Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lydia Millet's Love in Infant Monkeys

[Review by Kathryn Harrison in Bookforum] 'The more affecting, and serious, stories are spun around scientists rather than stars. “Thomas Edison and Vasil Golakov” uses the January 4, 1903, execution of Topsy, a Coney Island circus elephant, as a springboard. ... That she was executed rather than euthanized “assumes the animal is a moral agent, accountable to the law,” and invites Millet to take on human ingenuity, cruelty, and stupidity all at once. But the tale goes beyond satire. Millet conveys her relationship to her subject most simply in her choice of who rather than that as the pronoun appropriate to an elephant. Sentimentally, human beings elevate animals to our own level, which we simultaneously hold superior to theirs. We impose our feelings and intellectual conceits on animals, and when we find in them what we hate in ourselves, we destroy or abandon them.

Many, if not most, of Millet’s readers will go online to watch what she characterizes as one of the first snuff films, “a film that records the willful killing of an unwilling subject.” Some, like this fictional Edison, may be driven to watch it over and over. In fact, by 1903, the inventor had been staging public electrocutions of dogs and cats for years, ostensibly to demonstrate the danger of Nikola Tesla’s alternating-current electricity, owned by Westinghouse, in contrast to the direct current Edison intended to profit by. ... in all these stories, animals are the victims of human projection, not always passive but still recipients of our struggle to understand death, faith, and the divine. ...

Having killed the gods we’ve invented—their familiarity breeding our contempt—we still have animals, creatures that persist, godlike, in their inscrutability and mystery. For as long as their consciousnesses remain alien, even while their brains and behavior are probed by curious humans, beasts will, Millet suggests, suffer something worse than our contempt: our fear and our worship.'

No comments:

Post a Comment