Seven Goats, One Human

Bulliet would have a field day with this. Goat Song is probably the most quaint, quiet, romantic thing I’ve ever read. It just oozes idealized affection for nature, long walks in the woods, domestication, and self-reflection over quotes pulled out of Walden.
On a personal level, I enjoyed Goat Song; I’m a boyscout, I have a soft spot for nature, particularly when romanticized in the fashion Kessler does, with quotes like “Wind rakes the trees. Clouds float shadows through the grass…I’ll open that tome again and find this day again inside its rind: the aromatic grass, the leaves, this wind.”

This book was a little difficult to tie in to the rest of our readings, as Kessler doesn’t really seem to have any sort of secret motive to convert his readers to a way of thinking. Most other readings make some sort of claim that I can rage against and explore, but Goat Song is easily the least incendiary thing we’ve read.

With that said, I feel we can make a decent discussion out of comparing this to Bulliet’s perspective and thinking. Kessler starts with a quote pretty early in: “A story about what it’s like to live with animals who directly feed you. I tell of cheese and culture and agriculture, but also of the rediscovery of a pastoral life. Rediscovery because the longer I lived with goats the more connections I saw to a collective human past we’ve since forgotten, here in North America at least.” Bulliet actually starts with something fairly similar as well, as he hearkens back to past years where everybody was a farmer, and moves on to discuss the First World’s break from animal slaughter. Now neither of these summaries have any real assertions to them, but I’d like to think Bulliet would look fondly on Goat Song. I’m moving in to speculative territory here (because I’ve yet to figure out Bulliet’s actual viewpoint on most of what he writes about), but the idea of a ‘rediscovery’ seems to fit quite nicely into Bulliet’s model of a domestic and post-domestic world being fundamentally different. In fact, that’s what Kessler seems to imply throughout the reading. Everything seems to move in this direction toward a more primal, fulfilling life, as if the domestication era had some secret of the universe that the post-domesticate world forgot. And while Bulliet never actually gives an outright affirmation toward the farms and lifestyles of his boyhood friends from Indiana, there certainly seems to be a sense of fondness and nostalgia (which I might consider similar to our ‘paleo nostalgia’) around those idealizations. And although I certainly don’t want to discount such nostalgia as uncritical and idiotic (as I have never experienced a domestic lifestyle and frequently feel a sense of longing for a similar world), it would seem prudent to be wary of such romantic thoughts. Domestic nostalgias aren’t backed by the same pseudoscience (or legitimate science) as paleofantasies are, but we shouldn’t take the breezy descriptions by Kessler (and Bulliet) at face value. I’m sure there are plenty of downsides to living in a domestic world, even if Kessler chose to omit them.

I think I can say a few things about Diamond’s ideas pertaining to this writing as well. While Diamond’s work is firmly rooted in science, I expect he as well would be fond of hearing Kessler allude to experiencing a ‘collective human past.’ Such a reference seems to support ideas of domesticates as the original ‘technology,’ and (if we are to follow Diamond’s theory) feels very European. If Europe became the dominant continent partially due to superior domesticates, then mustn’t nostalgia for such a ‘past’ be rooted in Europe?

That all may be a little circular and roundabout, but I think I’ll have a better chance of making my point in class anyway.



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