Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Monkeys, Marsupials and Emus on Superbowl Sunday: A Salon with Sy Montgomery and Dale Peterson

Posted by lisagbrown on February 7, 2010

While the rest of Boston was glued to Superbowl Sunday TV, a small group of animal-minded individuals gathered in the brick annex of Newtonville Books to chat with authors Sy Montgomery (Walking with the Great Apes) and Dale Peterson (Elephant Reflections). The Pen/New England event wasn’t a typical book reading. In fact, no one even cracked open a book. Instead, the two authors casually entertained the group with stories of how they began writing about animals. And when that was through, the group of us stood sipping wine and eating cheese, chatting up the charmingly humble authors in the tradition of an old fashioned “salon.”

Dale shared a story about how he used to do carpentry for Steve Jobs in the 80’s, and how he found his voice while travelling the world in pursuit of the 10 most endangered primates. Sy extolled her love of Emus, and explained the depression she endured when she left her six-month stint in the outback of Australia. Even though both Dale and Sy have books coming out soon, neither read passages from their books. Instead, they shared a little of themselves: their writing process, their personal relationships with animals, and their experiences with publishers. “When you can’t believe in yourself, and I often can’t, you can believe in the animals you apprentice yourself to,” explained Sy.

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Conservation, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Photography, Primates, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Animals in Graphic Novels

Posted by lisagbrown on October 19, 2009

If you’re wondering why Animal Inventory is a little slow these days, let me assure that it’s for good reason. I’m hard at work on lots of exciting projects, and I’d like to share one of them with you: I’m guest-editing the June 2010 issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The theme of the issue puts my favorite topic in the context of one of my favorite artistic mediums: animals in graphic novels.

buddhacoverCover art from Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha

Here in Boston we just had our first snow, so it may seem odd to busy myself with something that’s debuting in June. Yet, for those of us who are working on the issue, June is right around the corner! If you or someone you know may be interested in contributing to this issue, please take a look at the call for papers below.

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (www.antennae.org.uk) is seeking submission for its June 2010 issue devoted to the subject of “animals in graphic novels.”

The issue will primarily focus on papers that examine contemporary graphic novels; examples of these might include Pride of Baghdad (Brian K. Vaughan), First in Space (James Vining), the works of Osamu Tezuka, Animal Man (Grant Morrison), Rabbi’s Cat (Joann Sfar), Fables (Bill Willingham), and Maus (Art Spiegelman), among others. Papers that examine the subjects of comics for children and comic strips that appear in newspapers may also be considered, depending on the originality of the contextualisation through which they may be presented.

We are looking at gathering a wide range of perspectives, themes and ideas within the broad scope of “animals in graphic novels.” These may include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Exploring animality in the graphic novel medium
– Representing the human/animal divide
– Positive and negative aspects of anthropomorphism
– Becoming animal
– Links between sexism, racism and speciesism
– Non-western graphic novels
– The challenges of animal first-person narratives
– Ecocriticism and nature in graphic novels

As per usual Antennae is open to consideration of academic essays as well as fiction and experimental writing. Submission of abstracts and proposals is 1st of December 2009. Final deadline for submissions is 1st of March 2010. For any questions please contact Giovanni Aloi and Lisa Brown (Guest Editor of the Animals in Graphic Novels Issue) at antennaeproject@gmail.com

Posted in Animals, Art, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Antennae, Issue 11: Insecta

Posted by lisagbrown on September 27, 2009

The newest issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture is now available for download. The theme of the issue is insects — namely, our uncomfortable relationship with them and how we can come to see beauty in creepy crawlies. The issue was inspired by Pestival, a week-long festival in London celebrating insects. As Giovanni Aloi, editor-in-chief of Antennae, says:

…this issue of Antennae looks at some of the most challenging and interesting contemporary artists working with insects. The “excuse” for ‘Insecta’ to be released right now is Pestival 2009, “A festival celebrating insects in art, and the art of being an insect” which took place at London’s Southbank Centre this September. Pestival’s aim is to examine insect-human interactivity in bioscience through paradigms of contemporary art, cinema, music and comedy as well as through direct scientific demonstration and educational projects.

