Cairns
Reading Is Art
Reading like an animal | Brandi Thomas
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Reading like an animal | Brandi Thomas

On attention, instinct, and the language of the observed

In the agrarian-archetypal wheel of the zodiac, the sixth sign is an emblem of harvest, technique, and awareness. This is dutiful Virgo, whose virginity is not of innocence and purity but, somewhat paradoxically, wisdom and self-sufficiency. The virgin birth, for example, is birth nevertheless, made all the more powerful by the mother’s integrity or entirety: a begetful* intactness.

Now, I have no idea what month or year in which Brandi was born, so I hope you won’t worry yourself over the thought that I am attempting to fit her into the readymade philosophical mold of a sun sign. Rather, I wanted to tap Virgo, briefly, for its language power: its pre-alphabetic communication of particular seasonal and interpersonal referents. When viewed as language, the signs are no more and no less mystical than other names...

The lynchpin of conversation with Brandi formed almost immediately and by dint of her seemingly effortless acuity as an observer. We started to speak of animals—animalia, the animal as a subject of literature, etc.—and like someone administering a shot before you even realize they’re holding a needle, she said:

With animals, it’s about learning their language and understanding them—their different behaviors—and learning how to care for them, and then the ways that that reflects on caring for yourself.

One gets the sense that, for Brandi, the proverbial learning curve is the curve of space itself. We are foolish, she suggests, to limit our understandings to particular means and methods. And yet these same means and methods, when treated carefully (re: with great care), become sites of universal understanding. It happens if, in Brandi’s words, “you are open to it and ready to receive the story, whether it be on a page in a bound book or with an animal and their actions.”

So you see, we talked mostly about animals—how to live with them, as them. About domesticity, reciprocity, and respect. And it felt like a sort of evolutionary leap for reading and readership at Wolverine Farm.

“Reading is not just receptivity. It’s the attention you wield, leverage, and offer. It implicates our relationship to animalia; it implicates our relationship to ourselves.”

Books mentioned:

Brood by Jackie Polzin (2021)
Spit by Daniel Lassell (2021)
Humanimal: A Project for Future Children by Bhanu Kapil (2009) The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach (2007)
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (2013)


* This iteration of the verb beget is not in the dictionary. Yet.

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Cairns
Reading Is Art
What does reading in the 21st century mean? What does it make possible? Here is a polyvocal answer, featuring community members making unique contributions to literary understanding. Sustained by the Reader in Residence program at Perelandra Bookshop.
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