Manhunts: A Philosophical History

I read Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts. I may not have given it a fair shake – it has a way more academic bent than what I was in the mood for – but there are some neat ideas here. The most useful:

Every hunt is accompanied by a theory of its prey that explains why, by virtue of what difference, of what distinction, some men can be hunted and others not.

One of the better parts of reading this wasn’t the book itself, but how it related to other things I’ve come across. Manhunter, clearly, and how pursuit puts one’s soul at peril. Njál’s Saga frequently deals with banishment and outlaws, vengeance and vulnerability. Also the book Columbine and other events like the OKC bombing and Isla Vista, and how theories of exclusion always follow closely behind. Zero Dark Thirty, too.

Before we learned to tell stories, we learned to read them. In other words, we learned to track. The first letter of the first word of the first recorded story was written–“printed”–not by us, but by an animal. These signs and symbols left in mud, sand, leaves, and snow represent proto-alphabets. Often smeared, fragmented, and confused by weather, time, and other animals, these cryptograms were life-and-death exercises in abstract thinking. […] The notion that it was animals who taught us to read may seem counterintuitive, but listening to skilled hunters analyze tiger sign is not that different from listening to literature majors deconstruct a short story. Both are sorting through minutiae, down to the specific placement and inflection of individual elements, in order to determine motive, subtext, and narrative arc.

John Vaillant in his excellent book, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. Great storytelling and lots to learn about tigers and Russia. I also liked this bit:

Evidence suggests that the reason tigers and their kind continue to capture our attention is because, over time, this has proven the most effective way to prevent them from capturing us. Maybe this is why it is impossible not to wonder what Markov and Khomenko saw and felt in their last moments–an experience so aberrant and alien to us, and yet strangely, deeply familiar: there is a part of us that still needs to know.