Tuesday, May 15, 2012



Humanimal: A Project for Future Children by Bhanu Kapil
(Kelsey Street, Berkeley, CA 2009)

Where does one begin with a book of palimpsests and dissolves?  How does one parse a mash-up of beginnings, endings, becomings and residues?

I put on a dress.  It does not make me a woman.  Or does it?
I don a wolf’s head.  It does not make me a wolf. Or does it?
One is accidents, interventions and aporias.

Bhanu Kapil went to India with a French film crew. The film crew has come along to record her doing the research for the book I am now attempting to review.  Bhanu Kapil went to India to construct a frame for the display of chaos.  She constructs the frame and enters it.

Humanimal has its impetus in a true story, the story of  Kamala and Amala, two girls who were found in 1920 Bengal, India living with a family of wolves. 

“There are two spaces in which I took notes for feral childhood.  I am not sure if childhood is the correct word.  The first space was a blue sky fiction, imagining a future for a child who died.  The second space was real in different ways: a double envelope, fluid digits, scary.  I was frightened and so I stopped.” (1)

There is much written these days in philosophical and culture theory circles about “becoming animal” (Deleuze and Guattari), and “posthumanism” (Carey Wolfe, and many others), but nothing quite so visceral as Humanimal.  At least in my experience.

“I was almost to the gate.  I was almost to the gate when a hand reached out and pulled me backwards by my hair, opening my mouth to an O.  The next day, I woke up with a raw throat.  The cook gave me salt in warm water.  I waited until she was gone and then I bit it.  I bit my own arm and ate it.  Here is my belly, frosted with meat.  Here are my eyes, bobbling in a tin.”  (13)

“Coming over a ridge, Joseph saw two pale animals, their heads hanging down and thick with brown dreadlocks.  They were drinking from a river with a pack of wolves.  A twig snapped underfoot as Joseph strained to look but at that moment, the animals fled, in one sharp curve, back into the green.  At night, the animals came once again to drink.  In his hide, Joseph shivered.  He could not see them clearly but he knew they were there.  In the moonlight, the wolves and their companions were whitish, with eyes that shone when turned towards him, mildly, reflexively.  Blue.” (22)
I, like Joseph, often shivered while reading this book.

A lot of the power of Kapil’s writing derives from the fact that she inhabits what is happening.  She’s present in the text.

When I finished reading Humanimal, I was both exhilarated and exhausted.  Which is, I think, the way one should feel after a first encounter with a profound work of art.  Humanimal is the first book I’ve read by Bhanu Kapil.  It won’t be the last.


Tom Beckett is working on, and through, Appearances.  His most recent book is Parts and Other Pieces (Otoliths).  He lives in Kent, Ohio.

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