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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Animals (Millet)

Animals were self-contained and people seemed to hold this against them—possibly because most of them had come to believe that animals should be like servants or children. Either they should work for men, suffer under a burden, or they should entertain them. He had strained against the wolf's aloofness himself, resenting the wolf for its insistence on distance. He had felt it almost as an insult, and inwardly he retaliated.

But then he was self-contained too: he had a private purpose, a trajectory, and no one had license to block it. It might be obscure even to him, but that obscurity was his own possession. The old wolf's unwillingness to be near him was fully forgiven by the light of day and in fact the joke was on him. Wariness was simply its way of life, having nothing to do with him. It had not been robbed of this quality, though it was caged and it was solitary: it retained its essence. It did not attempt to ingratiate itself. It did not have diplomacy.

...He had wanted the old wolf to come close to him, head down, softening. As though all wild animals could one day be tamed—as though this was an aspect of all of them, this one-day-tamable quality, and their wildness was nothing more than coyness or a mannerism. As though other animals should not only submit to people but behave like them, comport themselves with civility.

Privately, he thought, at the heart of it, you wanted animals to turn to you in welcome. It was a habit gained from expecting each other to do this, from expecting this of other people and only knowing people, not knowing anything beyond them. That was another kind of solitude, the kind where there was nothing all around but reflections.

And what about the endless differences of the animals, their strange bodies? Many legs, stripes, a fiery orangeness; curved teeth or tentacles, wings or scales or sky-blue eggs... Instead of looking at the wolf as an animal he never knew and never could, as with the sacred and the divine, he had fallen into the trap. He had wanted it to lick his hand and lope along beside him.

Lydia Millet, How The Dead Dream

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