Jims Dog And Leonardos

Meet Jim's dog. My colleague and friend Jim Clifford took this photograph during a December walk in one of the damp canyons of the Santa Cruz greenbelt near his home. This attentive, sitting dog endured for only one season. The next winter the shapes and light in the canyon did not vouchsafe a canine soul to animate the burned-out redwood stump covered with redwood needles, mosses, ferns, lichens—and even a little California bay laurel seedling for a docked tail—that a friend's eye had found for me the year before. So many species, so many kinds, meet in Jim's dog, who suggests an answer to my question, Whom and what do we touch when we touch this dog? How does this touch make us more worldly, in alliance with all the beings who work and play for an alter-globalization that can endure more than one season?

We touch Jim's dog with fingery eyes made possible by a fine digital camera, computers, servers, and e-mail programs through which the high-density jpg was sent to me.4 Infolded into the metal, plastic, and electronic flesh of the digital apparatus is the primate visual system that Jim and I have inherited, with its vivid color sense and sharp focal power.

Our kind of capacity for perception and sensual pleasure ties us to the lives of our primate kin. Touching this heritage, our worldliness must answer to and for those other primate beings, both in their ordinary habitats and in labs, television and film studios, and zoos. Also, the biological colonizing opportunism of organisms, from the glowing but invisible viruses and bacteria to the crown of ferns on top of this pooch's head, is palpable in the touch. Biological species diversity and all that asks in our time come with this found dog.

In this camera-begot canid's haptic-optic touch, we are inside the histories of IT engineering, electronic product assembly-line labor, mining and IT waste disposal, plastics research and manufacturing, transnational markets, communications systems, and technocultural consumer habits. The people and the things are in mutually constituting, intra-active touch.5 Visually and tactically, I am in the presence of the intersec-tional race-, sex-, age-, class-, and region-differentiated systems of labor that made Jim's dog live. Response seems the least that is required in this kind of worldliness.

This dog could not have come to me without the leisure-time promenading practices of the early twenty-first century in a university town on the central California coast. Those urban walking pleasures touch the labor practices of late nineteenth-century loggers who, without chain-saws, cut the tree whose burned stump took on a postarboreal life. Where did the lumber from that tree go? The historically deliberate firing by the loggers or the lightning-caused fires in dry-season California carved Jim's dog from the tree's blackened remains. Indebted to the histories of both environmentalism and class, the greenbelt policies of California cities resisting the fate of Silicon Valley ensured that Jim's dog was not bulldozed for housing at the western edge of real-estate hungry Santa Cruz. The water-eroded and earthquake-sculpted ruggedness of the canyons helped too. The same civic policies and earth histories also allow cougars to stroll down from the campus woodlands through the brushy canyons defining this part of town. Walking with my furry dogs off leash in these canyons makes me think about these possible feline presences. I reclip the leashes. Visually fingering Jim's dog involves touching all the important ecological and political histories and struggles of ordinary small cities that have asked, Who should eat whom, and who should cohabit? The rich naturalcultural contact zones multiply with each tactile look. Jim's dog is a provocation to curiosity, which I regard as one of the first obligations and deepest pleasures of worldly companion species.6

Jim's seeing the mutt in the first place was an act of friendship from a man who had not sought dogs in his life and for whom they had not been particularly present before his colleague seemed to think about and respond to little else. Furry dogs were not the ones who then came to him, but another sort of canid quite as wonderful dogged his path. As my informants in U.S. dog culture would say, Jim's is a real dog, a one-off, like a fine mixed-ancestry dog who could never be replicated but must be encountered. Surely, there is no question about the mixed and myriad ancestors, as well as contemporaries, in this encrusted charcoal dog. I think this is what Alfred North Whitehead might have meant by a concrescence of prehensions.7 It is definitely at the heart of what I learn when I ask whom I touch when I touch a dog. I learn something about how to inherit in the flesh. Woof . . .

Leonardo's dog hardly needs an introduction. Painted between 1485 and 1490, da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, the Man of Perfect Proportions, has paved his way in the imaginations of technoculture and canine pet culture alike. Sydney Harris's 1996 cartoon of Man's celebrated canine companion mimes a figure that has come to mean Renaissance humanism; to mean modernity; to mean the generative tie of art, science, technology, genius, progress, and money. I cannot count the number of times da Vinci's Vitruvian Man appeared in the conference brochures for genomics meetings or advertisements for molecular biological instruments and lab reagents in the 1990s. The only close competitors for illustrations and ads were Vesalius's anatomical drawings of dissected human figures and Michelangelo's Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.8 High Art, High Science: genius, progress, beauty, power, money. The Man of Perfect Proportions brings both the number magic and the reallife organic ubiquity of the Fibonacci sequence to the fore. Transmuted into the form of his master, the Dog of Perfect Proportions helps me think about why this preeminently humanist figure cannot work for the kind of autre-mondialisation I seek with earthly companions in the way that Jim's dog does. Harris's cartoon is funny, but laughter is not enough. Leonardo's dog is the companion species for technohumanism and its dreams of purification and transcendence. I want to walk instead with the motley crowd called Jim's dog, where the clean lines between traditional and modern, organic and technological, human and nonhuman give way to the infoldings of the flesh that powerful figures such as the cyborgs and dogs I know both signify and enact.9 Maybe that is why Jim's dog is now the screen saver on my computer.

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