We are interpretative animals. As parents, for example, we have a necessary investment in interpreting the behaviour of children. To protect them and foster them, we require proficiency at this art or science. Interpretation of the young engrosses Adriana S. Benzaquén in her cultural history Encounters with Wild Children. Understanding children can be one means to self-knowledge. This knowledge may have a private or collective character, or (in the case of literature) it may aspire to combine intimacy with universality.
Adriana S. Benzaquén focuses on children and predicaments of interpretation. The epilogue of her Encounters with Wild Children offers the moral that her erudition has earned and substantiated:
The knowledge produced by the human sciences fosters the illusion that we know the other before actually meeting him or her . . . Equipped with scientific, ready-made knowledge we approach the other as if we knew her or him already.
Throughout her book, Benzaquéns asides are worthy and wise: One troublesome property of the concept of normality is that the boundary between normal and abnormal is never fixed and exceedingly permeable. The beginning of her book, preoccupied with laying out the terms salient to her argument and schematically reviewing previous scholarship, drags somewhat, but once she descends-or rather ascends-to the scrutiny of particular cases, Encounters with Wild Children satisfies curiosity, induces wonder, and arouses feeling. She discusses famous samples, such as the savage girl of Songi and Victor of Aveyron. George I himself took an interest in Peter of Hanover, captured in 1724. The boys behaviour manifests the pure unexpectedness that novelists sometimes attributes to their fictional children:
In the beginning he sometimes kissed now the walls, now the ground, and then his hands, just as he used to unbutton the clothes of anyone whom he met and kissed them on the chest. He could not stand women, but pushed them away from him with both hands and feet. If someone showed him fruit, particularly nuts, he would fall on the ground and kiss it as well as kiss his own hands and throw kisses to everybody. He did not care much about money, but always threw it away from him, though some say that he very skilfully hid money in his hair.
Although Benzaquéns focus is wild children, her account teaches the reader to see more clearly how his or her existence is to one degree or another subject to multiple misconstructions-sometimes out of wrongheaded benevolence, often out of fear, and always out of the subjugation of everyone, interpreted and interpreter alike, to the confines of one historical horizon. Those confines are as strict as an islands. Benzaquén opens and offers room for interpretation-some of the most important living space on the planet. Eric Miller
(Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada