VOICES IN THE WILDERNESS The first essay responds to our call for articles on deep histories of the present, wide-angle lenses “combining past and present as a unitary field of vision” (CSSH 2005: 233).
Judith Adler shows the lineage connecting themes of current wilderness debates with fourth-century Christian ascetic movements. Such movements idealized empty spaces as the most fitting habitat for ascetics, by virtue of whose existence the world and human life was preserved, a revaluation of wilderness propagated more widely by the Christianization of Rome. The tradition of ascetic primitivism has its origins in practical forms of early philosophical anthropology and speculative psychology, and is perpetuated in tropes of wilderness as a book of nature, an educator superior to schools, a space whose purity is necessary for the survival of the world, and a wild space that humans are called upon to protect or transform. As millennial traditions of narrative continually offer themselves to our thoughts about the radical transformation of our planet, the author suggests, historians of late antiquity might find themselves “well situated to throw new light on deeply motivating rhetorical tropes of emerging bitter debates.”