Foreword Reviews

Literature for Nonhumans

This wildly imaginative cultural takedown of Illinois history delivers an extraordinary lesson in humanism, animal stewardship, and inner rage. Very, very few poets have Gabriel Gudding’s intellectual chops, and his wordplay herein—some prose poetry, some lyric essay, some indescribable—is blistering and breathtaking. An acclaimed and prolific writer, poet, and translator, Gudding teaches at Illinois State University.

Our Fellow Drivers as the Analogs of Animals

Consider how readily we take our fellow drivers to be idiots.
We project onto them some kind of deficiency: a malignancy,
a stupidity, a naivety, a cognitive primitivism, an imbalance
of emotion—even a subjectless egoism and a moral insuf-
ficiency. Sometimes just a flatness of being: when they are
not malign or annoying or stupid, other drivers are to us
simply drab, ignorable.

If a driver delays too long at a stop sign, if he broaches
his turn too early, moves out of order, causes gridlock by
the self-serving insertion of his car into the crux of an in-
tersection, or if he otherwise does something to ensure his
own timely departure from a tangle while deepening the
entanglement of others, the being in the car becomes stupid,
and selfish, as selfish is a subset of stupid; and as the being
is stupid, it’s at once cunning and easily fooled; and because
selfish, he’s greedy, impatient, petulant. In sum he becomes
a total jackass. …

How is it that by merely cloaking the human body in sheet
metal, hiding the shapes and movements of this person’s
body and face, we can so readily animalize members of our
own species?

The question’s instructive. If we can with such facility do
this to members of our own species, famed (among ourselves
anyway) for our brilliance, by erecting a painted sheet of
shaped metal between us, think about how easily—and how
erroneously—we’ll do this to others who are hidden behind
the varying shapes and features of their bodies.

We treat other animals like we do our fellow drivers: as flat
and hypothetical beings. A hypothetical being is one that
we can see exists but whose existence is insufficient in itself
to merit full inclusion in our attentional space, insufficient
because it does not to us have an interesting mind. And it
does not have an interesting mind because it stands in the
way of our wants. …

If we can occasionally glimpse that we are this stupid and
this erroneously begrudging about members of our own
species, I wonder if we could consider how selfish and inane
we are when we knowingly put our own pleasure before
the needs, families, horrors, and sorrows of the other beings
who we refuse to see as fellow travelers.

Reviewed by Matt Sutherland

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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