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“ATTEMPT TO BE ADEQUATE TO THE EXPERIENCE OF LOVING AN ANIMAL”

Diana's "Attempt to Be Adequate to the Experience of Loving an Animal" (from her forthcoming full-length w/ UDP!) will be published in the Fall print issue of BOMB, in which your trusted author discourses on goats, cows, donkeys, otters, leopards, minks, kittens, Koko, Highsmith and Haynes, Du Bois and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, , Ranciere and Fanon, Derrida, Flaubert, and BressonHere's a short excerpt....

 

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. . .

Of course, we believe some animals are articulate.

I, an animal, am trying to tell you my feelings,
although I could make an “inarticulate” attempt to do so.

When we are sad, we are often inarticulate.

Koko the gorilla can give some account of herself.

For example, she uses counterfactuals to tell jokes.

This is just the kind of “lie” Kenneth Koch recommends
in teaching poetry to children.

It works, especially if kids find out themselves:

I asked some 4th graders to write a line like
“I wish I was a ___________ but I’m really a ___________”

and they started literally:
I wish I was rich but I’m really a poor student.

Quickly, they learned they could wish wilder:
I wish I was a lion but I’m really a boy

before the class “troublemaker” tried inversion:
I wish I was a boy but I’m really a giraffe

liberating the class from any more sense-making.

To make a counterfactual into a joke,
the theory goes, you have to know enough
about what the other expects to fuck with them:
Koko must be able to predict how others feel.
This skill (making poems about wanting to be animals,
making jokes, as an animal, about wanting to be understood
by human animals) reflects a growing “theory of mind.”

More than her irony, though, Koko is known for her pets:
she asked for a cat for Christmas in 1983,
and the dick humans tried to pass off a “lifelike stuffed animal”
as the real thing, not with the generosity of a lie
designed to make a friend laugh, but the condescension of a lie
you think you’ll get away with.

She did not play with it and continued to sign “sad.”

For her next birthday, the humans gave in—

she got to choose a kitten, a male

Manx whom she named “All Ball.”

Unlike his stuffed replica, All Ball escaped

and was hit by a car. All Ball died.

They told Koko, and she understood.

She tried to explain how she felt, signing,

“Bad, sad, bad,” and “Frown, cry, frown, sad.”

Patterson also reported later hearing Koko

making a sound similar to human weeping.

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