Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Finding Integration

Posted by lisagbrown on January 7, 2009

cgan738lI recently suffered a minor injury that has caused me to limit my writing and use of the computer. You may have noticed that this has altered the length and quantity of my blog postings over the last month. The experience has been frustrating and painful, but it has also forced me to slow down and take a step back. The injury has placed me very viscerally inside of my physical body, and while that is not always a pleasant place to be right now, it has also enabled me to reflect upon how long it’s been since I’ve been there. Here. That is, inside this living, breathing physical structure. The truth is that I typically spend most of my time inside my creaky, crowded brain and even my relationship with animals — my queries, feelings and thoughts — has become the dominion of my intellect, rather than my visceral core.

There was a time when the reverse was true — I worked with animals at a job that had very little room for braininess. My work was about connecting with the animals on a deeply emotional level, communicating with them through movement, touch and a rawness that people sometimes call instinct. The way that I felt about those beings transcended wordy description or heady explanation. I was strongly rooted in my body because that physicality helped me to understand the needs of my animal charges. It made me a better caretaker and a skilled communicator.  

But ultimately, the physical intelligence I honed at that job led me to realize that I was missing a piece of the animal puzzle. Despite my visceral understanding of these particular animals (and the colony as a whole), there were larger questions that I needed to ask.  So I left my job in order to learn about the history, culture, philosophy, ethics and policy surrounding human relationships with animals. I set up camp in a place that was all brain and thought and intellect. Many of my questions were answered, which led to more questions, and more answers, and more questions, still. And I lived in that cycle until about a month ago, when my body broke down and reminded me that, literally and figuratively, I had forgotten my physical roots.

My two divergent selves — intellect and body — inform me about how to understand animals.  I have found multiple ways to communicate with animals, to see them fully and completely, yet I have not found a way to join together these two sides of myself, to enable brain and body to connect and communicate with each other in order to facilitate an integrated understanding of animals. It is this integration — of the visceral and the intellectual — that is, in some sense, at the very core of human-animal studies. This is not a battle over who has what — animals have instinct, humans have smarts, or vice versa — this is an acceptance of the fact that there can be no holistic understanding of  animals unless we humans are more fully integrated selves. Or, let me state it another way. I’m not sure I can achieve a deeper understanding of animals until I achieve more integration between my intellectual and visceral understandings of animals.

At the very least, I think that’s what my strained body is trying to tell me, and these days I’m trying very hard to listen.

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2 Responses to “Finding Integration”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear of your injury. I’ve been through something similar in the past and I can relate to the movement between a cerebral sort of relationship to animals and embodiment. But since this duality seems so entrenched, I’ve been trying to research and conceive of alternate models.

    Eduardo Kohn, in “How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagement,” focuses on entanglements of human and animal selves. Here’s one quote: “In understanding nonhuman selves and how we can interact with them, the choice is not between (animal) bodies and (human) meanings. Nor can we simply resolve the problem by combining bodies and meanings, or by attributing meaning to animals, or even by recognizing that humans, too, have bodies. What is needed is a representational system that regrounds semiosis in a way that gets beyond these sorts of dualisms and the mixtures that often serve as their resolutions.” Quite a proposition! But I love his work, along with Donna Haraway’s.

    I hope you continue to mend and integrate. Keep us posted!

  2. Judy said

    Dear Lisa,
    I’m sorry you are in pain, but as usual, you have found a way to learn from adversity. Take care of yourself. Critters-of-the-World need you at your best.
    Love ~ Judy

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