BOOKS: HEAVY AND LIGHT

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:

Animal Acts:
Configuring the Human
in Western History
edited by Jennifer Ham and Matthew Senior
Routledge (29 West 35th St., New York NY
10001), 1997. $17.95 paperback,
$69.95 cloth. 251 pages.

The Animal Acts introduction explains that
the purpose of the anthology is to “…configure the
human with the animal, to write zoomorphically and
anthropomorphically, to define zones of animality in
the human and zones of humanity in the animal.”
Emerging from this murk, after much more discussion
of the etymology of the word “configure,” is the
notion that we embody the best of animals, and they
embody the best of us. The rest of the book is given
over to essays describing in pompous, polysyllabic
and heavily noted detail just what this means, as
derived from literary rather than real-life sources.

Hearts and Minds:
The Controversy Over
Laboratory Animals
by Julian McCallister Groves
Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA
19122), 1997. Paper, $18.95.

The back cover blurb says that “In this finegrained
ethnography, Groves talks to people on both
sides of the debate to determine what really motivates
them. He probes their ideas and emotions,” like the
authors of 3,965 other books about the lab animal
issue. While the people graciously have their ideas
and emotions probed, the animals’ bodies are rather
more rudely probed and discarded.

Kinky Cats, Immortal
Amoebas, And Nine-Armed
Octopuses:
Weird, Wild, and Wonderful
Behaviors in the Animal World
by Raymond Obstfeld
Harper Collins (10 East 53rd St., New York,
NY 10022), 1997. 206 pages, paper, $12.00.

Down & Dirty Birding
by Joey Slinger
Fireside (1230 Ave. of the Americas, New
York, NY 10020), 1997.
239 pages., paperback, $11.00.

Obstfeld discusses a number of animal sexual
behaviors, linking and comparing them to their
apparent human counterpart.
Why? This has as much relation to understanding
animals and animal behavior as Playboy has
to comprehension of the complex dimensions of
humanity. Cuteness perhaps intended to make us
chummily fond of our animal kin comes across as
mere voyeurism.
Down & Dirty Birding, a purportedly
amusing guide to birdwatching, suffers from similar
self-delusion.
––P.J. Kemp

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