Antennae Issue 11

Click on the image above to be redirected to the Antennae homepage.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Music, Photography, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Low-Calorie Monkeys and Roger Cohen’s Meaning of Life

Posted by lisagbrown on July 18, 2009

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In the July 15, 2009 New York Times, op-ed writer Roger Cohen responds to a recently published study that claims that ingesting one-third fewer calories may slow the aging process. The study draws this conclusion based on the controlled eating habits of a group of monkeys where half the monkeys have been denied one third of their regular caloric intake. 37% of the control group, fed a normal monkey diet, have died of old age, while only 13% of the underfed group have passed away.

In his article “The Meaning of Life,” Cohen introduces a new perspective to this story — one that the mainstream media hasn’t considered in its flurry over finding a potential fountain of youth. As he explains, “the issue arises of how these primates… are feeling, and whether these feelings impact their desire to live.” In this short but succinct statement, Cohen has turned the tables on the experiment and the resulting press coverage. Not only is he questioning the validity of the study’s conclusions, he is also asking his readership to consider the experiences of these monkeys as individuals. In wondering about the monkeys’ desire to live, he pointedly forces the reader to examine not just the food intake of the animals, but also their living situation, social structure and enrichment needs, as well. While other media outlets see hope for humans waistlines reflected in the photo of the monkeys, Cohen brings attention to everything in the photo around the monkeys — the sterile cages and metal mesh flooring, and the stark contrast of the brightly colored toys that seemed decidedly un-fun and untouched. Cohen seems to ask his readers whether this looks like a life worth living.

Yet Cohen goes on to dissect the expressions of the pictured monkeys, claiming that the larger simian, Owen (above, right), has a “wry smile” and the slender monkey, Canto (above, left), looks “miserable in his thinness,” and here is where I have to diverge with his line of thinking. It’s difficult to know from a single photograph the lifelong mood or feelings of an animal — or, well, of anyone for that matter. And as some of Cohen’s readers point out in the online comments section of the article, there are other photos of the monkeys in which the thin monkey looks perfectly content, and the plump monkey looks unhappy. It is a fair assumption that Cohen knew about these other photos when he wrote his article. Which begs the question: If pictures are worth 1000 words, then whose thousand words do these photos reveal? The scientists’ thousand? Cohen’s thousand? Certainly not the monkeys’ thousand.

As I read the rest of Cohen’s article, it became clear to me that Cohen was, in part, using these monkeys as a literary device; a means to get to the heart of what he really wanted to discuss — the meaning of happiness in life. He praises the merits of red wine, the pleasures of eating rich foods, and the enhancing benefits of love, all while using plump Owen’s wry smile as an example of the happiness that living lushly can produce. But there’s an uncomfortable dissonance to his point, because despite Cohen’s intentions, his idea of a life fully lived doesn’t remotely resemble the realities of Owen’s captive life — regardless of whether or not Owen has access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

It is the prerogative of a writer to find alternate meanings in otherwise commonplace events, or to find the common threads in disparate stories in order to bring greater understanding to a theme. This is what Cohen strives to do by pairing the evocative monkey portraits with his musings on living happily. But when I first started reading Cohen’s article, I did not think that the monkeys were a literary means to an end. And for all the obvious reasons, Cohen’s article does not dissect the lives of these monkeys as deeply as I hoped he would.

On July 6, 2009, Cohen wrote an extraordinarily moving article for the New York Times about the tyranny in Iran called, “A Journalist’s ‘Actual Responsibility’.” He uses the disturbing events in Iran to define his purpose as a journalist. He explains, “In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.”

Cohen defines “bearing witness” as a physical presence: to bear witness a journalist must actually see something with his or her own eyes, be present for the smells, sights and sounds of a story. But in my mind, and I think Cohen intended this as well, bearing witness is also the revolutionary act of seeing what others refuse to see, hearing what others refuse to hear, and documenting, for all posterity, what others refuse to document. And in this sense, physical presence is secondary to emotional and intellectual presence.

