I thought it was interesting how the Peregrine in J.A Baker's book is attributed with qualities that are not only unique to the bird. He often talks of the behavior of the bird and himself as if they are one entity and not separate species. The more he watches the Peregrine, the more his own movements and behaviors begin to mime that of the bird almost subconsciously. Baker even suggests that the Peregrine is a freer being than man because they don't have as many burdens as humans do; "Fear releases power. Man might be more tolerable, less fractious and smug, if he had more to fear" (Baker 73). The way he describes the Peregrine is different from anthropomorphism. Instead of projecting his own expectations/stereotypes of the animal onto it, he takes note of its behaviors and habits and actually credits it with having these unique abilities. In a previous reading (the particular article name escapes me) it was mentioned that most times special 'skills' that animals have are attributed to instinct and not to general intelligence. Baker truly seems to become in tune with the birds that he 'hunts' because he has the upmost respect for them.
Both The Pereguine and the Bill Viola movie take an observational stance. The matter-of-fact descriptions Baker uses could be compared to the unaffected eye of the camera. Neither pass judgment but rather allowing the scene to pass by, the spectator records it. The most obvious comparison from the movie is the part with the Indian ceremony or festival that’s going on. As a foreigner with absolutely no context for what’s going on there some of the images absolutely made me cringe but there was no affectation in the filming of it, you’re left to judge, or not judge, the scene and you’re not guided to draw any conclusions. This is the same way Baker describes the gruesome hunting scenes. A description without affectation becomes an abstracted visual landscape in the same way that sequences in the film do. “[…] Feathers blowing in the wind. The body of a woodpigeon lay breast upward on a mass of soft white feathers. The head had been eaten. Flesh had been torn from the neck, breast-bone, ribs, and pelvis, and even from the shoulder-girdles and the carpal joints of the wings.” P.95 This is quite gory thing being described here but in the mind, mine at least, it is visualized in an abstracted color field of textures and forms in the same way that Viola’s images are.
Baker's Peregrine raises certain interesting issues regarding language and its importance in the translation of thought. I've attempted to write short fiction from the first "person" perspective of a cheetah, or a nudibranch, or a bacterium, and invariably my efforts were crushed beneath an inescapable bulk of human semantics. After taking a moment to study the ordering behind Asian languages, I noticed that semantic structures defined cognitive ones - the manner in which we codify thought shapes the way we conceive of our immediate reality. Language is a fundamental prescriber of the human umwelt.With animals, this is not so. We have a scant understanding of how animals encode experience - what is the nature of their semiotics? What are their symbols? Archetypes? Totems? Psychic structures? We have but awkward and inept approximations of their inner processes, inscribed in and betrayed by the limited plane of written language. Baker's book is an interesting prosaic exercise, but I would not venture that it gets us any closer to understanding animal perspective. In any case, Peregrine seemed like more of a deluge of anthropophobic romanticism than a serious zoologic exploration.
I think it was interesting that throughout The Peregrine, J.A. Baker describes the birds' lives in overtly human terms - for example he says that "his life is eating to live, to catch up, to keep up; never getting ahead moving always in the narrow way between a death and a death...." (p 45). In the introduction, the author says that Baker had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness, and knowing this, it is almost too easy to see the significance in what he is saying about the peregrine's life, and the lives of the various other animals he also chronicles. As we keep coming back to in this course, this is all a human understanding and processing of a non-human. Yet this is juxtaposed against the very structure of the narrative - very straightforward, observational prose, describing one man's perceptions of the natural world. It made the instances where he did include the uniquely human element seem purposeful and powerful. Ultimately, his work relates to Viola's film in that both seek to observe the immediacy of the natural world, and of non-human animals in particular, which may be impossible to fully convey on paper or on film.
Baker’s motivation to escape the human world and his fascination with birds inspires him to follow peregrines in England. Throughout the book, his senses sharpen as his encounters with wildlife increase. He begins to identify with the birds. Baker observes many similar happenings but his descriptive use of language enlivens each entry. I really enjoyed his descriptions of landscapes at the start of each entry, “The stark horizon, fringing the far edges of the wind, was still and silent. Its clear serenity moved back before me; a mirage of elms and oaks and cedars, farms and houses, churches, and pylons silver-webbed like swords.” (106) His explanations of death are also captivating, “To rest my hand in the place where the peregrine had stood so recently was to experience a strong feeling of proximity, of identification. Footprints in the show are strangely moving…the valley is covered with the footprints of birds that the cold weather has killed, pathetic memorials that the sun is slowly eroding.” (138) Baker completely withdraws from any human contact, “I avoid human, but hiding is difficult now the snow has come…there is an endless banging of guns and tramping of feet in the snow. One has an unpleasantly hunted feeling. Or is it so unpleasant? I am as solitary now as the hawk I pursue.” (127) And at the end of the book tells of his final and closest encounter, “I know he will not fly now. I climb over the wall and stand before him. And he sleeps.” (191) Baker’s work is similar to Viola’s film in that it is purely observational. I personally believe Baker is guilty of anthropomorphizing; but I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue. The book is more about Baker’s fascination with the peregrines than the peregrines themselves. I am more impressed with his writing than his expedition. It’s another story of a man who feels alienated by society and ends up seeking a connection with Mother Nature.
