Furry Writers' Guild Forum

Article: Can Fiction Show Us How Animals Think?

Article posted to The New Yorker website:
Can Fiction Show Us How Animals Think? by Ivan Kreilkamp.

The article discusses a few works that are told from the viewpoint of an animal. Among the handful of classics mentioned are Black Beauty, Aesop’s Fables, The Wind in the Willows, a 1974 essay entitled What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, and a recently released work entitled The Tusk That Did the Damage. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no mention of Watership Down. He asks whether it’s really possible to understand how animals think and whether such works offer any insight. More than once he describes the parts of a story that are allegedly from an animal’s viewpoint as being “disappointingly human” or very similar to the author, which makes me wonder, how would he know? What would he consider as sounding more like it was from an animals point of view.

The author’s knowledge of animals in fiction seems to be limited to classic literature and children’s literature. He offers no indication that he is aware of furry literature and the fandom that produced it, or even the sizable body of commercially published science fiction and fantasy literature that features animals and animal-like characters. One wonders how differently the article might have read if he had been.

That’s tragically dissappointing >.< You would think furry literature would be the perfect direction for him to investigate, or at least the sci-fi and fantasy genre that helped to spawn it. The fact that even the classic Watership Down wasn’t included makes me wonder if the works that were otherwise chosen might have been to push a bit of bias.

Thanks for the article, Mwlaimu, it’s an interesting one.

It’s probably worth mentioning that Watership Down wasn’t very well received in the United States so wouldn’t have been a natural point of reference for the writer of the piece. I think that many people would argue it belongs, if mentioned at all, in the brief paragraph on children’s literature, alongside Aesop’s Fables and Peter Rabbit.

I also understand your point about speculative fiction and furry fiction, but I don’t really think that has a place next to the ideas and writing of people like Wittgenstein and Woolf. The writer is drawing on some intellectual heavy-hitters to reach the conclusion that inner lives on animals could be captured only by some “radical fictional experiment”. And with all due respect to the intelligence and breadth of ideas displayed by sci-fi, fantasy, and furry writers, I’d say that those genres exist in the opposite direction from that suggested.

Has anyone here read The Tusk That Did the Damage (or is planning to read it)? I’d be very curious to hear how it stands up against the great works mentioned in this essay, and how it compares with furry fiction.

With respect, I am slightly amused at how we’re reacting in disbelief that ‘furry’ literature is not included here. As it has been said, the author gives not the slightest indication that he/she is aware of it, and that is overwhelmingly the case. The writings of a small internet sub-culture, as much as we may like, do not permeate into mainstream literary discourse - either because it is not known, or that the works are not, unfortunately, considered to be good enough.

Besides that, the focus of this article sought to ask if literature can write from an animal’s perspective - not as a human trying to write as an animal, but as an animal writing as an animal. It’s a bit of a pre-determined investigation, as the answer is no - humans are not going to be able to write as an animal, as it is more than a language barrier that separates us. Literature can only at best imagine how an animal sees the world, and it was telling that even the examples it used tripped up when trying to write how an animal thought.

To be honest, I don’t see furry literature doing these same things - its inherently anthropomorphic, and that is the very quality that the article is seeking to avoid. In that case, it makes sense Watership Down is not included, as it’s another example of imagining animals as behaving like humans.

JM sums the point up perfectly here. The question should not be why is ‘furry’ literature not here, but what ideas can you pick up and explore in your own writing in order to remedy the situation? Furry literature is strongly populist at the moment, and well, incorporating and exploring literary issues like these will not just improve your writing, but make it stand out from other works.

As I said on twitter, it’s not surprising that the author didn’t look into furry literature. However, it’s still shocking that so many sf and fantasy venues didn’t seem to be so much as even considered for this article. I also want to add that I never actively sought out furry literature growing up. I was happy to come across small gems by chance and happenstance, but it was never a conscious effort on my part up until not even a year ago. Yet even I heard of Watership Down growing up, even in an area of the states that was never really known for being high in literacy.

Ah, I didn’t see your post on Twitter Munch. I can tell you it is an issue from what I’ve seen in academic research - science fiction and fantasy do get neglected in literary criticism for various reasons, some of which we can guess. I’d guess the two main issues are that there’s just so much out there to be read, and that most of what we’re seeing is a contemporary phenomenon, when most literary studies are in hindsight.

Still, I think this would be a useful topic to discuss at large with the guild in a chat - hopefully it can give us something to chew over and remedy the situation we’re objecting to here. =)