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15 September 2009

The Philosopher and the Wolf

Written by Published in Book Reviews

A real-life memoir of a professor of philosophy whose thinking and daily routine is turned upside down by the arrival into his life of an Alaskan Tundra wolf, The Philosopher and the Wolf goes to places that no ordinary book about philosophy would dare to go.

The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark RowlandsThe metaphor the writer finds for the animal is unusual: the wolf is like the clearing in a forest, allowing what is hidden to be uncovered. For Rowlands (the philosopher) – a ‘rootless, restless intellectual’ given to drinking up to two litres of Jack Daniel’s in a sitting – Brenin (the wolf) brings light (leukos in Greek, almost identical etymologically to the Greek word for wolf, lukos) to his dark place in the woods. It is in that relationship between wolf and man that what is hidden is uncovered.

Rowlands contrasts the ape’s ability to scheme – which has led to civilisation, art and the separating of ourselves from nature – with the wolf’s ability to live in the moment outside of the arrow of time and the knowledge of inevitable decline and death. Only in his journey together with Brenin is he able to transcend the simian urge and experience being rather than having. ‘There are certain thoughts that can emerge only in the space between a wolf and a man,’ the philosopher muses. The articulation of those thoughts – a consequence of shared moments in time with his lupine companion – inspires Rowlands to re-evaluate the fundamental questions of human existence. A unique and precious book.

The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands (Granta Books) £8.99 

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