I think the introduction to Baker's ode to the hawk sums up the entire book perfectly: "The Peregrine is a book in which very little happens, over and over again. Dawn. The man watches, the bird hunts, the bird kills, the bird feeds. Dusk. And so on..." While it took me a while to appreciate what I was reading, it was my reflection on it that made me like this book. We can see that as time continues, Baker becomes more in tune with the bird. I expected something cliche to happen; the bird saves his life, the bird shows some great human ability. Maybe it is the lack of this hollywood narrative that makes this book succeed. It lies halfway between a novel and a journal; as I read l learned about this animal but in a way that felt beautifully written and linguistically considered. This made it much more fluid and easier to read. The way Baker writes is very tender and calming, even when he writes of the hawk's kills. I was curious about him and learned that he was extremely private, so private that his exact date of death is unknown. He wrote this book, his first, and one other before spending the rest of his time as a quiet librarian. This bio adds a lot to his book; I respect him for his ability to observe quietly and feel comfortable with himself outside of mainstream society.
Man and nature. Man in nature. Man is nature. These are the words that come to mind that summarize Baker's experience in tracking the Peregrine and the nature movie made by Viola. The boundaries are silently tredded upon as they observe and report the beauty and confusion that is beyond our own American society. When connected with nature in such a way, we have a tendency to regard them as kin. What I find most intriguing about Baker's expidition is that, when he followed these birds, they replaced any need for human contact and became his social substinance. Human beings have a tendency to instill our human emotions and motivations upon the observed animals as if they were old friends. You can see in Baker's book, when his attachment seemed to mimick that of owning a pet that was only admired from afar. Through his writing you can truly feel the love he developed for these birds and to an extent, understand why he devoted his life to them. I even wish that I could experience the connection he felt with the land and the animals but couldn't see me subject myself to the outdoors for such a long time. The movie created by Viola was both eerie and fascinating and although it was without verbal narrative, one could still gather awe felt by Viola himself.
The Baker reading is an ode not to peregrines alone, but to all birds, and, in a more generalized way, all of nature. Baker immerses himself in the English countryside. He becomes a part of the entirety of nature, separate from human society. The peregrine is hard to track, and many days he observes other avian behavior by necessity. Despite his total immersion in nature, his primary aim is very particular: the peregrine. Ironically, as he gazes at the individual falcon a half mile high in the sky, the falcon is focused on the entirety of what is below. Throughout the work, Baker unleashes a bit of a veiled criticism on humanity. Without giving specific reasons, Baker makes it clear that man is that which is most feared in nature. However, it is clear that the birds sought by the falcon fear the peregrine more than anything. The peregrine becomes a symbol for the destructive power of humanity--it is even described as spending its idle time "lounging about....stirring up trouble, just for the sake of something to do" (109). Baker oftentimes uses his own observations to imagine better hunting strategies for the peregrines (or defensive strategies for the other birds). Even in his attempt to isolate himself from humanity, he cannot help but continue to exercise his human rationality and desire to fully know what is around him--in this case, a dying breed of majestic predator birds.
This week we encountered text and media that observed animal life on a multitude of levels – micro, macro, distanced, and face-to-face. I was taken aback from the Bill Viola film in amazement at the close up view of the hundreds of flies swarming on top of one another on a furry, fleshy architectural texture. As the camera views panned out we saw the decomposing corpse of a beast. This perspective was interesting as it expressed the flies’ greater world, and a structure of inhabitance on their own tiny scale. The progression of the movie was interesting as it began to encompass the lives and behavior of humans, as well as the first person perspective of the man editing the film. This does not remove the human from the realm of the subject, and it can be construed that the animal has the potential of being the observer with all of the close up shots of the exotic bird eyes gazing around it’s own environment.
The Peregrine, as well as the Bill Viola movie focused on issues of personal identification and what kind of a role other animals take in that journey to self awareness. In this search both these mediums cover and re-cover images of death, whether that be the Peregrine’s killing of prey or the film’s shots of the bison and fish carcasses, we are brought into the cycle of life and death faced directly by these animals.Interestingly in both these interpretations of living and dead creatures there is a romanticizing of the flesh. In The Peregrine the prosaic language describes in vivid detail the subtle varieties of ways things are killed and eaten. Similarly Bill Viola’s film begins with a close up of a dead animal, which is obscured in the very beginning because what is shown is a close-up on the flesh. Here you can see the contours, There are lines and colors overlapping and enveloping each other in a manner that does not highlight how this close up is a piece that is part of the whole, but how almost beautiful that obscure piece can be when captured through the camera’s lens. In a way the issue we face is in and of itself an issue of obscurity and how one identifies and forms relationships when communication, though process, manners of living and dying, all differ between individuals and between species.
The phrase "I do not know what it is I am like" perfectly describes the way people explore their relationships with animals. Baker's "The Peregrine" and Viola's "I Do Not Know What It Is I Am Like" both try to understand the animals focused upon as an extension of their own selfs and discuss the similarities and differences shared. Both are observational pieces that do not answer what they are questioning; however they are powerful works that show alternative approaches to knowing what it is to be animal. Baker's writing show a passionate link to the peregrines, in a way, he forgets his human side and by doing so has the ability to be more like the peregrine. Viola, by focusing on the intense glaze of animals shows how alien they are, despite similarities. I think "I do not know what it is I am like" is a commonality shared within all works discussed in this class because it seems impossible to fully know what it means to be other.