The essay “The Loss of the Creature” deals with one of the most important, but often unremarked aspects of the modern world: the effect that this world has had on our ability to experience the things within it. The essay considers areas of life through which people either seek to learn information or through which they seek to have experiences, and it comments directly on the way n which the efficacy of these experiences have irrevocably lost. At the same, however, the essay seemingly attempt to claim throughout that the fact that this experience has been lost does not effect the idea that it may once have existed, or even that it may hypothetically return. As such, in order to understand the “loss” with which the essay is concerned, it is necessary to understand both how this experience can be deemed to be absent or impossible in modern life, and how it can be understood to have been present in times that lacked contemporary methods of travel and communication.
The essay begins by contemplating the overwhelming feeling of awe and surprise that must have greeted the first person to discover the Grand Canyon. This feeling is presented as being entirely singular and as taking complete control of the person who feels it is. Such a person would have had no reference point through which to understand what they were seeing and, as such, it would necessarily have appeared as something almost transcendental in its power. The fact that this effect is entirely on the unprecedented nature of the experience also means that it cannot replicated or even remembered in its full intensity. Rather, it forms an idea through which any experience of the canyon is mediated, but to which this experience cannot actually ever compare. Indeed, the modern tourist industry is described as following directly from the idea that such an original experience of can be reproduced but that this reproduction will always be unsatisfactory.
This reproduction, however, is impossible, and instead the essay argues that people who visit tourist attractions have an essentially tautological experience. They pay to see something that have already seen countless times in pictures and in films. In essence, they pay to have an experience that they have already had. Not only doe this mean that the original experience of the canyon is impossible, but it also means that the person who is attempting to retrieve this experience is forced into the position of watching themselves do so. In this situation, experience itself becomes the experience of using pre-aid destinations in order to write one’s own script. Such a narrative does not represent any actual immediate experience, but it rather comes to demonstrate that a person in the modern world has become almost completely alienated from their own self, and is indeed only able to understand their life from the perspective of an abstraction.
It is this abstraction, and the necessity of participating in it that forms the focus of the second part of the essay. Here the author notes that difference between scientific reasoning and lived experience and suggests that the former has come to replace the latter to the extent that it is no longer even possible to think about an object as if it is something that forms a part of one’s world . Instead, according to the author, science has meant that people now only relate to objects as if they were specimens, rather than living, dynamic things. Crucially, this idea of the specimen serves the same function as the tourist experience in that it is always in a particular pre-determined shape or form. A specimen of an animal species is always understood as being an instantiation of this species before it is understood as being an actual singular thing in and of itself. As such, the author claims that the modern world is one in which the all things are treated as mere examples of other things.
Not only does the author claim that this has affected the way that science relates to objects, but they also insists that the specimen should be seen to be the dominant paradigm through which consumers approach all of their goods in the modern world. Even when people are convinced that they are buying singular goods, they are in fact simply buying specimens of products that are mass produced and are designed to serve millions of people in the same way. Any kind of experience is therefore predicated on the capacity for this experience to be universal and to be shared between all kinds of different people. Not only doe the specimen come to form the dominant paradigm through which one should understand objects of experience, it also comes to form the way in which one should understand the person who has this experience. The producers of goods understand the people who buy them as simply being specimens of consumers, and not as actual living and breathing people. The physical characteristics of a person person, or the nuances of their personality are completely irrelevant. Rather, all that matters is that they buy the product in question.
As such, “The Loss of the Creature” essay can be seen to take the hypothetical idea of a singular experience and show how this has been transformed into a specimen that can be consumed by a person who themselves has simply been reduced to a specimen by the people who sell this experience. However, while the author is able to show effectively the way that experience may have been compromised by modern institutions and methods of production, they do not consider how this may fundamentally change the conception of an original experience. Indeed, they seem to argue that this experience should remain a concept that can be effectively compared to the modern experience. Another way of arguing, however, would be to suggest that modern institutions should call into question the degree to which any idea of an original or individual experience can be said to have ever existed. If one was to do this, then it would be possible to trace the kind alienation that “The Loss of the Creature” discusses significantly further back in time than the birth of the modern tourist industry.