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All You Monsters

And those animals? A thumb gently parts the feathers on the head
of the dead gull – large out of its sky – to uncover a gash resembling
a half-healed wound. The dog’s right pinna folded inside out like a
wrinkled grey-pink pocket lining, the coat on its flanks bristles to the
touch, its ribcage aquiver. The hamster curling into the palm, black
bead eyes, fanning whiskers, each soft dish glows in the window’s
light. The hermit crab inches across the inn’s concrete floor, the
clicking of its claws, the scrape of the gnarled shell, a soft gurgle, its
outer antennae waving.
Broken sightless on the asphalt, shivering in the park, warm in the
hand, rasping under the inn’s lean-to, these animals are with us
now. Or rather, we mammals are with them, sharing our reptile
ancestors’ endowment of two jaw bones that migrated to join the
stapes and form our middle ear’s articulated lever of ossicles (the
only bones not to grow after birth). There is something fishy, too,
swimming inside: our eustachian tubes –equalising air pressure,
draining fluids, detritus - donated by creatures who surfaced
through the murk to suck air noisily down holes in their tops of their
heads.
What was heard before we drew the animals to our streets, greens,
hands and inns, before we dragged them within cultivation’s reach
by sticks and ropes and titbits, by draining swamps, clearing forests
and spreading concrete, by scattering our exhaust into the sky, soils
and seas? What sounded before our own ears were gifted us by
things that slithered and swam? The swaying jungle canopy, hollow
roar of waves on the reef, cracking ice, dripping thaw, blown desert
sands and smashing storms: yet none enough to warrant a billion
year blow-out of biological resources on selecting ever more finelyattuned hearing.
That vast evolutionary spree was impelled by the very quietest of
sounds – the rippling of feathers adjusting the last beats in a steep
dive, the glassy shifting of stones beneath a paw in the darkness,
the exhalation between sharp teeth from the burrow below, the lowpitched rumbles and grumbles passed between elephants on heat
and in musth, chirruping from a hungry nest, the creaks where
branch meets trunk, the softer swells from a rising river. The sounds
of predator, prey, mate, rival, offspring, milieu as peril and as
promise – their detection and discrimination –were what gathered
hearing into its complexities.
This pre-human soundworld cannot be understood as the calls of the
wild, since the wild was a notion that only came to us as we shed
our hair, straightened our posture and used the firelight to skin and
gut our ancestors, sharpen our sticks and plait our ropes. Now we

might trip the wild up and send the category reeling: exposing the
civilised in the very midst of the unruly (the flutter of ready meal
wrappers at Rongbuk), prising the untamed from the niches of our
swept shelters (the scraping of that gnarled crab), blurring
boundaries, smearing thresholds and in-betweens.
We are cruel enough to concrete the wild; canny enough, as well, to
turn what little remains into a brand. Certainly we are clever
enough to deconstruct its clumsier formulations and to pursue that
endeavour long into the night. But should we evacuate ‘the wild’
entirely? Might it better be recruited as a strategic essentialism, a
means to recover our auditory borrowings from reptile and fish, a
source of sustenance for a translistening? Beginning with the gull,
dog, hamster and crab near our safe shelters and food wrappers, we
can learn to hear our human hearing as other, become wild-of-ear.
The tools we crafted as the branches burnt to embers might equip
us for this task. With the plaited ropes and sticks we can build hides
that weigh light on the earth, the dyes we found can camouflage our
forms, the dial we built can tune to frequencies beyond our evolved
audition (those elephants on heat, bats at the forest edge). We can
lie quiet and listen to the calls, be destabilised and decentred at
encountering the weirdness of our own hearing and the agency and
vitality in other species’, now audible as appeals to our ethical and
ecological concern.
Calling a temporary truce in the hostilities that engulf the
anthropomorphic impulse and ‘the wild’ as critical category opens a
neutral territory from which to assess the potential of a
translistening with aspirations to enlarge the imaginative overlap
between species. Is such an enlargement made possible through
learning to listen with the ears of gulls, dogs, hamsters and crabs
(and elephants, bats, creatures with sharp teeth, paws and hunger,
spare jaw bones and holes in their skulls)? How far would the
consequences of any such enlargement reach? The recalibration of
our perceptual apparatus, our choices of food, pets, clothing,
dreams?
But why a merely zoopoetic translistening? I pose this question in
utter seriousness and offer it in the turbid spirit of Carlos
Castaneda’s shamen, Jane Bennett’s things, Jacques Lacan’s sardine
can, Michael Marder’s vegetal existentialism and Mark Peter
Wright’s biocritical and inter-agential. A deeper decentering could
come from listening-to and then listening-as non-species: with the
ears of forest, jungle or drained swamp, blowing sand, concrete,
stick or plaited rope. A more delirious destabilisation could essay a
cryptopoetics to probe the imaginative overlap with putatively
imaginary species, beings that shuffle out of focus and slouch an
ambiguous trail beyond the wild.

We need not only enlarge our listening sphere ever outwards.
“Elsewhere fields” of ice, storm and reef are exotic lures for the
recordist yet the home may be queer enough, the scratchy textures
of the old armchair, the picture frame that agitates our auditory
consciousness. Further contractions in scale are possible: down to
the escarpment of skin that curves to the peninsula of flesh, as
individual as the fingertips’ whorls; the waxy valley with its delta of
scarlet capillaries, the plateau peppered with delicate blackheads,
the pleated rifts and berms that descend to a cavern fringed with a
winter’s copse.

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