When I began to read Cohen’s article about a new fountain of youth — delivered on the backs of underfed and under-enriched monkeys — I saw that he was bearing witness to this story in a way that no one in the mainstream press had; everyone else saw their own fears of aging, but he saw a suffering that was going unnoticed. He was bearing witness to stark metal cages and sad thirty-year lifespans. He seemed to be acknowledging a truth that many members of the media ignore — monkeys (and all animals) live lives that are worth witnessing. But Cohen’s reliability as a witness fell just short of the mark when he supplanted his own meaning of life over the faces of monkeys whose lives are defined by what they have or have not eaten.

Perhaps Cohen has cracked open the door of Pandora’s box (aside from the obvious dogs and cats, mainstream media still has a difficult time acknowledging that animal well-being matters), and so, in that context, Cohen’s stance is actually somewhat brave. But those two monkeys — even the very thin one — can’t fit through a door that’s only open a sliver. They need a door that’s thrown wide open, and a witness who is focused on the meaning of their lives, not his own.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Charles Siebert’s “Watching Whales”

Posted by lisagbrown on July 13, 2009

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When I interviewed Charles Siebert a few weeks ago, we primarily discussed his recent book The Wauchula Woods Accord. However, this past Sunday the New York Times Magazine published a new article by Siebert, “Watching Whales Watching Us,” reminding me that Siebert’s passion for animals extends far beyond our primate relatives. In fact, his commitment animals extends to creatures that he describes as “about as close as fellow mammals can get to being extraterrestrials.”

I’ve always thought of whales as being rather like colossal elephants of the ocean. As it turns out, this common perception is more accurate than anyone could have predicted. The extraordinary intelligence and deep familial bonds that have recently been identified in elephants are astoundingly similar to the complex traits that are being uncovered in whales. As Siebert explains,

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.

Siebert traveled to Baja to experience an unprecedented interaction between gray whales and humans: one that has been entirely initiated by the whales themselves, birthing mothers who should, by all rights, be violently protective of their new calves.

Has Siebert overstepped the anthropomorphic boundary that he so clearly articulated in our interview? Teaching, learning, grieving, sure. But forgiveness? Gray whales have been brought to the brink of extinction multiple times by human hands, and Siebert suggests that these interactions may be the whales’ expression of forgiveness for the many decades (or centuries) of wrongs we have committed against them. And as surprising as it may seem to some people, he may not be far off base.

Toni Frohoff is the marine mammal behavioralist who Siebert accompanies to Baja. And so he poses the question to her, a person who would probably know the answer better than anyone. She responds:

Those are the kinds of things that for the longest time a scientist wouldn’t dare consider…But thank goodness we’ve gone through a kind of cognitive revolution when it comes to studying the intelligence and emotion of other species. In fact, I say now that it is my obligation as a scientist not to discount the possibility. We do have compelling evidence of the experience of grief in cetaceans; and of joy, anger, frustration and distress and self-awareness and tool use; and of protecting not just their young but also their companions from humans and other predators. So these are reasons why something like forgiveness is a possibility. And even if it’s not that exactly, I believe it’s something. That there’s something very potent occurring here from a behavioral and a biological perspective. I mean, I’d put my career on the line and challenge anybody to say that these whales are not actively soliciting and engaging in a form of communication with humans, both through eye contact and tactile interaction and perhaps acoustically in ways that we have not yet determined. I find the reality of it far more enthralling than all our past whale mythology

To read Charles Siebert’s “Watching Whales Watching Us” in its entirety, click here.

To listen to Charles Siebert and Toni Frohoff discuss their shared experiences with the whales (and their respective new books) on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, click here.

Illustration by Ivan Chermayeff

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Radio, Theory | 1 Comment »

An Interview with Writer Charles Siebert about His New Book, The Wauchula Woods Accord

Posted by lisagbrown on June 22, 2009

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Charles Siebert has made his name as the New York Times Magazine animal writer. In the past several years he has written articles about animal shelters, elephant culture, chimp behavior, and humans’ relationship with the natural world. He has also written several books about animals and nature (for a complete bibliography of Siebert’s work, click here).

