Friday, 7 July 2017

Reflections on a one-to-one tutorial with Richard Mulhearn, 7th July 2017

The conversation started with a general question as to what my current thoughts were; In essence, I was reconfirming my intention to produce 70% of my submission in written form and 30% as practical outputs.

I felt that I was on track with the 70% written piece for a week next Wednesday, that is, for the submission date of 19 July. I am in a good position with the document, having already written a substantial part of it even though, as agreed with Dr Bailey and Dr MacDonald, I would be producing the output in a book form rather than the standard academic paper format.

Approximately 10,000 words have already been written out of the 14,000, and my intention is to lock myself away for the next week in our cottage in Northumberland to finish off the writing of this document!

I was extremely reassured when Richard provided very encouraging feedback and said that he was not at all concerned with my work. He said that I have all the material that I need and if anything, it is probable that I need to stop my research now, and just articulate and condense my findings.

As I have already indexed all of my previous blogs, which has been a great help in returning to reread them at times, has helped a great deal with the creation of the book. With approximately 110,000 to 120,000 words currently in the blog, there is a huge amount of resource that I can work with.

One of my plans today was to print out all of the blogs for easy reference.

Richard observations were that with that amount of material, I need to drill in and eject (to distil) the information, and 'that' will determine my success. I am worried about the distillation of the information, and anxious to make sure that it is correct and valid. I recognise also the need to get the voice right, and I bounced the idea off Richard,  that as there are so many voices within my research, the approach that I'm probably going to adopt; and the one that I think I want to go forward with, is to actually write 'within' the voices of the various players?

By anthropomorphizing, I'm giving the Peregrine a human voice, and whilst I didn't want to do this initially, having read so much with Donna Haraway, and more recently, Richard Grusin (The Nonhuman Turn (2015)) and various others, plus John Gray's Silence of Animals (2016) together with the recent book (Animals: Documents of Contemporary Art, by Filipa Ramos, 2016), I acquired from Whitechapel gallery, together with what I think is probably a classic, which is John Berger's (1980)"Why Look at Animals" (which Richard confirmed was an amazing document in itself, and surprise that this was the first time that we have mentioned it).

Getting the voice correct, with a number of messages to verbalise is critical according to Richard and I entirely agree. While I do have research material, with research methodology and so on, considered with the research strategy and my own voice needs to be clearly enveloped, included too.

In discussion with Richard, I also mentioned the social sciences idea of Grounded Theory Methodology (which Richard confirmed is familiar with), and how it may be possible, that this strategy, where there is a 'non-linear', yet a massive amount of research data can be considered and distilled?  This may be a similar process that I may be able to adopt with some variation too perhaps. The GT process is all about a kind of wandering and serendipity, in the way that things are 'found'.

To describe my own research strategy, rather than a "methodology", this Grounded Theory 'strategy' by Glazier and Strauss, (who originally discovered it, and they themselves describe it as a "discovery"), is appealing to me as it is very 'non-linear'.

I'm currently combining this GT idea, because the more I write it seems the more that I want to research!

The distillation is critical with this approach, because while I want to say that I have a strategy that can narrow down, and focus, with a timescale set on it. In this case it is the cut-off point aiming towards a week next Wednesday (about 10 days time on 19th July). However, I feel I can make a conclusion without it being a final resolution, and there's an opportunity to leave things sufficiently open for further study should I wish.

Richard agreed that it is more than sufficient for me to say something along the lines of "at this point in time, these are the findings et cetera".   Richard also confirmed that whilst there is still work to do, it seems clear that I understand my methodology; to encapsulate the direction and wandering through the materials and theories towards findings, and in 'getting the voice correct'.

Just to recap then, my intention is to talk in terms of the Peregrine itself, to talk in terms of an anthropologist/biologist; to talk in my own voice as well.

Thinking through this, the argument of the studies perhaps could be the exploration of how voices could be linked together? Otherwise, they could end up being discreet? Do I need to think about this?

What links all of these 'voices' nicely, is the book itself "The Peregrine"... But, I need to be careful that all of the voices interact with each other, but also draw together through the book itself.

Part of the distillation process needs to be a clarity in each of the voices and how they are talking so that they can relate to each other. The central core of the work from which all of the voices emanate, and what each of them is saying in relation to the core, is what is important here?

How then, whatever it is that they are saying, relate to each other?

The book will need some careful editing. My intention is to produce an awful lot more than the final output, and possibly between 20 to 25,000 words can then be condensed down to the 14,000 words that I need in readiness for Monday 17th, as a printing day, with Tuesday 18th as a contingency. I will then be able to submit it in readiness for the Wednesday the 19th July deadline as a fully functioning 'prototype'.

At the moment the essay is very much a report style. But as mentioned earlier, the book will become a much more lyrical output combined with drawings. What I have already created is the scaffolding, which will then be stripped away within the book itself.

An observation that Richard made, was that in a lot of my writing it seems that I am searching, together with the reader, in a kind of clarification style language?  That is, I tend to say things in a certain way and then perhaps 'reword' them and repeat the substance of my conjecture or statement.
I need to watch that.
I need to be clear about the words and confident with the voice!!

How is my own story in all of this documented?
- My findings come towards the end, and what these are, are very much based on my journey.
While I introduced this idea of a journey at the beginning of the book, I've introduced the other, of the voices as narrative, as a lyricism if you like. But then at the end of the book, is a summing up using my own voice, of what I have found.

Equally, I've taken on board entirely, the idea that the 'finding' of my photograph in Helen Macdonald's book is wonderfully serendipitous, but I shouldn't make a fanfare of it. So this element is left towards the end, not presented as a final fanfare, more of a reflection of how I was, - say 12 years ago. The journey in itself is not just this year's journey but it is almost like a 12-year journey, and it lays out grounds for further study and further consideration.

This reflects on me because of how I have changed so completely as to what I was 12 years ago, and my own position 'in' the world and 'of' the world, is extremely different to how it was 10 or 12 years ago. Richard wanted to confirm if this was still part of the work? - Because if that is the case, this is less about the Peregrine and more about me? I need to think about this carefully because this is kind of satellite stuff and may distract the message.

However, in thinking about this, what I do feel, is that in many of (if not most of) the books that I've read, including The Peregrine itself (JA Baker, 1967), and Helen Macdonald's H-is-for-Hawk (2014), but also the theoretical references such as Donna Haraway, Tim Ingold, and even the great John Berger himself, is that all of these books are written around the authors themselves.


The conclusion is, there is no escape from the anthropomorphising, the anthropocentric reflection. 

Despite trying to get away from this, it is simply impossible, and so this is why I feel that the philosophy of Speculative Realism is so important in this work too.  - I have to try and view the world from a completely different vantage point, the rejection of Immanuel Kant's ideas of human sovereignty over everything else. This idea of, if you like, 'domination of the universe' from a human centric point, is what is of critical importance here.

Richard observations were that, as my own observations, that the author is central to the work makes absolute sense, and tone and voice do not need to be sugared (which is something that I tend to do). I shouldn't be worried about that though.  I do need to make sure that the process, is about confidence. I should be able to say things only once, rather than three times, and that is the distillation. This takes time and I may not get it right each time, but Richard agreed that this just needs to be practised.  I suspect this schema within my own mind, that constant looking for reassurance, comes from my childhood, but also probably from the people that I live with too, as I'm always unsure of what is expected of me, or if I am being understood.

This was a great session with Richard, I'm confident in what I need to do, but with his help and guidance have been able to improve my confidence, which I struggle with a great deal. Richard's closing words were that it is not the collection of material that is important but the distillation and clarity of delivery, with beautiful elegance. Talking about extremely complex things, but making it simple is what is required.


Grusin, Richard A. (2015) The Nonhuman Turn
Gray, John. (2106) Silence of Animals
Ramos, Filipa (2016), Animals: Documents of Contemporary Art, by  Whitechapel Gallery, 
Berger, John (1980) "Why Look at Animals" 
Baker, JA (1967). The Peregrine, 
Macdonald, Helen (2014), H-is-for-Hawk 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Reading John Berger's "Why Look at Animals" (1980)

Amazingly, I have only just realised that I had been missing an incredibly well-qualified contributor towards the influences of my intended essay, and view of the Peregrine. In the 1970s, John Berger produced some of the most significant articles in support of vulnerable and exploited women, virtually at the height of the early feminist movement. Women were historically and previously seen as "objects" in the arts, ostensibly by men, and Berger's famous documentary produced by the BBC entitled "Ways of Seeing" (published in 1972 as a book to accompany the series of three films, by Penguin books) was game-changing. The series was based on seven separate essays, repositioned through critical questioning of many historical and archaic notions of art, bringing a new dimension of public understanding.

Berger went on to write about and support other repressed, oppressed and displaced beings in addition to humans, and turned his attention to animals imprisoned in zoo environments. In 1977, he wrote an essay called "Why Look at Animals" which would later appear on a collection of further essays entitled "About Looking" published in 1980, by Pantheons books, London, part of Random House publishing. It is this essay, "Why look at Animals" that is of interest to me here.

The essay opens with a historical re-cap on our [human] relationship with animals, the interdependence that we had with many creatures. For example, in western and eastern cultures with horses, as working colleagues to pull the plough, provided fast transport, milk and meat, together with clothing at times and our respect built over millennia.

Cattle too for instance initially were not considered as food sources, but instead, as still displayed in certain religions such as Hinduism, cows were found to be holy, or magical. There many cults and religions that believe that individual cattle have capabilities of transcendental knowledge and awareness far beyond their human hosts.  Most world religions have a 'bull worship' element of practice at some stage of their development: in the Christian, the story of the Golden Calf being just another example.

Our relationship with animals has however completely changed over the past 150 to 200 years, and the notions we once had, of creatures sharing our world, with a type of mutual respect, has virtually dissolved.

Berger remarks upon how animals look at humans, and he considers how they might view other creatures too. In this sense, he refers to how people also look at animals and in an almost uncanny way, they returned they gaze. It is as though there is a mutual "non-comprehension" and the massive gap lies between us. He goes on to explain that language, that human characteristic, helps to join men together, even though they may not speak the same dialect or language. (Berger, in Kalof, L. and Fitzgerald, A. (2007) pp253). Whereas, he assumes that this language, (which I have begun to call a vehicle for mutual rapport), is unbridgeable between human and animal?

