This essay considers whether the contemporary rewilding movement is a reincarnation of twentieth-century primitivism. Both reject capitalist modernity’s drive to dominate nature, and both idealize an originary or innate natural condition. Both are also galvanized by the perception that the condition they idealize is on the verge of extinction and so must be regenerated through primitivist or rewilding praxis. Where primitivist idealism typically is trained on those forms of human life regarded as “primitive,” rewilders tend to be more concerned with the “wildness” of whole ecologies. Covering a range of articulations of rewilding, from conservation biology to green anarchism, the essay argues that the question of what constitutes “wild” humanity nevertheless shadows all rewilding discourse. This persistently has led rewilding toward the kinds of racialized idealism for which primitivism has so frequently been arraigned. The final part of the essay compares the role of aesthetic practice in primitivism and rewilding by considering recent fictions of rewilding by Sarah Hall, Charlotte McConaghy, and Jeff VanderMeer. Unlike primitivism’s pervasive anti-scientism, we find in these novels the narration of a process by which scientific reason transcends the study of wild things to itself become the wild.

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