Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jenny Diski's "What I Don't Know About Animals"

Jenny Diski was born in London, where she has lived most of her life. She is the author of ten novels, four books of travel and memoir, two volumes of essays and a collection of short stories. Her journalism has appeared in the Mail on Sunday, the Observer and the London Review of Books, among other publications.

She applied “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, What I Don't Know About Animals, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While watching the mating habits of stag beetles, Oddie narrated: 'He crash-lands on top of a likely looking lady. There's a bit of luck. One thing is sure, this boy is horny.' After a fight between two male beetles for a female, he put on a mimsy 'female' voiced and said, "Come on, big boy, come and get it."

There were complaints, but, as much as the cute chicks, Oddie's anthropomorphism was a great factor in the popularity of the programme. Partly, it was the joy of watching car-crash television; partly his anthropomorphism voiced the real responses of a large proportion of his viewers. Serious zoologists are not allowed to compare animal social behaviour to human society, but everyone secretly does (doubtless even many of the serious zoologists about their own dogs and cats), and the audience rejoiced in it. But underneath the jocular misrepresentation of animals, there seemed to be a genuine bitterness, something quite disturbing, and it wasn't surprising to learn that Oddie suffers from bouts of depression. We watched as Kate, wide-eyed, ever-smiling, seemed to struggle not to let her embarrassment show on camera.
The subject of page 99 is a cozy TV programme called Springwatch that gets millions of viewers each year. The passage speaks for itself. Like those millions of viewers (and Jacques Derrida who wonders very hard what his cat is thinking as it gazes up at him standing morning naked in the bathroom) I have trouble allowing animals to be as unknowable as the Lord. But I think in the end attempting to unknow animals in our own image is the best chance we have of learning to respect them and accord both ourselves and them dignity.
Learn more about the book and author at Jenny Diski's website and the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue