Experimenting with Nonhuman Forms

I’ve reread some of Kafka’s short stories, this morning: A Report to an Academy. (It’d be misleading to describe it as one of my favourites, such ranking is impossible in the face of the brilliance of Kafka’s short stories.) A Report to an Academy is a tale of metamorphosis, but unlike the story of that name, this time it is self-willed; an ape learns to perform human in pursuit of autonomy. I’ve always read the story as an allegorical discourse on fascism or late capitalism.

This morning I’ve day-dreamed more about its tale of radical transfiguration. Below, for Sunday fun, is a minor thought experiment, a list of nonhuman forms I’d like to become, temporarily for a moment or a thousand years, to experience otherness.

Rub' al Khali (2013)

Rub’ al Khali (2013)

  1. A grain of sand, in a boundless, ‘unshorn field’ of desert.
  2. An igneous rock, child of cooling lava.
  3. A starling (to fly in a dazzling cloud as part of a murmuration).
  4. An almond tree in full ‘shadow blossom’.
  5. A gold, Sicilian, venomous snake.
  6. A bright star (with eternal lids apart).
  7. A crashing, long and loud whirlwind.
  8. Sea-cold coral, shining with salt sweat.

A little indulgent I know. Care to take a turn?

21 thoughts on “Experimenting with Nonhuman Forms

  1. 1. Water
    2 A fruit on a high tree under the sun (Yes, I know its life would be limited, but hey, a fruit, high under the sun….It’s worth drying, I think.)
    3. A word of happiness

  2. 1. The Timken “Four Aces” 4-8-4 steam locomotive.
    2. A Powell-Peralta skateboard from around 1987.
    3. A Turkish 22″ Dark Hammer ride cymbal.
    4. A dogwood tree in South Carolina.
    5. A coyote.

  3. I start to contemplate which nonhuman form I’d like to become in order to experience otherness, and I realize that first I have to figure out who or what will be doing the experiencing. Is it I the previous human form who’s now a nonhuman form? Or is it I the nonhuman form with no awareness of a previous form? Or is it merely a nonhuman form without awareness of either a previous I-form or a current I-form?

    Because maybe I’d want to be a hermit crab only if I could have hermit-crab awareness of being a hermit crab; maybe having some sort of residual human awareness of being a hermit crab would seem like being stuck in an uncomfortable Halloween costume.

    Or maybe it’d be better to be a discarded soda can on the side of a dirt road with presumably no awareness whatsoever of form or anything else. But if that’s the case, why not be a clothespin, or an ammunition shell? What would be the difference?

    OK, I have to implement an arbitrary game rule to move this thing along: Whichever nonhuman form I choose must have at least rudimentary awareness of itself and as itself. And its awareness can’t be contaminated by human-like perceptions, memory, abilities, emotions, etc. Fine. Except I’m a human! How can I know what a hermit crab’s awareness of itself would be? All I can do is project my human perspective and imagination onto the idea of a hermit crab…which means I’m back inside the uncomfortable Halloween costume.

    Shut up, that’s the whole point of the experiment: abandoning humanness to experience otherness. Jeez. Just pretend it’s possible and pick something; anything. Please! All right, all right. I would like to be…I would like to be…oh! I would REALLY like to be neither one nor zero but capable of becoming either one or zero, and capable of having awareness of the first distinction (as that distinction is described by GS Brown in Laws of Form. Yes, that is absolutely all I could ever possibly want to experience: a first distinction. It would be indescribably ecstatic.

    • Thanks for joining in, DZ, and displaying the wretchedness of choice. I can’t conceptualise your final selection, and will ponder it a while over a glass of wine this evening. While the experiment is without purpose, I quite like testing these choices as a route to refining ethical sensibility.

      • Ha! A great tagline for my business card: “Displaying the wretchedness of choice for over 60 years.”

        I had been thinking about Red Peter, the narrator of “A Report to an Academy,” who was neither ape nor human but something in between, who could no longer give an account of his life as an ape, but who intuitively imitated his human captors because it provided a way out. Not freedom, as he repeatedly insisted — he’d had freedom as an ape but it was no longer an option, and the human idea of freedom struck him as a joke; not escape, which would’ve been the most ape-like option but would’ve cost him his life. Just a way out.

        Experiencing otherness via your thought experiment is a way out, too, and with the same conditions: no freedom, no escape. But what if, rather than exchanging my human form for a still-constraining nonhuman form (all form is constraint), I could hover in formlessness, prior to any distinction (neither one nor zero; neither on nor off; neither human nor nonhuman), and prior to awareness? Absolute ecstasis. Then, suddenly, a first distinction: ON! Just as when Red Peter spontaneously burst into speech with a “Hallo!” and was clearly aware of the crossing of a boundary. I’d like to become that moment of awareness of a crossing.

      • Yes, or more precisely, to be the awareness of the moment of the Big Bang. And perhaps there are an infinite number of “big bangs” — analogous in every way to the hypothetical original — within each day, each hour, each minute. Maybe an ON erupts 600 times/second like the image on an LCD TV, which means I’ve been here for only the past 1/3 of a second, during which time I’ve confabulated a back-story. I can’t possibly know. But if I were able to be aware of the moment of crossing from 0 to 1, from OFF to ON, from nothing to something….

  4. 1. A tree. (preferably eucalyptus). It would be interesting to experience the stillness of life.
    2. A swing.
    3. Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies.
    4. A photograph.

  5. For some time now I’ve wanted to be foxfire, aka “fairy fire,” the bioluminescence made by some fungi that live on decaying wood. I’d like to alternate between being bioluminescent in a wood lot and being a great blue heron standing alongside a stream.

    I love your idea of being a starling as part of a murmuration. Have you seen this murmuration video: http://youtu.be/iRNqhi2ka9k?

  6. A starling in a murmuration
    Water in the ocean
    A fennec
    An orange blossom in the patio of the Mezquita Catedral in Cordoba
    A scarf wrapped around a head, neck, shoulders
    Salt on the lips and tongue of a child
    Wind on a bridge

  7. The glacial blue light transmitted through the walls of enormous ice caves.
    A wooden wind chime.
    Epidauros II – Barbara Hepworth sculpture which looks over the bay of St Ives.
    A traditional weavers loom.
    A small gemstone collection in a scarlet drawstring bag. (missing long ago)
    A travel plan.
    An egg cup.
    A packet of wild flower seeds.

  8. John Coltrane’s saxophone on a smoke-filled Birdland stage
    An atlantic wave crashing against the Irish coastline in an undulant tranquility
    A beautiful and beguiling drug-induced hallucination dancing in the wind
    A swallow arcing through the spring efflorescence
    Picasso’s Guernica
    A wildfire
    Soft warm rain

  9. Pingback: murmuration | sub rosa

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