but rather of the extant
terminology's actually shaping preconceptions by which real beings
were observed and recognized by Europeans. Throughout his account,
Nash insists on attending to the traffic between literary accounts
and real material beings.
Shifting perspective from the thematic approach of intellectual
history to a more eclectic cultural criticism, Nash introduces a
refreshing means to understanding both the figures of the wild man
and the citizen of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century.
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