Now, Siebert adds to his impressive body of work with the book The Wauchula Woods Accord, in which he explores the lives of retired chimps living in America. Siebert takes us on a coast to coast trip as he visits a number of sanctuaries and zoos that house former chimp actors (and retired medical research subjects, as well). Building upon carefully compiled scientific, historical, biographical and cultural research, Siebert paints a vivid portrait of a species in crisis. In a style that has become Siebert’s signature, he ties this story together through the lens of his own personal experiences, and encourages his readers to see these animals as he sees them: as “primatological doppelganger[s]” of ourselves.

Perhaps most compelling is his relationship with Roger, a chimp who takes an immediate liking to Siebert, and whom Siebert is convinced he met at some point in his life. The quiet and profound friendship that grows between them fuels this book, as much as it fuels Siebert’s desire to see these apes living lives more befitting such intelligent, sensitive beings.

Recently, Siebert very graciously answered my questions about his relationship with Roger, and about his new book.

Animal Inventory: Much of the time you and Roger spend together you simply stare at each other. And yet, it seems that much occurs between you in the course of your endless gazing. At one point you say, “You can learn a lot, I’ve found, from just daring to remain within a chimpanzee’s stare. Far more than you can from a fellow human’s (p 5).” How so? What do you think was happening between you two during those times?

Charles Siebert: The very dynamic, if overtly static, process of daring to stay within another animal’s gaze (especially one as close to us in body and mind as the chimpanzee) is one of escaping the relentless keeper of human consciousness; a process of getting past my restrictive and seemingly exclusive identity as a human and thus throwing open the doors on all the other creatures that I know myself to be, or to once have been, biologically, evolutionarily, and intuitively. That all may sound like some horrible mish-mash of Walt Whitman, Transcendentalism and Buddhism, but there it is. I often feel I’m traveling in place when I look into an animal’s eyes, whereas with another human one has to get past all the self-conscious and pre-possessive entanglements that obtain your own brain. I’m not saying that the inscrutable muteness of an animal and its otherness allows me to endlessly project my thoughts and ideas and will upon them. I’m saying that animals allow me to divest myself of all those things and, to paraphrase Emerson, resign myself to the common biology that breathes through all beings and accompany that.

9780609804681AI: I thought a lot about your book Angus as I was reading Wauchula Woods – mostly because of the contrast in how you communicate animal sentience in each. In Angus, you write the book as a memoir from your dog’s point of view. In Wauchula Woods, you rely on observation, context and history. The circumstances – not to mention the species – in each book are quite different, but did you ever consider writing Roger’s story from his point of view?

CS: In Angus I was more or less operating on the premise that (and now I’m channeling Bogart in Casablanca) it is not an anthropomorphizer that I mind so much, it’s a cut-rate one. All I know is that I kept trying to write that book from my point of view, but the writing seemed horribly bland and flat. And then one day this voice came into my head that sounded to me like the essence of the spirit of Angus: daring, edgy, all attitude and aggression. As the book opens, he’s lying there at the edge of the woods, near death from a coyote attack, and so the sense I try to instill in the reader is that the actual Angus has been somehow transformed by the experience of the attack into a suddenly far more sentient, knowing rendition of his former self, a kind of wry Rilkean dog angel, hovering somewhere between life and death, and seeing both of those anew. With The Wauchula Woods Accord I knew I already had in Roger such an advanced intelligence (and this is based on neurological research into the chimp brain, not anthropomorphic conjecture) that to attempt to write the story from his point of view would have resulted in the very bathos and cartoonishness that I decry in the book with regard to our typical treatment of our nearest biological relative. Thus, it seemed to me the simple and often stark juxtaposition of my expressed thoughts and emotions with Roger’s unspoken ones, would be far more powerful.

