Refusing the Symbolic, Illuminated Imagery, and Becoming-Animal; Werner Herzog and Timothy Treadwell’s Grizzly Man
Gayle Gorman

I wish I could swim
Like dolphins
Like dolphins can swim
But nothing
Can keep us together
We can be heroes
Just for one day
We’re gonna be ourselves
Just for one day 1


“[f]ilm is somehow capable of showing an inner world that is otherwise invisible. That’s what my profession is… celluloid will save us” – Werner Herzog 2

Leaving a mark, a trace, becoming a remnant: what is to become of a life? Some of us who prefer not to judge, judge life lived by another based on our own fantasies and fears. Can a life be an ecstatic truth lived, or not: how close to jouissance 3 can we take it? How do we even come close to knowing 4 such life is possible? What is there to take us there?

“I think the bears redeemed him more than he redeemed the bears,” – Werner Herzog 5

Love is devouring the object of your love in order to defeat the cause of one’s desire, in order to obliterate it so that one lacks no more, in order to obliterate one’s subjecthood, yet this obliteration occurs in a potential redemption for one’s meaninglessness: this love of destruction can be the key to one’s jouissance, the becoming-of-your-death can be a heroic chaos. And what, then, of sameness and difference and the expectations they bring about that keeps us in chains; is it not all, rather, a negotiation of betweens, a confrontation of divisions: “what can I be if I cannot be” … so easily, it seems, like slipping, like sliding, my being. Love is a place lost. Love is denied. Can love, then, be attached to what is natural, or are we to believe, as filmmaker Werner Herzog may have it, that nature exists in a void of non-meaning, meaning that love itself is ultimately irrelevant when one steps outside of symbolization, back into “nature”, since love is meaningful to us? Again, is love natural?


The Australian celebrity “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin was killed in September of 2006 by a stingray’s barbed and poisonous tail piercing his heart as he swam through their group in order to be videotaped doing so. He died, as did Timothy Treadwell, while “in nature”, while doing what he supposedly loved most, while interrelating with wild animals: killed by them. He too was a man who devoted his life to wildlife conservation issues. The main difference in the response to their deaths in the mainstream media, though, is the claim that Treadwell somehow deserved it –asked for it– and, conversely, that the Hunter died a hero.

The complex reasons for these differences lie at the heart of this paper that seeks to look at, and then tries to coalesce, divisions that arise out of the many theoretical strands involved in reading the film Grizzly Man (2005, henceforth cited as GM), a film featuring Timothy Treadwell that uses mostly his own video footage, but as its’ ultimate maker Werner Herzog has said of it, a film about the deep human condition. Timothy Treadwell turned his back on civilization to the extent that he chose to live in “the wild” for months out of every year for thirteen consecutive years. The Crocodile Hunter headed a global media conglomerate that involved television shows, movies, television guest appearances, and a highly visible status of national hero at the head of his Australian zoo with plans to open more. The bad press on Treadwell complained about his desire for celebrity – which in itself is odd for a celebrity-obsessed culture – after an appearance on David Letterman’s show, as if this negated his self-proclaimed mission to help the grizzly bears. The scientific community and park services complained about his proximity to the bears he lived with, while the Hunter would typically wrestle and continuously confine and confront the animals he went after in order to film them. He was not a hunter with a gun but rather with a camera and an audience, and hunting is a manly sport. Crocodiles are dangerous beasts, prehistoric and absolutely alien: we make purses out of their flesh.

Hunter’s mastery over nature through his treatment of animals helped to reinforce the line between animals and humans that Treadwell, on the other hand, thought nothing of stepping over; it was pure movement, his reclaiming of the space between. Treadwell would talk to the bears and the foxes, constantly telling them that he loved them. He crossed the lines of the symbolic order which exists, in part, to help us tell subject from object, and at its heart –or throughout its veins– there may be this animal divide that continually threatens to either define or undo us. In Giorgio Agamben’s book The Open (2002), he writes of Alexandre Kojeve’s reading of Martin Heidegger’s ideas on this subject:

Man exists historically only in this tension; he can be human only to the degree that he transcends and transforms the anthropophorous animal which supports him, and only because, through the action of negation, he is capable of mastering and, eventually, destroying his own animality” (Agamben 2002; 12).

Heidegger saw the difference between animals and humans as the difference between being “poor in the world,” and being “world-forming” (51). He related an animalistic state to one of captivation, with an animal existing only in –being captivated by– an environment, as opposed to a human who occupies a world. Agamben furthers Heidegger’s interpretation of animal existence in his notion of “the Open” as being a state imposed upon humans biopolitically, with this “Open” being essentially “an inaccessibility, an opacity – that is, in some way… a nonrelation” (55). Heidegger’s concept of “profound boredom”, as attached to this animalistic state, then becomes the bridge between the being of animal and the being of human that is Dasein, a state of being in which the realization of the nothing “awakens from its own captivation to its own captivation,” (70). Agamben quotes Heidegger: “[T]he animal is the undisclosable which man keeps and brings to light as such” (73).

