Taking a break

I’m taking a break from bothering the worms.


It’s cold and they’ve slowed right down and so must I.  I’m also taking a break from Vinciane Despret, deferring the moment of loss when I finish her book and have to let go the daily surprises she offers me.

Now dipping into Adam Phillips’ Darwin’s Worms.  Meditations on death, nature, time, loss, bodies…Darwin and Freud. (Skipping Freud for the moment and also the stuff about God, though I am admiring Phillips recognition of how Darwin subtly worms away at God and all the attendant hierarchies.) Phillips is gripped by Darwin’s attentiveness to worms as lowly workers, working through digesting:  “labour was a prodigious work of digestion… For the idea of work as digestion, and digestion as the body’s forced and unforced labour, Darwin turned to the worms.” (43-44).

No doubt Darwin was attuned to the vitality of digestion by his own digestion problems. But his admiration for worms did go beyond that. Phillips tells of the consolation and joy Darwin found in worms, as creators of the earth: “They buried to renew: they digested to restore.” (56)

No killjoy scientist is Darwin — more on killjoy scientists later, when I return to Despret. But for now, recalling Despret’s question of questions, I enjoy Phillips’ positing of Darwin’s fundamental question as “What would our lives be like if we took earthworms seriously, took the ground under our feet rather than the skies high above our heads, as the place to look, as well, eventually, as the place to be?” (60-61) And, can we add, if we engaged with the worms as artful collaborators?


OK, the worms still haven’t come out from under the blanket and I won’t bother them with photos today. Instead I ask (hopefully the right question) of Z&Z, who after all are part of the assemblage that is this work. Stretching and yawning, they tell me that sleep cannot be hurried. If anyone can teach me how to relax and the importance of sleeping in, it’s Z&Z.


Because no matter how much I cajole or sing wake-up songs, they just stretch, snooze, and snore on.


I will now try to attune to the worms’ rhythms

Coffee cup in hand…


IMG_2354.JPGCoffee cup in hand, I give the critters an early morning gift from the local organic shop — a bag full of coffee grinds to enliven the carrots and apples. I wonder if it will wake them up and move them with joy on this very cold morning? Guess I won’t know  til tomorrow, when I see if they’ve been lured out of bed and made the big journey through the blanket and shreds. Meanwhile I did help a couple up of worms to wake up and smell the coffee — to see if they might let the others know the delights in store for getting out of bed. Hope they don’t mind. Not sure who is slower today, me or them, but it’s beginning to work on me…

And so I turn to Vinciane Despret whose writing always moves me with joy. “C is for Corporeal” opens with an enigma from Spinoza, “Nobody knows what the body can do.” As it happens my lovely reading group is deep into Spinoza’s Ethics at the moment, so I burrow right into this chapter. Despret’s engagement with Donna Haraway’s engagement with Barbara Smuts’ baboon encounters enlivens Spinoza for me. She describes an agencement of bodies between Smuts and the baboons she is studying with– how they move in response to each other, how they move each other, how they move with each other:

“…it is the possibility of becoming not exactly the other through metamorphosis but with the other, not in the sense of feeling what the other is thinking or of feeling for the other like a burdensome empathizer but rather of receiving and creating the possibility to inscribe oneself in a relation of exchange and proximity that has nothing to do with identification.”

It’s about attuning, about learning to respond to each other’s demands — “to recognize one another.” This helps thinking about the with of working with worms, collaborating as artists together. I think we’re all in the early stages here. We have learned things about our first worms– their love of coffee and shreds– but now we’re trying to see how these worms respond. Maybe they just want to stay in bed on these cold mornings. Are they ready to get up?



Slowing Down — welcoming the worms

In “Oeuvres,” Vinciane Despret asks if animals can create works of art. She proposes that thinking about animal artists and their intentions–and about distributing intentionality–makes us “hesitate and slow down.” Impatient though we are we’ve had to slow down ourselves over the last few days. On Sunday we snuggled the worms into their new home in the new worm cafe.


We introduced some of the older worms from our first worm cafe, to welcome them to Fairfield and our back yard. We hope they get on and that the new artists-critters aren’t too put off by these cold wintry days. Hopefully the shreds keep them warm as they settle in and await the next chapter and their first morning coffee

IMG_7069.JPG .IMG_7076.JPG

I love how Despret ends this chapter, questioning a tyrannical concept of “instinct” that would not recognise the worms as co-composers of this work. Despret enables us instead to “guard preciously what it makes us feel, what feels like a force in the face of which being must bend–like we sometimes do in the face of love…What instinct both affirms and masks is the call of the thing to be made. That some things are beyond us. The captivation known to some artists. That this must be made. Period.” (122)




Three books for the beginnings of this project. Difficult to decide where to start but Vinciane Despret is calling the most insistently. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? How can I resist her first chapter, “A For Artist: stupid like a painter?” The challenge is not to quote every provocative and enchanting sentence. Like this one “But above all, this enchantment arises by the grace of the attunement between living beings” as animals and people work together.  “No single response has the power to sanction the meaning of what is happening, and this very uncertainty, which is similar to that which we witness in a a display of magic, is part of what makes us sensitive to its grace and enchantment.” (4)

attunement…enchantment…uncertainty…these call out to be categories, now that i’ve wormed my way into wordpress and I’m digging down into categories, heading for subcategories

“O for oeuvres: Do birds make art?” will be next.