St John, G. 1997. “Going Feral: Authentica on the Edge of Australian Culture.”

St John, Graham. 1997. “Going Feral: Authentica on the Edge of Australian Culture.” Australian Journal of Anthropology 8(2): 167-189.

Authentica – “the multiplicity of discourse and practice valued as ‘true’, ‘natural’, ‘pure’” (167) in explorations of alterity and indigeneity (and nudity), ecological consciousness and neo-paganism, and community belonging, interconnectivity of isolates/groups. The conditioning of outsider status – ferality – hyperliminality of social and environmental marginality.  MacCanell (1976) – modern seekers of authenticity as self discovery, as search for Absolute Other. Rediscovery of unpolluted, original, primitive – “return to the Garden” (Bruner 1993), where migration, fetishized indigeneity, and reconnection to community festivity (Manning 1983) – heterogeneity of cultural productions of marginal and liminal spaces within geographic boundaries of advanced capitalist (post-modern) societies (Shields 1991, here 168). Heterogeneity of attendees, groups of sponsorship/membership – “a miasmic switchboard of discourse and practice” (169)-  the embrace of outsiderness, rejected knowledges, transgression. Embrace of new age, intentional community, queerness, political activism, environmentalism, spiritualism, etc.; exclusion of “inauthenticities” (external threats with perceived dangers – commercialism, techno and pop music, “yobs”— equivalent of bros?)

Temporary Autonomous Zone – impermanence, non-hierarchicalism.  Though repeated and recognized by the state, unique liminality required for societal “becoming” (Turner 1982) – “Approximating both the process inside rites of passage where a self is deconstructed as a precondition for reconstruction, and pilgrimage to a location outside the parameters of the everyday where inspired travelers seek affirmation and wholeness, ConFest orchestrates the (re)production, the becoming, of self, identity, attitude, lifestyle.  In a ‘time out of time’ and place, where the dissolution of persona – a stripping away of roles and status – is often experienced, individuals are given access to transcendent moments of numinosity. Such a suspended, licentious atmosphere permits the imaginative inquisition of perceived fallibilities in dominant discourse and practice, and the exploration and production of alternatives.  It therefore holds the potential for personal and social transformation” (173).  Liminal phases as illuminating “cultural dramas” of post-modernity – audiences and participants have opportunities experiment, interpret, critique, and subvert.

Ferality as appropriation of domesticated animals now wild – dissonance from dominant cultural patterns, adopting sub- and countercultural traits often associated with New Age, environmental, hippie movements.  Projection of “dirt” by locals, “risk identities” which bring uncertainty (see also Hetherington 1992).  Festival site as a way to participate in collective “dirtiness”, practice ferality, enact “symbolic otherness”  (176).

Appropriation of tipi housing, musical instruments, chants, clothing, hair styles, and ritual from indigenous persons the world over — “the fine line between reconciliation… and plunder” (Richards 1995), cultural imperialism (Said 1978) of using artifacts that have meanings ignored, distorted, and commodified – removed of meaning to be a ‘pure product’ (Clifford 1988) in use for spiritual growth and status enhancement. However, Othering performed with sympathy, awareness – appropriations modified socially, spiritually, practically – many done by those with personal experience or travel/interaction with those from whom items or practices are appropriated – rejection of colonialist/imperialist practice (kx^ but yet, are socially imperialistic?). Dangers of homogenizing diverse indigenous cultures; however, may act as a point of resistance, cultural awareness.  “Presenting identity, an individual may simultaneously interiorise or exteriorise more than one ‘other’ ( via curious combinations of Celtic symbolism, didjeridu use, Hindu pantheon and tipi dwelling), or may manipulate different sets of symbols at different times”(179) – “displaying the vestiges of otherness” (180)-

“Indeed, identity, as it is express and performed on site, is an embroglio of signifiers, and to be feral is itself most evocative of such unruly syncretism.  This relates to my feeling that the origin of ‘artifacts’ adopted (e.g. clothing, jewelry, icons, instruments, cuisine, language) is too often unclear as the meanings of such have been refashioned and reinvented in a diffuse, undocumented, and steadily exponential tangle of migrations and fashionable concatenations”  (180) –  working to time/place the ‘origins’ would be futile, in a time of diversity of other/s- (kx^ would it be?)

Dressing up/down/across to imitate the Other invokes ‘sympathetic magic’- enhancing personal condition and existence to be that Other .  ‘Mimesis’ – the ability to become other, become something else (see Taussig 1993) – offers opportunities to copy the Other and manipulate self and world – “And that which is represented/reproduced is constantly distorted, refashioned, reinvented by the representer/reproducer”  (180) – an opportunity to mimic and synthesize elements of an imaginary other into a point of multi-alterity — an effect of costuming, claiming powers beyond existing facilities. 

Polysemic attraction of responsibility and ethics AND hedonism, conspicuous consumption. Tribe used as a signifier of indigeneity, as well as close community – embrace of difference AND sameness.  Activities designed in a way to facilitate unification in variety of ways, often through dissimilar group- or interest-based memberships and tactics acknowledged through these clusters. Perceived threat of outsiders “tainting” activities – turning practices into something that is to be surveilled, particularly the nudity of women.


Bruner, E. 1993. “Creative Persona and the Problem of Authenticity.” In S. Lavie, K. Narayan, and R. Rosaldo (eds.), Creativity/Anthropology, pp. 321-324. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Hetherington, K. 1992. “Stonehenge and its Festival: Spaces of Consumption.”  In R. Shields (ed.), Lifestyle Shopping: The Subject of Consumption, pp. 83-98. London: Routledge.

MacCanell, D. 1976. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Schocken.

Manning, F. 1983. The Celebration of Society: Perspectives on Contemporary Cultural Performance. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Press.

Richards, D. 1995. “Whitefella Dreaming.” HQ May/June: 60-67.

Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. London: Penguin.

Shields, R. 1991. Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity. London: Routledge.

Taussig, M. 1993. Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses. New York: Routlege.

Turner, V. 1982. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications.


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