Interestingly, Berger also identifies how companionship with animals and humans has shaped our human development. He calls this an intercession, which I think is an accurate description, and he points out the notion that it is people who have failed to continue to make efforts to communicate with animals in their own language. He cites mythical characters such as Orpheus who were able to communicate and develop a rapport with other creatures for mutual benefit.

The influence of animal deities from prehistoric times continued through ancient Egyptian and Greek history, some of which I've already discussed in previous blogs, and the anthropocentric habit of adopting individual animals to exhibit human traits and vice versa through anthropomorphism is also scrutinised. This is particularly interesting in regards to the parallels of my own research findings.

Berger goes on to talk about how it seems that domesticated animals and man were running parallel through time. Death brings them together. Does that mean that generally the killer and the killed join at some point? He touches on this in the common global beliefs "of the transmigration of souls" (Ibid. pp253).

Dualism and parallelism with our relationship with animals have however been lost is already discussed. Animals and their significance as metaphors in human language are also explored through the writings of Rousseau. Commonalities between creatures and humans have long been a source of wonder and explanation. We humans saw in animals similarities and desired attributes, as well as unfavourable and distasteful connections, amongst all our differences. Berger's intercession and observations of our own human origins are also made through metaphors and analogies of earlier writers and commentators. Way before Aristotle, before close scrutiny in the methodical, stringent and analytical ways of the Greek Academy, texts such as those of Homer, such as the Iliad, remark upon symbolic metaphors and semiological signifiers through the use of unemotional recounts of the death of both animals and humans on the battlefield. There is little distinction between the two as death is treated in just the same way for both. In a way, animals and humans are treated entirely equally (Ibid. 254).

Berger goes on to identify "anthropomorphism was the residue of the continuous use of the animal metaphor. In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live without them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy." (p255).

This observation is of particular importance because of its timing, in the mid-1970s. During that time there was much intellectual debate about the conditions that animals, both domesticated and those kept in the Zoological Gardens were being confined in. Moreover, creatures that were wild and free were also being recognised as subjects of persecution. Berger points out that Descartes and his division through dualism of the mind and the body, the division between the soul and the physical human body, led the way forward that as animals could not, therefore, have a soul, then they were nothing more than physical automatons like machines. The parallelism, the perceived mutual interconnected respect between animals and humans, and more importantly the actual connectedness understood by humans to animals, dissolve at this point.

Our assumed human elevation and dominance over animals, by "conquering" their individual powers, has been the general story for the last 250 or so years. References to animal behaviour and observations of their existence have become, what Berger terms "nostalgia", manifested as a development since the period of enlightenment. (Ibid. p255). It is only since the mid 20th-century that things have begun to change.  This concurs with Baker's observations and other early alarm sounders such as Rachel Carson, together with very many contemporary writers of the 1980s onwards.

In the next section, Berger starts to discuss the more modern phenomenon of the keeping of domestic pets. Originally, as already described, domestic animals invariably had some kind of particular product, whether it was meat, milk, eggs, fur or wool, or another useful by-product. Domestic pets, however, serve merely as companionship for the most part.  They perform little more than to establish the owner with a sense of control over another being (especially, I believe with dogs and their owners).

Rounding up the concept that humans have lost touch with animals as kinds of equals within the world, phenomena with which I also concur with Berger, that he says has only occurred over the last 150 or so years.  He demonstrates the disconnection between humans and animals by exploring the way that humans look at zoo animals.  Those imprisoned creatures that have been marginalised by humans to such an extent that when we look at them, they are unable to look back at us in any way approaching how they might look at us if they were truly wild and free.  Instead, they have been so conditioned to be looked at that their stereotypical behaviours of pacing at the edge of their domains become so repetitive (through acute boredom no doubt) that they have lost the capacity to either view us as potential prey or potential threat.  The whole experience for us humans, therefore, has become one of theatre or 'museum'.  He likens the zoo to an art gallery in this respect too, in that viewers pass along a conveyor of gaze in each animal enclosure, similar to the somewhat blank gaze of many visitors observing art objects and paintings.

Berger finishes off with a declaration that I interpret as 'the human to animal - animal to human' connection that we once had, is now irretrievably lost.


  • An excellent source of writing and reflection.  
  • The synergies with some of my own thoughts are more than apparent, and I will use this reference to greater effect within the essay.
  • A text of vital importance and widely recognised, its contents are as valid today as they were forty years ago when they were first written.


Berger, J. (1980). Why Look at Animals from About Looking, Berger, J. (1980). Pantheon Books, A division of Random House, London.   Cited in whole in Kalof, L. and Fitzgerald, A. (2007) The Animals Reader, pp 251- 261.  Retrieved from Google Scholar, 4th July 2017. At
Berger J. (1972).  "Ways of Seeing" (Originally published in 1972, London, Penguin Books, 2008, Penguin Design Series edition).