Monthly Archives: November 2011

No coda for the cockroach


Why do I loathe the cockroaches that par occasion bypass my wooden floors?

I loathe them because I see them.

If it were mice droppings I’d be unpleased. But a roach I resist with all my urban biology.

I like spiders and all that. That’s easy.

In a zoology prac we once dissected roaches. I enjoyed this less than plucking the kidney out of a gassed rat. I had feelings for the rat. The cockroach was just a lump of gross with an egg sac coming out of it. And I felt shameful. My higher feeling had deserted me.

I shriek for cockroaches. In reality they are the Oriental type and they can’t get vertical onto surfaces. They aren’t in my foodstuffs. They can’t harm me, but they unhinge me something terrible. I have a man comes round, George, who seals my cracks. He sprays and patches up millimetre thin crevices with a crude paste. This is useless.

All the time in the world. Pal.

I have semi Buddhist sensibilities: I avoid killing anything, but I’m not sure about the purpose attributed to all beings. I killed my first roach about a year ago. I don’t even know what it takes for the creatures to die. I don’t know what the difference between life and death is for a cockroach. It seems you have to physically obliterate their molecules so that post-cohesive, the roach just isn’t there anymore.

If I get an infection I have my own cohesion to consider, so I stop the breeding of bacteria with chemicals. Well, you can’t really kill bacteria, just slow them down. The roach is equally solid. It doesn’t get bleed, get cancer, have agonising childbirth. Neither do plankton, but we need the plankton.

I think the cockroach has a good thing going. I wonder if it has quality of life in the dark, the close. His power is that of the swarm, but the last roach alive will hang out a goodly long time and probably never yearn for the touch of his kin.

Then again, listen to Lydia Davis.

“It is in his moment of hesitation that you sense him as an intelligent creature. Between his pause and his change of direction, you are sure, there is a quick thought.”

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In the company of animals. James Serpell


JS has a big line in companion animal research. He once helped a New York Times journalist overcome her pet co-dependency. His 1986 review is an excellent primer to the dilemma of domestication.

There’s a ton of history in this book. It builds up to the conflict in which we personally invest, with the tenderest of hearts, in certain species and not others. Check out the levels. There have been almighty animal gods, and we still revere non-humans in documentaries, wildlife safaris and ladybird on a dew dropped leaf screensavers.  This could be a sort of worshipping by proxy. At the bottom of the pyramid are the animals we incorporate into our own cells. They arrive on the plate via a largely invisible chain of events. And in the middle, in the home and alive, are the animals we touch, feed, and talk to. Some say pet keeping is parenting by proxy.

So all three levels remove humans from nature. In this argument, keeping pets is as unnatural as keeping sows in oversmall pens.

This is where my thinking becomes increasingly circular and tormented.

Serpell’s message in this text is our moral anguish at our distance from nature. But it’s the distance from nature that has given us more moral latitude in the first place.

When we were dying in the jaws of animals, we didn’t have to feel so bad about killing them too. But things got complicated as we got more imaginative. There were animal totems, tabus, things you could and couldn’t do to another living being. Rituals you had to do to purify your carnist appetite. Lions STILL don’t do this when they’re ripping the near-term foetuses out of a warthog’s belly. (True story)

Where did the guilt come from? It was there since forever, and we outstride it somehow, but not indefinitely. We’re such adolescents.

Anyway, we domesticated things for use, suckled their young for kicks. Kids saw themselves mirrored and laughed. We liked the animals, especially the tame ones who stayed babylike and cute in the face.

And now we think about it all the more. We empathize, study the culture and needs of the beast in the bed, and we worry, and we wish we’d never stopped being an animal so we didn’t have to feel so torn in our age of biological destruction.

Subplot of a big story. This is the way it is, and it’s something to work with.

Great book. Thank you James.

That raptor, the rogue


Aunty Pam skyped me from Hillcrest, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. First she was skyping her grandson Troy. Troy saw my green light and said “That dude is on.”

“What dude?” asked Pam.

“That London dude.”

So Pam rang off and called me.

She told me that a crowned eagle got hold of her prize Yorkie bitch, which was pregnant but miscarried in the scuffle. Uncle Mike witnessed the event and roared at the eagle. It released the dog, and the dog lives. The eagle perhaps flew home empty-taloned to its nestling, by now receiving a good education in the Sucks department of being non-human.

It's tough being a kid.

Let’s examine this manifold tissue of events. Culture (human) vs nature is what anthrozoology is built on. Gods and government always knew that nature would be the last bad guy. And nature can take your eye out. And the peasant man knows that if you’re lost in the woods, don’t dance round the toadstools. Don’t sex with the weasel. Because you’ll get incorporated. “There’s piskies up to Dartmoor, and t’idden gude yu sez there b’aint!” — Cornish feudal servant ca 1600.

Incorporation and the corpus. The living dogs husbanded by Aunty Pam and the near-corpse of the snatched up bitch. Aunty Pam invests commercially in Yorkshire terriers. Each puppy sells for a whack of SA Rand. They go to breeders, families, retired folks who’d like to subsume another round of kids. Another stock opinion from the AZ lit : the animal is “petrified” – incorporated into human existence and sacrificing its dogness for a lap. It’s not complicit in the exchange – it just is.

The eagle in KZN preys largely on vervet monkeys. A heavily pregnant small companion animal may be an easier target. Eagles catching dogs and cats is stock urban legend where I grew up. This is the first genuine report I’ve heard. That these worlds are colliding without fission astonishes me. I need to know more. I haven’t heard about any disgruntled dog breeders poisoning crowned eagles, but you never know.

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