What I Don’t Know About Animals

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What I Don’t Know About Animals, by Jenny Diski, Virago RRP£16.99, 320 pages

Jenny Diski’s consideration on the relationships between humans and animals is marked by a determination to avoid easy conclusions. She addresses everything from the imaginary creatures of Disney and AA Milne to the elephants she sees on holiday and the farm animals she enjoys eating. Diski is most engaging when writing about her own experience: her unwillingness to control the horse she learns to ride or her speculation about the possible thoughts of her cat.

There is as much Derrida as Attenborough, and Diski’s admission that she’s “hooked on unanswerable questions” is at times frustrating. She repeatedly ponders the inevitability and dangers of anthropomorphism and the impossibility of knowing what (or if) any animal is thinking. But although answers are elusive, Diski writes with clarity and insight, weaving together an impressive range of philosophic, scientific and literary material. She quotes and exemplifies Lévi-Strauss: animals, he said, are “good to think with”.

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