Monday, January 30, 2012

All Our Relations

Have you noticed how so many of the ways that we talk about Nature and about our fellow creatures drive a semantic wedge between ‘it’ and us, between ‘them’ and us? So much so, in fact, that it is quite a challenge to talk about other life forms without falling into the trap of separating ourselves from them with our words.

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that our species Homo sapiens is a member of the Kingdom called Animalia (we are animals), the Phylum Chordata (we have spines), the Subphylum: Vertebrata (a special sort of spines), the Class: Mammalia (we suckle our young), the Order: Primates (along with apes, and monkeys), the Family: Hominidae (one of the so-called ‘great apes’) and the Genus: Homo (men and women, boys and girls). Yet to listen to the way we speak about ourselves—and the way we think about ourselves—you would never know it.

After all these centuries of imagining ourselves as separate from the rest of the animal kingdom and forgetting that all of these other life forms are our relations, our language has been shaped by our beliefs. So yes, it is hard to avoid the linguistic traps. But I really wish we could all try harder. It really bothers me when I hear people say “humans and animals,” as though we weren’t animals. We need to reverse the trend and re-shape our language to fit our new realization of who we really are—one organism among the billions that make up the body of the living Earth.

It bothers me when I hear phrases like “walking in Nature,” as though there were any place on our planet were Nature isn’t. Nature is us. Nature is in us and everywhere and in everything. Even in the heart of the city, Nature is not just the pigeons and rats and cockroaches and mice and the slivers of living green that grow up in the cracks between the paving stones, but all-pervasive. The air is full of unseen creatures; our own bodies have other creatures living on and within them, creatures in their millions. We are Nature and Nature is us.

For all of my adult life I have consciously and delightedly revelled in the experience of being woman, being human, being animal. So when Stephanie Sorrell, one of my fellow authors at John Hunt Publishing, told me she was thinking of co-ordinating a new publishing imprint called ‘Animal’ I was delighted. If any of my readers are interested in Stephanie’s proposal, you will find it here.

So if you have a book in you and it is about other animals and our relationships with them, contact Stephanie. The email address, in case you can't read it very well in the box,  is animalpub(at) (just replace (at) with the @ sign)