I'm a recent initiate to yoga. It's a wonderful practice and helps me immensely, even in my work (which is writing a dissertation on animal studies and art history). It offers me the discipline to focus, to gain a proper distance on my writing, and physically, in helping me to sit properly at my chair, in front of my computer, or in a library, for hours on end.
While writing a chapter on the artist-filmmaker Chris Marker (who was fascinated by and represented all sorts of animals in his work throughout his career) I was struck by a moment in his little-discussed film Vive la baleine (1972). The film is a poetic short history of whaling – one in which modernity and capitalist industry leads to slaughter on a massive scale, which we are still witnesses to today. At one point, the narrator points to an obscene and contradictory aspect of whaling and its history. Citing the writer Jules Verne, she underscores the fact that it was none other than the whale who helped men navigate the unknown global waterways during the age of exploration. In short, it was nonhuman marine agency that played a vital role in the mapping out of the world: "We followed the directions you gave us...it was you who led men to their most distant discoveries." The implication here is that their subsequent industrial massacre is a historical betrayal, one based on their very own nautical energies and know-how.