AI: You posit that, despite the cages that usually restrict nonhuman apes, humans are “by far the more imprisoned species (p 44).” Can you explain what you mean by this?

pppCS: Well, this goes back to the relentless keeper’s consciousness, and the awkward and often beastly ways in which our own self-awareness causes us to behave, the very need we have, for example, to take a creature like Roger and dress him up as a cellist in an all-chimp orchestra at Ringling Bros., or to simply put him and any number of other creatures behind bars in order to stare at them. I think we do such things, on one level at least, because we’re lonely. We sense that we’re at once a part of, and apart from, other animals and so we want to bring them into our context as coerced companions, ongoing, living glosses on who we are. It’s a primal urge in its own right. Our brain’s added neurons, the ones that allow for our so called higher cognitive functions, are also what give us that sense of isolation from the rest of being. Why, we’ve long wondered, are we the only ones who can turn around and call all other things names? This sense of isolation is, of course, at the heart of all creation mythology, the notion that we humans went astray somewhere, committed some sin and so got ourselves expelled from the rest of nature. But as I say someplace in the book, we were never expelled from anywhere. We walked out: the first upright forays toward new environments and challenges that our earliest primate ancestor made, new environments and challenges that spurred, in turn, the growth of those same added neurons that have since contributed to our sense of isolation. Still, one great source of absolution—and I use that theurgically tinted word in the context of the above creation mythology rap—is now being offered to us by of all things science. More and more studies of other animals—fellow primates like Roger, elephants, whales, dolphins, and certain species of birds—are revealing that they, too, possess in varying measures many of the same highly specialized neurons and attendant behaviors, such as communication skills, social interactions, tool use and cultural transmission of knowledge, that we once thought to be exclusive to us humans. We are not alone after all. We just have no way, at present at least, to speak other creatures’ languages.

AI: In the course of your book you often suggest that our fraught relationship with chimps is partly due to how they remind us of the animality we deny in ourselves. Can you envision a way for humans to accept our own animality? What would that look like? And do you think that chimp welfare is dependent on our ability to accept our animality?

CS: Hmmm, I ponder that one often. One answer, I believe, and it may be somewhat pie-in-the sky, both literally and figuratively, is that if we humans could, in our ongoing need to apprehend the infinite and the spiritual nature of our existence, could learn to redirect our gazes downward rather than skyward, if we could come to better know and embrace the billions of years of biology that it took to go from the one common ancestor of all life to life as it is today in its myriad of forms, we would discover that the infinite, somewhat paradoxically, inheres in the minutae of all life’s making. “God”, in that sense, truly is in the details. I think we as a species are either far too oblivious or dismissive of the wonders of the actual story of life’s emergence. Science doesn’t dispel our wonder. It merely reinvents it. As for how such a new embrace of our own animality and common biology would affect the fate of other species such as chimps, I suppose I could quote the very words of The Wauchula Woods Accord that Roger and I arrive at by the end of our time together: “The degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures, and for that matter, one another will be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are.”

AI: At one point you explain, “Science has obviated anthropomorphism – the crime of projecting our stories upon the animals – by, of all things, repeatedly pointing out to us just how uncomfortably close to our stories so many aspects of theirs actually are (p 134).” By contrast, you seem to embrace a kind of anthropomorphism that uses human perspective as a tool toward a greater understanding of other animals. How have the scientists that reject anthropomorphism responded to your work?

sc0009c0b1CS: I’m not sure I can answer that one except to say that I’m always as careful as I can be in my research, and my interviews with scientists, and in my actual writing, about the so called “spectre of anthropomorphism”. I try to let the science lead my imagination and these days that’s a very effortless dance indeed. Ultimately, however, all we humans have is anthropomorphism. We have to, by the very nature of our own biological alignment, project upon and conjecture about what might be going on within the bodies and minds of biology’s other alignments. What science has forever changed, however, is the substance and tenor of our projections and conjectures. Whereas once we had to proceed from the inherently unanswerable question: what it is like to be in Roger’s day, or a whale’s, or a dolphin’s or an elephant’s, now science has told us enough about the behaviors and the brain structures of these other creatures to allow us to conclude that they all clearly have their own parallel days, ones that are in many ways as complex and woundable as ours, and therefore as commanding of regard and respect.