In this Treadwell was an anomaly in the Deluzian/Guattarian sense: one is not born an anomaly, but becomes one through difference, through protestations, negations and separations. He believed that he was indeed sharing in the animals’ world as he lived within it in a state of abjection from civilization; he believed the animals had something to disclose to him, as he did to them, whether it be a fantasy of saving, or a relationship based on physical proximity and repetition. In Agamben we find the use value of describing animalness applicable and pertinent to defining our own humanness in our present biopolitical state:

Do we not see around and among us men and peoples who no longer have any essence or identity –who are delivered over, so to speak, to their inessentiality and their inactivity– and who grope everywhere, and at the cost of gross falsifications, for an inheritance and a task, an inheritance as task… [M]an suspends his animality and, in this way, opens a “free and empty” zone in which life is captured and a-bandoned in a zone of exception” (76, 79).

So similar were these two animal-loving men –Treadwell and The Hunter–, why would one man be a threat and another be a hero, as inferred by the media’s disparate responses to both of their deaths? The exploration of this question lies in this animal/human divide that has been so important to humanism and the retention of its lofty ideals of people and progress, and the development of a civilization whose foundation is a teaming matrix of borderlines. The many attempts to deny, sublimate, or subvert our own animalness has been a force of propulsion for our demise. We separate the animal within us from our human selves, we clothe ourselves and veil our nakedness. I put forward that the character of Timothy Treadwell was one of these “gropers” who, in Heideggerian terms, sought to redefine his Dasein through a border crossing that helps us to recognize the contradictions and confusions in our use of the notion of “the Animal”.

In “The Animal that therefore I Am (More to Follow),” Jacques Derrida 6 focuses in part on this strategy of division and concludes that the animal has represented for us the limits of the human and in doing so opens up a space for difference to dynamicize itself:

Beyond the edge of the so-called human, beyond it but by no means on a single opposing side, rather than “the Animal” or “Animal Life,” there is already a heterogeneous multiplicity of the living, or more precisely, (since to say “the living” is already to say too much or not enough) a multiplicity of organizations of relations between living and dead, relations of organization or lack of organization among realms that are more and more difficult to dissociate by means of the figures of the organic and the inorganic, of life and/or death (Derrida, 2002; 399).

This is a position I take in thinking of the life and death of Timothy Treadwell after seeing the film Grizzly Man, in being reminded of the rigidity of the lines between animal and human, wild and tame, and in framing those as limits within the symbolic order as premised on Oedipal fears. We need to look at the film itself as a film; we need to use the issue of Treadwell himself, and of animal theorizing that uses the term only in relation to the definition of “the human”, to begin to think about the issues of the other and redemption as embodied in creaturely life 7 as represented by contemporary subjecthood, as made possible through the mechanisms of creation, specifically in Werner Herzog’s cinema work. The mechanisms of creation are connected to concepts of becomings 8 and jouissance, and I take this to be a place beyond psychoanalysis, but to live there as well in that psychoanalysis is capable itself in being thought beyond the repressions and prohibitions of Oedipus. This is how, for me, Deleuzian theory meets, and does not necessarily oppose, Lacanian theory in terms of both cinema and subjecthood. Where there is lack there is desire. It is a matter of words.

“… a language of mute traces, that is to say without any words” (Derrida: 387).

The Real is pure affect and the Real is with us; we are with the Real. I privilege this register, this realm of Lacan’s –one of three– for its loci of affect, its persistence in vibrating despite its mode of inarticulation. Perhaps that is what is so challenging about it, this difficulty, so challenging that there are always people who can be looked to for contrast to it. My own desire in writing of these things in an attempt to connect them is to see Treadwell, within Herzog’s film and vision, as a fantasy-figure of such redemption from a failed humanity that is so foreign to itself and at the mercy of its own inarticulation, whose failure and limits I see as potentially transforming into possibilities –potentialities– of new forms of knowledge and subjecthood that finds its way out of Freudian fear through the re-producings of the fulfilled risk-taking of becoming. This risk-taking involves images, particularly cinematic ones because of their movement and duration, as a form of thinking and knowing vis-à-vis Deleuze. This risk-taking involves a reception and expansion of immediate political life (life amongst others) that requires a stand to include others (ie: animals) who have been there all along, as well as alternative ways of seeing and, thus of knowing.

