Reducing the unknown to the known is the aim of every act of knowledge and every experience, from mythology to science and the various forms of exploration of our world, but it is also typical of Western civilization to perform this kind of reductive operation by distorting and weakening the object of our attention, absorbing and misrepresenting it, so that it is often reduced to the level of a commodity or mere entertainment. The zoo is in fact a kind of theme park where life, with its dimension of the unusual and the marvellous, is taken away from our everyday experience and is hermetically closed off and vacuum-packed inside the box of a vulgar and low-quality spectacle. With the merging of the “natural” into such an “unnatural” context the false and artificial scenario is totally dominant, and it has the sweet and cloying taste of an obscure and clichéd art-house film, emerging grotesquely from an indecorous and tasteless trivialization of uncontaminated nature. But in this scenario there is also an element of attraction which is almost nostalgic, because in its failed or unrealized purpose of building a bridge between civilization and nature the zoo accentuates the immense distance that now exists between them. With the animal as the central “punctum” or perceptual pivot it suddenly brings home to us the full extent of this irreparable loss, while at the same time reassuring us of the safely controlled banality of our world.
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