AI: You cite the work of Eve Abe and Gay Bradshaw, two scholars who suggest that wild elephants are experiencing a collective psychological and cultural breakdown of epic proportions, caused by human interference (habitat destruction, poaching, culling, translocation, etc.). What can we draw from these findings that will inform us about the future of wild chimps?

CS: Wild chimps are experiencing the same encroachment, habitat destruction and attendant breakdown of their society that elephants are. The future of both species, and that of any number of large land-based animals with whom we share the planet, is more or less entirely up to us. We are the ones who’ll have to determine how important it is to us to keep these animals around, how impoverished we’d be without them on the earth. And then we have to make the effort to preserve enough extant wilderness in which those animals can prosper. That, of course, involves very complex, geo-political maneuvering and cross-cultural co-operation and negotiation.

AI: Towards the end of the book, you state that we need “to finally get past ourselves and our story and, through acts of deep, interspecies empathy…to become a part of [other animals’] story (p 175).” On the one hand this seems like a simple request, but on the other hand this requires a radical shift in perspective. Can you explain what you mean by this?

CS: In one sense this involves us human beings collectively coming down off of our high horse, if you’ll excuse the old expression. The more we begin to see and understand ourselves as one more extension of the greater biological forces that created and control all life on earth, rather than as beings apart, entities anointed by some higher authority, the more the “inter-species empathy” I speak of, or what Gay Bradshaw calls the “trans-species psyche”, will be allowed to flourish. This will all still bring us to the same tough decisions and compromises that I alluded to earlier, but what a better premise it is to approach them from such a new collective interspecies empathy, as opposed to the ongoing parochial factionalism rooted in old rival religions and the false notion of human exclusivity.

AI: Finally, do you have any new projects in the works that we can look forward to?

CS: I’m currently completing an upcoming July 12th cover story for The New York Times Magazine about whales and all the amazing new things that we’re learning about them and their culture. I’ve also got a number of new books in the works, one about the hopefully doubtful future of the zoo; a novel about a hardware shop owner who happens to discover the common ancestor of all life on earth; and, finally, a collection of poems.

Image 1: Cover of The Wauchula Woods Accord

Image 2: Cover of Angus

Image 3: Siebert’s new friend, Roger

Image 4: Engraving by Nicolaes Tulp (1641). An image of an ape who is thought to be the first live chimp brought to Europe

Special thanks to Kate Bittman at Scribner

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 6 Comments »

Antennae, Issue 10

Posted by lisagbrown on June 21, 2009

Please visit Antennae‘s website to download (for free!!) the newest issue of the ever-wonderful Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The theme of the issue is heat. As Giovanni Aloi, the journal’s editor-in-chief, explains:

This issue of Antennae is fully dedicated to climate change. “Heat” pieces together a selection of artists’ responses to climate changes as experienced in different geographical, social and cultural realities. In doing so, we have tried to evenly divide our attention through a range of issues related to and departing from global warming.

Also, towards the end of the issue, please check out my interview with Geralyn Pezanoski, the director of MINE, an incredible documentary about the fate of companion animals during hurricane Katrina.

Antennae Issue 10

Posted in Amphibians, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Photography, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

New York Times writer Charles Siebert: The Complete Works

Posted by lisagbrown on March 12, 2009

To read my interview with Charles Siebert, click here.

06oped1901One of the challenges of writing with an agenda — that is, writing for the purpose of helping animals, or bringing greater awareness to animal issues — is that sometimes it seems as though lyricism and the beauty of words must be sacrificed. It can be difficult to imbue the language of public policy, welfare and rights, with the cadence of poetry.  I started my career as a writer — not as an animal advocate, that came later — and so the weight of words matters to me. I am as much concerned with how I say something, as I am with what I am saying.

