‘Animals in Their Graves: The Political Agency of Animal Emotions in Barbara J. King’s How Animals Grieve’
Australian Book Review, 2013.
Edited by Peter Rose
In an age of YouTube piglets and puppies, when animals are images and those images are everywhere, the interior lives of animals have scant authority. The triumph of the animal welfare lobby has been to widen, in the public imagination, our definition of what types of bodies can suffer. But who can guess what goes on inside animals’ heads? Only poets are petitioned on that subject. Meanwhile, animals cast inscrutable glances to the camera, engaged in the pratfalls, serendipitous encounters and twee feats that so fascinate a digital audience. What animals know is not for us to wonder. Watch now, what the animals do.
Though she never claims it outright, the overarching project of Barbara J. King’s latest non-fiction book is to recover the political agency of animal emotions; to take seriously the contention that not only do animals feel love and mental anguish, but that they experience those passions in ways that are as profound as our own. How Animals Grieve presents a series of case studies in which pets, wildlife, and livestock respond to the deaths of individuals from their social groupings: Ethiopian monkey mothers who carry their infants’ bodies for weeks, even as they disintegrate; dolphins, who nose stillborn calves to air with repetitive solemnity; rabbits and cats in domestic homes, starving themselves into despondency on the passing of a playmate; and crows staging enigmatic crow congresses in car parks, to establish new hierarchies after a corvid death.