This is from yesterday’s i paper by David Sexton, and my first instinct is that someone needs to get a life. But I am also reminded of some of the stranger stories from folklore when people were transmogrified into animals etc :
Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels tells us that being a dirty “Yahoo” makes him turn away from the mirror in disgust and try his best to emulate the infinitely more noble horses, the Houyhnhnms.
“By converting with the Houynhhnms, and looking upon them with delight, I fell to imitate their gait and gesture, which is now grown into a habit; and my friends often tell me, in a blunt way, ‘that I trot like a horse’; which, however, I take for a great compliment. “Neither shall I disown, that in speaking I am apt to fall into the voice and manner of the Houyhnhnms, and her myself ridiculed on that account, without the least mortification.”
We also have some fine writers bow emerging to explain to us why they want to try living as another species. The best nature writers have always tried to get as close as they can to the non-human world. In his classic memoir Nature Cure Richard Maybe confessed too “lairing up” in the woods – “I’d been going to earth most of my life,” he said.
The Oxford don Charles Foster has written a brilliantly original book called Being a Beast ..trying in turn to become a badger, an otter, an urban fox, a red deer and a swift. In this way, he said, e hoped to avoid the besetting sins of nature writing, anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. “I immerse myself in their world. When I’m being a badger, I live in a hole and I eat earthworms. Then I’m being an otter I try to catch fish with my teeth. M foxes were inner-city foxes, and so I lay in a backyard in Bow, woodless and drinkless, urinating and defecating where I was, waiting for the night and treating as hostile the humans in the terraced houses all around – which wasn’t hard.”
He grew his toenails so long he got the feel of a cloven hoof – and developed a gourmet’s expertise in his badger-scavenging. “Earthworms taste of slime and the land.. Worms from Chablis have a long, mineral finish. worms from Picardy are musty; they taste of decay and splintered wood”
Yet he does to have he field to himself. Next month Thomas Thwaites publishes a fantastic book describing his own adventures into trans-speciesism: GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human.
He begins with a sorrowful account of all the worries he has as a human being – … a not particularly 33-year-old London designer. So he hatches a plan of escape. “Wouldn’t it be nice to escape the constraints and expectations of not just your society, your culture, your personal history, but your very biology? To escape the inevitable worries of personhood? Wouldn’t it be nice to be an animal just for a bit?
He successfully applies for a grant from the Welcome Trust – to become an elephant. But after going to South Africa to see some, he realises they are just too big- “to allow me to really feel what life would be like as an elephant,my exoskeleton would have to be at least the size of a large family car” – as well as being “almost too human”, with worries of their own.
So he consults a shaman in Copenhagen about what he should become and his delight she tells him a goat. A male goat, because as he says, “Transgender and trans-species? Well, I think that might be attempting to explore too many issues at once.”
He hasn’t taken leave of his senses.He even worries about going all the way, qua goat. “I am sure my girlfriend would be extremely upset if she were cuckolded by a goat.. Honestly, gentle reader, this project has not been some terrific ruse to justify interspecies ‘canoodling’”. Hmmm
First he tries to get his human brain cells turned off. No luck. Next he tries building himself goat suits to turn himself into a quadruped. A prosthetic limb specialists tells him it won’t be easy” You’ll only ever be a human in a goat-walking position, constrained by your own natural anatomy,” he warns.
Thomas does not repine however and gets fitted up with goat legs. “The look is cross-dresser at the back end, post-Second World War NHS amputee patient at the front – but they work. I’m able to clomp around the workshop in fine quadruped fashion!” And the he this to equip himself with a grass-digesting goat stomach too…
In the most marvellously illustrated part of the book he goes off to a goat farm in the Swiss mountains. “I very much hope that spending time with the Alpine goats, going where they go, eating what they eat, and so on will affect an internal as well as an external change in my nature.”
“Ahhh, the goat life,” he says later. “This consists of walking to a patch of grass and eating it for 5 minutes or so. Walking to another patch of grass, eating that.”
But do the other goats believe in hm? He has a worrying moment. “I happen to look up from my grazing and I realise the entire herd is looking at me. It’s suddenly gotten very quiet. Everyone’s stopped chewing.” Then he gathers the he has committed a goat faux pas. Inadvertently, he has got higher up the sep the the others and “Challenged the dominance hierarchy without realising it. Oops.”
Luckily the other goats are very decent about it. Later, he is thrilled to hear from a local goat farmer that in his expert opinion he has been well accepted by the herd. “And so perhaps of a while the oats thought of me as a goat and I thought of myself as a goat, and so maybe for a moment…”
He tactfully leaves that rapturous goaty dream as a set of dots. But here is inspiration for us all. Many of us have felt not quite human from time to time – and now we know we can do something about it.
My first instinct on reading this is that Thwaites suffers from that modern urban disease of affluenza, of having a life so pampered, so cut off from reality that he has sought out bizarre pastimes to give his life some meaning, so is up there with bungee jumpers and such like. Our ancestors had no needful such nonsense because they lived and worked with animals, so had no need for prosthetics and other nonsense. As for citing Swift, his age was full of satire as a means of criticising leaders when censorship was so stringent as to make insulting them potentially life threatening. His admiration of Huynhhnms is a classic example of human class behaviour, whereby those lower down the scale mimic the accents and behaviours of the elite. Hence the Australian accent is largely based on that of the 18th century Home counties, where the marines were drawn from.
What amazes me is that he actually got funding from the Welcome institute for such a stunt.