Q: Would you say that Ransom’s imagined transformation into a wild creature, though extreme, takes its cue from our human tendency to identify on a deep level with animals?
RS: The world is like a big chest full of totems, and we get to pick out one that suits us. Every emotional state open to our experience can be witnessed in other animals. And different animals accentuate different states. What could be more natural than for humans to identify themselves with an animal that seems to mirror their temperament? Detroit has used this for years to sell cars.
Dog-lovers decide which dog has the emotional makeup that suits them. “This is me! I’m a German shepherd,’ or ‘I’m a dachsund,” or “I’m a beagle.” Of course, pet selection is more complicated than that. Often people choose a dog in opposition to their temperament, or to complement it. The amazing thing is the diversity: from the amiability of a spaniel to the viciousness of a Doberman.
Creation has done the same thing with the life-forms on planet earth. If you look at any wilderness setting, you see a diversity of temperaments. A predator has one temperament, a grass eater has a different one. If we take our own natures and regard them in that light, we can have a better understanding of who we are and who we might be.
Dismantling the Self
Q: Theories of animal behavior figured significantly in the thinking behind Wild Animus—particularly those related to courtship in non-human species. Can you elaborate?
RS: The way they act is the way we act. We’re cut from the same cloth. There are mysteries that are less mysterious once you look beyond the human race. In the 70s, when I was trying to understand my own crazy state, I was deeply troubled by the answers I came up with. Then I read Tinbergen, and realized that it wasn't madness. It was science.
The ethology literature is full of descriptions of animal behavior during courtship in which the animals put themselves at risk. The impulse to make the self vulnerable—to surrender—isn’t unique to the human race. It could hardly be otherwise. Self-preservation means defending the self. But in order to have offspring, you have to mate, and in order to mate you have to get intimate with a stranger. In the wilds, that's dangerous. It’s dangerous for us, too. We’re all really strangers. But, because our hearts are with those who risk everything for love, their death wishes are wonderful to us.
What it means to make yourself vulnerable, to participate in the dismantling of your self in order to realize a larger self in love— That’s pivotal for Ransom.
A State of Surrender
Q: That covers the “Wild” part. But what/who is “Animus”?
RS: Ransom is an idealist. He values ideas as paramount, more important than life itself. He commits himself to live in a state of surrender in a world “where the molten heart is always flowing,” which is his way of saying, “I felt a certain way during the moment of surrender with this love of mine, and I would like that state to be continuous and ongoing. Endless.”
That may not be a realistic view of things. But that is his objective, and Animus is his way of instantiating that as a goal or summit for his aspiration.
Q: Is Ransom inspired by a transcendent truth, or prey to a misguided fantasy?
RS: At some level, Ransom's brand of idealism doesn’t work. But sometimes the greatest aspirations lie right beside the greatest pitfalls. And who isn't in love, really, with great ideas?