“I know the Butterfly — and the Lizard — and the Orchis.
Are not those your Countrymen?” (Emily Dickinson)
This has been one of my main interests in the past years: the research for a zoopoetics.
From obsessively reading about the evolution of our darling species in books such as ‘The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body’ by Steven Mithen, or the best-selling ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari, to literary authors from the sprawling latitudes/longitudes who have dedicated their efforts to a comprehension of non-human consciousness.
Franz Kafka’s ‘A Report to an Academy’ („Ein Bericht für eine Akademie“, 1917) and Virginia Woolf’s ‘Flush: A Biography’. Ted Hughes and his poems as a ‘Crow’ (1970), or the so-called zoosemiotics of William Faulkner in ‘As I Lay Dying’ (1930). Zoopoetics has been described as “the process of discovering innovative breakthroughs in form through an attentiveness to another species‘ bodily poiesis.” Some of the most cited critical works on the subject are Jacques Derrida’s ‘The Animal that Therefore I Am’ (1997), and within the literary field itself, ‘Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry’ by Aaron Moe.
The publication ‘Humanimalia: A Journal of Human/Animal Interface Studies’ is dedicated entirely to the subject.
In Brazil this has a particular interest and power for the conflation and conflict of an European anthropocentric view and the various Amerindian anthropomorphic perspectives, as studied by anthropologists Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Tania Stolze Lima. The main book on the subject, ‘A Inconstância da Alma Selvagem’ (Viveiros de Castro, 2002), has been recently translated into German by Oliver Precht and released by publisher Turia + Kant as ,Die Unbeständigkeit der wilden Seele‘, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
It is very hard to summarize such a concept as “Amerindian perspectivism”, so I will refer here to a “general overview” from the Oxford Bibliography:
In the literary field in Brazil, this has been studied by Maria Esther Maciel, citing a few of the Brazilian writers who have dedicated texts to non-human consciousness, such as poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade and his “An Ox Looks At Men” or Clarice Lispector’s many texts dedicated to chickens and cockroaches. The indigenous beliefs on metamorphosis and shamanism have appeared most strongly in João Guimarães Rosa, especially his text ‘Meu Tio o Iaueretê’, translated into German by Curt Meyer-Clason as ,Mein Onkel der Jaguar‘. I may return to this, but for now I end with the poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, in English translation by Mark Strand.
Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)
An Ox Looks At Man
They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack
I don’t know what basic ingredient, though they present
themselves as noble or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of the air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes — and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them —
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy — it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm,
lasting and necessary. They have, perhaps,
a kind of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to uttering silly and painful sounds: desire, love, jealousy
(what do we know?) — sounds that scatter and fall in the field
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and the water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.
(translated from the Portuguese by Mark Strand)