Sheep 1
Photo: Max Syed-Tollan

There is a peculiar sense of longing and estrangement that animals provoke in me whenever extending their aloof brand of hospitality. In her essay ‘On Hospitality’, poet Rebecca Tamás refers to this as ‘the agency and indifference of the nonhuman’. I am taken by the way Tamás writes about animals: in this case, a cockroach revealed as a god in The Passion According to G.H., a novel by Clarice Lispector.

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A number of stops before I’m actually supposed to get off, I become very alert–sort of tense on my feet. I move to the rickety vestibule, flogged by branches. I see a clearing, and in it a flock of animals that look like neither lamb nor goat. Chunky, alive things. Their snouts are large. Deeply unfamiliar. Could be dogs, I think, before I finally realise it is sheep. They’ve been shorn, which is what fooled me.

I was born in the year of the sheep, or goat, in the Chinese Zodiac. I prefer the latter. This landscape features them quite heavily. Goats atop rocks, goats that look like reptiles, goats with extra horns protruding from their foreheads.

Exposure continues. These sheep look like they’re wearing gimp masks. I am making certain assumptions about their body parts because I really want to mention hooves in this text. They begin to move off. I don’t think I’ve seen such nonchalance before.

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Following the character of G.H. and her confrontation with the cockroach, Tamás constructs an encounter with the non-human along the lines of rupture and recognition. As G.H. discovers the ‘the radical reality of intimate difference’, the boundaries of her selfhood are stretched and redrafted. She begins to move toward ‘the thought of a being (…) who no longer longs to separate from the mass of beings which co-create her existence’. I am intrigued by this conjecture of entering oneness through difference. This ambivalent discourse continues in the subsequent essay, ‘On Panpsychism’:

‘This is a not a question of morality (that the nonhuman is somehow ‘good’ or ethically instructive) but a question of difference – the truth that we are not all that exists, that there is a radical and shocking alterity bound up in every physical and mental possibility we have.’ [1]

Tamás’ theory of universal consciousness moves between romantic descriptions of what form the thought of a landscape might take (‘The layered, smooth, tingling, rich thought of humid wetlands’) and anecdotes of the author’s own entanglement in nonhuman environments. I do agree that it can be an interesting pursuit to try to articulate the dynamics of how we relate to the non-human (I personally hope that mushrooms and wave particles are somehow involved). That said, I cannot help but think that Tamás’ enquiries into hospitality speak with a clarity that her framing of panpsychism lacks. With its opposing yet mutually complicated poles of host and guest, hospitality is naturally positioned as a power relation–and as such serves as a useful framework to begin to map out our relationship with assorted hooved creatures, and other beings.

[1] Tamás, R. ‘On Panpsychism’ in Strangers, p. 46

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Anna Danielewicz is an artist and writer, currently part of the Market Gallery (Glasgow) committee and working on a novel about teenagers, problematic sociality and queer erasure.