Timothy Treadwell was a man without a secure place in the symbolic order 9; he resists symbolization because he resisted the symbolic and, in a twisting semiotic relationship, the symbolic resisted him. The symbolic order operates around language and around prohibition. Treadwell lived a life of extremes, as attested to in his diaristic footage documenting his mood swings, in the very fact that, year after year, he went from living in “civilization”, to living in secluded “wild nature”. He is surplus to us because we don’t know what to make of a grown man who still has his teddy bear, who talks to animals, and who eschews the Oedipal life of both family and prohibition by attending to his own bodily drives for free mobility in a vast multiplicitous landscape. If “the animal as the repressed Other of the subject” (Wolfe, 2003; x) is indeed the case, then Treadwell’s “inner animal” sought to come out more than is typically accepted by our self-imposed human limits and by the negation of our selves as others. Like Nietzsche’s Overman, Treadwell “fully recognizes and acknowledges his… animal nature but uses this aggregate courage, this sum of stolen beastly virtues to go beyond man, the “unfinished animal” “ (Hamm, 2004; 196).

It’s telling how the dominant images accompanying the articles about the Crocodile Hunter’s death show him with his wife or with his children. He was a family man, hunting for his family to survive… so Darwinesque. He had no problem finding, and attaching to himself, the appropriate signifiers in the symbolic order to make a secure place for himself. He was, apparently, a champion of the right-wing in Australia, a political conservative, master of his game, a “21st-century version of a lion tamer,” as Germaine Greer described him in her celebratory eulogy (Greer, 2006; 2). He did not want to become-animal, but rather wanted to, and was rewarded for, maintaining and reinforcing for all to see the borderline between the human and the animal within us. His predatory behaviour towards the animals he filmed affirmed his beastliness that was safely contained within a human field of control and spectacle. The Hunter realized our Oedipal and Darwinian dreams in that he chose as his mate one of his kind and sought to reproduce himself, through his children and through his imaginary personae via the media, as well as an expansion of his “zoos”. The proliferation of images of the family unit in the media following his death tells us that this unit is of vast importance. He was not a loner doing what he was doing because of mental illness; he was not trying to fill a lack since he, judging by the photos, was incredibly satisfied and filled with familial glee. I wonder why there are not the other images, the ones I was most familiar with regarding the Hunter whilst he was alive, the ones still in my head: him with his face in the camera, filled with an over-reaching adrenaline rush, a snake’s mouth being forced wide open by his hands, or his arms wrapped around a crocodile in a vice-like lock, such an image of dominance and helplessness. Instead he has his arms around his children where they stand free and proud, proud to be humans. And no one but the animals are naked. They know not what they do.

“We should think about animals as animals.” – Donna Haraway 10
“What animal? The other” – Jacques Derrida (372).
“But what is union with something that can’t be known?” – Tim Lilburn 11

I think that it is important to look closely at the film Grizzly Man because of the myriad of theoretical subtexts that weave throughout its ceaseless movement and the relentless questions that are raised by its confusion of subjects. It may seem as if the film is about a man, Timothy Treadwell, who has been called a “bear activist”, a “naturalist”, and an “idiot,” to name a few, and about his death at the hands/paws of a bear. Derrida complains about the use of the singularity “the Animal” in philosophers’ writings throughout history on the human/animal divide, on “the question of the animal”: “The experience of the seeing animal, of the animal that looks at them, has not been taken into account in the philosophical or theoretical architecture of their discourse. In sum they have denied it as much as misunderstood it” (Derrida; 383). Who is to deny that the bears themselves are not the film’s subject and Timothy Treadwell the animals’ Other?

Timothy Treadwell is speaking to the camera, standing in a rushing stream, a large grizzly bear in the stream behind him, “I’m here with Ollie, the big old grumpy bear. He is the male here, he is the Alpha male. It is the old bear, the one who’s struggling for survival, and an aggressive one at that, who is the one that you must be very careful of… these are the bears who do on occasion kill humans. Could Ollie, the big old bear, possibly kill and eat Timothy Treadwell?” He turns around and says to Ollie: “What do you think Ollie?” He turns back to us, the camera-eye: “I think if you are weak around him, you’re going to go down his gullet - going down the pipe” (GM).

Timothy Treadwell lived in between our meanings, or so it seems, at least had difficulty not falling into the cracks that open up as fissures on the edges of meaning, at the folding of meaning, the edge of symbolization. In the previous sampling from the film, Treadwell expresses that he knows the dangers of living with bears, but he also talks to them and gives them names. Many people see this as a contradiction in terms of his awareness or even sanity, yet the Deleuzian/Gauttarian concept of becoming-animal presupposes that this process is one of losing oneself, of “deadly, violent, rapturous escape from the human world” (Bakke, 2006; 37) In the following quote from the film, a helicopter pilot critical of Treadwell gives us this: “I think he probably lasted as long as he did ‘cause the bears thought there was something wrong with him, that he was mentally retarded or something” (GM). This man, who also says of Treadwell that he thought of the bears as people with bear costumes on, is attributing to the bears quite high-ordered thinking at the same time that he dismisses Treadwell’s efforts because he did this as well.

