Jenny diski what i don t know about animals

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jenny diski what i don t know about animals

What I Dont Know about Animals by Jenny Diski

Jacques Derrida was disturbed by the way his cat was apparently mesmerised by the sight of his naked body in the bathroom: the situation filled the philosopher with a sense of an existence that refuses to be conceptualised. Jenny Diski, on the other hand, is convinced that it is simply that the cat wants to be let out: if a human closes a door, the cat will insist on being let through it.

Striking a cord with my own experience of living with my own cat, who likewise is totally transfixed, and almost disgusted by the sight of human nakedness, I was excited to read this book to discover what others thought of this phenomenon. Diski’s own experience comes from a cat called Bunty, who, just like my cat, refuses to let the human owner do any work- instead insists on meowing to be let in, and out, of doors for apparently no reason.

This book starts off fairly slowly – and it took my quite some time to try and decipher what the ‘point’ was, especially as Diski seems to speculate and never come to any conclusion. However, I was soon very much drawn into her style of writing and interested in her contradictory and confused musings on the nature of animals, and our relationships with them.

She starts by looking at her own childhood: a rescued baby bird, a family budgie, an endless supply of goldfish. Her recollections seem cold and matter-of-fact, There was something quite alarming about him (budgie) flying free, she said, but when he flew out of a window, never to return, she found herself unmoved: I may have cried, but I didnt really care.

Diski confronts our responsibilities to animals with a sense of conflict. She feels we should face honestly the ‘beingness’ of animals. The suffering we cause through abattoirs and battery farming is a stupefying crime. She finds it hard to ride horses as she could not bring herself to be the master over any animals, however, she faces the fact that she cannot give up meat: in fact, the more militant and self righteous make her more obstinate about her cravings for flesh.

Diski brings together opinions and experiences by established scientists, wildlife experts and philosophers in her journey to discover more about our relationships with animals; and their relationships with us. She asks difficult questions – such as is it right for the scientist to cut the heads of baby chicks in order to maybe one day discover a cure for Alzheimers; who gives us the right to be lords over the ‘beasts’?

The questions she asks are hard hitting and unanswerable, but certainly worth pondering. Her book is a good read; funny and warm, and with a darker edge. It is also a hard-hitting moral argument which lets nobody off the hook, not even its author. She questions the way we anthropomorphosize animals; whether we are able to stop seeing animals without seeing them through our own experiences; and whether it is indeed ‘right’ to do it. This is an interesting question considering that women and men don’t even communicate with the same language, and we are the same species. How are we supposed to know what a different species is thinking?

Diski’s best writing though certainly comes when she observes her own cat, Bunty. This is where I know exactly where she is coming from. I disagree with her assertion that cats cannot have facial expressions (I know exactly when my cat is playful, angry or desperate for a wee – and that is in her eyes, not just the manic swish of a tail), but I know exactly what she means when she says that although we assume animals cannot speak, they simply might be speaking a different language.

“Sometimes when I look at her she stares at me so intently that I really do expect her to finally say what she has to say. Or she is saying it….and simply looks at me thinking, ‘How stupid is this human…It’s hopeless trying to communicate with it.’”

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Published 21.11.2018

"What do the animals want us to know?" SPIDERS!

What I Don't Know about Animals

A book for those who are entranced by animals, those who cherish elegant writing, and those who delight in the meditations of an original thinker What does novelist, essayist, and memoirist Jenny Diski know about animals? She wasn't really sure as she began to write this book, and she may not be sure now. But of this she is certain: our relationships with, and attitudes toward, animals are really worth thinking about. Diski sets out on her wide-ranging investigation by remembering the stuffed cuddly creatures from her childhood, the animal books she read, the cartoons she watched, the strays she found. She considers the animals who have lived and still live with her most especially Bunty the cat , animals she has encountered close up, and those she has feared. She examines human beings, too, and how they have looked at, studied, treated, and written about the non-human creatures of our shared planet. Ranging still further, the author interviews scientists, discusses Derrida and his cat, and observes elephants in Kenya, always seeking the key to the complex relationship we in the modern West have with animals.

Alex's lip lifts as if to bite and she snatches her hand away. While she is riding Alex, Alex's stablemate Henry shies. His rider falls off. Startled, Henry gallops home dragging his rider, who is bruised but not badly hurt, and the one the instructor is sorry for is Henry. Diski walks into an idea like no one else and here is journeying into the dark continent of our relationship with animals. Her own animal relationship is with Bunty. Bunty's portrait occupies the space of author photograph on the back flap, looking at us through narrowed eyes.

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Jacques Derrida was transfixed by the way his cat was apparently transfixed by the sight of his naked body in the bathroom. The scene has a hold on Jenny Diski too.
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Why Study Jenny Diski's Rainforest?

I suppose that on the principle, most lately confirmed by Fifty Shades of Grey , that the lousier a book's prose style is, the better it will sell, Little, Brown's decision makes a cynical kind of sense, for Diski is one of the language's great, if under-appreciated, stylists. When you're turning the pages of the London Review of Books , wondering, like a swimmer facing a dauntingly bracing sea, when would be the best time to jump in, you stop turning when you get to the one with Diski's name at the top. And then settle in, secure in the knowledge that for the next 15 minutes or so you are going to be in the company of someone who writes sentences that make you purr. If I may use animal imagery. Which I do advisedly. Le style c'est la femme , and her honest, direct and intelligent prose has produced an honest, direct and intelligent look at relations between ourselves and the animal world. We anthropomorphise and sentimentalise animals when it suits us — as with pets, for instance — and blank them when that suits us, as when we make no connection between mince on the supermarket shelf and a cow.



  1. Gerard G. says:

    Share your thoughts and debate the big issues

  2. Amabella A. says:

    Hardback Editions

  3. Telford P. says:

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  4. Heidi T. says:

    Animal enthusiasts have no shortage of reading options these days.

  5. Linette H. says:

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