Aaron Crossen's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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Dec 30, 07

bookshelves: journalism
Read in December, 2007

Really enjoyed it. McCandless had in him an exceptionally large dose of the passions that at one point or another consume most young men, if only for a brief period. His strong distaste, bordering on hatred, of modern American life, with all its easy pleasures is idealistic rebellion at its purest.

While he chose nature has his release from the artificial trappings that he rejected, I think many men, myself included, share or at least empathize with his idealism. In my frequent solitude, I've often considered the arbitrary, temporary comforts that material things bring and the silly, meaningless routines that working adults follow until dying in a much less poetic manner than McCandless (or any other adventurer).

Most men - most people - don't try to understand or transcend the more humdrum aspects of daily life and live out a philosophy or ideal like McCandless. His case is exceptionally rare, especially in a time where the course of one's life - especially a youth's life - is supposed to be predictable. Birth. High school (preferably a private one). College (preferably a 'nice' one). Job for 35 years. Retire. Take a cruise. Die. But McCandless' journey was extreme by any measure.

I think people can find some kind of basic, almost primal pleasure in whatever they choose to do. For Buddhist monks, this could be as simple as sweeping the monastery floor. For disaffected college-aged adults, this could be as (comparatively) complex as an hour in the batting cages or even a game of catch. And here, I am speaking specifically of the satisfying the yearning that McCandless felt so strongly - the complete detachment from the forms that govern life that results not from the dissection of the routine and quotidian, but from a more simple, subtle satisfaction that continually eluded him. He felt his yearning was satisfied in the Alaskan wilderness. And there is certainly something special about the Alaskan wilderness, but the feeling he was after is universal, I am sure of it. A euphoric escape from the banalities of existence and the inevitable frustrations those banalities bring - bills, the mortgage, and so forth. Something altogether rapturous. McCandless wanted the rapture to last forever, but by the end of his story (and the end of his life) I think he had recognized that moment could never be realized forever. Perhaps he had stumbled onto the sublime: that feeling is temporary, not permanent, and cannot be realized emotionally or existentially, but must be incorporated into one's very being, into one's intellect. I think that's why he left the bus.

Intelligent people (like McCandless and Krakauer) eventually make peace - or at least a ceasefire - with society, with the system. Some embrace it, chasing ideals or material pleasure or self-satisfaction or to kill off their personal demons. McCandless' rebellion was a fierce one, but ultimately, he made his peace. What he would've done to sustain that peace is anybody's guess. But his peace, and the peace of many others like him, is an uneasy one. Predictably, I'm predisposed to play the role of the armchair historian. And so I can't help but ask myself if the methods by which we organize the society we live in are not at the root of the matter, and more importantly, how many more McCandlesses are there? How many more souls will the system alienate and eventually destroy? Could a pragmatist, a realist working within the system and relishing every minute of it convince me his beliefs were honest? I don't know anymore. I'm really not questioning whether or not our society can sustain itself. To me, it's obvious that the system works. But assuming that McCandless' frustrations are either irrelevant or obscure is to misunderstand what it's like to be an American, and even a human.
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Piper I love that eternal assumption that only MEN have some irrepressible wild spirit inside, the taming of which to eschew, o woe to the poor stifled men of the world longing to break free. I mean, hello?


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