Even though human beings are not the only animals that generate linguistic domains, “ what is peculiar to them is that, in their linguistic coordination of actions, they give rise to a new, phenomenal domain, viz. the domain of language” (Wolfe quoting Maturana and Varela; 38).

We have a film, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, which gives us testimonies, images, confessions, poetic wanderings, distortions, poetry, lots of hand-held subjective camera action and Timothy Treadwell as a complicated being culminating out of a variety of points of views and opinions and images, including Herzog’s dominant own, which tries to serve as a philosophic thread making Treadwell more than Treadwell; trying to give his abjected life meaning through art and his death – claimed over and over again as “tragic”– in which he and his girlfriend were killed by a bear, art itself in that, as an event, it is the filmic seduction and a driving force for Treadwell’s compulsion to save the bears. What was saved from the creation and duration of this film? What’s left over? What remains?

“[h]uman beings are not just creatures among other creatures but are in some sense more creaturely than other creatures by virtue of an excess that is produced in the space of the political and that, paradoxically, accounts for their “humanity” “ (Santner, 2006; 26).

Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen long summers camping in the Katmai National Park in Alaska, which serves as a bear sanctuary and a tourist site for those wanting to see them in their own habitat. He wanted to get closer and closer to the bears, whose assigned territory the park is, so he returned and year after year in a repetition of deterritorialization, frustration, failure, success, endurance, and growth, naming the bears, recognizing the bears, observing and interacting with the same group of both bears and foxes summer after summer. He was becoming-bear, trying to become bear. His last letter to a friend claimed that his “transformation” was “complete”- his last summer there he became-dead. Santner writes that according to Benjamin, “[W]hat is often missed in the correlation of melancholy with death, deadening, and coldness is, we might say, the manic side of this state… an excess of animation” (Santner; 80). Treadwell shows us this manic excess before the camera as he tapes himself ranting, crying, philosophizing, and enacting a bodily state of being that does, indeed, become bear. Herzog provides us with interviews in which some who knew Treadwell speak of his bipolar tendencies and difficulties with other people and their expectations of him. (For example, he and Jewel Pavolak met when they were both working at a medieval-themed restaurant in which he got into trouble with the management for “walking funny in the dining room”.) Much of his footage, being raw and subjective, displays the cinematic equivalent of this excessive animation.

He formed an organization to support his self-assigned work and to take up causes, such as banning steel traps, with long-time friend Jewel Pavolak (who became heir to his estate and an executive producer of the film) called Grizzly People. During the winters he would go around to schools and present slide shows and speak with children about his experiences. He also wrote a book called Among Grizzlies, and later wrote, with Jewel Pavolak, Among Grizzles: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska (1997). He loved bears and “found himself” in his cause to educate about them and save them from a world he saw as encroaching on them with massive misunderstanding and ill-will. He became somewhat of a celebrity after his second book came out and appeared on some television shows and started a documentary with The Discovery Channel.

Timothy pets the fox sitting on his tarp and says to him, in a different tone of voice usually reserved for children or animals (those on the edge of the symbolic order), “ thanks for being my friend!” He looks to the camera –to us– and says: “We patrol the Grizzly Sanctuary together. Over a decade ago he left his mother and father’s side, promptly peed on my shoes, and that was it, he was my friend: Timmy-The-Fox… and we watch over things.” His voice is gentle and he is still petting the fox: “You can see the bond that has developed between this very wild animal, and this fairly wild person… we ask the public to please stop killing the foxes. If they knew how beautiful he was and how sweet he was, they would never hurt him” (GM).

He was both scorned and loved, but mostly scorned by members of the scientific/academic arenas. Bear “experts” and other conservationists openly judged his character negatively and criticized him for not following the “proper” scientific approach to the studying of wild animals. In reflecting on this critique based in a specific and historicized form of knowledge and in an ontological viewpoint on how humans should deal with wild animals, I turn again to Derrida who posited that there are “two types of discourse, two positions of knowledge, two grand forms of theoretical or philosophical treatise regarding the animal… those texts signed by people who have no doubt seen, observed, analyzed, reflected on the animal, but who have never been seen by the animal,” in which he places philosophers and theorists, and the second category being “found among those whose signatories are first and foremost poets or prophets, in the situation of poetry or prophecy, those men and women who admit taking upon themselves the address of an animal that addresses them,” he then notably states that: “I have found no such representative” (my italics, 383).

We know what is really out there only from
the animal’s gaze; for we take the very young
child and force it around, so that it sees
objects – not the Open, which is so
deep in animals’ faces (Rilke quoted in Santner; 2)

Here is Rainer Maria Rilke’s notion of the Open, which predates Heidegger’s: “What Rilke privileges as uninhibited movement within the Open, Heidegger sees as a purely functional and instinctual captivation by an environment,” (Santner; 8).

