Animism in the Anthropocene

Post #3: Somatic Explorations, Point Defiance Zoo

When Allan and I decided to do this project, we wanted our inquiry into the subject of animism in the anthropocene to include knowledge gained by means beyond purely rational thought.  If animism is a way of being that comes first from embodied relationality with both the human and more-than-human world, it seemed a purely academic exploration would be shallow.  We’ve had separate experiences of trying to relate to the world with our bodies and channel that into words using free-writing, so we included in our ILC weekly “somatic explorations,” in which we go out into the world and feel what we feel, and write from that place of embodied presence.


At the zoo, cold place on a spit of land jutting out into the Puget Sound, three lemurs sit in a cage.  A large cage, relative to their size, but still a cage.  I squat on the other side of the buffering foliage and look at them, very still.  I try not to think, just to be present.  The lemurs look back at me, also still.  Their eyes hold within them what Timothy Morton calls the ‘arche-lithic’, “the possibility space that flickers constantly within, around, beneath and to the side of” (1) the orderly, rational world that we have convinced ourselves is all that exists.  There is no lack of ‘intelligence’; more like lack of a need for ‘intelligence’.  Like with this eye contact we are meeting somewhere outside of ‘intelligence.’  I wonder if I’ve ever shared this quality of seeing with another human.  I have, but only briefly. Seeing into a human like this makes us uncomfortable.  There is the immediate need to talk, verbalize, ask questions.  Here I merely look, and the lemurs look back.


Let yourself get lost in golden eyes, deep river of time, timeless.  There is a place that exists, around and within us, lost worlds lost only to our ability to see them.  We know they are there, they bubble up from all the places where we hold our hands tight to the wound.  Remember all those tales about other lands, falling asleep under a tree and waking up in a different world?  Two hundred years passing while you feasted with the fairy queen.  The world holds unending multitudes of time.  Time is but the breath, the breath and the body.  The nameless is the great backstage on which the one dimensional fantasy of anthropocentric order plays out.  It is not a place separate from here but one beat to the side of the rhythms we’ve learned to speak, it flashes and giggles just out of sight and sound.  The wounded ones know there is something deeper.  You can only get there out of the corner of your eye or with a stutter step, change of breath, through deja vu or the way standing up too fast can make the world turn upside down.  Or maybe you can get there through the eyes of another.  



In the aquarium the jellyfish pulse and float towards the light.  Allan asks me what I think they’re thinking.  I think they’re pure being, which is something like what I would call god.  Maybe what we call god is really just the thing that draws people to each other, and makes the plants bloom, and bodies rot into the ground, as if everything is trying to return to itself.  The jellyfish pulse towards the light and I pulse towards that which calls me, like the tiny seahorse that hovers in his tank, fins whirring like tiny wings.  We gaze into each other’s eyes, a conversation beyond words.  I feel he is as curious about me as I am about him.  There must be some value in this exchange.  It is all that I have to offer.


A tiger paces, back and forth, back and forth, in front of a thin glass wall.  On the other side runs a small girl, delighted with this game.  A man says, “It’s like watching a tennis match,” because what else would he have to compare it to?  I put my hand to the glass and when the tiger turns, she bumps my hand with her cheek. I feel an energy coming through the thin barrier, an immense power coiled into itself.  Am I really feeling this or is it my imagination?  I don’t know but I want to trust the knowledge I feel coming from a rooted place in my body, rather than always prioritizing what are essentially voices in my head.  The logical mind is an important tool for survival and negotiating human space, but it has a very narrow ability to process stimulus.  I don’t think we need to shut out or turn off our ability to think rationally (that would be more of the Law of Noncontradiction- body or mind, A or B, that’s the Easy Think Answer) just turn down the volume.

 In a too small, muddy paddock, an elephant stands and weaves her head back and forth, back and forth in a repetitive and vacant gesture.  One could interpret her movement as a dance, but it is clear in my gut that something is very wrong.  I feel an immense empathy with her, and with the tiger, and find it difficult to stand and watch their apparent suffering.  As much as I felt it was a joy and a gift to sit with the lemur and the seahorse, it feels like a violation to stay and watch these larger creatures, who need land as large as the state to roam and are truly caged here just as much as any human in a tiny jail cell.

(Allan has written elsewhere about his interpretation of the tiger and the elephant.)


In the middle of her tank an octopus sits with her legs outstretched, her skin purple and burgundy and eggshell and tan, rippling colors under the tank lights, almost blending in with the rocks around her.  We are the only humans in the building and we put our faces right up to the glass and she turns, all of her legs moving in a slinky, undulating dance, to face us.  I feel seen no less than I do when I am sharing a gaze with Allan.  She changes color as she moves, going white, maybe to match the different light coming from the hallway where we stand, maybe in a show for us or herself; I don’t know.  She moves one tentacle up to rest on the glass in front of me and I put my hand there and again feel what seems a distinct energy, coming from her, a vibrant, tender, sensual energy as each of the pads on her tentacle sucks a delicate kiss on the glass, moving away and over to Allan.  She moves and dances around the tank awhile, her skin seeming to embrace and be embraced by the water and the light, until it is closing time and we are forced to say goodbye.


  1. Dark Ecology, p. 80

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