Reflection: The Soul of an Octopus

As I continue to catch up on books missed in 2015, I recently finished The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. The book was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, though the award ultimately went to, of course, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates was seemingly everywhere in 2015, and while I do agree that his book is important and deeply moving, I am always taken aback as to how quickly we amplify a single voice. The Soul of an Octopus explores questions like what is the soul, what is consciousness, and are we alone in those tremendous feats or are animals like the octopus in our company? The author is sensitive and soulful, as seen in tidbits like this:
“While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege. It’s a shared sweetness, a gentle miracle, and uplink to universal consciousness – the notion, first advanced by pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaxagoras in 480 BC, of sharing an intelligence that animates and organizes all life” (p. 90).
Much of the book takes place at the New England Aquarium, where the author forms bonds with people and octopuses alike. There are four octopuses – Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma – and each exhibits a wholly unique personality and “sparkling mind,” as do the octopuses encountered in the wild. Octopus facts are scattered throughout (it has a beak like a parrot, a remarkable curiosity, an ability to change color and texture instantly), as if the most useful parts of a National Geographic documentary are woven into a much more relatable, nuanced narrative. We are often skeptical of animal intelligence or consciousness, and this book serves as a fascinating and eloquent defense of octopuses being in possession of both. Every turn of the page forces you to think bigger, to push aside the idea that everything non-human is “the Other.” The Soul of an Octopus inspires you to breach the supposed boundary between humans and, well, everything else, and when you do, the beauty of life on Earth astounds all the more. We are left, as we inevitably are, with the staggering truth of how little we know, and that reminder should make us feel all the more human.
Best, Yuri


Labels: Non-fiction, Post-Reading, Reflections, ,

Men Explain Things to Me

“Feminism is an endeavor to change something very old, widespread, and deeply rooted in many, perhaps most, cultures around the world, innumerable institutions, and most households on Earth — and in our minds, where it all begins and ends.”

“Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force” from Men Explain Things to Me, p. 140
By Rebecca Solnit
Published 2014
Labels: Contemporary, Non-fiction, Quotes, , ,

Currently Reading: Men Explain Things to Me

The non-fiction streak continues into the new year with Men Explain Things to Me, a slim blue volume of seven essays by Rebecca Solnit. I consider it a good sign when seemingly disparate, random, yet memorable pieces of information that I’ve come across at some point or another are suddenly hanging out in the same room. Maybe, I wonder, there is actually a rhyme and reason to what I consume; maybe there is a common theme among the things I know. Maybe. Within the first few essays I came across a reference to Idle No More, a grassroots movement among Canada’s Indigenous peoples that I heard about at a talk on campus last fall, and then “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” which I inexplicably learned in a communications course ridiculously titled “Entertainment as Implicit Pedagogy.”
Thus far, Solnit’s essays have pointedly addressed violence against women, global economic injustice, and marriage equality. I’m sure there is much more to come. The title essay recalls the author’s experience of a man condescendingly explaining to her about a book that she herself had written, but branches out into the much larger issue – and danger – of silencing women. Solnit dedicates this book to “the conversations that don’t end,” so here’s to learning a bit more about those conversations.

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