Rilke praises the capacity of plant and animal life to inhabit a seemingly borderless surround that he names as the environmental correlate or sphere of the creature, das Offene –the Open… [M]an is forever caught in the labor of the negative – the (essentially defensive) mapping and codification of object domains that allow for certain sorts of desire and possession but never what Rilke posits as the unimaginable enjoyment of self-being in otherness as manifested by the creature (Santner; 1–2).

“Hi,” he says to the bear called Grinch, “how are you? Don’t do that,” he says as the female bear makes a grunt and comes closer, as he rises up and becomes taller. The bear walks away, “it’s okay, I love you, I’m sorry” (Treadwell in GM).

Grizzly Man is a film, and thus a creative enterprise, that offers us Treadwell as an example of Santner’s melancholic creature and as one whose refusal of the symbolic order opened up the multiplicity that is (that are) the Animal (the animals) à la Derrida. This multiplicity is inherent to the work of Werner Herzog and, in this specific film, includes space for affect, bodily expression, and fantasy, all potentialities crossing through and between Lacan’s three psychic registers. It seems that the fact that it is a film is overlooked in the recall of it by many people, people preferring somehow to focus on the man Timothy Treadwell as someone they could actually know. We can attribute this partially to the film’s status as a documentary, yet in the work of Werner Herzog, which spans over thirty years and forty-six films, the distinction between fact and fiction in cinema is intellectually offensive for reasons of intention: “Cinema, like poetry, is inherently able to present a number of dimensions much deeper than the level of the so-called truth that we find in cinema verité and even reality itself, and it is these dimensions that are the most fertile areas for filmmakers” (Herzog quoted in Cronin, 2002; 239). This blurring of the line between truth and fiction – the line as a claim which is troublesome always – is essential in cinema as a mode of experience and a variation of perception that is one of its many nodal points; the negotiations of fantasy and reality in our non-celluloid world is a whirling mass of uncertainty that continuously aims at these “other dimensions” that Herzog speaks of. An image of an image, a representation of a representation, cinema carries the weight of desperate expectations for fixidity, for borderlines and a secure subject position, for a secure idea of what it means to be human:

“Because human life is essentially reflective, mediated through consciousness and self-consciousness, man’s relation to things is crossed with borders, articulated within a matrix of representations that position him, qua subject, over against the world, qua object of desire and mastery” (Santner; 1).

Yet film has “a pervasive sense of absence at the heart of its representation” (Burgoyne 1992; 140), and is “both a symbolic system and imaginary operation” (ibid) that has the potential to speak to our desires and our fears. My premise concerning Timothy Treadwell, as portrayed in the film, is that, as a subject, he is such a threat to most peoples’ conception of their status in the world that the construction of him, by film, becomes overshadowed in its’ insistence. And, more importantly – and sadly – Herzog’s poetic project of having the film be about “deep human nature”, as opposed to a film about a particular man, gets lost by some.

The challenge and difficulty of Herzog may be simply that he is the essential fatherless child of contemporary cinema: where politics and history tend to vaporize in the substance of the images which represent them and where the critical viewer is always and only threatened by his or her own fantasies (Corrigan, 1986; 19).

That so many people who have seen Grizzly Man respond with illogical extremes of vitriol towards the man (as opposed to the subject within the film) Treadwell, going so far as to say that he deserved his violent death 12 , speaks to the expectation placed on film as a medium of transferring reality unscathed. Herzog’s films “refuse[s] the spectator the satisfaction of a homocentric perspective, while still positioning the spectator in narrative desire. The difficult irony implicit in this action is that it forces perceptual desire to confront its real object – the unsocialized acquisition of the world as material image, not language” (Corrigan; 15). Psychoanalytic film theory focuses on the construction of fantasy that occurs at the intersection of the spectator and the film itself, yet “fantasy is never simply wish-fulfillment, but a compromise formation in which… repressed ideas can find expression only through censorship and distortion; the compromise between desire and the law” (Burgoyne, 1992; 142). Treadwell, as creature, bypassed the law (or was abjected from it) in his transgression of borders: between human and animal, between language and affect, between nature and civilization, and also the one set up by the Law –the National Park Service– to keep the bears and people separate (although the business of tourism there thrives). People view Treadwell in Grizzly Man through conflicted desires of both retaining and losing their own sense of what it is to be human.

Who put the weight of the world on my shoulders?
Who put the lies in the truth that you sold us?
Lost behind the silver screen are all the things you could’ve been
In love and life (Gallagher, 2005).

The very beginning of the film shows us a ghost. The words “Timothy Treadwell (1957–2003)” are superimposed over the image of Treadwell as we first see him, introducing us to the two bears behind him on a green expanse of grassland with snow-capped mountains on the horizon, Ed and Rowdy. “I must hold my own if I’m going to stay within this land,” he tells us. He speaks of the violence that will happen to him if he shows weakness, “but so far I persevere”. He speaks of having to become “fearless of death,” and needing to “become one of them” in order to survive. “I can smell death all over my fingers” (GM). The film doubles backwards and forwards onto itself in his presence and ultimate absence. As it is, he is but a re-presentation, but this introduction tells us that this man is already dead, though we see him standing before us, speaking of his own death in uncanny proximity to it. The death itself is never shown, but Herzog creates passages in which the site of it is revisited, as if the place of death itself can tell us something through its forgetfulness and retention: the grass continues to grow and the yet the place is marked by ruin.