Therefore, when I find someone who manages to advocate on behalf of animals, while also creating worlds of imagery with his words, I become … shall we say … enthralled. Charles Siebert is becoming increasingly well known for his New York Times Magazine editorials, and below I’ve gathered a bibliography of his writings. Within each article, book and radio piece, you’ll find a searing analysis of human-animal relationships that is hidden inside the folds of personal, accessible, and above all, poetic writing. He manages to educate readers about the plight of animal sheltering in the United States, the inherent conflicts in caring for adult chimps, and the complex relationships between humans and the environment, all in the context of visceral autobiographical writing that engenders rawness and self-discovery, without becoming remotely saccharine. Enjoy the works below, and don’t forget to check out my interview with Siebert

BOOKS:

2009 The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals (Scribner)

2004 A Man After His Own Heart (Three Rivers Press)

2000 Angus: A Novel (Three Rivers Press)

1997 Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral (Three Rivers Press)

 

ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:

7/21/09 Charles Siebert: The Wauchula Woods Accord The Diane Rehm Show

6/13/09 The Surprisingly Social Grey Whale Fresh Air

3/06/09 350: Human Resources, Act three. “Almost Human Resources” This American Life

10/06 Are Humans Causing Elephants to Go Crazy? Day to Day

 

ARTICLES:

06/09 Watching Whales Watching Us New York Times Magazine

03/09 Something Wild New York Times Magazine

05/07 Falling Down Green New York Times Magazine

 04/07 New Tricks New York Times Magazine

10/06 An Elephant Crackup? New York Times Magazine

01/06 The Animal Self  New York Times Magazine

06/05 Planet of the Retired Apes New York Times Magazine

09/04 The Genesis Project New York Times Magazine

03/03 Making Faces New York Times Magazine

 

Click here to see four articles by Siebert published in Harper’s Magazine:

(Please note: You must be a Harper’s subscriber to access the full text.)

05/97 Our Machines, Ourselves

02/93 The Artifice of the Natural

05/91 Where Have All the Animals Gone? The Lamentable Extinction of Zoos

02/90 The Rehumanization of the Heart: What doctors have forgotten, poets have always known

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Cats, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Fish, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

The Watchmen: Nite Owl’s Lament

Posted by lisagbrown on March 2, 2009

Alan Moore’s The Watchmen is not about animals. However, when I recently reread the brilliant graphic novel in anticipation of the Warner Brothers film version (opening March 6), I was entranced by the passage below, which is written by the character Nite Owl, and is “published” in the fictional Journal of The American Ornithological Society. It is a passage that succinctly, eloquently and poetically confronts the challenges of studying animals — in this case, birds.

Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the length of its tarsus, we somehow lose sight of its poetry? That in our pedestrian descriptions of a marbled or vermiculated plumage we forfeit a glimpse of living canvases, cascades of carefully timed browns and golds that would shame Kandinsky, misty explosions of color to rival Monet? I believe that we do. I believe that in approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists, we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spellbinding planet of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place.

This is not to say that we should cease to establish facts and to verify our information, but merely to suggest that unless those facts can be imbued with the flash of poetic insight then they remain dull gems; semi-precious stones scarcely worth the collecting.

When we stare into the catatonic black bead of a parakeet’s eye we must teach ourselves to glimpse the cold, alien madness that Max Ernst perceived when he chose to robe his naked brides in confections of scarlet feather and the transplanted monstrous heads of exotic birds. When some oceangoing Kite or Tern is captured in the sharp blue gaze of our Zeiss lenses, we must be able to see the stop motion flight of sepia gulls through the early kinetic photographs of Muybridge, beating white wings tracing a slow oscilloscope line through space and time.

Looking at a hawk, we see the minute differences in width of the shaft lines on the underfeathers where Egyptians once saw Horus and the burning eye of holy vengeance incarnate. Until we transform our mere sightings into genuine visions; until our ear is mature enough to order a symphony from the shrill pandemonium of the aviary; until then we may have a hobby, but we shall not have a passion.

“Daniel Dreiberg, a.k.a Nite Owl” in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen

76255378_ph_web “Attirement of the Bride” 1940, Max Ernst

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Birds, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »