Mark Rowlands's book on what it meant to have a wolf as his constant companion is both a striking and a frustratingly limited work of philosophyby Alexander Fiske-Harrison / February 28, 2009 / Leave a comment
The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands (Granta, £15.99)
Mark Rowlands has produced a well-written book on a fascinating topic, containing within it diversions with all the profundity characteristic of his profession. Yet, when I put the book down, I was left with the feeling of an opportunity missed.
Rowlands is a British philosopher, currently holding a professorial post at the University of Miami. After an unusually brief doctoral degree at Oxford, he found himself teaching at the University of Alabama, drinking hard and playing hard, in part, one senses, to numb a sense of dislocation and alienation which pervades his writing. It is undoubtedly for this reason, along with a certain Nietzschean aesthetics and an excess of testosterone, which drew him to an advertisement for 96 per cent wolf-hybrid puppies in the local paper. Having been assured by the owner that they were actually pure wolves , the purported 4 per cent dog blood, i.e. one great, great, great grandparent, being a deceit to fit it through a loophole in state anti-wolf legislation, Rowlands took his new purchase home and named it Brenin. (It’s worth noting that dogs are now generally regarded as a domestic sub-species of the wolf anyway.)
From here we get the comical and affectionate chapters one expects from a bachelor rearing a puppy of unusual strength, including a fascinating study in how to train an animal which has not been selectively bred for obedience. Rowlands quite rightly, in this reviewer’s opinion, dismisses the claim that wild animals should not be kept as pets as long as the keepers knows how to keep them. Life in the wild maybe natural—whatever that problematic word is taken to mean—but it is also nasty, brutish and short. Brenin lived to eleven, wild wolves are lucky to make it to seven, and by all account these were happy years free from the deprivations, diseases and internecine strife which punctuate a wild existence.
That said, Rowlands takes seriously the fact that he has intervened in the natural order of things and alters his own life to compensate. Luckily for him, the life of an itinerant young philosopher allows for this. Brenin accompanies him to lectures with the sole caveat on his teaching syllabus of: “Caution: Please do not pay attention to the wolf. He will not hurt you.” He goes to Rowlands’ rugby matches and to bars, to sorority…