On Animals and the Human Spirit
Milkweed Editions, 2014
Humans were surrounded by other animals from the beginning of time: they were food, clothes, adversaries, companions, jokes, and gods. And yet, our companions in evolution are leaving the world — both as physical beings and spiritual symbols — and not returning. In this collection of linked essays, Alison Hawthorne Deming asks, and seeks to answer: what does the disappearance of animals mean for human imagination and existence? Moving from mammoth hunts to dying house cats, she explores profound questions about what it means to be animal. What is inherent in animals that leads us to destroy, and what that leads us toward peace? As human animals, how does art both define us as a species and how does it emerge primarily from our relationship with other species? The reader emerges with a transformed sense of how the living world around us has defined and continues to define us in a powerful way.
Praise for Zoologies
“However much or little you think of animals, you’ll never feel the same after visiting this literary menagerie. Each essay leaves you mulling the meaning of biological life — including ours — long afterwards. The beauty and ease of Alison Hawthorne Deming’s prose would do her namesake forebear Nathaniel proud, and a heart this wise gives me hope for my own species.
– Alan Weisman, author, The World Without Us and Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
“As our traveling companions on the evolutionary path dwindle and disappear, species by species, due to our excesses, human survival is imperiled. We know this much from science. To grasp the cost of this unraveling to our hearts and minds, we need art. And that is what Alison Hawthorne Deming provides in abundance here — artful essays evoking the presence of animals in the world and in the human imagination. Poet, naturalist, great spirit, by turns elegist and celebrant, she is a brilliant guide in a dark time.”
– Scott Russell Sanders, essayist and novelist, Hunting for Hope
“Alison Deming reminds us that animals are exceptionally good to think, dream, eat, fear and love. But more than that, she powerfully addresses the issue of what is at stake if our own lives become increasingly remote from theirs. At the same time, one of America’s most original poets of nature and culture establishes herself among our finest literary stylists of the short essay; these animal fables are delicious to read and to deeply ponder.”
– Gary Paul Nabhan, Franciscan naturalist, coauthor of The Forgotten Pollinators
“Alison Deming is one of the wisest and most humble–of all the animals. She speaks for the whole kingdom while they patiently listen. She is our femme sage.”
– Gerald Stern, poet