Animal Gaze

When I arrive home after some time away I sometimes notice the fact that my house has its own particular smell, a smell that has nothing to do with me — it was there when I arrived and it has remained the same through the decades that I have lived in the house. I do not notice it when I am living in it any more than I notice my cat looking at things until the cat turns to look at me. When the cat turns to stare at me I realise that the animal can see me. The moment feels charged. The animal hunts me down. It is not a comfortable feeling. I realise that I do not know the terms of engagement between myself and the animal and it occurs to me that the animal knows.

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First Words

My daughter is one. She can’t yet talk in human words but she has a small range of sounds and acts that correspond in her mind to a particular animal. She can make a strained noise that does sound like a cow – she has to extend her neck and tip her head up to raise the sound from her belly – this is what the cow does when it makes its sound too. She can run her breath through her teeth to do an impression of a snake hissing and she has a similar noise that is supposed to sound like a bee. She can pop her mouth in a way that is supposed to be like a rabbit nibbling. I helped her learn it but it isn’t something I’ve seen rabbits do – they tend to be quiet animals and only give off a peal of high-pitched bubbling sounds when fighting or under attack.

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A is for Ox

Prospero’s books shared with the animal the capacity to drown. In a lecture on Samuel Beckett, J.M. Coetzee suggests a similarity between Moby Dick the white whale, and the physical object in which the whale swims: the book Moby Dick. The whale’s body is described as a white wall – a page. Coetzee says that Samuel Beckett’s characters do not have the imagination to dream up something as huge and unknown as Moby Dick – they ‘do not have harpoons’ to assail the white wall – ‘only pencils at most’.

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