Fear In the Damp and Dark Gap: A Critical Essay

by Richard C. Ellis

The usual signification of the French feminist's "gap" transformed by Jack Bushnell from silent entrapment to a meaning that signifies the "gap" as that which frees the other and allows for the generation of a voice of the other's own Circus of the Wolves. The famous masculine--self and feminine--other opposition will be freely utilized with the man and the circus representing the former and Kael and nature the latter. Gaps appear literally and figuratively throughout the text and with each appearance its meaning slowly, slowly, alters in the previously stated manner. Jack Bushnell says in a "Note from the Author" that the of the wolf (other) is "a natural world as distinct and separate from the human (self) world as possible." The place of the Other, in other words, is separated, banished, and excluded from the sphere of self. The circus and the man be self insofar as they confine, harness, and attempt to stand the beauty and wonder of the other by conforming the other into the mold and way of self.

Before going further, it should be noted that any appearance of anthropomorphizing the wolf is only that –appearance. It is the place of the Other that receives the essences of human and not Kael in and of himself. Since Kael occupies the place of the Other the anthropomorphic transgression will seem to apply to the wolf when no actual transgression has occurred. Still, however, Kael must come to sense his occupation of the place of the Other.

Kael falls into the gap constructed by his oppressors "...the damp and dark at the bottom of the hole frightened Kael." Kael's fear is of confinement and the discovery of himself as other. "The damp and dark" are commonly listed as traits of the other or signifiers associated with femininity, and the "gap" is commonly noted to be the lacuna created by the phallocentric language of self due to its inability to fully ascribe traits to the other. Once occupying the place of the Other Kael "spent a long night crying for his mate and for his two pups waiting far away in the den," but from the gap, his voice and his cries go unheard.

In the gap, the place of the Other, Kael is netted, drugged and enslaved. His oppressor appears to him as a man with "blue eyes and golden hair." His oppressor describes and codifies Kael as well as telling kael how he will be treated and what he hopes Kael will become. He tells Kael all this in a language that does not belong to Kael. said,'l hope you will even be happy with us.'"

Keel and the man develop a symbiotic relationship in which both learn from each-other. Kael learns his tricks and rediscovers the power of a voice of his own. The man learns the value of the voice of the other and the necessity for freedom. The man releases or allows, partly, for Kael's escape, and after escape Kael will use his voice "one more time for the man." The last line of the story indicates that at some time Kael became something that was not a wolf. "By morning, he would be a wolf again." If Kael was not a wolf for a time while with the circus then what he was must be examined to fully understand the self/other relationship constructed in Circus of the Wolves.

Another constructed dichotomy of the masculine-self and feminine-other opposition existent and played out in the text is that of active versus passive. Kael "learned by watching." He mimics the actions of the man in order to learn his tricks. Keel learns through mimesis, and in so doing loses his identity as a wolf. He becomes, in all things, a reflection of the man and the circus. the circus was gradually becoming Kael's life, but at the same time the world of nature was permeating the man. In the man's scent Kael smells "green wood in winter," and in the man's voice he hears "the whisper of water from a spring, the soothing creak of tall trees on a windy day." Eventually the man mimics the voice of the wolf (other), and Kael understands that he too must howl. "Slowly, slowly, Kael imitated the man who was imitating a wolf," but this does not remain an act of double mimesis for long. In a sense the man mimics Kael and in, turn Kael mimics the man mimicking himself, but like two negatives the double mimesis cancels itself out and Kael is using his own voice. Later, the wolves born into the circus mimic Kael, and Kael finds himself in a transforming "gap."

This second appearance of the "gap" is symbolized by the circus ring. It is a magic circle, 0, "a kind of charmed place." Inside this gap Kael is secluded, cut off, from all those that come to watch. Silence is no longer a trait of the gap. From the gap "the wolves found their voices," and their voice instills fear in those outside as "children moved closer to their parents, and adults felt their hearts beat faster." The gap Kael's oppressors have constructed to entrap him is beginning to free him. The inability of the phollo-logo-centric tongue to signify the other has forced Kael to examine the place of the Other, thereby empowering himself and the significant silence of the gap with the power of voice. After his song "he felt stronger, freer, than he had felt since the day he joined the circus."

The transformation of the feminine-other and the traits attached to it by the masculine-self continues with the symbolic appearance of a new gap. A gap created by the natural circle traced by the Earth around the sun causes old signifiers related to the feminine--other to dissolve and be replaced by new signifiers. The center of this great gap contains the natural light of the sun, replacing darkness and the moon. This diurnal course brings Kael and the circus back to the northern woods of Wisconsin where he was captured.

Kael is now as close to the natural world of the other than he was at any time since his confinement. He has become empowered and has developed the will to free himself when the opportunity arises. Kael's cage door is left open and he frees himself through the gap left by his oppressors. The man allows for Kael's escape. He has come to know the beauty and power of the other and can no longer confine it. By obtaining the knowledge that reveals the nature of the gap, Kael has discovered the means of utilizing the "gap" to the ends of freeing the other from the oppression of self. He has found the power of his own language, and its ability to take the self away from its world and into the place of the Other, Jack Bushnell has found in Kael a character that can infuse the gap with the emotive gynergy of other, thus disallowing its existence as a simple lacunary absence without voice. The place of the Other radiates its own incandescent brilliance, seething with the growing volume of the new choral power......O...

End Notes: All subsequent references to Circus of the Wolves are from the following addition: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepherd 1993