Writing Craft

Non-anthropocentric writing practices: some notes

“For human beings the natural life is a human life. But men don’t always realise that.”

What might it mean to be engaged in non-anthropocentric writing practices? This might be a “vegan writing practice” as I have written about already. Or does it go beyond? Would that then be biocentric or zoocentric, or have no centrism at all, as I once discussed with NR, my old Masters supervisor, who knows a thing or two about the centrisms.

It won’t, I feel, simply be about animals. The anthropocentric puts humans hierarchically at the centre, first — we dominate and are privileged. Non-anthropocentrism — indeed, non-“carnophallogocentrism” as Derrida names it in relation to the connections between, very bluntly, gender and species dominance — would mean returning somehow to… no, not returning? I’m on unsure ground here…

So for now let’s go back to animals. For Kafka, one who understood much about these subjects, once told his young confidant Janouch:

Every man lives behind bars, which he carries within him. That is why people write so much about animals now. It’s an expression of longing for a free natural life. But for human beings the natural life is a human life. But men don’t always realise that. They refuse to realise it. Human existence is a burden to them, so they dispose of it in fantasies.

This was following Janouch showing Kafka a copy of David Garnett’s Lady into Fox, which Janouch’s friend Bacharach passed on as evidence of Kafka’s fame with the ‘Metamorphosis’. Although Kafka denies this:

But no! He didn’t get that from me. It’s a matter of the age. We both copied that. Animals are closer to us than human beings. That’s where our prison bars lie. We find relations with animals easier than with men.

non-anthropocentric writing practices fox

Perhaps such an age has returned. That we are writing about animals again, more, because we understand that this way of life is closer to the “human natural life” that we want — that anthropocentric cultural and life practices keeps us away from with our civilised, hygienic, urban, individualised ways of being. We are far, far from the bio- or zoo- that we can rightly lay claim to, as biological beings, mortal, vulnerable and fragile, as human animals. And for Kafka, it is, of course, of our own making:

Safe in the shelter of the herd, they march through the streets of the cities, to their work, to their feeding troughs, to their pleasures. It’s like the narrowly confined life of the office. There are no longer any marvels, only regulations, prescriptions, directives. Men are afraid of freedom and responsibility. So they prefer to hide behind prison bars which they build around themselves.

Gregor Samsa still tries to go to work, after all. This is what Kafka’s story shows: that at present, man carries his bars within him, his prison, regardless of whether he is an “animal” or not, he still tries to live the anthropocentric life of a man, denying his animality.

So perhaps a non-anthropocentric writing practice is about accepting, not being afraid of, “freedom and responsibility” for the making of our lives as human animals within the balance of the environments in which we live. It is about undoing the prison bars we build around ourselves. Writing can do this. Writing, perhaps, is one of the few ways in which this happens, in our “civilised” Western cultures, anyway. Just some thoughts, for today, on this matter.

Image of fox (cc) Danny McCreadie

About Alex R Lockwood

I learn as much about the the art of living through literature (especially Kafka) as I do through other people. I read and write fiction and non-fiction, and research the cultural value of the creative writer; the ways that literature impacts our lives; the craft of writing, particularly what it means to be a non-anthropocentric (vegan) writer; the representation of animals; and the ethics of human-animal relations in literature, media and culture since 1945. This site is a platform for capturing the threads of different literary projects and, I hope, offers something to those thinking through the value of reading and writing in their lives.

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