Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Book Review - "Falcon" (2006), by Helen Macdonald. Reaktion Books, London. Part 1

Having been struggling with the book by Donna Haraway "When Species Meet" (2008), I've decided to take a little diversion, rather than an abandonment reading Haraway. A book that really resonated with me a month or so ago was another book by Helen Macdonald called "H is for Hawk" (2014) which won the Samuel Johnson prize in 2016. In comparison with Haraway and her rather American style of writing, which almost seems like a kind of chatter (much of which seems entirely superfluous to me, but that might just be my own possibly prejudiced view), Helen Macdonald, who is equally an academic, provides a much easier style of sharing information.

Having bought the book a couple of weeks ago, which is the 2016 addition, Macdonald writes a short preface to it, and on the very first page, she even mentions our very own JA Baker! So that gets me off to a splendid start.

Macdonald is quick to point out that even though this book in scrutiny was written in 2006, she states that just like "H is for Hawk" nature is used as a mirror to the human condition and this book is no different to the one that she wrote almost 10 years later. She explains that the reason for this book at the time (the thoughts of which started in the early 2000s), came from a part of her studies towards her dissertation for a PhD in the history of science. The interesting point that Dr Macdonald makes is that she was so distracted with her own engagement with falconry, that this became a greater priority in some ways than the research of her PhD. Apparently, she didn't want to waste all the effort, and explicit source material that she had collected, and the chance to write a book to capture and share this work came to her through a serendipitous meeting with the editor of the book's publishers. The rest as she says was her celebration of the memories and anecdotes tied together into this book.

Her encounters with falconry and birds of prey had already been a huge influence, not only on her late childhood but also in her maturing years. The key passage that she mentions on p11 of the preface talks about her reflection on her own state of mind in 2006, just before her father passed away. There is even a reference about her Hawk "Mabel" who is the central feature of her later book "H is for Hawk". This is in the line where she expresses "it wasn't until that dark year with my own Hawk Mabel that the visceral truth that we use nature as a mirror of our own needs became something I understood, rather than merely knew." This is exactly the point that I think Donna Haraway has been trying to articulate in all the reading of "When Species Meet" (2008), which until this discovery, I had been oblivious to. Macdonald is able to capture it twice within the preface of her book!

"Falcon" (2006), is Macdonald's intimate analysis about the relationship between human culture and that of the history with Falcons, and how our lives have been intertwined with these creatures for thousands of years. In my own opinion, there is a much greater sense of independence of those falcon's than perhaps the subjects of study that Donna Haraway has chosen to analyse, particularly in her relationship and studies of dog behaviour. Nevertheless, the similarities of both writers provide highly illuminated reflections on our own existence and anthropocentric interpretations.
And finally in Macdonald's preface to "Falcon" (2006) that she has added to the book in 2016, she finishes off by saying;
 "now more than ever… We need to look long and hard at how we view and interact with the natural world. […] We are living through the world's sixth great extinction caused entirely by us [human activity…]. How and why we see landscapes and creatures as we do, how we value them and why we should protect them… Is far more important than academic interest. They are questions to which the answers are simply about how we can save the world."
This is the crux of my own motivations for engaging in the project that I have chosen to do! I am hooked by this book already!

References:
Holloway, D.J. (2008), "When Species Meet", The University Of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, USA.
Macdonald, H. (2006), "Falcon", Reaction Books Ltd, London.
Macdonald, H. (2014), "H is for Hawk", Vintage Books, London.

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