Thoughts on Lapham’s ANIMALS
As many of you know, I believe the only hope for animals – their future, their well-being, their dignity – lies in our ability to change the way we think about them: changing from a mindset that perceives them as here for us to use as we please to one that perceives them as nations unto themselves who are not here for our pleasure.
And what gives me hope is that this idea is neither new nor original. For thousands of years, humans have been wrestling with our relationship with animals – who we are to them, who they are to us, who they are to themselves, and how we all relate to this world. This tension is found in the writings of philosophers, scientists, poets, and novelists from around the world, across the centuries, and within such mediums as film, art, sculpture, and song.
In fact, humans have been expressing our enthusiasm for and our awe of animals artistically since as long as we have records to demonstrate it. Animals, after all, were the main subjects of prehistoric art, the most famous of which are the paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, France – estimated to be 17,300 years old.
Of course, most of these writers, thinkers, and artists would not have called themselves animal activists. They’re just human beings who cannot BUT reflect in their art – in their expression of their own values and perceptions – this most fundamental and profound relationship: that between humans and non-human animals.
So, what I’m most excited by are sophisticated works of art that span mediums, cultures, genres, and decades, which covertly and overtly illustrate the reverence we have for animals but also the cultural and personal consequences of our violence towards them.
And as my readers and podcast listeners know, I’m always thrilled to discover and share these gems; and, thanks to a gift by my good friend Tim Anderson, it looks like I may have stumbled on some more.
The current issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is dedicated to ANIMALS. Lewis Lapham was the editor of Harper’s Magazine for 30 years, and he founded Lapham’s Quarterly in 2006. I’ve had the pleasure of perusing its pages over the years but never with the interest and appreciation I have now. With the characteristic sophistication and thoughtfulness that go into each issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, the ANIMALS issue is packed with essays, poems, artwork, and photographs that make me squeal with each turn of the page.
I anticipate much fodder for upcoming podcast episodes and blog posts, but in the meantime, I’d like to share with you a few sentences from Lewis Lapham’s own insightful preamble, which you can read in full here.
“The environmental casualty reports filed from the four corners of the earth over the last two hundred years don’t leave much ground for argument on Montaigne’s question as to who is the beast and who is the man. Whether attempted by men armed with test tubes or bulldozers, the conquest of nature is a fool’s errand. However it so happens that the beasts manage to live not only at ease within the great chain of being but also in concert with the tides and the season and the presence of death, it is the great lesson they teach to man. Either we learn it, or we go the way of the great auk.”