Wild Boy of Aveyron, Jean Marc Gaspard Itard

503321Highly recommended; very much out of copyright, and very short, and thus ideal for the classroom.

There exists equally with the savage, the most insulated, as with the citizen raised to the highest point of civilization, an uniform proportion between their ideas and their wants; that their continually increasing multiplicity, in a state of polished society, ought to be regarded as one of the grand instruments for producing the development of the human mind; so that we may be allowed to lay it down as a general proposition, that all the causes, whether accidental, local, or political, which tend to augment or diminish the number of our wants, contribute of necessity to extend or to contract the sphere of our knowledge, and the empire of the sciences, of the fine arts, and of social industry.

Itard’s account aims to prove that the wild child, and a fortiori, any citizen can be educated into something better by intermingling them with rational guides to imitate and by compelling them to multiply their wants. Where a wide range of wants are wanting, intelligence does not develop. A better citizenship requires more refined pleasures, whether we’re talking about Victor the Wild Child or, by implication, all citizens of the new French Republic. This pedagogical treatise is thus also necessarily a treatise on social engineering, an attack on the superiority of nature and especially on the notion of “human nature” (since only human culture produces anything more than bestial), and implicitly an attack on class, on the colonial project [maybe!], and on all forms of conservatism.

Brief google searches suggest Foucault didn’t write about this account, which astonishes me. If ever there were a text better suited to discuss the characteristics and development of modern biopower, I don’t know it.

Needless to say Itard is a humanist who believes the boy, Victor, was without society worth speaking of when we was among the animals.