The opacity and recalcitrance that we associate with the materiality of nature –the mute “thingness” of nature– is, paradoxically, most palpable when we encounter it as a piece of human history that has become an enigmatic ruin beyond our capacity to endow it with meaning, to integrate it into our symbolic universe… [W]here a piece of the human world presents itself as a surplus that both demands and resists symbolization, that is both inside and outside the “symbolic order” (Santner; xv).

In another uncanny element to the film and its’ balancing of life and death, Treadwell’s video camera recorded his and his girlfriend Amy Huguenard’s deaths with the lens cap on so that there exists a six minute long audio tape of the fatal attack. In the film Herzog listens to it with headphones on as Jewel Pavolak watches him facially responding. Herzog cannot finish listening to it and, as he removes his headphones, he tells Jewel that she must never listen to it, that she should destroy it. We also have a scene in which the coroner who examined the remains of Treadwell and Huguenard speaks of what he heard on the tape, how Treadwell yelled at Amy to run away, that he was being killed. Without getting into the specifics of these actions, I think it important to focus on the ephemeral nature of this piece of history as, not only sound without a body, but a presence in the film that is an aching absence, one that we may crave to hear for the sake of completion. Yet this aural event is a surplus knowledge that must remain unknowable; it is a reflection of the Real that we cannot see yet which fixes us in its own gaze as Herzog, through these choices, mysitifies our desire.

Much of the footage that he shot of himself is journalistic and confessional, and Herzog’s selectivity of it in his film gives Treadwell space for an ample voice to express his misgivings, his anger, and his questions, as well as his inner confusion over his place in the world and his lack of belonging in the symbolic order. “The radical potential of a film can be considered in terms of its ability to “rupture” fixed positions of identification and the coherence of the subject’s unified state,” (Burgoyne; 155).

In his diaries, Treadwell speaks of the human world as something foreign. He made a clear distinction between the bears’ and the peoples’ world, which moved further and further into the distance. Wild, primordial nature was where he felt truly home (Herzog in GM).

His characters, like his films, are again and again drawn to the power of language as a vehicle for dramatizing, producing, and communicating their desires, but at the same time, they are revolted… before language’s murderously reductive properties (Corrigan: 16).

“It seems to me that my coming into this world was a terrible fall,” (Kasper Hauser in Herzog’s film The Enigma of Kasper Hauser).

From the Real to the symbolic, from innocence and not-knowing, to forbidden knowledge and prohibitions, this “fall” is a condition of self-awareness that some claim is exclusive to human life. This self-awareness –this knowing of oneself– is fraught with misrecognition and dependent on a naming function that relies on language as our ontological foundation. Psychoanalytically speaking, the identification that the spectator is expected to take on when viewing a film is a flawed relation; “this relation remains one of alterity in which there is a measure of nonrecognition, nonencounter, and anxiety” (Burgoyne quoting Copjec; 173). Grizzly Man splits open again into multiplicities in, not only Treadwell’s alterity, but in that of film itself.

In Eric Santner’s book On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald, he explores and expounds upon the notion of human life that is made creaturely by the effects of modernity, of which cinema has certainly been a force. He writes that in Kafka’s work, “creatureliness is a by-product of exposure to what we might call the excitations of power, those enigmatic bits of address and interpellation that disturb the social space –and bodies– of his protagonists” (Santner; 24). The same can be said of the general characters of Herzog’s filmic oeuvre:

Herzog has been attracted to fringe figures who obsessively entertain strange, often quixotic ideas, that strain against the limits posed by their humanity… [M]oving toward the edge –of civilization, of sanity, of simple bodily safety– is something that Herzog himself does, along with his films’ subjects, again and again” (Childers, 2005; 2).

This movement and this edge call attention to the limits of the human within the symbolic order and within territorialized space. To base one’s being on language is to miss the very nature of that which remains both inside and outside of oneself: “[I]n identifying himself with language, the speaking man places his own muteness outside of himself, as already and not yet human” (Agamben; 34–35). According to Agamben, the “anthropological machine of the moderns… functions by excluding as not (yet) human an already human being from itself, that is, by animalizing the human, by isolating the nonhuman within the human… the animal separated within the human body itself” (37).

Man’s subordination to the course of natural history is a consequence of a spiritual supplement that separates man from animal while in some sense making him more animal than animal, this “more” being the very seal of his “creatureliness” (Santner; 105).

