Joan Schuman



It is puzzling how humans set themselves apart from other animals and why they behave so abhorrently towards them—and benevolently so.

We love them as they swirl around our ankles, purring. We feed our beloved companions with potentially tortured animals. Even for those who eat flesh and can imagine happily docile farm denizens, there’s conflict: do they feel pain? fear death?

There’s a lack of clear villains and heroes.

I wonder if every animal is a spirit. That rabbit you saw on the road, the dog you live with, the birds on the feeder in your garden, the spider that hangs in the corner of your bathroom. What if they are all spirits sent to you and how you treat them is what you are?

[Paul Kingsnorth, Beast]

News stories about pig farmers culling their livestock due to pandemic-related kinks in their processing chains reveal abundant irony. Too many animals ready for slaughter, but exploited workers, sick with Covid, were absent from their butchering posts.

A Fox News reporter offers a despondent tone. And the pigs? the farmer? the congressman? They play their parts in the expected narrative.

There’s intentional blurring: while the story is still ‘legible,’ pushed to the rear amid other ‘voices’ and the breathable spaces we inhabit, listeners fill in the gaps.

Extinction, part of how you treat them is what you are, 2021

Extinction is part of a recent animal triptych that hinges three stories about our assumed control over another species. It echoes and unearths and more pointedly denies the ease of hubris. It exploits the embrace of dominion.

Across earlier projects, these entangled ideas appear in other voices (as dream-tellers of animal-others; as a whispered inquiry: are animals messengers or promises?; through twinned vocalization and conjoined attachments and dead-bird counts).

All these characters are unlikable for the conceit they espouse (undisguised and unmistakable or more subtle). These stories are distasteful and we’re drawn to them—livid, furious, sad, ambivalent. The latter feeling is propped up by complicity.

Each scene in the human-animal entanglement is a witness to climate chaos and disease and to the precipitate expectations of commerce as we attempt to control the related, churning mayhem.

As Paul Kingsnorth wonders and can be further universalized, how we treat them is what we are.

Listen to Shimmer & Loop
[Joan Schuman on sonic practice + fear]
Loop to another in Monsters & Ghosts
Return Home