In approaching both the question of the animal/human divide, and an alternate dimension that images help point to, (according to Herzog) let us step aside for a moment to explore an interesting corollary that exists between Grizzly Man and Herzog’s film of 1974, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, or Every Man For Himself and God Against All. Though a fictionalized account, the story is based on and interlaced with historical truths regarding the life of a man who, at nineteen, appeared on the streets of Nuremberg one day holding a note that spoke of how he couldn’t be cared for anymore and that he wanted to be “a good rider, like his father”. Over the next few years he was taken in by various people and, after learning how to speak enough, he revealed that he had been raised in a box and had had no human contact except for a mysterious stranger who brought him food and books. He became something of a minor celebrity and, five years after he was appeared in civilization, he was murdered. DNA evidence now supports the theory that he was a member of a powerful family who may have wanted him dead for purposes of inheritance.

Herzog’s Kasper Hauser was played by a Berlin street musician, Bruno S., who was abused as a young child and spent the majority of his life living in various institutions. His casting brought realism to the film beyond the initial story of the real Kasper Hauser. Herzog went on to write a film specifically for Bruno S. called Stroszek (1976), which used the real-life character of Bruno S. in the role of a man who travels to America with his prostitute girlfriend and aging neighbor to seek out a new life. They end up in the middle of Wisconsin living in a mortgaged mobile home and experiencing depths of both freedom and despair. Both films end with death, about which Bruno S. remarked, “that the cause of death was Heimweh [homesickness]” (Quoted by Herzog in Cronin; 123).

[h]owever one might defend the revolutionary stance of Herzog’s central in relation to the conventional bourgeois society that surrounds them, the significance and the articulation of their radical ways of seeing become dependent on a kind of death, failure, or expulsion (Corrigan; 13).

The real and fictional character of Bruno S., and what occurs in these films, is another example, alongside Treadwell, of creaturely life, but Santner himself, with the inspiration of Walter Benjamin, sees this creaturely life as a potential “dimension of the miraculous (in the ethicopolitical realm)” that may lead to an “uncoupling from the mode of subjectivity/subjectivization proper to it” (Santner; 15-16).

Although Herzog came across the footage and plans to make Grizzly Man quite coincidentally, it seems as if Timothy Treadwell and his life and death were written by Herzog himself, and his images composed by him as well. This synchronicity, in and of itself, is a testament to the inner workings of chance and happenstance and of a life –Herzog’s– propelled by a line of flight that leaves enough room for integration and, dare I say it, redemption. He says in his Fresh Air radio interview: ”I follow a vision that has not failed to guide me… [I] have always looked for something deeper, an ecstatic truth, an ecstasy of truth, some illumination…” Treadwell’s video images show us things we have never seen before; to see a man swim with a bear, gently touching hand to nose, is to open up a world closed to us by lack of both imagination and access to Rilke’s Open. To be placed in a cinematic virtuality of bodily and affective commingling with Treadwell as his hand-held camera plays a form of tag with Timmy-The-Fox is an example of “something deeper.”

If we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs. We need images in harmony with our civilization and our innermost conditioning, and this is the reason why I like any film that searches for new images no matter in what direction it moves or what story it tells. One must dig like an archeologist and search our violated landscape to find anything new. One must go to war, if need be, to find these unprocessed and fresh images (Herzog quoted in Cronin; 139).

“I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals” (Treadwell in GM).

I would say, then, that in Herzog’s quest for new images that will save us, in his searching for ecstatic truths, there is a form of jouissance that his characters fall prey to in their seemingly mundane deaths, which are rarely seen on film yet known through filmic devices: “a final abandonment of subjectivity which probably creates some unspeakable type of pleasure of the ecstatic kind” (Bakke; 25). Treadwell does not refuse his jouissance as expected within the constraints of the symbolic order; he refuses castration in turning to his fantasy of becoming-bear: “[T]he becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human being becomes is not” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987; 238). Timothy Treadwell certainly knew the cost of this alterity: “no one ever knew that my life was on the precipice of death” (Treadwell in GM). And in thinking of death, I turn to more becoming:

[t]he self is only a threshold, a door, a becoming between two multiplicities. Each multiplicity is defined by a borderline functioning as Anomalous, but there is a string of borderlines, a continuous line of borderlines (fiber) following which the multiplicity changes (D & G; 249).

Timothy Treadwell didn’t want to negate his “animal nature”; he too, like Georges Bataille, had a life that could be viewed as an “open wound” and, rather than emanating a “negativity with no use” (Bataille quoted in Agamben; 7), he elected to become-animal, not negate the animal necessarily within. The harsh response to Treadwell as someone who went “too close” to “the bears” is a response to Treadwell-as-animal; he cannot –would not– be tamed or domesticated as completely as would make most of us comfortable: he is other. We fear his disavowal of ourselves. “In such moments, on the edge of the thing, in the immanence of the best or the worst, when anything can happen, where I can die with shame or pleasure, I no longer know in whose or in what direction to throw myself” (Derrida; 379). The solitude and despair that Herzog attributes to him was a line of flight necessary for him to withstand his life, as he chose it. This creatureliness is, as Santner supposes, one of contemplation, and as Derrida supposes, one of attentiveness (to the other).





1. Lyrics from song “Heroes” by David Bowie (1977).
2. Taken from an interview with David Sterritt in MovieMaker magazine online, “The Ecstasy of Truth.”
3. I use the term jouissance throughout the paper in the Lacanian manner of excess and a shattering of subjectivity that occurs through painful pleasure.
4. A remark that points to the contemporary questioning of knowledge itself –in terms of its production, possession, distribution, aesthetics and affects– notably in the need for it in the area of pedagogy (for example as realized in the works of Francois Lyotard and Brian Massumi).
5. Taken from an interview with Herzog by Dave Davies on the National Public Radio show Fresh Air, January 13, 2006.
6. This published work represents the first part of a ten-hour lecture that Derrida gave at a conference devoted to his work called L’Animal Autobiographique in Cerisy-la-Salle, France in July of 1997.
7. This idea of creaturely life being based, in this paper, on Eric Santner’s book On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald (2006).
8. Referring to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “becoming”, as explored thoroughly in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987).
9. The use of the term “symbolic order’ is referring throughout the paper to Jacques Lacan’s conception of it as the psychic realm we occupy as civilized, socialized subjects, and implicitly recognizes his other two realms, the real and the imaginary, which are also cited within the paper.
10. As Haraway contends, the “other” –or even the “significant other”– should not be limited by species.
11. The Canadian poet and essayist Tim Lilburn writes of “the brokenness of language,” and poetry as a way of “leaning into the world… [T]he desire to know the world behind its name is the death of knowing which is objective…” (16, 13)
12. Heard in three separate personal conversations.



Agamben, Giorgio (2004). The Open. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Bakke, Monika (2006). “The Predicament of Zoopleasures,” in the catalogue for the exhibit Zoological Gardens, Harry Malter Family Park, Heusden, Belgium August 26th, 2006 until October 1st, 2006. Retrieved online 08/01/2006 from

Bowie, David. “Heroes.” Heroes. Virgin Records, 1977.

Braunstein, Nestor A. (2003). “Desire and Jouissance in the Teachings of Lacan,” in The Cambridge Companion to Lacan. Editor Jean-Michel Rabate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Burgoyne, Robert (1992). New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics: Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Beyond. New York, NY: Routledge.

Childers, Doug (2006). “Traveling In Dark Places: Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man,” in WAG: A Magazine For Decadent Readers, September 18, 2006. Retrieved online on 07/26/2006 from

Copjec, Joan (1986). “The Delirium of Clinical Perfection,” in the Oxford Literary Review, vol. 8, nos. 1/2.

Corrigan, Timothy, ed. (1986). The Films of Werner Herzog: Between Mirage and History. New York, NY: Methuen, Inc.

Cronin, Paul, ed. (2002). Herzog on Herzog. New York, NY: Faber and Faber Limited.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1997). “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” in Critical Inquiry 28, Winter 2002.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Every Man For Himself And God Against All)
. Dir. Werner Herzog, 1974. DVD. Anchor Bay, 2004.

Gallagher, Noel. “Who Put The Weight Of The World On My Shoulders.” Goal (Soundtrack). Big Brother, 2005.

Greer, Germaine (2006). “That Sort of Self-delusion Is What It Takes to Be A Real Aussie,” in The Guardian Unlimited, September 5, 2006. Retrieved online on 09/09/2006 from http:://,,1865124,00.html.

Grizzly Man. Dir. Werner Herzog, 2005. DVD. Lion’s Gate Films and Discovery Docs, 2005.

Hamm, Jennifer (2004). “Circe’s Truth: On the Way to Animals and Women,” in A Nietzschean Bestiary. Eds. Christa Davis Acampora and Ralph R. Acampora. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Haraway, Donna (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago, IL: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Herzog, Werner. Interview with Dave Davies. Fresh Air. WHYY, Philadelphia, January 13, 2006.

Lilburn, Tim (2002). Living In The World As If It Were Home. Toronto, ON, Canada: Cormorant Books.

Maturana, Humberto R. and Varela, Francisco J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel Publishing Co.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. (1922/1992). Duino Elegies. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Santner, Eric L. (2006). On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Sterritt, David (2006). “The Ecstasy of Truth,” in MovieMaker, Issue 59. Retrieved 08/01/2006, from

Stroszek. Dir. Werner Herzog, 1976. DVD. Anchor Bay, 2004.

Wolfe, Cary, ed. (2003). “Introduction,” in Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

–– “In The Shadow of Wittgenstein’s Lion: Language, Ethics, and the Question of the Animal,” in Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.



©All rights reserved by Gayle Gorman. Please contact for citations.